Monday, April 23, 2012

Colorful Maps Reveal All

Ahh the new Blogspot is terrifying. I'm sorry this didn't get posted earlier.

I want to go back to one of the articles we read early in the class, Henry Yu's "American Studies in a World of Pacific Migrations." The first heading in the essay says, "Is Anybody in L.A. Actually from Here?" and he then goes on to say that the celebrities that people associate with LA are "fueling an impression that nobody is every actually from Los Angeles" (531). I think this is a really interesting point. People talk about a New York or Boston or Chicago accent but what is a Los Angeles accent? Is it one that hints at English being the second language? The Garcia, Kuramitsu, Yamamoto and I'm guessing the Costanza-Chock (I haven't read it yet but the word "immigrant" is in the title) articles all deal with people who have immigrated to the west coast. I think one of the spectacular things about LA is that it really is such a melting pot. When you drive through the city, there are constantly signs that say "Little Armenia," "Little Tokyo," or "Historic Filipinotown" not to mention the overwhelming amount of road names that are clearly of Spanish origin. This study found in 2008 that over a third of LA County's 9.9 million inhabitants are immigrants. I was surprised to read later in this study that as of 2006, less than half of those immigrants were Mexican (page 18). Los Angeles is known for having a lot of Mexican immigrants, but in reality, it is filled with people from all over the world. I have cousins who were born and raised in LA (yes they're actually from there!) but in all their pictures with their friends, the group is really diverse. I only wish I could have grown up with that kind of diversity (or any diversity for that matter... thank you suburbs).

Here's a screenshot of an NYTimes interactive map on race of Los Angeles:

Here's one of Chicago:

Maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see, but it looks to me like Los Angeles has a lot more overlap of colors and that Chicago's are more blocked out. I'm really happy we studied LA and looked at articles that talk about people with all sorts of heritages. It is encouraging for people like me who grew up with limited daily exposure to different cultures and ideas!

Claremont Then and Now

Okay, so I have absolutely no idea why this didn't post on Friday (or why Blogger has suddenly adopted such a strange format [perhaps there is a correlation between the two]), but here goes nothing:
Reading Matt Garcia's analysis of the "Colonia Complex" at the start of the 20th century, I couldn't help but be reminded of the immigration-debate-related events that have transpired in Claremont this year. Surely we are all familiar with this piece: (the New York Times is having a real field day with the Claremont Colleges recently). While I am largely unqualified to speak to the legal elements of the case, this article, when it first came out, made me think about the invisible lines that divide our college "community" and how that relates to the official and unofficial ghettoization of Mexican Americans throughout Southern California. I certainly knew that Mexican American neighborhoods existed, but it wasn't until I read the Garcia that I learned that many originated as a result of the citrus industry and workers' needs for community solidarity - or that such areas have existed and still exist in Claremont. As a Pomona student, my off-campus experiences are largely concentrated in Claremont Village, a white middle-class enclave if I've ever seen one. Walking to Arbol Verde, I saw an entirely new side of Claremont, one that made me aware of my own privilege and question my dominant understanding of the Pomona College worker firing narrative. While I don't have a solution to the problems facing the displaced workers or the college community as it stands today, I feel that the Garcia helped me to better understand the nuances at work. The push-and-pull between the wish to assimilate and the need to keep Mexican American ways of life alive and culturally autonomous is analogous in its complexity to the battle between the impulse of many undocumented workers in this country to lay low and take what they can get for fear of deportation and their strong desire to assert their rights and stand up for what they know is wrong. Another interesting tidbit I gleaned from this article is that, even in the 1920s, there were Mexican American students attending Pomona College. This complicates the history of race at the college as I see it, and makes Isabel Juarez's quote in this article all the more resonant.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Crash and Race in the Media

Our discussions about the portrayal of race in films—especially "Killer of Sheep”— lead me to want to look into films that explore race in the LA setting. There are many, many films that take place in LA. However, the first one that came to mind for me was “Crash” by Paul Haggis. I would like to focus on this film because it explicitly makes a point to discuss race. I first saw this film in High School as part of US History. At the time, I thought it was amazing. I felt as though it asked the right questions and presented issues in an accurate and compelling way. However, in returning to “Crash” after our discussions, I am not sure that it does as good of a job as I had previously thought. 

