My name is Griffin Yamada and from 7th to 12th grade, I’ve been participating in Kizuna programs.
Originally, all I understood about Japanese culture was that my family identified with it, and we ate special foods at Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. But as I’m sure many people know, junior high school pushes you outside of what you are comfortable with. So when my friend recommended a summer camp to me called Camp Musubi, which taught about Japanese culture and history, I found myself drawn to it. It was a camp that taught me a seriousness about Japanese American and Asian American culture and society that I had never been taught or had learned before.
After 8th grade, my friend recommended the next layer of Kizuna programming, this time, a high school program promising insight into our own identity and community. The first day of stepping into the Youth CAN (now known as Leadership) program was terrifying. After years of not playing Japanese American basketball, or going to temple, or even participating in obon season, I felt isolated from everyone there. My friend had acquaintances from many different activities, yet I knew no one.
Thankfully, Kizuna does not expect you to fit in on your own. Through embarrassing, yet effective ice-breakers, and activities that teach you about your identity, what makes you so special, and gives you some self-confidence, it was easier to open up to others and make new friends in this program.
Youth CAN has workshops that bring people from the community to talk to us. It
is through these sessions where you can understand the lives of other people. With
these stories, participants can determine that we ought to change certain
aspects of our lives to show understanding of other people.
"Oftentimes, Youth CAN has workshops that bring people from the community to talk to us. It is through these sessions where you can understand the lives of other people."
Sometimes, the participants of the program don’t want to share their stories. It is quite common that the story holds something private that they don’t want to share yet, or that they have not recovered from yet. Kizuna is great because it promotes the ideas of safe space and brave space.
Safe space refers to a physical or intangible space for people to feel safe and respected, understood and protected. People are welcome to participate at their own pace. Brave space is a similar form of space as safe space, but brave space takes safe space to a little higher degree. Brave space encourages you to challenge yourself, to risk something, and to try something new to reach more understanding. Brave space pushes new and old participants to dig a little deeper and give a little extra to the session.
"This year, I found a little extra in brave space."
This year, I found a little extra in brave space. After a session, I gave a little extra in my brave space and reached out to a speaker to see if I could intern at PlusLab, a program at the Little Tokyo Service Center. He offered me a position, and now I am given opportunities to participate in Little Tokyo programs like community mapping to understand the direction that our community is heading, the recent Sake event, and a kick-off for a major foodie campaign. I also gained awareness to the issue of First Street North, a section of land that Little Tokyo does not want taken away by outside developers.
In my eighteen years, the time I’ve spent in Kizuna has been worthwhile because of the opportunities and connections that I have made. I began their programs in order to learn more about myself, and now I leave as a participant hoping to teach and give back to the generation after me.
"I began their programs in order to learn more about myself, and now I leave as a participant hoping to teach and give back to the generation after me."
Through my five years in the Leadership program, I’ve met so many participants that are passionate about Little Tokyo in their own unique ways. I’ve also met leaders and mediators who have given their blood, sweat, and years to preserve the culture and cities that are core to Japanese Americans. It has been a real blessing, and I cannot wait until I can prove myself in the same way.
Learn more about Kizuna's Leadership Program here: http://www.gokizuna.org/programs/leadership
Registration for 2018 has begun, so get involved today!