Living in the World Authentically March 2nd, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Weston Koyama  小山ヱストン

rainy-portlandHow does one live in the world authentically? I tell people I’m an Oregonian, but in truth I was born in California. But I don’t remember any of that because we moved when I was a toddler to Ohio. At age 7, my family moved again to Connecticut and again at age 9 back to California and once more again to Oregon at age 12 in 2003. I’ve lived in Oregon since that time and because my ancestors are from Oregon having immigrated here from Japan in 1915, I usually say that I am from Oregon. But there were still times when I felt inauthentic. At Portland State University, I developed the habit of carrying an umbrella with me. My friends would tease, “Only Californians carry umbrellas.” So then, what does it mean to live authentically as an Oregonian? Or as a Japanese American? Or as an American? I’ve since come to take pride in my uniqueness as an umbrella-wielding youngster in Portland and with that pride I’ve discovered something else about identity. Living in the world authentically is not about foregoing umbrellas or passing litmus tests; living in the world authentically is about owning your identity by taking pride in exactly who you are.

I struggled to take pride in my ethnicity as a Japanese American as a young boy. Growing up in mostly white communities, my peers often asked me, “Why is your English so good?” and “Can you say something in Chinese?” I was much too young to come up with witty comebacks to their ignorant remarks and often felt unable to say anything at all. On the one hand, I wanted to fit in and be seen as an authentic American, just like everyone else. On the other hand, I wanted to please my interlocutor but never felt Chinese enough to say something cogent about China or even Asia for that matter. Of course, I’m not Chinese, but to a fellow seven-year-old I’m just a foreigner despite being a fourth generation American whose ancestors immigrated to the United States in 1915. Unable to blend in as an “authentic” American or as an “authentic” Asian person, I felt utterly detached from my peers because I didn’t possess the confidence or the vocabulary to defend my identity.

How does one start to own their identity? I think owning one’s identity starts with understanding the vocabulary needed to articulate and defend one’s self from prejudices and stereotypes projected on to us by others. Even as a young college student my vocabulary was limited to protestations about my Americanness. “No,” I would state firmly, “I do not know Japanese any more than a fourth generation German American knows German.” But these protestations felt exhausting and unsatisfying. They felt exhausting because of how often I would have to repeat them. They felt unsatisfying because as much as I wanted to be seen as a pure American, I knew deep down that my Asian face would always mark me as a foreigner. European Americans abandon their heritage language in exchange for being seen as normal Americans. My parents and I had abandoned the Japanese language and culture in exchange for nothing at all. I didn’t have the vocabulary to state plainly, “I don’t know Japanese, but that is because of decades of oppressive forces that stripped my family of its culture.” I didn’t have the pride to say, “Nonetheless, I am proud to be Japanese American.”

Cultivating a vocabulary necessary to take pride in one’s identity is at times difficult. At first it can feel like you’re a faker. But just like us umbrella-wielding Oregonians prove that there is no one right way to be an Oregonian, there is likewise no one right way to be American or Japanese American. I can tell you that the single most effective way to develop one’s vocabulary around Japanese American identity is through studying one’s cultural heritage. This doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of studying the Japanese language, but for me it did. Along my language learning journey, I’ve discovered many different ways of doing being Japanese American. I studied my family’s incarceration experience at Minidoka and pieced together my great-grandfather’s story as one of the first Japanese American dentists in Portland. The sacrifices of my ancestors serve as a powerful source of affirmation and hence of vocabulary for articulating my identity.

Regardless of whether your family immigrated to the United States recently or a century ago like mine, studying one’s heritage and history cultivates a vocabulary. With this vocabulary, one might state confidently, “My family was forced to speak only English and not Japanese because to speak Japanese would make you the target of hatred,” or “No one in my family speaks Japanese anymore, but I’m learning my heritage language to connect with a piece of my culture that has been lost due to oppression.” With vocabulary comes pride. The ability to state confidently, “I am a fourth generation Japanese American,” fundamentally changed the way I walk in this world. I no longer feel detached from my peers. I feel grounded by roots that stretch back to Japan and speak to enormous courage and sacrifice to get me to where I am today. And with my vocabulary I feel empowered to educate my peers so that they might make fewer assumptions about people like me in the future.

I started this essay with a question: How does one live in this world authentically? The answer is surprisingly simple. To live in the world authentically means to take ownership of our identities. Rather than cower to the notion that all Oregonians tough out the rain without an umbrella, I decided that I would take pride in my family’s roots in Oregon notwithstanding my umbrella collection. And likewise, though my knowledge about my ancestry is not perfect or complete, I know enough to understand the struggles they went through. I feel grounded enough to push back against the assumption that Asians are automatically foreigners because of their face. With my voice and vocabulary, I am empowered to speak to exactly who I am. And I will always be proud of who I am.

Weston Koyama

Bio: Weston Koyama, a fourth generation Oregonian and Japanese American, seeks to articulate the nuances of the human experience through the written word. Weston’s writing touches on his experiences living and studying in Oregon as he explores the many different ways of being Asian American in contemporary society. His current project involves articulating how the trauma caused by Japanese American incarceration during World War II continues to affect present generations. Weston hopes to someday publish his work for a larger audience. Currently, Weston studies at the University of Oregon School of Law where he is a J.D. candidate in the class of 2019. Weston is the first Minoru Yasui Fellow at the University of Oregon in addition to serving as a Wayne Morse Fellow. He also currently serves as co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association at the University of Oregon. His other interests include disability activism, piano, and computer technology.

Fighting for Identity February 1st, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

simon-tam-at-the-supreme-courtContributed by Anthology author, Simon Tam

It’s Monday morning. June 19, 2017. After working fifteen-hour days everyday for a month straight, I’m bleary with exhaustion. It is one of the few remaining days that the Supreme Court could possibly publish their decision on my case. Fifty-fifty chance it happens this morning.

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s tweet is before my eyes: SCOTUS Rules in Favor of The Slants. I open my email and see my attorney’s one word note with the decision attached. “Congratulations.”

I’m shaking as I open the file, trying to work my way through the dense legal opinion written by Justice Alito. I want to know how the court is divided, what they actually say, how my life’s work is judged by the nation’s highest court. I’m only a few pages in when a ring erupts the silence. It’s a reporter trying to get the scoop. It is only minutes after the high court’s decision. They ask me the obvious question:

“How do you feel?”

I stammer out something that sounds like a canned speech, including being “humbled and thrilled,” though I’m not feeling anything at all. I hang up and text my publicist. Supreme court ruled in our favor. I publish a statement on the Slants’ website and social media. It’s been about thirty minutes since the decision was released and I’m already at about 2,000 messages.

I am setting up interviews every ten minutes for the next ten hours, but most of my calls are interrupted by other reporters who are “breaking” the story. And it does feel broken: I quickly scan the news and see how every major media outlet begins reporting on the issue: “Washington Redskins Win Supreme Court Decision,” “Redskins Score Major Victory in Supreme Court Case,” “Offensive Speech Now OK Says Supreme Court.” I click on the only headline that mentions the band’s name and a photo of the Redskins’ football helmet appears on my screen.

