Nicole Velasco

Reflection from Nicole Velasco (ELP 2015)

The author (second from left) with fellow Emerging Leaders and Secretary Norman Mineta (center), Vice Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors, at the 2015 Annual Conference

Prior to my arrival in Shibuya for the 2015 Annual Conference, I spent my days in Kyoto bowing before temples and shrines, considering the craftsmanship of gardens, and basking in the peace that manifests when one returns to its source. Not even a language barrier could deny the powerful message of continuity and tradition felt as a Japanese American returning to Japan. So much becomes clear when we are reminded of our roots.

This feeling of gratitude for such a rich heritage blossomed further upon arrival in Shibuya to meet my fellow Emerging Leaders. By way of an extensive LINE group chat, we found each other one by one. With only one previous group call and a PDF of bios, I was both nervous and excited to finally meet these amazing individuals from across the globe. A little of the “first-day-of-school” feeling came back and I hoped that I would fit in as one of the few yonsei in the mix.

With fellow Emerging Leaders at Hachiko

Over a beautiful meal, we got to know one another. Those early jitters were quelled by the kindness, thoughtfulness, and grace of this unique group, and were vanquished by the time we explored Shibuya’s libations after the dinner.

At the risk of echoing others in my ELP class, I must admit that the fast-forming nature of this bond has been one of the most powerful experiences of my life. In a mere two and a half days, we became family, or ohana as we say in Hawaii. How does this happen?

Having fun with a billboard in Shibuya

First, much credit is due to the planning by USJC and TOMODACHI. Each day was curated with thought-provoking engagements that stoked our individual understanding of our Japanese American experiences as well as our collective identity as a generation. We were gifted an Annual Conference with myriad opportunities to learn from and be inspired by amazing business and community leaders. Credit is also due to the ELP alumni who welcomed us as contemporaries and ensured that we did not miss the universal bonding experience that is karaoke.

Lastly, much of my aloha and gratitude is given to my fellow classmates. It is rare to find a group of people who understand each other not just intellectually but also fundamentally. The traditions, values and social mores of our roots inherently linked us before we even met. Gathering together at the Annual Conference affirmed what we’ve already known: that to be Japanese American is a gift, and to bond with each other is a treasure.

I write this as we prepare for the U40 Summit in Los Angeles and I am filled with excitement. In a matter of days, I’ll see my friends who have become my family. We’ll catch up about work life, revisit stories of mini-ELP reunions worldwide, and build new memories to last us until the 2016 Annual Conference in November. Yes, being a new ELP is once-in-a-lifetime, but this bond we share is for life.