A Reunion in Pasadena

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JCI celebrates 10 years of Nisei Week.

Top row (from left) Erika Olsen, Julia Tani, Dana Heatherton, Erika Hayami (Fisher) Pitcher and Ashley Honma. Bottom row (from left): Jamie Hagiya, Veronica Ota, Tomi Okuno, Tori Nishinaka Leon and Juli Ann Drindak. (TOYO MIYATAKE STUDIO)

PASADENA — A 10-year reunion was held on Dec. 26 for the remarkable women who have represented the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute as members of the Nisei Week Court.

The reunion was hosted by Cindy and Ron Dyo and was a chance for the women to share their memories of their time as Miss Pasadena JCI.

“We wanted all the Miss Pasadena girls to meet each other in person and get to know our Miss Pasadena JCI family,” Ron explained.

2009 — Dana Fujiko Heatherton was the first to represent Pasadena JCI and was crowned Nisei Week Queen. Her experience as Miss PJCI inspired her continued involvement in the Japanese American community. She served on the executive board of the Little Tokyo Service Center and the Japanese American National Museum’s New Leadership Advisory Council, and founded the Japan Food Festival in Houston. She is vice chair of the U.S.-Japan Council’s Silicon Valley region and works for AAA’s Innovation Lab, where she serves as chief operating officer of GIG Car Share. Heatherton lives in San Francisco with her husband Andy Folick and 4-year-old son Kaz.

2010 — Jamie Hagiya was crowned Nisei Week Miss Tomodachi. She played point guard for the USC women’s basketball team, leading the Trojans to two NCAA tournaments. Nisei Week was the turning point of Hagiya’s athletic career when she tried out for the WNBA, but did not make the team. She then decided to redirect her focus, energy and efforts toward a second passion: CrossFit. Hagiya is a competitive CrossFit athlete and co-owner/coach at Torrance Training Lab. She is a six-time CrossFit regional competitor and two-time CrossFit Games athlete. She also started her own clothing company called Left Coast Vibes.

2011 — Erika Mariko Olsen was crowned Nisei Week Queen in 2011. She grew up taking voice lessons with the late Sue Okabe and Lisa Joe and majored in vocal performance at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music. Always a lover of games, she decided not to pursue music full-time after all, to instead join the video game industry as a producer. She worked at Riot Games, makers of “League of Legends,” for the last four years. Last July, she left Riot Games and moved to the Bay Area, where she now works at Google on Project Stream. She’s very excited about the future of technology and secretly hopes the next Miss Pasadena JCI is a tech and gaming nerd too.

2012 — Erika (Fisher) Pitcher served on the Nisei Week Court as a princess. In 2012, she married her high school sweetheart Tommy and the couple live in Santa Ana. She has been working at UC Irvine for nearly five years in development and now as the community outreach manager for the Department of Pediatrics. In her role, she establishes relationships with various community organizations and seeks opportunities for her department to participate in health fairs and community events throughout the year as well as managing websites, social media, and alumni relations for the residency program. She has continued to be involved with the Miss Pasadena JCI Committee and is currently serving as secretary.

2013 — Ashley Mieko Honma was Nisei Week First Princess. She currently lives in New York City with her boyfriend, Robb, and their six-month-old dachshund mix puppy, Meli. She works for for Indie Lee & Co., a clean, nontoxic skincare line that recently launched at Sephora and Nordstrom. She is responsible for creating and executing all social media strategy, managing influencer relations, and assisting with public relations and brand communications.

In 2015, Veronica Toyomi Ota was welcomed as the newest Miss Pasadena JCI by (from left) Jamie Hagiya, Tori Nishinaka-Leon, Ashley Honma and Erika Fisher.

2014 — Tori Nishinaka Leon was crowned Nisei Week Princess in 2014. As a first female member of the Occidental College golf team, she helped pave the way for other women athletes and has been inducted into the Oxy Athletic Hall of Fame. She is a third-year optometry student at Western University of Health Sciences. She has traveled internationally as well as throughout Los Angeles, providing free eye examinations and glasses in coordination with Care Harbor and Lion’s Club Friends in Sight. She still works at the optometry practice of Dr. Matthew Matsuzaki on weekends in Pasadena.

2015 — Veronica Toyomi Ota was crowned Nisei Week First Princess. After Nisei Week, Ota took a year-long position as the choir director at her alma mater, Marshall High in Los Feliz. She then set off for a year of teaching in Japan on the JET Program. Now that she’s home, she’s back substitute teaching at Marshall as a middle school math teacher. She is planning to apply to graduate school to pursue a degree that will help her continue in her path as an educator.

2016 — Julia Kiyomi Tani served as Miss Tomodachi. She was the last participant to receive the Japanese American Women’s Giving Circle for her platform PATH (People Assisting the Homeless). Tani graduated California Maritime Academy with a bachelor’s degree in international business and logistics. She is the head coach for Flintridge Prep JV Girls Basketball Team.

2017 — Tomi Okuno proudly represented Pasadena as a Nisei Week Princess. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in illustration. Okuno is pursuing a career as an art teacher and works as an academic substitute teacher in South Pasadena and San Gabriel. Entering a classroom with a different age group, at a different school, in a different subject each day keeps her on her toes. In her free time, she enjoys painting portraits, eating spicy food, and volunteering in Little Tokyo. She is also involved with her church community at Fellowship Monrovia, where she serves as a volunteer in the Middle School ministry.

2018 — Juli Ann Drindak is Miss Tomodachi on this year’s Nisei Week Court. Next year she will complete her certificate in communicative sciences and disorders in pursuit of becoming a speech and language pathologist in the hospital setting. She works part time as a childcare provider at Fit4mom Long Beach and as a waitress at Cafe Hiro in Cypress.

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