I Walk in the Steps of Those Who Came Before

Contributed by special guest writer, Margie Tang-Oxley, as part of our collaboration with APANO (see organization description at end of this blog)

I am from a small gold-mining town in Northern California called Grass Valley. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 12,860 residents of Grass Valley; 188 identify as Asian and 11,493 identify as white. My mother and I are two of those 188. We are also two of only three in my family who live in the United States. The year I graduated from high school, there was one other Asian American enrolled in my school of 784 students. I was the only student who was Chinese American. Growing up, I fixated upon these numbers, feeling the pressure of these statistics weighing on me. I would think to myself over and over again, “My actions are responsible for 50% of the Asian American representation here.” I felt that whatever I did would define who Chinese Americans were in this community. These numbers surrounded me like the bars of a cage,  a constant reminder of my cultural isolation.

When I graduated from high school, I moved to Portland, OR to study history at Reed College, focusing in particular on Chinese American history. I saw this course of study as a way to free myself from the cage I was in. Even if I was the only Chinese person from Grass Valley, CA, the knowledge of those who shared my experience as an American of Chinese heritage would be my key to freedom — freedom from the crushing Otherness I had felt for so long.

However, as I studied, I began to notice in book after book, in article after article, in lecture after lecture, that the name “Grass Valley, CA” appeared. And once I noticed the name, I saw it everywhere. Suddenly I saw Chinese Americans visiting Grass Valley, spending their youth selling cha siu baos in Grass Valley, panning for gold in Grass Valley, running laundries in Grass Valley. And finally, I saw it: There was once a large Chinatown in Grass Valley. A Chinatown so large that in the second half of the 19th century it contained over 3,000 residents. Grass Valley is a historic town, and so the streets and shop fronts look largely the same as they did during the Gold Rush. Thus, the idea that there were once 3,000 Chinese people walking on the streets I had walked, running shops on the sites where I now shopped, left me speechless. I had never seen remnants of a Chinatown growing up, never learned about one in school, never saw mention of it in our local museum. Where was this Chinatown? Where had my people gone?

I kept reading and eventually learned that the majority of Chinese residents in Grass Valley had either died, left after economic prospects dried up, or were driven out of town by angry, white mobs. All that was left is a small plaque commemorating the site were this Grass Valley Chinatown had once stood. To this day, I’ve never been able to find that plaque. But now, whenever I go home, I no longer feel so imprisoned by my Chineseness among this white majority. When I walk around, I can feel the spirits of the Chinese Americans who came before me. I can feel the memory of their footsteps on the paths I take. I know that though I never met them, and that I never will, I hold their legacy within me. I carry the torch of the Grass Valley Chinatown that once was. Though in this moment I may be one of only 188 Asian Americans, I am also one of thousands that ever were. And when I remember that, I don’t feel so alone.

Bio: Margie was born and raised in Northern California and is a mixed-race second-generation Chinese American. She graduated from Reed College in 2018 with a degree in history. Her senior thesis focused on Chinese American cuisine and how restaurant owners created a sense of authenticity in their establishments during the Cold War. In Fall 2019 Margie will be starting a PhD program in Asian American History. In her free time she enjoys cooking and eating at local restaurants, reading, and spending time with her tiny dog, Chicken Combo.

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.

Learning to Eat

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

When David Chang, in his scathingly honest Netflix cooking show, Ugly Delicious, asked a group of Asian chefs and food writers if, as kids, they wanted to be white, I didn’t expect to see everyone around the table raise their hands. I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Asians outnumber everyone, with Whites coming in a close second, and the native population limping behind all the other races with its permanently broken ankle. Growing up, all my close friends were Asian. But looking back, we already knew that the world didn’t belong to people who looked like us. At least not the world that seemed to matter, the world of beautiful thin white folk who were the heroes and champions in our imaginations and televisions. It was also around that time that my best friend, who is Japanese, started saying that he hated Japanese people. Jokingly, of course.

Grilled pork salad with thick rice noodles at Nam Giao.

