The JACL-DC chapter is happy to present the sixth post in our blog series, Meet Our Board. As a way to introduce you to our 2017 board members, this series will feature posts from members throughout the year. Past posts include one by our youngest board member, Christie Mori and at-large member, Craig Shimizu. Be sure to keep checking back for future posts from these individuals who are here to serve the DC chapter.
I’m the youngest child of parents who were 12 when their families experienced the forced removal to Rohwer and Poston incarceration camps. My childhood in Chicago was a direct result of my father’s family having nothing to go back to in Los Angeles and no choice but to start a new life in Chicago from Rohwer, Arkansas. A new life in a tough city, but a city with a big heart and growing Japanese American community post WWII.
Up until six years ago, my only home was Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicago’s Northside. I can still remember the JACL Chicago basketball clinics and the many volunteer coaches that gave endless hours to keep all of us so busy with basketball drills on cold winter weekends at a local school gym. I was a happy camper to wear a yellow gym shirt with blue JACL lettering, but I really didn’t know what JACL meant at the time. I must have been 7 or 8, with zero basketball talent.
It wasn’t until I found myself in corporate communications and public affairs, including holding various corporate foundation positions, that I finally understood the importance of the work of JACL. Its mission to secure and safeguard the civil rights of all communities affected by injustice and bigotry is what drives me and is what I continue to work toward both in my professional and personal life.
I currently work for AARP, where my role is to increase AARP’s social impact work and membership outreach within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and American Indian/Alaska Native communities. I also enjoy writing a column for the Pacific Citizen called “Reimage Everything…” While most topics are related to AARP tools and resources, I comment about my new phase in life at 56 and being a remote distance caregiver and father to two daughters.
When I first moved to D.C., I met John Tobe in my first month and he introduced me to the JACL DC Chapter and the greater JA community in the metro area. As they say, the rest is history. My family (Teresa, Samantha, Caroline, and our beloved dog Harley) has had a great opportunity to meet so many of you at various chapter event and I hope to talk with you all again at future events.
The JACL-DC chapter is happy to present the fifth post in our blog series, Meet Our Board. As a way to introduce you to our 2017 board members, this series will feature posts from members throughout the year. Past posts include one by our youngest board member, Christie Mori and at-large member, Craig Shimizu. Be sure to keep checking back for future posts from these individuals who are here to serve the DC chapter.
Hello DC Chapter! I’m Nikki Yamashiro, this year’s co-Vice President of JACL DC chapter board. As a Southern California transplant to DC (Monterey Park specifically, for those of you familiar with the LA area), I feel lucky to have found my way to the DC chapter. Growing up, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be able to take part in all of the cultural events and activities that LA had to offer. From going to Obon in the summer to taking Japanese dance and playing JA league basketball, connecting to the JA community was a part of my life that I never had to seek out and find, it was just around me.
Moving to the DC area was quite a culture shock for me. While I love that the city has events like Jazz in the Garden and Screen on the Green, I missed events like the Tanabata festival or being able to go to Little Tokyo and pick up manju. I remember the first New Year’s in DC I tried to make ozoni. After going to three different specialty stores in search of fresh mochi, I came home with freeze dried rectangular mochi (which, to be honest wasn’t half bad).
Joining the DC chapter has helped connect me to the JA community in the area and it’s been like finding family. The annual Mochitsuki reminds me of my family gatherings—loud and a little chaotic, but filled with lots of laughs, good food, and old friends catching up. I love the sense of community that this chapter fosters and am so happy to be a part of it. I also know from firsthand experience it is one of the only places you will be able to buy fresh mochi in the DC area!
One of my big projects for this year has been increasing our digital media communications with the chapter. In my role, I’ve created our new Facebook page, as well as new Twitter and Instagram accounts. I’m also working to have more content to share on our website through blogs. I hope that our presence on these platforms will help us better connect with the chapter, as well as connect the chapter to other cultural and civil rights organizations both in the DMV area and beyond.
Lastly, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have ideas for a blog post or want to give feedback on our social media. These platforms are ways to improve our communications, and if there’s something that we can do better, we want to know! Looking forward to connecting with you all on social media or at a future chapter event!
