Embracing a Culture: Nikkei Student Union’s President Sarah Ando


Sydney McDonald, Staff Writer

As Spring Quarter begins, one club in particular is promoting their organization which embraces Japanese American culture. The Nikkei Student Union or NSU is run by president and Sixth College senior Sarah Ando. Ando’s involvement with the Japanese American community is rooted in her identity. 

“I’m a third-generation Japanese American. Growing up, I did JA basketball and also [participated] in a lot of youth organizations,” Ando said. 

Ando explained that most of her weekends were spent in these various Japanese American organizations and upon entering college, she wanted to continue to be involved with her culture. In fact, Ando’s older brother was also involved with NSU and introduced her to the club.

“My brother, who’s seven years older than me, was really involved with this club. He was in finance and matsuri [chairs]. I definitely got closer with my brother through NSU and also others in the club,” Ando said. 

In Ando’s first year at UC San Diego, she was able to participate in the club as a regular member before becoming the Matsuri coordinator during her second year. Matsuri is the Japanese word for “festival,” in which NSU and other clubs host food and performance booths on Library Walk to display Japanese foods and culture. While Ando was preparing for Matsuri, the club went online due to COVID regulations. This came with its own unique experiences — and challenges.

“It’s definitely been a journey seeing what NSU has been like since my first year, as our retention was probably 60 people per general board meeting (GBM). [Going] online definitely took a toll where we were averaging 20 people per GBM,” Ando said. 

Through those challenges in her second year, especially as an appointed board member, Ando realized how important NSU was to her and how she wanted to continue her activities in the club. 

“I think it’s really worthwhile to try and create a space to promote the culture,” Ando said. 

She also explained how, especially during her second year, she was trying to find a place for herself at UCSD, and NSU helped her to gain confidence in where she was and what she wanted to do during her time there. In the following year, the club continued to gain traction. 

After her third year as the communications chair member, she was appointed president for this year. During her time as president, the organization grew and gained members dedicated to spreading Japanese American culture on campus. One of those members is Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore Ashley Omiya, currently the social external for the club. Her jobs as social external include event planning and correspondence with other clubs. As Omiya and Ando both held board positions in NSU, they were able to become friends although they knew each other far before that. 

“I’ve known Sarah since childhood. We went to the same temple, so I kinda grew up with Sarah,” Omiya said. 

Omiya explained that they weren’t close back then despite growing up in the same county, but Ando was the president of the youth group in middle school and high school.

They met again when Omiya took an unofficial college tour of UCSD that was led by Ando. It was then when Ando had promoted NSU to Omiya, which she only knew of by name  Once Omiya had committed to UCSD, Ando asked Omiya if she wanted to be her “little.” Eventually, she was able to attend NSU’s first in-person event during her first year at UCSD. 

“I was kind of just involved with it from the beginning. My first event was last year, and it was the first in-person event, and there were a [lot] of people, but it was super cool, and then I just stuck with it and progressively got more involved,” Omiya said. 

All in all, Omiya has served as a “big” for Amiya, someone she can lean on for advice and support. 

“She’s always been super capable and someone to always look up to with things like graphic arts and stuff, but in college, I think she took her role to the next level,” Omiya said. 

In taking that role to the next level, she helped to recruit many of the members of NSU and keep them committed to spreading Japanese American culture. Community is one aspect of her culture that Ando wanted to emphasize in her time in the club. With the addition of the community chair last year, she hoped to strengthen the culture’s community-building, especially considering the adversities that Japanese Americans have faced in history. 

“I feel like the Japanese American community is very strong in that sense due to their generational struggles. But I think there’s a lot of promise and hope for the next generation of Nikkei Student Union,” Ando said. 

In reflecting on her time as president this year, Ando is content in seeing her club members happy and smiling. She is hopeful that for next year the members will carry on the importance and values of the club and that what she gave to NSU continues. As for her future plans, she wishes to continue her passion in graphic design. 

One thing that Omiya admires about Ando is her constant positivity throughout her time in the club. Ando, in all her four years of highschool, acted as a role model for multiple people and helped to spread Japanese American culture to all people regardless of who they are. 

“She does it all, she’s president, she has a job, and she’ll be tired and exhausted, but she’ll have a positive attitude. She’s really nice to be around,” Omiya said. 

Photo Courtesy of Ellie Kanda