JACL-AZ Community Convenes to Celebrate 2023 Golden Week

April 17, 2023

On Sunday, April 16, 2023, roughly 110 JACL-AZ members and friends gathered at the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe, Arizona, for the 2023 Golden Week Celebration. Inspired by Golden Week, a week-long celebration of several holidays in Japan that occur in late April to early May, the community gathered for several reasons: remembrance, resilience, reconnecting, gratitude and hope. 

The event featured:

  • Keynote speaker: Dr. Raymund Tanaka
  • Music by Ken & Miro Koshio
  • Museum Exhibit: Rebuilding Home Plate (Legacy of Japanese American Baseball)  Gold Saguaro Tribute Award recipients – Seiko & Allen Watkins, and Michele Namba  Scholarship recipients – Chloe Kobashi and Hunter Niimi
  • Essay-challenge winners – Joshua Tominaga (Perry High School, 11th Grade); Dylon Hill (Corona Del Sol, 11th Grade); Brian Ames (Desert Vista High School, 9th Grade); Noah Ames (Kyrene Altadena Middle School, 6th Grade)
  • Food by Tohzan Nagasaki Grill

Photo: JACL-AZ President Bill Staples (back row) with the essay-challenge winners (left to right) Joshua Tominaga, Dylon Hill, Brian Ames and Noah Ames.


2023 Gold Saguaro Award Winners

Seiko and Allen Watkins were honored for decades of service to the JACL-AZ community. Allen passed in 2019 and was intended to be the recipient of this award in 2020, but the ceremony was cancelled due to the pandemic. Allen and Seiko were married in 1983.

Allen Watkins 

Allen Watkins was born in California. His career in the airline industry started when he was a jet mechanic in the Air Force. Those skills led him to becoming a commercial airline mechanic for Hughes Airwest, Republic Airlines and maintenance control for Northwest Airlines. He loved camping, taking road trips and was an avid hunter.

After retirement, he volunteered with the JACL-AZ Chapter, where he participated in the Investment Committee and cared for the JACL Hall, performing routine maintenance, coordinating volunteers to clean the Hall, coordinating contractors to paint interior/exterior, to install railings on the front stairs, and to install concrete sidewalks to make the Hall ADA compliant. He enjoyed various JACL events and supported the Disabled American Veterans, USO and the 100 Club of AZ which supports police officers, firefighters and their families.

Seiko Watkins 

Seiko, a Glendale, AZ, native, is the oldest of four sisters. She graduated from ASU and dedicated her career to elementary education, spending most of her 30 years teaching 3rd grade. She retired in 2004 and is busier than ever! She has been very active in the JACL volunteering for over 40 years and organizing multiple activities in the Japanese American community, including:JACL-AZ Board of Directors, Scholarship Committee and Teacher’s Workshop Committee; Teaching crafts and organizing cooking demonstrations for the Ladies Activity Day; Co-chair for the annual JACL picnic; During the 2006 National JACL Convention in AZ, co-chaired the Registration Committee, helped out with everything from goodie bags for attendees to centerpieces at the luncheons and Sayonara Banquet; Was on the Centerpiece Committee for the chapter’s 75th anniversary luncheon; Stays active by bowling in the JACL Summer Bowling League; Maintains the JACL Hall; Served on the Japanese Friendship Garden Fundraiser Committee when plans were first made to create the garden in central Phoenix; Volunteered at the Arizona Matsuri for over 20 years; As a licensed food server, provided meals to those attending the monthly Japanese Senior Center; Picked up and delivered Bento meals to the JA community during the COVID pandemic. For the many decades of volunteerism, education, service and loyalty to our Japanese American community, she was honored with an award at the 2015 Pacific Southwest District annual awards luncheon that celebrated “Emerging Leaders Rising Up for Justice.” She has traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines. Most of her frequent-flier miles are now to California to visit (and spoil) her 4 ½ year old grandson!

