Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | asian american
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The poster for the documentary "Aoki" about Richard Aoki, the Japanese American who was a founding member of the Black Panthers.Here's another reason why we wish we lived on the West Coast: "Aoki," a new documentary about Richard Aoki, the third-generation Japanese American who was one of the founding members of the revolutionary African American Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, is premiering in Oakland (where the Black Panthers were formed) on Nov. 12. At "Here and Now," an event for Asian American non-profit organizations in San Francisco yesterday that Erin and I participated in, someone handed out cards promoting the premiere. And this morning, Angry Asian Man had more information about it. Like most Americans, and probably many Asian Americans, I wasn't aware of the role Aoki played in such a turbulent period of our history. It turns out (the documentary reveals for the fist time) that Aoki, a veteran by the mid-'60s, was the man who gave the Panthers their first guns, from his personal collection, and taught them how to use firearms. Although there were AAPI members of the Panthers, Aoki was the only one in a leadership poition, given the rank of Field Marshall. He went on to be one of the leaders of the emerging Asian American consciousness of the 1970s. He died just this year. It humbles me to learn how little I still know about the history of Asian America. I'm glad people like filmmakers Ben Wang and Mike Cheng are making documentaries like "Aoki." On the "Aoki" website you can read about see clips from the film.

The Austin Asian American Film Festival. Alas, there is no Asian film festival in Denver. There used to be -- the Aurora Asian Film Festival was held in Denver's eastern suburb (people in Aurora hate for their city to be called a suburb). It was sponsored by the Denver Film Society, the folks who bring the annual Deniver International Film Festival to town. But it folded after a few years because the local AAPI community didn't support it (Japanese only went to Japanese films, Chinese went to Chinese films, Filipinos... well you get it. And, many of the communities tried to have too much of a say in what movie should or should not screen. If it was racy, or showed a negative side of the community, the Film Society would get push back to switch the film, or have to fight to show it. So ultimately, it was too much hassle for the trouble. As the Japanese would say, it was mendokusai (a pain in the ass). So I read with envy as the months go by about the San Diego Asian Film Festival, the San Francisco Asian Film Festival, and others. Because I can't go, I usually don't write about them. I tend to write about things that affect readers here in Debver, whether it's a national issue that affects all Asian Americans, or about a Denver Asian community event. But I want to say a few words about the Austin Asian American Film Festival, because 1) it's in one of my all-time favorite towns and 2) I beat up on Austin a little bit a couple of months ago when I wrote about an Asian festival down there that used the "wonton" font, which bugged me, and 3) because Eugenia Beh is doing the publicity for the festival and she's cool and works tirelessly for AAPI causes including Asian Americans for Obama. I traveled to Austin for many years during my music critic days, to spend a blissful week at the South By Southwest Music & Media Conference, and most of the time was spent enjoying Austin and the great food and the great people... and oh yeah, listening to a lot of music. I wish I could go to the AAAFF -- it sounds wonderful.

The Asian American blogosphere is all abuzz, and with good reason. The White House has more AAPIs in high places (the Cabinet) than ever in history. And yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order restoring the President's Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who is Chinese American, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will serve as co-chairs. The the commission was originally created during the Clinton administration, but it expired during George W. Bush's presidency and was not reauthorized. That alone says a lot about Bush's view of AAPIs as a force in this country, I think. It also says a lot about Obama's empathy for and understanding of AAPIs as a people who are woven throughout the fabric of American society. As part of the ceremony, Obama also paid tribute to the South Asian celebration of Diwali, the end of the harvest season in India and Nepal. The video of the ceremony is above; here's the full text of President Obama's speech:

"Lumina, the web-only thriller series, begins webcasting on Sept. 8, 2009 "Lumina," an online-only series produced with Hollywood-level quality by an Asian American, Asian Canadian and plain ol' Asian cast and crew in Hong Kong, is set to debut on the Web on Tuesday, September 8 with a double-episode, and I for one can't wait to check it out. In case you haven't heard about it, here's an earlier post about "Lumina." The series is written and directed by Jennifer Thym, an Asian American who's a longtime expat, living in Hong Kong. From what I've seen of her vision, I think "Lumina" has the cross-cultural potential to make a splash on the international filmmaking scene. Who knows, maybe the webcast will lead to a major studio production. That would be a new way for a filmmaker to break into the Hollywood ranks. Here's what Thym says in a press release about the debut:

