Speak Out Against Proposed Solar Ranch Near Manzanar!

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I strongly urge anyone who is available to come out to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power THIS SATURDAY to make your voice heard!  This project would impede upon the cultural landscape of the Manzanar Historic site.  See Press Release below

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LOS ANGELES — A public information meeting will be held on Saturday, November 16, 2013, at 10:00 AM, at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles where members of the community are urged to speak out against a proposed solar energy generating facility that would be built near Manzanar National Historic Site.

The LADWP’s proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch Project is a 200-megawatt solar energy facility that would consist of solar photovoltaic panel modules and associated infrastructure. The approximately 1,200-acre project site is located on City of Los Angeles-owned property east of the Owens River, but in a direct line of sight with the Manzanar National Historic Site, whichlies to the immediate west.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report is available at http://www.ladwp.com/envnotices.

The Manzanar Committee believes that the proposed solar ranch would destroy a significant portion of the historic landscape surrounding Manzanar National Historic Site.

“The importance of maintaining and enhancing the physical characteristics of the Manzanar National Historic Site cannot be downplayed or overlooked,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “One of the most powerful parts of Manzanar is the unobstructed view, and that many of the structures, gardens and other features of the World War II American concentration camp have not been bulldozed over or destroyed by ‘development.’”

Craig Tomiyoshi, Vice President of Public Affairs for the National Board of the Japanese American Citizens League, echoed those concerns.

“The Manzanar site is not only an important piece of the Japanese American story and experience during World War II, but also a visible reminder to all Americans about the importance of protecting the civil rights and liberties for all,” said Tomiyoshi. “The natural environment surrounding Manzanar plays a huge part in preserving for future generations the context of what those incarcerated at that site might have felt at that time.”

“I would strongly encourage anyone concerned about protecting the cultural landscape of Manzanar to attend this Public Information Meeting to let decision makers know why building the project on the proposed location is wrong, and encourage them to consider alternate sites,” added Tomiyoshi.

A coalition of community groups and individuals are working to ensure that the politically powerful LADWP, which owns the vast majority of the land in Owens Valley, understands their concerns and the implications of building the solar ranch in such close proximity to Manzanar.

“It’s easy after all these years to put what happened to the Japanese American community during World War II on the back shelf, as more ‘pressing’ or ‘important’ events occur,” Embrey noted. “If we are complacent, all the hard work of so many will be for naught. Tule Lake is facing a similar situation where the Federal Aviation Administration is attempting to build a fence that would bisect the site. Now, a massive solar farm with thousands of solar panels could distract from, and negatively impact, the Manzanar National Historic Site.”

“The Manzanar National Historic Site stands as one of the most impressive, thorough exhibits on the Japanese American incarceration experience,” Embrey added. “The National Park Service staff does an incredible job, day in and day out, of telling the story. It is essential that LADWP hears and understands the impact such a massive project would have on the site.”

“So many people fought so hard, endured and persevered to make sure our story, our history, is told and never forgotten. We have to be vigilant that none of that is denigrated in any way.”

The LADWP headquarters building is located at 111 North Hope Street, Los Angeles, California, 90012 (see map below). The meeting will be held in Conference Room 1, Level A. Parking is free in the LADWP’s underground parking garage. Signs will be posted to direct attendees to the meeting room.

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LA DWP on google maps

See more information at: http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org/

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CAPI Midsession Retreat 1: CIR, Food Justice, the Prison Industrial Complex, and much more.

This past Saturday, October 5th, the JACL-PSW district had its second retreat for the “Rising Seven” participants of this year’s Collegiate Asian Pacific Internship (CAPI). 

Already a month has passed since our opening retreat, and the seven interns are now well acquainted with the various community-based AAPI advocacy organizations they spend 10-12 hours of their week for their hands-on nonprofit internship experience. 

