During the U.S.-Japan Council annual conference that was held in Tokyo on November 8 and 9, 2018, Rylan Sekiguchi was elected chair of the TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). The ELP identifies, cultivates, and empowers a new generation of leaders in the U.S.–Japan relationship. Emerging Leaders participate in leadership education, design and implement original USJC programming, and develop powerful, lifelong personal and professional friendships. A new cohort of leaders aged 24–35 is selected annually through a highly competitive process. USJC Senior Vice President Kaz Maniwa, who oversees the ELP, commented, “We are delighted that Rylan Sekiguchi will lead the Emerging Leaders Program next year as the chair of the Steering Committee. Rylan has shown great passion, dedication, and commitment to the Emerging Leaders Program and we look forward to his leadership.”
During the conference, Sekiguchi gave an overview of the ELP and shared reflections of how his professional and personal lives have embraced the mission of the ELP. Sekiguchi spoke specifically about his current work at SPICE with USJC Vice Chair Norman Mineta, former Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush. Mineta is the subject of a new documentary—An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy—co-produced by Dianne Fukami and Debra Nakatomi, and Sekiguchi is finalizing web-based lesson plans that focus on the film’s key themes, including immigration, civil liberties, and leadership. The documentary was screened at the conference and is anticipated to air on PBS.
A short video that Sekiguchi shared during his speech brought applause from the audience. The video captured a snippet of a performance that he and other members of San Jose Taiko presented last year. The performance celebrated “swing music and the role it played in lifting people’s spirits amid the harsh reality of the Japanese-American internment,” shared Sekiguchi. “Through music and theater, we transported people back to a 1940s-era ‘camp dance’ to educate audiences about the painful, agonizing choices that incarcerees faced.” Mineta was a young boy when his family was uprooted from San Jose, California, and incarcerated in a camp for Japanese Americans in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Mineta later became mayor of San Jose in 1971.
Through Sekiguchi’s reflections, audience members from both sides of the Pacific were prompted to reflect upon civil liberties during times of crisis—in this case, the incarceration of Japanese Americans following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. My father was a high school student in a camp in Poston, Arizona, and the video prompted me to recall one of the few things that he shared with me about his life behind barbed wire—that camp dances and baseball brought some sense of normalcy to the lives of Japanese-American youth. By showing the video, Sekiguchi’s implicit message was clear: young Americans today—including of course, ELP members—must be aware of the sometimes fragile nature of civil liberties. I have the good fortune of working with another ELP member, Naomi Funahashi, and during the conference, it was rewarding for me to meet many ELP alumni and members of the newest cohort and to witness the beginnings of personal and professional friendships amongst them. Sekiguchi’s speech set the tone for the year ahead—like a “camp dance,” he wants the ELP members to have fun but to always remember the serious nature of what the ELP represents.
SPICE’s web-based lesson plans will be released soon. To stay informed of SPICE-related news, join our email list or follow SPICE on Facebook and Twitter. SPICE also offers several traditional lesson plans on the Japanese-American internment, the role of baseball in Japanese-American internment camps, and civil liberties in times of crisis.