Descendent Threads, Part 2 of 3 March 8th, 2019 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest artist, Ellen George

My work included in Descendent Threads is rooted in a reverent response to the mysteries that were always part of having a lovely Chinese mom. Watching her use her elegant and enigmatic tool for counting inspired wonderment. For ABACUS, I cast seemingly countless grains of rice into oversized bead forms. But instead of aligning on a rod, they are arranged like a blossom that rests upon a coiling velvet cushion.

My mom spoke a language I could not understand, but in which she seemed her most buoyant while speaking. In making TRANSLATION, I have taken apart a Chinese-English dictionary. Using a pattern she taught me as a child, I’ve folded each page into a small boat. These 400 boats follow each other in a double spiral, out and in, across hand-drawn lines.

 

 

 

 

These red lines are the battens of a sail, latitude/longitude lines, or the lines on the pages of a calligraphy practice book.

 

 

 

 

 

In the surfaces of my FAN SUITE paintings I see the influence of my mother’s Chinese “dreamstones.” As a child I was transfixed by these thin slices of stone, mounted in carved hardwood frames and revealing inclusions and veining that resembled landscape.

 

 

 

I am fortunate to have with me now, many treasures my mom was able to bring with her to America, and that I grew up with, including her fans. The shapes I use in the on-going painting series I call FAN SUITE are based on 17th, 18th and 19th century Chinese fans. There is the tradition of these fans to depict flora and landscape, suggesting that their restorative breeze could transport us to these lovely fresh scented locations.

 

 

My great-grandfather was Rev Chan Hon Fan. As a young man he was a missionary working with the Chinese Methodist Episcopal Society along the Pacific Coast from Puget Sound to the San Francisco Bay Area,1870-1900. The Oregon Historical Society has documented a letter written by him and published in the Oregonian in 1886. It was printed in his exact words, and titled A Chinaman’s Letter.

Me in my mom’s arms

Chan Hon Fan was living and working in Portland, OR, when his daughters, my great-aunt Clara Elizabeth Chan Lee (b.1886) and my grandmother, Laura Chan Chu (b.1885), were born. As a young woman my grandmother married and joined my grandfather in his return to China. They were living in Hong Kong when my mother was born. My mom’s childhood and education were in Guangzhou and Hong Kong. She was a physician working in Guangzhou when, as she put it, “the communists walked in.” Within a few months she defected to Hong Kong, eventually making her way to Texas. I was born on Galveston Island, and I am an American-born first generation Chinese artist.

Growing up in the 1960’s, in that particular Gulf Coast community, my family was a rarity; there were no other Chinese families. I was fortunate for regular trips to Los Angeles and San Francisco, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins living there. Those Chinatowns were my first experiences of immersion in Chinese community.

In the 1990’s, I came to live in the Pacific Northwest with my own young family. Right away, I joined for a short while, a cooperative artists gallery that was located just across the street from where Portland Chinatown Museum is now. It was then I first learned from my mom that my Grandma Chu and Aunt Clara were born in Portland. What a welcome revelation to know I had such deep, personal connection, reaching far back in time, to my new home! I eventually would learn more family stories. So many were tales of displacement, running, assault, more running, loss of every kind…but always enormous resilience and service to others.

Horatio Law and Roberta Wong are among the first artists in Portland I came to know; I was captivated by one of Horatio’s early multi-media installations in the Motelhaus Portland project, 1998. A few years later Roberta curated my solo exhibit during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. I recently had the honor to be included by Lynn Yarne in her video presented at Open Signal, Portland, “Don’t Forget Who You Are Or Where You Are From.” I am deeply grateful for connection to these artists through our exhibit together at Portland Chinatown Museum.

My mom passed away as we were installing our exhibit, Descendent Threads, and this timely coincidence has deepened a sense of longing to belong. I cannot forget her treasured objects and stories. Through the work I have developed for this exhibit I bring them forward with me into the future.

BIO: Ellen George attended Austin College, Sherman, Texas, and the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Ireland. She has lived in Washington State over twenty-five years. Ellen has received residencies at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, Otis, Oregon, and c3:initiative, Portland, Oregon. Her work is included in numerous collections including Portland Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, 4Culture and King County, Seattle Public Art, The Nines Hotel Atrium, Portland, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, and the Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer.

Ellen is represented by PDX CONTEMPORARY ART, Portland, Oregon. She will have a solo exhibit there in May 2019.




Descendent Threads, Part 1 of 3 February 10th, 2019 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest artist, Roberta May Wong

Artist Roberta Wong (front right) and her siblings. “It took five girls to get one boy.” 1958

I was born the Fifth Chinese Daughter, another parental effort for a First-Born American son. My birth order enabled me to grow up learning how to exist on the fringe ­– amongst my siblings, within my community, and in American society. Hypocrisy, social injustice and gender bias were some things I was consciously aware of from an early age, but it took decades before I was able and willing to call them out.

My Confucian family life taught me that I was part of a whole, and there was order and purpose to our lives. Each person had value regardless of position, size, role or status. My Taoist perspective put our lives in context with the Universe.

As an artist, I acknowledge that we each are originals ­– individual beings obligated to be our true selves. We mix and blend materials with concepts to explore and tap our humanity. Our work as social alchemist is in creating intrinsic value within each discovery, either a revelation of self or shared universal truth. Despite social or commercial trends, it is of importance to adhere to one’s vision to find personal truth.

Recently I returned to Chinatown to participate in the second exhibition of the newly-opened Portland Chinatown Museum. Curated by Horatio Law, three Asian American women artists were selected to share their disparate paths and personal connections with Portland’s Chinatown. “Descendent Threads” exhibited Ellen George, Lynn Yarne and myself, Roberta Wong.

