The First US Television series featuring an Asian American Actor is Lost and Probably Gone Forever

The blog title above might make you wonder if something happened to Fresh off the Boat.  Perhaps if you were older or well versed in pop culture, you might wonder if something happened to copies of All American Girl (1994), Mr. T and Tina (1976) or even The Green Hornet (1966).   August 27, 2020 was the 69th anniversary of the premiere of the first television series featuring an Asian American actor, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. In this show on the DuMont television network, Asian American pioneer Anna May Wong plays an art gallery owner who also solves crimes.  This sounds to me like a great premise for a show. So how did all trace of this series get lost, with no copies or scripts behind left at all?

The fact that I had never heard of the DuMont network and that I would be surprised if any of you had heard of it, helps explain how Anna May Wong would get a chance to be the lead of a series during the 1950’s.  According to writer Nicole Chung, who wrote about her own search for the series, The DuMont Network always lagged behind the big networks of NBC, and CBS.  That desperation of being behind would lead them to take a chance at having Anna May Wong headline a show.  The network even featured an African American in a show, the Hazel Scott Show.  Anna May Wong’s birth name is Wong Liu-Tsong, from which the title of the show came.  The show lasted one season and had ten episodes. In 1976, copies of DuMont shows were said to have been loaded onto trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay.

This is not the first time that historic television shows have been lost, and the list of lost shows is pretty long.  There are other lessons than the obvious one to make sure that there are usable, readable back up copies  (a lesson usable in multiple areas of life).  First, pioneering efforts such as the Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong need to be remembered, recognized and patronized.  It is sad that this show and other performers on similar shows, like Hazel Scott, are not better known.  Efforts like Gold Open are helpful in this regard.  Second, just showing appearing in media is not enough – having influence on what is made is just as important.  It was a long time between The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong appearance in 1951 and The Green Hornet in 1966, and definitely a long way until Fresh off the Boat in 2015.

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California Asian Americans divided on Proposition 16, which would reestablish Affirmative Action in California

(source: Ballotpedia)

On November 3, 2020, one of the ballot measures that Californians will vote on is Proposition 16, which would reestablish the use of race in public education, employment, and contracts. The use of race in these areas was prohibited in 1996 with a previous ballot measure, Proposition 209.  As you might expect, the use of race, particularly in public education and college admissions, has Asian Americans divided.  This article in the Pasadena Star News summarizes the positions of Asian Americans for and against this proposition.

Some Asian American groups support the initiative, such as the California API Legislative CaucusA change.org petition against it has plenty of Asian American signatures.  The article has more on the divisions, and it is worth reading the arguments of proponents and opponents.

Proposition 209 passed in 1996 and inserted Section 31 into the California constitution.  Proposition 16 looks to eliminate the section as shown above, and it isn’t the first attempt.  SB 185 was vetoed by then governor Jerry Brown in 2011.  In 2014, SCA5 attempted the same thing and was strongly opposed by a number of Asian American groups.  But 2020 is a different time.

It’s an open issue whether passing proposition 16 would affect Asian American admissions to the University of California System (UC), which is a focus area of the opposition to Proposition 16.  UC has already been practicing holistic admissions, and recently voted not to required standardized tests. For Fall 2020, 35% of students admitted freshman are Asian American.

 

 

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US Department of Justice sues Yale University for Discrimination against Whites and Asian Americans


The US Department of Justice has notified Yale University that they are in violation of the law, saying Yale’s admissions process discriminates against white and Asian students.  In this letter, the DOJ attorney Eric Dreiband cites a two year investigation and says:

“the likelihood of admission for Asian American and White applicants who have similar academic credentials is significantly lower than for African American and Hispanic applicants to Yale College.”

In response, Yale University president Peter Salovey says that the accusations are baseless.

When I saw that headline, I wondered if Students for Fair Admissions was involved.  This organization has filed lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.  Harvard won the lawsuit, but Students for Fair Admissions has appealed.  The DOJ filed this amicus brief to support them in their appeal.

The DOJ also has taken some other actions against people associated with Yale. Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith pleaded guilty of taking bribes to recruit non-athletes to his team, as part of the “Varsity Blues” college admissions admission scandal.  You can keep track of the fate of the defendants, including some Asian American parents, in this table provided by the DOJ.

These are interesting times in college admissions.  Many colleges and universities, including the Ivies, will not be requiring standardized tests because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition, I have heard that in some high schools have been lax about grading during this time (somewhat understandably), as have many universities, including the one that Number One Son and Number Two son attend.  In addition, with the killing of George Floyd, there are calls for more African American students in elite public and private universities.