Euna Lee (left) and Laura Ling, Asian American journalists, were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea. Journalism can be a dangerous business. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 735 have been killed so far since Jan. 1, 1992 when the organization began keeping track. Many others are kidnapped or imprisoned while they do their work, covering conflicts and uncovering injustices all over the world. Sometimes, like in the case of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal South Asia bureau chief who was abducted and killed in Pakistan in 2002, the story has a tragic ending. Sometimes, like with Iranian American reporter Roxana Saberi's arrest and later release by the Iranian government, the story ends well. We can only hope that Euna Lee and Laura Ling, two Asian American journalists who were arrested and charged with espionage by North Korea back in March and then sentenced to 12 years of hard labor last month, will see a happy ending to their story. The Denver chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association is hosting a candlelight vigil to support Lee and Ling, and to urge the U.S. government to do everything possible to secure their freedom. The vigil is set for 8:30 pm Friday, July 3 at Civic Center Park, Colfax and Broadway in downtown Denver.

The Asakawa family circa 1960 in Hokkaido, Japan: (from left) George, Gary, Gil and Junko (stranger in front). I was born in Japan, so I can say this with a straight face: I'm becoming a born-again Japanese, and it's kinda fun. For years now, Erin and I have thought of ourselves as Asian American first, and Japanese American second. Mostly, it's because we're interested in and feel a kinship with other Asian Americans, whether their heritage is Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Hmong, Indian, Filipino, whatever. We certainly have immersed ourselves in the local Asian American Pacific Islander community, through being involved in events such as the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, the AAPI Heritage Month Community celebration, the (now defunct) Aurora Asian Film Festival, Miss Asian American Colorado Leadership Program, Asian American Journalists Association and others. Erin spent six months last year serving as editor of the feisty little local pan-Asian magazine, Asian Avenue. It's wonderful to feel a part of a larger community within which we share lots of cultural values and appreciate the various cuisines. We've become friends with and learned about Asians across many borders, and generations from immigrant gens to very Americanized. It's also partly because the Japanese community in Denver is small, and insular, and tribal, and ... well, small. It's not like LA or San Francisco or Seattle or New York, where there are lots and lots of JAs to hang with, as well as tons more AAPIs in general. We just felt too constricted sometimes by the local community. But lately, I've found myself being among Japanese, and enjoying it.

Erika Tanaka won the crown as Miss Asian American Colorado 2009.Congratulations to Erika Tanaka, the young Japanese and Vietnamese American woman who won the second annual Miss Asian American Colorado Leadership Program's Finale Show last night. The tiara was there, along with the glitz and glamor. But there was no swimsuit competition, and no one mentioned "world peace." This is no ordinary beauty pageant. The program is all about leadership and community service -- the inner beauty that the 17 contestants all displayed on the stage (yes, it's a cliche, but these woman all have inner beauty, in spades). Erin and I were impressed with all of the contestants when they shared their community service projects, and also impressed with many of their talent segments. Our favorites included what might be expected performances for this kind of event: Abhinetri Ramaswani's singing on a lovely, hypnotic Indian classical song, accompanied by a musician on tablas; Lana Nguyen's performance of a melancholy Vietnamese folksong. But we also enjoyed the performances that showed the "American" side of these Asian American women: Giane Morris' self-penned rock song (complete with a full electric band backing her) about the death of her brother; several spoken word performances including Nguyen Nguyen's passionate poem about her identity, "Beautiful Things"; and several hip-hop dance routines, including a very cool, intricately choreographed duet by Laila Nguyen. There were several non-traditional talents displayed in an entertaining way, including cooking pad Thai, making lotus flowers out of colored napkins, and most notably, a demonstration of the sport of curling (really).

The character of Russell in the movie "Up" is Asian American!From Channel APA: This one snuck up on me, but the new Disney-Pixar animated feature, "Up," stars an Asian American character, voiced by an Asian American kid. The part of Russell, the young scout who gloms onto the grumpy old man Carl just as the two take off on a crazy adventure, is read by Jordan Nagai, a Japanese American young man who was 7 when the movie was made. How cool is that? But wait, there's more: The Russell character itself was modeled on an Asian American animator at Pixar, Peter Sohn.