Thank you to USJC Associate Miki Sankary (ELP ’15) for organizing this event!
In eastern Pennsylvania near the New Jersey border, members of the newly formed Lehigh Valley “Japanese in America, Japanese American, and Japanese Aficionado” (JAJAJA) community organized a successful summit on December 8. This summit was part of the Regional Women in Leadership (RWL) series, in which USJC members and supporters organize and attend events in their respective regions to discuss ways to support women’s leadership. RWL is funded by the Embassy of Japan.
Over 60 people gathered on a Sunday afternoon, and received a warm welcome from keynote speakers Cheryl Matherly (Vice President of International Affairs – Lehigh University) and Deputy Consul General Kenju Murakami of the Consulate in NYC, as well as Merissa Nakamura, Membership Engagement and Regional Coordinator at USJC. Dr. Matherly welcomed the community to Lehigh’s campus and shared the many years of collaboration and exchange between Lehigh and institutions in Japan. DCG Murakami provided historical context to the long-standing relationship between the U.S. and Japan, noting that the alliance between the two countries has been the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy and security. He proceeded to provide the latest trends on Womenomics in Japan, sharing examples of how Japan is working towards empowering women to hold decision-making positions in the public sector.
A panel called “Portraits of Japan in the Lehigh Valley” featured three members of the JAJAJA community who come from different backgrounds: Miyo Lloyd (Founder of the Lehigh Valley Japanese Ministries), Samina Forbath (a fourth-year undergraduate student at Lehigh University majoring in engineering and Japanese), and Joe Narkevic (Chair of the Bethlehem Tondabayashi Sister City Commission). Moderator Miki Sankary asked several questions that addressed the challenges of building a home away from home. The panelists’ anecdotes represented the common sentiments of people having to balance adapting to a new culture while retaining their cultural heritage. The panelists shared their stories on how that challenge is particularly tough for women when raising a family. Ms. Lloyd shared how her family spoke Japanese at home and celebrated the culture to make learning Japanese fun for her children, one of whom now attends Waseda University. Ms. Forbath, a newly engaged Japanese American about to embark on a career in robotics engineering, recounted how she wants to celebrate and ensure that Japanese culture is alive in her growing family. Mr. Narkevic, a JET alumnus, has been active for the past six years with the Bethlehem Tondabayashi Sister City Commission, which serves as a welcoming space for men and women who wish to celebrate Japanese culture together, build communities and “build a home away from home.”
The summit also featured a workshop by speaker, author and professional development coach Shawn Kent Hayashi. She prompted the audience to think about their aspirations as affirmations, asking them to write down what they are good at, what they can offer to the community (Japanese language lessons, advice on restaurants, etc.) and what they seek from the community. Attendees posted their notes around the hall and walked around to network and connect with people they are seeking support from. The room became an interactive museum of everyone’s talents and aspirations, and embodied the power of community in creating a supportive network.