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Celebrate Life: Documenting Family & Community
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column March 16, 2005


I’ve been taking pictures like crazy! On February 1st, just six weeks ago, I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful baby girl, Maiya Grace Kuida-Osumi.

With my digital camera, I have taken close to 300 photos. I take pictures when Maiya sleeps, when she smiles, when she cries, when her daddy gives her a bath, after diaper changes, when we go for a walk, every time Maiya has a new visitor, and sometimes, just because she is just so darn cute.

I am also taking pictures with our 35 mm film camera, videotaping her, and doing my best to keep up our personal family website. In addition, I’m recording every feeding, every pee, every poop, with a brief journal entry of each day.

This is my life the last six weeks, but unfortunately, I have been to two funerals in the Japanese American community in the last few weeks. Both of which were very moving tributes that remind me of the importance of documenting family and community stories.

The first was a memorial service for Eddie Oshiro, who was tragically killed when a car hit him as he crossed the street in February. Eddie was 83 years old and a longtime resident of the San Pedro Firm Building, a low-income housing project operated by the Little Tokyo Service Center CDC (LTSC CDC).

Eddie took pictures every day. People who work, live or spend any amount of time in J-town undoubtedly have run into Eddie, and maybe had a snapshot taken by him. He took pictures of all kinds of people, and documented the changes taking place in Little Tokyo over the years.

At the funeral, Bill Watanabe from LTSC said that Eddie wasn’t just a picture taker, he was a picture giver. It’s true. Eddie would take your picture and then get a copy to you. A few months ago, we received a batch of photos taken by Eddie--some with my husband Tony as he led community tours for college students in Little Tokyo, and some of me, at Great Leap’s production of “To All Relations: Sacred Moon Songs” in the courtyard of East West Players last July.

I also learned that Eddie was a regular member at Centenary United Methodist Church and that he took pictures every week during the service. Reverend KarenFay Ramos-Young said that she has a shoebox filled with photos Eddie had taken of her children, documenting their growth from week-to-week over the last few years. Every person who spoke at Eddie’s service talked about how he had given them photos of themselves as well.

At the memorial service, Eddie spoke to us, through a video interview that had been shot by Sheri Kamimura for a project of LTSC, and produced by Tad Nakamura, a 2nd generation filmmaker. It was so great to see Eddie in action, taking photos and walking the streets of Little Tokyo, and passing out photos to his friends.

The other funeral I attended was for Gloria Uchida, who passed away after a 7-year battle with breast cancer. I first met Gloria about 10 or 11 years ago when I was volunteering for a community tree-planting day on Second Street in Little Tokyo. Gloria was the Little Tokyo Project Manager for the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and was so happy that young people were helping to beautify Little Tokyo. (In fact, if you want to see pictures of the tree-planting day, Eddie Oshiro took photos that are hanging on a poster board in the San Pedro Firm Building.)

I met Gloria again over the phone about 5 years ago through my work with Great Leap. She was interviewing me about a Great Leap project that I had applied for funding from Japanese American Community Services (JACS), an organization that has supported projects in Little Tokyo for decades. The project was to bring 1,000 kids to Little Tokyo to see one of Great Leap’s multicultural performances and visit the Japanese American National Museum. We spent several hours talking about the project, Great Leap, and Little Tokyo. She was so sharp, and I loved talking with her.

Then, I joined the Board of JACS a few years ago and met Gloria at one of the meetings. She was very sick, but she had been the heart and soul of JACS for decades and made an effort to meet with the new board members and pass on some of her knowledge of the organization’s 90+ year history (starting with the Shonien orphanage). I remember being immediately engaged in talking with her, and thinking how electric and vivid her eyes were as we spoke and how much she cared about the future of JACS.

At the funeral, I learned that through Gloria’s decades of work with the CRA, she had her hand in supporting countless buildings and projects in Little Tokyo. They showed a video montage of Gloria’s family photos, coincidentally also edited together by Tad, showing Gloria’s love for her family. It was very touching, and really reminded me how precious life is, and how important it is to spend quality time with family.

So I encourage Rafu readers to take pictures today or use any form of media that allows you to not only document life now--while the kids are still young and before a loved one passes away-- but to live life to its fullest. Both Eddie and Gloria were a part of J-town and they will definitely be missed and remembered.

Celebrating life, family and community. I gotta run. Baby Maiya is smiling and I just have to take a picture.

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Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida lives in the Venice-Culver area of LA and is currently on maternity leave from Great Leap. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. For more photos, see www.kuidaosumi.com. © 2005.

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, March 16, 2005

Updated: 4/5/05

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