Veronica Li’s “Confucius Says” will resonate with Asian American families

7-30-2015 11-26-10 AM“Confucius Says” is an engaging novel about Cary, a Chinese American woman who takes in her aging parents largely because of the ancient cultural values and traditions expressed by Confucius, about filial piety and respect for elders.

She has siblings who live far from northern Virginia where she lives, so she becomes the primary caregiver as the novel follows her parents’ slow deterioration and her Caucasian husband’s (and dog’s) struggle to accept this role she has taken on.

Asian Americans will recognize much of their own lives and family dynamics in this serious but often quite funny, and always thought-provoking story.

Veronica Li, the author, recognizes herself, and her parents, who moved in with her.

“It’s completely based on my experience with my parents,” she says. “The reason I did not write it as a memoir, all memoirs written by caregivers is written purely from their point of view.”

In fact, the first draft of the book was written as a memoir.

“When I was writing it I was so depressed,” she admits. “Aging is not fun, as we all know. There were episodes at the ER, the ICU, one after the other.”

She finally realized she could free herself from her personal perspective and have the freedom to tell the same story within a larger, more expressive narrative. So she fictionalized the characters and changed situations to suit the overall wisdom she was trying to share about her experiences.

“It was a very important part of this equation,” she says. “I wanted to have my parents have their say. This was for a selfish reason: Today I’m the caregiver. Tomorrow, I will be the care receiver. So I decided to make this a novel. (Now I’m) telling the story from the omniscient viewpoint of the narrator. I can get into each person’s head and tell each of their point of view.”
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Artifacts contain our cultural history, that’s why they’re so precious

Hand-carved wood panels made in Amache in Colorado during WWII. These were among the items  that would have been auctioned.

Hand-carved wood panels made in Amache in Colorado during WWII. These were among the items that would have been auctioned. Here’s a link to the announcement on JANM’s website.


 
UPDATE MAY 3, 2015:T he Japanese American National Museum announced last night at a gala fundraising honoring George Takei (who’s a JANM board member as well as a community activist) that with Takei’s help, the museum will take in the collection of Japanese American concentration camp artifacts that were originally slated to go to public auction. This is great news, and a brilliant public relations move by JANM and its CEO, Greg Kimura. When can we expect to see the “Eaton Collection Exhibit?” Here’s the Facebook Page, “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale,” with announcements and reactions from the community.
 


I’ve watched the news in horror as ISIS forces have systematically destroyed ancient mosques, temples, artwork and artifacts in their zealous pursuit of religious absolutism. It’s patently offensive to me that there could be such callous disregard for an entire civilization’s recorded and preserved history.

Compared to such crimes against humanity, some people might think that the auction of a personal collection of artifacts from the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II must be a minor controversy.

But the auction, which was to be held April 17, was canceled two days before, following an ad-hoc social media campaign and mainstream media coverage that was sparked by outraged Japanese Americans, was not a minor controversy.

It blew up into a big deal. A Facebook page named “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale” gained almost 7,000 followers after it was created on April 9. A Change.org online petition created just a few days before the auction got almost 8,000 people signed on.
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What are words worth: Hapa, Hafu or Mixed-Race?

My beautiful mixed-race niece, Sage, who calls herself "hapa." This photo was taken on Christmas Day 2014 during a family meal at ... where else? ... a Chinese restaurant.

My beautiful mixed-race niece, Sage, who calls herself “hapa.” This photo was taken on Christmas Day 2014 during a family meal at … where else? … a Chinese restaurant.

I’ve recently finished writing revisions for a new edition of my book, “Being Japanese American: A JA Sourcebook for Nikkei, Hapa … & Their Friends,” which will be published this June by Stone Bridge Press.

I mention this not just to pimp the book to you all (speaking of which, you can pre-order the book now), but because I wrote in the new foreword how I have decided not to use the word “hapa,” at least for now.

Instead, I wrote that I’ll use “mixed race” instead.

Hapa is a word originally used in Hawaii to describe mixed-race people, like half-Asian, half-Hawaiian. The term was used as a slur, but over the years it’s become commonly used even by mixed-race people. In fact, I’ve heard mixed-race people other than Asian combinations refer to themselves as hapa.

But in 2008, when I moderated a panel in Denver titled “The Bonds of Community: Hapa Identity in a Changing U.S.” for a conference sponsored by the Japanese American National Museum, a man stood up during the question-and-answer period and said he thinks it’s a racist term. At the time, I pushed back gently and noted that it’s already a pretty common term.

But the interchange with this man has stayed with me ever since.
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“Fresh Off the Boat” could be the tipping point on TV for Asian Americans

freshofftheboat_cast

There’s a new ABC sitcom being aired starting in February that I can hardly wait to see. I’m hoping “Fresh Off the Boat” will finally be a show where I can see people like me acting the way my family acts, with funny American situations but filtered through an Asian cultural perspective. I expect it’ll be a moment of critical mass for Asians on the U.S. pop consciousness.

It’s about time.

As a baby boomer, I grew up with very few Asian Americans on television. Few enough that everyone stood out. Even until recent years, my wife and I would point to the TV everytime we saw a minor character on TV played by an Asian, or an Asian face on a TV commercial, and yell, “Asian spotting!”

Among the first notable Asian Americans to be spotted on the small screen was Hawaii-born Filipino musician and comic Poncie Ponce, who was cast as the wise-cracking, ukulele-playing cab driver Kazuo “Kim” Quizado on the detective drama “Hawaiian Eye” which aired from 1959-1963.

My earliest memories of seeing an Asian on TV were of Hop Sing, the Chinese cook on “Bonanza,” a Western that also debuted in 1959 but ran until 1973. Hop Sing, played by U.S.-born actor Victor Sen Yung, wore a long queue hanging from under his cap, and diligently fed the Cartwright family for the run of the series, though I don’t recall that he ever cooked up Chinese food, or Chinese American dishes like chop suey, for Hoss and the others. He did face racism in a few episodes, though.
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Meet poet, author, speaker and caregiver Frances Kakugawa

Frances_smFor my role as social media fellow for AARP’s Asian American Community, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, speaking with and writing about some exceptional people. Here’s another in a series of pieces I’m cross-posting from the AARP AAPI Community Facebook page that I manage:

Frances Kakugawa’s new book was perfectly timed, to be published in November for National Caregivers Month. An acclaimed poet, author and speaker who conducts poetry workshops for caregivers who help loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, “I Am Somebody” is part of her series of powerful explorations of what it means to be a caregiver, and the emotional turmoil caregiving can cause.

In “I Am Somebody,” Kakugawa features poems and journal writings from participants in her writing groups, and places them in context by telling their story. It’s a format that is consistent through her series of books, starting with the 2002 publishing of “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry.”

They feature moving verse, powerful and inspirational biographies, and tips for anyone who’s facing the daunting challenge of caregiving, or writing about caregiving. Kakugawa includes her own poetry in her books, because her story is part of the chain that links these caregivers together.

She was herself a caregiver for her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1997 and passed away in 2002. Kakugawa, who was by then a professor and poet found herself writing to express her emotions and found it helped free her from some of the stress of caring for her mother.
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