In trying to create a story that emphasizes how so many different races interact, it ends up creating caricatures of races instead of fully developing what it is like to identify with a certain race while living in LA. For example, Daniel (Michael Pena) is a Hispanic locksmith. He is presented as arguably the most sympathetic character in the film. In contrast to the Padua Hills Theater, as the sole representation of a Mexican male in the film, he does not display the “fantasy heritage” described by Garcia. However, the depth of the character would have benefited greatly if Haggis would have explored what it is like to be a Mexican male living on the border. Even though border culture is an important to many people living in LA, it is not discussed at all in Daniel’s story line.

 It is interesting to look at the representation of African Americans in “Crash” in contrast to “The Killing of Sheep.” In “Crash,” African Americans are portrayed in many different ways. In fact, African Americans may be the most well represented race in the film when considering the many different types of characters and many different levels of socio-economic power they posses. However, when African Americans are presented in this film, they are still presented as archetypes. The two men who steal cars for money are greatly demonized. The movie producer is criticized for being too white. And, officer is bigoted towards his Hispanic co-worker. Nowhere, is the middle-class father, making a living for his family present in the film. I think it is important to acknowledge that a large audience did not embrace “Killer of Sheep” in the same way that "Crash" was so widely viewed. This could in part be because the characters in "The Killing of Sheep" were seemingly average and therefore less interesting to the modern viewer. Finally, I would like to acknowledge that Native Americans are never acknowledged in this film. For a film that promotes itself as a story about race, it actively ignores one of the longest racial struggles in American history. This leads me to a complex question that I do not—and probably never will—have the answer to: Is being represented in the media inaccurately better than not being represented at all?


German- American Detainment

I did not blog on this but I thought this was pretty interesting as well.  German Americans were also detained (though much fewer in numbers) during WWII.  The following is a propaganda video about a German camp and a website that discusses the topic:

Detainment Camps as Historical Landmarks and their Websites

For this blog post I browsed the website of Manzanar, a Japanese American detainment camp located in California turned National Historic Site and run by the National Park Service.   In addition to information about visiting the park the website is filled with photography, history, and information and about detainment in general.   The largest section of the website is devoted to archives of the individual stories of detainees.  I additionally looked at the website for Auschwitz, a Nazi Death Camp located in Poland.   While exploring these websites I specifically looked at the ways in which the curators dealt responsibility to the respective governments who ran each camp.  While the atrocities and conditions of Auschwitz can in no way be considered comparable to the detainment that occurred in Manzanar it was still interesting to see the amount of responsibility taken for the intrusion of liberty in both situations.  I found that on the Auschwitz website the curators had no problem in affiliating full responsibility for the misdeeds with the Germans.  They did not shy away from using words such as “murder,” “genocide,” and “victims.”  They discussed in depth and “owned” disturbing topics such as medical experimentation and the systematic murder of prisoners.  I was surprised (and impressed) that the website used the term “German” very often in discussing the turpitudes of the camps instead of limiting the scope of responsibility with the term “Nazi.”  The Manazanar website on the other hand focused much more on the day-to-day life of prisoners with a focus on lifestyle instead of imprisonment.   At the beginning of the website the idea of a liberty violation is touched upon but is not a major theme throughout the website.  Both websites are very extensive and very interesting.  I would encourage anyone to go check them out sometime.



Saturday, April 21, 2012

Common Ground

I have no idea why this didn't end up posting before, but here it is again.

The exhibit “Common Ground: The Heart of the Community” at the Japanese American National Museum chronicles Japanese American History from WWII to the present, using artifacts, documents and photographs. However, what drew me to relate this exhibit back to what we talked about in class was the prevalence of personal stories. For the exhibit staff, interns and volunteers worked to create 30-second videos sharing their personal relationship and stories that related to the objects in the exhibit. For example, one man looks at the barracks on display and reveals that it was the barracks next to his and that “people actually lived here.” Another women discusses how seeing a chocolate tin reminded her of the times she and her siblings would search the house (pre-internment) for the hidden chocolates. These videos show, like Ms. Kuramitsu discussed in her own article, although the Nisei weren’t necessarily in the intern camps, the stories and feelings passed down were theirs and affected their identity. For due to the prejudicial restrictions, many immigrants put all of their hope into the Nisei and worked for their success.

