Densho Digital Repository
Seattle JACL Oral History Collection
Title: Theo Bickel Interview
Narrator: Theo Bickel
Interviewers: Elaine Kim, Joy Misako St. Germain
Date: December 19, 2021
Densho ID: ddr-sjacl-2-30

<Begin Segment 1>

EK: Perfect. Okay, so, just to start off, if you don't mind telling us a bit about yourself and how and why you became active with the Seattle JACL chapter.

TB: Sure, certainly. So, I go by Theo Bickel. My full name is Theodore Kenzo Dante Bickel. I, even at a young age, didn't really like Theodore. So, I don't really know how old I was, but when I was pretty short, I started going by Theo, I think, still in elementary school. But a bit about myself, I'm living here in Seattle, I'm currently working in marketing at a nonprofit organization called the International Community Health Services. I'm Japanese American, I use he/him pronouns, and I've been living here in Seattle for about five, six years, but I've grown up in Washington. Went to school up in Bellingham, Washington, did a brief stint in the other Washington at the JACL office with the OCA, Organization of Asian Pacific American Advocates. And yeah, that's a bit about myself. I first got involved with Seattle JACL, basically, through getting involved through national JACL first, and I think this plays a big part into my identity as a Japanese American. My perspective that I bring to the chapter, and kind of how I see the community at large, is that when I was growing up, I did not identify as gay. I identified as Asian American and definitely identified more with the pan Asian American immigrant experience, but hearing or reading about JA history, or even on one occasion, having a history teacher, I think in middle school, kind of call me out and asked me to share about my family's history of incarceration. I was like, I have no idea what that word is. No idea what that history is, the first time I think I'd really heard about it.

But long story short, I got involved through national JACL by doing an internship in 2013 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington here in Seattle, great experience, and then the volunteer coordinator after that, they kind of popped over an email to me like, hey, there's a program you should apply for. It's a cool leadership program through this organization called the Japanese American Citizens League called the Kakehashi Project that would bring young JA's from around the country to Japan for a identity-building, sort of cultural exchange program, meet Japanese college students, and do some touring around, eat lots of food. And so I definitely wanted to sign up. And when I took part in that program, that was really my first exposure not only to JACL, but also to many Japanese Americans. I grew up in a small town called Ridgefield, Washington, close to Vancouver, no JAs in my town. I went to school up at Western Washington University, and suddenly there were Japanese Americans, both first generation and fourth, fifth generation, but didn't really get to know many of them. And really didn't have that as a specific of my identity. But this Kakehashi Project was really just powerful in so many ways. And when I got back, long story short, after graduating, I did an internship at the National JACL office, met Bill Tashima, met some other chapter members, I met Sheldon Arakaki, Sheldon was incredibly kind. I think in my first week I met him because he was visiting or in town, and basically had an open invite, "Hey, if you ever come back to Washington, come see us." and I sure did. And got involved as soon as I got back to Washington state in 2015, that would have been.

EK: Awesome.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

EK: Just a question of my own, actually, because you said that you didn't really have... I wouldn't say association, but you didn't think too much about your Japanese American identity. And just wondering if that moment where your teacher was like, hey, what was incarceration like for your family, was that kind of a moment where you were like, oh, I am a Japanese American? Or was it... was there a different part in your -- moment in your life where you're like, yeah, I want to know more about my Japanese American heritage and stuff like that.

TB: Yeah, totally. That's such a good question, Elaine. It's hard to pinpoint a first experience. Certainly, there was a time when I was in public school and parents would come by for me to be... I don't want to say show and tell, that's kind of mean to parents, like "come and show and tell my parent." But my mom would come into class along with other folks and she would do origami lessons for the class. And I remember that, and being kind of proud of that, that that's my Japanese mom showing Japanese things. But, for her, she's born in Japan and has always identified as Japanese first and American second. I think on paper, she might acknowledge that she's JA, but she really sees, at her core, she's a Japanese person living in this country. And so that's kind of a bit of how I saw myself. And then when I got into middle school, high school, of course, I kind of bought into the whole, got to assimilate, fit in, I'm an American, I don't see race. So I bought into the whole concept that if I kind of fit in, I won't be called out like that. And so when I was called out like that in middle school, that was pretty shocking. I don't think it made me want to identify more as JA, honestly, Elaine, I think that moment probably made me want to hide in my shell a bit. So, wasn't well done on the teacher's part, not to dis them, because they probably had a good intention, but it was just like, what? [Laughs]

