May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month and we asked our Sound Discipline colleagues to share the stories of their family heritage and the people who have inspired them in their lives and careers. Thank you to our Facilitator, Aaron Norikane, for sharing this inspiring story of your family!
What is your heritage?
I am a mixed-race, half-Japanese Yonsei (4th generation Japanese). My great grandparents immigrated from Japan. My grandparents were born and raised in South King County in the White River valley (settling in Auburn for most of their lives) and lived as farmers, gardeners, and active community members. My dad and two aunts were first-generation college graduates from the University of Washington and all settled in the Seattle area.
Tell us a story from your family history.
I struggle to do justice to storytelling… so instead I’ll share some of the random memories that come to my mind as I think about my family. When I think about the Norikane family I picture cousins playing together, gardening with my grandma and grandpa, hunting for peanuts at Easter (instead of candy because, why not?), huge Thanksgiving feasts with 60 relatives (most of which I didn’t know how they were related but all of whom shared similar values), my grandpa sitting next to me on the couch asking me about my job at the YMCA, helping my grandma stuff gunny sacks (inari), and so many more.
One of my fondest memories is going to my grandparents house in Auburn and sitting around the dining room table eating sukiyaki, okazu, and inari sushi…listening to stories that my Grandfather Koji would tell (with my grandma Mary chiming in small details). The stories would be of my dad falling off the tractor on the farm, or my aunt trying to tag along with her older siblings, or every once in a while stories of their time in an internment camp.
My grandparents were taken from their homes in their late 20s to be put in internment camps during WWII. Although they both claim it wasn’t “that bad,” it’s clear that internment camp had a tremendous impact on their lives, their kids’ lives, and my life. It’s interesting the different ways that humans deal with trauma and adversity. Some brush it off, hoping that if they can keep their heads down, stay out of trouble, and “fit in” it will all be alright. My grandparents felt they had no choice but to do that in order to survive. And because of that my dad and my aunts all graduated from college and were able to contribute to their communities.
I’m fortunate enough that, because of those sacrifices, I have enough resources and financial stability to be able to do speak up and speak out. Because of my family’s hard work and sacrifices, I am able to take risks that they weren’t able to take, in hopes of tearing down and rebuilding a system that wasn’t built for us.
How do you fit in to your family legacy? Does your family have any local ties to Asian culture here?
I’d like to think that I’m living up to our Norikane family legacy by working to support our community and the young people within it. Our family has always valued community service and working with others to make where we live a better place for everyone. My grandfather created a pictorial book about the Japanese experience in White River Valley. My family has contributed to the Wing Luke museum and my aunt currently serves on the board. Our family has always volunteered for local nonprofits and yet I feel our greatest legacy is just trying to do right. Our family truly values community, compassion, and collaboration and more than any specific thing that we’ve done… I hope that is our legacy.
Who is an Asian American hero that has influenced your journey working in education?
Although growing up I may not have realized it, my Aunt Elaine Wetterauer had a strong influence in how I show up in education spaces. She was an English teacher at Franklin and Nathan Hale high schools here in Seattle for 38 years. Aunt Elaine was the kind of educator that you knew both cared about you, as well as holding you to tremendously high expectations. After she passed away in 2015, I learned that before she left teaching, she had noticed an increase in discipline referrals at Nathan Hale before school, so she worked with other teachers to open up the gym before school opened to help provide a space for the students to play and be in community with each other.
Coincidentally I now go into schools to help them look at their discipline data to find trauma responsive solutions through my work at Sound Discipline. She was the epitome of connected and firm and because of that she changed the lives of thousands of Seattle Public Schools students.