Documenting Asian American and mixed identity experiences
Author: Sara Hayden
Freckle-faced hapa. Wyoming native based in San Francisco. Part time traveler. Full time wanderer. Ties proverbial silk knots and weaves stories. Currently documenting the Asian American experience across the Mountain West. Got a story tip? Let's have tea and talk!
Jan. 30 marks Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, the first American holiday to be named after an Asian American.
Fred Korematsu refused to be incarcerated following Executive Order 9066 which mandated that people with Japanese ancestry be forcibly relocated from their homes to remote camps in World War II when more than 120,000 innocent people were moved. Korematsu was arrested. His case was eventually taken to the Supreme Court, but it wasn’t until decades later that his name was cleared. Learn more about his story here.
Here are a few suggestions on how to commemorate this day…
Check out Densho
With a collection of oral histories and an archive of online resources, Densho is an organization that’s dedicated to preserving the histories and stories of the Japanese American experience during WWII.
Teach about it locally
The Korematsu Foundation seeks to educate about the importance of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in WWII as well as the Korematsu v. United States case. To bring these lessons to your local classrooms, request a free kit from the Korematsu Institute.
Watch “Allegiance” on Broadway (through Feb. 14)
The show is beautiful. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the audience when I went to see “Allegiance.” With snappy swing numbers and powerful storytelling, it’s not to be missed. Lea Salonga is lovely, and if you’re a Trekkie, now is your chance to catch George Takei live. Get your tickets now – it closes Feb. 14. See more here.
Most of the books I intend to use for research are borrowed from libraries in either print or digital form, but bibliophile that I am I’ve acquired a few. I walked away with five new (old) books for a whopping $1.25. I love bookstores that aren’t overly fussy where you can rummage thrift-store style until you find exactly what you need (but didn’t know it).
Our dear friend Martha told us about the one pictured above. It’s one of three supported by volunteers for Maui Friends of the Library. It’s a place for both private individuals and public libraries to donate used books that are then sold to support local library programs.
“Not only does this keep books out of the landfill, but it provides a place where everyone on Maui can buy books for pocket change,” their website says. With prices generally ranging from free to $2, it’s true!
There might be such a program in your home community, too. Shout out to Poudre River Friends of the Library. I have been enjoying its library’s lovely sunlit desks as I chip away on my reading.
Last week I met a woman who traveled from Thailand to Canada and the U.S. where she pursued her education 25 years ago. She had no intention to stay, but did. It was overseas that she ended up connecting with her Chinese roots.
Now a cultural director at the Wo Hing Museum in Maui’s historic town of Lahaina, Busaba Yip Douglas offered this: “I don’t need Ancestry.com. If we have a good relationship with your ancestors, we don’t have to search for them. They will come to us at the right time, and with the right people.”
This is a story from Cupertino, Calif., a slice of school life. I worked on it for my master’s thesis when I was studying journalism at Stanford and held on to it and didn’t really share it outside of school — I’m not totally sure why. Because I’m embarking on a journey to share more tales from Asian America, I’ll kick it out the door now.
The students featured in here have likely advanced, graduated from middle school or high school or college. Their parents may have retired, switched jobs, something else. I wonder what the community is like now?
In any case, the stories here were recorded in the spring of 2014. The Atlantic published an article called “The Silicon Valley Suicides” by Hanna Rosin last month, and because Cupertino is next door to Palo Alto, where her article is centered, I think it’s relevant to take another look at the various experiences of students in an area exceptional for its multicultural makeup and academic experience.
Hey, this is groovy! The Freedom of Information Act has been reformed to make it easier for the public to access the government and its records.
FOIA states that generally “any person has a right…to access federal agency records.” Reform improvements include offering a one-stop shop-type portal where users can issue FOIA requests to all agencies, as well as encouraging agencies to be more open to disclosure, according to a press release.
Find out more about what the reform entails this summary on the blog from the Society of Professional Journalists (of which I’m a member).