EK: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I grew up in Seattle, and I went to Roosevelt High School, which is the least diverse high school in Seattle. And so just like thinking about -- I don't really think I thought about my Korean American identity for a while until, I mean, also, I went to a Catholic middle school and elementary school where I was the only person of color in my class, too. So, I mean, it's always that gut feeling where it's like, oh, I know that I'm definitely not the majority, but I feel like I have a job in making sure that I fit into that majority. But so yeah, I was just wondering because I think I'm still trying to come to like an understanding of my own identity. So just an interesting one.

TB: Totally. And I really empathize that. We're like, I think we can live our whole lives without really addressing what it is.

EK: Well, thank you so much for getting a little more personal on that level.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

EK: But just a little more about JACL and the work that you've done so far. But, if you don't mind sharing a bit about the times and environment during the period in which you worked with the chapter personally, organizationally, and systemically?

TB: Totally. Ooh, systemically? Well, let me start off maybe just chronologically would be the easiest for me. So when I came to Seattle in 2015, I started working at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington. I actually was hired on there as the volunteer coordinator, managing interns, and so that was a whole beautiful full circle for me. I think I had attended a board meeting... this would have been spring of 2015, probably at the invitation of Sheldon or Bill, I don't remember at this moment, but it was held at Keiro Northwest, a room that I'd ended up spending years at these board meetings. But it was a pretty powerful, very serious... there were some round of introductions and I was there a little bit early, but just kind of jumped right into business. And shortly after, the question of convention coming up for the chapter to participate in, and I wanted to get more involved and that opportunity presented itself to attend a convention. And so really, shortly after first introducing myself, I was taking a Southwest flight, obviously southwest to Las Vegas where the convention would be held and not only getting to know other chapter members that went there, but also members from around the country. That was really powerful for me because I saw some of my friends that were in the Kakehashi Project with me, my fellow alum, so that was just powerful. So, Elaine, I think my first, like, six months was like a... I don't know if it's a deep dive in or a big hill up, but I just got really, really involved really quickly. 2016, I took on the position of membership chair because a friend of mine who was in that position was switching out. She... life happens, and she was looking for somebody to take on the position. So in 2016, I was like, formally... not adopted, but I guess formally voted on to the board, where I've been a member, board member since.

But I think your question is more of like, what have I done as opposed to how did I get there. Really, I see myself kind of as a communicator in the organization. I don't necessarily drive a lot of the big programs. I see myself... it's hard to compare myself to somebody who had such big shoes, but I really looked up to a fellow named Ken Kurada, who served on the board, he was very much kind of like an operations man who really ran lots of the nuts and bolts of the chapter and really played such a key role in all the relationships, being there to support people. I really kind of looked up to him and that kind of role, I think, is what I've been trying to play. So kind of in my VP position later on, membership chair, definitely in communicating to members, one of the biggest accomplishments, I think, of our adoption of kind of a regular and organized e-newsletter system, whereas previously, communication was primarily by mail. And really powerful in some ways, but just not very adaptable to things like action alerts or calls to members, voter registration, that kind of thing. So, I hope that kind of answers your question. It's tough to think about things even five years ago, but yeah, that's kind of how, and then the reaction the chapter has been in helping the chapter respond. The election of Donald Trump was gigantic and I think really put into perspective, like maybe this is a bit tangential, but at the JACL office in the International District, there is brochures and flyers from the chapter from years back. And there are some really quaint materials of like, "Racism: will it exist in the 21st century?" And like everybody in it, it's this stock image of this happy JA family with the white picket fence. It's just like, oh, god, this is so wrong. It's so odd. And so, I think that the chapter has definitely been much more activist than most, and I think that it's been really wonderful being a part of that, and really helping drive, I think, a lot of important issues forward.

