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Community Forces “Finding Solidarity” Episode Transcript

It’s Community Forces


A podcast where we talk with students who are working with Asian American community leaders and organizations in the Chicagoland region, to learn, uplift, and engage. 


From the Global Asian Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


 Sarah Eli Lu: Hey, it's producer Sarah Lu here. I'm in front of the Japanese American Service Committee on Clark Street in Uptown. 


I'm here to shadow Pablo Cisneros during his internship shift.


doorbell, entrance


Pablo Cisneros: So my name is Pablo Cisneros. I am a marketing student at UIC and I am a senior graduating in December.


Sarah Eli: Oh, that's so soon. Oh, wow.


Pablo Cisneros: Yeah. I'm excited. It's kind of like that weird excited, but stressful moment. Everyone around you is pressuring you, ” Oh, yeah. You have to get a job. Oh, yeah.” So yeah, I feel it. Oh, I want to introduce you to Joan.

Sarah Eli: Oh, awesome 

Pablo: She’s my awesome supervisor. 

Sarah Eli: Hello, hi I’m Sarah.


Joan Ambo: Sarah, nice to meet you. 

Sarah Eli: Thanks for letting me shadow Pablo today.


Joan Ambo: Sure! Do you want to give Sarah a tour?


Pablo Cisneros: Alright so over here they have like some classes because they usually have classes for kodomo, or like, children.


Field recording description: A teacher leads an alphabet song for elementary school aged students. The teacher introduces Pablo and Sarah, we say “Konichiwa.”


Sarah Eli:  That's a legit stove! So what's going on here? What do we have...


Pablo Cisneros: Um, they are just preparing for a Japanese cooking class like one of the programs that they run at JASC. Well, right here are the ingredients. Kobocha....Kuroke, Tonkatsu Yeah. 


Joan: This is Kay Kawaguchi, She runs our cooking classes. This is Sarah.


Kay Kawaguchi: Thank you for visiting us.


Sarah Eli: Thank you for having us. 


Joan: Kay has been here the longest and she knows everything... 


Sarah Eli: Oh, cool. Cool. How long have you been here? 

Kay: JASC?

Sarah Eli: Yeah

Kay: Twenty. 

Sarah Eli: Wow

Kay: It’s twenty years last May.


Sarah Eli: That’s amazing. What's it like now compared to when you started?


Kay Kawaguchi: Yeah. It was much much more conservative and lower-tech. There was a computer there but not like today. Yeah, that's why I'm having a hard time catching up. I don't think I never catch up. So Pablo is the one who’s gonna help me...

Pablo: You’ve got this. Always. I will. 

Kay: I know how to make ramen, but..

Pablo: We can exchange.


Sarah Eli: Right? Yeah, it's good to swap skills. 

Pablo: Yeah...

Sarah Eli: Thank you for the introduction. It was great meeting you.


Sarah Eli: The Japanese American Service Committee, or JASC, formed in 1946 to serve the needs of Japanese Americans arriving in Chicago after WWII. It assisted approximately 20,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly moved here from WWII incarceration camps by the U.S. government. Many needed support to find jobs, housing, referrals for medical and religious services, and schools, as they “resettled” to a new city after incarceration.


In 1954, the Japanese American Service Committee shifted its focus from resettlement to providing social services, especially for seniors, and cultural community programs.  It moved to its present location at 4427 N. Clark Street in 1969 and is still a central hub for the community. 


Sarah Eli: What was your first day like here?


Pablo Cisneros: It was like really welcoming. A lot of places, it's kind of hard to find that where you're you kind of just feel awkward the first day but that wasn't like the case for mine. I just felt like welcomed. You know, I was meeting everyone. Joan was showing me around and like showing me what I could do, you know. She had like projects, or like a to-do list for me and I like appreciated that so much, just because I was I was just like, wow, I have something to do. And, I know, I know I want to get this done. The first thing we actually had to do was get stuff ready for Holiday Delight. I'm actually still on it. Yeah, so it's basically like contacting, getting mailing addresses, for the phone. Yeah. It’s a lot of stuff.