As Kuramitsu says in her piece “an ethnic community is never a monolithic entity but a group that is, by definition, connected by some set of memories and experiences.” This connection to each other and relatives from the past generation is shown in the videos. Unlike in the article, this exhibit views the objects from a historical context instead of balancing the objects between history and art. Also, it serves to empower the group because now they are in control of telling the story of their condition versus an outside government group.

Here is the link to the videos.

Chicano Male Unbonded

For one of my out-of-class lectures, I went to go see artist/activist Harry Gamboa Jr. speak about his work. Gamboa Jr. was one of the key players in a performance art group Asco, a Chicano artist collective active in Los Angeles in the 1970s, who created radical works of art to highlight the lack of representations of Chicano art. In addition to Asco, Gamboa Jr. has continued to work on numerous solo projects. While all of his work is powerful, I was most struck by a photography series that he started work on in 1991. The series is called Chicano Male Unbonded and you can see the photos here: Gamboa Jr. began the project in response to a security message that was sent to him to the effect of "Warning: Suspect in the area. Chicano male, 35-50 years old." When he got that message, Gamboa Jr. started considering all of the wonderful men he knew in his life who fit that description, and would now be interpreted as "suspects." The photography series consists of 150+ photographs of Chicano men, all of whom contributed in some way to Gamboa's own understanding of his Chicanismo. The photographs include well-known Chicano Studies scholars, such as Rudy Acuña, as well as personal role models for Gamboa, such as his own father. Each subject is photographed at night from below, so that the subject appears to be looking down on the viewer. This series effectively highlights the absolute absurdity of such warning statements, and of the vilification of men of color. Parallels could also be drawn between this series and the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the continued racial targeting of young men of color by police across the nation.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why Internment?

Because I didn't learn much about Japanese Internment in high school, I decided to research it more. Once I understood the whole debacle, the main question I was left with was, why were the Japanese interned in the first place?
I know that the internment was a response to Pearl Harbor. Although I knew that Japanese Internment was a huge racism issue, I had always thought that it stemmed from a strictly political background. I had assumed that it was meant as a way to prevent Japanese spies or terrorists to be living among other Americans or let them go unaccounted for. However, the more I researched this, the more vague the answers I get come across, and very few mention a fear of spy’s or terrorists. No foul play ever occurred from any Japanese-American, and there was really no reason to do it. It seems that, when it comes down to it, the only answer that makes logical sense is that the interment was based solely on racial prejudice. It was an excuse to separate the Japanese from the rest of the US.

For example, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command and an administrator in an internment camp, testified to congress that
“I don't want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map”

These Japanese people were American, and living in America, and had shown no signs of causing danger, so it really would make no sense that they would or possibly could do anything to harm the American people.

However, a legitimate argument could easily be made that Pearl Harbor caused a fear of the Japanese and whose “side” they were on. Aside from keeping people at bay, the interment kept any potential Japanese terrorists away. In the end, the whole point of the Japanese Internment is ambiguous, but it seems like a safe bet to assume that is was ultimately a way to exclude a race.

Japan in the U.S.

When writing my review of a cultural activity in L.A. on the Japanese American Cultural Museum, I felt a little frustrated because I felt I wasn’t telling the important part of the story. What stuck with me and bothered me was the in between stuff.

Little Tokyo's Kinokuiya

First of all, I love bookstores, and since I was in Little Tokyo, Kinokuniya was an absolute must. After the Japanese American Cultural Museum closed, I headed over. Throughout, I was in analytical American-Studies mode, and in particular, I was acutely interested in examining which elements of a Japan-themed bookstore were authentically Japanese, and which were meant to appeal to a Western clientele. Was the merchandise equivalent to what you would find at a real Japanese store? How much of the merchandise was meant for customers with a genuine interest in Japanese culture, and how much of it panders to a new Orientalism? Were we like the visitors of the Padua Hills Theatre, participants in an imagined, fake history for Japan?

Certainly, in the section of books in English, I found many about courtesans and samurais from ages ago. I was especially suspicious of names that sound exceedingly white on the covers of historical fiction. It reminded me of Arthur Golden who wrote “Memoirs of a Geisha.” This whole genre of books from Japan’s exotic past strikes me as possibly misleading, perhaps exaggerated, and fixated on the differences between Japanese and American experience rather than its universality. A quick search on Wikipedia demonstrated something similar: the main interviewee Golden used to write his novel later sued him and wrote her own version of geisha life. On the other hand, Japanese interest, from what I gathered, at least in samurais, might be as great as American interest. Many of their classics are about feudal lords, and many Japanese-name histories of samurais were on the shelves. Still, I feel Japanese American interest arises from inquiry into their personal heritage, while Western interest simply seeks to gawk.

