Growing up as a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American) in Honolulu, Hawaii, I was surrounded by diversity and had a pretty strong connection to my Japanese heritage. My grandfather was the President of the Kumamoto Kenjinkai, and for a few years, my family was on the Board for the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (JCCH). However, as we grew older, our family participated in these organizations less and less. As a result, I started to become disinterested and disconnected from Japanese culture, as many of the other interns felt. But once I attended critical race theory classes at LMU, I found a renewed interest in my Japanese heritage. That’s why when my brother, who currently lives in Gardena, told me about an internship opportunity at GVJCI, I felt that this was the perfect opportunity not only to gain experience but also to reconnect with my heritage.
It was truly an amazing experience working here at GVJCI. Up until this internship, I had only gotten a taste of the rich history and culture of the Asian and Nikkei community here in the South Bay area. This internship taught me so much about what it means to be a part of an organization that is truly passionate about serving its community and strengthening its bond with others. Everyone at GVJCI was so welcoming and friendly that it reminded me a lot of home in Hawaii. I was aware of the large Japanese-Hawaiian population in Gardena/Torrance, but it wasn’t until Matsuri that I experienced it first-hand. It was comforting to know that almost everyone I met had grown up in Hawaii or had family and friends there. As the others have mentioned, the Matsuri Bento-To-Go Fundraiser in June was the first time that all the interns could meet in-person after mostly working remotely. After reaching our goal of 1,200 bento pre-orders a week earlier than our deadline, it was amazing to see everything finally come together. Although we weren’t able to hold the full-fledged Matsuri due to COVID-19 concerns, I enjoyed listening to everyone’s favorite moments of Matsuri. This reminded me a lot of when my family volunteered at JCCH’s annual ‘Ohana Festival, which is a similar event with games, performances, and food. Knowing how hard the staff at GVJCI works to prepare for this event every year, I’m excited to come back in the future and see what Matsuri is like in full-swing.
One of my favorite parts of this internship was Tanoshii Fun Camp. This was my first time working with children, so I didn’t know what to expect at first, but it turned out to be really fun! The counselors and other interns were awesome to work with and the children were really energetic. My favorite memory from camp was the paper mache Pikachu activity, where you could really see everyone’s creative talents. While some made Pikachus, others decided to make foxes, unicorns, and other Pokémon. It was amazing to see them come out of their shells as the days went by, and it seemed like they enjoyed all of our activities.
You also may have noticed that the homepage and navigation menu for our website has a fresh new look! While at GVJCI, I noticed that some people, especially seniors, had trouble navigating our website. Since I had some experience with website design, I wanted to make their experience easier, and proposed that I redesign the home page and navigation. Originally, I had planned to make small changes to the website, but after learning of the frustrations people had, I realized there was much more we needed to change. I was nervous because the home page is often the most visited page on a website, so the changes I made were critical in telling GVJCI’s story. Thankfully, everyone was supportive and excited for the changes I planned to make. As we had a limited budget and only two weeks before the end of my internship, I learned to problem-solve, stay organized, and work efficiently. After extensive research and collaboration with Stephanie and Cathy, I was able to complete everything in time, and I am glad that I could use my skills to create a positive impact within this community. This has also sparked my passion for UX/UI design, and I have decided to pursue it as a career!
The past three months have flown by, and I sincerely thank GVJCI for an amazing experience this summer. GVJCI truly lives up to its mission to create a space to engage, share, and embrace the Nikkei experience, as they have done for me and many others.