Kai Katayama’s Uniquely American Story

Sometimes we get a submission that totally blows our socks off. It’s unusual, though, that it comes from a fourth grader.

This spring, Kai Yong-June Katayama sent us his own Ted Talk, entitled “My Uniquely American Story.” He writes movingly about his Korean and Japanese heritage — and what it has felt like to see Asians and Asian Americans unjustly blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. He pairs this with images of his ancestors, including his great uncle, Kazuo Katayama, who served in the 442nd regimental combat team, a segregated Japanese American unit who fought in World War II.

We are delighted to include a recording of Kai performing his story in Our Stories, Ourselves, our Third Thursday show held in partnership with the San Jose Museum of Art, on June 17.

Kai lives in Northern Colorado with his mom, dad, and aunt. He enjoys playing MineCraft, Roblox, skateboarding, and creating science videos, such as his submission to the Poudre School District Science Fair and his performance of “You’ll Be Back” from the Hamilton soundtrack.

He looks forward to playing with his friends in person someday.

Kai was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself in advance of our show.

How did you hear about Play On Words?

My aunt is a writer and a supporter of Play on Words. She saw the call for submissions and said that I should submit my Ted Talk to the show. 

How has your creative practice changed during the pandemic?

I don’t usually like to sing and dance or give speeches in front of people, but I like to share with my class on zoom and I like to record my presentations. Recording is better, because I can go back and fix things with the power of editing! Using technology tools like zoom and video recordings has helped me to express myself without any fear.

What does “immigrant heritage” mean to you?

I’m not sure. Maybe it means where you came from. I was born in California. My mom and my Halmoni and Haraboji (grandmother and grandfather in Korean) were born in Korea, but my dad and my grandma were born in Colorado. My dad is Japanese American and my mom is Korean, so that means I have Japanese and Korean heritage.

What else should we know about you?

I’m going to a parkour camp this summer. I hope you will subscribe to my YouTube Channel, Science Kai!

How awesome is this kid. Join us on June 17 to see him perform his story!

c’mon … how could you not subscribe to kai’s youtube channel?

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