While our first retreat focused on community-building and learning more about our own and each other’s complex multiple identities, this second retreat was crafted with a focus on intersectional issues many of them expressed wanting to learn more about. Unfortunately, one of the interns fell under the weather and we were missing the presence of Denise during this  midsession retreat.

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Our day started with rushing to catch the metro to Hollywood and Western to join the Asian Pacific Islander FIRE contingent at this year’s National Day for Dignity & Respect, calling on our Congress to provide a humane and inclusive pathway to citizenship. Immigrant rights is a personal issue for many of us, and while our time was cut short due to our packed schedule, it was affirming to see us in solidarity amongst multiple communities filling the streets for comprehensive immigration reform.

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Following the morning’s march, we dived into learning about the intersectionality of race, class and food justice with Project Director of the Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, Scott Chan. During this session, we had the chance to interactively learn more about the everyday structural difficulties preventing healthy food access; moreover, we began to consider our own personal abilities to promote culturally appropriate solutions to address the food injustice we witness in our communities.

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 After a radical self-care themed lunch, we were joined by Eddy Zheng, formerly incarcerated community organizer, for an enlightening Skype session. Eddy’s personal success story of transformation and activism for Asian American Studies in San Quentin State prison was truly inspiring, and yet an exception amongst the rising number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders facing incarceration or detention and deportation due to policies and practices that often criminalize immigrant communities. As many of the CAPI interns wondered on what could be done, Eddy left us with an important message of engaging in a “personal revolution before a social revolution” around social justice issues, such as mass incarceration and lack of resources for AAPI incarcerated community members.

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In addition, some of the CAPI interns had prepared and presented their “Carrying on the Legacy” session, in which they took leadership to share the importance of remembering community leaders such as Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, and Grace Lee Boggs, in order to capture how each of us can carry on such legacies of community building and activism today.

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Lastly, our retreat winded down with brainstorming for the final project they all hope to organize together to create space that will meet certain needs they feel are pressing in our diverse community today. But most importantly, we made sure to save time to close with how each individual was doing, since an important part of community building is about developing critical connections with one another on our personal journeys as community members and leaders.

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Please continue to follow the ever-transforming journeys of these rising community leaders at http://therisingseven.tumblr.com/.

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Collegiate Asian Pacific Intership (CAPI) 2013: The Journey Begins

This past weekend, the Japanese American Citizens League-Pacific Southwest District was thrilled to host our opening retreat for the selected participants of this year’s Collegiate Asian Pacific Internship (CAPI).

Generously sponsored by Southern California Edison, the Collegiate Asian Pacific Internship is a 3-month program on a mission to introduce, activate and further involve passionate and community-oriented Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) college students to the advocacy, activism and struggles that AAPI Community Based Organizations (CBOs) currently address on their social justice agendas.

Our seven participants this year include Regem Corpuz, Denise Panaligan, Kristy Ishii, Alex Kanegawa, Fifita Tutoe, Jewell Alingasa, and Minh-Triet Dao.  Each one has been partnered with one of our five participating CBOs, which comprise of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance-Los Angeles (APALA-LA), Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA), API Equality Los Angeles, Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA), and OCA-Greater Los Angeles.

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JACL-PSW has selected incredible CAPI program participants this year, who have already begun on their path of community building and empowerment through our opening retreat. The opening retreat focused on creating courageous spaces for sharing, as well as an environment where participants could learn and empower each other from their own experiences.  Some of our activities were an AAPI his/herstory intersectional timeline, a personal political autobiography and trajectory map, and a workshop on multiple identities.

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Through a meaningful night hike to the Griffith Park Observatory, the interns found common ground and community by opening up with honesty and extraordinary vulnerability. Our interns come from diverse backgrounds with personal connections to our immigrant, differently-abled, LGBTQ, student, and AAPI community. As each of them shared their personal stories and goals at the top of the hike, we all learned about our intersectional struggles and need for community. At the end, the group set two important goals for each other: 1) to practice self-care as activists, family members, students and whole beings, 2) to empower and support each other throughout the way. 