In addition to mutual cultural experiences, Asian Americans have experienced the history of exclusion, racism, violence, murder, social injustice, discrimination, and inequality. Much of my art addresses these social/cultural issues. With titles like Chinks, All-American, All Orientals Look Alike, and Vincent, most of my pieces, accompanied by a written artist statement, are meant to challenge the Asian American narrative. I am hoping that those who experience my pieces will feel a shared visceral response that is both disturbing and self-affirming. Our visibility makes our lives relevant to ourselves and to others.

All-American (detail), Art Installation
Braided hair, Chinese cleaver, round chopping block, stainless steel table, rubber floor mat
42.25” x 36” x 36”
2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vincent, Art Installation (Detail)

Vincent, Art Installation
Steel pedestal, plastic tray, toy cars, aluminum baseball bat, plastic/marble trophy, Chinese scroll, brush pen ink.
80” x 15” x 11″

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I-Ching Revolution: 101
2 foam core panels, wood, tacks, laminated photos; 64” x 48”

Artist Statement:  I-Ching Revolution: 101 visualizes social change and its manifestation through personal courage as represented by small action. When individuals consciously stand with BLACK LIVES MATTERS and “show face” against the injustices confronting our Black communities, lives will change. I invited photo submissions from the community; this simple act of “showing face” symbolizes the courage it takes to face up to social, political, and economic consequences.

Join the revolution, manifest the change.

I was honored to exhibit with two fellow women artists (note: Ellen George and Lynn Yarne will describe their art in Parts 2 and 3 of this 3-part series):

Ellen’s grandmother was born in Portland’s Old Chinatown in the late 1880s. Her grandfather, a young Chinese sojourner, returned to China with his wife where Ellen’s mother was born. In time, her mother came to the U.S. and settled in Texas where Ellen was born. It was only recently that Ellen learned of her grandmother’s connection to and family roots in Portland’s Chinatown. Her art – object-making installations and paintings – are reflective of loving memories of her mother in the comfort of familiar tools: her abacus, her fans, and her language.

Lynn recalls family visits to Chinatown as a child eating at their favorite restaurant. Her two grandmas, although living across the street from one another, recalled different lives­ – one centered in Chinatown, the other in Portland’s Japantown. Honoring the women in her life, Lynn constructed a community altar, gathering multitudes of photographs to depict a blending of her families, cultures, and histories. These became the basis for her animated video which captured the movements, sounds and stories within an enshrined space.

BIO: Born and raised in Portland, OR, Roberta Wong grew up working behind the counter and in the back kitchen of her family’s grocery and restaurant, Tuck Lung, in Portland’s Chinatown. She attended Portland State University, graduating in Sculpture in 1983. Chinatown was a part of her daily life until 1985 when she entered the nonprofit art sector as a gallery director and art administrator. She spent the next two decades promoting diversity in the arts and creating opportunities for artists-of-color.

Tuck Lung, hand-carved Philippine Mahogany panel
1976

Recent exhibitions include Portland Chinatown Museum, Artists Repertory Theatre, and Indivisible; past exhibitions: Wing Luke Museum, Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, Evergreen State College, Portland Community College-Sylvania Campus, Portland State University-Autzen Gallery. Her artwork is published in Where Are You From? An Anthology of Asian American Writing, Thymos, Portland, OR, 2012 (Shelf Unbound award); Myth and Ideology Study Guide: Surviving Myths, Deakin University, Australia, 1990 & 2000 and The Forbidden Stitch: An Anthology of Asian American Women Artists, published by Calyx, Corvallis, Oregon (American Book Award, 1990).




The Sato Family Legacy January 14th, 2019 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Marleen Wallingford

Bio:  Marleen Wallingford is a Sansei born in Portland, Oregon. She is the president of the Portland JACL and is an active volunteer in her community. Marleen retired from Portland Public Schools after nearly 30 years in education.

 

The Sato Family Legacy

Yoshinosuki, his wife Asano, and their four children (Lois, Marie, Shin and Roy) lived and worked on their Bethany-area farm. They also attended the nearby Bethany Presbyterian Church. It was their connection to the community that helped save their farm once their world was thrown into chaos after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Everyone of Japanese ancestry was forced to leave the West Coast. The Sato family was incarcerated at Minidoka in Idaho. The members of the church visited them at the Portland Assembly Center and then banded together to make sure the annual property taxes on the farm were paid so the family had a home to return to after the war.

In 2017, Sato Elementary, one of Beaverton’s newest schools, was opened. Not everyone was aware that the school had been named after the Japanese American family who lived near the Bethany site in Beaverton, Oregon. This story would have been lost without the diligent efforts of Colonel Mike Howard who heard about the family from his friend, Gene Zurbrugg, who is a longtime resident of the Bethany area and was a boyhood playmate of the Sato boys. After he shared the story, Colonel Howard went to visit the school but there was no information about the family. He felt that the students and the Bethany community should be reminded of the sacrifices and hardships that the family had suffered. Both Shin and Roy joined the segregated Japanese American 442nd unit. Roy was wounded (twice) and his brother, Shin, was killed in France during the legendary battle to free the trapped Texas battalion where over 800 Nisei soldiers died while saving 211 men. Their sister, Marie, served as a volunteer military nurse for the duration of WWII.

On November 15, 2018, a special ceremony was held at the school to dedicate a chestnut tree donated by the Sato Family and a soon-to-be-constructed historical plaque. The chestnut tree is significant to the Sato family. On their farm, there was a chestnut tree whose fruit was used as a special addition to meals. Chestnuts were very special to Mrs. Sato who used them in special treats. The tree and the farm are only a memory now but if you go to Sato Elementary, the plaque there will tell the Satos’ story.

The Satos’ daughter, Lois, was the last to live on the family land. She sold part of the property to the Presbyterian Church that had treated her family so well. Years later, the church sold the plot to a developer and used the proceeds to establish the Lois Sato Memorial Mission Fund which is used for projects in Bethany and around the world.