As students head back to school this September, we wanted to feature a blog post by Mai Ichihara, JACL-DC chapter’s student scholar who was named 2017 National JACL recipient of the Kenji Kajiwara Memorial Scholarship. We hope you enjoy her blog on what being a member of JACL means to her as much as we do!
When I first learned that I was selected as the recipient of this award, I immediately called my parents who had sacrificed so much to ensure I could live freely in pursuit of my passions. As a daughter of Japanese immigrants, I am honored to be recognized by the Japanese American Citizens League for my commitments to advance not only the cause of Japanese Americans, but of the greater Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community.
As a child of immigrants, I was nurtured not in wealth but in grit, and I am grateful for this rugged upbringing that forged my core values like resilience and compassion. At the same time, I do not mollify the experience; it was disparaging to face barriers buttressed by my socioeconomic and minority status. My parents, in their naiveté, chased after the American dream to escape social conformity. In Japan, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” but as immigrants in the U.S. they struggled with the language barrier, workplace discrimination, and absence of proximate family support and professional network, which are disadvantages that trickled down to me. That is why organizations like the JACL are indispensable to the empowerment of multicultural, multi-generational residents in the United States. JACL understands the obstacles faced by minorities, and my wish is for JACL to continue expanding its presence beyond the coasts and major cities. I was unaware of its resources growing up in Monument, Colorado, and there are still countless victims of injustice who stand to benefit from JACL.
Inspired by public service, I have consistently sought to assist the vulnerable and disadvantaged, whether it be serving on the board of CAPAL, a D.C. nonprofit that promotes equitable Asian American representation throughout all levels of government, or interning for various civil service entities like the State Department, Senate, and White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. To me, this award is a reminder that doing good does not go unnoticed, and I am encouraged to never give up on my conviction to build a prosperous society that is socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and transparently governed. Thanks to JACL, I am one step closer to this goal. The scholarship will help pay for my schooling at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and as a graduate student, I aim to become a skilled sustainable development practitioner and combat the injustices of climate change.
It is unacceptable that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards in the United States, and it is equally unfair that small island nations in the Asia Pacific are some of the most threatened by climate change. Thus, I am compelled to advocate for the underrepresented, driven by my identity as a second generation Japanese American and my interests in social and environmental justice. I promise to uphold the values of JACL as I pursue my Master of Environmental Management degree, a pursuit made possible, in part, by the generosity of the Kenji Kajiwara Memorial Scholarship Fund.
We hope that you can join us on Saturday, Sept. 9 for our annual Keiro Kai & Family Day extravaganza! From noon to 2:30pm, you can find us at North Bethesda Middle School, where we will be serving up some delicious teriyaki chicken, grilled beef, goma green beans, and more! There will be music by the JBE Band and, of course, Bingo!
Come ready to eat, meet some new people, and have fun! We hope to see you there!
Date: 9/09 (Saturday) Time: 12 noon – 2:30 pm Location: North Bethesda Middle School – Cafeteria (8935 Bradmoor Drive, Bethesda, MD 20817) Cost: FREE for JACL Members; Non-Members: $10/person or $20 for a family of 4 RSVP:www.jacldc-keirokai2017. eventbrite.com If you are unable to RSVP via the Eventbrite link, please email JACLWDC@gmail.com with the names of attendees. Entertainment: Music: The JBE Band (comprised of Japanese Chamber of Commerce leadership and the Japanese Embassy staff); Bingo
The JACL-DC chapter is happy to welcome David Inoue, longtime DC chapter member and board member, in his new position as JACL National’s executive director. We look forward to continuing our work with him and seeing him at our upcoming chapter events! Below is an excerpt from David’s welcome letter that will be included in our upcoming News Notes.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve as the national executive director for the JACL. To represent the Washington, DC chapter which I have been a member of since moving here in 2001, is an even greater privilege. It is because of the rich history and dedication from the members of this chapter that I even considered the possibility of serving in this role.