EK: Awesome, thank you. Yeah, I guess going forward, you went, kind of dived into this already. But, I mean, this is kind of -- this is a question where obviously, assuming that you're going to continue with the JACL and all the work you've done so far, but I guess up to this point, how would one assess the impact of your actions?

TB: Yeah, that's the question I think we should always be asking ourselves and, honestly, I don't know if we all asks ourselves that enough. I think that I would measure my impact on the ways in which JACL has impacted both the Japanese American community as well as the broader BIPOC communities of Seattle, in making sure that our voices are heard, and that issues are pushed forward. And so it's not necessarily on one fiery issue, as much as it is that our impact is kind of felt and pushed out. I think that there's a... I work in marketing, so obviously the communications, I think, are key for any issue for any organization just to stay relevant and for people to be aware of, but it's really, really important to get messages out to people to make sure that news is known and we are elevated out there. People aren't going to seek out or listen inherently. People, both positions of power, but also just the fact that all of us are kind of overwhelmed with the daily lives. So it's just important for us as a chapter and as a nonprofit to just always be out there pushing and standing up. So I assess my impact by being able to contribute to that kind of communication and that messaging.

EK: Absolutely.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

EK: Then for... just because it seems like you're really pushing for, I mean, on your end, communicating that kind of message forward, just your current thoughts about Japanese American activism as of right now and the Seattle JACL chapter itself and the younger Japanese American generation?

TB: Totally. Big, big question. I think that I'll go out on a limb here and say that the Japanese American community's experience with incarceration has made it one of the most activist ethnic minority groups in this country. I think that that's played out in different ways. Some JAs, especially in the 1950s and 60s, worked really hard to assimilate as a matter of safety and just as a matter of acknowledging that what happened before can happen again, but also for a lot of Japanese Americans that found themselves in resistance movements, civil rights movements, women's rights movements, I think that, by and large, the experience really led to a spur of activism for a lot of different reasons, both sort of internationally, with Japan becoming viewed as... what was the term? Basically, this economic view that Japan would overtake the United States. There was a big rise in anti-Asian racism throughout from the Vietnam War and into the '80s. And then also this kind countercurrent of Japan being cool, and Japanese Americans being "acceptable," and almost like the second class whites. And so for people to be able to kind of acknowledge that privilege, but still continue to be activists, I think it's just been huge, and has always been kind of part of our community.

I think that the Trump administration, but also just the 21st century, the detention of immigrants, and how there's just been this gigantic push from the Bush administration with the Patriot Act, and, I mean, post 9/11, the treatment of Muslim Americans and calls for people to be locked up based upon their religion or their ethnicity, I mean, all of this really just ripped off a lot of scars for Japanese Americans. And so, activism has grown and changed in many ways. I think for JACL, that's made us facing outward and understanding that we can't just have Bon Odoris and matsuris, it's important for us to be in the street and standing up for the rights of all. But, in my personal experience, having gotten involved kind of pre-Trump, and then right during Trump, it's definitely felt like a lot of people are more energized and more active than before. There's definitely a lot of fellow millennials on the board and in activist spaces, obviously, not just in JA, but in Asian American organizations as well. But it's felt like -- and I'm joking here -- but it's felt like a lot of Sansei are willing to chain themselves to a bus and do just about anything because of the injustices that they're seeing. And that kind of passion has been really incredible, especially at a lot of conventions and seeing nationally. So it's kind of feeling like the [inaudible] is overpowered sometimes. [Laughs] It's the pure drive and sacrifice, but, yeah, I don't know. I'm being kind of convoluted right now, but it's been a beautiful experience.

