JACL NY/SC representatives Stephanie Nitahara, Michelle Huey, Kota Mizutani, Juli Yoshinaga, Emil Trinidad, Kyle Lee and Marissa Kitazawa attended the historic presidential town hall at this year’s AAJA convention.
By Tiffany Ujiiye
While May is the crowned Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, August has come in this year with some considerable boat rocking and chin rubbing. This month dropped America’s first Asian female superhero on a major motion picture screen while raising critical API voter’s issues at the Presidential Town Hall.
The debate took place at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., during the Asian American Journalist Association’s annual convention from Aug. 10-13. Big names such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. Judy Chu, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes on behalf of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump came through. And since August isn’t over, it’s worth examining how far AAPI’s have come, where we are now and how much is left to push through.
“Our diversity is a blessing,” said Clinton, speaking on immigration reform. “This nation cannot separate families,” he said in discussing how splitting families would ruin this country’s economy and identity. The American fabric includes those immigrant threads, and perhaps this month those threads were especially prominent.”
Take Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, who earned international fame from her career in silent film, sound film, television, stage and radio. Wong made history on Aug. 27, 1952, when her TV show “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong” aired with an Asian American series lead star. To little surprise, the show went dark after one season, but the fact remains that Wong pushed a boundary.
In many ways, the DC Comics hero Katana, played by Karen Fukuhara in the recently released Warner Bros. Pictures film “Suicide Squad,” did something similar to Wong. As a female Asian American, Fukuhara’s prominence in the film became a part of American pop culture. And even though Wong’s show didn’t make it past one season and though Fukuhara’s character was ultimately overshadowed by the likes of Will Smith and Margot Robbie, their threads are knotted together this month.
But some threads in this fabric come from pen strokes and paper. On Aug. 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 into law, granting reparations of $20,000 to each surviving U.S citizen or legal resident immigrant of Japanese ancestry incarcerated during WWII by the United States along with an official apology. Again, August saw a door open for AAPIs to find ways within the system to make a positive change.
Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta sponsored the Civil Liberties Act and fought for this legislation to pass. Now 28 years later, Mineta is still continuing his work. While major victories were made years ago in the month of August, today’s work for justice continues to springboard off the legacies of Mineta and many others.
Samuel Lee proved just that. On Aug. 6, 1948, he became the first Korean American Olympic gold medal winner for the United States, capturing the top spot in the men’s 10-meter platform diving competition; he repeated as champion again in 1952. Lee became the first Asian American gold medal winner and the first man to win back-to-back golds in Olympic platform diving.
Today, we lay heavy focus on the record-smashing Michael Phelps, but Lee in his own way reminds us to look at AAPIs in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. His legacy reminds us to give extra cheers for Nathan Adrian, Lee Kiefer, Alexander Massialas, Paige McPherson and Gerek Meinhardt, as well as and many others AAPI representatives competing on sport’s biggest global stage.
In 2008, Lee received a star on the Anaheim/Orange County Walk of Stars, and during his ceremony, Lee clapped back at his struggles and challenges. “It’s just like any other dive,” he told an Orange County Register reporter, and it really is. Every victory and every moment of progress is a dive toward new boundaries.
“We have to go for the gold,” said Rep. Honda during the AAJA Presidential Town Hall, “and have 100 percent turnout for this election. Let us prove to them once again that AAPIs are concerned loyal Americans.”
For JACL’s National Youth/Student Council, the push for 100 — the reach for gold and success — is here now.
“The NY/SC the past few years has really focused on how do Japanese Americans and AAPIs fit in the broader discussion of race and in politics in the U.S.,” explained NY/SC Chair Kota Mizutani. Mizutani, along with other representatives for the NY/SC, attended the convention and Presidential Town Hall thanks to fundraising efforts made last month at the JACL National Convention.
“We’re here at AAJA because we see this as a historic gathering that really demonstrates outside of the AAPI community why Asian Americans matter,” Mizutani said. “We really see this as fitting into the NY/SC mission as framing our identities in this broader political environment, and this election is a perfect example to do that. Not only because of the hotly contested presidential race but as a chance to face the political leadership here at the convention.”
The youth body representing the JACL looked to champion its mission of raising AAPI issues during an engaging Presidential Town Hall. NY/SC’s vision is much like many of the other media and community organizations present, in that all hoped that this gathering would inspire change — change from political leaders onstage but also on smaller, more personal levels.
Annual gatherings like this lay emphasis on November’s big U.S. presidential election and May’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. But perhaps what this summer season has proven this year is that every day, week or month champions the AAPI community.