Exploring the History of San Jose’s Pinoytown

I have been going to San Jose Japantown for most of my adult life, but the only thing Filipino there that I noticed was a small Filipino community center building.  Only after taking a Historical Walking Tour of the area did I learn that there was once a thriving Filipino American community there that worked and live in conjunction with the Japanese and Chinese people who had already settled there.  Given what I learned, and I would like to suggest a 13th way to add to the 12 ways to celebrate Filipino American History Month I talked about earlier – going on the Filipino American National Historical Society of Santa Clara Valley‘s Pinoytown Historical Walking Tour.

After getting burned out of the largest Chinatown in San Jose in 1887, Chinese were permitted to settle on the Heinlenville Chinatown on 6th street in San Jose.  That Chinatown proved attractive to Japanese bachelors, who could comfortably frequent restaurants and gambling establishments there without much fear of discrimination.  On the tour, I learned Filipino agricultural workers (Santa Clara/Silicon Valley used to be know as the Valley of Heart’s Delight because of its farms and orchards) in the 1930’s would stop by this Chinatown for the same reasons.  In that way, a Japantown and a Pinoytown would form near that Chinatown, making up what is now known as San Jose Japantown today.

One of our guides, Robert Ragsac, grew up in San Jose’s Pinoytown and regaled us with stories of what was there and his experiences.  He talked about making friendships with Japanese Americans and what happened during the internment, seeing his friends and neighbors packing what they could fit in luggage as they were sent to Tanforan for processing. We learned that in the camps, San Jose developed a reputation as a nice area to live, so many other Japanese Americans settled in San Jose after their release, even Japanese Americans who weren’t originally from San Jose. In another story, he said that when he was a teenager, he put together a basketball team to play against the Japantown Zebras basketball team made up of kids who had come back from the internment camps.  Robert said his team got clobbered, as one of the main things those kids did in the camps was play basketball!

I loved the history in the stories that, not just of Filipinos but of the other ethnic groups of the area, including Mexicans and even dust bowl refugees. San Jose Japantown makes it easy to learn history, as there are commemorative benches and interpretative signs that talk about the history of the area.  I have included one above.

Pinoytown faded away as the farm workers who settled there grew older and their children, for whom they wanted better lives, moved away and had different careers.  Robert said had worked in the fields in his youth but went to college and became an aerospace engineer.  By the time that the immigrant wave of the 1960s started, there was nothing much left of Pinoytown to hold any interests to that wave.

Still a few things remain of that era.  The community center I mentioned is still going strong and actually had a health event going on.  The Zebras basketball organization still fields teams – a number of my children’s friends played on Zebra teams. While the area of San Jose Japantown is gentrifying, it is still a lively area that my family frequents to this day. A new park there will be named after the Heinlenville Chinatown.

Pinoytown tours take place only during October.  Still, you can walk around San Jose Japantown and learn a lot of history from the stands and benches there.  Also, the video below is a good overview of the history of San Jose’s Pinoytown.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Lanhee Chen for California State Controller

I first heard of Lanhee Chen when he had first worked for then Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as a policy advisor, and I met him the first time when he was a Hoover Fellow at Stanford University discussing his observations on the Taiwanese elections in 2020, which was really interesting.

Chen is now currently running for California State Controller, a role most previously held by two other Asian Americans, John Chiang and Betty Yee. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, for Chen to get elected in heavily Democratic California is that he is a Republican. The state controller race, a statewide elected office, is not that well known among the general public. The last time a Republican in California was elected for a state wide race was when Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected as governor in 2006 (and he obviously had  name recognition).

I most recently met Chen when former presidential candidate Andrew Yang had endorsed Chen for Controller earlier this year at an event. As you may know, Yang started a new “political party” last year and is looking to promote more centrist candidates, through the political mechanisms of open primaries and ranked choice voting (both of which I support).

To my surprise, I’ve heard on a few instances, some fairly liberal political friends of mine that they are considering voting for Chen. I say surprisingly, because the U.S. has gotten so partisan that I think it is hard to get beyond party labels. Most impressively, The Los Angeles Times has endorsed Chen for State Controller:

“The selection should boil down to this: Do you want the position to be held by someone who’s in tight with the officials who run state government? Or would you rather see it occupied by someone with the independence and skills to examine why state spending has not yielded better results?