EK: I guess, in just my interest as well, for the younger generation, I mean, I'm, I've taken a bunch of classes focusing on Japanese American activism, specifically, and during the periods of pre-incarceration, during incarceration, post incarceration, and reading books like Serve the People by Ishizuka, and everything. But you learn about all these lessons on Japanese American activism, Asian American activism, but times are changing and you would think that history wouldn't repeat itself, but clearly it is. I was just wondering what would you like to see? Or what do you think the younger generation really should focus on moving forward with not just the injustices of the Japanese American community, but in the general world itself, the issues that we still face?

TB: Yeah, no, that's such a great question. I think that, by and large, stories of history are kind of told, they're just the chronological -- A happened and B happened -- then it's very easy to kind of assume that history is made by leaders, or it's made by politicians or big, powerful individuals. But I think that the history that I wanted to know more when I was young, and I'm just beginning to learn now, is that it's always activists, and it's always people that are willing to challenge the status quo and to organize and to basically be creative, and think about what sort of world that they want to see. And that kind of mentality, I think, is actually rawer and more present in our generations, Elaine, than I think that it was previously. But I think that there's also so much more that we could all be doing to uplift voices in this world right now. So, I think that's kind of what -- if I had a big microphone in front of a bunch of young folk -- and I'm turning thirty soon, so I'm feeling like, okay, I'm still young folk, but I don't know if I'm really young folk now. But really just understand that history is not like this really clean cut path. It's really messy, and it's just a matter of people getting involved.

EK: Right, right. Yeah. My dad, he, I say that he is pretty open minded, but sometimes I still get into arguments with him about progressivism, activism, stuff like that. And one thing, just like thinking about what you're saying, I always tell my dad, "Masses are the makers of history." So it's really what you put in and how you get people involved and getting people involved in the first place is what changes the course of history. So, just something that I've thought about, and that is something... thank you for that little spiel, it really...

TB: No, totally.

EK: No, it definitely, it's like, I feel like sometimes it just feels kind of heavy with everything that's happening, and gets hard to remind yourself, are things really going to change? Like over the course of history, like hundreds and hundreds of years, nothing, it seems like sometimes nothing has changed, but really is just about uplifting voices and getting people to be involved in stuff like that.

TB: Totally, totally, but it is, it feels kind of cruel sometimes when you realize that you're thinking the same thoughts that people have had before, and we still aren't there. We're still experiencing the same experience is, on like a deeply ethical level, it feels wrong to walk through [inaudible].

EK: Right, right. Well, thank you.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

EK: I am excited because -- I'm super excited about what we talked about thus far, but I, the latter half -- these questions are the ones that I came up with and I'm super excited because... to know a little more about you and my interests and the work that you have done. But just thus far working in the JACL, and being a part of the JACL, what projects have you worked on thus far and what do they mean to you? Like, what significance does it have? And, in particular, if there's one, I know, that, but if there's just one that you found to have like a particular impact on you or the community that it was focused on or the project itself, what significance do you believe it had?

TB: Okay, great question. I was talking earlier about kind of my hat as membership chair and communicating and doing MailChimp and stuff, but I think really, thinking back, one of the most powerful things that I did wearing a board member hat as well as kind of my old job my volunteer coordinator had, was the Puyallup Valley JACL chapter had a 75th remembrance ceremony at the Puyallup fairgrounds, where there was the "Camp Harmony," where JAs in White River Valley were sent to. And the coordinator was this, just incredible woman. I mean, yeah, she just -- this phenomenal event planner, really putting her heart into the event. And for me to be able to be a part of this small volunteer led team -- I'll back up, Puyallup Valley chair she was hired on. But really, it's like an act of love, it's an act of volunteerism. And so I was helping coordinate some of the different volunteer roles, without getting into the raw details, just helping make the event happen. And for -- I wish I knew the number, but just for all the participants that came, many from out of state, some were the Nisei that were born before or during, others were their children. There were, I think, a handful of Nisei that had never been back to the Puyallup fairgrounds just because that experience was so painful, or perhaps after the camp they were displaced to other places. But just a really powerful day, September... oh, boy, I think it's 2016. Oh, no, it's 2017, seventy-fifth. [Laughs] But just a really, really powerful event. And, as much as I appreciate my kind of week to week role with Seattle JACL, having an event like that was just really powerful and getting to know volunteers. Yeah, it was...

