June Aochi Berk listens as an A.I. version of herself answers questions during a demonstration of interactive technology presented during the Japanese American National Museum’s annual benefit gala on May 13. Berk is among the personalities who contributed their time, experience and knowedge to the Japanese American Stories database, a project foundied by Cole Kawana, at right.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

The Japanese American National Museum, the nation’s largest and most venerable steward of Nikkei history, shined a spotlight on emerging leaders at its signature gala on May 13. and paid tribute to the generation that helped sustain the institution throughout its 31-year existence.

During the event, the attendees paused to travel back in time while the Sansei Rockers band infused the ballroom with an unmistakable ’70s vibe.

KTLA morning news anchor Frank Buckley emceed the program, held at the InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles, which began with remarks by JANM Board Chair William T. Fujioka and President/CEO Ann Burroughs, who emphasized the evening’s theme, “Across Generations,” and the passing of the baton to a new generation of leaders and supporters.

The night’s guests and presenters.
KTLA news anchor Frank Buckley served as master of ceremonies.

Burroughs announced that the museum is embarking on the largest fundraising campaign in its history, in part, to boost its physical and digital presence as well as secure its future. Josh Morey, chair of Ori-gen and president of J. Morey Company, Inc., and Nikki Kodama, vice president with Northrop Grumman, were chosen to embody that future.

Plans, according to Burroughs, include reimagining the museum’s public spaces and core exhibitions, a broader telling of the Japanese American story, and rededication of the National Center for Democracy. The museum will also name its outdoor space the Norman Y. Mineta Plaza.

Mineta, a former chair of JANM’s Board of Governors and Board of Trustees, served in the Cabinet as secretary of commerce for President Bill Clinton and secretary of transportation for President George W. Bush. A former Heart Mountain incarceree, as a member of Congress he was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

David Mineta speaks before a projection of his late father, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who served as chair of JANM’s Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.

Technology that allows museum visitors to interact with World War II incarceration camp survivors to learn first-hand about the Japanese American wartime experience was demonstrated with the help of June Aochi Berk, a JANM volunteer. Developed by Cole Kawana, founder and president of Japanese American Stories and head of business development at StoryFile, the program will ultimately bring the Japanese American story to thousands of students across the country and to those visiting the museum. So far, the life stories of Berk and the late 442nd RCT veteran Lawson Sakai have been recorded.

Alhambra City Councilmember Jeff Maloney and filmmaker Tad Nakamura, director of JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center, guided the presentation of the “Year in Review,” while David Mineta, son of the late Norman Mineta, presented the “In Memoriam” portion of the evening. Mineta drew parallels between “the history of discrimination and prejudice that forged our community’s history and the current treatment of communities of color, immigrated communities, and other disenfranchised groups…”

Jennifer Hirano, daughter of the late former JANM President Irene Hirano Inouye, speaks during the Bid for Education fundraising portion of the gala. At right is Ken Inouye, son of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, a key supporter of the museum.

In addition to Mineta, special recognition went to the late Tom Yuki, who had served on the JANM Board of Trustees since 1996. Yuki’s family were sharecroppers. He eventually took over the family business and was a founding member of American Bank and Trust.

The annual Bid for Education, a call for donations for school buses that bring students to JANM, soared passed its $200,000 goal.

Sansei Rockers closed out the evening with a music set that turned the hotel ballroom into a ’70s party.

The Sansei Rockers closed out the evening with a rollicking performance of 1960s and ’70s hits.

Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo

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