When school names were proposed, the Bethany community overwhelmingly supported naming the school, Sato. The beautiful school is close to the original farm and across the street from where family members are buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery on Kaiser Road.




Crazy Rich Asians December 16th, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Anne Hawkins

I grew up on John Hughes films – Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles – I watched them before I was old enough to fall in love, to feel rejected, and to dream about who I would ultimately end up with. I also watched them before I was old enough to consciously think about the fact that no one in that world ever fell in love with an Asian character. In fact, the only Asian character that seemed to exist in that world was Long Duk Dong, an exchange student who spoke in broken English and developed a crush on Molly Ringwald’s character, Samantha. But Samantha would never ever consider him as a possible romantic interest; that, after all, was the joke. And though I never found the joke funny, I continued to watch romantic comedies, enjoying the stories but never finding anything in them particularly realistic or accessible.

In addition to my love of movies, I am an avid reader and a big fan of so many books by and about Asians and Asian-Americans. Among my favorites are the novels about multi-generations of families moving between and within countries. This past year, I relished Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant, and Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy. These books are varied in subject matter and writing style, yet they are all the stories on some level of people facing financial or familial hardships and forced to make tragic decisions. While I come back to these types of books time and time again, it had not really dawned on me until recently that I may actually view and identify with the “Asian story” as only about overcoming hardships – and learning to endure to create a better life for someone else. While the stories always hold some hope, they aren’t uplifting. In other words, these books aren’t exactly romantic comedies. But, they are the only stories I found myself identifying with – and what did that say about how I viewed myself?

So, imagine my surprise, when I picked up Kevin Kwan’s highly acclaimed novel Crazy Rich Asians (and subsequently China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems) and entered the world of the wealthy Asian elite who travel by private jet for weekends on private islands and private yachts and think nothing of $30,000 handbags and $20 million wedding celebrations. It is a world where highly attractive Asian people fall in love with each other, where they experience all the ups and downs of dating, engagements, and parents who don’t understand. While there are certainly some very “Asian” elements portrayed through the familial relationships, these weren’t the tragic Asian novels I was used to reading. And when Crazy Rich Asians was brought to the big screen, with its bursts of vibrant color, catchy pop soundtrack, beautiful wardrobes, and an entirely Asian cast, it certainly wasn’t the romantic comedy of my youth.

I had a smile on my face through the whole movie, even when the dialogue made me cringe a bit, or I found the plot twists predictable or far-fetched. It just felt exciting to see a familiar story told in a way that actually felt familiar to me. I am not, nor will I ever be, a crazy rich Asian, but finally here was a story that was fun, without making fun – that made everyone (including non-Asians) want to be a part of that world, or at least enjoy watching it from the outside. Finally a romantic comedy with characters leading lives we could see ourselves in – lives that we need to see ourselves in.

Bio: Anne Hawkins is a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco, California. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. Until Kevin Kwan comes out with his next novel, she is on the lookout for other happily-ever-after novels featuring Asian and Asian-American characters. Recommendations welcome:  annehawk@yahoo.com.




A Real American November 16th, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Brandon Cruz, as part of our collaboration with APANO (see organization description at end of this blog)

 While growing up on Guam, I never really took the time to think about what my race and ethnicity meant to me. I was very comfortable because I identified as Chamorro, part of the majority race on Guam. Wherever I went, I felt like I belonged and could connect easily to others around me.

Attending college in the States, I expected that a lot of people wouldn’t know much about Guam, much less Chamorrros. Given the location of the island and its lack of media representation, I knew that I would have to answer a lot of questions about my island and my culture. Raised as a military child in the Department of Defense education system on Guam, I was taught how to formally explain the island and my racial background. However, it didn’t occur to me that the shift of demographics, from Guam to this new mainland environment, would change the expectations and assumptions that others brought to the conversation.

Initially, I really enjoyed telling people about my background and where I had come from. Many students showed a genuine curiosity in my stories and I felt like I was able to be myself around this new group of people. It also helped that I have an extreme sense of pride in my cultural roots and I didn’t encounter anyone who seemed disinterested in what I was saying. But, as I continued to interact with people here in Portland, I began to notice that the questions and assumptions that some have about islanders are pretty ridiculous, to say the least.

Some people praise my English. Some ask if I had worn “real” clothes before and just generally question whether my island is a “civilized” community. On top of the assumptions that people have about islander communities, I am also really bothered when people assume I am a member of the Latinx, Asian, or Native American communities and treat me in ways that reflect their assumptions of those groups as well. A common assumption that others have of me is that I am a Latinx man, which is either said explicitly or when they greet me in Spanish. I am often faced with the discomfort of navigating out of those situations, especially when I realize I am being engaged because they think I’m of that other race.

But of all the assumptions I encounter, I really dislike the one that disbelieves that those of us born on Guam are “real” Americans. Many people ask me if I am a legal citizen and many places do not accept Guam ID as a proper form of valid identification. Many of us from Guam have to carry our passports around to prove our American citizenship. I am continuously asked to validate my presence here in the United States. I am baffled and frustrated.

BIO:   Brandon Cruz is a member of the field team at APANO, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. Born and raised on the island of Guam, Brandon came to Portland to complete a degree in social work and psychology at the University of Portland. He identifies as a native Chamorro and is interested in creating systemic changes, mental health, and the relations between territories and the US. During his free time, Brandon enjoys playing guitar, hiking, spending time with friends, and exploring the food scene in Portland.