JSG: And who's the coordinator that you mentioned?

TB: So that was Sharon, Sharon Seymour.

JSG: Yeah, she's great.

TB: Sobie Seymour, that was her maiden name. Yeah, Sharon. [Laughs] Let me record it, but Sharon was just incredible. I just, I want to give that woman so many props. I mean, god, I work hard at my job, but I don't work as hard as Sharon worked in that job.

JSG: [Laughs] She's great.

TB: Yeah, Joy, and thank you for volunteering there, too. You and David were awesome.

JSG: No. [Laughs]

EK: Perfect, I mean, sounds like a super amazing project, and also being able to provide that kind of healing for a lot of people who kind of either had to put that trauma away for themselves or for other purposes, but being able to reconnect back to that, and kind of, I think that's, I wish I was there. But it seems like it's a powerful thing. So thank you for sharing that.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

EK: I know -- moving on to the next question -- I know that you briefly mentioned that you were the second VP of the JACL at some point. I'm not sure, I'm not sure if the site was updated, but it still says that you are.

TB: It's super not updated, but, yeah, I'm still the second VP.

EK: Okay, perfect. As the second VP, I was wondering, what do you believe your purpose is in completing this responsibility and serving this role? And what would you like to achieve, and hope to achieve? And, as an executive member -- sorry, this is just like, I'm just coming at you with questions, I can stop and ask you them separately.

TB: Absolutely.

EK: I guess then I'll just stop for now so you can take a breath and actually process those questions. But I guess what you're, like, the role of second VP means to you, and what you hope to achieve while being in that role.

TB: Thank you, thank you. And, again, feel free to stop me at any time if you have a supplemental question or something. But definitely another really powerful question. These are like, board retreat, like eight hour discussion time questions. So this is really, really good.

EK: Sorry. [Laughs]

TB: No, not at all. It's a big one though. I, okay. This is a bit of a cop out, but I really see my second VP position, which I think formally is like external relations or VP of... it's essentially very similar to me as my membership chair role in which I see a big part of my responsibility is in making sure that not just the board, but our entire chapter, our entire membership is not only engaged, but has opportunities to engage with us too. Because we can't just see ourselves as some political party making decisions and people donate to support us. We really do need to have ways and a pipeline for young people, all people, to get involved with the organization. And so getting back into like the e-newsletter, getting back into helping craft statements or put out action releases, that's a big part of kind of how I see my responsibility there. As a board member, it's my responsibility to take part in every meeting and help the decision making. I feel like there's been so many pivotal moments, and just being present is just really key for our success as an organization. I do believe there was one other part of your question I might have left off.

EK: So, as an executive member of the board -- this is a very, also a very broad question, so I'm sorry, but what does the Seattle JACL chapter mean to you?

TB: Okay, yeah, there's kind of two ways. It's hard to decouple the people from the role and over these years, I mean, I've gotten to know some really incredible people, excuse me, really incredible people on the board. I feel sad that -- this kind of ties in with the multi-generationality that you brought up earlier -- but one of the board members I was close with passed away earlier around this year, Kiku. We'd hang and we'd go to thrift shops together. Yeah, she was so sweet, she was really sweet to me. So the Seattle JACL to me, as in many ways, felt like surrogate family, being here in Seattle community and kind of like the rawest closest form, and people that are there looking out for me. But I think that, also, it's a source of passion and commitment. When, at days, I just want to kind of curl up and let the world be outside me, it's another way to understand that, no, I'm part of something. It's not just, it's not just work. It's not just something I do, it's like a part of who I am. And so Seattle JACL, it's a big part of my identity.

EK: Awesome, perfect. Those are really big questions, so thank you for answering them.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

EK: Just getting a little more in depth about the work that you do outside of the JACL, but I'm sure it still has an impact on the things that you do inside the JACL, doing some of my own research, like you said, you worked or interned at the JCCCW. And so you've worked in many multicultural and multigenerational spaces. So how has being in that or, not specifically the JCCCW, but in a multigenerational and intergenerational space, and surrounding yourself with the stories that are shared in those spaces influenced your identity? And, in particular, how does it influence your identity as a Japanese American?