Many of the publishers of the more sophisticated literature, and definitely of the histories, were universities: Duke, Columbia, Yale…if I remember correctly. (The other publishers, with the exception of Puffin and Vintage International, I had never heard of before, so I assumed that they were independent.) This, to me, was significant in that not much literature is available from Japan. Colleges are currently in the processes of expanding the translated availability in the U.S. Also, since almost no big book sellers were represented, Japanese literature in general must not be considered very marketable. What was most interesting was that any book about early immigrants from Japan was invariably published by the University of Hawaii. As I found in the Japanese American museum, Hawaii was guilty of a plantation system somewhere between slavery in the South and the one described by Matt Garcia. Its investment in recording that past is commendable.

(University of Hawaii Press, books about Japan:

Finally, the two bookshelves on Japanese literature and culture merged abruptly into a section on Asian literature in general. This I found very indicative of the way all Asian cultures get clumped together, even in a Japanese bookstore. The marketing assumption is that readers are looking for something Oriental and it doesn’t matter what sort of specific Orientalism it is. In fact, I gravitated toward a novel about an immigrant from Korea, but I would’ve felt guilty placing that single book in front of the very Japanese bookstore clerks.

(I ran out of room and my post is too long again (L), but I took the Metrolink train on the way there and back, and I became painfully aware of the difference between my socioeconomic status and that of the crowd around me. I could’ve spent the whole post talking about what some strangers said to me, but I started out with the bookstore first and there you have it...)

Nisei soldiers

Coincidently, our discussing of Japanese internment has coincided with a reading I did for my Women in US History course here at Scripps. The book was Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone, and it's about the author's experience growing up as a first generation Japanese women in Seattle; including her experience during World War II and internment. Not only did I find a connection between the general themes and context of this book with the material we have looked at, but there have also been smaller details in the book that connect with our readings. For one, there is the idea of young Japanese- American men fighting for the US. In our discussion yesterday on the two short stories by Hisaye Yamamoto, Professor Delmont mentioned that the author had a brother who died fighting for the US army in Italy. Interestingly, in Sone's autobiography, her brother is recruited into the army while her family is living in an internment camp. However, in the book, it is clear that this "recruitment" is not voluntary. Sone describes the experience as officers entering the camps and giving the young men the option of enlisting, but that if they didn't it would be proof of their loyalties to Japan. Because of this, many young men felt as if they had either no choice, or (in the case of Sone's brother) they wanted to prove their patriotism.  As Sone's brother is overseas fighting, his family remains locked up in an internment camp. To me, this further proves how outrageous this exclusion really was. For the US government to allow these men to risk their lives, and end others' for our country, and yet their parents remain trapped - their homes and possessions acquired by the state- is mind-blowing. 

Although Nisei men were welcome into the army, they were separated into their own combat unit called the 44nd Regimental Combat Team. Ironically, they were the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the United States armed forces. 486 Purple Hearts, among hundreds of other awards. 

Cue the educational video

California Nisei College Diploma Project

Starting in 2009, California public universities began retroactively awarding diplomas to Japanese American students that were interned. This initiative, called the California Nisei College Diploma Project, has awarded diplomas to over 1,000 displaced Nisei, all of whom were U.S. citizens. However, the Project only affects those who studied at public universities in California, neglecting the many Japanese Americans who went to private schools.

According to this article, however, USC has recently become the first private college in California to award diplomas to displaced students. Though some people may be upset that USC and other California colleges are bothering themselves with business that began seventy years ago, these diplomas are more than empty symbols to the Japanese American community. One of the people behind this legislation has said, "A lot of people didn't even know their relatives had gone to college," and never went after they were released from internment.

This speaks to the silence that surrounded internment in the years following WWII. As the Kuramitsu article pointed out, in the 1960s and 70s, many Sansei were shocked to find that Japanese American internment had occurred at all. Internment was considered a shameful time in the Japanese American community and many older people did not talk about their experiences. By trying to move on and assimilate into mainstream American culture, many Nisei went along with government aims to sanitize the camps. The fact that the WRA tried, and often succeeded, in portraying the camps as centers of "normal" community activity is shocking, as the underlying cause for these communities should never be seen as a normal aspect of life. Yet, because the Korematsu decision remains as legal precedent, the normalcy of geographic exclusion is enshrined in the US government.

