By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Over the roar of a plane taking off from LAX, Alan Nishio spoke through a megaphone in a strong, clear voice to a gathering of more than 80 at Dockweiler State Beach on Sunday.
“Don’t worry, this is not going to be a ‘typical Alan’ speech,” he quipped. “Just wanted to thank all of you for coming out. I’m going into hospice now, I’m in good spirits, All of you here represent why I feel so good about life and the future of our community and everything else that’s going on.”
The inaugural Bike Ride for Alan took place under sunny skies and Nishio, walking with a cane, was able to attend, clearly delighted in seeing so many friends who came to show their love and support for the longtime community leader and mentor, who recently decided to forgo further treatment for the rare cancer he has been battling for some 17 years.
They brought a variety of bikes, from beach cruisers to road bikes. Cyclists wore helmets, while others were there to watch and cheer on the riders who rode from Dockweiler south to the Manhattan Beach Pier, an eight-mile round trip.
In typical JA fashion, a table laden with snacks of homemade onigiri, donuts, energy bars and pots of coffee and tea was organized by Carrie Morita.
All were there to spend time with Nishio — to share a hug, take a photo and enjoy a moment or two. Young people he mentored through the years got a chance to introduce him to their kids.
“Didn’t know what to expect but I think Alan is thrilled,” said his wife, Yvonne. “To see friends from long ago as well as recent friends who are younger. It’s heartening to know they are all doing well. A lot of the younger folks Alan had mentored. The older folks are like old colleagues. The generation that is much younger is especially heartening — they started as students and now they’re active in the community and nonprofits. That’s wonderful.”
Kristin Fukushima, managing director of the Little Tokyo Community Council, said that Nishio had a particular impact on the youth, offering invaluable advice, knowledge and support.
“I’ve always particularly appreciated his singular commitment to mentorship and empowering the next generation — in fact, he is the first person that Stacy Toyota, Sen Sugano, and I approached with the idea about starting Kizuna, and he became our first donor as well,” Fukushima said. “He is an icon, legend, mentor, and friend, and a true pillar of the community. He’s also funny, kind, charismatic, and caring — and always committed to doing the right thing, and pushing people to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is.
“His ongoing lessons for those of us that call him mentor have always been focused around intentionality, living life with purpose, and being grounded in values and people — and so much of the bike ride celebration reflected these core Alan things.”
Nishio’s family attended the event, including daughter Mia Lockwood, her husband Greg and their kids Evan, Ty, Kira and Emi.
John Esaki came up with the idea, and the morning gathering was organized by Esaki, Amy Kato and Sharon Yamato.
“Only one person could draw people out on an early Sunday morning to ride bikes many had not ridden in months or years,” said Yamato. “The inaugural Bike Ride for Alan will hopefully resurface many times over in honor of a crazy cyclist and inspirational leader who encourages all of us to be the best we can be.”
Esaki said it was heartwarming to see Nishio among all the people who love him. “It was the perfect day for a perfect ride with people overjoyed to be there,” he said.
Cycling is a fitting activity to unite the community in celebration of Nishio. He was born in Manzanar and got his start in political activism at UC Berkeley, where he helped to form Asian Americans for Political Action.
His life has been devoted to building community through mentorship and work with numerous organizations, including Little Tokyo Service Center, National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (now known as Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress) and Kizuna.
Nishio explained that cycling was a refuge and he would regularly take one or two weeks off a year for cycling trips.
“For me, my job, cycling is a very solitary experience. You’re on your own cycling for eight hours by yourself. I enjoyed the down time,” Nishio said.
“Before my cancer, I would cycle every weekend and we would do rides between 30 and 80 miles. I’ve ridden from the Washington border of Canada down to San Diego over four weeks. Cycling is easy to train for. You don’t need any special athletic talent. You need to have determination and a willingness to train and get ready.”
Jeffery Chop was among the cyclists. A resident of Little Tokyo, he said cycling opened up his horizons as a young man growing up poor in Oakland’s Chinatown.
“I always wanted to take one of those epic bike rides. Alan was a maniac on the bike. One ride called the Donut goes all the way around the coast of Palos Verdes and goes into the hills and comes back around. One of the supreme tests of a bike riders’ skills to be able to do that and Alan used to ride that regularly,” Chop said.
As the riders came back, the gathering continued to enjoy the camaraderie and friendship. Despite his dire diagnosis, Nishio was optimistic and happy to be among so many friends.
“A group of people — that’s what community is all about. It’s not just a circle of friends, this is community. I’m the excuse and I’m happy to be the excuse. Wish I didn’t have to give my life to be the excuse. When John and Amy and Sharon suggested, I said, ‘Sure.’ The typical people say this is the reason I need to get the bike out of the garage and dust it off. That alone is worthwhile,” he said.
Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)
Wonderful event for a very special man