USC to Apologize (Finally) for WWII Actions That Derailed the Education of Japanese American Students

Image courtesy of USC.

During World War II, over 127,000 Japanese Americans were interned and their lives turned upside down.  This number includes some University of Southern California (USC) students, who were treated shockingly poorly by USC, especially in contrast to other West Coast universities and colleges like UC Berkeley and Occidental College which tried to place their Japanese American students at other colleges across the country:

“Then-USC President Rufus B. von KleinSmid — now disgraced for his legacy of eugenics support, antisemitism and racism — and other campus officials refused to release transcripts of Japanese American students so they could study elsewhere. When some students tried to reenroll after the war, USC would not honor their previous coursework and said they would have to start over, according to their surviving family members.

Nearly 80 years later, USC is reversing course. President Carol Folt will publicly apologize to the former Japanese American students on behalf of the university and award them honorary degrees posthumously. The university is asking the public for help locating the families of about 120 students who attended USC during the 1941-42 academic year.

The decision comes nearly 15 years after Japanese American alumni first demanded their alma mater atone for its past behavior.

“This is a stained part of our history,” said Patrick Auerbach, USC associate senior vice president for alumni relations. “While we can’t change what happened in the past … the university can certainly still do right by their families and let them know that we are posthumously awarding them honorary degrees so that they can occupy that place in the Trojan family, which they deserve.””

It is particularly disturbing to think that this decision took almost 15 years after the issue was brought up. I guess USC has a lot of issues to clean up, including its Varsity Blues admissions scandal – so many that it has the unfortunate honor of being the most scandal-plagued campus in America.

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Celebrating the Contributions of Filipino American Sailors

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Mark Logico/Released).

Before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, a major path to the US for Filipino Immigrants was through the US Navy.  My father came to the US that way, as well as tens of thousands of other Filipinos.  As the years have passed, many of my father’s fellow Navy men have died, but I am happy that there are a number of commemorations of the history and the contributions of those Filipino American Sailors.

Telesforo Trinidad

Telesforo Trinidad

First, some history on how Filipino nationals could directly join the US Military.  In 1901, President William McKinley signed an order allowing the US Navy to enlist 500 Filipinos as part of the US Navy. Sailor Telesforo Trinidad, who won the US Medal of Honor in 1915 for his actions, was one. After Philippine independence in 1946, that path into the US Navy was closed, but would open a year later as the treaty that allowed the US to have bases in the Philippines (e.g. Subic bay base in Olongapo and Clark Air Force base in Pampanga) allowed 1000 Filipino nationals per year to be recruited into the US Navy. Between 1952 and 1992, more than 35,000 Filipinos joined the U.S. Navy.

During the first half of the 20th century, most Filipinos were assigned the role of Steward. Stewards would have duties such being cooks, waiters, and cabin boys – personal attendants to Naval officers. The Senator John McCain was famous for standing up to an upper classman at the Naval Academy who was abusing a Filipino Steward. As late as 1970, the vast majority of stewards in the US Navy were Filipino, and in 1971 Filipinos stopped recruiting Filipinos exclusively as Stewards. My godfather spent his entire career (decades) as an admiral’s steward. My father also started out in the Navy serving an admiral. Fortunately for him, the previous racial limitations were changing. He asked the admiral if he could be assigned to a different job, who graciously had him assigned to a non-Steward post.

The contributions of Filipino American Sailors are being honored in a number of places around the country, some as part of Filipino American History Month and in other places, more permanently.  The USS Hornet museum in Alameda is commemorating the role that Filipinos played in the Navy during Filipino American history month. Virginia Beach is building a historical marker to remember Filipino Sailors. There has been a push to have a new Navy ship named after Medal of Honor Telesforo Trinidad.

October is officially Filipino American History Month.  To commemorate it, I will be posting a number of articles about Filipino American History this month.

 

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8mm Film Review: “Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres”

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres
Ben Fong-Torres, Annie Liebovitz, and Cameron Crowe. Written, directed, and produced by Suzanne Joe Kai.

“Ben was in the middle of this revolution from the get-go and it all came together in the music.” David Felton, writer, The Rolling Stone

Photo credit: Louis de la Torre

How does it feel to be on your own?