The Department of Justice has given Yale until August 27, 2020 to agree to comply with their request.

(Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

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Collin Morikawa wins the 2020 PGA Championship

23 year old Collin Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship on August 9, 2020, joining Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jack Nicholas as one of the youngest ever winners of the tournament.  While I am not a fan of golf, his win caught my interest for a number of reasons.

First, he just graduated last year from UC Berkeley with a degree in business.  Some pride that he is a fellow Cal Bear, but I also thought it was fitting that he would win his first PGA major at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, in what could be considered his own backyard on a course he played many times.  I was also surprised to where Harding Park is located – I must have driven past it dozens of time but never realized that such high level tournaments would be played there.

Second, as is revealed in the video below, he was coached in golf at a high level since age 6.  This is a continuing trend since Tiger Woods was a child, getting kids to concentrate in a sport at a very young age.  I see have seen this in basketball and other sports and wrote  about how it happens with golf and other sports. I glad it has worked it out for Collin, but I have seen some kids get extremely messed up by that kind of pressure.  His girlfriend, Katherine Zhu (also shown in the video below) is an excellent golfer (All American D1) who also started young, winning her first tournament at 13.  Collin talks in the video about having a lot of fun playing as a kid – that is a key aspect of youth sports that is too often forgotten.

Finally, I am intrigued by what could be the emergence of a major Asian American sports star.  He grew up in the heavily Asian American San Gabriel Valley and has an Asian Canadian girlfriend too.  He seems composed and well-spoken in his interviews and has become popular enough to the point where Steph Curry joined a media session to ask him questions  yet confident enough to tell Curry that he was NOT a fan.  I wish him continued success.

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Asian American Cultural Landmarks: The San Gabriel Valley and Beyond

Liu Fang Yuan (photo credit:  Caroline Liou for Hyperallergic)

While conflicts have increased about American historical monuments and landmarks, especially regarding statues of slave owners or institutions named after racists, this article from Hyperallergic asks, what kind of cultural landmarks do Asian Americans establish?   In “In American’s “First Suburban Chinatown,” Asian Americans Have Negotiated Cultural Representation,” Caroline Liou looks at the Asian American community in the San Gabriel Valley and what cultural representation that the community there has managed to create.  Her article made me think about Asian American cultural landmarks in my own community, which on reflection, I realize that there are many.

The San Gabriel Valley contains one of the longest established Asian American suburban communities in the continental United States.  Many of the residents are quite prosperous, so what kind of cultural landmarks have been established?  Liu Fang Yuan (or Garden of Flowering Fragrance) at the Huntington Library is one.   Liou notes that other landmarks like the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights were once opposed by the local residents there.  She also notes that another local landmark, Santa Anita Racetrack, has only a small plaque and one sentence acknowledging its history as a staging area for sending Japanese Americans to internment camps.


A while ago, one of our writers talked about an exhibit hosted at Santa Anita about the internment and how he grew up around there yet never knew or thought about its history.  His story and Liou’s article made me think about the local Asian American cultural landmarks that I never think about or visit.  I live in an Asian American neighborhood in Silicon Valley, but I have never been to the Chinese Cultural Garden in my city.  I only learned of the existence of the Viet Museum when I ran by it during a 5K race.   I will have to visit those places (note that the Viet Museum is temporarily closed because of the pandemic).  There are other Asian American landmarks and cultural institutions here that I do look at more often, such as the Chinese and Japanese named streets in my neighborhood, a Buddhist temple, and memorials and information plaques in San Jose’s Japantown.

Liou makes other interesting observations about “cultural negotiation”, such as how zoning laws were put into place to try to restrict large houses built by Asian American.  I recommend you read it.  A book that also discusses these issues is “Trespassers?:  Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia.”  I would say both the article and the book are worth your time.

(Viet Museum photo credit:  shin ben zi licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

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COVID-19’s Disproportional Impact on Asian American Employment

A recent report published by UCLA finds that Asian Americans workers have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.   As shown above in the graph above, Asian American unemployment rates and jobless rates were at one point lower than that of whites, but have climbed above those of whites during the pandemic.  The situation is pretty bad for all Americans, but the study points out that heavy Asian American employment in hospitality, retail, and leisure makes the problem worse.

