Chika Takai: I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream
Be open-minded. You can’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. Success requires taking risks, accepting new challenges, and doing things you never thought you could or necessarily want to do.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chika Takai.
Chika Takai is a sought-after international DJ who performs in many high-profile forums, including at NBA games as an official DJ for the Atlanta Hawks, and at corporate and community events in the U.S. and Japan. Takai moved from her native Japan to Atlanta, GA in 2014 to pursue an entertainment career without knowing the English language or having any family or friends in the U.S. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., she made the Atlanta Hawks dance team, ultimately dancing for six seasons and becoming Team Captain before moving into a DJ position with the team. It is important to Takai to give back to others, which is why she founded The Study Abroad Foundation of the Arts (SAFA), a nonprofit organization that was formed to create professionally, academically and culturally enriching study abroad experiences for those in various industries including the arts.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a typical Japanese household right outside of Tokyo, Japan. Although visiting often, my father lived in China on assignment for most of my childhood and my mother was, for the most part, my primary caregiver. Most of my time it was just my mother and me — the “dynamic duo”!
I grew up a very outgoing and sociable teen where dance and music were my everything. My routine was simple…school, dance, music and repeat. There was no doubt in my parents’ minds the direction that my life was going to take. I grew with unwavering support from my family to do what I was passionate about…what I love to do. I think they would have preferred if I could have done it in Japan, but they are nonetheless happy with where I am.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
I dreamed about this for years. In Japan, we see the U.S. as the major influencer and in many cases the originator in the world of music and entertainment. If I truly wanted to test my limits and grow and challenge myself, I knew I had to come to the U.S. When I saw my first concert with American artists in Japan, I knew I had to make my dream a reality. If I ever wanted to excel as an entertainer, I felt I had to go to the U.S. I literally started saving money the next day. I finally gained enough nerve to mention my intentions to my family and to my surprise I had total unwavering support. Then I knew I was on my way.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I moved directly from Tokyo to Atlanta, Georgia. Was it difficult? Was there nervousness? Absolutely! Especially moving here with no U.S. experience, not knowing anyone or the language! Even with years of planning and preparing to come to the U.S., there were still so many unknown factors and still so much to learn. Reading about it and experiencing it are two different things. The unpredictable human element adds a dimension that you can’t truly prepare for.
Another important part of the experience is where you move. Atlanta made that transition a little easier. The human element ended up being a positive factor for me. The southern hospitality displayed by the people of Atlanta made my transition easier. A smile took the place of words and in many cases it was all I needed.
About a year after I moved here, I joined the Atlanta Hawks as a dancer, and the team became my adopted family. Having someone who believed in me and my talents was tremendous in growing my confidence, although I hadn’t mastered the language.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I met my husband the same week I moved to Atlanta and the timing couldn’t have been any better. From day one, he has been my translator, tutor, and anything else I have ever needed. Most importantly, he has been my compass as I have navigated everything from career decisions to cultural understandings to how to get a driver license to obtaining car insurance. What was so amazing was that my husband can’t speak Japanese, but even with my broken, incomprehensible English, he understood me.
So how are things going today?
I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. I couldn’t have dreamed of being where I am now. Everything is on track and heading in a promising direction — family and career. I am overjoyed that I am happily married and I have had some great career wins. I have become an official DJ for the Atlanta Hawks, their first female DJ, and I am working with some outstanding clients such as Porsche, Dillard’s and Hines.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I know first-hand how difficult it can be to chase your dreams in a different country without truly knowing the language and culture. To that end, I founded The Study Abroad Foundation of the Arts (SAFA), a nonprofit organization that was formed to create professionally, academically, and culturally enriching study abroad experiences for people in art-focused industries. SAFA helps make the road a little easier through an English and cultural literacy curriculum and study abroad experiences.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
There are quite a few things that I feel could make the transition easier for those coming to the U.S. but here are the few that are at the top of my list:
1. Develop an employment-based immigration system across all industries.
2. Require community volunteerism as a part of the immigration process.
3. Those that successfully become legalized citizens through the process should be required to mentor one other person that comes from their country.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Learn the English language — To take advantage of all the opportunities here in the U.S., communication is key. You can be extremely talented, but you can’t book yourself!
2. Visit other parts of the U.S. to understand different regions and cultures — The U.S. is truly a melting pot of so many different types of people and regions. All these regions have different likes and dislikes. You must truly explore America to understand America and learn about all the different aspects of life that exist.
3. Don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer — It was truly a difficult decision coming to Atlanta because looking at the entertainment landscape while in Japan, I didn’t really see anyone that looked like me…an Asian female. It was male dominated here in Atlanta. I knew LA and NY may be easier and more diverse, but I decided to follow my heart and if I had to pave a new road in Atlanta as the underdog, that is what I wanted to do.
4. Stay in a constant state of learning. In a country with so many talented individuals, competition is inevitable, and success must be earned. You must go above and beyond to constantly create or search for opportunities to learn and create new experiences.
5. Be open-minded. You can’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. Success requires taking risks, accepting new challenges, and doing things you never thought you could or necessarily want to do.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. Entrepreneurism is still the cornerstone of the U.S. and entrepreneurism equals innovation.
2. There are so many talented individuals in the U.S. This is the place in the world where the brightest and most talented people come and want to come.
3. The U.S. has a fast-growing diverse population which has and will continue to breed innovation and creative thought.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Michelle Obama. She is a shining example of success and exemplifies everything that it takes to be successful in my industry — an extremely talented individual with poise, strength, and confidence. Most importantly, she understands the value of family and the value of being unapologetically herself.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!