APANO: Established as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2010, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is a statewide, grassroots organization uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. We use our collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing and advocating with our communities. APANO’s strategic direction prioritizes four key focus areas: cultural work, leadership development, community organizing, and policy advocacy and civic engagement. Through APANO’s arts and cultural work, we create a vibrant space where artists and communities can envision an equitable world through the tool of creative expression. We strive to impact beliefs, center the voices of those most impacted and silenced, and use arts and cultural work to foster unity and vitality within our communities. Learn more about APANO on our website and read more writings by APANO members on Medium.

 




America, the Beautiful? October 3rd, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Robin Ye, as part of our collaboration with APANO (see organization description at end of this blog)

One summer, I had the privilege of observing U.S. Naturalization ceremonies as part of my work with the New Americans Voter Project, an APANO co-sponsored program. On the blistering August day at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building at NW 14th and Overton (Portland, OR), I was in a room full of 33 immigrants from 17 different countries. They had already been woven into the American and Oregon fabric but now chose to affirm their status as “U.S. citizens” under the eyes of the law and government.

Normally, a naturalization ceremony should be celebrated and inspire awe and pride in this experiment called America. I felt hopeful and inspired by the waving of little American flags as their families waited to capture the special moment for their loved ones. My own Chinese family was naturalized in 2006 (I am the only U.S.-born member of my entire lineage) and it was an exciting moment for us all. But what I felt in addition, as I watched the recent ceremony, were feelings of tension, sadness, and internal conflict – conflict that hadn’t previously existed.

I used to be unequivocally proud to be American. Chalk it up to naiveté, or maybe idealized belief that our best times are still ahead of us, but I truly believed that despite America’s imperfections, there was endless possibility in America, in its diversity, in what its diversity could accomplish in our democracy. I believed that diversity was embraced – was our destiny, our greatest strength to be cherished, not disdained.

Lately, however, it hurts my heart that the more I learn about my country, the more I grapple with the underlying question: Am I proud to be an American? Afterall, my Chinese parents would not be where they are now without the kindness they found in Huntsville, Alabama upon immigrating in 1992. How much credit can I give to a country who helped my uncle emigrate from China to Canada in 2014, inspired by the society he saw on an academic exchange in Rolla, Missouri?

If my pride is based on how inclusive and accepting my country is, is not the fundamental question then: “Is America a welcoming place?

For me and many others, the results of the 2016 elections shocked the moral conscience of America (for some, but not nearly enough) but it was anything but shocking: after all, this is not the first time a misogynistic, racist, homophobic, classist, anti-immigrant tyrant has been elected to the White House. But what hurt the most was that it felt like a rejection of the incredible, diverse people that color my life as well as who I am and what I stand for, too. I was heartbroken. I was hurt in an unspeakable way, a feeling that something once thought unshakeable had been unmasked as something fragile, something delicate. It revealed how little (if at all) our society has grappled with our complicated history and not yet found avenues for being better. It exposed that we have a much longer way to go than we thought.

We are all made to feel like outsiders at some point. In Portland, some of us are even made to feel like outsiders in our own hometowns. I carry the burden of feeling like I represent my race, my ethnicity, my people’s past and present. I’m exhausted. I’m tired of the inane debating over the legitimacy and existence of immigrants, over who gets to be included in society, over the worth of human beings. I’m tired of hearing “well-intentioned” rhetoric denouncing the current hate and vitriol in our society as “Un-American” or somehow against American values and principles, as if our country’s history isn’t rife with examples of unwavering hate. The good does not wash away the bad and vice versa. But xenophobia and prejudice is as American as America can get.

For those in the ceremony, to what set of responsibilities, histories, and privileges did these New Americans just swear an oath of allegiance? As I sat there nervously clapping, did it pain other Americans as much as it did me that these immigrants were pledging support to a government that does not want them? I’m sure the immigrants were aware of this complicated dilemma – is there not something inherently progressive and accepting about immigrants who leave behind their lives and culture to adopt new ones in the U.S.? Are immigrants not the most accepting and understanding people of other peoples and cultures, the most realistic and sober-minded when it comes to the challenges and hardships that accompany dreams of a better life?

At the end of the day, these New Americans were smiling and proud of their accomplishment. They announced their name to the audience, their origin countries, and, if so inspired, gave a remark about what that moment meant for them. Some even registered to vote!

Maybe this tension, this conflict, is a central part of the American experience. America is both a welcoming and unwelcoming place, but we engage and fight in this never-ending struggle for who is included in our society. If America isn’t a welcoming place, then America is a place that doesn’t see the beauty of its multicultural potential. If America is a welcoming place, then diverse identities will be embraced, not merely tolerated. Immigrant Americans would not be half their original culture and half American, or half anything, but twice as much. “Oh you speak with an accent? That’s wonderful! That must mean you speak more than one language.” Being a “New American” means becoming a part of a larger struggle and assuming an even bigger part of the American inheritance. Becoming a New American means taking a rightful space in the political process to shape our nation. If we don’t, then what kind of world will greet future generations? If we do, then what is possible?

In America, future generations will be darker and more beautiful than ever before — what will you do to ensure that they’ll belong?

Robin Ye is the Lead Political Organizer at APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon). He is Chinese-American and the only member of his entire family born in the United States. Robin grew up in Beaverton, Oregon and attended high school at the International School of Beaverton.

Robin is an organizer by trade and a policy wonk and political junkie at heart. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Human Rights (minor) from the University of Chicago in 2016. He has a passion for civic engagement, social justice and electoral politics.

Robin has worked as a political organizer on statewide campaigns in Oregon and was a healthcare union organizer at SEIU Local 49 before joining APANO, working statewide to help workers form their unions for better pay and benefits. He currently manages APANO’s growing c4 political program, helping build Asian and Pacific Islander political power in Oregon. He has also spent time interning at the Environmental Protection Agency, Chicago Public Schools, and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s office.

In his free time, Robin is an avid sports fan and enjoys eating, hiking, cats, podcasts, writing, and comedy.