The reason I'm so interested in this legislation is because it hits close to home for me. This past fall, two of my great aunts were awarded their diplomas from Compton Junior College. (At about the 6:59 mark you can see both of them graduate!) I don't know if they ever went back to school after the war, but I do know they weren't even in the camps that long. They volunteered to go to Detroit to work in factories and help with the war effort. I guess this is something I just don't understand about the shame and silence that surrounded internment. Hundreds of Japanese Americans showed a loyalty and patriotism towards a country that was ambivalent, at best, towards them. I certainly see things to be ashamed of, but nothing that can fall on the shoulders of Japanese Americans.

Japanese Internment Art - More Than Just A Creativity Outlet

            Our discussion of Japanese Internment art inspired me to look further into the topic.  I stumbled upon this NPR article about an exhibit in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

            The article starts by introducing Noman Mineta, a Japanese man who spent time in the internment camps as a child, that ended up serving in congress and as Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton.  By using him an example, Stamburg (the author) provides an example of firsthand experience from someone the reader can respect as an intellectual and public patron.  Mineta explains that they had “no furniture…all you get is four blank walls and one light bulb.”  Though this situation was dire, it provided an opportunity for great creative expression through art.

Senninbari vest, silk cloth, thread, ink, buttons, paint
            What I found most interesting about the pieces included in the article is their tremendous detail and workmanship.  The interned were forced to use “whatever materials they could find,” and yet they were still able to create fantastic pieces of art.  For example, a cream-colored vest is on display from the Amache camp in Colorado, decorated with “1000 red, French-tied knots.”  It is surprising to me that in such horrible and hopeless conditions a mother was able to create such an elaborate vest for her son.  According to the article, the vest “was passed around in the camp, and this was in order to provide strength and good luck for the person it was given to.”  In other words, art wasn’t only a way to express feelings and creativity; it also served as a way to maintain community and Japanese American culture.

            Another interesting fact is that many of the artists in the camps had never been artists before.  After entering the camps, they harnessed their artistic skills - a “wonder…[that they] could create things of beauty…in such adversity.”  And thus, a beautiful thing stemmed from oppression and horror, providing a sense of hope for generations of Japanese Americans in the years to come.

To Live and Die in L.A.

In brainstorming for what I wanted to talk about for this blog post, I inevitably thought of the familiar east vs. west coast rivalry. (I'm from Boston, born and raised... don't mess). So as I was thinking about this, I remembered of course, Biggie and 2pac. This lead me to 2pac's song "To Live and Die in L.A." Besides being super smooth and a great song, the lyrics speak a lot to east coast/west coast dynamics as well as internal conflict in Los Angeles.

2pac talks a lot about how there's this weird combination of pursuit of wealth and fame and the glittery stuff of LA, but at the same time is incredibly dangerous and wrought with conflict. A particularly interesting verse to me is the third one I believe:

'cause would it be LA without Mexicans?
Black love brown pride and the sets again
Pete Wilson trying to see us all broke, I'm on some bullshit
Out for everything they owe, remember K-DAY
Weekends, Crenshaw -- MLK
Automatics rang free, guess we lost our way
Gang signs being showed, brother love your hood
But recognize that its all good

2pac gets at this sort of melting-pot L.A. has that really not everywhere in the United States does. While definitely alluding to gangs and gang violence, it also comes across to me as a commentary on how to respect differences within a really diverse location without turning it into rivalry. Pete Wilson, for the record (I did a little research) was the republican governor of California from 1991-1999 (during which time this song came out). He (Wilson) was not particularly popular with a lot of people, and this song, at least, seems to name him as a force working against the unity of the city of L.A.
Crenshaw and MLK are, as far as I can tell, both boulevards in Los Angeles. What I got from this verse was as opposed to showing pride for your community, that pride has turned into hostility towards others, which has made those streets not safe spaces to be anymore.

So, in short, its complicated. The aspects of diverse and interacting communities is exactly what makes Los Angeles wonderful and what it is, but also might be what tears it apart.

Also, this is incredibly pertinent, 2pac appeared IN HOLOGRAM FORM AT COACHELLA. I know, it is insane.