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ESSAY: Devon Yamane

March 2020, Volume 70, Issue 3

[Editor’s Note: Devon Yamane is one of the 2020 recipients of a NVCF Shiro Kashino Memorial Scholarship. She is the daughter of Curtis and Juliette Yamane.  She attends Seattle Pacific University where she is majoring in Clinical Psychology.]

One word that comes to mind when reflecting on what the Nisei Veterans legacy means to me is gaman. Gaman is a Japanese word that was popularized during the Japanese American incarceration experience that translates to bearing the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience. Just as my Uncle Tonney Yamane may have held onto this word as a way to get through the difficult experience of fighting for freedom of Americans in World War II, gaman accurately sums up how I’ve been able to navigate through life.

I was born prematurely at 26 weeks gestation, weighed 1 pound 10 ounces, and endured a stroke at 2 pounds. This stroke triggered a case of cerebral palsy and I’ve had to deal with the effects of this disorder every day. But despite going through the special education system and numerous therapy services to offset these effects, I have defied people’s expectations through my ability to experience hard things with dignity and patience. My parents weren’t sure if I would be able to receive a college education because of my long list of learning impairments. I am now in the middle of my junior year at Seattle Pacific University studying psychology and Christian reconciliation studies, and I live on campus for the first time. It is through enduring years of grueling work in occupational and physical therapy and a non-traditional route in higher education that has allowed me to study and live at the university I’ve always wanted to attend.

Gaman is not just a word that expresses hope in a difficult period in the Japanese American military experience. It is a word that has universal impact in my personal life and motivates me to persevere through present and future trials in life. The meaning of gaman is something my grandfather George Yamane and grand uncle Tonney Yamane thought was important to pass down to my father Curtis Yamane. I am thankful for my father who has modeled the essence of gaman for me every day because of his family members modeling those things for him.

In the future, I hope to become a school psychologist in an under-resourced community. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I have developed a passion for destigmatizing mental illnesses among children. During my sophomore year, I was able to complete an internship at an elementary school that had a high percentage of low-income students who suffer from one or a combination of psychological disorders. There, I was able to recognize the barriers these students face to receive high quality mental health care due to their family’s socioeconomic status.

This year at Seattle Pacific University, I work as a research assistant investigating the self-regulation skills of toddlers on the autism spectrum and their typically developing peers. I have found it fascinating how the interactions of families with autistic children from a minority background differ from typically developing Caucasian families, based on clinical interviews and the different assessment measures. It is challenging for any parent or guardian to learn how to teach their special needs child the ins and outs of life.  Even more so, for people whose main language is not English or who may be new immigrants.

As a school psychologist, I want to help close the treatment gap between resourced and low-income students in receiving high quality mental health services in the school setting. I am a firm believer that all students have the right to access a high-quality education and should receive all the support in the classroom they deserve. As an Asian American young woman with a disability, I hope to be a role model to all the students I come in contact with. I want to make sure these students know they too can make just as big of an impact as their peers through a spirit of tenacity and courage.