In an episode of Ugly Delicious, Chang recounts how being a first-generation Asian American means existing nowhere. In the States, he is seen as a Korean first, even though he grew up in Virginia. And despite all the Korean food he’s cooked and eaten as a kid, he doesn’t speak the language and is treated like an American when he travels to Korea. He claims that his cooking is a byproduct of his alienation. I had to admit, watching David talk about his experiences around being Asian American, that being in the majority in Hawaii sheltered me from the constellating, reclaiming language that other minorities sometimes share. Instead we formed local identities, modeled ourselves after a culture handed down by the mixed-plate meals of plantation workers. Some of us who had inherited the tongues of our parents absorbed the culture our parents left behind, becoming more Asian than American. Most of us ended-up half-there half-not, our English a mix of mannerisms and slurs we had learned at the dinner table, school, the mall, the beach. The same friend who made anti-Japanese jokes commented on his frustration at barbershops. “All the haircuts in the books they have there are worn by these handsome white men,” I remember him saying. “It’s not gonna look the same on me. I’m fat. And Japanese.”

Many Chinese immigrants post-1960’s came from wealthy, educated, and cultured backgrounds. Hawaii is a perfect example of this. Other Asian families can trace their lineage back to plantation workers who toiled alongside other Pacific Islanders in the sugar industry. Then there are those like me, born in America, who have parents like mine. Parents who are well-intentioned and are — in the upward-mobile American-economic-striving sense — white.

Our complicity in the ongoing struggle between White and Black America is often understated. And so is the position we occupy. Think of Elaine Chao, wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, who recently defended her husband, famous for his obstructionist partisan polemics, from immigration protesters, saying of both McConnell and the President, “I stand by my man … both of them.” Chao is an immigrant from Taiwan. So are both of my parents.

Ugly Delicious is a portrait of our complicated American palettes, our messy lurching histories and the colliding intersections that create and destroy new flavors, new intimacies, and new forms of intolerance. In the rice episode, Chang interviews a Chinese chef whose menu caters to the Americanized Chinese palette: General Tso’s chicken, beef and broccoli. Chang asks the man, “This isn’t what you grew up eating. Why do you cook food you don’t eat for people who don’t look like you?” The man doesn’t miss a beat. “ … If Chinese people come in and want me to cook something that isn’t on the menu, I’ll cook it. But this is what White people want to eat. So that’s why it’s on the menu.”

In another episode, David Chang learns how to make dumplings from an elderly woman who reminds me much of my grandmother. I hated dumplings when I was young. But now, I remember the affection that accompanied the food. I remember my grandmother’s concern when I pushed the plate away. I wanted hamburgers not dumplings. And yet she would always push the plate back in front of me. “Please eat,” she would say, “I know you’re hungry.”

Shows like Ugly Delicious have me asking myself about where I speak from when I try to speak about race. It has me thinking about what it means to participate politically as an Asian American, to claim that identity for myself, to claim a right to that community and history, in a time where Race Politics and Immigration Policy continue to offer up disenfranchised minorities and communities of color as scapegoats for our collective problems. It has me wondering about the well-being of friends who might be asking questions about their gender identities and trying to cope with the pressures they face from their parents and the culture their parents come from.

I am a student of Hanif Abdurraqib when he writes, “Even now, I’m not as invested in things getting better as I am in things getting honest.” The truth is that a lot of us have excused ourselves from the table, from the work of honesty, especially when it involves deciding “to be honest about not loving the spaces we have claimed as our own.” Hanif asks, “Who is going to be brave enough to ask where home is and seek out something else if they don’t like the answer?”

Asian American stories range wildly and it is sometimes hard to separate the lies from the truth. When I first heard the term pathological liar, I didn’t think it applied to me. But the lie does not just conceal the reality that being Asian American is not the same as being White American. The lie is that some of us grew up treated as if we are white, grew up wanting to be white with all the privileges that whiteness confers, yet know, deep down, we never can be.

The lie that I have been telling myself is that I can live without asking what it means to be Asian American. The lie that I have been telling myself is that I am full when I am not. I am hungry. My grandmother would be happy to hear it. She would tell me the dumplings are ready.

