Starting an organization is never an easy task, but establishing an organization during a pandemic? Inconceivable. However, with patience, lots of free time, and many growing pains, 13 young adults (including myself) started an organization called Nikkei Rising.
In 2020, the COVID-19 virus disrupted everyone's lives in a way no one had anticipated. All around the world, we were required to wear face masks, stay 6 feet away from people, and only go out when absolutely necessary. It was a difficult time, but crucial nonetheless to ensure everyone's health wasn't jeopardized.
With that being said, one crucial part of the Japanese American community had to be put on hold: in-person pilgrimages. These community gatherings became too dangerous to have, especially when the camp survivors’ lives were at stake. However, the Japanese American community wasn’t deterred from finding an alternative solution. The Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages (AKA JAMP) and countless other organizations partnered together and created Tadaima: A Community Virtual Pilgrimage.
While planning 9 weeks worth of programming, my cousin reached out to me asking if I wanted to join a new young adult organization that was part of Tadaima 2020. It didn’t really have a confirmed name yet, but its objective was solid: to create young adult Nikkei content for young adult Nikkei. At least for the Tadaima 2020 9-week programming.
I never had the opportunity to attend an in-person pilgrimage (or really anything in the Nikkei community, aside from an occasional San Jose Nikkei Matsuri), so being able to join this pilgrimage while I had the free time? Sign me up.
With the pandemic, everything switched to being online, especially newly created organizations. It was definitely daunting to meet 12 strangers, but in order to learn more about the Nikkei community, it was a part of the process. Fortunately, some of these “strangers” have become some of my closest friends. Even to this day, many of us have never met in person.
Together, we spent about three months pouring our passion for the community into programming for young adults just like us. We were proud of what we created, but after 9 straight weeks of programming, it was done. Tadaima was over… but the bonds we created were still strong. That’s when we realized, we didn’t want it to end. When Nikkei Rising was first created, we never thought it’d go beyond that summer. However, we agreed with the reception we got and how much fun we had, we wanted to continue connecting, educating, and empowering young Nikkei as Nikkei Rising.
Nowadays, Nikkei Rising does an extraordinary amount of programming with After Hours, All Things Japanese American (AKA All Things JA), and the Yon-Say Podcast (AKA YSP). After Hours is a late-night program created to connect young adults and bring the community closer through music and games. All Things JA highlights organizations, programs, restaurants, businesses, community centers, and so much more. It’s become a resource center for young adults in the Nikkei community. The Yon-Say Podcast became a space for roundtable discussions with young adults who are involved in the Japanese American community. Even though it had its final season in April of this year, I cannot wait to show what the YSP committee has in store in replacement of that. It’s been an honor watching these programs grow and evolve to what they’ve become today.
Before joining this virtual organization, I knew I wanted to learn more about my Japanese heritage and that I had a lifelong journey ahead of me. Nikkei Rising gave me the guidance I was looking for to approach my journey and permission to let go of all of my insecurities of being “Asian” enough. My life up until the pandemic had been a classic case of post-WWII JA assimilation. I never went to Japanese language school. I had never attended an obon festival. I didn’t even learn about the incarceration until I was in middle school and read the infamous one paragraph in the social studies textbook.
Now, because of my work in Nikkei Rising, I’ve become more confident in myself and my heritage. I’ve been able to educate others of Japanese American history and culture through Nikkei Rising’s social media. I’ve represented Nikkei Rising in a national AAPI youth conference. I’ve even managed to rise through the ranks and become one of the heads of Nikkei Rising. I’ve forged my place in the Nikkei community through this organization, and I will be forever grateful for that.
If there is one piece of advice I can offer you, it is to join your local Nikkei organization (or Nikkei Rising). Try out that taiko class. I was too scared in school to try out anything Japanese or Asian related because I worried too much about what other people thought of me. At the end of the day, their opinions don’t matter as long as it’s something you want to do and potentially want to learn more about yourself and your heritage. This is your nudge to do it.
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