By, Craig Ishii
I’m always surprised when I run into mentors and people/situations which are inspiring to me. It think that’s one of the greatest things about life: the more you participate the more you learn and the more you’re inspired. I feel like we’re skewed into thinking that a mentor is supposed to be a long time connection whom is 20 years older than you and 40 years wiser. But i’ve come to learn that mentors come in all shapes, ages and sizes and in many cases for me, some of my most inspirational mentors are those who are actually younger.
I was fortunate in that had the opportunity to be a part of the Day of Remembrance Program at UC Irvine tonight.
Sitting here In the twilight of my tenure here at JACL, I reflect on why I got started and what kept me going all these years. For a while, I kept telling myself that the inspiration for my work was in the people that I had met in my days at UCLA with the Nikkei Student Union. Honestly, these people changed my life. They gave me new perspectives, they helped build me up as a leader, but most importantly they helped me build my self-confidence. I’ve never taken any steps forward without looking back with gratitude to these people (you know who you are) for everything that they did to make me a better person.
But, at the same time, I’ll admit that I started to lose touch with that original passion, in the daily grind of grant writing, meetings etc. I started to forget why I actually got started. Sure the “future of the nikkei community” or “cultural preservation” or “the legacy of incarceration” were important to me, but I found myself losing touch with that original fire. But luckily for me I’m blessed to receive reminders, in the form of amazing people, that keep you on the right track and help you remember why community is great.
So as I sat and watched one of the keynote speakers, Professor Don Hata, hanging out and just catching the breeze with some of his activist homies like Aiko Hertzig and Mary Higuchi I was remindeed….. history really matters. I always knew that folks like these were the heroes from the period of redress, but I forgot that they were also bonded as a community. I forgot that there was something deeper than just the ambition to “right a wrong” that drove these people; there was always “community.” It was this feeling of “community” that brought these folks together in the first place. It was the feeling of “community” that made them push for redress/reparations as a catharsis for Japanese Americans, and it was the feeling of “community” that’s kept them together for all these years. I think it was that, which struck me the most. Our history creates friendships, creates bonds that last for decades.
Then as I look around, I remember what it was like to be a group like Tomo and I remember the power of a student organization. These organizations bring community together in a way that no one else can imagine. Everyone says “NSU is family” or “Tomo is family,” but really…. without argument, it really IS family. The way that a group like Tomo brings people together is the same, if not stronger, than the bonds of family. These are people that you laugh, cry, drink, date….. and you remember it for the rest of your life. There’s nothing more inspiring (and reminiscent) than sitting in a room and watching this club in full motion. It’s indescribable.
Finally, as I mentioned in the beginning, mentors come in all shapes, sizes and ages. I like to think that some of the best mentors are the one’s that don’t actually realize that they’re doing it; makes it more real. So as I watched the DOR organizer conduct the event and inspire the other students in the room, it was clearly evident that history mattered to her. In fact, it mattered so much that she coordinated the whole DOR just to pass along that passion to others. Served as a good reminder of why history matters to me too.