The Rolling Stone was once an important counter-culture magazine covering music, culture, and politics. Based in San Francisco, it showed up at Big Brother and the Holding Company concerts as well as at Berkeley marches, covering it all with a middle finger pointed right at the establishment.

From the publication’s beginning, Ben Fong-Torres was right in the middle of it. The son of immigrant restaurant workers in Chinatown had edited his high school and college papers. His serious approach to music, reporting, and the craft of writing was the early, important asset the magazine needed in connecting artists with their audience.

Photo courtesy of StudioLA

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres traces the life and career of the esteemed music journalist, with input from such rock and roll royalty as Bob Weir (of the Grateful Dead), Ray Manzarek (of the Doors), Steve Martin, Elton John, and Carlos Santana, plus photographer Annie Liebovitz and writer-filmmaker Cameron Crowe.

I’ve finally found my future lies beyond the yellow brick road

With apparently complete access to Fong-Torres and his associates, writer-director-producer Suzanne Joe Kai deftly balances a close examination of a career with the story of a man whose hyphenated last name, he explains, came from the identifying papers his father acquired in order to gain entry to the United States. It had been a bit easier for a Filipino man to get into the country than for a Chinese man.

If you love the music of the 60s and 70s, you will be fascinated by this story. Yet even if you don’t, you’ll appreciate the way music bridges one Chinese American with the people and politics of his country.

Photo courtesy of StudioLA

For a short time while he was a teen, Fong-Torres moved with his family to Amarillo, Texas, where he was the only Asian kid in school. “My classmates in Texas invited me to join them for root beer floats after school and to listen to rock and roll and R&B on the jukebox,” he says. “Inside that jukebox there were no racial borders, no segregation. Rock and roll was an equalizer, and for me it was more than a way to have fun or feel like part of the crowd. It was a way for me to feel Americanized.”

Weir highlights the connection, saying, “When he was first starting out with the Rolling Stone, we were the punk of our generation, and we hung together, so if Ben was writing something, I was inclined to go with it just ‘cause he was coming from where we were coming from.”

Fong-Torres’s assistant at the Rolling Stone says, “The (Jefferson) Airplane, the Grateful Dead absolutely would not talk to anyone but Ben.”

Lately, it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been

Photo courtesy of StudioLA

In the production of a movie, I don’t know how music and film rights work, but I suspect they’re tricky, and they are the details punching this movie right into you. There are photos from every part of Fong-Torres’s life, and while the Ken Burns effect gets a little wearisome, when it works, it works well. Gathering all this material must have been a monster of a task, but its inclusion is the diligence due a journalist’s bio, and I love it.

I specifically point to moments spread throughout the film where Fong-Torres reads his own work, in voice-over, while the camera shows us the words as they appeared 50 years ago on the pages of the Rolling Stone. It’s a brilliant decision, perhaps the filmmaker’s best.

My quibbles are small. In addition to excessive Ken Burns effect, the last 11 minutes of this thing take too long to bring us home. I see what’s going on, but it feels as if the movie ends three times. At two hours in length, it’s already pushing this old man to his limits. Yet I’m willing to look the other way because the transition between the final scene and the end credits, with a great song to carry it out, really does the film justice.

My rating: 81 out of 100. Very good.

 * * *

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres screens Sunday and Monday as part of the 44th Mill Valley Film Festival:

  • Sunday, Oct 10, 5:00 p.m., CinéArts Sequoia
  • Monday, Oct 11, 2:00 p.m., Smith Rafael Film Center

We’ll be joined by director Suzanne Joe Kai and subject Ben Fong-Torres in person for onstage conversations at both screenings.

Live music event with Ben Fong-Torres at Sweetwater Music Hall, Sunday, October 10.

