Trustee Yamaguchi Speaks on BiCultural
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After over 25 years on the board of trustees at Westmont College, Steven Yamaguchi stepped down from his position this Saturday, October 28th. An hour later he was sharing his personal story as both a student and trustee of Westmont, his passion for embracing multiculturalism in christian communities and his advice to students with members of intercultural programs. Yamaguchi, who spoke in chapel a few weeks ago about his personal journey and his time at Westmont, elaborated on his story and how his life experiences have led him to see the value of “biculturality” both in the biblical story and in the church today. Answering student questions about both the past and the future of interculturalism and student activism at Westmont, Yamaguchi encouraged students listen respectfully to others with whom they disagree.
During At the the ICP lunch, Yamaguchi elaborated on his personal story that he has previous spoken on in Yamaguchi spoke candidly to the students about the microaggressions he experienced at Westmont when he was a student in the early 1970’s, and how that led him to feel like he didn’t belong in the Westmont community. He was born into a majority Japanese-American community in Los Angeles but as a child moved to a majority white community. In that community, he felt out of place even in church. Because of a desire to fit in, he intentionally stopped speaking Japanese, so that he began to feel out of place in some Japanese communities as well. This experience of not being quite part of one culture or another Yamaguchi described as biculturality.
Yamaguchi used his own story to give a new perspective to the story of Moses, who was Hebrew but raised as an Egyptian. In particular, Yamaguchi gave an interpretation of Moses’ hesitation to take the role as spokesperson of the Hebrew people assigned by God. Yamaguchi argued that Moses’ hesitation could have been based in his unfamiliarity with the Hebrew people as he was an outsider to his own culture. God’s choice of Moses points to the fact that Moses’ biculturality had value to His plan. Yamaguchi also pointed to the biblical stories of Ruth and Esther to make the point, “People who live in bicultural realities, God uses in special ways.”
Both to Westmont and the larger church community Yamaguchi said that “the feeling of otherness-not being a part of a system of power-- is a gift to the colorblindness of churches.” Thus, he emphasized the importance of open and loving communication with people who come from different backgrounds. As an example, Yamaguchi remembered his friend and former Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students at westmont college, the late Jane Hideko Higa. He recalled her “heart for minority students;” and noted that she was instrumental in the formation of ICP. In particular, Yamaguchi recalled Higa’s quiet presence, her skill at listening well. It is these characteristics that Yamaguchi encouraged students concerned with causes of justice to remember and emulate.