What is the Northern California Okinawa Kenjin-Kai ?(formerly known as San Francisco Okinawa Kenjin Kai)
To begin answering that, we need to begin with Okinawa. Okinawa, once known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, is located within sailing range of Taiwan, Japan, China, Korea, the Southeast Asia, and islands in the South Pacific. As a consequence, Ryukyuan culture absorbed influences from a wide range of places. You can see it in our dance, music, martial arts, food, language, and customs. Tragically, however, Okinawa’s location at the crossroads of Asia made it a militarily strategic site. In the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, Okinawa was virtually flattened by a “typhoon of steel” and an estimated one fourth to one third of Okinawa’s population was killed. Miraculously, Okinawans picked up and moved forward from that catastrophe.
Ryukyuans have been traveling to other places as traders, explorers, travelers, diplomats, fishermen, students, and migrants since prehistoric times. Large-scale overseas Okinawan emigration began in 1899, 20 years after the Ryukyuan Kingdom was annexed by Japan in 1879. Since then, Okinawans have emigrated to all corners of the world, taking with them their strong sense of identity and unique culture.
San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Fairfield, Fresno, and other parts of Northern California have been a destination of Okinawan emigrants for well over 100 years and the first Okinawan kenjinkai (prefectural association) began in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Our Okinawan community in Northern California got a boost after World War II when hundreds of Okinawan women married to American GIs stationed in Okinawa, relocated here. Other Okinawans, such as myself came to this vibrant place to study and work. Just as Okinawa is located at the crossroads of Asia, Northern California is located at the forefront of cultural, technological, political, social, economic, and academic movements.
SFOKK aspires to follow the themes of movement and motion as we feel the heartbeat of our members who have traveled from the faraway homeland of Okinawa. We also endeavor to move with the changes in this dynamic adopted home by bringing together the collective wisdom of our elders and dazzling energy of our youth.
Most importantly, we carry in our hearts the empathy and compassion of our ancestors. Okinawans have seen their homeland invaded, conquered, and devastated and their identity and culture threatened. We hope not to forget that our adopted home is the homeland of other peoples who have survived worse experiences. As such, we open our hearts to embrace other travelers in our journey through time and space in SFOKK. We strive to move other people’s hearts with our culture as we are moved by other’s cultures.
Wesley Ueunten, PhD
Past-President of SFOKK (2015-2017)