An additional factor not discussed in detail in the report is income inequality within the broad category of “Asian American.”  Of all American racial groups, Asian Americans have the greatest amount of income inequality.  You can see some of this in the graph on the right, which shows how Asian American unemployment varies between U.S. states with large Asian American populations.  California, with a large population of well-paid Asian American tech workers (as well as lower paid Asian American workers), has a lower Asian American unemployment rate compared to whites.  New York, which has a high Asian American poverty rate and where Asian Americans ride buses in an attempt to earn money, shows a disproportionate effect on on Asian Americans.  The numbers in Hawaii shows that states reliance on tourism, which once employed many Asian Americans.

This report was a collaboration between UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Ong & Associates.

(graphic credits:  UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Ong & Associates.)

 

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Why there are so Many Filipino Nurses in the US: A Video Explanation

We talked about how Filipino American nurses have been hard hit by the Coronavirus, which makes sense since they are a significant proportion of the US nursing workforce compared to their proportion of the general US population.  How did that occur, especially as the Philippines itself has a shortage of nursesThis video from Vox explains how that happened.  I greatly appreciated the long historical context that it provides.  My mother came to the US from the Philippines almost 70 years ago, part of a long trend that continues today.

The video features Empire of Care author Catherine Ceniza Choy, who explains the origins of the Filipino American workforce in the American colonial notion of “Benevolent assimilation.”  Choy’s book Empire of Care goes into further detail from the material in the video.  It’s interesting how long this process of absorbing nurses from the Philippines has gone on.  As I mentioned, my mother came here as a nurse several decades ago, and almost 40 years after that, The Wife came here as a nurse.

I found the video enlightening, but thought it missed a key point.  While Jokoy makes jokes about it, many children of Filipino immigrants who are born in the US are strongly encouraged (pushed) to become nurses, as nursing is considered to be a “safe” and lucrative profession.  I know many Filipino American children of nurses who are also nurses.

Will Filipino Americans continue to have a disproportionate share of the US nursing workforce?  It’s hard to say.  While there has been a ban on new H1B applicants, Trump’s ban makes an exemption for people working on COVID-19 related healthcare issues.  There are many more US born graduates of nursing programs than in the past, but an aging US population is likely to keep demand for nurses high.

(h/t:  Number Two Son)

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Grant Imahara, Engineer and Host of Mythbusters, Dead at 49

Grant Masaru Imahara, host of Mythbusters, died on July 13, 2020 of a brain aneurysm.  One thing I loved about him  was that not only was he a handsome and affable TV host, he was a working engineer and an incredibly good one too.  He started for George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic special effects house on culturally impactful movies, including the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and the Matrix series.  He was a well known robot builder, creating the combat robot Deadblow, and even wrote a book about building battle robots.  He consulted for Disney Imagineering and was an author on an IEEE paper about that work.  Grant Imahara was generous and good lucking enough to volunteer in a bachelor auction.   As a working Asian American engineer,  I felt that he stood out as an example that being an engineer doesn’t mean your options are limited.  I can only hope to be so productive and well rounded as he was!

Grant Imahara was 49, and leaves behind his fiance Jennifer Newman.

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Fastest Growing Foreign Language in the US is an Indian Language You Might not Expect

The fastest growing Foreign Language in the US as of 2018, according to this study by the Center for Immigration, is Telegu.  I was surprised, thinking it would be Chinese or Tagalog, but numbers of speakers does not equate with the percentage increase in speakers.  The top 3 languages for growth on the list are all languages from India.  I know a fair number of Telegu speakers at work.  Not sure how long this will continue, given the recently announced visa restrictions.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: The Fighting Spirit of Anderson Paak

I first heard of  Anderson .Paak from Number One Son and Number Two Son, but I didn’t bother to find anything about him until I saw him featured in this commercial for Modelo beer.  “Fighting Spirit” is definitely an appropriate description of what he has, given his incredible route to success and multiple Grammy Awards.  Brandon Paak Anderson was born to a mother who was adopted from Korea and raised in Compton, the orphaned daughter of an African American soldier and a Korean woman.  Paak’s father went to jail after assaulting his mother.  His mother built up a successful strawberry business, but lost it all and eventually went to jail too.  Paak met his wife while studying music, but became homeless, along with his wife and infant son, after he lost his job working at a marijuana farm.  With the help of a number of people, he persisted in a music career, winning his first Grammy for the song Bubblin. He also won a spot on the 2020 A100 list of Influential Asians and Asian Americans.

Paak’s wife, Jaylyn Chang, is from South Korea, and she stuck with him during the hard times when they were homeless with a young child.  The Daughter mentioned that she is active in music for her church, as you can see from her Instagram.  If you listen to Bubblin, you might think that he is just a rapper, but he can sing and play the drums and other instruments also.  Number One Son and Number Two Son say that he is the best performer that they have ever seen.

