Bridging to the Past…
The emergence of this school has brought support and encouragement from different segments of the community. Because of popular appeal, it exists to perpetuate the cultural roots that are basic to the self-esteem of everyone. For the aging Issei (first generation) in the community, it is an indication that their descendants value their heritage. For the Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei (second, third, and fourth generation), that heritage is a part of the roots that stated in Japan centuries ago and was transplanted to America by the Issei. The charter parents were united in sharing their goals in an exciting organizational effort. Each new family contributed to the on-going enthusiasm and innovation of the program. The task of Jan Ken Po Gakko is to build a bridge from the past to the present for understanding, interpreting, and sharing our rich cultural heritage with our children.
“Upon retiring in 1977. I was asked to be Director of Gakko. How could I say no. This encounter became a profound influence upon my life. It was a crowning experience that clearly defined the path I would walk for the remainder of my days. Japanese magazines, assessed my collection of Japanese dolls, organized charts and pictures, and put together a huge collection of realia and visual materials. This collection is now part of the Japanese American Archival Collection at California State University, Sacramento. I was so impressed with the young parents who brought their clear vision, special skills and intelligence into this pioneering program of cultural heritage. They organized, adapted, innovated arid creatively forged ahead, sparkling with dynamic purpose to make a great idea become a reality for their children. The parents and children challenged me to provide a balanced picture of the internment experience. One day, while I was telling the children about their wonderful, hard-working grandparents and internment experience, the children said, ‘You are lying! I can’t believe you. How could our grandparents be so nice and the government put them away unless they were spies or traitors?’ I was shocked and deeply shaken as I realized that my silence, anger and outrage, which were kept private for 30 years, was wrong. I had no right to go to my grave with this silent, unanswered question. The challenge was clear, to speak out about the experience and issues of internment and to become involved in advocating and educating the public for the passage of Redress. Thus I personally found my own roots, through Jan Ken Po Gakko.” —Mary Tsukamoto
Our History…”Roots and Wings”
By Christine Umeda
“Only two things which people give children have intrinsic value,” says an unknown philosopher, “roots and wings”. Since its inception in 1976, JAN KEN PO GAKKO has been dear to many hearts. Its organization and development were fostered by the desires and efforts of parents who shared a mutual interest in the continuation of their cultural heritage. The Sansei parents felt their Yonsei children were rapidly losing touch with their Japanese cultural heritage and traditions. They felt an urgency to form a bridge between themselves, their children and future generations, Believing they individually did not possess enough knowledge of Japanese history, customs, traditions and folklore to pass on to their children, the parents sought a way to make Japanese cultural traditions a part of the children’s lives, now and in the future.
In 1974, a group of friends began discussing the creation of a children’s program centered around Japanese cultural enrichment. An effort was made in 1975, without success, to organize a project to expand upon the Japanese language school program. Then in February 1976 a coordinating committee of parents and graduate students met to undertake the task of planning a cultural summer program. In preparation to invite and gain the community’s support for such a venture, the name Jan Ken Po Gakko was selected, and the goals and objectives were determined.
With excitement and apprehension, a March community meeting was scheduled. Flyers were distributed to local churches, organizations, and individuals. To the committee’s surprise—and encouragement —55 individuals attended this community meeting and immediately called for the creation of a registration/waiting list. Incredibly, within a period of five months, Jan Ken Po Gakko was incorporated as a non-profit, cooperative, community- based organization. The goal of Gakko was the creation of a learning environment to educate children about their cultural heritage. They learned their history and tradition through games, folklore, music, field trips, language, and interaction with the various generations in the community. Through these experiences the children take pride in themselves, their families and their community, and strengthen their self-esteem as Americans of Japanese ancestry.
The underlying beliefs of Gakko are: parent participation is essential to demonstrate the value of and commitment to the program, to provide role models as teachers and leaders, and to provide continued reinforcement in the home. Issei, Nisei and community resources are a rich and valuable source of history, culture and interaction learning in an atmosphere of fun and enjoyment Meetings and work sessions, soon to be known as “marathons,” followed. With personal misgivings of their talents and abilities, the parents worked together with a shared mutual purpose the necessity to get the job accomplished. A Board of Directors, consisting of enthusiastic and dedicated parents, was established to oversee the activities of the committee and to bring about membership involvement in the program. The Board proposed policies which were then reported to the membership for approval. In order to encourage and promote parent participation in decision making in the development of the program, each family unit was required to serve on at least one committee.
The experience of the Program and Curriculum Development Committee illustrates the intensity of the parents’ effort. This committee met on March 25th and in one month presented its recommendations to the Board. In developing the curriculum, the committee placed emphasis on an experiential program which was both educational and fun for the children. All ideas related to things Japanese were discussed, rejected or accepted. Ideas and resources were gathered from individuals as well as from scarce written documents, such as, “Sharing Our Diversity, the Japanese American,” developed by the Human Relations Office of the Sacramento City Unified School District.
The committee’s recommendations were implemented by the Gakko staff, and participating parents were given preference as staff members. They created an interactive and diversified introduction to Japanese culture, history and tradition including:
Immigration to America
Folk tales, legends, and symbols
Arts and crafts
Customs through an exploration of holidays, music, dance and drama
Customs associated with preparation and sampling of various foods
Traditional clothing and dress
Written and oral language
Games, exercise, martial arts
Japanese American experience in the United States
These were the beginning endeavors of the parents and community members. They created JAN KEN PO GAKKO—a bridge between their generation and future generations. It has become a strong, cohesive group of parents and students who have established friendships and lasting memories. Through the years, the parents continued to be the heart of the program and provide the continuity for each succeeding year. Each family brought their unique experience to add to the fabric of a changing program. Thus the legacy of Gakko remains. The continuing effects of the experience has had great impact, not only on the parents, but upon the aspirations and self-esteem of its’ students. And so the Sansei have given to their Yonsei children and to future children “roots and wings.”