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 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


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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Want to get a photo in v2.0 of my book, “Being Japanese American?”


Japanese American friends: Help me make the revised edition of “Being Japanese American” the best book it can be!

I’m looking for photographs of the Japanese American experience, to include in the revised 2015 edition of my book, “Being Japanese American.” Not just portraits but photos that capture our lives as JAs. Here are some examples of things I’m looking for:

gil-selfportraitIt would be great to have photos of festivals, cultural classes, church or temple services, JA food (family dinners), holiday get-togethers (July 4th, New Year’s!), community picnics, JA sports teams or players, JAs playing music (like me above), JAs in traditional Japanese clothes maybe at obon but also JAs in American clothes (kids playing in jeans and t-shirts), JAs at tourist spots like Disneyland, JAs with long hair from the ’60s or ’70s (like me at right in my pretentious art school self-portrait), JAs with ’80s hair, or dressed up for prom or homecoming….

If Stone Bridge Press uses your photo, they will send you a free copy of the book, when it’s published in June, 2015.

Please scan your photos at high resolution (300 DPI is ideal) and email them to me at, with an explanation of who is in the photo and what’s going on. I’ll send them to the publisher, and they will make the decision on which ones to use.

Thanks everyone!