“In six hours I felt more connected to her than I ever had in my whole life.”
Kellyn Acosta wasn’t sure what he’d gotten himself into. The LAFC and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder was surrounded by a camera crew at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Little Toyko. Two places he didn’t know existed until that day.
Along with the camera crew, JAMN docent Mas Yamashita, and members of the LAFC staff, Acosta was spending the day with his father and grandmother, both born and raised in Japan. The subsequent feature released from that day on LAFC.com to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Hertiage Month and the article penned by Acosta for the Players’ Tribune, from which the quote at the top of this story appears, had Acosta thinking differently about his identity.
“I was definitely excited. A little bit skeptical, thinking what am I going to get myself into? Because I wasn’t sure of what was going to happen. I didn’t even know Little Tokyo was a thing,” Acosta said when asked what his initial thoughts were going into the day. “I wasn’t familiar with AAPI Month either, as well. It was something that people in Texas didn’t celebrate as much. Being able to go to the museum was a bunch of mixed emotions. But it was a special moment to share with my dad and grandma as well. If anything, I knew that it was going to be exciting. Maybe a little overwhelming because I didn’t know how my grandma was going to react. I didn’t know if I was going to see some tears that day or what was going to happen. But it was definitely exciting.”
As Acosta put it, growing up in Plano, Texas, his family was “Americanized.” It wasn’t that Acosta was unaware of his Japanese heritage – his memories of visiting his grandmother’s house as a kid are of her speaking Japanese on the phone, Japanese-language news on the television, and, of course, the food – it was simply a part of everyday life. He lived it. There was no need to think on the matter any further.
But as he walked among the exhibits in the museum that day and was surrounded by Japanese culture in Little Tokyo, Acosta and his family talked about their shared heritage more than ever before.
“It was a different experience than anything I’d ever had. It was kind of just reliving the past,” Acosta said of the entire day. “My grandma told me probably a million stories about different experiences and things she remembers. My dad as well. I mean, my dad lived [in Japan] 40 years ago. He was telling me things that he remembers. And it was just crazy. Usually, our time is at a dinner table, and to have something that’s different, it hits harder when you can share that special moment.”
Acosta noticed a change in himself as well. As he looked at pictures from his family’s day at the JANM and Little Tokyo, he found the words he didn’t have that day.
“It didn’t hit me until a few days later. This is the history of what my people had to endure. Sometimes you just can’t put into words really.
“It truly is who I am.”