TB: Powerful, powerful question and really, really paramount to sort of how I see myself today and my kind of re-appreciation and love for my heritage that I don't really think I had growing up. So really, in many ways, kind of a healing space for me. I think that being involved with the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington was not just being in a space with other JA's, doing JA things, planning the bunka no hi, planning the different events, being out with the Japanese language school, it was also really leveling and understanding kind of how different our experiences are and how holistically how not just one kind of defined path that Japanese American identity has to sit on and that multiculturalism, that multiracialism is really important, that racial identities aren't just put into little finite boxes and exclude people that don't fit in. So I think that being a coordinator, I was seeing a hundred, I mean, probably more, especially during the events, hundreds of people come through and experience the cultural center, and we tried to make it as welcoming a space as possible, not only for JAs, but for all people that would come through. And so that was just really powerful. I'll mention on kind of familial note, having my mom visit and having, also meeting other shin Nikkei, the term for sort of recent immigrants that came to the United States post World War II was powerful. She enjoyed it, she thought that was kind of quaint, hope that's not being recorded. But the history there was something that she didn't really experience when she came to the U.S. and Orange County, so that was really powerful and fun for me to kind of experience through her and with her.

What else to say? I mean, that was -- it was a big, I was there for a long time. I was there from 2015 to 2019, so it was almost five years. Same supervisor, Karen Yoshitomi, I don't know why she hired me, I was so green. Oh my god. [Laughs] I didn't really know what the hell I was doing. But she really nurtured me, she really set me up for success in many ways. And I think that organization, strapped as it was, was also a place about learning. My co-workers, I don't want to name every single one of them off, but yeah, I'm really close with and I miss a lot of them. Some of them retired. So, sad to see them enjoying retirement too much. But yeah, it was a really powerful place. I'll mention that, unlike JACL, perhaps it was focused really vehemently on being apolitical, which doesn't really exist in community. But I think that for the space that it was, it was very welcoming and its role is just so key. I remember meeting children, and watching them grow throughout the five years in the Japanese language school or coming to our events. I mean, god, I think that it was powerful.

EK: Great.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

EK: With the next question regarding -- this could tie into your past work as well at the JCCCW and everything and just the JACL, but I know that you're currently working at the International Community Health Services and, from what I know, it seems to be focused on... I know it's working on really closing the health disparities that focus on, for like refugees and immigrants, and just someone who is a part of that and working on safeguarding rights and mending the health disparities that exist within the realm of immigration, what does this work mean to you, and what values do you find in the work that you do? That's just the first section. I have -- that question was super heavy, so I'm just gonna leave you with that and then we'll ask you the second half. But yeah, what is working -- what is being a part of all that mean to you? What values do you find important to the work that you do, while, yeah, working there?

TB: Right, right, right. Absolutely. I mean, gosh, in so many ways, the healthcare field is so selfless, I think really, for nurses, providers, really acknowledging the fact that you're meeting people where they're at and helping them really, in not just times of dire health, but really throughout one's entire life. Knowing some providers that had helped a mother have a healthy birth, and then having the child come in and be healthy throughout their whole life, then having that patient have their children and a provider just being a part of their life the entire time is just so beautiful and kind of powerful. But the work of the International Community Health Services, I think, dives a bit deeper into really addressing health inequities just like you said beautifully, Elaine, it's really about kind of making health equity happen, not just by being affordable or open longer hours, but really addressing the root causes of why there's health inequities in society, the "social determinants of health" is kind of the industry term that we use. But there's a huge investment in ICHS in helping patients really find the needs that they have and also finding care that's culturally and linguistically appropriate for them because knowing from my family's experience, and knowing writ large that BIPOC communities do not have the same health access that a lot of other people have. And so for... ICHS is kind of like an activist and very mission driven space. And it's just been really powerful to be there in general, but throughout a global pandemic, it's been really special. It's been really incredible.