For years, I had dreamed of the moment of vindication. I imagined how it would feel to be a part of the legacy of social justice, even if it was only through an obscure part of law. Just a few months earlier, I had a dream where the Supreme Court ruled in our favor. In that scenario, the curiosity about our David vs. Goliath case led people to look at how the law was being applied: inconsistently, subjectively, and improperly. People weren’t talking about football teams; instead, they were finally paying attention to the narrative of the marginalized. Of course, it was only a dream.

Simon Tam, a member of the band The Slants, speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Simon Tam, a member of the band The Slants, speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court.

The euphoria that I was expecting was instead replaced with dread and disgust. The press had re-framed our struggle and the major concepts about liberty into a narrative around a racist football team. I didn’t feel vindication for our victory; I felt a deep sense of injustice. I felt far more responsibility to provide an answer to the flurry of tweets from a number of Native American activists.

There’s no doubt that these individuals were expressing their dismay at what they perceived as delivering victory on a silver platter to Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. And it was me, Simon Tam, who had delivered the head of John the Baptist to Herod Antipas. In a flurry of tweets, I was accused of being a native-born person of color perpetuating the work of colonizers. They characterized this decision on trademark registration law as the floodgate for hate speech. They intimated that I single-handedly doomed all efforts to remove mascots from pro sports.

I tried to address some of the concerns by offering clarity around our process and how trademark laws work. I tried to express how the law I’d been fighting had allowed the government the ability to deny rights based on people’s race, gender, and sexual orientation. I even explained that I’d met with over 140 social justice groups, including numerous confederated tribal leaders. I sincerely wanted to engage with empathy. But my engagement on Twitter only seemed to create greater fury, more harsh personal accusations of bad will and selfish motivations.

I felt frustration, confusion, and sadness.

Almost eight years of my life – about 2,800 days – had been poured into this battle for self-identity. And now that it is over, I realize that the fight isn’t really over. I have learned the following lessons:

First, there is a difference between an ethical standard and a legal one. While we’d like to think that what is legal is also right, we know that the enforcement of the law allows more room for the privileged, for dominant groups to abuse laws. In this instance, if we were to give the government power to discern the difference between marginalized identities being re-appropriated and those abusing speech, we are extremely naive in thinking that they have the ability or interest in doing so. They’ve repeatedly failed, which is why the law was used primarily against people of color and the LGBTQ community.

Second, we have to seriously question whether or not the battleground for these kinds of issues should be waged at the desks of examining attorneys at the Trademark Office: does a trademark registration (or lack of) actually address racism? I would say not. And if the law is being used against marginalized communities, that type of institutionalized discrimination creates greater harm than trademark registrations. What the media – and most people – don’t understand is that if the campaign to get the Washington football team’s trademark registration was successful, it still wouldn’t force the team name to change. In fact, it wouldn’t even hurt them because they have so much trademark equity (brand usage, resources), they would still have 100% protection over their trademark. Is symbolic victory that doesn’t actually accomplish the goal of getting the team name to change worth the dehumanizing process of suppressing re-appropriation movements of the marginalized? I would argue that it is not.

We have to think about our end goal of justice: what does it look like? Instead of focusing on punishing the wicked, such as the Washington football team, true equity is creating more options in our society for those who have the fewest. Otherwise, we’re so blinded with the former activity that we are willing to accept the collateral damage being experienced by the marginalized. If the government truly cared about fighting against racism through the Trademark Office, why didn’t they begin by cancelling registrations for the KKK, Stormfront, or other known white supremacist groups? Why did they choose to wage this battle against The Slants, Dykes on Bikes (lesbian motorcycle group), HEEB Media (Jewish magazine), and others engaged in anti-discrimination work? As the marginalized, our biggest struggles are not against harmful language – people will always find ways to abuse and twist words – our biggest challenges are against institutionalized and systemic discrimination, such as outdated processes that do not allow our communities to progress.


SimonTan250KB Jan2016Bio:  Simon Tam is an author, musician, entrepreneur, and activist. He is best known as the founder and bassist of The Slants, the world’s first and only all-Asian American dance rock band. His work in the arts has been highlighted in over 3,000 media features across 200 countries including The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, BBC, NPR, TIME Magazine, and Rolling Stone.

He was named a champion of diverse issues by the White House and worked with President Barack Obama’s campaign to fight bullying. He recently helped expand freedom of speech through winning a unanimous victory at the Supreme Court of the United States for a landmark case in constitutional and trademark law (Matal v. Tam).

Simon has been a keynote speaker, performer, and presenter at TEDx, SXSW, Comic-Con, The Department of Defense, Stanford University, and over 1,200 events across North America, Europe, and Asia. He has set a world record by appearing on the TEDx stage 12 times.

He designed one of the first college-accredited social media programs in the United States. Bloomberg Businessweek called him a “Social Media Rockstar.” Forbes says his resume is a “paragon of completeness.”   cover2

Recently, he was recognized as a Freedom Fighter by the Roosevelt Rough Writers, named Citizen of the Year from the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Portland Lodge, Portland Rising Star from the Light a Fire Awards, received a Distinguished Alum Award from Marylhurst University, and the Mark T. Banner award from the American Bar Association.

He serves as board chair for the APANO United Communities Fund and member/advisor for multiple nonprofit organizations dedicated to social justice and the arts.

You can find Simon’s appearances, writing, and current projects at 

“Just Doug”: My Life as an Asian American Actor December 31st, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Doug Kim


At the age of 22, I graduated from a top U.S. university and was about to start a career in the coveted field of management consulting in New York. By all accounts, I was living out the “American dream.” But was it, in fact, my dream?

I grew up in what the media sees as the stereotypical Asian American “model minority” experience: a Korean American family bent on academic success above all else. My parents, children born in the aftermath of the Korean War, were conditioned to value survival and prosperity, moving to America for these ideals. The New York metropolitan area is probably the fiercest academic crucible in the country, especially for Asian Americans, and seemed to be the perfect spot for my parents to raise a family.

As much as America paints itself as the land of opportunity, life has never been easy for any immigrant group. As a kid, I wasn’t an outgoing or sociable person. I was the typical nerd. My parents, uneducated in American social dynamics, found it hard to “help” me socially. They meant well and ingrained in me the idea that it was only important to keep my head down, work hard, get ahead, and then everything would work itself out in my adult life.

My escape was in stories, in any consumable format that I could handle, comic books, novels, TV, movies, video games. I escaped because my adolescent reality wasn’t very appealing, working towards an amorphous goal of “making it” as an adult. While I didn’t abandon those goals and pursued studies (somewhat) diligently, it was here where my love of storytelling began.