Serving on the board for our chapter, in many ways has helped prepare me for this role. First, I know that I have the vast resources of this chapter to reach out to. Many of you have played a pivotal role in the chapter and the national organization.…JACL is not without its challenges. I hope that the successes of our local chapter can in some ways be transferred to the national level. Not all chapters have the advantages we do in Washington, DC such as a constant influx of new young and energetic youth as interns and fellows or a relatively high standard of living. But there are lessons to be learned from what we have done well as a chapter and I look forward to sharing those with others and bringing new ideas from around the country back home.I have begun the process of learning about the many different JACL chapters. I certainly don’t want to exclude the DC chapter from that process. Although I am familiar with many of you, please do not hesitate to call or email me with a thought or suggestion. As I emphasized at the Sayonara Banquet in July, JACL is a membership organization and you are the membership. I look forward to working for and with all of you.
In part II of our conversation with Thomas Striegel, vice president at Davis Buckley Architects and Planners, and project manager for the design and construction of the National Japanese American Memorial, we ask questions related to the Memorial’s present-day impact and Thomas’ hopes for the Memorial’s future.
Q:What is a fun, little known fact about the Memorial?
A: The rocks in the pool are not natural boulders but were shaped from blocks of quarried granite and shaped by stone craftsmen to look like natural boulders. We guided their carving to produce complimentary shapes that worked well together.
Q:What is your favorite aspect of the Memorial?
A: I’m very pleased with the way that we were able to integrate the Memorial comfortably into what is actually a steeply sloping site (the elevation drops 14 feet along the length of D Street) without any steps or steep walkways. The resulting framed views and vistas to and through the Memorial are my favorite aspect. The view from the exterior sidewalks across the pool to the crane sculpture, and from the center plaza through the notch in the wall and across the pool, up the pathway towards the bell, along the tapering waterfall edge of the pool, each create a unique viewing experience that captures the configuration of connections that tell the story of what took place during WWII.
Q:It has been about 17 years since the Memorial was finished. Is there anything that has surprised you about the memorial over that course of time?
A: I’m encouraged that as we get further in time, past the events that this Memorial commemorates, its success is demonstrated by the continued and seemingly growing interest in its story and lessons by young visitors.
Q:What is the most memorable encounter you’ve had with someone who has visited the Memorial?
A: There have been several, but one that stands out occurred about 9 months after the Memorial was dedicated. I was there to check on an item that required attention when a couple of tour buses pulled up and a large group of Japanese American senior citizens got out and started to walk around the Memorial. I guess I looked like I knew what I was doing so a few people came up and asked me some questions. I ended up giving an impromptu tour of the Memorial to the group. After the tour, the visitors explained that they were celebrating their 50th high school reunion from a school in New Jersey and all agreed that as part of the celebration they had to take the 3 1/2 hour bus ride down to see the Memorial. They further explained that at the end of the war, Seabrook Farms in Cumberland County, NJ, recruited workers being released from the internment camps. Their families had all relocated to NJ, where they attended high school together. I was deeply moved that a trip to the Memorial in Washington, D.C., was the centerpiece of their reunion and how pleased they were to be there.
Q:What are your hopes for the memorial for the future?
A: My hope is that the Memorial will continue to be of interest and grow in interest through increasing public programs and events held at the Memorial. We’ve learned that the more a Memorial is used, the more people will see its value and be committed to its care and maintenance.
Hopefully if you’ve been to the D.C. area, you’ve had the chance to visit the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism. It’s a masterful tribute to the Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II and the Japanese Americans who courageously served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” The Memorial plays an invaluable role–not only helping to preserve Japanese American’s place in history, but it’s a reminder of past injustices that shape our commitment to civil rights.
The JACL DC chapter was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with Thomas Striegel, vice president at Davis Buckley Architects and Planners, as well as the project manager for the design and construction of the National Japanese American Memorial. It was an insightful and educational experience. Below is the first part of our conversation with Thomas.
Q: What was it about the National Japanese American Memorial that made your firm decide to take it on as a project?
A: From the outset, we were honored to work on the Memorial. The National Park Service recommended our firm, Davis Buckley Architects and Planners (DBA), to the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF). We had recently completed the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, and were well regarded for our work to secure the required design and technical approvals from several jurisdictional agencies. We were initially engaged to work on the site selection, and after that went very smoothly, were then asked to design the Memorial. The importance of what the Memorial would stand for was immediately evident. It was also clear that those we worked with at NJAMF were dedicated to see the Memorial’s construction, which at times can be a challenging process, through to completion.
