used to camouflage.
Hoarding her words. Shelving her thoughts. Disguising her dreams. But, luckily, this was only fuel for the fire. Born in Tokyo and raised between Toronto and her native Japan, Aiko Tanaka benefited from a childhood of cultural zigzagging and global awareness.
She split her college years between Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto) and Rutgers University (NJ), where she majored in Social Sciences to learn about media literacy, social justice and race / ethnicity.
Upon graduating from Ritsumeikan University, she moved to NY. Passionate about community organizations and leveraging the arts for social change, she earned a masters in Arts and Cultural Management at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. During her time there, she launched an educational program for a non-profit, where she created curricula and facilitated workshops with international recording artists on issues of immigration and identity. Tanaka brought this program to the United Nations/Global Ministries and World Savvy, as well as Brooklyn high schools.
The seed had been planted.
After Pratt, Tanaka began working in the music industry, handling everything from marketing to event production for a music producer who created “Best of” albums for recording artists and record labels. These mixtapes weren’t only about the music, they were more like audio documentaries. It was then that Tanaka learned how storytelling is one of the most powerful tools for marketing and for connecting people. It was through these experiences and the learning and archiving of so many tales and truths that she realized she wanted to be more deeply involved in the creative process of storytelling.
That’s when I Don’t Camouflage was born.
Tanaka grabbed a camera and became a self-taught master of film and editing. She started interviewing and collaborating with world-renowned artists while establishing I Don't Camouflage, a documentary series and community that highlights the migrations and patterns of creatives who dare to stand out, including Freedom Williams, Steel Pulse, Dead Prez, Pharaohe Monch, Power of WU Tang Clan, Smif N Wessun, Sadat X and Les Nubians.
In the past years, Tanaka has been focused on featuring creatives who immigrated from Japan who are constantly re-inventing their personal-identity in their new home, New York City. Through this documentary series, Tanaka has been able to create a safe space for healing and empowerment, one that promotes cultural literacy while driving out cultural ignorance, where both young people and adults can embrace their authentic selves through storytelling and open dialogue.
Words by Angela Bruno
On June 15th June 21st 2021, Tanaka was honored to be part of National Education Association (NEA)'s Conference on Racial & Social Justice as one of the speakers.
NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States. We bring the expertise, drive, and dedication of 3 million educators and allies to advancing justice and excellence in public education.
To learn more, visit NEA.org