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The Present: A Gift from the Past to the Future*

When all is said and done, and as dust begins to settle over the past eight weeks of a profound educational journey, I realize how beneficial this Nikkei Community Internship has been. To be brief, this has been an amazing learning experience. But to be brief would be to do injustice to all that was absorbed by my mind and heart through this program. And so it begins.

Prior to this internship, like many people, I absolutely dreaded Mondays. However, for the past eight weeks, I actually looked forward to the weekend passing so I would be able to go on my Monday office visits to law firms and courthouses.

For instance, I was given the opportunity to observe Judge Holly Fujie handle cases brought into her courtroom. Her field was family law, an area I had little knowledge about before but much interest in after my visit. Another great experience was when JABA President and Deputy Attorney General for the California Department of Justice James Toma invited me to a seminar during which he and other lawyers in the consumer law division spoke about their work and about some interesting cases they have dealt with. This gave me the unique opportunity to ask real lawyers various questions and learn about a specific field of law in a relaxed, informal setting.

As I look back, I am very grateful to all the attorneys and judges who took time out of their busy schedules to meet and speak with me. Doing so gave me new perspective on the legal profession and reinforced my interest in becoming a lawyer. By the end of my office visits, the work JABA attorneys and judges did on a daily basis and the advice they offered inspired me to keep aspiring towards my career goal.

From Tuesday to Thursday, most of my work consisted of contributing to the Discover Nikkei website that contains this piece. My work included, but was not limited to, searching and posting events, uploading a Nikkei Album, updating the Discover Nikkei Facebook page, and writing articles. Not only did this hone my computer skills, it expanded my cultural horizons and kept my mind open. Indeed, little did I know before that such a vibrant Nikkei community existed online. And little did I know that other Nikkei persons were appreciating the work I contributed to the website as I did theirs. These were a few of the many profound discoveries I made during the course of my summer internship.

To fulfill my joint internship with JABA and JANM, one of the main projects I was assigned to complete and post on Discover Nikkei was this year’s JABA Legacy Project. To do so, I conducted interviews with two prominent Nikkei attorneys who have, in one way or another, contributed greatly to the Japanese American community or society at large. Attorney and civil rights activist Rose Ochi1 and Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender Janice Fukai2 were two amazing professionals with interesting backgrounds, unparalleled leadership skills, and great work ethic.

During the interviews, Ms. Ochi particularly emphasized the importance of giving back to the community as she had done for so long, and Ms. Fukai stressed the importance of believing in oneself to achieve dreams. The words they spoke were impactful, because the two attorneys were the unsung heroines who worked tirelessly for the people and community without expecting or pursuing fame and recognition. They are the inspirations and the paragons of lawyers that are dear to my heart as I daringly dive into the real world.

Fridays were also fantastic. As a group, we all participated in leadership development workshops and visited the various organizations that were part of the NCI program this summer. It was during these days that I realized the significance of an interdependent society.

Indeed, one aspect that all host organizations had in common was the extent to which they valued and gave back to the community, especially the Japanese American community. Several examples include: the Japanese American Bar Association’s free legal clinics for those in need of legal assistance but who have financial or language barriers, Keiro Senior Healthcare’s work in caring for elderly Japanese and Japanese American residents, Union Bank sponsorship of and investment in youths, and J. Morey Company’s connections with neighboring shops and restaurants. It is an absolutely incredible concept to comprehend.

Interdependency within the community is not only necessary but natural, and for the establishments, assisting each other as well as others is the norm. Indeed, interactions amongst community members, non-profit organizations, and businesses all contribute in making the Japanese American community as robust as it is today.

At the end of the day, speaking with different people, regardless of where they worked or who they were, was the highlight of my NCI experience. Through shadowing lawyers and judges and visiting the various host organizations throughout the Los Angeles area, I learned much about the legal profession while realizing the significance of community. Ultimately, I found great value in meeting and speaking with people such as the staff members and volunteers at non-profit organizations or the owners of for-profit businesses. For example, through this experience, I gained a better perspective on the role the Japanese American National Museum plays not only in preserving Japanese American history and heritage but also in connecting Nikkei persons from all over the world through an online forum. It was humbling and inspiring to meet many important individuals in the Japanese American community, and they have all motivated me to work harder through the heartfelt stories they told and the unexpectedly wonderful opportunities they gave me.

Towards the end of one of the Legacy Project interviews, Alternate Public Defender Janice Fukai articulated a memorable sentence: “I believe it was everything that my grandparents and parents did that allowed me to be where I am today.” In light of Japanese American history, these words definitely ring true. Indeed, up until now, Japanese American youths, including myself, have basked in the rays of freedom that many of our forebears have fought long and hard to achieve and sustain.

For our forefathers, for the tears they have shed and for the years they have led, we, as the younger generation of Japanese Americans, must now rise to maintain and foster this liberty and sense of community. We must also work together to preserve and expand our vibrant society so we can confidently present it to the future. Today, the torch of leadership has been passed and burns brightly as it rests in the hands of Japanese American youths. It is time to do our best to fill the shoes of those before us. It is now our turn to lead.

Sean with JABA/JANM supervisors at NCI Opening Luncheon

Note:

1. Video clips from Rose Ochi’s interview and article can be found through the following links:
discovernikkei.org/interviews/profiles/151
discovernikkei.org/journal/2013/7/29/rose-ochi

2. Janice Fukai’s interview article can be found here:
discovernikkei.org/journal/2013/8/5/janice-fukai/

 

* This piece is a reflection on my eight week internship with the Japanese American Bar Association (JABA) and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) through the Nikkei Community Internship (NCI) program. All this would not have been possible without the support of some very special individuals and organizations. First of all, I would like to thank my supervisor from the Japanese American Bar Association, Alex Fukui, and my supervisors from the Japanese American National Museum, Yoko Nishimura and Vicky Murakami-Tsuda, for their unconditional support over the course of my internship. I also extend my deepest gratitude to Alan Nishio, chairperson of the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, not only for his sponsorship and support of the Nikkei Community Internship program but also for informing me personally of its existence. In addition, I thank Paul Matsushima for coordinating the NCI program, the JABA attorneys and judges for graciously endowing me with legal lessons and encouraging advice, the JANM staff for their work and company, and the other NCI interns for a fun-filled, educational summer.

© 2013 Sean Hamamoto

community internship JABA janm Japanese American National Museum nci nikkei community internship student youth