As I sought out narratives to populate my imagination, I became acutely aware that the storytelling in America rarely includes Asians as anything more than caricatures or backdrop dressing for the “American” (read: White) hero to prevail. But while I enjoyed Jackie Chan’s movies, I related more with actors like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams because I identified as an American, and I felt their stories on a much more personal level. But I wasn’t an idiot. I knew that I was Asian and that my chances of being a Carrey or Williams were infinitesimal.

20604566_10102026724549564_4304332985278390435_nAs an angst-filled teen, some of my more nascent theatrical attributes started to manifest. I became somewhat of a class clown and gained popularity, but I also loved performing music. I found creative outlets for myself in performance art despite my continued focus on academic success. Ultimately however, I felt discouraged because as much as a career in entertainment seemed like a pipe dream, it seemed like a pipe-dreamers pipe dream for an Asian American.

In college, I found another outlet for my talents and training — poker. I started playing as a freshman, addicted to its allure and its foundational ties to mathematics and logical analysis. It wasn’t just the fun and the money that I enjoyed. In some ways, poker is as pure a meritocracy as one will encounter in life. Success is directly proportional to the talent and work put into the game. Of course, although there’s a lot of luck involved, it also ironically validates values instilled in me by my parents, confirming that hard work gets you to the top.

However, it wasn’t my poker winnings that convinced me to take the leap of faith to become an actor but rather the financial crisis of 2008 when I was laid off from my job as a consultant. I decided to take a step back and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. One of the movies that inspired me was Harold and Kumar, one of the first movies I had seen with characters I could relate to (I drove to the movie in my silver Toyota Camry with my Indian best friend who was in med school at the time, while I was doing a finance internship; it was very surreal).  It was the first time I saw that maybe, JUST MAYBE, it was possible to pursue a career in entertainment as an Asian American. Hard work had gotten me everything up to that point so why would it be any different in the entertainment field?

For the uninitiated, the entertainment industry is very capricious and opaque, which makes it a very relationship-based industry. Success is almost always predicated on who you know and how influential they might be. For ANYONE, not just Asian Americans, it’s a battle, a competition to show why your story matters over the thousands of other hopefuls with their own stories. As a result, it’s not always about who’s the most talented but instead who’s the best at promoting themselves.

Coming from a background where I thought effort was directly proportional to success, this was a lesson that took me much too long to figure out. I had done training at a conservatory and come to L.A. fully expecting to start working relatively quickly. It didn’t pan out as I had planned. Part of my problem was not knowing exactly how to focus my efforts and to build a platform for myself, but this is a fundamental disadvantage that Asian Americans have in this industry. They have few people to turn to for support and guidance.

I won’t say that I’m the best actor in the world and was just down on my luck, because that wouldn’t be true. Looking back, I could have definitely done some things differently, but a few years ago, transitioning into my 30s, my “Asian” career-oriented side started gnawing at me. Did I make a terrible mistake in pursuing this career? Were my parents right to question my life decisions? I even started questioning my own romantic life, thinking that if I had just towed the line and been a “good little Asian,” I might have started a family by now. Who the hell wants to date a 30+ year-old unknown actor?

It was out of this desperation that I drew inspiration. After watching shows like Girls and Togetherness, I realized that we have the power to be content creators of our own personal stories. The blueprint for Asian American content creation was laid-out by content creators like Wong Fu Productions, JK Films, and Fung Bros. on platforms such as YouTube. They proved that there’s a demand for storytelling where people feel like they’re being represented.

I started working on a web series for myself, writing stories about Asian American life that wasn’t being told in Hollywood. This web series morphed into a short film, which then morphed into a pilot TV show. As my ambitions grew, so did my project’s scale. Over the course of a few years, I spent all my energy, time and personal finances building what I believe is the genesis of genuine Asian American storytelling.

My show, Just Doug, is a semi-autobiographical show on Facebook Watch. It’s about my life as an Asian American actor in Los Angeles. At its heart is a story about what life looks like for an Asian American trying to insert himself into the conversation of American culture. It’s about the compromises marginalized people might have to make for greater acceptance into society. It’s almost like X-Men, except instead of mutants, we’re Asian, and instead of Professor X … you have me. I want people to realize that Asian Americans are people, humans, and … Americans who just happen to be another ethnicity.

I made the show to accurately portray the Asian American experience and what it looks like to us, the 2nd generation that knows what it’s like to come from an immigrant family but also identifies with many American ideals and desires. To that end, I assembled a mostly Asian American cast, with a writer, director, DP, music director and many other crew members to be Asian American, to prove that we have what it takes to tell a good story without Matt Damon coming in to save the day.

0235-Edit-Final(WEBonly)Bio:  Doug Kim studied economics at Duke University and was a former management consultant. He was also a professional poker player who, in 2006, managed to make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas.  Shortly after the financial crisis, he decided to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. He is now an executive producer, actor, and writer for a semi-autobiographical comedy series called Just Doug, available for viewing on Facebook Watch. He is passionate about bringing to life stories from the Asian American viewpoint and helping people begin to see Asian Americans as simply Americans.
twitter: sweetjustice
instagram: vindicatingjustice / justdougseries

First to Go: The Story of the Kataoka Family (Part 2) November 30th, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

First to Go Vimeo with LaurelsThoughts from Award-Winning Filmmaker, Myles Matsuno

Those who know me will tell you that family is everything to me.

Growing up, it felt like my dad always had a Hi-8 mini DV camcorder ready to roll on my sister and me. The footage was your typical family montage. Us playing sports, opening Christmas presents, school activities, vacation trips, singing 90’s hit songs — the list goes on.

In the 90’s, it took intention and effort to capture these moments. There were no cell phones to point and shoot high quality video. You had to carry around a bulky camcorder in a bag, hoping you had charged the battery, and capture it all on a 60-90 minute tape. And God forbid if you accidentally re-recorded over your little sister’s birthday from the year before …

Back then, that camcorder was just a cool toy to make home movies. Today, the memories captured by that same camcorder are more than just a “no big deal”. They’re everything to me.

It’s part of the reason I’m making films today. It’s the main reason behind what I look for when making a movie: capturing moments. And it plays a big role in why I made my documentary First to Go: Story of the Kataoka Family.

Manzanar Internment Camp 2015The Japanese Incarceration is something that’s glossed over in American history. It was brushed over in my high school and college educations. For some, it wasn’t taught at all. And I get it … it’s embarrassing. America didn’t save the day on this one. In fact, they dropped the ball. But you know what? So did I.

For someone who cherishes family and stories as much as me, you would’ve thought I’d have taken the time to learn about the subject a little more. I guess that’s what they call being young and naive. But I’ll call it for what it was … being a selfish teenager.

sf examinerI never took the time to really dig into what my grandparents and roughly 120,000 other Japanese Americans and immigrants went through in this country. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I actually took the time to read the front page of the San Francisco Examiner that my father has framed and hanging on his wall. It’s the same enlarged one-sheet he’s had hanging on his wall for decades. The paper was published on December 8th 1941, and the title reads, “First S.F. Japanese Prisoner.” It has the picture of a Japanese man being handcuffed and escorted out of a hotel by the FBI. That prisoner was my great-grandfather, Ichiro Kataoka, and that hotel was his hotel. I learned that my family legacy is one that is touching, inspiring, and hopeful.

