Queer Nikkei Stories and Intergenerational Conversations: PSW Youth Rep Justin Kawaguchi interviews George Takei on growing up LGBT and Japanese American

Justin Kawaguchi, 23 June 2020

On Thursday, June 18, 2020 I had the incredible opportunity to engage in conversation with George Takei at “Queer Nikkei Stories: Intergenerational Conversations”, hosted by Okaeri, the Japanese American National Museum, and Visual Communications. The virtual event tackled complex questions about the intersectionality of experiences being Japanese-American and queer including “What was it like to be gay and Japanese American decades ago? What is it like now?”

As a rising senior at USC, I was joined in conversation by actor and activist George Takei and bicultural advocate and organizer Aya Tasaki spoke with founder of Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays June Lagmay. George shared his journey in the incarceration camps of World War II and how his experience being “different” for his facial features were further paralleled by the difference he felt as a gay man in a society that had yet to fully accept same-sex couples. 

Some advice that I gained from this event and its conversations include: 

  • The importance of finding shared spaces to build solidarity 
  • Seeking out the stories of our families’ pasts, specifically related to the WWII incarceration camps, can be a powerful parallel to understanding the experience of being queer and insecure 
  • Everybody has their own process of coming to terms with their identity and sharing that realization with those around them

Okaeri was founded in 2014 and is a group of LGBTQ Nikkei, parents of LGBTQ Japanese Americans, and allies of LGBTQ people. Translated from Japanese as “Welcome Home”, Okaeri is the first-ever conference focused on LGBTQ Japanese Americans. Okaeri 2014 was a great success. More than 200 people from across the U.S. and Canada attended. Okaeri inspired Nikkei in Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento, and the San Francisco Bay Area to organize similar gatherings. Okaeri 2020 was postponed due to the global pandemic and virtual programs have been activated while plans to host a Gathering in 2021 are already in the works. 

Okaeri continues to serve as a resource to connect with LGBTQ Japanese Americans and allies, find support, resources and information, and learn how Nikkei have embraced their LGBTQ family members. To find more information, follow Okaeri on Facebook and Instagram or on their website at https://www.okaeri-losangeles.org/

The recording of this event will be posted by JANM in the coming weeks on their website.