I’m a Yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American (JA), born and raised in Colorado. My mother’s side is originally from Okinawa, Japan and my father’s side hails from Hiroshima, Japan. Both sides of my family moved to Hawaii to work the plantations and during their time there, Hawaii became an integral part of their life. My grandma opened a restaurant in Hawaii and my grandfather fought honorably in the 442nd 1st Battalion. Eventually, my parents moved to Colorado.

Growing up, most of my experience with the Japanese and JA community came from Hawaii. While I lived in Colorado, my family would visit Hawaii every year and it was with this community that I connected. I would attend death anniversaries, give incense at Honolulu Memorial Park, and attend Obon dances with my cousins. Conversely, I never interacted with the Colorado JA community. It was only while attending law school in Colorado that I started to reach out to this community. Serendipitously, around the same time, my cousin introduced me to the Mirai Generations Leadership Program (MGLP).

MGLP gave me a profound understanding of the history of the JA community in Colorado and helped me contextualize how that history impacts the Colorado JA community today. Additionally, it allowed me to make meaningful friendships and connections. Most importantly, MGLP gave me opportunities to work with and contribute to the Colorado JA community.

One of these opportunities was forming a business with other MGLP alumni to highlight and support Japanese/JA owned businesses in Colorado. I’ve also been fortunate enough to continue to work with Sakura Foundation to assist in its community outreach/fundraising. And I’ve joined the Minoru Yasui Inn of Court, named in honor of Minoru Yasui, to connect with a legal community that is committed to fighting intolerance in law and encouraging community development.

Additionally, my experiences in the law, JA community and MGLP have inspired me to fight for social justice. As part of this work, I have engaged in asylee pro bono work to try to  protect immigrants’ basic human rights. I also recently joined the board of Colorado Common Cause to work to ensure that the government is open, honest, and accountable.

I am consistently grateful for the opportunities that MGLP and Sakura Foundation have given me – to have a voice and seat at the table within the Japanese and JA community in Colorado and for the connections I’ve formed through the program. If you would like to connect with me, please reach out at keoke21@gmail.com.