Growing up in Hawaii, I had always been surrounded by a community of people who look like me and who share a culture with me. While I have a profound love for my home, the deeply imbued Japanese American influence made my Japanese American identity a default, something I simply knew because it was never challenged. Moving away to New York for college was the first time I felt that identity’s absence from my life. I was no longer amongst people who made ozoni on New Year’s Day or said “itadakimasu” before each meal. It was jarring and made me question who I was at my core. That was three years ago. Now, I am an incoming senior at Syracuse University and a young woman who has recently reconnected with her Japanese heritage. I owe that connection to my summer internship at USJC which has not only brought me closer to my Japanese roots, but taught me invaluable lessons about what it means to be a Japanese American.
From the wonderful staff who welcomed me with open arms, to my interactions with the members who make up USJC, I have learned that to be Japanese American is to be strong, gracious, resourceful, humble, and to persevere. I have listened to incredible Japanese American women share their stories of rising up to become leaders despite the challenges that come with being a female and a minority. I have heard the story of one family’s journey from Kagoshima to owning a successful small business in northern California against all odds. I have had the privilege of meeting members and have sensed the generous and genuine way they seek to help me as I begin to consider a post-undergraduate career. I have observed the way my co-workers work tirelessly to improve U.S.-Japan relations and teach each other new things every day with kindness and compassion. All of these experiences at USJC have taught me what it means to be Japanese American and have rekindled my love for this part of my identity.
As I prepare to conclude this internship, I look back on the things I have learned and I am forever grateful to USJC for providing me an environment to learn – not just about U.S.-Japan relations, but also about myself.
USJC Intern, Summer 2022