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8Asians Exclusive: Interview with Andrew Yang, ‘Forward’ book & Tour, Launches The Forward ‘Party’

I first met former presidential candidate Andrew Yang in July 2018 and interviewed him in August 2018 (which was published in September 2018). I recently had a chance to interview him again a few weeks ago (though I have seen him and followed him closely since first meeting him). Most recently, Yang ran for Mayor of New York City, but did not make it through the primary. But since Yang left the presidential race, he started writing his third book, which is officially released today, Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy:

which I had a chance to read an early copy. In the interview above, I sat down with Yang to catch up and learn more about his book and the Forward Party when he was in the San Francisco Bay Area for the Asian American Forward Leadership Summit 2021 as well as Basic Income March in Mountain View.

The book ‘Forward’ is divided into three different sections: an accounting what happened on the presidential campaign trail, then examining the institutional failures in the U.S. (such as the CDC’s initial failure to Covid-19, wealth disparity, the decline of local journalism, political gridlock, etc.) and finally ideas as to how to address them through structural change.

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San Jose Approves Resolution & Apologizes for 1887 Chinatown Destruction and Decades of Discrimination

Although I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1999, I did not know much about the history of Chinese Americans in the area beyond the Chinese Exclusion Act. I was surprised to hear that back in May, that the city of Antioch apologized for its past actions against the Chinese:

“A California city has apologized for its treatment of Chinese immigrants who came to the city during the state’s gold rush, atoning for its past as a “sundown town” where the Chinese were barred from the streets after dark.

During a special meeting this week, the Antioch City Council unanimously adopted the resolution to issue a formal apology to early Chinese immigrants.

At the news conference, on April 14 at Waldie Plaza, the site of a former Chinatown that was burned by a mob in 1876, Mr. Thorpe signed a proclamation condemning hate against Asians and Pacific Islanders.”

Last week, I was also surprised to learn what happened to the Chinese and Chinatown in San Jose in 1887, now the 10th largest city in the U.S.:

“San Jose, with a population over 1 million, is the largest city in the country to formally apologize to the Chinese community for its treatment of their ancestors. … California, too, apologized in 2009 to Chinese workers and Congress has apologized for the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was approved in 1882 and made Chinese residents the targets of the nation’s first law limiting immigration based on race or nationality

The city had five Chinatowns but the largest one was built in 1872. Fifteen years later, the city council declared it a public nuisance and unanimously approved an order to remove it to make way for a new City Hall. Before officials acted, the thriving Chinatown was burned down by arsonists, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and displacing about 1,400 people, according to the resolution.

The Chinese started coming to California in large numbers during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. They worked in mines, built the transcontinental railroad, toiled in farms and helped develop the abalone and shrimp industries. By 1870, there were about 63,000 Chinese in the United States, 77% of them residing in California, according to the resolution.

Chinese immigrants faced racism and were forced out of towns. They were denied the right to own property, marry white people and attend public schools. They also were subjected to violence and intimidation and denied equal protection by the courts.

In San Jose, an episcopal church where Chinese immigrants attended Sunday school was burned to the ground, Chinese laundries were condemned based on being housed in wooden buildings and the first state convention of the Anti-Chinese League was held there in 1886, according to the resolution.”

And the last remains of a Chinatown in San Jose were destroyed back in 1949:

“In 1949, the city demolished the Ng Shing Gung Temple, the last vestige of the city’s Heinlenville Chinatown, over the objections of historians and Chinese American residents. The Chinese Historical and Cultural Project built a replica of the temple, with exhibits about Chinese American history in the Santa Clara Valley, and gave it to the city in 1991 as a token of friendship and forgiveness.”

The resolution passed Tuesday evening, with a one hour public event on Wednesday, which I was able to attend. I wasn’t surprised by the turnout, given that San Jose is over 30+% Asian, with a lot of Chinese and Chinese Americans living in the area.

