“Fresh Off the Boat” could be the tipping point on TV for Asian Americans

freshofftheboat_cast

There’s a new ABC sitcom being aired starting in February that I can hardly wait to see. I’m hoping “Fresh Off the Boat” will finally be a show where I can see people like me acting the way my family acts, with funny American situations but filtered through an Asian cultural perspective. I expect it’ll be a moment of critical mass for Asians on the U.S. pop consciousness.

It’s about time.

As a baby boomer, I grew up with very few Asian Americans on television. Few enough that everyone stood out. Even until recent years, my wife and I would point to the TV everytime we saw a minor character on TV played by an Asian, or an Asian face on a TV commercial, and yell, “Asian spotting!”

Among the first notable Asian Americans to be spotted on the small screen was Hawaii-born Filipino musician and comic Poncie Ponce, who was cast as the wise-cracking, ukulele-playing cab driver Kazuo “Kim” Quizado on the detective drama “Hawaiian Eye” which aired from 1959-1963.

My earliest memories of seeing an Asian on TV were of Hop Sing, the Chinese cook on “Bonanza,” a Western that also debuted in 1959 but ran until 1973. Hop Sing, played by U.S.-born actor Victor Sen Yung, wore a long queue hanging from under his cap, and diligently fed the Cartwright family for the run of the series, though I don’t recall that he ever cooked up Chinese food, or Chinese American dishes like chop suey, for Hoss and the others. He did face racism in a few episodes, though.
Read more »

Meet poet, author, speaker and caregiver Frances Kakugawa

Frances_smFor my role as social media fellow for AARP’s Asian American Community, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, speaking with and writing about some exceptional people. Here’s another in a series of pieces I’m cross-posting from the AARP AAPI Community Facebook page that I manage:

Frances Kakugawa’s new book was perfectly timed, to be published in November for National Caregivers Month. An acclaimed poet, author and speaker who conducts poetry workshops for caregivers who help loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, “I Am Somebody” is part of her series of powerful explorations of what it means to be a caregiver, and the emotional turmoil caregiving can cause.

In “I Am Somebody,” Kakugawa features poems and journal writings from participants in her writing groups, and places them in context by telling their story. It’s a format that is consistent through her series of books, starting with the 2002 publishing of “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry.”

They feature moving verse, powerful and inspirational biographies, and tips for anyone who’s facing the daunting challenge of caregiving, or writing about caregiving. Kakugawa includes her own poetry in her books, because her story is part of the chain that links these caregivers together.

She was herself a caregiver for her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1997 and passed away in 2002. Kakugawa, who was by then a professor and poet found herself writing to express her emotions and found it helped free her from some of the stress of caring for her mother.
Read more »

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

gil-ukulele

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks everyone!

Sandra Oh’s next career move: producing, raising funds for animated feature “Window Horses”

rosie-sandra

Earlier this year, Sandra Oh made a graceful exit from the hit television series “Grey’s Anatomy” after 10 seasons as the talented, loyal, driven and mercurial surgeon Cristina Yang. In the final episode of the 10th season, Oh’s character left the Seattle hospital where the drama takes place, and took a job at a clinic in Switzerland, of all places. The new season began without her this fall.

Oh hasn’t been slacking off since her departure from one of the most celebrated ensemble casts in Hollywood, though. She immediately took to the stage in Chicago, for Argentinian-Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman’s drama “Death and the Maiden,” in the lead role that was played by Glenn Close on Broadway and by Sigourney Weaver in a film adaptation by director Roman Polanski. Oh also appeared in a small part in Melissa McCarthy’s comedy, “Tammy” this year.

And now, she’s trying a new role, as executive producer of an animated film, “Window Horses,” and trying to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign for the project on Indiegogo.

The film tells a multicultural story of a mixed-race Asian Canadian young woman, Rosie Ming, who is half Chinese and half Persian, who’s invited to Iran to participate in a poetry festival and finds herself on a journey to discover her roots, find her identity and learn the truth about her father.
Read more »

The students protesting for their high school history curriculum are fighting for JAs, too

Hundreds of Lakewood High School students, including this one, left their classrooms in September to protest a proposed history curriculum they believed would lead to censorship. Students organized the walkouts using social media sites like Facebook. Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado

Hundreds of Lakewood High School students, including this one, left their classrooms in September to protest a proposed history curriculum they believed would lead to censorship. Students organized the walkouts using social media sites like Facebook. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado)

I grew up as part of a generation that found our collective voice in protest, for African American civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, and to advocate for women’s and LGBT rights and Asian American studies.

College students have been at the forefront of many of these social movements. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. College students led the free speech movement at the University of California at Berkeley, and the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society was formed at the University of Michigan. Students led protests across the globe, including the Prague Spring in 1968 all the way to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Even the Taiwan protests earlier this year and the current and Hong , Kong democracy protests.

But in Colorado where I live, my admiration goes out to a group of high school students, who have been protesting in Jefferson County, the school district where I graduated in the 1970s.
Read more »