Reflection from Steve Sakanashi (ELP 2015)
The late George Morihiro, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, once told me, “Steve, you better be proud that you are Japanese American.” Inspired by his stories after an all-day interview I conducted with him, I assured him that I was and would continue to be proud. However, it has taken years to appreciate the depth of what he told me that day. I am thankful for recent opportunities, both moving my young family to Tokyo and joining the USJC / ELP community. Participation in both have allowed me to understand George’s words in a much deeper way.
After my ELP experience, I told others that I had never connected to people as deeply and as quickly as I had during the program. My fellow ELP alumni inspired me as a leader and understood my relationship with Japan in a way that only Japanese Americans could. This extended beyond my ELP peers to the multi-generational USJC community. I felt genuinely supported, as though I were talking to my own aunts, uncles, and grandparents. The experience I received from being an ELP has motivated me to invest more actively in Japan’s youth.
In March, I had the privilege of supporting two TOMODACHI programs. I planned a career mentoring dinner for Tohoku youth as part of the TOMODACHI Global Leadership Academy with fellow 2015 ELP participant, Evelyn Tokuyama. Our volunteer mentors also included two ELP alumni, Ginger Vaughn (ELP ’12) and Kei Ashizawa (ELP ’11).
After the GLA event, I also supported the TOMODACHI Social Entrepreneurship Award Program, traveling to Silicon Valley as a mentor for Japan’s top university startups as they gave pitches to venture capitalists.
When George Morihiro told me about being Japanese American, I considered the legacy of the 442nd and was indeed proud. However, since moving to Japan and connecting with the USJC, I feel as though I’ve discovered a much greater legacy of bicultural leadership, an inheritance that belongs to me as a Japanese American. It’s something that I treasure and want to ensure is passed down to my children’s generation.
Yes, I am proud that I am Japanese American, because at the core, we cannot help but give ourselves for the benefit of both countries. This is the nature of belonging to multiple families and why I believe that Japanese Americans must continue to be the vanguard of U.S.-Japan relations.