The speakers at the event were:

  • Councilmember Raul Peralez, District 3, San Jose
  • Mayor Sam Liccardo, City of San Jose
  • Connie Young Yu, a historian and author of “Chinatown, San Jose, USA,” and descendant of residents of the Market and San Fernando Street Chinatown
  • Gerrye Wong, co-founder, Chinese Historical and Cultural Project (CHCP)
  • Otto Lee, County of Santa Clara Board Supervisor
  • Evan Low, California State Assemblymember

with Mayor Liccardo reading the resolution (PDF) – the first time he’s ever read a resolution in full in public (they are usually very long …)

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Jeopardy shows that Asian Americans have a Ways to go to be Widely Recognized

When I saw this category on Jeopardy last Friday, September 24, 2021, I was excited that Asian Americans would be the focus of a category on a popular nationally televised US TV show.  Given the perpertual foreigner stereotype and the fact that some 42% of Americans can’t even name a prominent Asian American, exposure would be great, right?  One answer in particular left anything but thrilled.  With the $1600 clue being

“She won Olympic gold in 1992 & in 1998 was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame”

one contestant answered “Tara Lipinski.”  Tara Lipinski is Asian American?  Okay, under pressure, someone might just guess an Olympic Skating champion.  Tara Lipinski won the Olympic title in 1998 and people often forget the category (I often do when I try to play along), so that may be understandable.

What was worse was the fact that neither of the other two contestants, including million dollar winner Matt Amodio, knew the correct person, which is Kristi Yamaguchi.  One of them guessed Michelle Kwan, which I suppose is a reasonable guess.  Kwan got the silver behind Tara Lipinski in 1998 and is definitely Asian American.  It’s not like Kristi Yamaguchi is unknown, winning the Olympics, getting into the Figure Skating Hall of Fame, getting into the US Olympics Hall of Fame, and even winning one season of Dancing with the Stars.  On the bright side, I am happy that none of them answered “Jackie Chan,” which was the most common answer in the poll we cited above.

While I am happy that Asian Americans got this category at all, it seems that Asian Americans have a ways to go to be widely recognized and remembered.

(photo credit and permission:  VL)

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Former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Touts Basic Income at Mountain View Rally

Former presidential candidate happened to be in Mountain View on Saturday (September 25, 2021) for a Universal Basic Income rally  while UBI supporters across the country in different cities were also holding rallies and marches.

At the rally, many speakersincluding Mountain View City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga, Yang closed out the rally with a speech for about 20 minutes discussing the need for Universal Basic Income and that our government, especially in our polarized political environment, is failing to address the needs of the American people.

With the established Democratic and Republican parties and their primary systems catered to the 20% of the extremes on both sides, Yang called for the need for open primaries and for ranked choice voting. With these systemic changes, those running or in public office could be held more accountable to the vast majority of voters who aren’t looking for left or right solutions, but moving forward (alluding to one of his presidential campaign’s slogans, “Not left. Not right. Forward.”). Prior to the rally, Yang answered the question of him forming a new political party with the same kind of messaging:

Yang didn’t directly answer the question but stated that he’s trying to provide a middle ground for most Americans who want solutions and are tired of the polarization. We’re most likely to learn more about Yang’s future political plans when his new book is launched on October 5th:

Yang will also be doing a cross country book tour after the launch, from October 5th to October 27, including: New York City, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, Irvine, and Des Moines.

 

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US Attorney General urged to move faster on Federal Anti-Asian Hate Law

Letter to Merrick B. GarlandSenator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) sent this letter (a portion shown above) to US Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for faster action on implementing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.  They specifically ask for speeding up implementation of reporting of hate crimes and incidents and point out that many acts of discrimination do not meet the threshold for a hate crime.  They also ask for acceleration of public education campaigns about hate crimes and for reaching victims.

The Justice Department acknowledged receipt of the letter without additional comment.

 

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Pixar’s Asian-led ‘Turning Red’ Feature to be Released March 2022

While checking out the #GoldOpen for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Five Rings, another feature on the #GoldOpen list caught my eye.  My niece’s husband works for Pixar and when I asked him about what he was working on, he mentioned this film.  It really didn’t sink in until I went and saw the trailer.  Turning Red is about Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a Chinese Canadian middle school girl who turns into a giant Red Panda when she gets excited.   Her out-of-control mother is voiced by Sandra Oh.  Turning Red is written and directed by Domee Shi, who did the Oscar winning short Bao.  Domee Shi grew up in Canada, Sandra Oh was born there, and some point out that the film looks like a love letter to Toronto.

Turning Red is scheduled to be released in theatres on March 11, 2022.

