As the first Japanese American to achieve the rank of chief deputy of the L.A. Fire Department, David Yamahata brings considerable management and leadership skills to the role of Nisei Week chairman.
As chief deputy, he was responsible for supervising all fire and emergency medical service resources, serving the 470 square miles of the City of Los Angeles, as well as the Metropolitan Fire Communications dispatch center.
As former chief of staff for the Fire Department, he served as a liaison between the Fire Department and the mayor, City Council members and their staff in managing issues within the community to ensure public safety for the citizens of Los Angeles.
In an interview with The Rafu, Yamahata shared his vision for the festival and its role in the Japanese American community.
Rafu: What does the Nisei Week Festival mean to you? What is its importance to the future of the JA community?
DY: The festival is to meet our mission: To promote Japanese and Japanese American heritage and traditions while bringing together the diverse communities of Southern California through arts and cultural education. The importance is the opportunity for people of all ages to enjoy the various events of the festival and in doing so, create the interest in others to become part of the future to ensure the festival continues on for future generations.
Rafu: What is the significance of the tradition of holding Nisei Week in Little Tokyo?
DY: As you know, the original intent of the festival was to bring people into Little Tokyo to support the Japanese-owned businesses. We continue to carry on that mission since there are several businesses that have been in Little Tokyo for a very long time. We want people to come to Little Tokyo to support all the businesses as well as enjoy the many organizations such as JANM, JACCC and Go For Broke.
Rafu: What are your thoughts on this year’s honorees and their work in the JA community?
DY: Those that are honored for the Awards Ceremony are selected by our board members. Each individual or business selected represents someone that has made a huge contribution to the JA community. For the recipients of the Pioneer Awards, these individuals are submitted by the various community organizations in Southern California and then selected by our Pioneer Committee. Again, each individual has made a huge impact within their community.
Rafu: Last year’s Nisei Week was held for the first time in three years. However, some events were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Are there any restrictions this year, too?
DY: There will not be any restrictions for this year’s festival but COVID is still a concern to our board. We have established COVID testing protocols specifically for our queen candidates as well as any board members and volunteers that interact with large groups of people. Safety for everyone is always our primary concern.
Bringing back our festival to 100% is my goal as president. As you know, my theme this year is “Turning the Corner,” hoping that we have made the turn to return to normalcy. I want the community to feel comfortable and safe to return to Little Tokyo and enjoy everything we offer here.
Rafu: What are some of your fondest memories of Nisei Week?
DY: Each year I create new memories by interacting with our community during the festival. Educating people on how the festival started and the importance of sharing the traditions of the Japanese culture. It’s also an opportunity to allow young ladies participate as a queen and court, provide them with training that will assist them to become successful individuals in whatever direction they wish to pursue. Also, recognizing our community leaders with the awards and pioneer events.
Rafu: How important is this year’s Nisei Week to your goal of next year’s 100% normal as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic?
DY: There are so many events occurring during the festival week, information can be found on our website at www.niseiweek.org. For the community, the two events that many people can enjoy at no cost are the parade and closing ceremony. For the parade, people can line the streets to enjoy the many participants that will be in the parade. For closing ceremony, people to come out and participate in the ondo dancing in the streets and you don’t even have to know the dances, just follow those around you.