TAMPA — Just days after being honored by the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council, Masatoshi Charles Mochizuki stood before the Hillsborough County legislative delegation to express his displeasure with SB 136, a proposed state bill similar to Arizona's controversial immigration law.
It didn't matter that he had to wait his turn among nearly 60 people, because Mochizuki drew a distinct message from the honor he received last week.
"In a lot of ways, it means there are higher expectations," said Mochizuki, 24. "My first thought was, 'Why me?' My next thought was 'I have to step my game up.' "
The heightened sense of responsibility comes as no surprise when you consider the council's list of honorees included some of the city's most notable citizens, including Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Head Start pioneer Delia Sanchez and the late Rev. Abraham Brown.
So Mochizuki didn't hesitate to go before the delegation Tuesday, but he has already achieved enough to make him the council's youth award winner.
With Community Tampa Bay, he played a significant role in the nonprofit's Anytown program that promotes youth leadership and diversity awareness. It helped that he first learned about the program as a participant years ago.
He has also worked for Democracia Ahora (Democracy For Now) in Hispanic outreach and volunteered for FairTrade, a foundation that strives to help workers in produce-related industries.
Now Mochizuki teaches a class to sixth-grade boys for the Ophelia Project/Boys Initiative about self-esteem and learning how to find resolutions.
Jessica Estevez, program director for Community Tampa Bay, calls Mochizuki an "advocate for social change."
Mochizuki seems to just be getting started. In the coming year, he hopes to become more involved in immigration issues impacting Hispanics and Arab-Americans.
Half Japanese and half European, he senses a connection with all immigrants.
"The way I see myself, I am an immigrant," said Mochizuki, who was born in Japan and spent his first seven years there. "I want to raise awareness that we're not only a world experiencing globalization, but what is that exchange.
"Borders are not something to divide us, they are something to be negotiated."
Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813-226-3406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.