Michele Namba 

Michele Namba was born in Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in Japanese and worked for several companies where she could use her language skills, including Duty Free Shoppers, where she worked for a short time with her future husband, C. Itoh Electronics and Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation, where she worked in accounting. She married her husband, Ted Namba, in 1984 and had two children, Lauren and Bryan, before moving to Glendale, AZ in 1996. While raising her family, she became active in the Japanese American community in Arizona. Her introduction to JACL was through joining the taiko group with her kids. Soon after, Ted became active on the board and Michele began supporting him in additional JACL activities. She became a member of the JACL Scholarship Committee, eventually chairing the committee for several years. She volunteered annually at the JACL Soda Booth at the Arizona Matsuri Festival and she was Editor of the “Roundup,” the Arizona Chapter’s newsletter, for nearly two decades, both editing and mailing the newsletters to JACL members throughout the Valley. In 2006, she, along with many past and present JACL members, helped organize the 2006 JACL National Convention at Wild Horse Pass, hosting other chapters from across the nation. After her children were grown, Michele went back to work as a certified pharmacy technician at Walgreens. In 2019, she joined United Healthcare and has since transferred to their Optum division. These days, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, but most of all her granddog, Sebi.


2023 Sara Hutchings Clardy Scholarship Recipients: Hunter Niimi and Chloe Kobashi

This year marked the 62nd anniversary of the JACL-AZ scholarship program. A special thanks to our scholarship Judges, Dr. Susie Cook, Retired, Superintendent, Washington Elementary School District, and Dr. Christine Iijima Hall, Retired Higher Education Administrator, for their participation and support. Congratulations to our 2023 JACL AZ Sara Hutchings Clardy Scholarship winners.

Hunter Niimi is graduating from Highland High School as valedictorian of his class of 750 students. He has received his school’s Golden Scholars Award for the past 4 years and also received the AP Scholar Award from the College Board. He has played competitive soccer for the past 10 years and is currently on the U19 Phoenix Rising Pro Academy team that is a direct pathway from youth soccer to professional soccer. Throughout high school, he has been a part of the medical club, photography club, and a fundraising club that helps children in third world countries with cleft lip get surgery. In addition, he is part of the math club participating in math competitions against other schools across the state. He will be graduating with his school’s STEM diploma and is currently in the STEM Capstone class where they have built sensory boards for an elementary school that can help calm down and refocus students that are on the autism spectrum. His community service includes volunteering at the junior high as a math tutor and with the JACL in the soda booth at Matsuri.

Chloe Kobashi of Desert Vista High School has been an active member of several organizations at her high school, such as National Honors Society, Rho Kappa, National English Honors Society, National Science Honors Society and currently the Vice President of the National Chinese Honors Society. In addition she has been a member of the Key Club, Asia club, and Sustainability club. Her community service activities include Feed My Starving Children, Matsuri Festival, school drives, local gardens, food packing for homeless at church, environmental cleanup for the Ironman run, packing bags for the rock-n-roll race, fall festival setup for a nearby elementary school, and sorting medical supplies for countries in need. She has also been playing competitive soccer since she was 5 years old. She has 3 older brothers who are all past JACL scholarship recipients.

Scholarships Honor Friend of the Japanese American Community, Sara Hutchings Clardy 

Mrs. Sara Hutchings Clardy, in whose memory the JACL-AZ Chapter grants the annual scholarships, was a graduate of Kansas State Teachers College and received her Master’s from the University of Arizona. She retired after 42 years of teaching, mostly in Glendale, AZ. She died in 1962. JACL-AZ recognized Clardy for her longtime friendship and helpfulness to the JA community during WWII and expressed deep appreciation in naming its annual scholarships in honor of her memory. Mrs. Clardy helped, without remuneration, people from Japan and other countries to learn English and ways of the U.S., ultimately leading to the realization of U.S. Citizenship for many. Whether our sights were on U.S. Citizenship or on being a better person, in the highest sense of the meaning, those of us who remember Mrs. Clardy will never forget her loving help.


Golden Week Celebration Keynote Speaker: Dr. Raymund Tanaka 

Dr. Raymund Tanaka is in private practice in Glendale, Arizona with his wife, Cynthia. Together they have developed a dental practice focusing on the care of the whole person. He was invited to deliver the keynote speech in 2020, but the scholarship banquet was cancelled due to the pandemic. Below is a summary of his speech that he shared with the students and other attendees at the Golden Week Celebration.

“The Four Responsibilities,” by Dr. Raymund Tanaka 

As you go out into the world, remember that you have responsibilities to these four areas of your life:

Your Ancestors – who had the courage and made the sacrifice to leave Japan for a better life in America. Many sacrifices were made by them for us to have the life we live today.

Your Community – Giving back to an organization and/or community is important. As MLK Jr says, “Not everybody can be famous, but everyone can be great.” Greatness is achieved through the service to others. No matter your role, you can be great. Helping others give you a sense of purpose, and makes for a fulfilling life.

Your Parents They are your greatest providers and greatest cheerleaders. They want you to be happy. They want you to become the highest and truest version of yourself. 

