What Today’s Protesters Can Learn From the History of L.A.’s Asian-American Movement
On Saturday, Jan. 21, hundreds of thousands of people spilled into downtown Los Angeles to protest a president whose promise to “make America great again” threatens to turn back the clock on civil liberties for marginalized groups at least several decades.
Coincidentally, just two days earlier, the Chinese American Museum opened “Roots: Asian-American Movements in Los Angeles 1968-80s," an exhibit that digs into at an oft-overlooked historical resistance, which can inform how we build new activist coalitions for the future.
The Asian-American movement was the first broad, pan-Asian diaspora coalition in America. Within it, activists rallied around causes that ranged from protesting the war in Vietnam to organizing against the eviction of elderly, non-English-speaking residents within gentrifying communities to rallying against youth drug abuse. They boosted socially conscious films and music by Asian-American artists, joining a groundswell of movements that included the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, second-wave feminism and the gay liberation movement. “Roots” is an effort to contextualize the many causes at work during this era while specifically centering L.A.’s Asian-American activism and identity formation — a mighty task, considering that Asia is a vast continent with individually and regionally complicated histories.
“This idea of Asian America didn’t exist until 1968, and it’s really the work of people in their 20s, even teenagers, coming together and producing culture, making institutions, working on campaigns, that defined this identity. It’s pretty remarkable to think about how Asian-American is a term all of us use now, but it was really created and invented by dedicated young people,” Ryan Wong, who curated the exhibit over the course of years, said over the phone. Wong had previously put together the show “Serve the People: The Asian-American Movement in New York” in NYC’s Interference Archive space.
That show ran from late 2013 into early 2014, and it was during this time that CAM curator Steve Wong (no relation) first entertained the notion of bringing a similar show to L.A. Though the exhibit is hosted at CAM for the next six months, Ryan Wong is quick to point out that this was for the space’s community-oriented mission, rather than a move to, say, center Chinese-American activism: “A really important and significant step for any kind of identity-focused museum is to recognize these common points of intersection and overlap.”
500,000 Asian Americans live in Houston. They are the fastest growing ethnic population in the city.
Yet the Houston Grand Opera seems to be stuck in a different time.
It’s new production of Nixon in China features White actors in Asian roles.
The Houston Chronicle describes the portrayal of those characters as with “Fu Manchu facial hair, slanted eyebrows. conical rice hats. Kung Fu uniforms and traditional Chinese masks.”
In the production Mao Zedong is played by Chad Shelton, soprano Tracy Dahl plays Madame Mao and Patrick Carfizzi, is an evil Chinese landlord. Chen-Ye Yuan is the only Asian actor in a significant role, co-starring as Premiere Zhou En-Lai.
“Blackface/yellowface/brownface is an abhorrent practice that should be abolished, and operas should be taking action towards abolishing those practices, instead of making excuses,” said Diep Tran of American Theatre magazine.
The Grand Opera said it had no intention to portray Chinese as caricatures and said no Asians could be found to fill those roles.
How “Tokyo Rose” Became WWII’s Most Notorious Propagandist
Radio propaganda was rampant on all sides of World War II, but perhaps no broadcaster was as infamous as Iva Toguri—better known to her Allied listeners as “Tokyo Rose.” The American-born Toguri became stranded in Japan when the war began, and she was eventually coaxed behind the microphone and instructed to read radio scripts aimed at demoralizing U.S. troops in the Pacific. Toguri always maintained that she was a loyal American who had been forced onto the radio by circumstance, but after the war ended she was convicted of treason and sentenced to several years in prison. Despite a lack of evidence against her, it would take nearly three decades before she received a presidential pardon.
During World War II, American servicemen regularly huddled around radios to listen to the “Zero Hour,” an English-language news and music program that was produced in Japan and beamed out over the Pacific. The Japanese intended for the show to serve as morale-sapping propaganda, but most G.I.s considered it a welcome distraction from the monotony of their duties. They developed a particular fascination with the show’s husky-voiced female host, who dished out taunts and jokes in between spinning pop records. “Greetings, everybody!” she said during one broadcast in 1944. “This is your little playmate—I mean your bitter enemy—Ann, with a program of dangerous and wicked propaganda for my victims in Australia and the South Pacific. Stand by, you unlucky creatures, here I go!”
American G.I.s concocted a range of exotic backstories for the woman they called “Tokyo Rose,” but few were stranger than the truth. Her real name was Iva Toguri, and rather than being an enemy agent, she was an American citizen who had found her way onto the radio almost by accident. Most fascinating of all, she would later allege that she had remained loyal to her country by actively working to undermine the message of her propaganda programs.
Born on July 4, 1916, Iva Toguri was the daughter of Japanese immigrants who owned a small import business in Los Angeles. She had spent her youth serving in the Girl Scouts and playing on her school’s tennis team, and later graduated from UCLA with a zoology degree. In 1941, her parents sent her on a trip to Japan to help care for an ailing aunt. The 25-year-old Toguri had never been abroad before and quickly grew homesick, but her problems only mounted that December, when a paperwork problem saw her denied a place on a ship home. Only a few days later, the Japanese bombed Pear Harbor.
Steve Harvey has apologized for his recent remarks on Asian-American men.
On Tuesday, the “Steve Harvey Show” host took to Twitter to appease those offended by his jokes on the show.
“I offer my humblest apology for offending anyone, particularly those in the Asian community, last week,” he tweeted. “It was not my intention and the humor was not meant with any malice or disrespect whatsoever.”
Asian-American Orgs Aim to Document, Expose Hate Crimes as Trump Administration Begins
As Asian-American groups across the country prepare for Friday’s inauguration, many are approaching the start of the next four years by launching projects aimed at tracking hate crimes and bias incidents.
“There has definitely been an uptick in hate incidents in the months leading up to and after the election,” Karin Wang, the Vice President of Programs and Communications at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles told NBC News. “We felt that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have always had to shoulder this outsider burden and that our stories have not been covered.”
Wang said that while hate incidents against Muslim Americans have received extensive coverage since the election, she says crimes against other members of the community may be being overlooked. “There have been attacks at Asian-American churches, there have been Asian Americans harassed in the street,” she said. “What we are worried about is that people are getting complacent.”