Ichiro KataokaFor years, this story resonated within me. I wanted to know everything about it. I would talk to my grandmother about what she went through. I would go to museum exhibits on the subject, read books, and Google whatever I could find online. I even filed for all the documents that were collected on Ichiro Kataoka during that time. And just like my father did with my sister and me, I wanted to document everything. I wanted something tangible. Something I could show my family for generations to come. So, without a real plan, I set out to do just that. Make a film based on my family’s experience of the Japanese Incarceration. And this process has forever changed my life.

I get asked quite often how and why I made this film. Questions like… is it for a political agenda? Where did I gather all the footage? What was my intention behind the film? Did it leave me in a vulnerable state putting my family out there for people to see? What’s next now that it’s done?

Mary Matsuno and James Matsuno_2First and foremost, I made this film for my family. I wanted to preserve our family’s history for current and future generations, so both my family and others will never forget what happened to real people in a time of war. Almost all of the footage in the film is personal. I digitized and captured four different generations dating all the way back to my great-grandfather. Releasing our family’s film to the public as a documentary does make us vulnerable, especially in an industry where critics can be harsh and rejection is common. Sometimes, I didn’t want to let the public see what happened to our family because this would open us up to the judgment of complete strangers. Would I do justice to my family’s story? Make my family proud?

In the end it was all worth it. The countless hours of footage watched and digitized, all the family documents gathered from the government, the countless photo albums looked through, the sleepless nights and multiple edit revisions, and the self-doubt that looms over every artist taking creative risks.

In the end, I’m glad I did send the film to festivals and show it in classes. It’s been well-received and we racked up some awards along the way. The most recent win was the audience award at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, AL. The audience award means the most to me because it’s the people’s award.

Toshi HandaMy hope for this film is that it not only educates the viewer but also brings them a sense of hope. A hope that good can come from even the darkest of situations. I don’t downplay Executive Order 9066 issued by President Roosevelt. It was a horrible time in our country. It was a time when racism led to fear and fear led to racism. But like my Aunt Toshi says in the film, “Well as bad as camp was, one thing, I met your dad here. … We were in block 11 they were in block 9 … If it wasn’t for camp you kids wouldn’t be here. … that’s the only good thing… .” That’s the message of hope I’m talking about and it’s overwhelming to see people recognize this hope after watching the film.

This film is part of the history of why I’m here today. After making this film I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing where you come from. When our camcorders can fit into our pockets, there shouldn’t be any excuse not to make those memories and capture those moments of yourself, family, and friends. Document and pass them down to the generations that follow so they will know those who came before them.

Mary MatsunoAs my grandma says in the legacy letter I found when making the film, “Just like my mother, I, too, have lived a life of shiawase.” Shi-a-wase in Japanese means fortunate or happiness.

After everything she’s been through, she still believes she has “lived a life of happiness.” I hope I can say the same in 60 years.


Myles Matsuno-2Bio: Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, Myles Matsuno focuses on developing meaningful stories that convey strong messages through visual aesthetics. For him, everything he creates comes down to two final factors: the Audience and Moments. Having led efforts for ABC LA in the technical direction of shows such as The Academy Awards, Dancing with the Stars, NBA Finals, and more, Matsuno has also gained international recognition for his films because of their honest and inspiring messages. His films have been shown in many festivals and won awards throughout the country. His latest works are the feature, Christmas in July, and the documentary, First to Go: Story of the Kataoka Family. His documentary is expected to be released in December 2017. Please check his websites: and He may also be contacted through Instagram: @myles_matsuno and Twitter: @MylesMatsuno.


First to Go: The Story of the Kataoka Family October 31st, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

sf examinerThe Inspiration Behind the Award-Winning Documentary

Contributed by special guest writer, Mark Matsuno

One of life’s simple pleasures when I was a kid was leafing through old family photo albums. The weather was often grey and gloomy in San Francisco’s Richmond District, being close to the bay as the fog rolled in, so I would often grab a few albums and find a cozy spot on the living room carpet next to the fake log fire and transport myself to another time. I always loved seeing those old deckle-edged black and white photographs of my mom and dad, my relatives and especially my sister and brother caught in a candid moment or just clowning around. By then, there were color photos, but the years had given them an antiquated patina, adding a nostalgic effect, which your iPhone’s camera filters can only attempt to duplicate. In this digital age, I find it sad that kids these days won’t know the simple pleasure of gathering around old albums.

Photos that predate the ‘50s are particularly interesting to me. I often had no idea who these Japanese immigrants were, but they always looked so dignified in their stoic poses and they always seemed to be dressed in black three-piece suits like they were going somewhere important. They would often pose in front of a big black car, which I’m told was seldom their own. The suits could very well have been navy blue or Prince purple, but in black and white photos, your mind has to make the choice. I chose blacks and greys. I would ask my mom about them. “Who are these people?” Most of the time, she wouldn’t even know.

I must have been around fourteen when I came across an article neatly cut out of the San Francisco Examiner’s front page. I remember my mom telling me something about her father being “the first to be taken away,” but here was a yellowing piece of actual proof. In the masthead, it read, “Monday, December 8, 1941.” The headline read, “First S.F. Japanese Prisoner,” and there was a picture of my grandfather, Ichiro Kataoka, being escorted in handcuffs down the front steps of his hotel on Post Street in the heart of San Francisco’s Nihonmachi.

TUNNEL VISION 36” X 18” ACRYLIC ON CANVASAmong all the melancholic, endearing, funny photos was this dark piece of family history that would nag at me through the years. I had to know if my grandpa, who I barely remember since he passed away when I was three years old, was a criminal. You always want to believe that your country is fair and just and that the FBI would only go after the bad guys. My mom was a young girl of fourteen when the Japanese Imperial Air Force sent planes to destroy the US Naval Base in Honolulu at Pearl Harbor, so she had very little understanding of what was happening to her father, and eventually to her mother, herself and her five siblings. What she had to offer as an explanation was this: my grandfather was a businessman who was able to buy a hotel in the Japanese section of the city. In cornering that market, he would often drive out to the docks and greet incoming ships carrying passengers from Japan before the days of air travel. He would introduce himself as the owner of Aki Hotel and make them feel less like strangers in a strange land. It was partly an act of kindness, but it was mostly just smart. As a result of his frequent trips to the ships, bowing to greet new Japanese immigrants, along with his growing prominence in the Japanese community, he was secretly under surveillance.

