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.