Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Taiwan

In John Oliver’s latest episode this past Sunday, John Oliver gives a good yet entertaining overview on Taiwan – from its history to its relationship with China and the rest of the world, including the United States. It’s an important topic given that Taiwan is a source of some  what is emerging as part of Asian American culture and the currently stressed global supply chain.

If you don’t know much about the political history of Taiwan, this is a good backgrounder. I was highly entertained that Oliver also mentioned how Taiwanese legislators periodically get into physical altercations with each other.

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Filipino American Nurses: Then and Now

nursing ad from 1969

1969 Ad in Filipino Nursing Journal (Photo Credit: Catherine Ceneza Choy)

This photo essay on Filipino American nurses dealing with the pandemic, coupled with it being Filipino American History Month, made me reflect on the long history of Filipino American nurses.  We have talked before about why so many nurses in the United States are from the Philippines, but after digging in deeper, I found some interesting historical connections that I missed.  I thought I would share those, along with some thoughts on that photo essay.

We previously mentioned the Exchange Visitor Program as path for Filipino nurses to enter the US, but as I looked into the program more, I did not know that it was started in 1948 as an effort to combat Cold War propaganda by exposing non-Americans to US democracy and culture. This program allowed people from other countries to live in and work in the US. American hospitals took advantage of the program to deal with staffing challenges. My own mother came to the US on this program more than 60 years ago.  After the major immigration changes in 1965, US hospitals found other ways to find nurses.  The ad shown above was from an ad in a Filipino nursing journal more than 50 years.

The age of that ad shows that generations of Filipino nurses have served the US for decades.  I believe that trend will continue.  The photo essay follows Jennifer Bulaong, whose mother is also a nurse and whose daughter is studying to become a nurse. It mentions how she is counting the work hours until her contract ends so she can rejoin their family elsewhere in the US. I know many nurses who experienced that waiting period, and when they move on, they may be replaced by other nurses from the Philippines.  Because of retirements and burnout during the pandemic, hospital systems like Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit are again looking for nurses from the Philippines.

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Andrew Yang’s ‘Forward’ Book Tour – San Francisco

Earlier this month, I interviewed Andrew Yang about his new book, ‘Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy,’ where he also kicked off his ‘Forward Party.’

With the release of his new book, Andrew launched a promotional tour.  I was able to drop by his San Francisco tour event. Andrew spoke for over an hour, talking about stories from his book from the presidential campaign trail as well as the ‘Forward Party’ and his focus on ranked choice voting and open primaries. At the end, he also took questions.

His book tour is winding down, but I did hear from a source that Andrew might be going to more cities in the future. Be sure to check out if you’re interested in seeing Andrew in a city near you.

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150th Anniversary of 1871 Los Angeles Chinese Massacre

Bodies of 17 dead Chinese men and boys lie in the Los Angeles jail yard on October 24, 1871

(photo credit:  Security Pacific Bank)

This past Sunday, October 24th, marked the 150th anniversary of one of the worst hate crimes against Asians in United States history:

“The 1871 Los Angeles Chinese massacre resulted in the deaths of 18 Chinese men and is believed to be the most lethal example of racial violence ever recorded in the city. It was quickly and eagerly forgotten.

City leaders, embarrassed that the frontier town had made national headlines for violence and lawlessness, built up the police department and tried to restore the rule of law. Eight of the attackers were tried for the crimes but eventually released, and a small indemnity was paid to the Chinese government as an apology. Calle De Los Negros was bulldozed and redeveloped. The Chinese community was rebuilt in a different location.

The Chinese community did not simply accept their fate. They demanded restitution and sued for damages, though unsuccessfully. At least 14 out of 15 total Chinese laundrymen in Los Angeles refused to pay their city business license fees the year after the massacre, in what may be the first example of Chinese American civil disobedience. According to accounts of the time, some Chinese Americans responded by taking even more pride in being Chinese, displaying their culture even more boldly despite the danger.

It took them 10 months, but the few Chinese Americans in Los Angeles at the time raised the $8,000 to pay for proper burial ceremonies — an unimaginable amount of money for a group of poor immigrants at the time.”

Those 18 Chinese men and boys accounted for approximately 10% of the Chinatown back then.

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New Changemakers Summit to Educate and Inspire Next Generation of AAPI Youth Leaders

On Saturday, October 23, 2021, Act To Change, Hate Is A Virus, and Stop AAPI Hate will co-host the first annual Changemakers Summit to educate and inspire the next generation of youth leaders from Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

The Changemakers Summit 2021 is a virtual nationwide gathering of middle school, high school, and college students as well as AAPI activists and entrepreneurs. Its goal is to support, connect, and inspire the next generation of AAPI youth leaders and activists. The program for this conference will be organized around four pillars: Inform, Educate, Empower, and Celebrate.

  • Inform: Understanding, unpacking, and healing from current events
  • Educate: Constructing a dynamic AAPI-centered awareness of shared histories
  • Empower: Providing tools and resources, and directly to the youth
  • Celebrate: Celebrating AAPI  communities and cultures, and what we have contributed to America

To ensure that youth voices are central to the design of this conference, session topics and speakers have been selected by a Youth Equity Council comprising a diverse selection of AAPI students from the Summit’s demographics.

For AAPI youth, ages 12 to 25, as well as parents, educators, and organizers, the Summit includes a variety of workshops, speaker panels, creative spaces, and community discussions across three different tracks:

  1. AAPIs in Social Justice
  2. AAPIs in Education
  3. AAPIs in Innovation

Highlighting the event’s dedication to AAPI youth, Act To Change Chair and Co-Founder Maulik Pancholy said of the Summit:

“Act To Change is thrilled to be part of a strong coalition hosting Changemakers Summit 2021. As an anti-bullying organization focused on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, reaching youth directly is essential to our mission. We are excited that the Summit centers youth, community, and activism, and builds a leadership pipeline to end bullying in the AAPI community.”

Hate Is a Virus Co-Founders Michelle Hanabusa and Tammy Cho said:

“This year’s Changemakers Summit is a hallmark effort to amplify the work we do here at Hate Is A Virus, and to uplift our community in the process. The Changemakers Summit will help us further the work we do by reaching even more young AAPI community members and empowering them to beat back hate in our society. We hope that this event inspires young AAPI community members to stand up against hate and racism, while being proud of the fullness of their identity.”

Professor Russell Jeung, SF State Asian American Studies and Co-Founder, Stop AAPI Hate said:

“Our youth campaign is central to Stop AAPI Hate’s mission to address anti-Asian racism across the U.S. We want to empower young persons by providing spaces where their concerns, experiences and leadership can be utilized. That’s why we are glad to join the Changemakers Summit, which also aims to strengthen our collective voice.”

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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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