When I was a kid, I loved going to Alki Beach during the summer. I would be the barefooted boy in shorts with patches of sand on my cheeks and nose, who would be earnestly building a sand fort by the waves. The best times were when a whole group of kids worked together – building a miniature town with moats, bridges, towers, houses, and underground passages. We would lose track of time and forget about eating and the cold as evening approached, and work with urgency to finish the town while doing repairs from the occasional large wave or excited dog. Although we took pride in how things looked (sea shells, seaweed, and driftwood help!) we knew that by the next day our creation would be gone. But that was OK as it was the joy of working together that made making sand forts so fun.
I’ve heard that a good way to pick your career is to choose something that is similar to what you liked to do as a kid. When I consider this I realize I am fortunate because my adult life isn’t that much different than my experiences of building sand forts at Alki. At the University of Washington I became an engineer because I liked to figure out how to build things. I then got a business degree because I wanted more planning and organizational tools to build what I dreamed about and to work with others to create these projects. I was able to use these skills to work with great teams to build multimedia products at Microsoft. After Microsoft I continued to use these skills and direct my passion for building things to help start Densho in the Seattle Japanese American community.
In 1996 we started Densho to video-record interviews with Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. Our original focus was historical preservation, but something happened that changed our plans – just like when a big wave hits your sand fort. In 2001 when we were planning our website to show our interviews, Sept. 11 happened and made our work seem prescient as the stories we collected of how Japanese Americans were targeted and incarcerated during World War II were grim examples of what many Americans wanted to do with Arab Americans and Muslims. Our focus shifted to include education about civil liberties, and our audience became much larger than the Japanese American community. This shift helped energize Densho and today we continue to work at conducting more interviews and creating new educational materials.
I tell you this story because with the weak economy I sometimes get frustrated and tired with figuring out how to get something done with little or no resources. Or sometimes I will watch the news on TV and get angry as people whine about the inconveniences of the rich while the struggles of the poor or oppressed are unreported. It is during these times when I remind myself that I am so fortunate to be having fun while building something meaningful. Keeping life simple is what works for me during these complicated times. It helps me keep perspective when the occasional wave changes your world.