METRO 20” X 20” ACRYLIC ON CANVASWhat I do remember about my grandpa was that he was a small, quiet man. He couldn’t speak English well, so we had little actual conversation. It’s a typical Sansei dilemma. When the FBI cuffed him, he went peacefully to meet whatever fate his new country would impose on him. I’m sure he was scared and had no idea of the magnitude of what would follow for his family and 150,000 other people of Japanese ancestry trying to make America their new home. He was taken first as an example of what would happen to the entire Japanese community in San Francisco.

SF VIEW 36” X 18” ACRYLIC ON CANVASFlash forward to the early ‘70s. I had moved to Los Angeles to start a career in advertising. My grandfather had been long gone and the days of flipping through photo albums were far behind me. I kept in touch with my family as much as I could and would take frequent trips to San Francisco. On one of those trips, I heard that my cousin, Marjorie, had gotten a job at The Examiner. I didn’t connect the dots until a couple of years later that she might be able to access the microfilm of that newspaper article. I thought it would be great to send it to a color lab, make large framed posters and give them to my relatives on my mother’s side. Marjorie came through for me and in turn, I surprised my family with theatrical poster-sized sepia-toned framed copies. For me, the importance of that piece of family history was mostly personal, a piece of the Kataoka legacy.

Little did I know that my son, Myles, would grow up to become an accomplished filmmaker and use his great-grandfather’s story to create a beautiful, heartfelt and poignant documentary using my mother, one of two surviving children, as the onscreen narrator. Myles had a vision surpassing my own and the ambition and talent to make it happen.

On a personal note, I am thrilled that my grandfather’s story is now immortalized, as well as my mother’s persona. On a more far-reaching note, Myles’ award-winning documentary, “First To Go: The Story of the Kataoka Family,” has been shown in many film festivals across the country this past year, opening the eyes of many Americans who had no idea this injustice had ever happened. Without getting into the ramifications of racial profiling and current immigration tensions, it’s my hope that, in some small way, my son’s film can bolster awareness and ultimately make a difference.

mark matsuno photoBio:  Mark Matsuno was born and raised in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles at the age of twenty to pursue a career in advertising. After a three-year stint at Young & Rubicam West, he started his own graphic design boutique specializing in movie advertising. Currently, he has his own design firm in Glendale, CA. Much of his time is spent on high-profile films such as Jurassic World, Minions and many others. He is the proud father of son, Myles, and daughter, Alyssa.

Mark is also a dedicated fine artist creating paintings of urban landscapes among other subject matter. You can view his art throughout this posting and at













A Cosmic Dating Experience October 1st, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Dan Chinn

imageWhen a guy has had bad luck with women for awhile, he begins to think that he is jinxed. It seemed that every woman I met that I was attracted to was either involved with someone or didn’t like my style. My style back then was Hippie. Never a fashionable high point in the history of style, but I was making a statement about materialism and being a Hippie was part of the idealism that ran through the collegiate universe at that time. It was 1971 and I was living just off campus in a house that I shared with three other loosely associated friends who were like-minded. We all wore our hair long and liked flannel shirts and blue jeans. That year, I wore the same flannel shirt and jeans every day and a lot of my friends would wear the same “outfit” most of the time. I could recognize my friends from a great distance just from their clothing. The comfort of cotton was more important than being fashionable. The more you washed flannel the softer it became. I really loved my blue, white and red plaid shirt. I would wash it once a week and I was good. After a year of wearing it and washing it, the fabric had lost some of its bulk and the colors had slowly washed out so it was getting thin. So thin was it that one of my roommates had put his finger into a small hole and ripped it in half. I went down to JC Penney’s and bought two new flannel shirts the same day.

My persona restored to its former un-capitalistic glory, I was back on the hunt for my Hippie Chick and some of that “free love” that Hippies were supposed to be getting. I was 22 years old at the time and still taking classes at Portland State University. It was summer and the campus was sparsely populated. PSU is a city college with most students living off campus, some at home with their families and some living in student housing. Summer term was lonely for unpaired singles.

I had not outgrown my love for comic books and found that the new generation of “Head Comic books ” was a great source of amusement. Zap Comics, The Furry Freak Brothers and Dr. Atomic comics were a laugh a minute and the exaggerated artwork was accompanied by witty situations and Hippie philosophy. Some of which became quoted by the general college pot-smoking “Heads.” Sayings like “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” And common terms and sayings would get mutated by comedians and friends. Second and third generation slang like “Right on” became “Rat on” to be funny. And phrases became contracted like instead of “I got to go home” became ” I gotta.” This counter-cultural shift in English was mirrored in the new comics and a lot of my friends would follow the misadventures of the Furry Freak Brothers as each monthly issue showed up at the local bookstores.

Back to my story. I was looking at the rack for Head Comics at Looking Glass Bookstore when a saw this beautiful woman looking at a copy of R. Crumb’s “Big Ass Comics.” Our eyes met and we smiled at each other briefly. I said “Hi” and she said “Hi” back. Both of us went back to our comics. I would look up occasionally and look at her and she was doing the same. I found a purchase and went to pay for it. I had lost sight of her until I saw her unlocking her bike on the street just outside the side door.

I don’t usually try to meet someone in such a setting but I thought of the old saw “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and asked her if she’d like to get a snack and she said yes, so we had a bite to eat and got acquainted. She was a Native American from the Warm Springs Tribe. We hit it off like a dream and she told me to come visit her at the Warm Springs Reservation. She had four roommates, but they had a spare bedroom I could stay in. She was so beautiful and I thought to myself that she could pass for an Asian and that would make my family happier (heretofore, I’d been pretty much pairing up with fair-haired women). I wasn’t into astrology but I knew my sign and it was something we could talk about as we were making polite conversation. Then came the stunning discovery that she and I had the same birthday. I had never met anyone that shared the same birthday before, let alone the same birth year. And forty years later I can still say the same thing. The same birthday and year. Her name was Patti. I thought this was a sign – or at least, wanted it to be a sign.

Patti gave me her phone number and address and I told her I would come visit. I had a part-time job and scheduled a week of vacation two weeks out.

I did not have a car back then, so I took a Greyhound bus to Warm Springs and was planning on walking the few miles to Kahneeta, the resort famous for its natural hot springs and campgrounds. This was before all of the casinos at Indian Reservations. As I was walking down the road to the resort, I found that the local people that worked at the resort or lived on the reservation would slow down and ask me if I wanted a ride and even offered to feed me, too. I politely refused them all for the first couple of miles because I hadn’t hitchhiked before and I was uncertain about being picked up by strangers.

Then, a pickup truck with the resort logo on the side stopped and offered, and I accepted the ride. It was August and the heat of the day was getting to me. I mentioned Patti’s name to the driver, and he said he knew her and the “dorm” she shared with four other women. She was the dorm mom it turns out even though she was just a year or two older than her roommates.