APANO: Established as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2010, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is a statewide, grassroots organization uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. We use our collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing and advocating with our communities. APANO’s strategic direction prioritizes four key focus areas: cultural work, leadership development, community organizing, and policy advocacy and civic engagement. Through APANO’s arts and cultural work, we create a vibrant space where artists and communities can envision an equitable world through the tool of creative expression. We strive to impact beliefs, center the voices of those most impacted and silenced, and use arts and cultural work to foster unity and vitality within our communities. Learn more about APANO on our website and read more writings by APANO members on Medium.

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2nd Annual East Portland Arts & Literary Festival (EPALF)

Friday, October 19, 2018 | 6pm-9pm &

Saturday, October 20, 2018 | 10am-9:30pm

PCC Southeast, 2305 SE 82nd Ave, Portland, OR 97216

EPALF IS BACK! Join us for the 2nd Annual East Portland Arts & Literary Festival on October 19-20, 2018 at PCC Southeast, hosted by APANO’s Arts & Media Project. Presented in conjunction with IntersectFest at PICA, EPALF elevates the voices of Portland’s artists of color. Through main stage performances, interactive workshops, an epic book & craft fair, kid-friendly activities, and more, EPALF will explore themes of healing, health, and wellness in alignment with this year’s MicCheck! series. All are welcome to this eastside festival boasting the quirkiest acronym around — for the record, it’s pronounced ee-palf — and get ready for a full weekend celebrating artists of color in our community! Suggested donation is $5, and no one will be turned away from lack of funds. RSVP at bit.ly/epalf18rsvp and share the Facebook event at bit.ly/epalf18.

This event is part of MicCheck!, a summer cultural event series organized by the Arts & Media Project (AMP) at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. MicCheck! utilizes the arts to illuminate pressing issues affecting Asians and Pacific Islanders and multiracial communities of color. Visit www.apano.org/mic-check to learn more.

Why EPALF?

EPALF is no ordinary arts festival. The festival with the quirkiest acronym around has big goals to shift narratives, representation, and access to arts and culture in Portland. EPALF strives to:

  • Honor and center artists of color: Artists of color have been historically underrepresented in art history and dominant arts institutions. EPALF provides a distinct space by and for artists and cultural workers of color to share their stories and expressions, intentionally cultivating relationships between Asians, Pacific Islanders, and multiracial communities of color.
  • Address real community concerns: Centering mental health, healing, and wellness — in alignment with MicCheck!’s 2018 theme, selected by members of APANO’s Arts & Media Project — EPALF kickstarts conversations on issues that impact our communities now. For example, due to barriers such as language, limited access to care, and strong cultural values of self-reliance and fear of shame, APIs are three times less likely to seek mental health help than white Americans.
  • Invest directly in East Portland’s creative economy: East Portland has been chronically under-resourced — major arts institutions such as museums, performing arts venues, and other arts hubs are overwhelmingly located in downtown Portland, a 45-minute bus ride away from our community. EPALF financially supports local artists, cultural workers, and small businesses, including driving traffic to restaurants and other enterprises in the Jade District.
  • Transform dominant narratives about East Portland: Many damaging perceptions about East Portland — such as that it is inherently unsafe and that it is a urban wasteland — continue to threaten its opportunities for growth. EPALF creates a vibrant setting to counter some of these perceptions and break down barriers to its financial and social growth.

 




The In-Between World September 2nd, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Ivy Major-McDowall, as part of our collaboration with APANO (see organization description at end of this blog)

I remember celebrating Chinese New Year. While my friends didn’t celebrate it, my family made it special. Dennis, my dad, came home early from work, and my godparents, Anne and Donald, drove down from Vancouver. Kristy, my mom, laid out a red tablecloth on top of Grandma’s oval, claw-foot oak table, a 100-year-old heirloom. On this day, our house transformed. Mom hung crimson paper bearing Chinese characters laced in gold, which colored a formerly empty wall. Knot ornaments, the traditional bell, and a paper dragon coiled the dining room curtain rod. The entryway smelled of incense. We ate red barbeque pork slices with hot mustard, stir-fry chicken, red bean paste buns, yakisoba noodles with cashews and red bell peppers. The next day it was over. Where the red had been, now lay a white lace tablecloth. Mom sat at the table, reading Wilson’s 100 Cupboards. Beneath her feet, down in the garage, Dad tinkered underneath his 1930s Ford hot rod. Channel 8 played in the background as I ate my favorite TV dinner, chicken alfredo and garlic bread. With fork and knife in hand, this was home. Because chopsticks never felt right between my fingers. We only used them once a year and then tucked them away in a kitchen drawer, buried underneath plastic forks and knives, oven mitts and hot mats. And I never knew what the Chinese characters meant either. They would appear for one day a year and then disappear into a box.

My name is Ivy and I was born in Fuzhou, Jiangxi, China. I don’t know who I am or where I came from – and I wasn’t left a note. The orphanage gave me the name “Fu-HuiHong.” When Mom came to get me, I was being raised by an old Chinese woman in a humble room. And I cried when she took me away. At seven-months-old, I was whisked away to America and lived in Beaverton, Oregon for the next 18 years. When I talk about my identity, I say it in a roundabout way because I don’t even know how to explain it to myself. When I look in the mirror for too long, I get confused and dismayed. I remember high school, the questions about who I am or what I am and the constant pressure to give an answer. And I give one. It satisfies people, while I feel reduced. How do I explain what it means to be me? How do I describe what it feels like to look in the mirror and not even register my face as Chinese? How do I tell people that I feel foreign to myself at times?  I have so much more to say and so much more to give.

My story makes me laugh and brings me to tears; it is both hopeful and confusing, authentic and foreign. Someday, I hope that I can better articulate it, honor it, and present it in its fullness. For now, I’ll seek to not define it, and instead, cherish its complexity and blur the line between the world and me.

