The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program is dedicated to mentoring young women so they may develop the leadership skills and community connections necessary to promote not just stronger individuals, but also a stronger community. This year’s queen program will be held at the Kabuki Theater on April 14 at 6pm.
2015 Queen Kelli Asako Sum
On behalf of the 2015 Northern California Cherry Blossom Court, I would like to welcome you to the 49th annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. The moment seems like yesterday when Taylor, Nina, Karine, and I were backstage on Program Night in our furisode kimonos anxiously awaiting our opportunity to present our speeches. Since that moment, we had the opportunity to deepen our teamwork skills as we began our year of volunteerism in the various Japanese American communities of Northern California. As we went to more and more events, we learned about the history of our community and the current challenges we face. We worked together to contribute to and fundraise for a variety of organizations that support Japanese American businesses, services, and people in need. We met and worked alongside amazing individuals who work endlessly to see their community come together and grow. The presence of love and hard work at each community event has surpassed all of our preconceived notions and expectations.
Our Japanese American community not only spans Northern California, but also extends to Los Angeles and Hawaii. Our court attended long-standing Japanese American festivals for the 75th Nisei Week Festival in Los Angeles and the 64th Cherry Blossom Festival in Hawaii. We met and bonded immediately with our sister courts, a collection of strong, intelligent Japanese American women with ambitions to be leaders in our respective fields of education, science, or art. Many of us shared similar backgrounds such as having ancestors who were interned or fought in World War II. Yet, we each had our own unique stories and connections to our heritages. The concept of community continues in Japan as I had the honor of visiting in December to thank the Fujiyasu Kimono Company for their years of generosity. It was wonderful to see Mr. Mochizuki, Ms. Kousaka, and Ms. Nagase and reminisce about their trip to S.F. for the 2015 Cherry Blossom Festival. In addition, I was invited to visit the close-knit, small town of Minamiboso in Chiba prefecture by their International Exchange Association. This community welcomed me for their annual holiday party, where young children decorated cookies and sang along as I performed holiday and traditional Japanese songs on the koto. Our court gained unforgettable memories and perspective from each city that we brought with us on our return home. These experiences enabled me to reflect about my own family’s history in the Bay Area.
One of my personal reasons for joining the Queen Program was to better understand my mother, who passed away from cancer when I was 14 years old, and the reasoning behind her connection to our cultural heritage. She was heavily involved in the communities my siblings and I were a part of growing up. For Japanese language school, she turned the rice during mochitsuki. For International Day at school, she performed the koto or made lots of sushi for my classmates to try. For Asian basketball league tournaments, she used her sushi-making talent once more to help fundraise money for our teams in the snack shacks. I know my mom was proud of our cultural roots and wanted to share aspects of the culture with the people around us in order to form community. Through my mother’s actions, my siblings and I were connected to a web of communities that enriched our lives and helped us begin to understand the meaning of community.
When my mother passed away, the support from these Japanese American communities helped my family and I through a tough time. People immediately gave their love and effort at our time of need, which helped me further understand and even feel community. And now, all the experiences I have had as a member of the Cherry Blossom Court has further developed my understanding of community. I have realized that community consists of the people that surround us and support us when we are at both our strongest and weakest. I recognized this theme of consideration and generosity in every place that our court visited this year. Our court is so appreciative that the community has supported us during this transformative year as we defined our identities as Japanese American women and leaders. We look forward to continuing to work with and learn from our community.
Finally, I would like to express gratitude to everyone that has been a part of our court year. Thank you to our family and friends for supporting us throughout this entire experience. Thank you to our corporate sponsors Benihana, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, Takara Sake USA Incorporated, and Nikkei Lions Club of Northern California.
Kelli Asako Sum
2015 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen
For more information on the 2016 Queen candidates, visit the program’s website.