Midori Thayer (Principal and Director, NPO AmerAsian School in Okinawa)
The Japan Foundation awards the Japan Foundation Prizes for Global Citizenship to organizations that endeavor to strengthen networks and collaboration among citizens both inside and outside Japan, and mutually share knowledge, ideas, and expertise through intercultural exchange. In 2014, the Prizes for Global Citizenship were awarded to three organizations: AmerAsian School in Okinawa; the Nara International Film Festival Organizing Committee; and Plus Arts. AmerAsian School in Okinawa provides bilingual education for "Amerasian" children who are born to an American and an Asian parent and who struggle with their identity. The education allows children to take pride in their Amerasian identity and expand their opportunities for further education and employment. AmerAsian School in Okinawa contributes to building vibrant and dynamic communities in which there is an understanding of and respect for diverse cultures. The school was chosen as one of the recipients of the prizes in 2014 in recognition of these activities.
AmerAsian School in Okinawa provides "double education," or education offered in English and Japanese, to Amerasian children with an American and an Asian parent.
Even in present times, around 300 Amerasian children are born every year in Okinawa, which hosts 75% of the land areas the U.S. Forces exclusively uses in Japan, according to Japan's Statistics Bureau data. From the 1960s to the 1980s, social welfare offices in Okinawa served as the primary adoption agencies for Amerasian mixed-race children. In the 1980s, Okinawa lobbied for giving citizenship to stateless children and allowing them to enroll in the national health insurance. As a result of these issues being taken up at the Diet, the Nationality Act was revised in 1985, enabling children to obtain citizenship from not only their fathers but also their mothers.
In the late 1990s, mothers of Amerasian children began to push for double education in order to foster their children's American and Asian identities equally, rather than a sense of being half-American and half-Asian. AmerAsian School was founded in June 1998, and this year marks its 17th year. As times change, the issues surrounding Amerasian children have shifted from "right to exist" to "right to an education."
When we founded AmerAsian School 17 years ago, we had nothing. All we had was passion and conviction. In those days, just getting through every day was the best we could do, let alone imagining how it would be in 17 years later. At that time, there were some people who disapproved of and casted doubts on AmerAsian School and expected it to fade away in a few years.
The daily operations of the school were like walking on a tightrope. By no means was it easy to obtain the awareness and understanding of society. I thought about giving up many times. The school has been able to continue and grow to where it is today because of the children of course, as well as the teachers, staff, parents, and guardians, along with the lawyers and education specialists who, with their expertise and insight, supported us, who were inexperienced personnel, as well as our many supporters from the business community and other parts of society. I would like to express my appreciation to everyone.
Ms. Midori Thayer, Principal and Director of AmerAsian School in Okinawa, delivering her acceptance speech
We have been working hard believing that every child has enormous potential and that it is the responsibility of adults to expand this potential. I would like to thank the jury of the Japan Foundation Prizes for Global Citizenship, the President and the Executive Vice Presidents of the Japan Foundation for recognizing that the education of Amerasian children has great social significance, and that the efforts made by the school are deserving of the Prizes for Global Citizenship. The school will continue to foster global citizens and ensure that it does not dishonor the prize.
AmerAsian School's right to education has been treated as an issue that concerns individuals. Nevertheless, our education is about to go from local to global as a result of our persistent efforts and dedication over the past 17 years as well as the assistance of all our supporters.
Going forward, our aspiration is to foster children who will demonstrate their potential to the fullest extent and contribute to society in the context of diverse cultures.
Ms. Midori Thayer accepting the award certificate from the Japan Foundation President Hiroyasu Ando
(Photos from the award ceremony: Kenichi Aikawa)
Group photo of the students (Left)
Students performing the Okinawan Eisa dance at the school festival (Right)
AmerAsian School in Okinawa was founded by the guardians of Amerasian children. It provides bilingual education in both Japanese and English, helping children grow up with a sense of pride as "doubles" (children of dual heritage) who equally respect the cultures of the U.S. and Japan, and increasing their opportunities for further education and employment. Additionally, activities are held to deepen pupils' understanding of their self-identity by holding intercultural exchanges for experiencing traditional Okinawan culture, and hosting lectures by alumni who are active around the world.
* Amerasian refers to people with an American and an Asian parent.