Sarah Eli: So the mayor's getting invited. Senator Steans...


Pablo Cisneros: Yeah. Cuz I'm like, Here's just like well other stuff we had to do... we kind of did the Holiday Delight flier, too. So it was pretty cool making it, I had fun making it.


Holiday Delight is the JASC’s annual winter holiday fundraiser.  There are cultural performances, vendors specializing in Japanese crafts and food, activities for kids, and a silent auction. It’s a big event, bringing in people from all over Chicagoland, and the proceeds support programming throughout the year. As Holiday Delight is in full swing, Corinne Kodama catches up with Pablo.


Corinne Kodama: So, how’s it going?

Pablo: Pretty good, yeah.

Corinne: How does it feel to have it happening?


Pablo: It feels good. 

Corinne: So what do you have to do today? 

Pablo: I'm kind of getting duties on the go. So right now, I'm like working on the silent auction.


Pablo: Mmm...chocolate….I’ve got to check what that is...chocolate….

Corinne: I think that it says chocolate gift basket, I think that’s what it says..

Pablo: I think, I’s like a brand, that’s what it is.

Corinne: We could go out and look at it…

Pablo: Oh! Chocalateens.

Corinne: So, if you want to bid, what do you have to do?

Volunteer: you put your name, your phone number, and way over the minimum.

Corinne: (Laughs.) What are you looking forward to today?

Pablo: Taiko, because I’m a sucker for taiko. I love it so much. 

(Announcer): Okay, so next up, we have Tsukasa Taiko…


[Taiko drumming] 


Sarah Eli: In addition to Taiko drumming and the silent auction, there’s also lots of food to check out. Corinne and Pablo talk with one of his co-workers while sorting out food tickets. 


[ticket shuffling]

Pablo: What are these for, did you get these tickets?

JJ Uenten: Food.

Corinne: Do you work at JASC as well?

JJ: I do, yeah. Part time. 

Corinne: So, what do you do here?

JJ: I’m the Community Engagement Coordinator.

Pablo: Plug Tsuru for Solidarity!

JJ: The Tsuru for Solidarity, they’ve been doing direct actions with the goal of closing down the concentration camps that are detaining immigrants and asylum seekers. (Oh, okay). And they’re trying to get the largest gathering of Japanese Americans since WWII. And so we’re trying to figure out how to get Chicago Japanese folks over there. I think Trump’s policies have really activated people more, and the Japanese American story is really relevant.


Pablo: I remember when you introduced Tsuru for Solidarity when we were doing that social media thing, and I was like wow.


Sarah Eli: Pablo meets once a month with Prof. Karen Su in the Global Asian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago for an internship practicum with other interns to share what’s going on.


Pablo: The current project right now. It's Tsuru for Solidarity. Japanese American community or basically the Asian American community getting together, they're planning how Chicago, in general, is going to be representative in Washington DC because I think they're gonna have like a march.


Pablo: It's basically opposing the detention camps that are going on right now. They're going off the slogan of “don't let history repeat itself again,” which is something I'm totally down for mostly because my parents are immigrants. That's, that's how I was like, oh my god. I need more info about this.


Karen: Yeah, yes. You have a personal stake for getting involved.


Pablo: Yeah. That’s right.


Karen: So, for today I asked you to read this article about the start of Ethnic Studies at San

Francisco State. And specifically, the role that Asian American students played. 


Today, they are talking about  the  article “‘On Strike!’” by Karen Umemoto.


Pablo: First off, when I started reading it, I had no clue what this Third World Movement was. Like, I was like, Whoa, what is this? So, like, right immediately when I read that, yeah, I like went to Google. And I was just like, what is this I started reading more about it, you know... then I started reading specifically about the San Francisco State College strikes. One of like, the first thing that I had thought stood out was that many of these organizations like they join forces.