Yourself Find your passion. Once you do that you don’t have to go to “work” everyday because you are doing something that you love.

Dr. Tanaka closed his speech with this quote:

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek


Essay Challenge: “The Never-ending Fight for Freedom” By Joshua Tominaga

Racial inequality is appallingly one of the topics throughout American history that has managed to always stay relevant. From the very start, much of the foundation of the country was built on inequality and only recently has the world’s views started to change, becoming more inclusive and equal. Laws originally created to suppress certain groups are a big contribution to why the fight for equality is as tough as it is. Acting out and fighting for what we believe in allows for change to happen and as it is commonly said, it is the duty of the people to display civil disobedience when they feel it is needed.

Activists such as Fred Korematsu represent the constant fight for freedom minorities must deal with. In his case, Korematsu opposed executive order 9066 refusing to go to the incarceration camps. After undergoing some minor plastic surgery and changing his identity he was eventually arrested and imprisoned. Feeling that his constitutional rights were taken away, Korematsu appealed a court case all the way to the supreme court, challenging the constitutionality of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Eventually the court ruled against Korematsu in a 6:3 decision deeming the incarceration a military necessity. 

After the war, when all Japanese Americans were released from concentration camps, Korematsu still was not satisfied. He made it important and clear that he still wanted to challenge the court on his case and would not rest until the government admitted its mistakes in the past. After having his supreme court case reopened decades later, the court officially ruled that the imprisonment of Japanese Americans was due to “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”. Korematsu wanted to make sure the government recognized its wrongdoings from before to ensure nothing similar would happen in the future. 

His fight to end racial injustice didn’t end there. Like many other minority activists during the 9/11 attacks, Korematsu went on the sides of Muslims Americans who were being discriminated against and being held against their will, reminding the government of the similar actions they took on Japanese Americans in WW2. He displayed bravery and dedication, being one of the people who stood up against racial prejudice during that time while others stayed silent. It takes lots of courage to oppose a law that many people would conform to at the time. Ultimately, Korematsu’s story of his fight against inequality is a perfect example of how injustice should be dealt with. 

First, you must completely understand and be comfortable with the issues you are faced with. A mistake people often make is that they are too afraid or timid to talk or think about certain sensitive topics that might be affecting them. Many ended up ignoring it or brushing it off as not a big deal, which can be worse to deal with in the long run. Without facing the problem head on, the end goal can be unclear and confusing. For Korematsu, like all other minorities in America, he was faced with discrimination and injustice. He clearly was not afraid to bring up the topic and question why he was being held against his will. 

Next is to act out. There are countless ways people have protested and made changes for the things they believe in. In his case, Korematsu was able to fight for his beliefs in court and was luckily able to be widely recognized. After all of this is complete it is important to note that the fight for equality will almost never be over. There will always be things we can improve on, and we can always be looking out for things in life that might not be fair. Not just thinking about yourself but other groups of people that might be affected is also a great way to be proactive in improving the world. We all go through similar experiences for different reasons. It is easy to relate to other people being discriminated against when you have also gone through a similar situation. Relating with people who have similar struggles and helping each other through those struggles is also what brings us closer together and unites people even more. Having selflessness is something many people lack nowadays, and many problems would be resolved quicker if people were slightly more considerate of each other. 

As displayed in much of news and media, there are constantly problems about injustice and discrimination to this day both in America and around the world. Especially in America, our country is becoming more and more like a melting pot of different cultures. Especially in our country, society cannot function without us accepting each other first. Our nation started as a group of outcasts who wanted freedom and yet there are stories all the time of prejudice and discrimination in our society. 

Thinking back on experiences people like Korematsu would have had back in the 1900s makes me grateful that the experiences with discrimination and racism I have today are very minor. As Japanese Americans, we all experience prejudice and inequality, but it is only a fraction of what it was like 70 years ago. It is also thanks to civil rights activists like Korematsu that we can live in a much safer and more equal environment today. Knowing the struggle nowadays with fighting for equality, it is intriguing how hard it must have been to oppose racism when it was much more prevalent and normalized. The struggle back then would be even more tough especially for those that were first- and second-generation immigrants who did not know much about American culture and the language yet. 

Because we are all humans, it should be expected that leaders and governments will make mistakes. It is impossible to rid the world of racism but we should do our best to have as little of it as possible. That is why people must do their role in speaking up. By acting out, challenging unjust laws, and staying true to yourself; the world will improve bit by bit and injustice will slowly disappear.

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