Alumni Spotlight: Eryn Kimura

Our inaugural Alumni Spotlight highlights the work of Eryn Kimura, class of 2013! Eryn is a practicing artist, documentary filmmaker, and Senior Wellness Program Manager at Booker T. Washington Community Service Center in San Francisco, CA. In this spotlight interview, conducted with her former classmate Mika Thornburg (‘13), Eryn reflects on how she became an ASAM major, the influence of classes she took with Sameer Pandya and Diane Fujino on her work and perspective, and the awesome community-building work she’s doing now. 

Read on to learn more about Eryn’s experience making the film "BENKYODO: THE LAST MANJU SHOP IN J-TOWN" with Tad Nakamura and Akira Boch and how Asian American Studies impacted her life and career. 



Eryn, what are you up to now?


I currently wear a number of hats. I am a practicing visual artist as well as a cultural producer. Just produced a short documentary on a 115 year old Japanese American business in collaboration with Tad Nakamura and Akira Boch. It's called “Benkyodo: The Last Manju Shop in Jtown”. But as of right now, I work in direct service, particularly as a program manager for a 103-year-old, Black led organization in the Fillmore Western Edition in San Francisco that has really deep ties and history with San Francisco's Japantown, which is where I grew up. Prior to that, I also worked in education, teaching school age kids and also working in after-school.

What do you remember about UCSB? What was it like when you were there?

Yeah, so my first two years at UCSB were actually quite rough. I felt pretty... It was a pretty white dominated space, and it was very... not my jam to say it very concisely. I was actually quite depressed for the first year and a half there. It was really hard to find community and to also find not just, like, a community of peers, but like an intergenerational community, where I felt this sense of belonging, where I felt like a sense of political home. So I felt pretty on the fringes for a while and definitely struggled. However, there was one quarter that kind of changed it up [for me] my sophomore year. It was when I took a class with Gina Vargas, a writing class, as well as Black Studies 6 with George Lipsitz that was a history of the civil rights movement…. That's when things kind of started to change up, where I started to be in classes and in the orbit of many other BIPOC students, primarily like black and brown students, and where we also were studying ethnic studies as well, and also just more with a sociological lens as well. That's when things started to change up for me and where I started to feel more grounded in community, but also in myself and my confidence as well.

How did you end up taking Asian American Studies classes and then eventually becoming a major?

So, of course, it was Diane Fujino. I was a part of the Nikkei Student Union because I knew some folks from the Bay who were upperclassmen at the time who kind of brought me into the Nikkei Student Union. And it was my sophomore year--was it my junior year?--where I was going to be moving into a leadership position for NSU? And Diane is, I think the advisor for NSU. And it was when I was talking to Diane and kind of telling her about my journey and where I was at and the things I wanted to explore. At the time, I really wanted to explore more education, education reform, and also continuing to deepen this journey into Black Studies. And Diane was just like, "why don't you do Asian American Studies?" [laughs] "And you could just be a major?" And I forgot what it was exactly that led to it, but I distinctly remember having a one on one conversation with Diane, and she said, "why don't you think about doing Asian American Studies as a major?" And then that was just it. And that's kind of all I really needed. And then next thing I know, I was figuring out... I was like, oh, it's totally possible….So it just kind of serendipitously took shape.

Were there any classes or experiences that you had that were particularly memorable?

I would say the two classes, and I took them in the same quarter, were Diane's community studies class and Asian American creative writing with Sameer Pandya. And those both together were just, like, killer. They were incredible. 

Community studies was awesome in that... it's hard to explain, but it was almost like I was learning about myself, almost like I was finally in a place where the lineages that raised me, the lineages of love that raised me, were finally reflected, because a lot of it was about the activism that took place at the start of the Asian American movement in the 1960s and ‘70s in San Francisco, in the Bay Area. So in so many ways, it was just like, "Oh my god, I went to that church," or, "oh, gosh, I know these folks," or that "my uncle participated in that." So in so many ways, it was finally reflected to me and articulated and also revered and uplifted, and that was incredibly special. And also that class was rad in that I then had a sociological understanding of things which I lacked before….And then also it really taught the critical analysis piece. You know, we read so many things: Bollier about "the commons"--gosh, I actually still have that reader; we read Paulo Freire, Antonio Gramsci, Foucault, really pivotal pieces that just...That's where the consciousness started coming up. 

And then with Asian American creative writing, ... And actually, the thing about both these classes is that practice was everything. So we weren't just like these children in the ivory tower, like, just reading and engaging in these books and whatnot, but we were actually expressing and practicing and doing, embodying the work in so many ways. So in community studies, I got to go to Open Alternative School, which was super rad, and see their model of education and working in the classroom. And in Sameer's class, that was super beautiful just to write and to hear other people's writings, too… Just to create story and hear the story of others and to share that and to be really, how do I say? Just [be] vulnerable with folks in that sense, but also be in a safe space where people's first voice and stories were prized, and where people's agency and artistry–even if it was artistry, unbeknownst to them, including myself–where they were celebrated and just acknowledged. Acknowledged, especially on a campus where it is predominantly white, or it felt super white at the time, white and well off. So it was a really special space and a special time, and we got to build with other students as well. That made it super special, too.

For me, I took most of my Asian American Studies classes in my last two years at UCSB, and those were, like, my golden years. I would say my junior year was totally my golden year of just being immersed in the Asian American Studies space and the ethnic studies spaces and building with other students and peers and with the faculty. Those were totally my golden years. And I look back on those times, and I remember them with utmost fondness. But also, I feel so much gratitude to even have been in that space with folks, building with folks. It's quite a cosmic experience.


Do you see a connection between what you were studying or what interests you had when you were in the Asian American Studies department and the kind of work that you're doing now? 

…I felt like with Asian American Studies was not pumping me [out] to be in a particular pipeline or priming me to join the capitalist workforce and to be a little producer bee. I felt like it was preparing me, and this is what I think personally was most important, it was preparing me to be a well-rounded and a critical, active participant and agent in this wild existence and also empowering me to be an architect of this experience. All of us are the architects of this human experience. All of us are the architects of the society that is. And I think what was so incredible about Asian American Studies was that…it gave me a wide array of tools. It could be everything from the critical analysis piece, looking at gender understanding, critical race theory, looking at the historical point of view. But also it allowed me to kind of play some jazz. And what I mean by that is it allowed me to also ask questions beyond the tools, beyond the lenses that they were giving us. And I think that is the power of ethnic studies and Asian American Studies: to analyze, to think, and to also dream beyond what is already here and what we've traditionally been taught and to look further and beyond. It's kind of exposed me to other world builders, right? Like, we learned so much about other world builders, whether that was like Yuri Kochiyama, or in the Asian American aesthetic class, we learned about Maya Lynn, and all these folks that in their own particular way, were questioning the society, that is, but also reimagining what existence could be. What existence could be in a way that is inclusive, that is just, that is where radical love is kind of the center force. 


I feel like Asian American Studies has also informed the way that I bet on myself. It has also informed my risk taking….Because I am so curious and because I have many interests and want to work and serve people, and build community and new worlds in many different ways, I felt like Asian American Studies–in all of its modalities and all of its diverse coursework–showed me the ways that I could dabble in those things.