SAN FRANCISCO —  The 2022 candidates for Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen were recently announced.

One of the five young women will be chosen on Saturday, April 9, at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres, 1881 Post St. in San Francisco Japantown. Doors open at 5 p.m. Program starts at 6 p.m.

The candidates, who were introduced to the media in a virtual press conference on March 9 by Queen Program Chair Maya Hernandez and Queen Program Director of PR Yuki Nishimura, are:

• Katy Akiko Drennan

ケイティ アキコドレンナン

Sponsor: Kogura Company

Age: 26

Hometown: San Jose

Hobbies: Cooking, basketball, traveling, watching Disney movies

Creative Expression: Performing ukulele to a video of family photos

Education: CSU Chico, BS in recreation, hospitality and parks management, emphasis in event and hotel management; minor in sustainability

Employment: Wedding and event sales manager, The Ranch @ Silver Creek, Wedgewood Weddings

Community Organizations:

– Silicon Valley Japanese American Citizens League

– JACL Kakehashi Project, youth ambassador 2018

– American Language and Culture Institute (ALCI) Student Chapter, Chico State

– International Festival and Events Association Student Chapter, Chico State

– Alzheimer’s Association; Walk to End Alzheimer’s team leader

Professional Aspirations or Goals in Life: “I aspire to organize festivals for cultural and social groups to educate the community about multicultural traditions. I hope to continue growing my skills in the hospitality industry as a professional fun maker.”

Essay: Who am I as a Japanese American/person of Japanese descent?

“What makes up a Japanese American is the blending of traditions and customs brought on by migration and historical events we have experienced. Being Japanese American is simply that. We are American and we are Japanese. Both cultures were originally different, but blended together give us a culture somewhere in the middle, but unlike any other.

“A fun comparison on who a Japanese American is Spam musubi. Spam was made popular by immigrants from California and Hawaii. We fused new and old ideas together to make our own culture. Fusion food is an example I like to use because we are not diminishing either two things that are being brought together, but rather appreciating both worlds together.”

• Stephanie Misa Doi

ステファニー ミサ ドイ

Sponsor: Sho Chiku Bai, Takara Sake USA

Age: 27

Hometown: Pleasanton

Creative Expression: Spoken word performed to a video of family photos

Hobbies: Baking, swimming, running, biking, strength training, oratory, poetry, writing

Education: Claremont McKenna College, 2017. B.A. in psychology, Human Rights, Genocide, and Holocaust Sequence

Employment: SEI (Strategic Energy Innovations): Building Leaders for a Resilient World, fundraising and development associate manager

Community Organizations:

– New Generation Nikkei Fund (NGNF)

– Nikkei Community Internship (NCI) alum

– Kase Nikkei Community Scholarship Program (Kase Program) alum

– Japantown for Justice

– Buddhist Church of Stockton

– Japanese American Citizens League, Stockton Chapter

– Friends of the Children, San Francisco Chapter

– Claremont McKenna College Office of Annual Giving

– University of San Francisco Masters Swim Team

Professional Aspirations or Goals in life: “Personally and professionally, I aspire to build and empower others to create resilient, sovereign, sustainable, and equitable communities.”

Essay: Who am I as a Japanese American/person of Japanese descent?

“To be Japanese American is to be a tightrope walker balancing on a thin line strung between the terrain of two lands and two cultures; a jaded monolinguist whose tongue slips on Japanese words and phrases and whose ears listen to but cannot transform syllables into meaning; a multi-generational guest on stolen land that was my ancestors’ other shore; a tree from a seed that was planted generations ago. I am my ancestors’ time capsule of their dreams, visions, hopes – I am their future.

“To be Japanese American is to be a complex, tangled web of history, memory, emotion, and resilience. I hold my ancestors within my body – flowing, thick black hair like my mother’s; caramel colored eyes like my father’s; cheekbones that point to the sky like my grandmother’s; a nose molded from that of my grandfather’s; hands that want to create and move with deliberation like my grandmother’s; and a physically strong and agile body like my grandfather’s.

Okagesama de: I live on the aching backs of my ancestors – their labor allows me the privilege to dream. To me, to be Japanese American is to be utterly confused, alighted with curiosity, giddy with pride, enamored by a culture of the past divorced from its present and attempting to be reclaimed for a future, and transfixed on being my ancestors’ wildest dreams. It is in community, in the company of others of Japanese descent, that I find clarity, grace, familiarity, and hope. It is there that I feel whole.”

• Michelle Chieko Catherine Heckert

ミシェル ヘッカート

Sponsor: Nihonmachi Street Fair

Age: 25

Hometown: Pacifica

Creative Expression: Original dance choreographed to original song

Hobbies: Songwriting, singing, dancing (modern, jazz, ballet, tap), traveling

Education: Santa Clara University, 2018. BS psychology, BA music, minor in communications. Bath Spa University, 2019. MA songwriting

Employment: Research operations associate at Flexport

Community Organizations:

– Nikkei Rising/The Yon-Say Podcast (Tadaima! | Japanese American Memorial


– Kakehashi Project (Japanese American Citizens League)

– Nikkei Community Internship (Japanese Community Youth Council)

Professional Aspirations or Goals in Life: “Beyond scaling and democratizing user research within software companies, I hope to pursue a Ph.D. to further explore mixed-race identities.”

