Get to know Yuta Naganuma
I recently sat down with the Western Region Engineer for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to discuss how his upbringing in Japan and Iowa have shaped him into the person he is today.
1. How did you find your way to WCI?
I was in waste industry on the public side in Iowa. For various reasons I was looking — it was mostly a culture thing. I had a mutual friend who told me about a Waste Connections opening in the Southern Region. The Southern REM told me they had an internal candidate down there, but told me about the position in Vancouver. We looked into the Portland area and Naoko and I thought it would be cool. Neither of us had been to Portland before the interview. I loved Iowa. There was lots of open space and greasy food, but Naoko — not so much. If it wasn’t for Naoko I don’t think I would ever have moved. But my family — Naoko, Mia, and Kai — is the number one motivation for what I do every day.
2. What brought you to the U.S. from Japan?
In 1991 when I was 15, my parents encouraged me to go see the world. They offered us a chance to go to the U.S. to study. I was a foreign exchange student and was supposed to be here a year. I must’ve liked it and so I decided to stay through High school to graduate. Then that led to college and so I decided to go to Iowa State. If couldn’t be a doctor of medicine, I wanted to be a doctor of the earth. To this day, I think about that and feel like I’m doing good things for the earth and nature.
3. How does your heritage shape who you are?
Fifteen was pretty young to leave home. I was homesick. I missed the food. The language barrier was tough for the first year and even through high school. And talk about culture shock. That was big. When I’d go back to Japan, that felt like home. But then as I started working and was here 10…15…20 years we started a family and had friends and now this feels like home. Now when I go to Japan, I feel like an outsider there. The whole belongingness — I haven’t found the answer and I don’t know if I ever will. I feel like I’m an outsider in Japan but I don’t feel like I’m the same as everyone here.
4. What elements of Japanese culture are important to you?
We keep the holidays a part of our lives. We make traditional New Year’s Japanese food. Osechi — it’s a finger food platter of shrimp, eggs, fish, seaweed that gets left on the table and as family gathers, people can eat it as they’re visiting. The best Japanese food in the area is at Sushi Ki-ichi in Tigard. Food is a big thing for caring about the culture.
5. What can we do at Waste Connections to support the Asian American community?
More Asians in general at WCI. Really, more diversity at Waste Connections in general. People with different backgrounds bring in different ideas. I think we’d have better collaboration and different perspectives with more diversity. I hope I bring that to the team — a little bit of a different perspective.