If someone told me years ago that I would be the Nisei Week Queen one day, I would probably think they were mistaking me for someone else. Growing up, I was quiet and shy, not the type of girl to get in front of hundreds of people and give a speech about myself. However, several of my friends who served on previous Nisei Week courts inspired me to apply for the opportunity to represent the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council and run for the title of Nisei Week Queen. I can say with certainty it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Of course, one of the initial attractions to the Nisei Week Queen and Court program is the opportunity to travel! During the course of our year-long reign, I had the opportunity to visit Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo, and Nagoya, Japan with the other ccourt members and our parents. These trips were incredible learning experiences, in addition to being lots of fun!
Being a native of Southern California, with Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo so accessible, it is hard to believe it is one of only three remaining Japantowns in the United States. There were once 43 recognized Japantowns in California alone. Traveling to other cities within the U.S. gave us the opportunity to learn a little about the history of the Japanese American communities outside of Los Angeles, how much adversity they faced even after being released from the internment camps, and how much they sacrificed to rebuild their communities. Although we already respected and appreciated our ancestors who immigrated here, they had their civil rights stripped from them, then picked themselves up and persevered. What we learned strengthened those feelings of appreciation and respect hundred-fold. The strong and close-knit community I grew up in that supports me and my family, and I owe so much to, would not exist if it were not for their strength and gaman.
In Nagoya, we participated in the city’s annual Sister City Festival. Acting as representatives of Los Angeles, we had the opportunity to meet representatives from each of Nagoya’s other sister cities, including Mexico City, Mexico, Nanjing, China, Sydney, Australia, and Turin, Italy. We also were able to spend time with Mayor Takashi Kawamura and other government officials of Nagoya. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and a lesson in our Japanese traditions and culture, which none of us would have had the opportunity to enjoy if it were not for the Nisei Week Queen and Court program and their strong relationship with the Los Angeles-Nagoya Sister City Affiliation.
Being a part of the Nisei Week Court gave us the opportunity to become more involved with the Japanese American community and give back to the community that has given us so much. Throughout this past year, I participated in more fundraisers, social gatherings, golf tournaments, luncheons, galas and bazaars than I ever knew existed! It just proves how many different organizations and clubs there are within our community and how many generous and hard-working individuals there are who run and volunteer for these groups. It also shows us the immense amount of work that goes into keeping our community alive and perpetuating our traditions and culture. These people and organizations are the reason why the Japanese American community in Southern California continues to thrive.
My generation has huge shoes to fill in order to carry on and build upon the strong community our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents created for us. One of the biggest lessons I learned through my experience on the Nisei Week Court is how important it is to be involved in the community and to encourage as many young people as possible to get involved, volunteer, and take on leadership positions.
As my year as a representative of our community comes to an end, I cannot possibly list everything I learned and experienced. However, I can say I have grown immensely as a person, as a leader, and as a Japanese American. I gained six life-long friends in my Nisei Week Court sisters. I have grown out of the shy and quiet girl I once was and have become a confident and poised young woman. And, I have been inspired to not let my own involvement in our community end when I pass on my crown. I am so grateful to the Japanese American community for being such a huge part of my life since childhood and supporting me with confidence throughout my year as the Nisei Week Queen.