Stephanie Ikeda, longtime Northwest Nikkei Museum manager, leaves lasting legacy

Stephanie Ikeda leads a tour of the  Genji Mihara: An Issei Pioneer  exhibit in May 2018.   Photo: Tyler Sipe

Stephanie Ikeda leads a tour of the Genji Mihara: An Issei Pioneer exhibit in May 2018. Photo: Tyler Sipe

BY JUBILEE CHO

Even if you don’t know Stephanie Ikeda, you’re probably familiar with Ikeda’s work at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington, including the year-old-exhibit Genji Mihara: An Issei Pioneer.

Ikeda has been serving as grants and development manager at the JCCCW’s Northwest Nikkei Museum for the last five years. Before that, Ikeda stared as the museum’s intern for two years.

Ikeda recently announced they will be transitioning to the non-profit Southwest Youth & Family Services, an organization focusing on providing resources for low-income and minority families in southwest King County.

During Ikeda’s time at the JCCCW, they worked on several projects that provide educational and cultural resources for the local Japanese community, and the greater Seattle area. Ikeda’s passion for helping marginalized and underrepresented communities has been greatly reflected in their work at the JCCCW, and will continue onward in Ikeda’s future career.

We recently sat down with Ikeda to learn more about her new professional opportunity as well as their time at the JCCCW.

Q: What has your experience been like working at the JCCCW? Have you connected more with your Nikkei heritage since your involvement at the J?

A: I would say that it’s been really fulfilling, I think I have I learned a lot as a person, and as a Japanese American and Asian American. I wasn’t that connected with the Japanese side of my family when I was growing up. My mom’s Chinese, and I was raised by my mom’s side of the family. It’s funny, because I still identified with my Japanese side because most of my cousins, extended family and my mom’s friends were all Japanese American. Even though I wasn’t always necessarily aware of my Japanese heritage or my Nikkei identity at home, I definitely grew up more comfortable in that space.

Photo: Jubilee Cho

Photo: Jubilee Cho

Working here helped me to learn more about my identity, and also learn about other people’s stories too and how diverse our community is. Working in an intergenerational space was also very important, and I felt like I connected with the elders of the community a lot more, and that was something that I was missing when I was growing up with my Japanese grandparents. I gained a lot both personally and professionally I learned skills like how to run a museum, how to manage projects, and how to write grants. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. I was able to accomplish a lot for the cultural center, but I also learned a lot from doing those things.

I definitely connected more with my Nikkei heritage, especially from being with other Nikkei people everyday. I was never in that situation before, other than my immediate family. For me, when I was still living in California, “community’ meant my family, my extended relatives and my mom’s friends. But here, community actually means community. My friends. People I’ve met here, people at community events, people of the Seattle area.”

Q: Share with us your favorite project while at the J and why.

A: My favorite project to work on was the Genji Mihara exhibit. That was the main project that I worked on while I was here. Since I first started working here, we started developing it. It had been something that the cultural center wanted to do for a long time, but there wasn’t really anyone to take charge of it. I was able to take charge, hire a contract researcher, get a committee together, hire an exhibit designer, and get the show on the road. Opening it last year and having the family come out and see it after wanting it for so long, it was really rewarding. Making connections with his family and having this resource for people is really important. There is still a lot that we can do with the research that we did for the exhibit. I believe that the exhibit is the first piece of the project because there is so much research on him and his writing and records. That's something that will be really important, moving forward.

Q: What has been your most rewarding experience at the JCCCW?

A: In addition to the Genji Mihara project, seeing the growth of the museum program was a rewarding experience. We got more supplies, I was able to do some reorganizations to improve the condition for the collections, and being able to implement more policies and raise awareness of the museum. People that live here tell me that they never knew that this place existed. I enjoyed just sharing the history of the Nikkei history and preserving the Seattle Japanese Language School. Whenever people tell me that this place is really important to them and that they’re glad that we’re saving it, is very rewarding.

Q: After interning here for two years and working here for five years, what’s next for you?

A: I’m going to be the full time grants coordinator at a non-profit called Southwest Youth and Family Services. I’m really excited because they provide social services including counseling, Education, after school program for families and youth in the Southwest Seattle. That’s a pretty big population of immigrants, people of color, Spanish speakers, Black and Latino families. They serve populations that really need these services and don’t have access to them often. They are a well established organization, and I really believe in their mission. I believe it will be continuing a lot of work that I want to do, as far as using my skills for communities of color in Seattle. I’ve learned a lot here, getting my first experience working at a non-profit.