One of our final activities included choosing a name for a blog they will collectively contribute to as a means of cultural and social change and expression.  After a session of brainstorming, silly debate and reflective discussion, I believe their name speaks for themselves.

If you wish to follow the growth of each of these outstanding young individuals, please visit their blog: therisingseven.tumblr.com

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Helen Kawagoe

Written by: Kanji Sahara, PSW Civil Rights Chair

On Tuesday, June 4, 2013, the City of Carson California held a ceremony to name its City Council Chamber after Helen Kawagoe.  Helen was the long time City Clerk of Carson and was a beloved figure in the city and known as the “Mother of City Hall”.  Helen is a dedicated JACLer serving as Gardena Valley Chapter President, PSW Governor and National President.

Helen suffered a stroke in September of 2011 which left her partially paralyzed.  She has difficulty swallowing and speaking but can hear and understand what is going on.  She now lives in South Bay Keiro on Vermont Ave. in Gardena and loves to receive visitors.  Her daughter Sheryl Miyamoto brings her to public events in a wheel chair. Image

At the Carson City Council meeting on Dec 20, 2011, Mayor Jim Dear introduced a resolution to name the Carson City Council Chamber after Helen Kawagoe.  Ten people spoke in favor of the motion.  The “Opposition”, which then controlled the Carson City Council, said they wanted the naming to be after Helen passes.  After the speeches by the public, Mayor Pro Tempore Julie Ruiz-Raber moved to essentially put off voting on this motion.  She did this by saying she wanted something bigger, such as a park, named after Helen.  Her motion to continue this topic to the Jan 17, 2012 meeting of the Carson City Council passed 3 to 2. 

Then Mayor Dear asked the Assistant City Clerk Wanda Higaki to repeat Helen’s wish.  Wanda worked for Helen for over 30 years.  Wanda said that Helen wanted the Council Chamber named after her and not a park.  I think everybody already knew that. 

 A recess was called and Helen’s stepdaughter Sheryl Miyamoto started sobbing.  It was Sheryl’s task to go to the nursing home to tell Helen of the council decision.  Julie Ruiz-Raber tried to console Sheryl.  Image

On Thursday January 5, 2012 there was a meeting of about 20 of Helen’s friends.  Sheryl was the main speaker and brought us up to date.  Helen fell on January 1 and her face became black and blue.  She did not suffer any broken bones.  We decided to circulate a petition.  We hoped to get 1,000 signatures to present to the Council on January 17. 

 At the Carson City Council meeting on Jan 17, 2012, PSW Governor Ken Inouye, then National President David Kawamoto and several others JA’s spoke.  The Opposition in the Council won again by a vote of 3 to 2.  This was also the day of the LA City Election when Warren Furutani lost his bid for the LA City Council seat.

Helen’s Dream Coalition” was formed by activists who lived in Carson. They held rallies, petition drives and meetings every month.  They went to the Carson City Council Meetings all the time wearing their yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Helen Dream Coalition”.  No matter what they did, the Opposition always won by a 3 to 2.Image

On Mar 5, 2013, City of Carson had a municipal election.  Mayor Jim Dear won by a landslide and another pro-Helen candidate won.  Now the pro-Helen group had a majority on the City Council.  On Mar 27, 2013, Carson installed the new City Council and the first order of business was to name the Carson City Council Chamber after Helen “today”.  It passed unanimously.  It took a year and a half and an election to name the Carson City Council Chamber after Helen Kawagoe. 

Congressional Gold Medal & Youth Summit

There’s been a lot of activity in the PSW lately, including the Congressional Gold Medal coming to the Japanese American National Museum.  On May 4th there was a small opening celebrating the medal and the 442nd, 100th, and MIS Veterans.  ImageThere were many prestigious speakers at the event, and it was heartwarming to see so many veterans come out to this event with their families.  