We believe the latter is the better choice, which is why we endorsed Lanhee Chen in the June primary election and why we urge a vote for him on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Chen’s focus is on the controller’s power to audit government spending. He pledges to scrutinize the biggest categories of spending and rate programs based on their effectiveness. This is an urgently needed service in a state that has a record of poor performance despite its soaring $300-billion budget. During the last several years of strong revenue, California pumped billions more into education, healthcare and alleviating homelessness. Yet too few students can read at grade level, too many Medi-Cal patients can’t see a doctor and too many people sleep on the streets.

Cohen is positioned to work well with the Democrats who run the state. But we believe that California needs a controller who has more independence. That’s why Chen is the better choice in this race.”

California and the U.S. should not be a one party system, and there needs to be the rule of law and checks and balances. So it makes sense to have a rational non-Democrat to provide a check against one party rule in California when it comes to spending. This is Chen’s strongest argument and I think that will resonant with Californians, no matter their poitical affiliation, because Americans in general are increasingly becoming less confident in our government’s ability (at all levels in my opinion) at effectively governing.

Best of luck to Chen on trying to win statewide office!

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8Books Review: Rice is Life by Caryl Levine and Ken Lee

Rice is Life: Recipes and Stories Celebrating the World’s Most Essential Grain is a new cookbook out from Caryl Levine and Ken Lee, founders of Lotus Foods. It’s hard to disagree with a title like that. I mean, my rice cooker is among my most used kitchen appliances.

But Rice is Life goes far beyond what I anticipated. Aside from recipes, it includes a lot of information about rice varieties and especially about rice cultivation that was new to me. Sure, part of that is the origin story and genesis of the author’s company, Lotus Foods, but it’s also about how rice is grown and what SRI means, how it benefits women and global farming communities. Mouthwatering images of the food are accompanied with images of farmers and the many places that rice is grown.

I also really appreciated how the authors incorporate global recipes and even recipes adapted from the farmers that the company works with — such as the Central Javanese Nasi Goreng (which having tried, I can assure you, is good). The recipes are generally straight forward and seem easy to make. And the authors often add suggested possible adjustments, such as for complexity and spice, in the head notes. Classics, like Ken’s Fried Rice (I mean, you gotta have a recipe for fried rice in a rice cookbook) are accompanied with innovative takes, like a version of shakshuka with rice.

Next on my list to try? Black rice risotto with dashi, scallops, and furikake butter.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Sheng Thao for Oakland Mayor: “Determined”

Sheng Thao for MayorAlthough I live in the San Francisco Bay Area (since 1999), I’ve never lived in Oakland and rarely make it there, but I do know that Oakland City Council member Sheng Thao is running for Mayor of Oakland this November. I don’t think I’ve ever met Thao. If Thao wins, she won’t be the first Asian American woman to have been elected mayor of Oakland – that would have been Jean Quan, who was elected back in 2010.

Best of luck to Thao – I don’t know much about the race except for a brief radio piece I heard stating that both leading candidates were not that well known – that both didn’t have much name recognition and that is why political endoresements are important in this election. There are 10 candidates running for the post of mayor, including fringe candidate Peter Liu, who recently threatened local Jews in an anti-Semitic outburst in mass e-mails.

You can learn more about Thao at – https://www.shengforoakland.com/

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12 Ways to Celebrate Filipino American History Month

Google published 10 Ways to Celebrate Filipino American History, which is appropriate as October is Filipino American History Month. The article talks about learning about and honoring notable Filipino Americans like Larry Itliong, Lea Salonga, and Victoria Manalo Draves. It’s great to see major corporations embracing this Filipino American History Month – I know that a variety of tech companies have Filipino American Employee Resource Groups (ERG) that celebrate it. Every year, the Golden State Warriors celebrate Filipino Heritage Night (October 23 in 2022), which would be an 11th way.

I would add one more way to make it 12: see Nursing These Wounds by KULARTS in San Francisco this weekend and next.  This immersive dance performance (preview above) investigates the impact of colonization on Filipino health and caregiving through the lens of Filipino nurses’ history.

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8Books Review: My Diwali Light by Raakhee Mirchandani

My Diwali Light by Raakhee Mirchandani, art by Supriya Kelkar is a lovely picture book about celebrating Diwali with family and friends. With Diwali just around the corner (it’s on Monday), this is a great read for this time of year.

