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APA Spotlight

Ken Tanabe, Loving Day

Ken Tanabe is the founder and president of Loving Day. Loving Day is an educational community project that fights racial prejudice through education and builds multicultural community. Loving Day Celebrations commemorate the legalization of interracial couples in America. In 2009, there were Loving Day Celebrations in 31 cities in 3 countries. The celebrations and the website have been featured in Time, the Washington Post, NPR, BBC World, and many other major national/international media outlets. Ken Tanabe has been an active member of the multiethnic community since the launch of Loving Day in 2004. He served on the 2008 board of directors of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA).

In addition, Ken Tanabe is an art director, designer, and animator, that works in motion, identity, print, experience design, and interactive media. He earned a master’s degree from the Design and Technology program at Parsons the New School for Design. His professional experience includes freelancing as an art director for Imaginary Forces, as well as staff positions as a Senior Designer/Animator at Freestyle Collective and as an Interactive Designer at AKQA. Ken Tanabe has done work for Lincoln Center, Thomson Reuters, Comedy Central, BET, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ford, and many others. He has also written several tutorials for the Pro section of Apple’s website. Currently, Ken Tanabe divides his time between freelance work and independent design contracts in New York City.

What is the mission statement of your life?

An artist named Matt Jones did a version of the classic British “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster that has been altered to read “Get Excited and Make Things” That feels pretty close to the mark. Also, I do spend a lot of time working on Loving Day. One could argue that I have internalized its mission statement, which is to fight racial prejudice through education and to build multicultural community.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

I never finished reading Chaos by James Gleick. If I had, maybe I could use the “butterfly effect” (aka chaos theory) to explain how I got where I am. But since I didn’t, I can only summarize the experience like this: two exchange students meet at a party and their unlikely romance produces a bookish nerd who survives a colorful punk rock adolescence to design everything from postcards to movie titles, and ends up simultaneously art directing, teaching design at Parsons, and inventing a holiday that ends up in Time, NPR, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. My hairstyle changed dramatically over time, too.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

Considering there is a global shortage of Belgian Japanese Americans, I would get Pixar to animate the whole thing. Hopefully I’d end up somewhere between Wall-e and Mr. Incredible, with a hint of that sea turtle from Finding Nemo.

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved? is our official website. And the best way to be a part of Loving Day is to host your own Loving Day Celebration of any size. It’s fun and easy, and it can be anything you want: picnic, BBQ, dinner party, bowling night, cocktails, you name it. Someone put together a Loving Day cruise this year. Use our website to get inspired, share your event, or find one to attend.

We are also on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Meetup,, and whatever else gets big in the next few years. Follow us, add us, blog about us, and spread the word.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?

There’s an episode of the Simpsons where Bart and Lisa stumble into a gay Republican coalition’s office. One of them gives Lisa a bumper sticker that says “a gay president in 2084.” When she asks about it, one of them says that they’re being “realistic.” Sometimes I wonder when we’ll elect an Asian Pacific Islander as President of the United States. I’m hoping it’s sooner than 2084, which is actually only 18 elections away. For now, I would settle for more APIA folks in popular media who aren’t martial arts experts or look like Confucius.

Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young professionals? Would you give different advice for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?

First: meet everybody. It’s hard to get a job (or a date, or anything) when nobody knows you exist. Email is easy to ignore. Meet people, say something memorable, wear stylish shoes – whatever breaks the ice. Second: be cool. Industries are really small. We’re talking about 2 degrees of separation or less. You will see these people more than your family and friends combined.

I also recommend having a surprise skill or interest. That goes for everybody, including my API people. It makes it harder for people to make assumptions about you. For example, I have a Japanese name but I speak fluent French (thanks Mom). I can also get pretty funky on a drum set. No one ever sees that one coming.

Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?

Pocky. It reminds me of shopping at the Japanese grocery store with my dad when I was a kid. But when the going gets tough, I hit the Belgian chocolate pretty hard.

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?

I only confess in person.

* This article was originally published on on December 9, 2010.

© 2010 Koji Steven Sakai

hapa identity ken tanabe Los Angeles loving day maryknoll multicultural multiracial racial prejudice

About this series

"APA Spotlight" is a regular interview series on by Koji Steven Sakai interviewing Asian American community leaders from around the country.
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