Now comes the beginning of the best part of my visit. If this was a movie, this is where the romantically-themed music motif playing in the background suddenly swells and the camera does a close-up shot of two lovers that embrace and kiss for the first time. In reality it was even better than in the movies. As I approached the front door of the house that was called the dorm – I had just walked maybe ten of the forty-foot walkway – the screen door swings open and out shoots Patti running barefoot. And like a woman greeting her soldier-boyfriend who has returned from war, she leaps into my arms and gives me a big kiss right on the mouth. I held on tightly and she held on tightly as I carried her the twenty feet back through the door. I was taken with her beautiful face and slim athletic body. She was very beautiful. A beauty queen.

Our meeting was but an hour total back in Portland, and my memory of her was just a couple of flashbacks in the bookstore and riding away on her bike and looping around me once and saying goodbye. We had talked twice for a bit on the phone just before I got on the bus. I had kept the conversation short cause long distance rates were high for a student. I just wanted to make sure she was still interested in having me visit. The greeting told me that she did. Wow! Even though she had come through the door running, it all seemed like slow motion.

For the next four days we were inseparable. Eating, sleeping, exploring the reservation and visiting her friends. We went everywhere holding hands. All of her friends noted our closeness, and we were happily received by everyone. It was a dream visit with nonstop affection and fellowship with this Native American beauty. I could see a future with her. I was young enough to be adaptable to the idea of living at the “Res” after I finished my last five semesters of college. I had to leave but promised to come back as soon as I could.

When I got back to Portland, I was able to schedule a four-day visit two weeks later. I could hardly wait to see her again. I took the early bus to Madras and got off at the Warm Springs Junction and got a ride right away from an old “Caddy” convertible with two women in the front bench seat. It was just after noon when I arrived at the dorm. I knocked and one of the girls answered the door and said that Patti had left a couple of hours ago, but they were expecting her back soon. I was hungry. Hadn’t had breakfast so I went down to the cafeteria for a snack while I waited. Just as I got to the parking lot, I saw her walking out of the cafeteria with this other guy. A scruffy unshaven fellow wearing a leather range-rider type jacket. She was close by his side as they walked over to a Porsche 911 sports car. As he got behind the wheel, Patti came over to greet me by giving me a hug and said, “This is not a good time.” Then, gets into the passenger seat of the Porsche and off they go.  Damn … the curse had struck again. After I ate a cheeseburger basket in the cafeteria, I went back to Portland the same day.

Back in Portland, Patti and I talked briefly on the phone. By the hushed tone of her voice, I guessed her boyfriend was in the next room. He was her ex-lover and he wanted another chance, and she was going to give him one more. I thought to myself, Porsche 911 vs Strawberry Racing Cycle Professional racing bicycle. I didn’t need my three terms of Calculus to do the math … .

DanChinn blog photo

Bio: Dan Chinn was born to Suey Q. and Faye K. Chinn, Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School (Pre-Engineering, Electronics) and attended PCC and PSU (Electronic Engineering, Poetry, Film Making, and Marketing). He worked at Bell Telephone, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Portland Branch, Tektronix Inc., and Intel Corporation before retiring in 1998. Dan is now a writer, poet, photographer, artist, and musician.


The Girl Who Folds Paper August 31st, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

blue-origami-paper-crane-stock-photo-picture-and-royalty-free-paper-crane-origami-instructions-pdf-paper-crane-origami-instructionsContributed by special guest writer, Lindsey Shibata


During the middle of 5th grade, my family picked up everything and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. It’s a place I’ll always remember because it was the first time I ever felt ashamed of being Japanese American.

Within the first week of my new school I was sitting in front of an overly excited ESL teacher who constantly shook with excitement whenever I did something correct. She handed me Kindergarten level storybooks and screeched after I read simple sentences. I was awarded condescending claps and candy; the candy didn’t taste as sweet after being praised for knowing something that I’d known since grade school. I began to believe that there was something wrong with the way I spoke. My self-confidence hit rock bottom, and I managed total silence for the entire week.

I was in constant conflict with myself; I started to blame my culture and ethnicity for my feelings. I started to throw away the “Japanese” part of myself by making sure people only knew the “American” part of me by telling kids I was from California. I believed that because of my Asian roots, people assumed I couldn’t speak proper English.

12977201354_4b2b57f505_bI despised the way I was choosing to live; I hated being known as “the girl who couldn’t talk.” I loathed saying that I was born in California and tossing aside my Japanese culture. I knew I needed to change. Speaking out loud wasn’t an option yet, so I started to think of ways that I could express myself without using words: Japanese Origami. I brought in some origami one day and began to construct different things. As I started to build cranes and irises, people were lighting up with interest. I was spreading this Japanese art form throughout my class, and by the end, they were starting to make things too; I was able to leave them with a little part of my culture in the form of a small iris.

I am a Japanese American, and right now, I embrace this identity. I love being different from everyone else; I enjoy telling people that I was born in Japan. I don’t let this fear and feeling of degradation get in the way of being proud of who I am. Through this experience, I’ve gained self-pride in my identity and continue to cherish my Japanese culture by expressing it without shame. Today, I don’t let anything make me feel ashamed of what it means to be a Japanese American girl.

Lindsey ShibataBio: Lindsey Hikari Shibata is college student who was born in Okinawa, Japan. Her father is a third-generation Japanese American. Her mother is a native Okinawan. Lindsey moved to the US when she was 2-years-old and has lived in California, in Missouri, and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. She visits Okinawa every other year to maintain ties with her family and relatives, and she has traveled extensively in Japan to continue to learn and experience her native culture.

Speaking Japanese as an Act of Resistance July 31st, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

Weston Koyama

Contributed by special guest writer, Weston Koyama


I am going to make an argument that you may not agree with. My family certainly doesn’t agree with me. But I feel I must make this argument nonetheless. The argument goes something like this: To speak your heritage language is an act of resistance. Moreover, the topic of the conversation matters little. I can speak in Japanese about the weather in Portland and yet by speaking in Japanese I am resisting decades of forced assimilation that stripped my family of its culture and, by extension, its language. Speaking one’s heritage language is thusly an act of radical self-determination to define one’s identity outside of the confines of the hegemonic English-speaking culture present in America and in the developed world-at-large. In order to arrive at this argument, we must step back and examine certain truths about the Japanese American experience and about the power of language to transform one’s psyche.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I hear from people in my own family who resist learning the Japanese language is that third generation German Americans are not expected to learn German. This is true, but this is also tragic. When German Americans dissolve their culture in the Great American Melting Pot, they lose a significant part of their cultural identity—namely their language and all that the language embodies. The solubility of white European Americans in this melting pot confers the benefit of not experiencing oppression at the intersection of ethnicity, but this solubility means that most German Americans lose their culture. We should not envy German Americans for their solubility in a melting pot that dissolves their roots in a murky stew. The path forward lies in taking pride in our unique culture, not in becoming white.