Follow along with Devi, her parents and her Nani (grandmother), as she prepares for her favorite holiday and then shares it with her neighbors, going from house to house. Each celebration is a little different. You’ll be hungry by the time you’ve read through all the foods that Devi and her family have prepared and eaten throughout the day. And of course, there’s lessons from Nani on the meaning of Diwali, that will help little ones unfamiliar with the celebration learn more about it. Bright and colorful art accompanies the story — including pieces of fabric from the artist’s family members, which feels particularly apt and special.

Don’t miss the notes at the end from the author and illustrator, discussing how their own families celebrate Diwali and what making the book has meant to them. It’s another reminder — should you ever need one — that representation matters. Happy Diwali all!

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The Daily Show: Ronny Chieng Teaches You About K-Pop

Not sure why Ronny Chieng of The Daily Show decided to do a piece on K-pop recently:

The signature elements of K-Pop? Next level dance choreography and being Asian. Ronny Chieng digs into how K-Pop is used to boost Korea’s cultural profile and economy, and its worldwide impact today.

The 5 minute piece was actually more educational than funny in my opinion. I learned about the early days of Korean music pop culture. Amazingly enough, that the first breakthrough for Korean pop music in the United States was through the Kim Sisters, who appeared on the American TV on the Ed Sullivan Show more than 20 times during the 1960’s (one example here) and had albums in the US starting in 1959.  Chieng’s piece also covers Psy and eventually moves on to BTS.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Creative Planning’s ‘Wealth-Changing Question’

I was watching 60 Minutes recently and saw this commercial by Creative Planning:

“Is your advisor giving you incomplete advice? Besides investing, there’s also taxes, insurance, estate planning, and other elements that can be stressful to organize. At Creative Planning, we provide all the expertise, all the advice you need, all in-house. Ensuring all aspects of your wealth are working harder together. So you can enjoy your wealth—instead of worrying about it. Book your free meeting today at CreativePlanning.com. Creative Planning. A richer way to wealth.”

with Creative Planning advisor Tiya Lim explaining what her firm does. Looking on LinkedIn, Lim appears to be a real person, though I’m not sure if the women in the commercial is really Lim or an actress portraying the real person (assuming the LinkedIn profile is for real).

In any case, I had never heard of Creative Planning before this commercial, so the commercial definitely did its job. Typically, I would have thought about financial services firms such as Morgan Stanley advertising on ’60 Minutes’.

Creative Planning does have an office in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I live), but in Walnut Creek. You would think given all the wealth in the region, substantial parts of it owned by Asian Americans, there would be more offices, and at least in San Francisco and Silicon Valley (which I consider to range from Menlo Park to San Jose).

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NYC Theater Review: peerless at Primary Stages

Sasha Diamond and Shannon Tyo in peerless at Primary Stages at 59E59. Photo by James Leynse

Jiehae Park’s dark comedy peerless about the high pressure stakes of elite college admissions is now playing at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters in New York City. This twist on Macbeth features twin Asian American sisters, M and L, who have moved to the middle of nowhere (geographic diversity!) with an exacting plan to get into The College (three guesses as to which one it might be). When another classmate gets “their spot,” the twins decide to protect their future . . . and let’s just say, it gets deadly. The show officially opened on Tuesday and will be up for a limited run until November 6.

The theater darkens and an envelope drops from the ceiling — *plop* — and a young man picks it up. Next scene, we meet M and L, so skillfully played by Sasha Diamond (Teenage Dick) and Shannon Tyo (The Chinese Lady). They are livid. How could he have gotten their spot?!? The dialogue is furiously paced as the twins alternate words and finish each other’s sentences at breakneck speed. Each year, we learn, The College takes one student — so L has stayed back a year, so that M can go this year and L can follow the next. But now their carefully laid our plans have fallen apart. It turns out, L reveals, that the young man who got in — D — is 1/16 Native American. The sisters hyperventilate and plot, and from there the play unfolds. It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s intense.

I don’t want to give anything away, so let’s just say, the play builds and builds until the first domino falls and then whoosh, it tumbles forward as everything crumbles from there. It’s an 80 minute play with no intermission, but the time flies. Park takes the intense drive for success to its darkest end point (no, really, it’s funny and then it gets really dark) — what would you do to succeed?

