Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Southern California Japanese American Sports Leagues

What began as a way to compensate for racial divides now functions as an entire community in which Japanese American youth can meet each other through the medium of sports. After World War II, Japanese Americans wanting to play the “all-American” sport of baseball were prohibited from playing in Caucasian youth sports leagues, due to lingering racial biases. As a result, Japanese Americans founded their own leagues and organizations around California, such as the South East Youth Organization (SEYO), which is based in Orange County, California. Since then, SEYO has expanded to include basketball and now hosts various tournaments, volunteer events, and social functions in which Japanese American youth across Southern California can connect and meet. SEYO branches out into multiple organizations, each of which has their own basketball and baseball teams.

In addition, SEYO and various other Japanese American organizations come together in the “Nikkei Games” in August, in which Japanese American youth across Southern California compete in various sports such as basketball, baseball, golf, judo, karate, and track and field, to name a few. The Nikkei Games are part of Nisei Week, which takes place in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California. During Nisei Week, various aspects of Japanese American culture come together in a festival of sorts, with martial arts exhibits, beauty pageants, and even a gyoza (Japanese dumpling) eating contest. It is through such festivals and games that Japanese Americans in Southern California can come together and connect with their Japanese cultural roots, which may at times seem removed and distant.

Although there are no longer restrictions barring Japanese Americans from playing in other sports leagues, SEYO and its counterparts continues to be extremely popular, as it creates a community for fourth or fifth-generation Japanese Americans to stay connected to a Japanese American community, even when their lives are so fully “American.” Many of these youth speak very little Japanese, as their parents and grandparents have grown up in the United States. It is through these Japanese American organizations that youth can stay connected to and be a part of a culture.

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