Karen: Yeah.

Pablo: I think that that shared struggle... brought them together in a way. I think that sparked what is today's American culture, like Tsuru for Solidarity. Yeah, there's just a bunch of minority organizations getting together and they're all against the detention camps.

Karen: Right.

Pablo: And so yeah. 

Karen: Right. Yeah. And like how you said that it's important to you and your family as well. And you're Latinx and you're working with a Japanese American community. In terms of your internship, you get to see that solidarity forming, so that’s cool.

Pablo: It’s pretty cool. I’m learning a lot!


Sarah Eli: What made you decide to go to UIC?

Pablo Cisneros : I remember I was in high school and I saw a picture of UIC you know, I just saw like the skyline, I'm a first-generation college student, so I didn't really know anything about colleges or what tuition even was. So then after I decided to come to UIC, I found out that it was pricey, so I ended up going to community college first. 


UIC serves a high number of low-income and first-generation college students. The university is both an HSI, or Hispanic Serving Institution, and an AANAPISI, or Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution and receives federal funding to provide programs like the GLAS off-campus community internships to support student success.  


Sarah Eli: Can you tell me more about  being a first-gen college student? 


Pablo Cisneros: Oh, it’s, it's something! It's different, yeah... so it was just me learning how to do everything, like FAFSA.  It was basically learning what I had to do before a semester ended. It’s just like a long list of learning. We reached now, and I feel like I'm still learning about college...


Sarah Eli: When you were learning this huge checklist of all these things that are part of the college experience like FAFSA and applications and advisors and scholarships, all that stuff….were you doing that totally on your own?


Pablo Cisneros: Ah, yeah, I feel like I kind of had to just because I really didn't have anyone I could go to. Well, maybe Google,  haha. I know I did a lot of googling for multiple things. Sometimes I'd get help from my advisors, too. Oof, thank God we have some really good ones at UIC especially. I have had a couple of advisors who have helped me out SO much. Yeah.


Sarah Eli: Have you had a chance to connect with other first gen college students at UIC?


Pablo Cisneros: Since I work at the College of Business. We had a couple of new workers and I talked to one of them and she's also first gen. You get to share the struggle, like yeah, I remember when we first went to college, we didn't know exactly what we're doing. It’s just fun sharing those stories. I feel like you quickly make friends just because you’re first gen. Kinda like the same thing, I remember when I first started studying Japanese, I couldn't make friends in college with anybody, except for in my Japanese classes, because you're all in there because you're really interested in the subject, you know. Yeah.


Pablo Cisneros: I'm Mexican American, Chicano. I'm very proud of that too, especially since I feel like, I kind of feel blessed I'm the first to have the opportunity. My parents were immigrants from Mexico.


Sarah Eli: Cool. And so what is it, what has studying Asian and Asian American culture been like for you as a Mexican American identified or Chicano identified person?


Pablo Cisneros: Oh, I think it's great. When I went to Japan, I had like this great thing with my friend where I was teaching her Spanish just because I went to her University and I noticed that her University didn't have Spanish classes! And I was like, woah, this is so different from the US. When I was sharing my culture with them, it was pretty cool. And it's cool, too, when you can see the similarities in cultures too. The respect, having respect for elders. The honorifics, honorifics for elders, we have that too in Spanish. Being Latino, learning all the Japanese culture. It's fun to see how different and how similar they are. 


Sarah Eli: What does your family think about your pretty deep engagement with Japanese culture and the Japanese American community?


Pablo Cisneros: Oh, they, they love it too. I had the chance to bring my mom to these Japanese festivals, and just explain to her all these new things that I'm learning. Which is cool, because my parents, they're very open, but they really didn't have the chance or opportunity to learn about different cultures, different things, because they didn't go to college. I think they didn't have much high school experience either. So it was just very cool just showing them you know, through me.


