By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Em Kato Yamada would be pleased.
That was the sentiment at the gathering of the Nisei Week Queens on Aug. 13, a tradition that was started in 1984 by Yamada, who was queen in 1952. The reunion was named in her honor after her passing in 2021.
The luncheon was sponsored by Fred Kurata and chaired by Sandy Toshiyuki (1976) and Tracy Isawa Ahn (1983). Catering was provided by Cherrystones Restaurant of Gardena. While Nisei Week unites all the women, they shared stories of events reflecting their stages of life.
Missing this year was Carol Kunitsugu Itatani (1965), who passed away last December at 77. Toshiyuki reflected that Itatani enjoyed meeting and sharing stories about her time as queen with the younger queens.
“I loved when she told us about her coronation in ’65. It was the year of the Watts Riots,” Toshiyuki said. “There was a citywide curfew imposed so everyone left hurriedly as soon as the queen was selected. Never the ‘shrinking violet,’ she always enjoyed sharing that memory with that special Carol twinkle in the eye. Her stories, warmth and infectious smile is missed.”
During the luncheon, the women each share a little about the previous year. Younger court members talked of raising kids and pursuing careers. Older members talked of grandkids and taking care of parents. In the contours of the stories, the women have formed a unique sisterhood.
Joann Shin Cordeiro shared her plans as next year’s Nisei Week Foundation president — the first Nisei Week queen to lead the organization.
“I’m going to put a lot of heart and hard work into it. I’m inspired by this group,” Cordeiro said.
Kristine Yada (2022) was welcomed as the newest queen to join the group. She praised her court for all of their work in the community over the past year. She also noted that they organized the first all-court alumni reunion.
“It’s heartwarming to see how Em’s vision has made an impact by bringing former queens back to renew friendships and celebrate Nisei Week year after year,” Toshiyuki said.
Seated from left: Helen Funai Erickson (1963); Faith Higurashi Ono (1959); June Aochi Berk (1954); David Yamahata (2023 NWF president); Juli Yoshinaga (2019).
Second row from left: Joanne Uehara Masuda (1967); France Yanai Wong (1962); Sandy Toshiyuki (1976); Naomi Ono Sognefest (1993); Tamlyn Tomita (1984); Jill Hiraizumi-Artino (2008).
Third row from left: Karen Uchizono Gaston (1988); Tracy Isawa Ahn (1983); Joyce Kikuchi Sumi (1971); Joann Shin Cordeiro (1996); Monika Teuffel Moorlach (2007).
Fourth row from left: Sara Hutter (2015); Tish Okabe Kato (1985); Dianne Kubota Hamano (1961); Frances Shima Matsumoto (1981); Alice Amano (2018); Emily Folick Koko (2012).
Fifth row from left: Jaclyn Tomita (2016); Lani Nishiyama Sapanza (2010); Liane Takano Pham (2006); Kristine Yada (2022); Tori Nishinaka-Leon (2014).
Top: 2023 Nisei Week Court (from left): Princess Aiko Marie Matsumura Dzikowski; Princess Kamalani Higashiyama; First Princess Sara Emiko Kubo; Queen Kaitlyn Emiko Chu; Miss Tomodachi Nancy Izumi Chin; Princess Isabella Rose Polizzotto; Princess Kaili Mika Inouye.
Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo