Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II

Washington DC is full of monuments, but this is one that I have only heard about a recently.  The Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II was completed in 2001.  The idea was conceived by the Go for Broke National Veterans Association, which would later be renamed The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.  The organization raised $13 million to construct the monument which honors Japanese Americans who fought for the United States during World War II.

The included picture is Golden Cranes, a bronze sculpture by Nina A. Akamu.  Also on the monument are the names of the Japanese Americans veterans who died fighting for the US in World War II, along with quotes from a number of prominent Japanese Americans.  There was some controversy over a quote from Mike Masaoka, but his quote was retained.

The National Park Service now is in charge of the monument.  The memorial is located at the intersection of New Jersey Ave, Louisiana Ave, and D Street NW.

<photo credit:  Cliff via the Creative Commons License 2.0>

Penguin Classics to Publish Editions of Four Asian American Novels

In honor of Asian American Heritage month, Penguin Books is publishing four Asian American novels in their Penguin Classics imprint. The four books include America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, The Hanging on Union Square by H.T. Tsiang, East Goes West by Younghill Kang, and No-No Boy by John Okada. It’s sad to say that I haven’t read any of them even though America is in the Heart has been on my to read list for decades. I had heard of No-No Boy but not the other two books.

All four were originally published over 60 years ago.  This cover from No-No Boy is from a University of Washington Edition published in 1976, nineteen years after the novel first appeared in 1957.  The classics editions will all have new forwards and afterwards by contemporary writers and are scheduled to be released on May 21.

(photo credit:  Nancy Wong,  licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

PBS: ‘‘An American Story: Norman Mineta’’ Airing on May 20th

Back in May of 2018, I had the great honor of screening the premiere of Norman Mineta & His Legacy: An American Story and meeting Mineta at CAAMFest36.

The documentary is scheduled for national broadcast on PBS on Monday, May 20th at 9:00 PM. Please check your local listing to be sure.

I hope you can catch this important documentary.

Love Boat: Taiwan Documentary Premieres in LA, SF, and Taipei in May 2019!

As I had blogged before, I had attended the “infamous” ‘Love Boat’ back in the summer of 1993 after graduating from college. I think every Taiwanese American has heard of the ‘Love Boat,’ so I am so happy that finally a documentary about the program is finally being release (disclosure: I am a producer, interviewee and provided archival video footage for the documentary).

Love Boat: Taiwan will be premiering in Los Angeles, San Francisco and then Taipei in May 2019:

“San Francisco, CA – April 13th, 2019 Filmmaker Valerie Soe announced today the premiere screenings of LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN at two of North America’s most prestigious Asian American film festivals. Saturday, May 4th at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and Friday, May 17th at CAAMfest (Center for Asian American Media) in San Francisco. It will also screen in competition in late May as the Closing Night film for the Urban Nomad film festival in Taipei, Taiwan’s premier indie film festival.”

The Love Boat has a rich history and many famous alumni have passed through the program over the years including US Congresswoman Judy Chu, buzzfeed’s Justin Tan, and singer Wang Lee Hom. Although it started out in 1967 as a small cultural program, over the years the Love Boat eventually became harder to gain entry into than many colleges. There was no marketing budget and the Love Boat’s popularity stemmed from its word-of-mouth reputation. LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN explores the ways that the government of Taiwan used this unique “soft power” program to promote Taiwan around the world which permanently affected the lives of many Asian Americans.

You can purchase tickets at the links above. There will also be afterparties.

You can check out the film’s website for more updates – http://www.loveboat-taiwan.com/ or join the facebook page  to learn more.

8Books Review: “American Sutra” by Duncan Ryuken Williams

American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War by Duncan Ryuken Williams revisits Japanese American internment through the lens of Buddhism.

Williams begins as World War II breaks out and Japan becomes an enemy of the United States. He examines the Japanese Buddhist communities in Hawaii and the mainland, how Buddhism’s role in the community impacted the decision making around who was interred and in what sequence, how Japanese Christians fared in comparison, how internees found ways to adapt Buddhism for strength and survival, how Japanese Americans fighting in the war petitioned for their own priests and proper death rites, and countless individual stories.

This is an academic book, so it’s not for the faint of heart, nor is it what I would suggest as an introduction to the history of Japanese American internment (if you’re here, reading this, I can only assume that you don’t need such an intro), but what it does offer is a detailed, thoroughly researched, and thought-provoking new angle. Religion offers an important lens, understudied and under acknowledged. Williams offers multiple views on its role, from Buddhism being another way in which Japanese were identified as alien, to its ability to offer solace to a Japanese American soldier being tortured in the Philippines.

And though covering a dark chapter in American history, Williams pitches this as a hopeful saga about American multiplicity, religious freedom, and offers a timely call for inclusion over exclusion.

NYC Theater Review: “The Chinese Lady” by Lloyd Suh

Lloyd Suh’s new play, The Chinese Lady, takes us on a journey with the first Chinese woman to set foot in the United States. Her name was Afong Moy. She arrived in 1835 at the age of 14 and was put on display as “The Chinese Lady.” The cost of admission? 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children. Co-produced by Ma-Yi Theater Company and the Barrington Stage Company, the cast of two–Shannon Tyo and Daniel Isaac–takes the audience on a journey through Afong’s life.

Afong (played by Shannon Tyo), we are told, comes from a well-off family, the youngest of seven, and has bound feet–making her a curiosity to New York audiences. Her family sold her into two years of service with American merchants. We are quickly introduced to Atung (played by Daniel K. Isaac), her translator, who we are told speaks both Chinese and English. Most of the speaking stays with Afong, with occasional interjections from Atung that bring warmth and comedy and humanity to these largely forgotten historic figures.

We follow Afong as she ages, but remains on display, even meeting President Jackson. Her optimism begins to waver, her clothes changes, and still she thinks about relations between the U.S. and China, between her and her audience. Towards the end, the play rapidly casts its audience through Chinese American immigration history via Afong–1882 Exclusion Act, the Geary Act, and on–before jumping to the present. This is an important lineage, but I felt this contemporary jump overly much and a bit didactic.

Still, Suh’s play seeks to dive into and through our constant conversations about identity and cross-cultural understanding and belonging and otherness, all the while weaving in our collective past. And that makes it worthwhile.

The Chinese Lady is playing at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street) through Sunday, November 18. Cost: $30-$42.25. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200; or online at: www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/The-Chinese-Lady/ or through TodayTix at https://www.todaytix.com/x/nyc/shows/12360-the-chinese-lady#noscroll

Photo by Eloy Garcia

Remembering Asian and Pacific Islander Veterans: US Army Profiles

Asian Americans have had a long history with US Armed forces, as we have written about before. I grew up surrounded by Filipino American Navy Veterans and their families, and I lived the Navy Brat lifestyle. When looking for stories about veterans, I found this profile on prominent and historic Asian and American and Pacific Islander Army veterans.  It is notable for acknowledging the long history of Asian American veterans and for having one particularly notable omission.

A description of Senator Daniel Inouye was not surprising – I definitely expected someone from the 442nd regiment to be included.  Also not surprising was the inclusion of Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq War.  I didn’t know about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

The picture above is of that Edward Day Cohota.  Born in China, he fought in the American Civil War.  That surprised me – I didn’t know that there were any Chinese Americans who fought in that war!  He went on to serve in the army for 30 years.  Cohota thought his long years of service would grant him citizenship, but he didn’t get his papers completed before the Chinese Exclusion Act and never became a citizen, a story echoed today of what has happened with some current immigrants in the military.

Conspicuously missing was any mention of Major General Antonio Taguba.  Taguba, as you may recall, was responsible during the Iraq War for compiling a report on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison which was leaked in 2004.  He was asked to retire in 2007.  Lou Sing Kee, a WWI War hero, was not listed. I also learned that he was even mentioned (as Sing Kee) in a Stevie Wonder song called Black Man.

Despite a few omissions, I still think it is a list worth reading (see the other Chinese American who fought in the Civil War).  For other Asian American veteran stories, I suggest checking out Koji Sakai‘s graphic novel 442StoryCorp’s Military Voices project has many moving Veteran stories, such as this one that we that highlighted on a Memorial Day and this one on a past veteran’s day.

8Books Review: “The Chinese Must Go” by Beth Lew-Williams

Beth Lew-Williams’s new history, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America, is a thorough examination of anti-Chinese violence in the West in the 1880s and its relation to U.S. immigration policy.

If the history of American immigration policy, and particularly Chinese exclusion, is new to you, this might not be the best place to start. But for those who are, Lew-Williams adds nuance to our understanding of 1882 and 1888 Chinese exclusion laws and how they shaped and shaped in turn violent expulsions of Chinese in places like Wyoming and Washington. The latter chapters and epilogue delve into how Chinese immigration policy shaped the American conception of aliens as a category.

It’s a dense, yet highly informative read and is notable for drawing the connections between the history of Chinese exclusion and racial violence, and the larger trajectory of citizenship and rights.

8Books Review: “Bury What We Cannot Take” by Kirstin Chen

Bury What We Cannot Take, the latest novel from author Kirstin Chen set in Mao’s China, is a doozy. After 12-year-old Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the Communist Party, the family must flee their little island off the mainland. His mother applies for temporary exit visas to go to Hong Kong where his father lives. But she is told that she can either take Ah Liam or her daughter San San, leaving one behind as proof that they will return.

The impossible decision shakes the family and its members to their core. The novel spins it’s way around this single moment. I had thought this might be the kind of book that spans decades, traversing all the way into some distant future. Instead, it stays rather compact, unraveling in minute details each character’s thoughts, decisions, actions, and internal conflicts. Mother, father, grandmother, son, daughter. One displaced family grappling with this harsh reality and the truth–often ugly, sometimes beautiful–that it reveals in all of them.

At the novel’s heart are questions about the meaning of family–what is real, what is artificial, is family fragile or unbreakable. Bury What We Cannot Take is compellingly written, a fast and entrancing read, but also definitely an emotional doozy.

8Books Review: “Stolen Oranges” by Max Yeh

Stolen Oranges, a new novel by Max Yeh, is a whirlwind of a historical tale, recounting a series of letters written between Miguel Cervantes (of Don Quixote fame) and a Ming emperor as told by their discoverer–a Chinese American historian. I was first drawn to this novel by the back cover description: “this dazzling meditation on the intricacies of memory, language, and time.” And when it showed up at my doorstep, by the small size of the book itself, about the size of my hand.

I hadn’t even opened the book yet. Yeh’s story begins with the Chinese American historian, who is writing a historical book (which is to say that it reads like non-fiction, though it is fiction), introducing the circumstances that led him to discover and then translate a series of letters between Cervantes and Emperor Wanli. It is, in a particular style of history writing, a bit dense at times, but worth meandering through even if one, such as I, lack understanding of nearly all references to Don Quixote. But I found the gems to be in these letters that go back and forth. Both the Emperor and Cervantes’ letters offer ruminations on the promised topics of memory, language, and time in manner that is deeply philosophical, somewhat long-winded, yet mostly accessible.

Take this passage on words and language as an example:

Words are an empty palace we are born into, the halls and corridors to which, nooks and crannies, windows and doorways, were long ago constructed by innumerable and unknown builders and planners and workmen whose unknown and unknowable intentions and meanings are set in stone and wood and whose spaces form our whole lives, while we live so conformed under the illusion that we are ever building the palace the way we want it.

Perhaps out of context it is slightly less legible, but peppered throughout these fictional letters are intriguing nuggets about humanity. Though technically a novel, it is much more akin to a philosophy book, even more so than a history book. This is not what I would call an easy or fast read, but Stolen Oranges is rewarding for those interested in a well-executed deep dive into ideas and theories about language and being.

8Books Review: ‘Thank You Very Mochi’ by Paul Matsushima, Sophie Wang, and Craig Ishii

What’s the book about?

When Kimi and her family visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house for New Year’s mochitsuki, they discover the mochi-machine is broken. After initial fears that mochitsuki will be cancelled, Grandpa proposes an interesting, yet old-fashioned solution of making mochi the hand-pounded way.

What exactly is mochitsuki?

Mochitsuki, or pounding rice to make mochi (rice cakes), is an important traditional event in preparation for the New Year in Japan. (Source)

My Thoughts…

Raising an Asian American kid takes some thought. I want him to be proud of who he is and where his ancestors come from. But in the Japanese American community, that can be a bit tougher than some other ethnicities. During World War II, Japanese Americans were made to choose between being Japanese and being American. Most chose to be American. And the “lesson” the community learned from the experience was to blend in—not to speak Japanese, not to live in Japanese communities, etc. In other words, to be as “American” as possible. Because of that, there has in the past—less now—been a shunning of all things seen as too Japanese in the community.

This is why books like Thank You Very Mochi are important for Japanese American families like mine. It connects our culture and American heritages. It allows us to teach and celebrate who we are and our experiences. And it puts people who look like us in the center of the story… as opposed to one of the faces in a crowd. The first time my five-year-old read the book, he told  me, “they look like us.” (On a side note, this was an interesting comment since we’ve read children’s books before that featured Asian and Japanese Americans before).

In fact, my son was so proud of the book he wanted to bring it to his pre-school. It was during a unit where they were studying traditions. Even though, we as a family don’t have a mochitsuki tradition, he wanted to share it with his friends. His classmates enjoyed the story and even got to taste some yummy mochi from Fugetsudo. The part of the reading that warmed my heart the most though was when we got to the pages that had images from the Japanese American “camps” during World War II. Because my son and I ALWAYS talk about them, he kept wanting to tell his little friends about them too. However, since the kids were only four and five, I didn’t think it was appropriate topic for me to bring up; so I told my son that we shouldn’t discuss this then and there. (It should be noted that if you prefer not to talk about the “camps,” they are not mentioned explicitly. However,  if you do,  there are images that depict “camp” life and can lead to interesting conversations about them.)

I realized I wrote this entire review and haven’t mentioned what I thought of the actual contents. I love the writing and the pictures. And more importantly, my kid loves it too. Get a copy of it right away or as a Christmas present for the Asian/Japanese American kid in your life. 

One last thing, I would like to shout out the folks who put out the book: Kizuna. They are a Japanese American non-profit who are trying to connect culture with the next generation. I think they are an organization worth knowing about. To find out more, go to their website here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

Asian American X-Files: The Only Asian Person to Have Sex With an Alien

Ever since I read Communion by Whitley Strieber, I’ve been fixated on the alien abductee experience. One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of the screen memories of abductees seem to involve Asians. The definition, according to Merriam-Webster, of screen memory is: “a recollection of early childhood that may be falsely recalled or magnified in importance and that masks another memory of deep emotional significance.” When used in context of an alien abduction, many seem to remember seeing an Asian person instead of an alien in their rooms. It is unclear if that’s something their own mind does to mask a traumatic experience or something their abductors put in their heads.

I was hoping to write my next 8Asians article on this phenomenon, but I was having a hard time finding anything. But during this “research” I came across the name Meng Zhaoguo, a Chinese lumberjack who believes he has had sex with an alien.

What fascinates me about Meng, other than the fact that he claims to have had sexual relations with a being not from this world, is that he’s Asian. Why is that unusual? The world of UFOs and aliens—most of the paranormal realm in fact—is very Western. The first UFO sighting—at least in the modern sense of it—was in the late 40s in Roswell, New Mexico and most of the sightings and other related events seem to take place exclusively in the English-speaking world. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been cases that have taken place in other parts of our planet—there have—but they have been much less common.

This is why when I came across Meng Zhaoguo’s story, I was instantly interested. Here’s the quick synopsis of his story:

In 1994, Meng thought he saw a helicopter crash in a remote Northeast corner of China. When he went to investigate, he was knocked out. He woke up back at his place. A few nights later, he was sleeping in bed with his wife and daughter when a nearly ten foot tall, twelve fingered woman with thighs coated with braided hair came to his room, levitated him, and then they engaged in a forty minute love making session.

According to interviews, Meng claimed that he was taken aboard a space ship on numerous occasions after this first encounter. He learned about a human/alien hybrid program and was warned that humans were destroying the Earth.

I was not able to verify this, but many articles claim that Meng successfully passed a lie detector test conducted by the police. In the Wikipedia entry about this case, the UFO Enthusiasts Club at Wuhan University came to the conclusion that the first encounter “may have occurred, the subsequent reported events were almost certainly untrue.”

I won’t pass judgement on whether or not any of this actually happened. But I am suspicious. It is believed that he “received numerous gifts as a result of his abduction, including a Sony television, a cow and, most notably, a job at a Harbin university.” (Source) If someone offered me an expensive TV to say that I had sex with an alien, I’d probably consider it. That’s not true. Buy me a nice dinner and a movie and I’ll say whatever you want me to say. But to be fair to Meng, he’s not the only one in the world who had made this particular claim. This Buzzfeed article highlights six cases of people claiming to have had sex with an alien.

As I looked into the story, one of the things that I found interesting was the attitude of the Chinese government toward the UFO/alien abduction phenomenon. From what I could find, the government’s position on such matters is pretty open:

The PRC once held a very conservative attitude to UFOs and forbid any reports until Reform and Opening Up. “It involved things like location and political factors,” says Wu. “But now we welcome UFOs and aliens and expect we could gain their materials and learn their techniques in order to improve our science. If we discover aliens some day, I hope I could communicate and establish a harmonious relationship with them. People could treat them peacefully.” (Source)

What do you think? Do you think Meng Zhaoguo slept with an alien? Tell me in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter @Ksakai1