Japanese American Youth in Utah: Kickoff Event

By Eric Tokita, IDC Youth Representative

For some JACL chapters in California or the Pacific Northwest, one challenge that the NY/SC faces is that multiple different Japanese American youth groups are also present, and these other groups often offer more opportunities for their members to interact with their heritage. These groups all compete to recruit determined individuals, and many of the youth the JACL would like to recruit turn to other groups instead. However, in Utah, this is not the case.

For many Japanese American youth here, their Japanese heritage was not a key aspect of their life growing up. Most of us grew up in predominantly Caucasian schools and churches, and there are not many opportunities to meet other Japanese American youth in the area. Until high school or college, there is little education that gives adolescents the opportunity to learn about Japanese American history, and this often leaves a feeling of a vacancy in one’s identity.

Participants at the IDC Youth Summit

The Japanese American Youths (JAYS) is a group that aims to cultivate a sense of community between young Japanese Americans. The JAYS aims to unite high school and college-aged individuals by highlighting the shared cultural experiences that many Japanese American youth experience growing up. This might include cultural history, experiences with racial bias, or just a desire to meet other similar people. The group has phased in and out of existence over the last few decades, but a kickoff event held on April 13th hopes to inspire a new generation of youths to explore their cultural identity.

This kickoff event featured a lesson by Rick Okabe on Japanese American history during World War II, a free dinner featuring a local Japanese restaurant, and concluded with free bowling for all the attendees to bond over. With over 50 people attending, the event accomplished its goal of making youth aware of others who shared a similar vision of a Japanese American community and educated members of the importance of such a community. Mr. Okabe taught many younger members about the history of Japanese incarceration, and how youth groups such as the JAYS helped him manage his cultural identity. The dinner session and bowling encouraged members to meet other Japanese American youths, and relationships were quickly formed that will hopefully extend beyond this event.

After talking to many people in attendance, many people said that they were excited to be apart of such a group, and the support for future events was overwhelming. The presence of a Japanese cultural group provided many attendees with an additional sense of community and let them know that there were other youth who were seeking a group founded on support and shared experiences. Thank you to the sponsors of the National Youth/ Student Council, State Farm and Southwest Airlines, the Mount Olympus and Salt Lake JACL Chapters, and the Intermountain District for making our programming possible.

The next event, which will be a barbeque, is planned to take place during the summer. For more information, please contact Eric Tokita at 801-839-8134.