We Cannot Remember a Day of Infamy While Forgetting its Racist Aftermath

Kooskia-Idaho-WWII-Internment
Japanese American incarcerees in the mess hall in an American concentration camp during World War II.

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour, which left nearly 2,500 Americans dead and more than 1,000 wounded. Today, the country will once again engage in our annual tradition of solemnly remembering those who lost their lives in the surprise attack, and the many more servicemen killed when we entered World War II.

We cannot remember Pearl Harbour without remembering its aftermath, and this year in particular it is imperative that we contextualize the attack and what followed in light of contemporary events. The bombing of Pearl Harbour was not only a horrific attack that killed both American military personnel and civilians, but it sparked an immediate and aggressive racial fear and intolerance for America’s Japanese community. Japanese American families, some who could claim generations of living as citizens on American soil, suddenly found themselves treated with suspicion and hatred, suspected to be foreign spies for no other reason than their shared skin colour with America’s declared enemies. Politicians who had already staked their careers on a platform of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant policies decades earlier declared vindication. The US Government issued official propaganda posters that likened Japanese people to terrifying yellow-skinned monsters. Historians document that American soldiers viewed Japanese enemy combatants as “animals”.

The rising crescendo of American xenophobia and anti-Japanese bigotry culminated in the forcible incarceration of thousands of innocent Japanese American citizens and Japanese nationals. Those incarcerees lived under military gunpoint behind barbed wire fences for years before they were finally released, and given little more than a bus ticket in exchange for their freedom.

And eventually, the dehumanization of Japanese Americans reached such a deafening pitch that when the American government dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki vaporizing over 200,000 civilians,  we celebrated.

Continue reading “We Cannot Remember a Day of Infamy While Forgetting its Racist Aftermath”

Hawaii Five-O tackles Pearl Harbour and Japanese American internment, and it was incredible

h50salute

I can’t figure out why lists of positive, progressive representations of Asian Americans on primetime television keep forgetting Hawaii Five-O. Really.

When we think about Asian Americans on television, we will rattle off several of the usual suspects — The Mindy ProjectCommunity, Lucy Liu on Elementary, Ming Na Wen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Glenn on The Walking Dead. But then there’s bizarre pop culture blind spot for Hawaii Five-O, a show that features three (count ’em three) regular Asian American cast members: Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly; Grace Park as Kono; and Masi Oka as Dr. Max Bergman. It also gives a home to a breath-taking rotation of Asian American guest stars, including Brian Yang in the recurring role of Charlie Fong.

(Funny story: I was at an exhibit opening for Secret Identities’ Marvels and Monsters, and was introduced to Yang — there to promote Linsanity — by photographer Corky Lee. Lee said to me, “do you recognize this guy? He’s famous!” I stared at them both blankly and said, “err, no.” “Really,” asked Yang. “I’m on Hawaii Five-O!” “You are? Huh.” “Do you watch it? Don’t you recognize me?” “Yeah, I do watch the show. But…. huh, no, I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you at all.”

Ooops. This is why I’m terrible at networking. I’m sorry, Brian Yang! )

Brian Yang plays Charlie Fong. In my defense, I WOULD recognize him now.
This is Brian Yang. He plays Charlie Fong. Yes, I should’ve been able to recognize him…

Sure, Hawaii Five-O will never be mistaken for a fabulous crime procedural. It’s formulaic and campy, and an unabashed vehicle for gratuitous bikini shots and/or Alex O’Loughlin’s abs. And, sure, the two main characters — McGarrett and Danno — are about as White as the driven snow.

But, against this backdrop, Hawaii Five-O also is quietly doing some amazing things for the Asian American community.

One of the most ground-breaking events was last week’s episode commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbour. And, strangely, it aired with virtually no fanfare from the APIA community.

Continue reading “Hawaii Five-O tackles Pearl Harbour and Japanese American internment, and it was incredible”