This is Jim, he was one of the many veterans who attended the opening of the Congressional Gold Medal Display.  He sat next to the medal telling stories of his time serving in the War.  “Ask me anything, I have ALL the answers!”  Growing up, I always felt like talking about the war was taboo, and a painful subject to ask my grandparents about.  Luckily, my grandmother was a teacher, and was willing to explain her experiences during incarceration.  It was so amazing to hear all the stories Jim had, and his willingness to talk to strangers about it!  I would have loved to listen to him all day.

On May 11th the JACL PSW participated in grand opening festivities at JANM’s Target Family Free Saturday with the Veterans as the theme.  We put together a large interactive timeline so that visitors to the museum could share their stories.  Many people wrote on the timeline including some of the veterans who were there!  It was an extremely rewarding experience for me to be able to talk with these wonderful men. Even though I was exhausted by the end of the day, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Below you can see our timeline, the medal, and the veterans who participated in the event.

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Another event I had the pleasure of being a part of was the National Youth/Student Council’s Leadership Summit in San Francisco, Empowering Communities: A Youth Focus on Community Building. We held the workshop at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.  It was exciting to continue working with the NY/SC on the summits that I worked on when I was still a youth representative.  We had a great turnout with folks from all walks of life.Image It was so fun to be able to participate in the workshops about communities and to get the opportunity to run the River of Life workshop.  I loved hearing about why people were involved in their respective communities.  Kevin and Kelly Imagedid a fantastic job running logistics and pulling out a last minute workshop.  Kevin discussed the importance of values and how sometimes you need to negotiate them.  He also helped us to realize our communication styles, and how both are good, but need to be understood.  Rhianna and Michaela had plenty of fun energizers and ice breakers to keep our energy up.  Mariko did a fun networking exercise where the participants had to get out of their comfort zone a little bit to communicate with each other.  We were also fortunate to have  Jirayut New Latthivongskorn (ASPIRE), Haruka Roudebush (Nakayoshi), Clifford Yee (OCA-San Francisco Bay Chapter) attend our summit to speak on a panel about best practices.  Their combined knowledge was so valuable!

More pictures are available here and on our facebook page. I can’t wait to continue this work with the NY/SC and to see many of these participants at our National Convention in Washington DC!  Thank you NY/SC members and participants in the summit for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful day!

Stephanie Nitahara

Regional Director

Local Fundraising – A great way to bring out people to local events!

By: Alayne Yonemoto, PSW Board Member
A group of amateur artists gathered in Torrance on a beautiful spring day.  We were there to paint!  Eri, Nancy, and Stephanie – our very talented PSW Staff – have been thinking of creative ways to bring out our chapter members, community friends and program partners – but also raise money for our excellent youth programs.
Kaithyn - Bowl
This fun afternoon at Color Me Mine was a break from our traditional program/fundraiser.  I must say – we had some real talent!  I had the opportunity to sit with Jeff Murakami and family as they created one-of-a-kind art pieces.
Throughout the course of the event, I learned that we had many first-time painters in our group.  Like me, they had never done anything like this before.  But we also had several seasoned painters as well.  This is such a fun family activity.
In the middle of the painting, we got a very nice update on some of the Youth Programs that are going on in the district.  Lawrence Lan talked about Collegiate Asian Pacific Internship.  The proceds from this event helped to fund this year’s program.  Jeff Murakami spoke about Camp Musubi that happens right in the South Bay.  Another event that has a South Bay connection is Katarou Histories.  Due to the popularity of that program, we are offering sessions at the Gardena JCI this year.
Jeff Murakami speaks about Camp Musubi summer camp!

Jeff Murakami speaks about Camp Musubi summer camp!