The next objection I often hear from my family about why their heritage language is unimportant is that culture can be learned without learning the language. This is only true to an extent. While one can preserve cultural traditions in the absence of the language that gave birth to these traditions, to embody the culture requires at least a basic understanding of the language. This is true because languages profoundly affect how we experience the world. One might understand from a textbook that English is a low context language where specificity, precision, and certainty are privileged in the diction, vocabulary, and grammar of the language. By contrast Japanese is a high context language where loose associations, implication, and softness are privileged in the diction, vocabulary, and grammar of the language. But to know these things from a textbook and to embody them by speaking the language are two different things. The embodiment of these cultural differences allows the speaker to learn nuance in culture that is inevitably lost in translation. This nuance is important. This nuance is a part of what was taken from us over the past century due to assimilation.

I can imagine at this point that there are people in my family reading this who are getting annoyed. Maybe if you are a third or fourth of fifth generation Japanese American who has sworn off the idea of learning Japanese, you are getting annoyed too. Who am I to tell you what was taken from you? I imagine some people might think, “But it’s my choice to decide whether I want to know my culture in that way or not.” To which I say, that’s true. I agree. But let’s be real here. Our choices are influenced by society. English became hegemonic in this society because of oppression. To speak any language other than English in the U.S. is to say, “I know I am supposed to speak English here, but I choose to express my agency and to experience the world in a way precluded by the English language.” That is a choice that you do not have to make. But to make that choice is an act of empowerment in the context of English’s hegemony.

Whether or not you decide to take back agency over your cultural identity is a complicated choice. There are people in my family who read about the oppressive elements of Japanese society such as the continued discrimination against Koreans and Chinese or the relative disempowerment of women compared to western countries. They read these things and they say, “well that is not my culture.” It isn’t my culture either. I am Japanese American not Japanese. But in being Japanese American, I’ve found that learning the Japanese language helped me to decide for myself which aspects of Japanese culture I keep and which aspects I jettison. I made these decisions for myself; I did not arrive there by default as the consequence of simply accepting the status quo. To make these decisions about what parts of your heritage culture to own and what parts to jettison is complicated, but also empowering. And while for some, the language might be one of those parts to jettison, I would hope that the decision was truly a decision born of free agency, not one made by the American assimilation regime.

To be clear, I do not mean to say that every Japanese American ought to learn the Japanese language fluently. But for those that do choose the arduous journey of learning the Japanese language proficiently or fluently, they should know that their decision is an act of resistance against English hegemony and the oppressive forces of assimilation. Not everyone in my family agrees with me and you can feel free to disagree, too. But for me, my heritage language is not just another language. My heritage language is an embodiment of culture. My heritage language serves as a psychic link to the minds of my ancestors. My heritage language has become an integral part of my identity. Perhaps it can become a part of your identity too.


Weston Koyama

Bio: Weston Koyama, a fourth generation Oregonian and Japanese American, seeks to articulate the nuances of the human experience through the written word. Weston’s writing touches on his experiences living and studying in Oregon as he explores the many different ways of being Asian American in contemporary society. His current project involves articulating how the trauma caused by Japanese American incarceration during World War II continues to affect present generations. Weston hopes to someday publish his work for a larger audience. Currently, Weston studies at the University of Oregon School of Law where he is a J.D. candidate in the class of 2019. Weston is the first Minoru Yasui Fellow at the University of Oregon in addition to serving as a Wayne Morse Fellow. He also currently serves as co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association at the University of Oregon. His other interests include disability activism, piano, and computer technology.

Asian Not Asian June 30th, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by Anthology author, Beth Haworth-Kaufka

I remember my naturalization day. I was just 5-years-old, and I did not understand the significance of the moment. Rather, the momentousness wholly resided in the special cookie my mom got me to celebrate, a treat the size of my face and covered with frosting. I needed two hands to hold it. As a child, I could not predict how that piece of paper would validate my access to resources and invariably shape my life.

Now, as an adult, I’m struck with understanding. I was born in South Korea. I am an immigrant. I am Korean-American. I am a hyphenated-American. I am forever dissected and reapportioned by forces outside of my control: perilous-docile, alluring-repulsive, outsider-insider, immigrant-citizen.

Just a few months ago, I asked my mother in Michigan to send me my naturalization papers. Just in case. I am nearing my 41st birthday, and I have been in the U.S. for 40 years; never before has this been a concern. I am no historian, but I know enough of history to worry.

Ironically, until this year, until this past election cycle and the subsequent administration, I did not identify as an immigrant, though my entire life I’ve heard the classic lines hurled from the mouths of the ignorant: “Where are you from?” “Go back to where you come from.” “You speak such good English for an Oriental.”

Perhaps it is because my adoptive parents are working-class, white, middle-Americans that I did not identify as an immigrant. I was just six-months-old when I was adopted and had no memories of life in South Korea. I didn’t grow up in the context of immigration: learning a new language to survive, to attain work for healthcare, food, and housing; the tension between preserving old ways while adopting the new; parents helping children navigate an unfair world with hope while being humiliated by a society that promises freedom — if only you look the right way.

Perhaps it is because, as a brown child growing up in a predominantly white suburb of Detroit, I rejected the identity of immigrant. The boy who sat in front of me in math class turned around every single day to insult me, teaching me words like chink and gook, instructing me on the difference and which one, technically, applied to me, how white people tried to kill gooks like me in war, how much he hated me. I so badly wanted to fit in, to blend into the commonality and be a regular, normal person like everyone else — or at least to be separated out from the throng for qualities other than the shape of my eyes, the composition of my hair and tone of my skin. Me, an immigrant? Nah. I’m just like you, nice white people. Aren’t I? Can’t I be?

Of course, there must have been other immigrants in my city, but in my isolation, I only knew a handful at best. I remember an elderly trio from Malta who went to my church, a woman with her sister and her husband, big-hearted, stout and round, old folks who made amazing pastries that I’d eat until I got sick. I remember a man from Mexico, my mom’s good friend with whom she played music for their prayer group, who would sing songs in Spanish and try to teach me the words.

Then, when I was in middle school, a family from China moved in across the street — and I wanted nothing to do with them. In my mind, they were the real Asian Others that people saw me as, despite how far from them I was. Sometimes, I babysat their young daughter. I cringed at feeding her dinner. Fish heads in plastic bags kept me from digging around in their refrigerator for her snacks, and their house smelled so strongly of their cooking that passersby inhaled the pungent scents of foreign foods while simply walking their dogs by their house in the evening. They wore socks with sandals, sweatpants with blouses. They were the real immigrants — not me. I talked about these people with no one, for fear of guilt by association.

When the child went to sleep at night, and I waited on the couch for her parents to come home, I poured over stacks of beauty periodicals from China. Advertisements for women’s products covered cheap newsprint pages. What I remember the most — beautiful Chinese women. This was the 80s. I had never seen Asian models before. The only Asian in the media was Connie Chung. I cannot count how many times people told me, when I was just a small girl, that I looked just like her.