Bio: Ivy is a member of the Field Team of APANO, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. She recently graduated from Willamette University with a bachelor’s degree in politics, history, and a minor in American ethnic studies (AES). During her time at Willamette, she was a library student manager, the university archives intern, a mentor to first year students, and a Sexual Assault Response Ally (SARA) on her campus. She also interned for State Representative Susan McLain and later became her legislative assistant for the 2018 session. For her theses, Ivy wrote about her passions for social justice by highlighting Chinese exclusion in Oregon and the politics of the #MeToo movement. She hopes to continue work in non-profit, helping to promote social justice, civic engagement, and empowerment. She currently volunteers at the Center for Hope and Safety in Salem, Oregon.

APANO: Established as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2010, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is a statewide, grassroots organization uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. We use our collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing and advocating with our communities. APANO’s strategic direction prioritizes four key focus areas: cultural work, leadership development, community organizing, and policy advocacy and civic engagement. Through APANO’s arts and cultural work, we create a vibrant space where artists and communities can envision an equitable world through the tool of creative expression. We strive to impact beliefs, center the voices of those most impacted and silenced, and use arts and cultural work to foster unity and vitality within our communities. Learn more about APANO on our website and read more writings by APANO members on Medium.




Mashed Potatoes and Nian Gao August 6th, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Ava Kamb, in collaboration with APANO (see organization description at end of this blog)

I have a complicated relationship with food. I grew up eating Thanksgiving dinners that included turkey and stuffing, steak and mashed potatoes, stir-fries, nian gao (sticky rice cake), and fried eggs with soy sauce. I never thought twice about it. I never defined one meal or another as American food or Chinese food, just distinct dishes that each of my parents made, sometimes together.

At some point, though, I started to see that certain dishes were special. Not special in a celebratory sort of way but special in that they somehow signified to others that “this is different.” Sometimes it was trendy. Sometimes it was strange and exotic. Sometimes it sparked conversations about identity, family, and history, and that’s what I began to see food as: a way of creating myself through my favorite foods, of expressing myself through the conjunction of foods that surround me and that I find comfort in today.

Communal meals, for me, have always been about sharing stories. The different flavors, ingredients, and ceremonies of eating become an opening for me to express the intricacies of my mixed-race identity in America and abroad. Food is deeply embedded in both my personal and larger histories, and the simple exchange of sharing a meal becomes the framework for a relationship in which boundaries can be tested and new bonds formed. Depending on whom I am eating with, I can connect with them over common memories of a certain recipe or use a particular meal as a springboard for a conversation about myself and my heritage.

All food is weighted with memory and meaning. It often resonates with histories of colonialism and subjugation, or trade and fusion cuisine, or questions about expertise and who gets to be the authority on whether something is “authentic” or “gourmet.” These fraught histories and politics interact with the deeply intimate and personal experience of sharing meals with others. On my part, deciding to share a particular meal can be an exercise in vulnerability and trust. As I create myself through food, so do I create and recreate my relationships with others. The choice to share my favorite meal with another person involves engaging with the tenderness of my identity on my own terms. It becomes a point at which I can bond with another person through shared experience.

I find that food helps me connect with my existing communities and form new ones. Through the act of eating, I engage with myself and my heritage, my culture, my life experiences, family, identity, and relationships with others. Far from a simple and necessary act, sharing meals allows me to make and remake myself and my place in the world, alongside people I care about.

Bio: Ava Kamb is a member of the field team at APANO, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, she spent most of her life in the California Bay Area before coming up to Portland to complete a degree in religion at Reed College. She is mixed-race and has always been interested in multifaceted identities and the blurring of boundaries. In her free time, she enjoys watching documentaries, traveling, and exploring Portland and the Pacific Northwest.

APANO: Established as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2010, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is a statewide, grassroots organization uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. They use their collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing and advocating for communities. APANO’s strategic direction prioritizes four key focus areas: cultural work, leadership development, community organizing, and policy advocacy and civic engagement. Through APANO’s arts and cultural work, vibrant spaces are created where artists and communities can envision an equitable world through the tool of creative expression. APANO strives to impact beliefs, center the voices of those most impacted and silenced, and use arts and cultural work to foster unity and vitality within communities. Learn more about APANO on their  website and read more writings by APANO members on Medium.




Embracing the Hyphen July 1st, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by special guest writer, Elai Kobayashi-Solomon, in collaboration with APANO (see organization description at end of this blog)

My last name is the nightmare of substitute teachers. Kobayashi-Solomon. It doesn’t fit on the back of a soccer jersey, and it takes what feels like an eternity to scrawl out all 17 letters when I’m signing a document. There have been plenty of times when I’ve wished, for the sake of convenience, that I could delete the hyphen and simply call myself Elai Kobayashi or Elai Solomon.

Nevertheless, I am Elai Kobayashi-Solomon. And, as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to realize that the seemingly innocuous hyphen which rests between the two halves of my last name is symbolic of my experiences as an Asian-American growing up in Chicago and attending college in Portland.

I was born in a small town just outside Tokyo to parents who had struggled to find a place to call home. My mother, who was born and raised in Japan, left her family behind and immigrated to the United States in search of bigger and better things when she was 23-years-old. My father, born in Houston, never felt comfortable in the conservative religious household in which he was raised, and he left the lone-star state for Tokyo in his mid-20s. They met in Japan, and, upon having me, decided to merge their last names into a single larger one which reflected their two distinct cultural identities: Kobayashi-Solomon.

