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We are so pleased to announce that we have two new finding aids up on the Online Archive of California! Our Getty intern, Robin, deserves the credit for writing and encoding these finding aids.

The Willie Funakoshi Collection is a beautiful set of photos (that we’ve digitized) of the Nisei Week Queens and courts spanning three decades! Nisei Week is an annual festival held in Little Tokyo that was first organized by Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, to celebrate their Japanese cultural heritage, and remains an active part of the Japanese American community. More detailed description, including interviewees and subjects covered, is on the finding aid. You can view a selection of these photographs on our Historypin channel.

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The Little Tokyo Redevelopment Collection is a valuable treasure trove of footage covering the redevelopment of the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles. The Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO) was founded in 1973 as a result of the Little Tokyo Project, which was adopted by the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles in order to redevelop the neighborhood. LTPRO challenged the ongoing evictions caused by the redevelopment efforts and assisted community businesses and long-time senior residents, who were in danger of displacement by transnational companies. It sought to maintain housing and sustainable living conditions for Japanese American working class people. 

The original format of the materials was 3/4″ U-matic tape, which we’ve all digitized. More detailed description, including interviewees, is available on the finding aid. Footage from this collection was used in Visual Communications’ film “Something’s Rotten in Little Tokyo.”  

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Check it out and share with any interested parties you know! As always, VC films are available for distribution. Researchers can view the footage and photos, along with any other materials from any of our other collections, in-house for no charge. Just make an appointment!

A year ago, Ryan Wong, a curator from New York, visited Visual Communications to look at our holdings– print and films–  documenting the Asian American movement. This period in the late 60s and 70s saw Asian Americans come together to study their histories, question the government’s authority and decisions– particularly with Japanese American internment during World War II and the Vietnam War– and demand education in the creation implementation of ethnic studies departments at universities. It saw the creation of a pan-Asian identity.  Visual Communications came out of this period, creating films that portrayed Asian Americans not as stereotypes, but as complex individuals.

Ryan curated an exhibit called “Serve the People: The Asian American Movement in New York” at the Interference Archive, a New York-based, completely volunteer-run archives that collects materials documenting social movements (amazing name, too!). We were so excited to be part of this exhibit and co-sponsored one of the events– the Film Night, which showcased four VC films– Wong Sinsaang (1971) by Eddie Wong, Manzanar (1970) by Robert Nakamura …I Told You So (1973) by Alan Kondo, and Cruisin’ J-town (1974) by Duane Kubo.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to New York (Polar Vortex, anyone?) but we have all the films here on site if you want to watch them. Make an appointment and stop by!

By Evelyn Yoshimura, Community Organizer

The other day, I was walking from the Gold Line station, headed back to my job at the Little Tokyo Service Center. As I passed the old historic JANM (Japanese American National Museum) building, I had a big flashback.

Buddha’s Birthday (Circa 1956)
My earliest memories of Little Tokyo include Hanamatsuri—the Buddha’s birthday.

Children from temples all over Southern California converged at the old Nishi Hongwanji—our Mother Temple, the previous inhabitant of the JANM historic building on First & Central.

I remember nothing of the service except the smell of incense.  But afterwards, noisy kids rumbled down the stairs from the hondo, down to the ground floor, and burst out through the double doors and spilling onto the streets of Little Tokyo, clutching tightly to little pink tickets in hand.

The tickets were our reward for good behavior during the service and could be redeemed in any number of the shops for treats like manju, the best snow cones in town, gum, candy or an ice cream cone at Kyodo drugstore with the old-fashion soda fountain counter; or comic books from the drug store at First & San Pedro, where you could sit and read them for hours at the very corner of the store that looked out onto that bustling intersection.

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Fast-forward to 2013-14: By next summer, construction will begin on a new train station for the Regional Connector line, taking out Senor Fish, Weilands Brewery and the Spice Table restaurant. This future station will be built one story down underground and will be located across the street from the newer JANM building. And it will change everything.

Predicted to be the second busiest station next to Union Station, this train will bring lots of people to Little Tokyo from all over the region. Could be good for business for those who survive the five-year construction. But the hyper-development that it promises to bring could speed up the changes we already see in the 130-year-old neighborhood.

As a Buddhist, I know that change is the norm and inevitable. Little Tokyo will never be that neighborhood I grew up visiting for Hanamatsuri, Nisei Week carnivals or to buy Japanese goods. I can already see subtle but profound changes with new shops that now cater to a younger, hipper, multi-ethnic crowd. Designer sneaker shops, cafes that spill out onto the sidewalk, young people walking around dressed like anime characters, lots of dogs and even baby carriages crowding the sidewalks.

This liveliness and excitement is pumping new life and energy into the area and giving rise to these new and different kinds of businesses. This is a big improvement from the empty storefronts and broken car windows of the 1990s. But where is the tipping point when Little Tokyo is no longer our neighborhood?

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Evelyn, in center, with the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization, working to save Little Tokyo from redevelopment in the 1970s.