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‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” breaks Labor Day Box Office Records

As I mentioned in a previous post about this movie, it was an open question how the it would fare during the Delta Variant surge.  Looks like the question has been answered – it would fare very well!  According to the Wall Street Journal, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, broke a Labor Box Office Record, grossing an estimated $90 million in the US and Canada for the four day weekend.  For the weekend alone, it was estimated to make $75 million, a little under Disney’s release of  Black Widow earlier this summer.

I think that Disney’s “experiment” of  releasing the movie exclusively to theatres helped these numbers a tremendous amount.  Deadline reports that some 18% of the audiences was Asian American, which is double the usual number.  There was a big turnout in big Asian American markets like Los Angeles, Vancouver, and San Francisco.  An estimated 61% of moviegoers were male.  While I think that the Gold Open and patronage by Asian Americans is immensely useful, it is great to see that people of different ethnicities will get people to watch an Asian American film that is wellcrafted and entertaining.

The coming weeks will reveal whether Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has legs.  Gold Open lists another Asian American movie, Blue Bayou, is opening on September 17. After that, Marvel will release another movie, Eternals, directed by Chloe Zhao, on November 5.

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8mm Film Review (Non-Spoiler): ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’

I’ve been a fan of Marvel comics as a kid, collecting comics including Spider-Man, The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, etc. and a fan of the film adaptations from the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man to the first official Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) film, Iron Man – to more recently, Avengers: Endgame.

In all that time though, I don’t think I was ever familiar or had even heard of Marvel’s Shang-Chi comic book and only peripherally had learned about it when the announcement of the film adaptation was going to be made. After that, I had read that the comic has perpetuated some stereotypes and had some racist tropes, like the main villain character, Fu Manchu.

So when I heard that Marvel was coming out with Shang-Chi, starring Simi Liu (Kim’s Convenience – which I am a big fan of the show), I was pleasantly surprised. At the time, I thought it made perfect sense for Marvel to come out with its first Asian superhero film. Black Panther was a gigantic success, and Marvel super heroes have been were historically overrepresented by white men and women.

The film:

stars Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization. The film also stars Tony Leung as Wenwu, Awkwafina as Shang-Chi’s friend Katy and Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, as well as Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu and Ronny Chieng.”

The hype surrounding Shang-Chi reminds me of the expectations surrounding Crazy Rich Asians. When that film came out in 2018, it was billed as the first Asian American rom-com or Hollywood blockbuster, with a cast and a budget to match. Prior to the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians coming out, I was excited yet also concerned. I had organized a “Gold Open” buyout of a screening for my alma mater and was hoping that it was going to be good. 

So when I was able to see an early screening of Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings in San Francisco (as part of a 25- city U.S. and Canadian IMAX promotion) two weeks in advance at a Marvel fan screening for free and in IMAX no less, I was happy as well as a little nervous.  I was hoping the film was good or at least didn’t suck.

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‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ gets a #GoldOpen

image credit: Gold House

Variety reports that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is slated to open this week on September 3 with a Gold Open.  For those of you who don’t know, this means that the Gold House organization and CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) are taking measures to ensure this movie has a successful launch. Similar efforts were made for the premieres of Parasite and Crazy Rich Asians. The Shang-Chi campaign includes theatres buyout campaigns, designated AAPI restaurants for patronage, and a GoFundMe effort to send children from the San Gabriel Valley Boys and Girls club to a special screening.

A quick search reveals a number of private screenings and theatre buyouts of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings that are planned, including one organized by our own writer John.  That one, scheduled for September 2nd, is already sold out.  I am planning to just see it in regular theatres, perhaps the weekend after the opening (plus John didn’t invite me to his showing).

It will be interesting to see how the opening weekend box office works out.  There are some who think and/or wish it will be a “woke disaster.”  There are also some people who want to boycott the film because of Awkwafina’s “blaccent.” Unlike the Black Widow, this movie will not simultaneously be released on Disney+.  Concerns about the Delta Variant will probably reduce the number of people who attend, despite initial reviews that are mainly good.  It is also being released during a US holiday weekend, which could increase the numbers that first weekend.  Lots of conflicting factors here – I will take a look at next Tuesday at the numbers and report back.

 

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