Sarah Eli: Why did you want to be involved with Asian American community organizations in Chicago?


Pablo Cisneros: At first because I really didn't have any knowledge of it. I kind of mostly know cultural aspects and just the language of Japanese, so I always felt like I was missing something. History about Japanese Americans in Chicago I thought was interesting because I first learned about it through volunteering at the Chicago Japanese Matsuri. It was for the Japanese Cultural Center. I volunteered for them and I met the president of that organization, Stephen Tsuyoda. And he was telling me how Lake View used to be a Little Tokyo or something like that. And I thought it was crazy how it changed. And how that left Chicago, you know, so that's when it really sparked.


In the 1960s and 70s, the Lake View area thrived with more than 150 Japanese-owned businesses - restaurants, beauty shops, markets, dry cleaners, and community institutions. By the 80s, as many children went onto higher education and into a range of professions, they began leaving the area to live in the suburbs, and many of those businesses closed.


Sarah Eli: What was your entry point for getting involved with the Japanese American community in Chicago?


Pablo Cisneros: I kind of consider this to be my entry point in a way. I feel like I actually am like doing something, you know, other than just volunteering at a festival or something, you know.


Sarah Eli: Is it because it's a longer-term engagement?


Pablo Cisneros: Yeah. And I feel like I'm learning a lot more just by going to different events that they host here too. Well, are there other things you've learned about maybe like how community organizations work or nonprofits work?


Pablo Cisneros: Oh, yeah, definitely so much. At first, I wasn't really sure how it really worked out, especially with, with donors and sponsors and stuff like that, but slowly I feel like I'm learning more of that here. It’s.. I think it's very cool. It's kind of different from that corporate internship you would have, especially cuz, I've interned at one before, and that's when I found out it wasn't really my cup of tea. I remember I was at an internship, I don't want to say the company, but yeah, I was just there in conference calls and stuff. And I was just taking notes and stuff. It just seemed boring to me. I felt like it wasn't really doing anything. I was just listening in to people just talking about a plan. And it just didn't really sound like my type of thing you know, my type of work.


Sarah Eli: Yeah. What’re you learning about what your type of work is?


Pablo Cisneros: I feel like it's, more like personal, you know, like being there. We actually do the work, you know. It's kind of hard to explain.


Sarah Eli: Yeah, like, more hands on? or more direct service kind of thing? (Yeah, I think so yeah.) What might you want to pursue with what you're learning and what you're figuring out?


Pablo Cisneros: I remember when I first decided what I wanted to do, it was after I went on my first study abroad trip, it was either to like pursue working for an organization that kind of promotes culture and arts as well. And also because those are the things that I'm mostly passionate for. My dream job is like working for this one Japanese magazine called Shonen Jump, and I've always been like a kid and I've always been like, well, I want to work for them. But before that I want to work for like organizations that basically promote Yeah, like I said, arts and cultures?


Sarah Eli: Pablo graduated in December 2019 and was accepted to the Japan Exchange and Teaching (or JET) Program. JET is an initiative of the Japanese government to bring university graduates, mostly native English speakers, to Japan to teach English and promote international exchange. Pablo’s departure time is uncertain due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and in the meantime he is pursuing marketing jobs. 


Due to COVID, Tsuru for Solidarity postponed the trip to D.C. but is organizing now as Tsuru Rising to protest the inhumane conditions of immigration detention centers especially during the deadly pandemic. 


Check our show notes for a link to Pablo’s portfolio, as well as more information about the Japanese American Service Committee and Tsuru Rising.


From the Global Asian Studies program at UIC, this is Community Forces.


Community Forces was created by Dr. Karen Su and Dr. Corinne Kodama, and this episode was produced by Sarah Eli Lu--that’s me. With production help from Caroline Lee and Lubna Shah. Ari Schwartz composed our theme music. Additional music by Blue Dot Sessions