Many in the community who live, work, run businesses, attend temples & churches here, are asking ourselves that very question. We are coming together, looking past old differences and disagreements, trying to and keep a handle on this suddenly-trendy area. The vibrancy is good, but we also need to keep a connection to that 130-year-old story. It’s not easy—to be inclusive and embracing of the future and the new, while remaining connected to so much history and culture. And in a genuine way.

But we’re trying. And we welcome participation from any of you out there who wants to help. The next 5-10 years could be make-or-break time for our neighborhood.

Join us. If you want to help us, email me at eyoshimura@ltsc.org.

Tell us how you made your mark! How has your neighborhood changed over the years? Email us with your thoughts and photo (if you wish) at history@vconline.org. We’ll post it on the VC Facebook page.

October is American Archives Month.  This post is one of a series of blog posts that Visual Communications will present of Asian Pacific Americans who have made their mark on their communities and history.

October is American Archives Month.  This post is one of a series of blog posts that Visual Communications will present of Asian Pacific Americans who have made their mark on their communities and history.

By Abe Ferrer, VC Staff

Linda_001I first met Linda Mabalot in 1980, as she and a group of fellow student activists affiliated with the statewide Asian Pacific Student Union (APSU) were presenting a VC documentary, MANONG, for a group of UCLA students at Paolo Agbayani Village in Delano, CA. A United Farm Workers retirement home that housed elderly Filipino American farmworkers (manongs), Agbayani Village was paid for and built largely by much volunteer help and was a popular destination for those who wanted a first-hand account of the experiences of first-generation Filipino immigrants to America.

However, I became familiar with Linda and her work some years before when, during my freshman year in college, my best friend’s roommate, Juliette Masculino, was recounting her location nightmares for “some video project” she was working on. That project was MANONG, one of four components of an ambitious four-part series, “Hidden Treasures,” that would offer a uniquely Pan-Asian Pacific flavor to the lives of America’s unseen and underserved communities. Linda was the project director of MANONG and, owing to VC’s credo of “self-determined” media arts production, she and the whole crew was largely learning filmmaking “on-the-job.” Well, not totally. VCers Alan Kondo and Takashi Fujii, who introduced video as a low-cost filmmaking format to VC, were on board to lend technical advice as well as moral support. And Janice Tanaka, a USC film school student possessing a wealth of knowledge in picture and sound editing, came aboard to assist Linda and steady the ship. Yet, there was no mistaking that MANONG was Linda Mabalot’s baby, as her background having grown up in Sacramento Valley farmlands similar to those worked by the manongs lent a crucial understanding of the subject at hand.

Critical to linking the history of first-generation Filipinos in California to the statewide farmworkers’ movements of the 1960s, Linda and crew made numerous visits to Agbayani Village to interview the still-feisty manongs living in retirement there. As well, they sojourned to the Bakersfield home of Philip Vera Cruz, a retired farmworker and labor leader who served as the United Farm Workers’ Second Vice President, and whose stature as a genuine Asian Pacific American mentor, role model, and pioneer grew exponentially in the years after the MANONG documentary was completed in 1978.

PA016916ALooking back at the videotape and on the complete story that Linda and crew essayed, it was true that Philip and his exploits occupied a very small part of that story. In fact, the oral histories that accompanied the wealth of archival images, original artwork, and compelling b-roll footage held much value, as did first-hand testimonials by such colorful Agbayani Village residents as Willie Barrientos, “Chairman Mao,” and others. Yet the impact of Vera Cruz could not be overstated. As a dedicated activist and organizer, his story has been a largely romanticized and unsung one when placed beside that of more fiery personalities as fellow union organizer Larry Itliong. I think, though, that because Philip came across to the younger generations (like me) as a humble sage, his legacy reached almost rock-star status in the years before he passed away in 1994 at age 89. I think he’d be the first one to debunk that notion, though. Philip was definitely of a generation that had many ass-kickers who paved the way for today’s generation of Filipino Americans — many of whom are poseurs and misrepresent the contributions of folks like Philip, Larry, or for that matter, Linda, educator Royal Morales, novelist Al Robles, actor Jose DeVega, and many others who are no longer here to mentor, lead, or adminster some “tough love” to those who need it.

When Philip passed away in 1994, me, Linda, Taiji Miyagawa, and a few other VCers braved the hot central California heat to attend a memorial ceremony in Bakersfield. Needless to say, a lot of folks whose lives Philip touched were there to offer tribute and reminiscences of his life and legacy. None of us actually got up to say anything to the audience. There really was no need. I think that then, as now, we continue to apply the lessons that Philip and the rest have taught us to our everyday lives. And with Linda herself passing on in 2003, the need to carry on a community vision is as strong as ever. With Philip, all we have to remember him by is a set of U-Matic videotapes of an interview that was barely used in the documentary, as well as black-and-white still images of that interview session. Linda’s legacy is more tangible and living: this very organization, and the vast community of good people that worked here, schemed here, and made wonderful things happen…here.

Tell us how you made your mark!

If you could interview any hero/role model/influence, inspiration who would it be?  Email us with your thoughts and photo (if you wish) at history@vconline.org. We’ll post it on the VC Facebook page.