My family moved to the United States when I was roughly three-years-old, and I spent the majority of my childhood and adolescence in a suburb of Chicago. Growing up, I constantly struggled to reconcile my Japanese and American identities, which often seemed completely separated by the hyphen that lay between them. On the one hand, raised in the United States, I attended public schools that were majority white, watched American television shows, and read about American news and politics. But on the other hand, I spoke Japanese with my mom, attended Japanese Saturday School, and was more comfortable eating with chopsticks than a fork and knife. I had the clear sense that I wasn’t completely American or completely Japanese, and there were times when I felt as though I was hopelessly caught between two cultures while never being entirely part of either.

Recently, though, my outlook has changed. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it has to do with my trip to Japan a couple summers ago. Or maybe it was triggered by my new life as a college student in Portland, a city without much of a Japanese community, especially compared to that of the Chicagoland area. Walking through the bustling streets of downtown Tokyo in the summer of 2016, I felt simultaneously at home and alien. It had been several years since I had visited Japan, and I felt a deep, visceral attachment to both the city and the people who passed me on the streets. However, as I glanced at posters of celebrities I didn’t recognize and caught snippets of slang that I didn’t understand, I was also acutely aware that I was not too different from the hordes of tourists who arrive each year, marveling at unfamiliar cityscapes and cultural customs. My experiences in Portland have been in many ways similar. Without Japanese friends, acquaintances and family members to speak to, I could, if I wanted to, become Elai the American college student. However, before I even realized it, I felt myself being drawn towards elements of my Japanese background and heritage, whether it was via my work for APANO or the late-night ramen trips I sometimes make with friends.

When I was in high school, these experiences may have led to feelings of isolation, confusion, and separation. But, thrust into a new environment with plenty of time to reflect, I realize that it needn’t be so. True, I may never feel totally at home walking into a Japanese konnbini or watching the Superbowl with friends. But, if I was simply Elai the American, I would have never had the opportunity to attain fluency in a foreign language, fly across the Pacific Ocean to stay with my obaachan, or learn kendo from a Japanese sword-fighting instructor. And if I was just Elai the Japanese, I wouldn’t be sitting here now attending a liberal arts college (non-existent in Japan) alongside many valued friends and peers. The hyphen sitting between “Kobayashi” and “Solomon” doesn’t have to be an impenetrable wall, forcing me into a binary choice between Japanese and American, neither of which I feel comfortable completely adopting. Rather, the hyphen is a bridge — an open connection that lets me combine and explore elements of both my Japanese and American identities, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Author Bio: Elai is the Cultural Work & Placekeeping Intern at APANO. Born in Tokyo, Japan, Elai moved to the United States when he was three-years-old and was raised in Chicago, Illinois. Currently, Elai is an English major at Reed College. Through his internship at APANO, Elai hopes to learn more about nonprofit and social justice organizing, a field which he wishes to pursue in the future. In his free time, Elai enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, playing soccer, and writing for Reed’s student newspaper.

APANO: Established as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2010, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is a statewide, grassroots organization uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. They use their collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing and advocating for communities. APANO’s strategic direction prioritizes four key focus areas: cultural work, leadership development, community organizing, and policy advocacy and civic engagement. Through APANO’s arts and cultural work, vibrant spaces are created where artists and communities can envision an equitable world through the tool of creative expression. APANO strives to impact beliefs, center the voices of those most impacted and silenced, and use arts and cultural work to foster unity and vitality within communities. Learn more about APANO on their  website and read more writings by APANO members on Medium.

 



Oregon Literary Arts Announcement: Oregon Writers of Color Fellowship application deadline is July 9, 2018

The Writers of Color Fellowship is intended to fund writers of color to
initiate, develop, or complete a literary project in poetry, fiction,
literary nonfiction, drama, or young readers literature. One Writers of
Color Fellowship will be offered each year. All applications for the Writers
of Color Fellowship will also be considered for an Oregon Literary
Fellowship. Self-identified writers of color who are current, full-time
Oregon residents and who meet the eligibility requirements for Oregon
Literary Fellowships are eligible to apply. Full guidelines can be found at
http://www.literary-arts.org/what-we-do/oba-home/fellowships/fellowships/. Contact Susan Moore with questions, Susan@literary-arts.org, or 503-227-2583 ext 107.




Where I Came From May 31st, 2018 posted by Val Katagiri

Contributed by Anthology artist and writer, Roberta May Wong

The day was sunny and bright. I was moving briskly through downtown Portland, Oregon. “GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!” said a low, gruff voice as I walked past the bus stop next to Portland’s Art Museum. I stopped mid-stride, immobile. Multiple thoughts and emotions dashed through my mind before I spun around and faced the fortyish, disheveled man. I looked him in the eyes and asked, “Are you talking to me?”

He would not look at me. Could only mutter under his breath.

I asked him, “And what ocean did your ancestor cross to be here?”

Mumble mumble was all I heard, followed by more indistinguishable replies.

I told him if he knew his history he would know that we all come from somewhere else, and, by his criteria, only indigenous people really belong in the United States.

This was not yesterday. This was over thirty years ago, in the early ‘80s. But whether then or now, how can anyone have an intelligent conversation when ignorance prevails? To what degree must I consider the mental health, intellect, prejudices or biases that skew the validity of contrary opinions?

One can only know one’s own truth. As a First Generation, American-Born Chinese I know my history. I know who I am. In the ‘60s, Ethnic Studies programs developed in the academic communities of San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkely. But Asian American Studies had yet to be offered in Oregon when I attended Portland State University in the ‘70s. To learn about the Chinese experience in early America required independent research. By the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Asian-American scholars were producing publications documenting the social and political realities of Chinese immigrants. My growing collection of Asian American books began to fill the void, providing an historical context to my ancestors’ lives. I never asked my parents about their experience as immigrants, and I never met my grandfather who died in 1947. This made me more attentive to family conversations and stories of the past. I came to appreciate and value family connections and collaborations as I witnessed my family’s strong work ethic and honest labor in manifesting their American Dream.

