Celebrate Authentically: Okaeri - Little Tokyo Service Center

Celebrate Authentically: Okaeri

Celebrate Authentically: Okaeri

We recently had the pleasure of checking in with Marsha Aizumi (she, her, hers) of Okaeri, a fiscally sponsored program of LTSC. In case you didn’t know, Okaeri’s mission is to create visibility, compassionate spaces, and transformation for LGBTQ+ Nikkei and their families by sharing stories and providing culturally-rooted support, education, community-building, and advocacy. 2024 marks ten years since they hosted Okaeri: A Nikkei LGBTQ Gathering, the first-ever conference focused on LGBTQ+ Nikkei.

a group of people with fans at a festival dancing

Photo by Willa Cutolo

It’s now been ten years since the first Okaeri gathering! Since its inception, what is one early challenge that Okaeri overcame and have you recently come across any new obstacles?

One early obstacle that Okaeri came across was that the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community was not sure that the space would be very safe, so they were cautious. In fact, in a survey that we put out to the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community, only 30% of the people felt that the Nikkei community was supportive of them. I believe that this feeling has changed slowly as our Nikkei queer and trans individuals are finding supportive spaces and allies, as places become more visible about their support of Nikkei LGBTQ+ individuals.

A current obstacle is that Okaeri has grown to reach people around the US, Asia, Canada and South America, which is a good problem to have. However it challenges our capacity both from a fiscal and human resource position. We are working on how to expand both of these areas, so we can better support our national and global reach.

Outside of the window of Pride month, how can the Nikkei community continue to support missions like Okaeri?

The Nikkei Community can continue to support missions like Okaeri by showing up to events to educate themselves. For me as the mother of a trans son, education helped me overcome fear and misinformation, so I could support Aiden. I think education can help those in our Nikkei community to be more supportive as well. Also speaking up within families, workplaces, community orgs, churches and other institutions for the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community would be another powerful way to support our work throughout the year. Okaeri has people who can speak at events or at company employee/business resource groups. And Okaeri’s work cannot continue to grow without financial support and volunteers. So connecting Okaeri to individuals, corporations, and foundations that would love to support our programs either financially or as a volunteer would be a great support to our work.

In regards to the work that Okaeri does, why was LTSC the right fit to be a fiscal sponsor?

LTSC is such a good fit to be a fiscal sponsor for Okaeri, because LTSC’s focus is to serve people in need and the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community is a community in need. Also many of the programs that already exist in LTSC focused on mental health, keeping families stable and strong, wellness, Japanese speaking needs and resources could be points of entry for issues that might be related to being LGBTQ+ or having a family member come out as LGBTQ+.

With one festival under your belt and another Okaeri Matsuri coming up on June 29th, what do you find to be special about this event? Do you have a favorite Okaeri Matsuri memory or story?

When our steering committee worked on what are things that show that Okaeri is successful, one of the things was LGBTQ+ individuals could celebrate authentically and with people they love. We wanted LGBTQ+ couples to be able to hold hands, dress in ways that brought them joy to celebrate our queer and trans community. Okaeri Matsuri has become that space, along with our flagship conference. A special moment will happen on June 29, 2024 at Okaeri Matsuri. We will be premiering our new Okaeri Ondo song and dance with lyrics that express the essence of Okaeri. Visit www.okaeri.org/events for dance practices at Nishi Hongwanji.

Take off your shoes
You are not alone
Tadaima! Okaeri!
You are welcomed home
Whoever you are
Gay, trans, and queer
Tadaima! Okaeri!
You are welcome here
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