Moving Ahead by Opening Up
Combating decades of ingrained culture and values is a formidable task. But the young women and men of the Changing Tides Crew at Little Tokyo Service Center are committed to improving the lives of Asian Americans who are dealing with mental health issues by breaking down dated beliefs of “saving face” and avoiding shame.
The CT Crew is led by a volunteer group of young adults: Max Kaito, Moet Kurakata, Katie Mitani, Courtlyn Shimada and Ty Tanioka. Working closely with LTSC liaison, Jessica Kanai, the CT Crew has created safe spaces to normalize healthy discussion around mental health in non-clinical settings: through art exhibits, a candle-making class, paint nights.
They are receiving support from mental health experts such as Dr. Koko Nishi, a psychologist at San Diego State University who recently spoke at a Changing Tides event in Palos Verdes.
Nishi describes herself as a “Sansei, third-generation Japanese-Chinese American” born and raised in Torrance. She went to Japanese school, played in the Nikkei basketball league, and also lived abroad with the JET program to teach English, “or corrupt the youth of Japan,” she joked.
As a result, she is especially skilled in understanding the cultural issues and values that continue to affect Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans alike; from keeping quiet about personal difficulties, to the pressure from parents to succeed in high-paying, prestigious careers.
She also learned how her paternal grandparents and maternal grandmother got through the camp experience: the Japanese concept of “gaman” (“suck it up” or “endure”) and “shikata ga nai” (it can’t be helped) and “sho ga nai” (it is what it is).
Nishi grew up with the notion of gaman as a really good way to get through life’s challenges. “To be honest, it has helped me overcome many challenges and helped me be successful because I was able to suck it up and push through,” she said.
“But at the same time, I also learned that we’re human. We’re not meant to keep all of our emotions inside. It’s not always a good thing to internalize what we’re struggling with. It’s not always helpful for us to gaman. We need some sort of outlet because we are human and we have these feelings. It’s a big reason as to why I decided to pursue a career in psychology.”
Nishi expressed appreciation and support for the efforts of Little Tokyo Service Center’s Changing Tides program, launched by young adults. “Their mission is to end the stigma surrounding mental health and to normalize healthy discussions in the Asian American community. I want to emphasize this word, ‘healthy.’ That’s what it really should be about. It should be healthy for us to talk about our thoughts and our feelings, not to gaman or suck them up. Mental health and well being is important.
“Being able to create spaces like this and share stories, tell our truths and acknowledging each other without judgment, we are changing the tides of how mental health is viewed in our community.
“By acknowledging it, by naming it, by speaking up, we allow ourselves to learn about what is helpful and what is not. Let’s honor our feelings, let’s validate ourselves and continue to transform our perspective on how we view mental health in our community.”
What you can do
Join the CT Crew on Saturday, Sept. 28, for Making Waves: A Changing Tides Mental Health Conference, which will include such topics as navigating relationships, understanding student stress, mental health for the Japanese-speaking community, and so much more. Visit https://give.ltsc.org/MakingWaves for more details.
Photos courtesy Little Tokyo Service Center