After we painted, we ate on the patio just outside the studio.  It was a great way to end the very successful fundraising event.
This was a very simple event to coordinate.  And, it can be taken to nearly any chapter in our district!  If you have an interest to gather some families to paint, have a nice afternoon, and raise funds for the PSW Youth Programs – just let the PSW Staff know.  We need to continue to find creative ways to engage our families in JACL.  Having direct feedback at these types of events helps us to further tailor our Youth Programs to fit the needs of our membership.  And, the fundraising dollars we earn directly helps our on-going programs.
Check out more photos here!

Manzanar: What You Get, Only If You’re There

By: Eri Kameyama, PSW District Staff

I woke up at 5AM this past Saturday to get ready for the long drive to Manzanar, the incarceration camp that held thousands of Japanese Americans from the Los Angeles area.

I was partaking in the Annual Pilgrimage program organized by the Manzanar Committee and the National Park Services, being a participant along with the rest of the Bridging Communities Program. Bridging Communities, now in its fifth year, has always made a trip to Manzanar; bringing the Japanese American and American Muslim high schoolers to this historical site. This year, there were 9 Bridging Communities students, 3 program leaders, and 5 family and friends who went together as a group. We caravanned in 3 cars and made the four hour journey from Little Tokyo…

When I first learned about the Japanese American camps, I was a junior in high-school, and I recall seeing this photo of children behind the barbed wires. In the background were the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Since then, I’ve learned so much more about the history and heard personal stories of Manzanar. I’ve probably seen a few dozen photos of the camp and always noted the beautiful mountain range that sat at the backdrop of this prison camp.  Therefore, it didn’t surprise me that I knew exactly when we were near Manzanar because I recognized these mountains from miles away.

I was the most moved when I saw the monument in the cemetery because it was no longer just a story or a just a picture in a textbook. It became a lived experience being at Manzanar in near 100-degree heat. As I sat through the program in the beating sun, I thought, “for me, it is just one day, for the incarcerees, it was as long as three years.”

Wilbur Sato, a former incarceree, gave us a tour of what was left of Manzanar. He showed us a site where a garden used to grow and where a small pond used to be. A garden! In the middle of the desert! To me, this was the sign of resilience of the Japanese Americans. To thrive and the make the best of what is given. The Japanese mentality of shikataganai turning into the will power to survive, ganbarou.

Wilbur Sato leading us on a tour of Manzanar

Wilbur Sato leading us on a tour of Manzanar

Although it was not easy driving almost 8 hours round-trip to be a part of this pilgrimage, I do not regret the experience. Many things can be learned through textbooks and oral-histories but physically being at a site where history occurred is an emotional experience that can only be understood by being there. I truly hope that the Bridging Communities participants gained something valuable from this mini road trip. I sure did.

Tuna Canyon Preservation Efforts

“Two minutes please”

By: Nancy Takayama, PSW District Staff

tunacanyon

Last month I was asked by a former CSUN student who was asking on behalf of a California State University at Northridge (CSUN) faculty member, if the San Fernando Valley had a Japanese American history tour.

It was an interesting thought and I answered, No. I had met this student while working on a research grant with the CSUN Asian American Studies, the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center and the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Citizens League.

We interviewed 20 Japanese American Nisei (second generation). The project was to uncover, research, collect and document the lost and forgotten existence of the Japanese and Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley, prewar and post war: The lost and forgotten history

Try going to the library or public records. You will find little or no records that the Japanese lived the San Fernando valley. It was through the oral histories collected and the research that were we able to discover that there were 132 Japanese American produce and flower farmers. Since they couldn’t own the land (Alien Land Law), they had to lease it, thus no records.

After WWII broke out, the Japanese and Japanese American families were removed from their homes. It was decades later, 3 decades for my family before they would talk about the removal, the relocations camps and the assembly centers. It took 60 years before the 20 oral history interviewees agreed to talk and record their personal stories about life before, during and after camps. With the discovery of the detention station internees are coming forward.

This detention station is part of our forgotten, lost history. This detention station and the stories that go with it are an integral part of U.S. history from 70 years ago. Let’s remember to not lose or forget the Japanese American part of U.S. history.

