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THROUGH THE FIRE: Welcoming the Next Nikkei Generations


As a proud member of the JA community, I’ve often lamented the fact that most of the people who attend community events are aging baby boomers like me. Many a time I’ve heard older folks say, “We need more young people to get involved.” It seemed that the only ones who wanted to carry on the honorable Nikkei tradition were born during or immediately after the war.

Being the last of nine children and referred to as the baby of the family, I’ve always considered myself perennially young. Now at age 69, I’m trying to adjust to the fact that the world around me is getting younger, more technologically savvy, and definitely more energetic. It’s a good thing, really.

Maybe it was because I attended four camp pilgrimages this year that I got my first glimpse at the future of the once aging JA community. Though many are appropriately mourning the fact that the real witnesses to the incarceration are either gone or elderly, there’s something refreshing about seeing the descendants and their offspring eager to learn more about the camp experience first-hand by going to the actual sites.

At Tule Lake, it seemed like there were platoons of young people being added to the mix, and the culmination of their involvement was an inspiring impromptu demonstration to protest the detention facilities currently being used to separate parents and children of asylum-seeking immigrants. Spearheaded by young people, the protests and the motto/hashtag “NeverAgainIsNow” added another rebellious dimension to the once somber events that served primarily as memorials to the past.

In addition to a similar protest at Minidoka, there was also a group of young people with cheerful faces at the pilgrimage suited up in fluorescent work vests. I was to learn that these were college students enlisted from University of Washington to help in exchange for free tuition to the pilgrimage. I was thrilled to see so many of them eager to attend, and even more excited to watch how hard they worked for their money. They were helping elderly people find their way around, directing people on the buses, managing sales tables, and any number of other volunteer chores that less peppy people could manage.

To top it off, at the end of the three-day event, they each spoke a little about their pilgrimage experience. It was wonderful to hear how their enthusiasm and dedication was paying off for all of us.

Youth protest at the Minidoka Pilgrimage.

Closer to home, while at one of the public programs accompanying the current “” exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum, I was again struck by the large number of young faces in the audience. Usually events like this are populated with the age 60-and-over crowd, but there was something about the openness and exuberance in the audience that made me think changes were in the air. When the panelists of hapa writers were asked about the future of the JA community, their response was unanimous: it was becoming more inclusive. With the proliferation of outmarriages, these changes were happily unavoidable, and the number of young hapas in the audience was proof.

This gets me to my final thought, which is in the form of an early announcement and invitation. I recently became involved with an artist collective called JAWS (Japanese American Women Speak) that is planning a special art event with workshops from Oct. 14 to 28 to be held at 341FSN (First Street North) in Little Tokyo. Called “Seeds of Our Grandmothers’ Dreams,” the event is the first for this group of talented, dynamic, and passionate young Nikkei women in an effort to explore their own and others’ dreams.

As I throw myself onto their bandwagon to share in their Yonsei/Gosei fervor, this old soul is feeling strangely young all over again.


Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at The Rafu Shimpo’s management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to 

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