Anderson .Paak’s music was featured on the Apple Homepod commercial below, directed by Spike Jonze.  You can see more about Anderson .Paak from his website.  His “Fighting Spirit” has indeed taken him far.

(Photo Credit:The Come Up Show / CC BY)

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8mm Review: Brittany Runs a Marathon – an “Asian American-y” Movie

While the main character of Brittany Runs a Marathon is definitely not Asian American, two major characters in Brittany’s life are Asian American and are interesting enough to make this, in the words of Stacy Nguyen, an Asian American-y movie.   One is Gretchen, a shallow woman (played by Alice Lee), who  trying to live a lifestyle above her means to achieve social media “influencer” status.  The other is Jern, a South Asian American man (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar) scraping by in life by house sitting.  You can see them in the picture of the cast below.

I like this movie and recommend it.  The Jillian Bell’s Brittany isn’t a typical kind of female movie lead who is skinny or glamorous or even super likable.  Brittany has character flaws and does things that will make you cringe.  You expect her to run a marathon as the highlight of the movie, but in a way, that becomes an afterthought to a more the important transformation that she makes.  Jillian Bell’s changes during the movie are pretty amazing – she lost 45 pounds as part of the process of performing her part.

The Asian American characters are interesting, definitely not stereotypical.  Alice Lee does a great job with as a progressively unlikeable Gretchen, and Utkarsh Ambudkar’s Jern was surprising in a number of ways (I am not going to spoil it).

Jillian Bell is an executive producer of the movie.  Amazon Studios purchased the rights to the movie at the 2019 Sundance Festival.  You can see Brittany runs a Marathon on Amazon Prime Video.

 

 

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A Remarkable Search: “A Vanished Dream: Wartime Story of My Japanese Grandfather”

Long hidden family secrets, an African American journalist’s deathbed request, and the Japanese American internment – all these seemingly unconnected elements connect to create a moving and timely documentary about a man taken away by the authorities and never again seen by his family.  With divisions between Asian Americans on why they should care about Black Lives Matter and their own anti-black racism, Vanished Dream: Wartime Story of My Japanese Grandfather, produced by Japanese public media division NHK World, tells us how people of color can have hidden connections in the intersection of systemic racism.  It is also a story of incredible sacrifices made to protect family and to further the cause of civil rights.

The story starts with Regina Boone, a photo journalist who knew few details about her grandfather.  On his deathbed, her father asked Regina to find out what happened to his father and to tell their family story.   Regina’s father was Raymond Boone (pictured on the left above), a prominent journalist during the Civil Rights era and beyond.  Among other things, he was a journalism professor at Howard University, founded the Richmond Free Press newspaper, and was known as a crusader for justice.  Yet why didn’t Raymond Boone talk about his father?  All Regina Boone knew at that point was that her Japanese grandfather  was arrested shortly after Pearl Harbor and would never return to his family.

(photo credit: Regina Boone/Detroit Free Press)

As an accomplished photo journalist, Regina was well equipped to track down what happened.  Her picture of a two year old boy affected by lead in Flint Michigan made the cover of Time magazine.   She follows a trail through local Virginia archives and to her father’s friends in Suffolk Virginia.  This is the city where her grandfather Tsuruju Miyazaki would establish a Asian/Soul food restaurant in the black part of town, start a family with an African American women, and have two children with her, including Raymond Boone.  The trail would lead to the National Archives in Washington DC, an interview with an FBI Historian, to the Rowher Relocation camp in Arkansas, to Chicago, and finally to Nagasaki Japan.  Along the way, we learn what Tsuruju Miyazaki did to protect his family and why he was never able to return.

I found the story to be both moving and deeply relevant today. Tsuruju Miyazaki sacrificed much to protect his half Japanese half African American children in an era when Asian American immigrants were treated with suspicion and African Americans were treated with contempt, an era with some disturbing similarities to today.  Raymond Boone made sacrifices too, regarding his family history.  The documentary makes the claim what happened to Raymond Boone’s father drove him to be so active in civil rights and pointing out injustices.  To me, the story shows how groups from what would appear to be drastically different backgrounds can have some deep and profound connections, a fact also relevant today.

I did find a few annoying things about this video.  The NHK World production makes speakers fade out while they are talking just before a change of scene.  I don’t read lips, so I kept wondering what they actually said.  Another unpleasant fact is that the show will be taken down next year.  Given the limited time it is available, I recommend that you take 50 minutes and see Vanished Dream: Wartime Story of My Japanese Grandfather while it still is available.

 

 

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