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Strengthening the U.S. – Japan relationship by engaging the next generation of American leaders

The United States-Japan relationship is one of incredible strength and promise. Strength to do wonderful things: to promote democracy, to protect human rights, and to ensure security for ourselves and for our allies around the world. One of my primary goals as founding Co-Chair of the bipartisan U.S.-Japan Caucus in Congress is to foster greater understanding and closer ties between our two nations. The more robust our partnership, the more each of our countries can not only benefit economically but also contribute to a safer Asia-Pacific region.
To sustain and grow the U.S.-Japan relationship in the long-term, we must engage the next generation of leaders in each of our countries. That means laying the groundwork for future collaboration between our students and young professionals, especially with segments of U.S. populations poised to grow in size and influence in the coming years. One such group here in the United States is Latinos. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of Latino elected officials in the United States jumped from 4,853 to 6,100 – a 25 percent increase. That number will continue to rise, as the Census Bureau estimates that by 2060, Latinos will comprise nearly 30 percent of our nation’s population. The median age of America’s 35 million U.S.-born Latinos is just 19 years, and nearly half of all Latino voters in this year’s presidential election are millennials. These young people are a significant demographic in our nation, and as they continue to find their voice and wield their influence, we’ll only see more Latinos in elected office, in boardrooms, and in other positions of power.  
{mosads}Recently, I hosted Japan’s Ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae in my hometown, San Antonio, Texas – a city with a population that’s 63 percent Latino. While in San Antonio, Ambassador Sasae and I visited my former middle school and met with students taking Japanese courses there. The class we spoke with was predominantly Latino and engaged with the Ambassador in Japanese.  Ambassador Sasae encouraged them to continue their Japanese language studies and emphasized the role they could play in furthering our nations’ partnership.
Just a few weeks after that touching visit, I joined Ambassador Sasae at a send-off reception he hosted for a group of 25 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) fellows, alumni, and staff on the eve of their departure on a cultural exchange program to Japan. The CHCI group’s trip was made possible through the government of Japan’s aptly-named KAKEHASHI Project. “Kakehashi” in Japanese means “to bridge,” and the project promotes mutual trust and understanding among the people of Japan and the United States.
During their time in Japan, the young Latino leaders met with members of the National Diet of Japan (Japan’s legislature) and spoke with government officials about Japan’s domestic and international policy priorities including energy, infrastructure, technology, childcare, and women’s issues. Spending time with host families reinforced to the group that although there are many differences between American and Japanese societies, both cultures share many of the same values and aspirations.
It’s clear that the government and business leaders in Japan have made a conscious investment to connect with America’s young Latino community to build upon the close alliance shared between our nations and foster even stronger ties in the years ahead.  It’s important that America’s young Latino community embrace that strategic partnership, build upon our friendship, and further develop a sense of shared obligation to the values we have in common.
This kind of engagement deserves our attention as we navigate a time of tumult in our world. Strengthening the bonds between critical allies and cultivating the next generation of leaders grows more important each day as we tackle the challenges of the future.  By investing in the diverse array of tomorrow’s leaders, Japan and the United States invest in our mutual security and prosperity. By building bridges between our nations– not walls – we build a stronger future for the world.

Rep. Castro represents Texas’ 20th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he serves on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. He is a founding Co-Chair of the U.S.-Japan Caucus and a member of the CHCI board of directors.


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