Identity

The Odd Man Out Feels Welcome

February 13, 2018
Andrew Stranahan

I walked into Kizuna’s office for the first day of the Nikkei Community Internship (NCI) this past summer nervous, but excited to meet my fellow interns and learn more about my internship. However, I realized quickly that I was in for a big surprise as soon as people made references either to Japanese American figures or Japanese culture. I had never heard of the No-No Boys, and I did not know what gohan was. I soon began wondering if I was in the right place. After all, how could a hapa Chinese American be a leader for the next generation of Japanese Americans, especially when I was the only non-Japanese American in the SoCal intern group? However, my fears and worries subsided as the summer continued.

The author with his Southern California intern group.

Whether I was interacting with other NCI interns and Kizuna staff, working at my intern placement site at the Go For Broke National Educational Center, or visiting the various agencies affiliated with NCI, people welcomed me with open arms.

"Being ethnically Japanese was not important."
The author in front of the Go For Broke Monument

It did not matter if I was a hapa Chinese American. Being ethnically Japanese was not important. The fact that I was willing to learn and participate in the Japanese American community and its traditions respectfully was what mattered to the people I encountered. 

 "The fact that I was willing to learn and participate in the Japanese American community and its traditions respectfully was what mattered to the people I encountered." 

Because I received a warm and kind welcome from everyone I met, this eased my fears and allowed me to immerse myself in the history, culture, and traditions of the Japanese American community. This immersion allowed me not only to learn about the courageous veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service (MIS), and Women’s Army Corps (WAC), but also gave me the courage and insight to achieve many firsts in my life. 

"This past summer, I attended my first obon, saw my first taiko performance, ate onigiri and nattō for the first time, and even went to Little Tokyo for the first time."

This past summer, I attended my first obon, saw my first taiko performance, ate onigiri and nattō for the first time, and even went to Little Tokyo for the first time. 

The Southern California intern group on a tour of Little Tokyo led by community member, Alan Nishio.

Although I could spend the rest of this blog listing what I did or experienced for the first time, the truth is that all of these things were possible because of the incredible welcome I received by Kizuna, my fellow NCI interns, the Go For Broke National Education Center, and the community itself.      

 "...the truth is that all of these things were possible because of the incredible welcome I received by Kizuna, my fellow NCI interns, the Go For Broke National Education Center, and the community itself."              

The warmth and generosity of the Japanese American community to others is part of what makes it so rich and beautiful. Everyone I met helped me to realize that I do not have to be ethnically Japanese to be included in it. As long as I am open-minded, willing to learn, and respectful of the traditions and generations before me, I can be a part of the Japanese American community. 

"As long as I am open-minded, willing to learn, and respectful of the traditions and generations before me, I can be a part of the Japanese American community." 

Since completing NCI, I always love telling people about the courage of people like Gordon Hirabayashi and the many Nisei veterans, the things I did through NCI, or what I learned from it. Every time I talk about these experiences, I feel more and more connected to the community that gave me such a hospitable welcome. I owe a great debt of gratitude to everyone who made this possible and I hope that I can do my part in welcoming other non-Japanese Americans who want to be a part of and contribute themselves to this amazing and wonderful community.

Want to learn more about our Nikkei Community Internship program? Click here.

Andrew Stranahan

Andrew Stranahan is a senior at Syracuse University, where he is majoring in history. He was part of the 2017 Nikkei Community Internship class and hopes to find ways to continue his involvement in the Japanese American community after graduation.