Younger People at Tule Lake

This year at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage [see previous article], the United to End Racism (UER) team put together a subgroup to focus on young people and young adults. The group was comprised of Becca Asaki, Kenso Michisaki, Avery Osajima, and Ashley Uyeda.

On the night we arrived, we led a UER gathering for the young people and young adults. Prior to the pilgrimage we had e-mailed all the participants under age thirty to welcome them and invite them to our gathering. Out of four hundred pilgrimage participants, about forty were under thirty years old. We wanted them to get together at the beginning to connect and see each other as a constituency.

Seventeen people came to our gathering. The youngest was twelve. (Other younger folks would have come if it hadn’t been past their bedtime.) We wanted to create a relaxed space in which people could hang out [spend relaxed, unstructured time], so we played some games and had snacks and music. Here are a few highlights from the gathering:

  • Starting with the opening circle, people were ready to show themselves and take charge of what happened in the group.
  • We had a good gender balance, and the young men felt safe enough to talk about their feelings.
  • Folks had a sophisticated analysis of oppression, intergenerational dynamics, and activism, which made them receptive to and interested in what UER was doing.

Many of the young people and young adults were eager to connect with each other. So Kenso started a WhatsApp group [an application on a phone that lets people text within a group]. This instantly became the way we all communicated, coordinated, and organized. We also found opportunities to gather during mealtimes and other pilgrimage activities.

The impact of the young people and young adults was felt. In the Intergenerational Dialogue Groups (facilitated by UER team members), they shared how racism and Japanese incarceration had affected them. They asked the elders who had been incarcerated pivotal questions that made discharge possible. In a workshop on activism they pushed the conversations toward what we need to do currently as a Japanese American community, raising issues related to Black Lives Matter, the Indigenous community, and direct action.

We organized the younger people to sit together at the Cultural Performance on the final evening. One of the young adults spoke powerfully about the Yonsei generation (fourth-generation Japanese Americans). In the call-and-response part of his poem, when everyone was asked to shout, “Yonsei,” the younger people’s extra loud and proud voices let everyone know of our presence.

After the performances we held an epic dance party and got many of the Sansei (third-generation Japanese Americans) out on the floor late into the night. The Yonsei leading the way marked an important transition; the next generation must step to the front as the Sansei get older. The younger people showing themselves fully and seizing the space to be big and powerful showed how fun and amazing that transition might be.

Our group filled people with hope. The Sansei and Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) kept telling us how happy they were that the Yonsei were there. They thanked us whenever we shared our minds.

The next morning, after everyone had boarded buses to head home, we younger people continued to show how good we are at connecting with and thinking about each other. WhatsApp conversations continued long after the last bus had departed. Our UER team had helped to build what may be lifelong connections. Some of the younger people are already thinking about what they want to see happen at the next pilgrimage, in 2020.

Becca Asaki

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Kenso Michisaki

San Jose, California, USA

Avery Osajima

Seattle, Washington, USA

Ashley Uyeda

Los Angeles, California, USA

Keith Osajima

Redlands, California, USA     

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members involved in eliminating racism

(Present Time 193, October 2018)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00