EK: Just wanted to say that, first of all, just like, thank you for being a part of all that. I mean, it's, health, I just, I think it's such an interesting topic to see how hard it is to be healthy. Which, I mean, due to the greed of other individuals, it's really mind boggling to me, I actually, so I am wanting to go down the law legal path, but I never knew what I wanted to do and I recently took a pharmacy class. And it was focused -- I kind of, almost not took it because I was like, I am not a science person. I literally faint at the sight of blood so I don't know what I'm doing. But it was focused on policies and actually learning about health disparities and especially for low income countries and everything. So I really want to -- after that class made me realize that I want to focus my energy on mending health disparities and getting...

TB: Cool. Right on.

EK: And getting necessary medication to individuals. I just, so being able to hear all of that was... thank you. It just reminded me of like...

TB: I'm so excited for you. That's such an awesome path.

EK: Thank you.

TB: I mean, it's such an important way to make an impact. Because you're right, I mean, health is so structural, and laws and regulations that may seem... what's the term? Passive and fair on its surface. It just can be so cruel. Yeah, there's so many awful impacts.

EK: Yeah. So thank you for that. This second half of the question is due to the genius of Joy. So thank you, Joy. But she mentioned that, I think, about something to do with intersectionality and everything. And so I was wondering, as a Japanese American that works towards immigration rights, I was wondering, what does this like intersectionality, if you think there is, of your background and the work you do, what value does that have to you and what does that mean to you? If that question makes sense? I...

TB: Totally, totally. No, absolutely, yeah, I think fundamentally, intersectionality is like a multiplying effect. We have to understand, when we talk about women's rights, it's not men's rights being taken away. When we're talking about civil rights, it's not a pie that's being split, and so people that are enjoying positions of privilege suddenly lose all their pie slices, the multiplying effect. And so intersectionality is fundamentally a way for us to understand how to make the world fairer and really uplift people. Because, historically and culturally, I mean, there's really this long, long line of racist patriarchy in this country, and for us to be able to unpack that and understand what is a better place? I mean, intersectionality is that tool. For me, as a Japanese American, and I'll say that coming from a really core Japanese American space into ICHS which, historically, has been an Asian American led organization, started in the Seattle Chinatown/International District, but really since the '90s, since... well, yeah, okay, I'll say since the '90s, with kind of our growth and a perspective and leadership focusing outward, it's not just Asian Americans that need to be served, it's everybody and all voices need to be raised. And so it's an organization that's really driven towards intersectionality. And on the same page, I'll place that it's a great privilege to work at an organization that's majority BIPOC. And I think that, I live in south Seattle, which is also majority BIPOC. It's something I take for granted, I think. But, yeah, I don't know, it's a powerful place to be.

EK: Awesome.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

EK: Just letting you know, I don't want to intrude on your time, but, just a heads up, we have ten minutes. So just, not to like, if you have to go, please let me know. But we're nearing towards the last few questions. But this is also a really heavy question, too. So, enacting social change is obviously not a low hanging fruit, so what pushes you to continue the work that you do? And what pushes you -- what leads you to pursue such a deed? And how does the platform of the JACL or the purpose of the JACL fit into the goals of social change for you?

TB: Yeah, I mean, that's a great question, Elaine. I don't have a really articulated perspective as to like, this is why I'm so driven for a different world. It's kind of like an inherent part of, even as a young kid, I kind of understood that things were wrong and things needed to change. I kind of blame my parents who like, started bringing me to Iraq War protests, and were, perhaps not the most politically involved people, but always made a big point of educating themselves about the uncomfortable truths about what's going on. But for social change, I mean, it's incredibly meaningful. And in a world like this with, I mean, so many systemic crises going on right now, there's really no way I can sit this out without feeling like I can do something. I also get the feeling that if I have too much vacation, I need to, like, throw myself back into work. So maybe there's something else going on here. But really, fundamentally, it's just a deep part of who I am. And I am by no means the most involved person I know. There's so many incredible young leaders that are doing way more than I am. I really look up to them, too. I think that what I do is, in so many ways, kind of like what I mentioned with my earlier role, it's kind of supporting and so being there and being present, and building relationships, and helping people is kind of a key part of how I see my role in JACL. Yeah, so again, with Seattle JACL, it's both a space and a platform for me to realize that, or not realize that, but make my beliefs come into action. Because I think that it's key that all of us may want something, but we have to spend time and effort working on it. So JACL is one of the spaces I try to, yeah, make change happen.