From SPJ: “The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.”
This is is the million dollar question, the one I get asked most frequently: “What are you going to write about?”
My usual response is that I have a general idea of what the story might be about, but rarely know in full until it’s finished and published. It’s the people I encounter and research I do that transform the story and give it its final form.
I’m constantly on the lookout for “nuggets,” these little sound bytes, inconsistencies, or funny details that either throw my initial hunch for a loop or make me go, “Huh! This is way more interesting than what I originally had in mind.”
Nuggets point to something richer than what I’ve initially scratched up on the surface, show me places to dig deeper that will lead to the truest, most interesting story.
Sometimes these nuggets add a layer of texture to the story that’s already been mined. At other times they alter the story to be completely different from the one I set out to tell.
Glynn Washington, the storyteller behind radio show Snap Judgment, articulates this beautifully. Interviewed by journalist Daniel Alarcón in the Winter 2015 issue of California magazine, Washington had this to say about circling back on interviews to revisit stories:
“When we start an interview, we have an idea of where the interview is going to go. There’s a reason we’re talking to this person. We think we might know something of the story, and we’re looking for that person to tell it to us,” Washington said. “But then there’s the surprise, where he or she just took us somewhere the interviewer was not expecting…And we’re trying to tell stories that are really true to the person’s experience…And sometimes this great storyline we had thought out, that’s just not gonna work. That’s just not what happened. But maybe something else will.”
– Sara Hayden
Delivered in three outrageously funny monologues, Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Aliens in America” makes the alien feel familiar. Image courtesy: Amazon
One audio story told in three monologues, Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Aliens in America” pulls into focus a childhood with her Chinese father and German mother in Southern California.
“I guess a man looks better in a Buick than he ought,” Loh recalls of the fateful day when her parents first met. “Especially when it’s surrounded by Southern California in the ’50s, a palm-fringed, swimming pool-dotted utopia lit by a sun so bright you actually start to hallucinate.”
Thus starts a relationship between a German woman who survived WWII bombings and a Chinese man who’d been orphaned in Shanghai. Having survived tough circumstances and given them up for cheerier ones in the U.S. is where their similarities end. Their odd union eventually leads to two daughters, including Loh and her sister Kaitlin, and innumerable family clashes. Continue reading “Aliens in America by Sandra Tsing Loh”→
“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan elegantly weaves together the stories of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters. | Image courtesy: Novelr
As a child, I’d curl up next to Mom on the couch and she’d read to me aloud. There was a constant stream of stories and picture books. One rested on a high shelf next to the fire place out of reach. Gorgeous swoops of color swirled over its cover sleeve. With its hardback, I knew it was special. It turned out to be “The Moon Lady,” and that’s how I came to know Amy Tan and my first Asian American writer.
Now more than two decades later, I turn to her first novel.
Brag moment: I’ve had the great fortune to help my rockstar friend with his rockstar book and it’s featured in the latest issue of the University of Nebraska Press catalog (see page 5).
Charlie and I met working at the Half Moon Bay Review. A talented photographer, he provided pictures as I provided words and together we made hundreds of stories.
Since then he’s been writing one of his own. A big one — a biography on one of the most influential players in media and martial arts, not to mention Asian America. If you haven’t met him already, meet him now. It’s Bruce Lee!
Patricia Park’s debut novel“Re Jane” recounts the post-grad life of its title heroine as she balances her Korean and American identities. | Image courtesy: Navdheep Singh Dhillon, who happens to have a really great list of recent novels by people of color.
For Jane Re, it ain’t easy being 20-something. Fresh out of college, the job market sucks and she’s peppered with criticism at home by the uncle who’s raised her in Queens. What’s a girl to do?
Get the heck out of Flushing, for starters, then find a job as a nanny, inappropriately fall for her employer, recognize the inappropriateness of it all, run far, far away, and work through something of an identity crisis.