Young JA Professionals Bridging the Gap
December 5, 2008
New Bay Area group helps maintain connection to the Japanese American community
SAN FRANCISCO — On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Japantown, a group of energetic twenty-somethings got together at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California to set up the very first fundraising event for their emergent community group for young professionals called Nakayoshi.
Downstairs from the gymnasium where kids played basketball, past the Kimochi senior citizens bulletin board, the members of Nakayoshi were preparing activities for their own demographic, cheerfully busy cooking rice, slicing fish and setting up tables in anticipation of the start of Tabemasho! — a cooking class series. The first lesson: sushi.
Nakayoshi, which means circle of friendship, was the brainchild of 24-year-old Megumi Kaminaga of San Francisco. Kaminaga, who has served for several years as a youth representative of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), says she and her friends started the organization last January, meeting once a month in her living room.
From her work with the JACL, Kaminaga says she saw a need for a community group catering to young professionals who, once out of college, often lose that connection to the Japanese American community. “I thought, ‘there isn’t a space for young professionals in [JACL],’ ” Kaminaga said. “We decided to create Nakayoshi to try to redefine that space for myself and people my age.”
It turns out a lot of other young Asian Americans had the same desire to connect
with each other, their local community and with Japanese culture of the past and present. Starting with only seven members, Nakayoshi now maintains an online presence through Facebook and a blog and recently marked its one hundredth member.
Starting a new community organization has been no easy task, especially when asking for time from busy young adults. Graig Inaba, a Nakayoshi member and one of the teachers of the sushi-making class, noted the difficulty in gathering active members.
“Our generation is kind of hard to get out,” Inaba said. “We’re somewhat young, we’re starting our professional careers, and some of us are starting families, so it’s hard to get back into the community.”
One thing that seems to unite all young professionals, however, is meeting new people. According to co-founding member Emily Leach, “what we’ve found most successful has been putting on social events, so we have a pretty healthy mix of social events with the more political events that we do.”
Nakayoshi member Samantha Ho says the organization has inspired her to become more engaged in her community while allowing her to share her skills as a graphic designer, designing the group’s first brochure. “I get to promote them and help promote myself while being more active in the community in San Francisco,” Ho said.
Nakayoshi’s political activism grew naturally from the inspiration of its sponsor, the JACL, an Asian American civil rights organization headquartered in San Francisco. Nakayoshi supported the JACL’s opposition to California’s Prop 8 and enlisted volunteers to support APIA Vote’s Election Day voter-protection program.
Kaminaga notes that the JACL was one of the first organizations to publicly announce support for marriage equality. “I think a lot of [Asian Americans] are actually speaking out more,” she said. “We definitely have more groups out there who advocate for more issues, loudly, and clearly we’re not silent anymore.”
The support and inspiration from the JACL is one of many ways Nakayoshi reconnects young professionals with the Japanese American community. By exposing
young Asian Americans to the issues of importance within the Japanese American community, “this two-way dialogue gets to occur between the older generation and the up and coming young professionals,” explains Leach.
Leach’s mother, Jeanne, was in attendance at the sushi class and expressed her support for the group, saying, “It is important to continue their connection with the Japanese American community, because as time goes on, the connection becomes less and less strong, and this is a good way to keep those things alive.”
For more on Nakayoshi, go to nakayoshi-jacl.blogspot.com.
Written by Melissa Chin · Filed Under Bay Area
Friday, December 5, 2008
Nakayoshi covered in AsianWeek
AsianWeek just published their article on Nakayoshi this morning. You can read the original article at http://www.asianweek.com/2008/12/05/young-ja-professionals-bridging-the-gap/