Clockwise from top left: Akira Boch, Evan Kodani and Yuka Murakami of the Watase Media Arts Center team display the local Emmys they received last year for the documentary “Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience” during the JANM 2021 Gala and Auction, livestreamed on May 1.

East L.A. Taiko kicked off the virtual gala on May 1 for the Japanese American National Museum in energetic style, performing on the steps of the museum, which only recently reopened its doors to the public.

JANM weathered the storm of a global pandemic with what CEO Ann Burroughs called “a year of extraordinary bounty which has given us a strong focus on the future.”

Leighton Okada, a former JANM summer intern, is a one-man chorus for his performance of “As the Deer (鹿のように)” for the JANM virtual gala.

Among the accomplishments of 2020 was a Los Angeles-area Emmy for the documentary “Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience.” The film features five Japanese American artists and designers whose lives were impacted by the wartime incarceration.

Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO

JANM was also one of the 20 Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous arts and cultural organizations designated as “America’s Cultural Treasures,” and to be the recipient of a $5.5 million grant over four years.

Actors Amy Hill, Jully Lee and Derek Mio served as hosts of the celebration, with all expressing hope that the gala next year would be once again held in person.

Norman Mineta, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the event was a chance to reflect on the past year.

“A pandemic that shook our world and caused untold loss and pain, our country has come to grips with a long overdue reckoning with race. And we as Asian Americans have come face-to-face with the stain of anti-Asian violence and hatred that is creeping across the nation,” Mineta said.

“We’ve been here before, as Japanese Americans, we know our own history and we know how easily prejudice and discrimination can turn to hate and violence.

East L.A. Taiko performs on the steps of the Japanese American National Museum.

Because we have been here before, our mission at JANM is more relevant and urgent than ever.”

The gala featured performances by Kishi Bashi, Mia Doi Todd, Judith Hill, Telly Leung, Herb Ohta and Nobuko Miyamoto.

Leighton Okada, a 2017 summer intern, sang “As the Deer (鹿のように)” in honor of his late grandfather Masahito Okada.

“His faith and love for others still offer me an example to live by, especially in times like these,” Okada said.

KTLA news anchor Frank Buckley was part of the program.

Among those honored in the “In Memoriam” section — dedicated to notables who passed since the last gala — was the late Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

Dodger Manager Dave Roberts offered greetings to the virtual audience.

“I’m very proud of my Japanese heritage, my birth country, and my mom’s ancestral home in the way I live my life, raise my kids and serve our community,” Roberts said.

“It’s an honor to address this gala as the first manager of Asian descent to lead his team to a World Series title — the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers — a franchise that has an indelible connection to Japan, through the contributions of Tommy Lasorda, the O’Malley family and Hideo Nomo.”

The gala can be viewed on JANM’s YouTube channel. For information on programs during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, visit

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