Discover Nikkei Logo

https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2024/4/24/kevin-charles-keizuchi-1/

Yo! This is Who I Am: Kevin Charles Keizuchi of The Shinsei Movement—Part 1

If information is power, then shouldn’t we all strive for all the people in our community to feel powerful?

“So how long does it usually take?” I ask.

“Maybe, three and half to four hours. Depends on the size of the body.” replies Gerry Fukui as he stands just out of eye shot of my grandmother, Chris Naito, in her oversized IKEA cardboard box. He said she wouldn’t have wanted him to see her this way. Even after death her reputation is respected.

I take one last look at my grandmother before we roll her into the Evergreen easy bake oven. So many thoughts traveled through my mind as I looked down at the corpse of the person who made me who I am. I want to stay here all day and roll through the pensieve of memories, but in my mind I can hear her saying “Don’t you have things to tend to in Little Tokyo?”

She’s right. I pressed the button and the furnaces ignited like the Challenger’s rocket boosters. Back to stardust she goes.

My Grandma Chris knew Ellison Onizuka personally. She knew a lot of people personally. We even found a handwritten letter from him telling her to tune in to the launch that came attached to a few NASA patches as we were going through all her heirlooms. It’s an interesting feeling going through all her documents and photos. I always knew her as “grandma,” but never knew the young Japanese American businesswoman she was.

Looking at old memories as new moments, pondering the multiverse of narratives of how these photos came to be. I just wish I discovered these giant sized meal prep tupperwares of Kodaks and Fujifilms sooner. Funny how things like this happen that way. As Jay-Z says, “They never really miss you ‘til you dead or you gone”

*Record Scratch*  You’re probably wondering where this is going by now. The title and this creative exercise aren’t adding up just yet. Well let me clarify, I was supposed to write about what I do for the community, how I got here, and why I created “The Shinsei Movement,” a community bulletin board for all things JA, Little Tokyo, and AAPI related events.

After thinking about it for a while, and writing it a few times over, I had some drafts but it just seemed like a generic interview of myself. Just too “Banana bread plain” for me. So I finally figured out the best way to explain who I am is by telling you why I am. No one wants to hear my answers to the same lame small talk question of “What do you do?” I’m here to tell you my purpose in life and what powers my soul. That “Why” is because of my Grandmother, Fumiko Christine Naito. Let me give you a quick summary of who she is.

In the 80’s & 90’s, my Grandma Chris would carry a .357 Magnum in her purse because Little Tokyo wasn’t as gentrified as it is now. She and my uncle, Michael Ishikawa, had a car broker company called Little Tokyo Leasing & Sales for 25 years on the 2nd floor above where Millet Crepe is now. Her 6 foot iguana Iggy would sunbathe all day eating fresh produce looking out towards the Isamu Noguchi plaza. All sorts of people would stop by after hours just to hang out to avoid the eastbound traffic. She always loved to entertain and this is probably how she got to know everyone. 

During her time as a local business, she saw the JACCC (Japanese American Cultural & Community Center) be built and Bill Watanabe establish LTSC (Little Tokyo Service Center). She was good friends with Frances Hashitmoto and served on many Nisei Week boards along with being the General Chairman of Nisei Week in 1994, the same year Frances invented mochi ice cream under the Mikawaya brand.

My Grandma Chris was for the people and for the businesses. She taught Carol Tanita of the Rafu Bussan how to put on makeup when she was 17. She encouraged Bill Watanabe to charge $1 for the Tofu Festival which turned into a $20,000 donation for LTSC.

She was the one who took me to see the Godzilla triple feature at the Japan America Theatre, renamed the Aratani Theatre in 2001, which was a program developed by Hirokazu Kosaka, the artist in residence at the JACCC for the last 40 years—this memory is what inspired Budokan Cinema and my Ghibli series at the Aratani.

Hirokazu couldn’t help but smile when he found out in a pitch meeting I was giving him that his program is what inspired me. It was a serendipitous full circle moment. If there was an organization that had to do with Japanese culture and business, she was there. She was everything, everywhere, all at once before the Daniels were born. 

However, the crazy part is that she accomplished all of this after divorcing my grandfather at 40 years old in a time where that was unheard of, and starting her own business as a woman. She would often brag about how his jaw hit the floor when she rolled up in a mink coat and Mercedes the next time he saw her. This was after she saw her second child, my uncle Neal, die from polio which only created a great fissure between my mother and herself. The only reason they ever talked again was because I was born.

She grew up in Gila River and was forced to spend 3 years of her childhood wondering why she was considered the enemy, only to go back home and face the hardships of intense racism. This was my Grandma, my mentor, and my role model. This was the person that defined for me what being Japanese American meant.

“So what do we call you? Is it Kevin? Do you prefer Charles Keizuchi? Like who the heck is Atticus?” 

Call me anything you like, baby. 

Kevin is my most common name, Celtic for gentle and I’m still not sure how Asian Americans all decided in a generation to name their kids that. I blame Macauley Culkin from Home Alone. It was easy to yell and recognizable. 

Charles is the name of my Great Grandfather, the father of Chris Naito. Keizuchi is the name of my Great Grandfather on my Naito side. I just figured I’d pull a play from David Ono and throw my Japanese name into the mix. 

Now Atticus, I’m not really sure where it comes from. Well I know where it's from since it stems from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but I don’t know why I chose that persona and name. Guess I just like the way it sounded, and the way it made me feel when people said my handles IRL. Most people who have met me first through instagram say I move like an Atticus, and not like a Kevin.

To be contributed ...>>

 

*This article was originally published in the Yo! Magazine on January 18, 2024. 

 

© 2024 Kevin Charles Keizuchi

California communities families festivals Fumiko Christine Naito grandmothers grandparents identity Instagram Japanese Americans Kevin Charles Keizuchi Little Tokyo Los Angeles Nisei Week (event) online social networks parents social networks United States
About the Author

Kevin Charles Keizuchi is the Founder of “The Shinsei Movement” an Instagram-based bulletin board that disseminates activities and events related to Japanese and Japanese American Culture within Southern California to a broader audience. He is also an active community leader in Little Tokyo for various organizations and is a member of the Japanese Consul General’s LA Next Generation Japanese American Leadership Initiative. He is also the grandson of Chris Naito of Little Tokyo Leasing and Sales, an active Little Tokyo community leader during the 90’s. Kevin’s mission is to honor his grandmother’s legacy through community activism.

Updated April 2024

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
Discover Nikkei brandmark New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More

Discover Nikkei Updates

NIKKEI CHRONICLES #13
Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
NIMA VOICES
Episode 16
June 25 (US) | June 26 (Japan)
Featured Nima:
Stan Kirk
Guest Host:
Masumi Izumi
PROJECT UPDATES
NEW SITE DESIGN
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!