October is American Archives Month.  This post is one of a series of blog posts that Visual Communications will present of Asian Pacific Americans who have made their mark on their communities and history.

Watershed Moment in Japanese American Civil Rights History: Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, commonly called the Commission Hearings of 1981

By Kathy Nishimoto Masaoka, Educator and Activist

Kathy Masaoka

Back in 1981, VC and NCRR, then known as the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations, worked very closely together to record the events and activities of the campaign to win redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated in camps during World War II.  People like Duane Kubo and Steve Tatsukawa, two of the early staff of VC, had participated in the fight against redevelopment in Little Tokyo and helped to link the work of VC to what was happening in the community.  As active members of NCRR as well, they helped to gather VC volunteers to film all three days and one evening of the hearings conducted by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) in August of 1981.  And we are so glad that this watershed moment in our history has been preserved, only one of maybe three sets of hearings that were videotaped.

President Jimmy Carter set up the CWRIC with the task of reviewing the “facts and circumstances surrounding Executive Order 9066 and “the impact on American citizens and permanent resident aliens”, “review the directives of the United States military forces requiring the relocation” and “to recommend appropriate remedies.”  With that in mind, the Commission held hearings in ten locations, including Los Angeles.

Fortunately, LA had both the grassroots organizers and the film experts to mobilize people to testify and attend the hearings as well as to push for larger facilities and translation for the Japanese speaking Issei (first generation Japanese American).  Setting up the equipment and filming of the three days and one evening of testimonies was not as simple as it is today, but the videographers were able to capture the emotion and anger of the Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) who spoke for the first time about a brother being shot in the back at Manzanar, losing a baby in childbirth and how stunned they felt at being treated as aliens and not as Americans.  The boos shouted at Senator S.I. Hayakawa who called the camps a “three year vacation” and the shouts of “get her out” directed at Lillian Baker who attempted to grab the testimony out of the hands of a 442 veteran are all recorded.

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In the late 1990s, VC and NCRR realized that these tape recordings, now over ten years old, needed to be preserved and shared.  With a grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CLPEF), a committee of volunteers from NCRR under the guidance of John Esaki (then of VC), reviewed all 161 testimonies to summarize and index into a Viewer’s Companion.  The thirteen VHS tapes were packaged and made available to institutions which could now have the tapes in their libraries for individuals who could find testifiers or research specific topics more easily.

Fast forward another ten years and these VHS tapes now needed to be further preserved.  With another grant from the California Civil Liberty Public Education Program, the Japanese American Community Services and the Aratani Foundation, VC’s Jeff Liu worked to digitize the tapes, add subtitles for the Japanese testimonies and enhance each individual DVD with additional visuals and information so that each could stand alone.

Why are these important?  Recently, NCRR members used the testimonies from the hearings at a workshop moderated by Professor Lane Hirabayashi of UCLA at the Japanese American National Museum conference in Seattle.  We knew that many people had never seen the tapes and may not have even known about the hearings.  Some of us were lucky enough to be at the hearings and to even testify.  My mother had passed away a few months before the hearings and I had a newborn daughter, so the significance of this event hit me hard and I felt the need to share my mother’s experience.  Her father had been picked up by the FBI, leaving her mother with a family of ten kids to deal with the farm in Santa Maria and the eventual incarceration at Gila River, Arizona.

We thought this was a good way to share how the hearings allowed our community to speak out, many for the first time, about the injustice and how important that was to building a movement for redress in the 1980s.  What was really surprising and enlightening was the reaction of the audience.  Most were initially quiet until the very end after seeing and hearing the experiences of the Nisei and Issei on the screen.  When one woman spoke about how her husband, who was sitting next to her, never shared his experiences with his children, she opened a floodgate for others who wanted to talk about how these stories impacted them.  Two sisters, who grew up in the Midwest, became very emotional about their father who also never told them about the camps.  One young Sansei (third generation Japanese American) father expressed how his father’s pain during the incarceration had been passed on to him and he did not want to pass that onto his son.  He felt that hearing and feeling that history would help him understand his own parents and himself.  We realized that these testimonies continue to have relevance for many people who were not part of the redress campaign or the camps.

Where are we at now?  As educators and former teachers, we still conduct workshops on a film called Stand Up for Justice about Ralph Lazo, and realize that testimonies are valuable resource for teachers and students.  Sadly, there are not many of the older Nisei who can speak to classes directly anymore and these DVD are a good way to bring those first hand stories and voices into the classroom.  We are seeking funds to make the DVDs more useable by adding a menu so that viewers can more easily find specific testimonies. For teachers, we have a short DVD with a variety of the testimonies along with plans to compile testimonies along certain topics that can be posted on our web site. Along with VC, we are working with Densho with plans to have about twenty selected testimonies on their site which anyone can access. Anyone can currently view or request any of the testimonies at VC. Our main hope is to make the DVDs available and accessible to the public and to educators.

For more information on the CWRIC Collection, please view our finding aid on the Online Archive of California.

Tell us how you made your mark!

How have you raised your voice to be heard?  Email us with your thoughts and photo (if you wish) at history@vconline.org. We’ll post it on the VC Facebook page.

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