THROUGH THE FIRE: Forward, Beyond

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By traci kato-kiriyama

1. I was gone for a quite a while. There was a pretty great opportunity to be in a world premiere of a play out in Toronto about the power of women finding each other throughout time and with the discovery of Nushu (a secret language created by women in Hunan over a thousand years ago despite a society that disallowed women from reading and writing).

While I’m ever-grateful for that experience, I sorely missed this city and the communities here.

Time and again, one of the best things I find about travel is how it deepens my appreciation for the folks here. Most of the cast were local Canadians and they shared a lot on the passive culture that exists in Canada.  I seemed to run into this every day. While walking down a  street, some guy threw a small paper box at my behind. He obviously wasn’t expecting me to turn around and ask him very loudly, “Why did you do that?!”

He just looked at me, then muttered, “Uh, I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?!…WHY did you do that?!” I kept on (mind you, I was safe to do so as I was still walking forward with a friend, amongst a crowd of people).

His friend tried to squash the situation by saying to him, “Dude, you’re gonna get us killed.”

It was so strange. But my Canadian cohorts told me the typical response (by the target) would usually be silence, maybe a weird glance. They didn’t think that guy was expecting me to say anything.

What???

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2.  Oct. 7 witnessed yet another gathering rarely associated with this city – miles of major streets blocked off for cyclists, walkers and non-automotive wheel action.

CicLAvia is an immensely popular event, newish to Los Angeles in relation to its initial inspiration, “Ciclovia,” which was initiated over 30 years ago in Bogota, Colombia, to combat city congestion and pollution.

Sadly, I missed out on yet another (namely 5th) CicLAvia due to prior commitments, and had to imagine the tens of thousands biking, walking, scooting and skating along the streets of Downtown, from Boyle Heights through Little Tokyo up to Chinatown, over to MacArthur Park and down to USC.  The amazing team at CicLAvia works incredibly hard to put together a great website that details the cool activities and points of interest plotted out all along the way.

The thing I felt I really missed out on the most, though, was the merging of two of my favorite aspects of L.A. life: veteran cultural worker, Movement OG, eco-fab-fem Nobuko Miyamoto; and the son jarocho-inspired, East LA Chicana/o rock group of super-bad status, Quetzal. They were featured throughout the day of events presented by CicLAvia and its partners, over at the MacArthur Park end of the path.

Quetzal is a band that I’ve loved and followed since seeing them in the days of protest against Prop 187 and meeting them at the People’s Resource Center in Highland Park in the mid-’90s.

Nobuko is a broad-minded, far-reaching artist who is such an example of solid intention, integrity in movement, with a creative and wise outlook on building relations in meaningful ways to affect positive, progressive change.

So it makes total sense that they’d eventually collaborate and do it through an eco music video called “Cycles of Change” and with a live performance amongst thousands at CicLAvia.

It reminds me of not only some of the coolest things about this city, but of the best elements from our own Nikkei community – a clear intention and vision … a desire to build relations in creative ways in order to bring people together … an ability to affect and be active in a growing collective consciousness in our society.

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3. I’m trying to catch up with where things are at since the reveal on TV-movie-of-the-week-quality news of former JACCC executive director Greg Willis’ alleged criminal background (charges of corporate finance misconduct) and formal warrant for arrest in France … and ensuing lightning-speed resignation from the center.

It seems like a couple things are happening. The JACCC is being smart by the temporary hire of Bill Watanabe and Deborah Ching to support the transition and search for a new executive director. This is hopeful.

And, at the same time, there still seems to be a sense throughout the community in terms of confusion at what went down, how is the center taking responsibility, and how might the center’s community stakeholders be more involved and included in the process of helping to turn the center around in a forward-moving direction. This is understandable.

The words “How did this happen?!” seem to hang in the air.  And more importantly, “What is going to happen next?”

In the recent interview Rafu editor Gwen Muranaka did with JACCC board chair Sandy Sakamoto, there is a brief quote from her, stating, “We take responsibility for what happened. Nobody said it was somebody else’s fault or it’s not our responsibility and I recognize the criticism and where it comes from. But I’d like to see what we can do to more forward together, what out of the criticism can be productive.”

Albeit brief, it was a small relief to hear at least that much.

There is something to be said for owning up to mistakes.  If the entire board resigned, I wouldn’t necessarily feel better. I’d still be asking, “What’s next?” I think we need both–forthcoming, honest communication on the irresponsible practices that led us here, as well as engagement with new ideas and the evidence of grounded, community-minded, vision through action in the coming weeks, months and years.

I think we all want the center to succeed for the sake of the greater community.

Mark Masaoka, in his recent Letter to the Editor about this situation, made a lot of keen comments regarding future stakeholders and changing cultural and philanthropic models. I hope we take heed of the exciting diversity in our younger and upcoming and growing generations. Our overall savvy has grown; our capacity and desire for building engagement through new media and hybrid arts/enthusiast/culture models continues to expand on definitions of everything from resource-sharing to marketing to interdisciplinary entertainment and cultural platforms.

Yes, it’s a rough time for any kind of new expansion, but it’s also an exciting chance to see some of the best come through from our own community in a whole new way, while maintaining our sense of community roots and contextual existence.

References:
“Son jarocho” – traditional music of Veracruz that went through a revival in the 1970s.
Quetzal – quetzaleastla.com
Nobuko Miyamoto, artistic director of Great Leap –greatleap.org
CicLAvia – cicLAvia.org

traci kato-kiriyama is a thirtysomething Sansei who loves bread, hates eggs and welcomes conversations of all kinds – especially with those who hate bread and love eggs … it keeps life interesting, shocking and fun.  She also performs, writes, teaches, organizes, acts and acts up in various parts of the world. www.traciakemi.com; www.tuesdaynightproject.org. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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