I am a fifth generation Japanese American, which means that all of the Japanese customs and traits have been pretty much diluted in me. I am the epitome of what some have come to call a “twinkie” (yellow on the outside and white on the inside). Before I ever got involved with the community, to be Japanese American had no special quality to me, because I had no idea what it was to be Japanese American. I had no idea of the community that was born to me, that I rightfully and naturally owned in my heart. A lot of the youth that is involved with the community are usually raised by parents who are also involved with the community who raised their kids in the Japanese American culture; they ran the chibi-k run when they were little, they started in JA basketball teams, they found their community in Buddhist churches they attended and worshiped at…etc.
It is an intimidating thing to see when you are a newcomer to volunteering for the community. When I was in the Rising Stars program I saw and met these kids and I was so intimidated because I felt that the only claim that I had to the Little Tokyo community was the fact that I went there a lot when I was little. But after two specific trips to the Japanese American National Museum, I realized that I have just as much claim to the community as any of them did. The first trip my aunt, grandma, and I went to see the Landscaping America exhibition; that day I realized that my history actually coincided with other Japanese Americans, that even though I am a “twinkie” that I understood and lived the history that was on the wall in front of my face. My grandpa once owned nurseries, and before that my great grandpa owned them, and before that his father first established his business after coming to America. I watched videos of all generations of Japanese Gardeners meeting together at a place within the Toy District of L.A. and imagined my grandpa and his father sitting there as well because they once did. The next time I went to the museum, I went with the Rising Stars program, where I got a full tour of the museum. A little while before I signed up for the Rising Stars, I had just figured out what internment was, I am ashamed to admit that now but it is the truth. Well anyways, I had an idea of what it was but I had no idea of the real history before I took the tour. I realized then the ties that binds us together as Japanese Americans, my grandpa and grandma’s families both endured the internment. My great great grandpa once had to give up everything he owned except for everything that could fit in three suitcases. Everyone that was Japanese American were rounded up from all over the country and transported to camps that reminisced of the Nazi Death Camps. I realized that connection and my belonging to the community so late, but because of that I think that I appreciate it so much more because I can understand it now that I am older.
Even though I started late in the community, I am now an established member of the community. I have only been involved for a year now, but being involved has changed me as a person. I am not sure who reads these but hopefully it will give courage for other youths (that feel as I did as an outsider to the community) to participate in the community. Every other day that I go to Little Tokyo now I feel so prideful because not only can I say that I am visiting like I did when I was litte, but I can also say that I am protecting it and doing my part to improve it. Writing this now, I can not imagine someone who wouldn’t want the same.