In Their Words: Riri Shibata

June 08, 2017

Name:  Riri Shibata

Department: Environmental Studies and Legal Studies

What award/scholarship did you receive? Terence Freitas Award

What year are you (1st year, 3rd year)? 3rd year

College: Stevenson

Where do you call home? San Diego, CA

With all of the choices for college, what made UC Santa Cruz stand out? When I was in middle school, my older brother’s friend shared pictures of UC Santa Cruz after he came back home for Thanksgiving during his first year. Ever since then, I was astonished by the unique college campus and its beautiful location. In addition to the distinct environment, UC Santa Cruz’s strong foundation of kind, intelligent, and progressive students and faculty distinguishes itself from other institutions.

What is your field of focus? East Asian studies, environmental studies, legal studies, international law, political ecology, and food studies.

What do you hope to do once you graduate from UC Santa Cruz? Through the research skills that I developed over the course of my participation in independent student research, I hope to pursue higher levels of education in my field of interest, so that I can to conduct further studies.

What is one memorable moment that stands out for you as a student here? My favorite moments as a student exist not in the large events, but in the smallest moments I have shared with friends and faculty. I cherish the times spent with my fellow classmates, exchanging encouragement during dead week, studying together late at night, and sharing stories by a campfire. I also treasure the opportunities that I have had while interacting with incredible faculty and distinguished researchers, such as Dr. Flora Lu, Dr. Nancy Chen, and Dr. Alan Christy.

How will this scholarship impact your academic life/research?

Born in Japan but brought to the United States at a young age, I am what is called “Generation 1.5,” someone between two cultures, a hybrid identity. Living apart from Japan, it is easy to experience cultural dissonance. However, despite the separation I have with daily Japanese experiences, through food the distance disappears. Through my education at UCSC, I appreciate how agriculture and food systems are a critical way in which humans sustain the spaces around them; it not only nourishes us, but brings up memories, feelings of belonging, and emotional ties.

Although I was not born in Okinawa, I am riveted to try to better understand how U.S. militarization effects traditional food practices. It is a form of change that might seem subtle, but I know otherwise. For one 87-year-old Okinawan woman I know, food practices entail walking 2 miles to her farm, stopping en route multiple times to socialize, and provisioning herself with fresh, healthy produce to make traditional dishes, all the while feeling connected to the soil, the plants, and life around her. It has become increasingly difficult to practice traditional Okinawan culture; however, especially with older Okinawans, food practice has helped maintain and pass on Okinawan identity.

I will bring my research results back to the UCSC community, because I know that for many of us here, U.S. militarization in Japan is perceived as something historical, not contemporary (e.g., President Obama’s recent visit to Hiroshima). Many do not understand that the occupation of the U.S. still encroaches on the culture and sacred traditions of the Okinawan people today. The Terence Freitas Award opportunity will allow me to understand and share the ongoing impacts of the U.S. military, and by doing so, undertake work that I feel is meaningful and resonant with my Japanese heritage.