So, when in eighth grade, a friend made me a copy of Fear of A Black Planet by Public Enemy, a cassette with a photocopy of the real cover that he cut to fit the case, I played it over and over again, flipping the tape and playing the second side, and then flipping it again and again. Here were people who spoke boldly about racism and fought back with the power of art: words, music, dance, and style. “Revolutionary Generation” — a song that intersected race and gender politics — became my favorite song. I wrote down all the words in a notebook and memorized it. Hip hop helped me understand what it meant to be racialized, to be oppressed, to be socially constructed, to fight back, and I attached my identity to black politics. With hip hop, I wasn’t so alone.


I was nearly 20-years-old and a community college drop-out when I got a job as a barista in a coffee shop in East Lansing, the home of Michigan State University. It was one of the only cafes in town that allowed smoking, so English majors spent hours there drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and reading books. They were cool and smart and interesting and funny. They talked about books and specific authors, theories about the nature of power, political economies, and capitalist bullshit. To them, reading was a political act. I didn’t care about books until then, because I cared about feeling stupid. (I have few memories of reading as a child or being read to. Who would want to sit inside the house for hours alone when life was lonely enough as it was?)

And so I started reading, and I couldn’t stop. I re-enrolled in community college and took English classes from an instructor who changed my life with her hilarious dry wit and calm passion. She found out I was interested in black politics, and she introduced me to Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison. When my English major friends were taking courses in Shakespeare and Chaucer, delving into Blake and swooning over the Brontes, I read W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright. I was surrounded by white people. They were good, interesting and interested people. They appreciated “minority” literatures, but as extras — outside the canon.


I just finished teaching my seventh year at Portland Community College (PCC) where I am an English teacher in a program with many students of color, many African Americans, a community to which I deeply relate. Before PCC, I coordinated a first-year writing program at North Carolina A&T State University, a historically black university, where I felt more at home racially than any other institution to which I’ve belonged. Ever. Moving to an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) after a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) felt like crawling into a warm bed, under a warm blanket in the middle of cold winter; finally, I could settle down, relax, and take rest. Sure, I was Asian American, but surrounded by all black students, I ironically, finally felt at home in my skin.

Once, waiting for class to start, one of my particularly fashionable, always-put-together students asked:

“Ms. Beth — do you flat iron your hair every day?!”

The other students burst into laughter. “She’s Asian! She just has straight hair!”

The student threw her hand over her mouth, as if to stuff the words back in. “Oh my God! I forgot!”

This is not to give evidence to so-called “color-blindness” but to say that my familiarity with black culture, history, literature, and oppression — over my own Asian American identity — has dominated my life until recently. Growing up isolated in the Midwest, I was often the only Asian American, and my racial identity, for the broad entirety of my life, has been more aligned with black politics than Asian American politics.


If there is one positive thing that has come out of the current administration’s anti-immigrant position, it is my strengthened connection to my own immigrant status and subsequently my own Asian American identity. I am a person of South Korean lineage. The energetic connection to my ancestry echoes in my physical body, a body which has been literally embedded into two generations of other women’s bodies: I was an egg in my mother’s body when she was still in utero in my maternal grandmother’s body, as human female babies are born with all the egg cells they will ever have.

In the same way I learned about identity politics through reading African American literature, I am now exploring my Asian American identity. This past February was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which sent over 120,000 Japanese Americans to incarceration camps. To learn more about the tragedy, I read Lisa See’s novel China Dolls, set against the San Francisco Chinese American nightclubs scene, that is about racism towards Chinese and Japanese Americans during the 30s and 40s. One of the characters is incarcerated.

This spring, I helped plan and coordinate the third annual Asian Pacific American Writers Series at the PCC southeast campus in Portland’s Jade District, an event two of my non-Asian PCC colleagues started because they are incredible allies to POC (People of Color) and especially committed to their students, many who are Asian American. They wanted to showcase the work of a marginalized group of writers, reach a community who may never attend a literary reading otherwise, and provide a point of access to an important literary tradition. This year, we brought in the brilliant poet, thinker, critic, educator, and artist Kenji C. Liu.

Being a part of organizing this year’s event was personal for me. Literature has immense power. Of course I’ve read some Asian American literature and dabbled in API (Asian and Pacific Islander) politics, but not with the ferocity that I’d jumped into black politics and literature. Until now.

It is in the light of my own post-election identity exploration that Kenji Liu’s work changed me, in his capacity to articulate the complexities of modern identities in the hard-earned, yet magical way literature can change us. His book Map of an Onion deeply affected me as an Asian American immigrant — to see my experience reflected in art. In the forward to Liu’s book, Timothy Yu writes of Liu’s “Poetry of Interruption”:

Birth certificates, passports, citizenship papers: these are the documents that define our official identities, that make us legible to the apparatus of the state. For Asian Americans, such documents are often central to our family narratives, marking a history of migration, departure and arrival, rejection and belonging. Yet we are also well aware of what such official documents erase, enforce, or repress. Our ‘arrival’ as Americans marked by a naturalization certificate may be predicated upon the erasure, willed or not, of our histories and even our names, as well as the exclusion of others — including our own ancestors. And no document can protect Asian Americans from the presumption that we do not belong in a nation that continues to equate Americanness with whiteness …

As writers, we create our own documents. We write our own narratives and define our own identities, and in telling our stories, we refuse to “equate Americanness with whiteness.” We are here, and we are shaping the world around us through our physical presence, through our actions, and through our writing.

I’ve built my summer reading list, and my stack of books keeps growing: novels, books on transnational adoption, Asian American Studies readers, and anthologies of Asian American literature that have collected dust on my shelves since my undergrad years. The thrill of these books makes my heart beat harder, just imagining all I will learn from all these brave writers who have dared to put themselves on the page, who have dared to have something to say. My dear fellow API writers, make your mark upon the pages of my life. I am ready.



Beth Haworth-Kaufka was born in Seoul, South Korea, grew up in the Detroit area, and now lives in Portland, OR with her husband, three daughters, three cats, and crazy shelter dog. She teaches English at Portland Community College and does coaching and contract work for local small businesses on the side. Her writing has been in The Portland ReviewMid-American ReviewPoets & WritersColorado Review971 MenuKartikaWomenArts QuarterlyWhere Are You From: An Anthology of Asian American Writing and other academic journals.



… a thousand words May 31st, 2017 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest artist, Ellie Kwak

A celebration of uniqueness in a town full of jejune.

Rainbow Hair Photoshop 18” x 24”

Rainbow Hair
Photoshop 18” x 24”











IMG_5802Artist bio: Ellie is in the sixth grade and likes to read books, even at midnight. Her hobbies include sampling new foods, four square (the recess game), playing devil’s advocate, and thinking up dilemmas. She dreams of peace, fun, a stressless life, and rainbow hair.






Call for Submissions


* Tell YOUR STORY in your own words (or pictures)!

* Communicate Asian American perspectives that challenge or transcend mainstream stereotypes.

* Or simply relate something uniquely personal as an Asian American.

Email your Asian American-related essay (500-1000 words, more or less) and short bio to