By JORDAN IKEDA, Rafu Contributor
The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center hosted its annual Fiesta Matsuri on May 1 at the JACCC plaza in Little Tokyo. Hundreds of people of all races and ages attended the festival that literally means “party party” when translated from Spanish and Japanese.
“It’s when Dia de los Niños and Kodomo no Hi are joined together here at the JACCC,” said Leslie Ito, JACCC president and CEO. “JACCC has been celebrating Kodomo no Hi, Children’s Day, for the past three decades. I felt we needed to do something that was more relevant to today, connects us to new communities, and not only reflects the diversity of the Nikkei community but also Los Angeles and Southern California.”
Because both Mexican and Japanese cultures dedicate a day to the celebration of children and are heavily concentrated within only a few miles of each other in Los Angeles, the collaboration seemed a natural fit. Fascinatingly, the idea was not originally Ito’s, but one she borrowed from Susan Mukai, director of the Nishi Hongwanji preschool for the past 33 years.
Many years ago, a group from Japan came to tour Los Angeles to study multiculturalism. They visited several local centers, including Nishi, and at the end of their trip invited everyone for a get-together.
“We sat the same table as Dolores Mission that was located in Boyle Heights,” Mukai said. “They invited us to come to their center for Dia de Los Ninos. We brought our kids over and danced and had a lot of delicious food. The next year, we hosted them with musubi and arts and crafts.”
This was the birth of the Fiesta Matsuri idea. When Dolores Mission was dispersed a few years later, the Nishi preschool staff wanted to keep the tradition alive. The name came from Elaine Fukumoto. Ito’s kids went through Nishi a few years later, loved the idea and it stuck with her.
That Sunday was the evolutionary result. The festival featured performances from the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra, El Marino Niji Daiko, the Plaza de la Raza Mariachi, and Fujima Kansei Odori Kai. Brian Kito of Fugetsudo put on a mochi/manju demonstration, UCLA Kyodo hosted taiko workshops, and Danza Azteca hosted a danza workshop.
“My son Isaac plays violin for the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra,” said Jose Flores, who attended the event with his family. “We are enjoying activities here. We have to notice more people to come here, to enjoy. Having two cultures get to know each other is very important.”
There were lots of kids — Mexican, Spanish, Caucasian, Japanese, Korean — participating in the workshops, performing on stage, and enjoying the games.
As has been the case for the past three decades, the JACCC engaged with various Nikkei Student Unions (NSU) throughout California to participate in the event. According to Ito, it’s important that students are building bridges on campus and across communities.
“To me it’s a place where a lot of people can gather and learn about different cultures,” said UCLA freshman Kelly Dekatani, who worked the mini-golf booth as a member of the UCLA NSU. “It’s important that they showcase a lot of the cultural aspects that Los Angeles has to offer.”
Fourth-year UCLA student Munawaer Ainiwaer, also a member of the UCLA NSU, added, “The goal is to gather a diverse group of kids together and show them that other cultures can be fun.”
There are many wonderful aspects of children. They bring energy and excitement and newness and awe. Their emotions are raw and for the most part unfiltered. Their biases remain free of true bias. Regardless of culture, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status, children represent our collective future. Which makes them an ideal rallying point. A universal connection that fundamentally draws people together.
That is what the Fiesta Matsuri represents. And thanks to the efforts of so many, it represents it very well.