by Haruki Eda|2011 Research and Training Intern
I moved to the United States four years ago from Japan, and I graduated from college last year as one of the top students. I was allowed to stay just one more year with my visa. With a Bachelor’s in Sociology, I could have taken several paths: working full-time for one of those Bay Area nonprofits; or, perhaps, getting a well-paid job at a big Japanese company like Toyota. But I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted an internship at the DataCenter. I wanted to learn how to integrate my sociological research skills into grassroots community organizing–two things that brought me to the U.S. in the first place.
Photo above: DataCenter staff with Spring Interns Haruki (front center) Mara (back middle) and Michael (back middle).
While “internship” in both nonprofit and private sectors often means “free labor,” the DataCenter made sure that my involvement as an intern was mutually beneficial. I wanted to gain experience in community-based Participatory Action Research (PAR), and I began working on DataCenter’s oral documentation project with the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. This gave me an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what Research Justice actually looks like: shifting research from on or with the community to by the community. In addition, it helped me think more critically about the academic industrial complex.
Furthermore, I also wanted to develop skills for popular education, and I helped facilitate Research 101 trainings and developed training materials. This allowed me to share my knowledge in creative and interactive ways. In a way, my “internship” felt more like a revolutionary summer camp tailored to my specific needs—the only part not included was the “summer,” since I interned from September 2010 to June 2011.
As it turned out, my experience at the DataCenter has become not only an essential step in my career plan as a researcher/educator/organizer, but also a personally empowering journey. As a Queer youth of Korean descent in Japan, I was deprived of critical knowledge about my identity and the communities I was apart of. My high school blocked off Internet access to any website that contained the word “gay.” When you don’t even have access to knowledge about all the people who have struggled before you, how can you continue the struggle so that you will be the last generation to suffer? For many Queer youth, knowledge is a matter of their survival. At the DataCenter, I learned that I already have knowledge from my lived experience and from my communities, and that political power lies in what’s even considered as “legitimate knowledge.” I also learned that research can create such “legitimate knowledge” to impact change, and that the communities must have access to and control of the knowledge about them.
In other words, I already knew the how of research from college classes, and I learned the why and who of research at the DataCenter. This will forever stay with me wherever I go and keep inspiring me to think through the lens of Research Justice whatever I do in my life.
I particularly enjoyed working and personally connecting with a number of amazing people around the DataCenter: training participants, fellow organizers, funders, staff, and other interns. Thank you all for widening my room to grow as a human being and sharing your passions with me. The Revolution is already happening, and this time at last, it’s ours.