EK: Perfect, thank you. So in, next question, moving on to the next question, in one sentence, how would you describe yourself?

TB: Oh, how would I in one sentence? Oh, boy. Oh, man, I'm just a human on planet Earth, Elaine. Just here. [Laughs] Yeah, what a question. Yeah, I'll stick with my first answer, all right.

EK: I mean, that could go...

TB: It can go in so many ways. [Laughs]

EK: Right, exactly. Thank you. And I guess for our last one, if there's anything else that you wanted to mention, or describe, or talk about that, is there like anything that you want to talk about that we didn't cover already?

TB: I mean, I'll say, I think, maybe about the national organization. Yeah, kind of tying a little bit into some of the earlier questions about generations and about where JACL is at right now. There's a big shift happening right now with Nisei and many of the past leaders in Japanese American communities across the country, but in JACL, having passed the helm about a decade ago, and a lot of Nisei are just passing on. And so for a lot of Sansei that weren't really given any power in a lot of organizations, that were kind of shut out in many ways, there's also spaces and ways for younger Japanese Americans to get involved. But a lot of organizations are kind of fundamentally in decline. JACL, just on a sheer financial membership note, is in decline. And, we had a good month, we turned things around in the recent big push, big coordinated actions across the country, which were really exciting to finish 2021 on. But I think also being membership chair, my five years has been bittersweet, because I've been getting more involved in seeing the organization get smaller and smaller. But, fundamentally -- and when I talk with membership chairs, there's a perhaps a sense of doom and gloom. Chapters are half of what they used to be, a fifth of what they remember when they were my age. But by and large, this is also a change, and I think that it's an opportunity for new things, that we can't just always compare what JACL used to be, but we can also see the potential, the ways it can make an impact now. And perhaps being a national membership based organization can take its way in other spaces. Fundamentally, I think coalition work for JACL has always been really key, but it's even more important now. Because like, your question with intersectionality is not just JA's that need to fight for JA things, it's, we're all in kind of a common struggle. Hopefully, we're kind of rooted in knowledge of who we are and healthy healing spaces. But, I don't know, just the fact that on paper, it's almost been like a big loss since I've come in, and that's kind of hard to wrap myself around sometimes. But I think it's just about looking forward. But, yeah, that's, that's all I had. So thank you for allowing me to have that space.

EK: No, thank you. I mean, I guess with what you just said right now, that's why it's so important to do the Legacy Fund Grant project, in itself, existing, it's so important.

TB: Yeah, that's right. Yeah.

EK: So, yeah, I'm just super glad that I get to contribute to that, and be a part of it. And also, just like being able to learn from it also is amazing. I don't know if you have any last words, but just wanted to say, I mean, thank you so much, and being able to interview you, I mean, not only for the purpose of the project in itself, but also, I have learned so much in this one hour. I'm just super, super grateful that I spoke up and said I would love to interview Theo. I'm so thankful. Thank you for being able to give up time to do that. And I don't know if Joy has anything to say. But yes, I just want to say thank you so, so, so much.

TB: Thank you, Elaine, I really appreciate it.

JSG: No, I would say the same thing. I really, also learned more about you. And it's very inspirational. And it's a good reminder of just the JACL and the future, and some shared perspectives. And really, thank you so much, it was really great.

TB: Thank you. I appreciate that. I really appreciate you both. Thank you so much for giving me the space and the microphone here. I appreciate all of your very thoughtful questions. And yeah, clearly, you both care very much about this. And so it really, really showed.

EK: Thank you.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2021 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.