Bio: Brian is one of APANO’s 2019 Vote Fellows. He was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and is a first-generation Asian American, the son of two Taiwanese immigrants. He graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2016 with a Bachelors in Liberal Arts. His degree placed an emphasis on Institutional Sociology and the History of Technology. His undergraduate research involved studying ways new technologies displace traditional forms of living. He currently attends the Oregon Institute for Creative Research.

Brian’s political engagement work in Oregon started with Forward Together during the 2018 Election season where he worked as a canvasser for Reproductive and Immigration Justice. His work as a canvasser invoked his passion for civic engagement and direct action as models for participating in local forms of social justice and policy change. He hopes to continue working in and on behalf of his community, learning more about the problems that the AAPI community faces, and participating in political work grounded in grassroot and intersectional philosophy. In his spare time, he loves eating and reading whatever he can get his hands on.

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.

Descendent Threads, Part 3 of 3

Contributed by special guest artist, Lynn Yarne

A detail of the Altar

Many of my stories of Portland Old Town/Chinatown/Japantown are ones that are second- or third-hand, and it is difficult to pin chronology, objectionable happenings, and local mythology/community memory. The stories are of resilience and community, of darkness and joy, of mystery. The piece that was included in Descendant Threads is an altar to these stories. Old Town is a very haunted place, but I like to think of it as full of guiding spirits.

I am a fourth-generation Chinese Japanese American. Both of my grandmothers grew up in Old Town, nearly right across the street from each other. In times of darkness, I have found power in the stories of my predecessors: circumstances that they were dealt and sacrifices they made created exponential opportunities for me and people of my generation. My great-grandmother was a mother of four. Her husband died of infection when my grandma was young and she used her skill sets to do whatever she could to take care of her children and children in the neighborhood. She was said to be able to cook anything she could smell or taste. Her mother, thinking Western culture was the devil, prohibited Western anything – and my great-grandmother taught herself to read and write in English in addition to Cantonese. In my altar she is portrayed as the 1000 Hand Kwan Yin, a favorite deity of my grandmother, holding a book, a peach, a sewing needle.

Still from an animation inside the altar with Eva (my paternal grandmother)

Eva, my father’s mother, always laughed. From her I learned about joy and levity in life; her Chinese name meant contented moon. Fumi, my mother’s mother, taught me to work hard, listen, and gaman. In my altar they are formalized as gods, exponential love and labor, guides.

The altar piece is still in progress. It is a project that asks me to continue seeking wisdom from the world around me, to actively acknowledge pedagogy and reverence within each other’s spirit. Throughout this process, I’ve had opportunity to connect to amazing sources of inspiration, stories from Chinatown and Nihonmachi elders, mentorship from artist Chisao Hata, and Descendant Threads artists Horatio Law, Ellen George, and Roberta Wong.

Bio: Lynn Yarne is an artist and educator from Portland, Oregon. She works within animation and collage to address generational narratives and histories. She is curious about community, participatory works, magic, and rejuvenation. Lynn holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MAT from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She currently makes art projects for and about the public education system.

 

 

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Lynn Yarne: Stories from Nihonmachi
March 7, 2019 – May 5, 2019
at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, 121 NW 2nd Ave, Portland, OR 97209

Portland artist and educator Lynn Yarne explores the history and culture of Portland’s Japantown/Chinatown district through the stories of nine elders in her multi-media exhibit, Stories from Nihonmachi.

Working with family members and former Old Town residents, Yarne gathered stories, images, and auditory recordings to create a multi-media altar piece. Her work explores community, memory, and the power that comes from recognizing the strength, resilience, and sacrifice of one’s ancestors.

In conjunction with Yarne’s exhibition, Grant High School Digital Media students will present re-imagined logos from Portland Japantown businesses, sports teams and organizations of the past.

Email: info@oregonnikkei.org

More info:  www.oregonnikkei.org

Phone:  503-224-1458

 

Descendent Threads, Part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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.