If Daisy Staniszkis ever needs a reminder of the power of cross-cultural cooperation, she need look no further than her own name. Her parents christened her Kazuko (Japanese for “peace child”) when she was born in Hiroshima two years after the bombing — but she was dubbed Daisy by an American soldier who saved her life by bringing her formula and clothing during that period of intense hardship for her people. When her family moved to Norfolk, Va., in 1960, “Daisy” was a lot easier for her teachers and classmates to manage than her birthname. And to most people, that’s who she’s been ever since.
As she recalls, it was quite a culture shock to arrive in Norfolk, particularly as she had grown up amid the metropolitan bustle of Tokyo. Not only was her new home less cosmopolitan, but it was also extremely segregated, with a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment.
“When I rode a public bus, I didn’t know what portion of the bus I should sit in,” she says. “When the family was ready to buy a house, we didn’t know which neighborhood would be appropriate.”
But she persevered, eventually becoming a college graduate and marrying a man who had been born in Warsaw to similar circumstances as the ones she had known as a child. For three years, they lived in Hawaii (where her parents had actually been born); in 1980, they arrived in Orlando, and she found her calling in the public sector. Making good use of her master’s degree in urban studies, she worked as Assistant Director of the Downtown Development Board from 1982 to 2005. She currently serves as a trustee on the board of the Orlando Museum of Art (which is exploring the possibility of moving downtown in the future).
“I’m like a downtown junkie,” she says, summarizing her lifelong comfort level with urban environments and her perpetual boosterism of Orlando’s central core in particular. It’s an area she’s seen grow and evolve significantly during her time here — which pleases her both as an expert in the field and a resident of that part of town since 1985.
“I’m very proud of the way that the downtown Orlando area is very culturally diversified,” she says. “It’s a mix of all different kinds of people coming together, and to me that’s what a city is all about. It’s sharing different values and cultures among other people.”