Essay: Who am I as a Japanese American/person of Japanese descent?

“As a multiracial American woman, my journey of understanding my identity has not been linear. I have often felt like too much of one thing and not enough of another. I am a proud Yonsei, fourth-generation Japanese American with additional roots in Western Europe and Latin America. This combination makes me unique, yet I have always gravitated toward my Japanese ancestry.

“I owe this connection to my heritage to my maternal grandparents, who have raised me alongside my parents. Though they had been forced to assimilate throughout their lives, they still kept a few Japanese traditions alive. And as I grew older, I wanted to continue learning how I could keep their legacies alive.

“However, for a while, I did not know if I was ‘qualified’ to claim my identity as Japanese American. I navigated Japanese American spaces lightly, as I still did not know the Japanese language or culture as much as I thought I should. Nor did I feel that I looked the part.

“As I continue to meet Japanese American community members, I have come to realize that there is no ‘right’ way to be Japanese American. I can still acknowledge theother aspects of my identity – being multiracial, being American, being a woman – while leaning into my Japanese heritage. I am excited to keep finding ways to honor the past while laying a foundation for the future as a member of the 2022 Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program.”

• Ashleigh Suzu Takemoto

アシュリー 鈴 竹本

Sponsor: Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California

Age: 19

Hometown: Pleasanton

Creative Expression: Karate kata

Hobbies: Watching Japanese movies, creative writing, going on walks, karaoke

Education: UC Berkeley, B.A. in molecular cell biology. Anticipated graduation year: 2024

Employment: University student

Community Organizations:

– Japanese Department and Language Coach-Volunteer Health Interpreters Organization, UC Berkeley

– Trained emergency medical technician – Disaster Health Volunteers Alameda County

– Hospital volunteer – Highland Hospital

– Volunteer teacher’s assistant – Nihongo Hoshuko San Jose Ko (San Jose Japanese Language School)

– Student Council member – Nihongo Hoshuko San Jose Ko

Professional Aspiration or Goals in Life: “I aspire to pursue a career in medicine focusing on emergency medicine or infectious diseases. I would like to blend my passions by serving the Asian American community through healthcare.”

Essay: Who am I as a Japanese American/person of Japanese descent?

“On New Year’s, my Japanese school hosted a mawashi-nomi tea ceremony. The host instructed us to spin the bowl twice with our right hand before bringing it to our mouth. Once done, we set the bowl on the mat and wiped it clean with a cloth. We spun the bowl again and placed it in front of the next person in line. This went on until everyone had tea.

“Beyond the circle of the tea ceremony, I continue to partake in the ‘mawashi-nomi’ of culture, history, and identity in my daily life. I am a Nisei on my mother’s side, and a fifth generation on my father’s. My mother’s ancestors lived in the temples of Hiroshima, while my father’s ancestors worked in the fields of Watsonville. With differing customs and values, there were times when I felt torn between my biculturalism. As I grew up, however, I began to realize how lucky I was to be able to balance these identities, as the tea ceremony balances the bitter and the sweet.

“Being involved in the Japanese American community, be it through schooling or volunteering, has allowed me to speak with my mother and her family. I can enjoy Japanese novels and films, all with a greater understanding of the depth and beauty of Japan’s culture.

“Similarly, understanding my heritage has helped me appreciate how others take pride in their own cultures. These experiences are why I continue to pass my bowl around to the community.”

• Sydney Matsuko Kasson

シドニー マツコ キャッセン

Sponsor: Japanese American Museum of San Jose

Age: 24

Hometown: Sunnyvale

Creative Expression: Mountain biking

Hobbies: Mountain biking, road biking, creating digital landscape art, running, hiking, Peloton, volunteering, listening to music, being a cat mom

Education: Bachelor of Science degree in graphic communication, concentration in UX/UI design, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Employment: Visual/ UX designer on the Experience Design Team at Cisco

Community Organizations:

– Creative Marketing Team at Japanese American Museum of San Jose

Professional Aspirations or Goals in Life: “I aspire to be a program manager for a user experience team that designs for consumer-facing products that can make life a little easier for its users.”

Essay: Who am I as a Japanese American/person of Japanese descent?

“Being of Japanese descent in America means that I have the honor to be the voice of a new generation. It is my responsibility to keep traditions alive and be an advocate for challenges we face in the AAPI community. However, it’s also my privilege to celebrate our wins and strengths. I have been raised with the perspective that I can be who I want, as long as I never forget the hard work my family put in to earn me that freedom.

“Growing up, I immersed myself in cultural opportunities, such as dancing hula for Halau Na Wai Ola, and volunteering for the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Both encouraged me to be brave, creative, and authentically myself. I learned about art, music, respect, history, and the love and pride of both communities. Being Japanese American has allowed me to not only celebrate Japanese culture, but to love and appreciate all cultures.

“Our shared history makes AAPI Americans unique, but also bridges us together. As a Yonsei and Gosei, I have the ability to create a life and a name for myself in a world that wouldn’t necessarily accept me years ago. As a Japanese American, I will embrace my individuality. I will continue to spread love to those around me, and celebrate the unique and beautiful cultures that grow, thrive, and fight to be heard. I am proud to be Japanese American, and am excited to use my voice, art, and volunteer platforms to make a difference.”


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