RABBIT RAMBLINGS: UC Berkeley JA alumnae group issues award and scholarships

bioline_Chizu Omori

On March 16 on a beautiful spring day, the Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley held its 29th annual scholarship award lunch at the Berkeley Country Club in El Cerrito, Calif. Over the years, the organization has awarded 135 undergraduate and 65 graduate scholarships to young women of Japanese ancestry attending the University of California at Berkeley from an endowment fund established in 1967. The fund, created from the sale of a house on the Berkeley campus that was established in 1937 to house Japanese women students, has grown to 1.3 million dollars, enabling JAWA to give substantial awards to the women chosen to receive the scholarships.

Lynn H. Nakada was given the Outstanding Alumna Award. Nakada has worked for 40 years at UC Berkeley after having attended the university.
This year’s winners were Nicole Inaba, whose major is environmental sciences; Kayla Panor, a chemical engineering major; Karina Parker, in anthropology; and Tierne Mayuri Nickel, who is getting a Ph.D in environmental science, policy and management.

Parker spoke of her background as an older student who returned to school in her 30s after getting married and having two children.

Keynote speaker Brenda Wong Aoki was introduced by Barbara Kawamoto. Aoki gave a dynamic talk entitled “A Storyteller’s Journey,” outlining her career as a wandering storyteller and entertainer. Born in Salt Lake City and raised in Long Beach, Calif., Aoki is of Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Scottish descent. She went to San Francisco State University, getting a degree in community studies and was a community organizer and teacher. Her interest in theater and drama led her to Japan, becoming an apprentice of Mansaku Nomura, one of Japan’s living treasures, in the art of kyogen, an ancient dramatic genre of comedy.

She has worked as a dancer, musician, singer, and activist. Combining all of her interests led her and her musician husband, Mark Izu, to forming First Voice, a performing troupe that has staged many performances of her pieces, including “Tales of the Pacific Rim,” “Obake: Tales of Spirits Past and Present” and “Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend.” She has published many books and recorded her work. She draws from multiple sources, including noh, kyogen, commedia dell’arte, modern dance, Japanese drumming and American jazz. She has performed all over the U.S. and the world. She spoke of amusing and often racist encounters with many people that occurred because they just didn’t know what to make of her.

Over the years, Aoki has searched her family’s history, and many of these stories have become the basis for her performances. One area that has becoming of increasing importance to her is the incarceration of Japanese Americans. She used the story of a mother whose baby dies on the train to a concentration camp. She has grown to recognize the significance of preserving stories, how your life is your story, and that we all should strive to preserve these moments from our past.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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