WWAAC 2014 Christine Yamazaki from WWAAC Alliance Foundation on Vimeo.
Christine was born in San Leandro, California. She spent her childhood in Southern California, where she has many fond memories growing up in Cerritos during her elementary school years. Then at the age of 12, she moved to Japan due to her father’s job as a university professor at Sapporo Medical University. Her family moved to Japan where she spent four year learning a new language and culture. She returned back to US at age 16 to live with her Nisei grandparents in Gardena, CA and attended Narbonne High School and then to University of California, Riverside.
Upon graduating US Riverside, she had a strong desire to give back to the community. She became involved with South Bay JACL and founded the Young Adults Group, a group of young professionals in their 20’s whose purpose was to organize volunteer activities for people to learn the value of community work. YAG members volunteered at various events ranging from beach clean-up, producing a play for Keiro residents, JANM events/conferences. Christine eventually served on the South Bay JACL board and became co-President of the JACL for two years.
In her 20’s, she learned of her grandfather’s involvement with the 100th/442nd/MIS WWII Memorial Foundation to build the Go for Broke monument that would educate the public about the service of the Japanese American WWII veterans. In 2006, at the urging of her then boyfriend (now husband), she and 25 friends organized a casino night fundraiser to raise funds for the Go for Broke Monument. $20,000 was raised. Shortly after, she was approached by Debra Nishinaka-Skelton, executive director of the Foundation, to join the staff as a development associate to support the completion of the Go for Broke Monument. A year later, the executive director collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage and Christine was appointed as the interim executive director and then permanently as the ED at the age of 28. In 2009, the Go for Broke Monument was unveiled in Los Angeles due to the efforts of a group of 100th, 442nd and MIS veterans who spent near two decades to fundraise and build the Monument. Christine was mentored by Colonel Young Oak Kim, chairman of the board and 100th Infantry Battalion officer, for the next 8 years, to help grow the Foundation to become an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the 100th, 442nd and MIS veterans. She credits his visionary mentorship to understand nonprofit management and governance
Out of her early years as Executive Director, she recalls the scariest moment of her career was when Colonel Kim sent her to Sacramento to lobby for state funds. She remembers being nervous as she walked down the halls of the state capitol, presenting her case for funding in five minutes or less, with legislative members. She survived and in hindsight realizes that it was the turning point for her to overcome her fear in order to advocate for a cause she passionately believed in. Over the course of next three years, $1.5 million was secured from the State of California for the establishment of an education program.
During her later years at GFBNEC, another significant turning point for Christine was being mentored by General Eric Shinseki, who became the National Spokesperson for the organization from 3 years from 2007-2009. She worked closely with General Shinseki to help establish the organization at the national level by increasing GFBNEC’s presence throughout the U.S.. He ingrained in her the importance of having a vision, long and short term strategic planning and execution and gave her the insights on how to do it at the national level. She has benefited greatly from his mentorship which continues today as she works on the Congressional Gold Medal initiatives with the National Veterans Network.
While serving as Executive Director then President/CEO from 1997 to 2010, she founded the Hanashi Oral History Program which holds the nation’s largest collection, 1100 in total, of visual Japanese American World War II veteran oral histories. She also introduced the development of educational programs on the Nisei Soldiers that include teacher training programs, online interview archive, digital curriculum and co-produced award-winning documentaries, “A Tradition of Honor” and “Going for Broke.” On the fundraising front, she fundraised at the national level and spent time on Capitol Hill in Washington DC advocating for funds which resulted in 5.5 million in grants over a three year period.
Christine Sato-Yamazaki is now the Executive Director of the National Veterans Network (NVN),
a national coalition of Japanese American veteran and civic organizations that advocate to educate and enlighten the public about the experience and legacy of the Japanese American World War II soldiers. Christine is presently working with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC to develop a Congressional Gold Medal Digital Exhibition that will be on display with the Congressional Gold Medal at the National Museum of American History and available digitally worldwide in 2016. Prior to this from 2013-2014, she along with the coalition members sponsored and jointly collaborated with the Smithsonian on a seven-city nationwide tour when the Congressional Gold Medal traveled to some of the top history museums in the country, reaching 350,000 onsite visitors while the medal was on display. From 2010 to 2011, she led the coalition on a two-year national initiative to secure the passage of S.1055 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd RCT and Military Intelligence Service, serving as a liaison to the United States Congress and United States Mint for the bill passage, medal design and Congressional Gold Medal awards ceremony. Upon its passage, she attended the bill signing by President Obama in the Oval office of the White House in October 2010. Under her leadership, over $700,000 was raised for a three-day national celebration that brought out 2500 veterans and family members to Washington DC.
Christine is a graduate of University of California, Riverside and received the UCR Alumni Award of Distinction for her work dedicated to the Nisei Soldiers in 2012. She is a granddaughter of the late 442nd veteran, Dave Kawagoye. She lives in Torrance, CA. She owes a debt of gratitude to her husband, David, and her family who has supported her career and travels. She also has a eight year old son, Kyle, who has endured her travel since he was one years old. He complains less now but by the fourth day of any trip demands that she returns home!