My Parent's Wedding Day Mah Yook Fong (Helen Wong) and Wong Gang Foon (Francis Wong) April 27, 1931

My Parent’s Wedding Day
Mah Yook Fong (Helen Wong) and Wong Gang Foon (Francis Wong)
April 27, 1931

My parents’ immigration stories differ from those of my paternal grandfather, Wong Soon Yook. Between 1882 and 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Acts prohibited or restricted Chinese immigration to America. However, as a merchant, my grandfather was exempted and allowed entry in 1926. By 1930, he established his grocery store, Tuck Lung Company (Prosperity with Integrity) in Portland’s Chinatown and arranged for his two sons to join him. Arriving as teenagers, the sons attended Atkinson Grade School through the fifth grade in NW Portland. They learned their basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. They worked hard, stocking shelves and delivering groceries, and learned to operate the business as they acclimated to a new life. I heard tales of how they carried 50-pound bags of rice up the long flight of stairs to the kitchen of Hung Far Low and how they learned to cook from the chefs at the Republic Café and Hung Far Low. They gained life skills and learned the social norms of Portland’s lively Chinese community, once the second largest on the west coast in the 1900s. The brothers returned to China in 1934 when my grandmother arranged brides for each of her sons. This was a common practice, but their time as newlyweds was limited. They returned to the States without their wives because a 1904 immigration law prohibited merchant wives from entering the U.S. Twelve years would pass before my parents would reunite. As a World War II serviceman, my father became a new citizen, allowing his young family to immigrate after the war. My mother had given birth to twins in China, so she arrived at Angel Island with her sons. In 1947, they each became Resident Aliens with “green cards.”

My Grandfather and his Children: Right to left: my mother, my father (#2 son), #2 Aunt, #1 Aunt with daughter, #3 Uncle, Grandfather, #1 Uncle and his wife

My Grandfather and his Children:
Right to left: my mother, my father (#2 son), #2 Aunt, #1 Aunt with daughter, #3 Uncle, Grandfather, #1 Uncle and his wife

My grandfather, a resident of the American Hotel on NW 2nd & Flanders, had already settled my uncle with his family in 1941. My father’s family followed six years later, settling in a second floor apartment above them. Within the year, my grandfather passed away, my uncle and his family moved to North Dakota, and my parents bought a house in Southeast Portland. By this time, many Chinese were allowed to purchase property and live beyond Chinatown. Southeast Portland was home to many immigrant families, veterans with new wives from European and Asian nations, as well as returning Japanese Issei, Nisei, and Sansei families who had been victims of the WW II Japanese Incarceration. Chinese families with similar immigration paths as my family’s and many African American families completed our neighborhood.

My parents grew their family, adding five girls in order to have one more boy. Decades later I learned that our elder twin, at age four, had died in China of pneumonia. His papers had been given to another village boy to become a “paper son.” My “paper brother,” a veteran of the Korean War and later a career postal worker, eventually disclosed and corrected his status so he could sponsor his own mother and brother to America. My “blood” brother, upon finishing high school, enrolled in college. When charged tuition as a foreign student, he quickly realized he needed to change his status and took his citizenship test. Two years into his studies, his path took a detour. He quit school to help run the grocery store while our father recuperated from an injury. In time he took over the business, moving it to a larger space down the street, adding a café for our father to manage, and with my mother and siblings’ participation, the family business became central to our lives. Everyday after school we would take the Rose City bus (now Tri-Met) into Chinatown.

In the ‘60s, diversity was not commonly used to reference the racial composition of a community, but our SE Portland neighborhood was considerably diverse for that time, and Asian students were well represented. However, being one of four persons of color in my fifth-grade classroom did not shield me from racism. My first experience of an overt racist attack was while playing a map game. Standing before the class with my opponent, our teacher called out the names of cities around the world and the first to point out its location on the map was the winner. My opponent lost and exclaimed: “CHINK!” My teacher, Mr. Howard, was visibly angry and quick to react, removing the boy from the classroom while classmates gasped at the offense. I stood silent at the blackboard. Even at that young age, I knew I was not at fault for his ignorance.

* Self-portrait 2018 Ap_2058Roberta May Wong is a conceptual/installation artist from Portland, Oregon. Recent exhibitions include: Friends of Lin Bo, a Three-Person Exhibit at Artist Repertory Theatre (2017); We the People, Group show at Blackfish Gallery (2017) and I-Ching Revolution: 101, an Installation at Indivisible (2016). Past exhibitions: Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, Portland, OR; The Wing Luke Asian Museum’s touring exhibition “Beyond Talk: Redrawing Race” at The Wing Luke Asian Museum, South Seattle Community College of Art and Phinney Center Art Gallery (2005), Seattle, WA; Evergreen State College, WA; Portland Community College, Sylvania Campus, Portland, OR; Autzen Gallery, Portland State University, Portland, OR; New Zone Gallery, Eugene, OR; Hillsboro Cultural Center, Hillsboro, OR; and NW Artists’ Workshop, Portland, Oregon.

Wong’s artwork is published in Where Are You From? An Anthology of Asian American Writing, Thymos, Portland, OR, 2012; Myth and Ideology Study Guide: Surviving Myths, Deakin University, Australia, 1990 & 2000 and The Forbidden Stitch: An Anthology of Asian American Women Artists, published by Calyx, Corvallis, Oregon (American Book Award, 1990).

A native of Portland, Oregon, Wong was Gallery Director at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (1985-1988 and 1995-2004), a multicultural, multidisciplinary, nonprofit art organization in Portland, OR. Independently and professionally, Wong promoted, exhibited and advocated for the visibility and economic opportunity of ethnic and cultural artists. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sculpture from Portland State University, 1983.