Tickets to peerless begin at $25 and are available at 59e59.org/shows/show-detail/peerless. Performances are Tuesday – Saturday at 7:00pm and Saturday – Sunday at 2:00pm.

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Reporter David Louie retires after 50 years with ABC7

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the last 50 years, you probably have seen local television reporter David Louie. After working at ABC7 News for over 50 years, he will be retiring in October:

After 50 and a half years in news, reporter David Louie has retired from ABC7. He joined ABC7 News in 1972, back when the program was called “Newsscene.”

Back in 1970, there weren’t that many Asian Americans. In fact, by my calculations from what I’ve found online, it was 0.75% of the overall U.S. population back then, about 1.5 million.

Louie was one of the first Asian American TV reporters in the Bay Area – and I have to imagine, in the nation – and certainly on the air the longest! Ironically, 10 years ago, I acknowledged that fact while noting his 40 years of service. Congratulations to Louie on his well deserved retirement and for him being a pioneer and inspiration to so many.

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Senate Officially Confirms Michelle Kwan as US ambassador to Belize

Back in July, I had blogged about Michelle Kwan being inducted into the U.S.Olympic Hall of Fame, as well as her being confirmed as Ambassador to Belize. Well, I was wrong – Michelle had her Senate confirmation hearing, but she hadn’t been confirmed officially until recently (Thursday, September 29th):

“The Senate on Thursday confirmed Michelle Kwan, a former Olympic figure skater and longtime Democratic activist, to serve as ambassador to Belize.

Kwan, who President Joe Biden tapped for the role in December, skated through the chamber’s confirmation process with a voice vote.

“Kwan’s extensive work experience at the U.S. State Department in public diplomacy and youth outreach and her work with non-profit organizations combined with her strong management and business skills make her a well-qualified candidate to be the U.S. Ambassador to Belize,” the State Department said.

The agency also highlighted Kwan’s education background, including her Master’s degree from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.”

Michelle was nominated in December of 2021, and it’s now already October. It makes me wonder why it takes so long for the confirmation to take so long! I’ve never been to Belize, but  my brother has for scuba diving. I should get my passport renewed and make a visit to Belize some in the near future!

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’38 At The Garden’ Premieres October 11th on HBO Max

38 at the Garden Jeremy Lin animation pictureBack in June, I had blogged about a community event about an upcoming documentary, ’38 At the Garden’ about Jeremy Lin’s performance against Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers back on February 10th, 2012, its effects, and the current state of Asian hate and discrimination. The official broadcast / streaming date has been announced (October 11 on HBO Max) and the official trailer is available: 

38 At The Garden chronicles the extraordinary ascendance of point guard Jeremy Lin during his landmark 2012 season with the New York Knicks. Lin, an undrafted Harvard graduate, shocked fans, stunned his teammates and galvanized Asians around the world when he scored 38 points at Madison Square Garden against the Los Angeles Lakers, solidifying Lin’s hot streak and the “Linsanity” craze.

A decade later, Lin’s stature as a groundbreaking, cultural icon stands in stark relief to the recent hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. 38 At The Garden recognizes a pivotal moment in time for Lin and celebrates a phenomenon that was bigger than basketball for the world.”

Having seen the documentary ‘LINSANITY’ back in 2013, I’m looking forward to what new ground this documentary will cover. It’s kind of crazy to think that it’s been over 10 years that Jeremy Lin shocked the basketball world. Since then, Jeremy has had his up’s and down’s in the NBA, as well as the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), and most recently, signed with the Guangzhou Loong Lions:

“HOUSTON — Houston Rockets former point guard Jeremy Lin has yet to retire from basketball 13 years after beginning his pro career. Lin announced on his Instagram page on Monday that he has signed with the Guangzhou Loong Lions for the 2022-23 CBA season.

His last NBA stop took place with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, where he appeared in 23 games en route to his lone NBA championship. 

Lin felt his lack of playing time did not validate his championship ring. A complete 180 from the role he played as a member of the Rockets from 2012 to 2014 who averaged 13.0 points. “

It’s too bad that we probably will never see Jeremy play in the NBA again, but he’s definitely outlasted the averages. The average NBA tenure in the league is around 5 years.

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