The San Fernando Valley has no historical sites representing the Japanese and the Japanese Americans in the valley.”

On Thursday, April 18th in Room 1010 of the Los Angeles City Hall the Cultural Heritage Commission met to vote on the Historic-Cultural Monument Application of the Tuna Canyon Detention Stations site.

The Tuna Canyon Detention Station “operated as a gateway to internment for civilians of Japanese, Japanese Peruvian, Italian and German descent. From its opening until May 1942, 1,490 Japanese males passed through the camp and were transferred to other internment camps…” (http://www.rafu.com/2013/04/commission-to-vote-on-monument-status-for-tuna-canyon-detention-station/)

More than a dozen community members came out to speak in support of designating the site as a Historical Cultural site. JACL Pacific Southwest District Governor, Ken Inouye, PSW District board member, Kanji Sahara and San Fernando Valley JACL board member and SFV Japanese American Community Center President, Nancy Oda.

Ken Bernstein, AICP, Principal City Planner Office of Historic Resources summarized the Los Angeles Department City Planning Recommendation Report stating “That the Cultural Heritage Commission not declare the property a Historic-Cultural Monument”.

The Cultural Historical Commission voted to support the City Planning Report not to support designating the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a Cultural Historic Monument. The Cultural Historical Commission will now take their recommendation to the City Council for their vote. The application for designation will require 10 votes to pass.

What’s our next step if council votes against the Cultural Historic designation?

-Working with Councilman Alarcon in finding ways to create an educational and appropriate display of the detention station. The Cultural Historic Commission has required him to meet with the property owners.

-Check on other Historic Cultural designations on a State or Federal level.

JACL Pacific Southwest District and the San Fernando Valley Community Center will continue the efforts to save Tuna Canyon Detentions Station history.

For more information about the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, please view the following websites and documentation.

View a documentary short by John Newcombe on the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, “Rancho La Canada” (http://www.gcvoice.org/current-projects/vhgc.htm)

What Does Historic-Cultural Monument Status Mean?
http://www.preservation.lacity.org/commission/what-does-historic-cultural-monument-status-mean

2nd District Quarterly Announcement

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By: Nancy Takayama, JACL PSW Staff

PSW is having their 2nd Quarterly meeting this Sunday hosted by the San Fernando Valley JACL.  The meeting will be held at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center just of Hwy 5.  For those who have never been to the center, the Japanese style structure was built in the late fifties.  The building funds were made possible by a donation from the North Hollywood-Burbank Farmer’s Association.  During WWII when the Japanese were interned the association’s funds were frozen by the government. After the war the valley farmers could did not return to their farms. Most were tenant farmers and did not have land to return to.  The Farmers’ Association leaders decided to donate the funds to build the SFV Japanese American community center. The building also sits on land that was donated.  Today, the community center has a Japanese Language School, a Dojo, gymnasium, a large kitchen that can feed more than 200 people and the Nikkei Pioneer Building that houses over 20 other clubs and organizations.

Okay, back to the PSW meeting.  This Sunday, the district will be introducing a new format.  We will have our regular business session starting at 9 AM. There will be an explanation in the beginning on how the session will be run so we will finish on time.  Lunch will be at noon (which I will talk about later, yummy).

During the meeting we will be introducing the first District-Chapter fundraising Opportunity Drawing.  The chapter has the opportunity (keyword: Opportunity) to earn funds with every ticket sold.  Prizes include:  Two 1-day Park Hopper Tickets to Disneyland/California Adventure (value $250), One Registration Packages for the 2013 JACL National Convention in Washington D.C. (value $275) and an iPad Mini w/WiFi 16 GB (value $365).  Be prepared to buy your tickets.

Opportunity Drawing Flyer

At 1 PM we will have our first free workshop led by LDIR.

Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations (LDIR) “offers a variety of training and consulting services to help strengthen communities and organizations of all kinds. Their curriculum is designed to develop socially conscious leaders with strong skill sets in facilitation, conflict management, and coalition-building”.

Please visit their website:  http://www.ldir.org/what-we-do/

You will still have plenty of time to socialize during lunch and after the workshop.

Oh yeah, Lunch!  Let me tell you about lunch.  Our lunch is being supplied by Ono Island Crepes.  These are crepes with a Hawaiian flair.  You will be given a choice of their most popular crepes:  Kalua Pork, Teriyaki Chicken or Teri Tofu (vegetarian).  Sounds Ono, yeah?  Well, there’s still more.  For dessert you will be introduced to the Chocolate Haupia crepe.  Whoa, brok da mouth!!Image

Please come to visit us at the meeting.  We’ve made it really easy to register online.

Just go to our JACL PSW website below.

http://www.jaclpsw.org/index.php/for-the-chapters/district-quarterly-updates

Just go to the upper right corner and select:

“ For the Chapters” / “District Quarterly Updates” / Scroll down to the blue button “Register Today”

We hope to see you in the valley.  We are no longer “country” maybe “over the hill”.

JACL/OCA Leadership Summit Reflections

From left: Amy Watanabe, Eri Kameyama, Priscilla Ouchida, Nancy Okubo

From left: Amy Watanabe, Eri Kameyama, Priscilla Ouchida, Nancy Okubo

By: Eri Kameyama, JACL PSW staff 

Last month, I was given the opportunity to spend a few days in our nation’s capital for the annual JACL/OCA Leadership Summit. Myself, along with another representative of Pacific Southwest District, travelled across the U.S. to learn about the relevant issues in our Asian Pacific Islander communities, and to impact policy through our educated voices.

I applied for this program because I wanted to be better informed on policy making and what I can do as a community worker in urging for legislative changes.  Coming from an academic background in Asian American Studies, I was familiar with many of the community’s issues but I never knew what action I can take to influence the policymakers. This program provided the perfect venue to learn and to practice.

On one of the days, we had a White House Briefing from the Asian American and Pacific Islander White House Initiative. Held in the highly secured building of Eisenhower, we were asked to show our IDs twice. The second time, each of us were given a tag to wear around our necks. Most people wore green tags, but mine was pink with the words “ESCORT.” I realized it was because myself, along with a few others in the group, were non-citizens. I felt somewhat marginalized by this otherization, but also realized the privilege in having paperwork, which allowed me to even be on this trip (and to take a plane to get to DC). 1.3 million Asian Americans today are undocumented, and I cannot imagine how much more obstacles they face on a daily basis by not having so called “proper” documentation.

Pink Escort Tags

Pink Escort Tags

Later that day, we took a tour of the Capitol building. It was a humbling experience being inside the Rotunda where Senator Daniel Inouye’s funeral service was held a few months prior. If you’ve ever been in the Capitol, you know that there are many sculptures of famous Americans who shaped the nation. I was touched by the figure of Rosa Parks unveiled just this February, who became the first Black woman to ever be included in this collection of statues. As a woman of color, I thought, “Who will be the first Asian American woman to make it in here? Will it be in my lifetime?”

Perhaps the highlight of this Summit was the Congressional visits at the Hill. My group visited Congresswoman Sanchez’s office and spoke to their staffer on two issues. The first issue was for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which would keep families and siblings together, as well as provide a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. The other issue was to urge for a policy that stops hate-crimes and bullying. It was empowering to know that even as a mere resident of Los Angeles, I can have a voice in influencing policymakers to make the right decisions for our Asian Pacific Islander communities.

Overall, this experience in D.C. allowed me to reflect on my own privilege, position, and perspective as a Japanese/American resident alien aspiring to make change in my own community.  It was amazing being able to connect with other leaders around the nation, and I definitely urge others to apply for this Summit, if given an opportunity.