By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
RAFU STAFF INTERN
Years ago, Dana Fujiko Heatherton made a name for herself in the Japanese American basketball community as a member of the Yonsei 6 team, as well as the Pasadena Bruins. But on Saturday night, Heatherton, 24, shined for a different reason: her coronation as the 2009 Nisei Week Queen.
In addition to Heatherton’s coronation, Marisa Saori Tamaru, 25, was named First Princess, and Nicole Kiyomi Masuda, 22, was named Miss Tomodachi.
Representing the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute, Heatherton displayed wit, intelligence, and a sense of humor during the speaking portions of the evening.
In one instance, Heatherton joked about her appearance, giving herself an opportunity to speak about her mixed background.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she told the large audience at the Japan America Theatre during her introduction. “What in the world is this hakujin girl with red hair doing here?”
However, she emphasized that despite her greater resemblance to “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien than ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi, her passion for history and the preservation of the JA community encouraged her to join the Nisei Week Court.
“JA history is the history of Los Angeles,” she said. “And (Little Tokyo) is a place that a hakujin girl with red hair and freckles can call home.”
The evening program commenced with the introduction of the queen candidates in kimono, followed by their rendition of a Japanese song, “Nada Sou Sou.”
The audience was also able to become more familiar with the candidates during the verbal communication skills portion, in which the girls spoke about personal experiences ranging from humanitarian trips to Mexico and Panama, to finding their culture.
Throughout the evening, emcees David Ono and Tamlyn Tomita lightened the mood as they kept up a lively banter ranging from Ono’s playful teasing of Tomita’s attire, to Tomita’s insistence that the candidates choose between Ono and Rob Fukuzaki as their favorite ABC anchor.
In addition to the antics of Ono and Tomita, the audience was also entertained by Grateful Crane Ensemble vocalist Keiko Kawashima, who sang “Human Nature” and “I’ll Be There,” in memory of Michael Jackson.
Keeping with the Jackson tribute, the court performed a dance number entitled, “This Is It!,” in which the candidates danced to “Billie Jean” in black fedoras and glittery tank tops. Behind them, a photomontage of the girls was projected onto the stage wall, showing close up shots of each candidate in their costume.
One of the highlights of the evening was the court’s performance of “Thriller,” which featured both the girls and the 2009 Nisei Week Board members, including Nisei Week Foundation President and LAPD Deputy Chief, Terry Hara. Based on the appreciative laughter and cheers, the audience seemed to enjoy this lively number. Throughout the dance, the original Jackson music video was projected onto the back wall of the stage, adding to the entertainment aspect of the number.
“I was caught by surprise,” Hara said, in reference to invitation to join the dance number.
He added that he was asked to participate last Sunday, giving him less than a week to learn the dance.
Towards the end of the program, the candidates answered questions from Ono and Tomita about the most important quality of a JA community representative while wearing white evening gowns designed by Tadashi, a famed Japanese designer.
As the announcement of the results drew near, the candidates held each other’s hands and when Heatherton’s name was announced, the theater erupted in cheers and applause, while her court embraced her.
“I can’t believe it’s my daughter,” said Heatherton’s mother, Linda Inouye, of her coronation. “She looks like a princess, or in this case, a queen.”
Her sister Christina, 28, said that Heatherton’s decision to participate in this year’s pageant was unexpected.
“We were kind of surprised, but she’s in this community,” she said. “This is her life.”