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Junko Featherson, an upcoming graduate in the UNM journalism department, poses in front of the Communications & Journalism building. 

UNM graduate celebrates culture through journalism

 “The biggest thing about being a journalist is staying true to who you are,” Junko Featherston, a graduating senior in the communications & journalism department, said.

Featherston will graduate from the University of New Mexico with a 4.2 GPA and a degree in multimedia journalism with a minor in Japanese. While in school she interned at New Mexico PBS, for producer Lou DiVizio.

She said her time in the communications & journalism department has allowed her to learn and connect with her Okinawan culture after she had previously identified as half-Japanese.

“In reality, I'm half Okinawan, which is the southernmost island of Japan. And, the Okinawan people, they're a completely different race of people, ethnically. They have their own language, they have their own religion, it's its own place,” Featherston said. “And I didn't realize the importance of that until I started researching my own culture through the C&J department.”

Her recent travels have also allowed her to further connect with her identity. On a trip to Hawaii, she began to have conversations, with Japanese people residing there, about Okinawan culture and history. This past January, Featherston traveled to the Ryukyu Islands.

On her trip, she got Hajichi tattoos, which are traditionally worn and done by Okinawan women, including Featherston’s grandmother and great-grandmother. When Japan invaded the Ryukyu Islands, the practice was banned. Many Okinawan people were killed by Japan and the United States, during World War II, in Japan's effort to erase the Ryukyuan identity, and force assimilation. 

“One of the biggest lessons I learned was connecting with my culture and being able to proudly and confidently say what my culture is all about,” Featherston said.

In the C&J department, she wrote and filmed a story about Okinawan dance. In her work, she talks about her experience as she practiced the traditional Yotsutake dance for the first time and spoke with the Okinawa, Kenjinkai studio owner and other Okinawans in the state about keeping their culture alive through dance.

“I did the Yotsutake dance, which is basically one of the most traditional Okinawan dances. I was able to talk with the leader at the Okinawa, Kenjinkai here in New Mexico and I didn't even know we had a group of Okinawan people here in New Mexico. So, just being able to do that as a class project really opened my eyes to what's out there,” Featherston said.

Learning about her Okinawan indigeneity, Featherston said, has also translated to reporting she has done on indigenous communities in New Mexico, providing her perspective and understanding.

“They have their own land. Indigenous people are on their land. That's their land, and then Americans came and colonized. And that's how it is with Japan, to Okinawa,” Featherston said. “Finding that sympathy and being able to put that in my reporting and making sure that people are accurately identifying what they need to be identifying as, and just being proud of your own culture and being proud of where you come from.”

She first delved into journalism when she joined “Generation: Justice,” a program for New Mexico students to produce a weekly broadcast show on KUNM, a public radio station. Along with the C&J department and working for PBS, Featherston said she has found community and support in journalism.

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“I've been writing scripts for “New Mexico in Focus,” “¡Colores!” and “Our Land.” And it's amazing to see these professionals around me help me with my writing, and it's good to have also that sense of community,” Featherston said.

Kana Featherston, Junko Featherstons’ sister, said that watching her has been inspiring and taught her a lot about her own identity.

“She's just really intelligent … and she's really brought a lot of light to showing us the indigenous side of the Okinawan people, which we didn't know too much about until Junko started learning about it. So, she just has so much endless knowledge about Japanese culture and Okinawan culture,” Kana Featherston said. “You'll definitely learn something new from Junko if you were to even just have five minutes of conversation with her.”

Junko Featherston said that her family has been a big support for her during her time at UNM, especially her mother who she traveled to Okinawa with “just seeing her happy and seeing her be proud of me makes me want to excel even further,” she said.

“You find the truth and then you seek the truth,” Junko Featherston said. “ I feel like that's the goal for a lot of young journalists right now, is to be able to deliver that truth in your own personal truth. For me, the C&J department has been a way for me to connect with my culture.”

Maddie Pukite is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at on Twitter @maddogpukite 

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