Queer graduate receives special honor at SF State
by Matthew S. Bajko
Among the top 10 graduating students at San Francisco State University this year was a queer student from Japan who spent the last four years working to better the lives of other LGBT Asian and Pacific Islanders on and off campus.
At the May 22 commencement ceremonies sociology major Haruki Eda received a symbolic hood on behalf of the students in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. The faculty picked Eda after he received a distinguished achievement award within the Sociology Department.
Eda, 23, grew up in Koka, a city in Shiga Prefecture famous for its ninja history. Fluent in English, his parents encouraged him to study abroad in the states. He chose sociology due to his interest in reducing discrimination in society.
"Sociology should be about social justice and reducing social injustice," he said. "It really has the potential to be a tool for social change."
During his time on campus, Eda embraced his queer identity. He founded an organization for queer API students called AQUA – Asians and Queers United for Awareness. Off campus he volunteered at a queer Asian and Pacific Islander youth program run by the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center in the Polk.
He also blogs about what it means to be queer and Asian at the website http://www.wiqaable.com.
"I wasn't really out in Japan. I came here determined to be out," said Eda, who disclosed his sexual orientation to his family during his freshman year.
While at SFSU Eda also became involved with Eclipse Rising, a Bay Area group for Zainichi Koreans. The term Zainichi means "staying in Japan" and it refers to Koreans living in Japan who retain their Korean nationality. Eda's Korean grandfather came to Japan as a soldier after the country annexed Korea in 1910.
The Zainichi are the largest minority group in Japan and they have struggled against discriminatory policies imposed on them by the Japanese. Because his father married a Japanese woman, Eda has Japanese citizenship and more privileges in Japanese society. But bridging his family's two cultures has not been easy, he said.
"It is a struggle to belong to the Japanese or Korean community," said Eda, who said he only started hanging out with other Koreans when he came to America and first visited South Korea in 2007.
Once in California, Eda experienced not only what it is like to be an ethnic minority but also discriminated against for being LGBT.
"I am not just queer here, I am also Asian. I have been interested in those dynamics of oppression both in Japan and the United States," he said.
This summer Eda will return home to Japan and then plans to move to Oakland this fall. He is applying for an unpaid internship at DataCenter Research for Justice, a progressive think tank focused on social justice and environmental issues.
By the fall of 2011 he intends to enter a Ph.D. program at a University of California campus or in a school in the Chicago or New York area. He would like to be a professor and do sociology research or work for the United Nations.
And like so many before him, Eda has come to consider the Bay Area home.
"Whenever I go back to Japan, I miss San Francisco. When I am here, I don't miss Japan," said Eda. "I really like this city."