Q: What was your vision when you first started designing the Memorial?
A: We tried to be very open minded at the outset regarding what the Memorial should be. We did a lot of research about the related events. Davis Buckley, our firm’s founder and president, organized a number of focus groups with Japanese American community members to hear firsthand about their experiences before the war, in the camps or in the military, and after the war. Additionally, our firm wanted to learn what the Memorial would mean to them and what they thought it should be. The feedback was invaluable and helped to shape the design.
Q: The Memorial is intended to recognize the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, as well as pay tribute to those JA’s who fought for a country that was also interning their families. How did you go about conveying such a difficult and complex topic?
A: It is a complicated story. The continuous form of the spiraling wall is the Memorial’s uniting element. It first shapes the contained, central space—symbolic of the internment camps. It then leans back, opens, and gets lower to express the contributions that those who fought for the national cause while simultaneously depicting that the camps were both unneeded and unjust. The inscriptions on the various parts of the wall help to tell the story.
Q: What was most challenging during the building of the Memorial?
A: The site presented a number of technical challenges. The natural elevation of the site was much lower. When the plan for that area of Washington, D.C. was developed, approximately 10’ of fill material was brought in to construct the adjacent avenues. The fill material was not clean structural soil; it came from landfills and contained long buried trash and construction debris, which provided a poor structural base for the Memorial. The soil had to be densified and reinforced using geopiers; evenly distributed columns of highly compacted gravel that extend down to sound natural soils. During excavations for the foundations, areas of intact brick pavers were discovered 10’ below grade. Research concluded that they were the remnants of the sidewalks that surrounded the original train station that existed before the area was filled. There were also a number unmapped, existing utilities discovered that had to be rerouted and a vent from the adjacent underground Metro tunnel that that had to be repositioned and reconstructed.
Q: What emotions were you hoping to evoke as visitors walk through the Memorial?
A: We hoped that it would result in feelings of deep pride for the Japanese Americans who had persevered through the events of WWII in such a dignified and honorable way, to be honored in this significant way at a prominent site in the Nation’s Capital, with a national monument built of beautiful, durable and well-crafted materials. We also hoped that visitors would learn more about this important story, and leave with a better understanding of how wrong the internment was and how nothing like this can ever be allowed to happen again.
The JACL-DC chapter is happy to present the fourth post in our new blog series, Meet Our Board. As a way to introduce you to our 2017 board members, this series will feature posts from members throughout the year. Past posts include one by our youngest board member, Christie Mori, as well as by at-large members, Craig Shimizu and John Tobe. Be sure to keep checking back for future posts from these individuals who are here to serve the DC chapter.
I retired several years ago after a long and satisfying career in education as teacher and administrator, which included elementary school principal, director of a high school in a psychiatric hospital, and director of elementary instruction in Montgomery County Public Schools. I have returned to my school district, however, for part-time work. I enjoy spending more time organizing family gatherings and maintaining traditions as matriarch of our immediate crew of my husband, two daughters, two sons-in-law, and three grandchildren, ages 5, 8, and 11. I have also had time to return to my own roots in the Japanese American community by leading the DC Chapter of the JACL and co-chairing the JACL Legacy Fund Grants Committee.
My story as a Japanese American starts with growing up in South Bend, Indiana, after my parents left Tule Lake and eventually settled in the Midwest. There were virtually no Japanese children in my hometown except my cousin, whose family lived with us for 12 years after they left camp. I remember being teased about the way I looked and being the token Japanese in an all-white Sunday school class. Nevertheless, my cousin and I wanted to blend in with the majority, and we excelled in school.
In JACL I have had the opportunity to focus on my Japanese heritage, making meaningful friendships and participating in valuable cultural, historical, and civil rights events. Being named to the DC Chapter board heightened my participation in the organization and led to other leadership positions. Mochitsuki, Keiro Kai, June Picnic, and Memorial Day, to name a few annual events, have become given parts of my year. JACL has helped me come full circle in understanding and appreciating my Japanese legacy. I hope many others will be active in our DC Chapter as they deepen their own story.