Category Archives: diaspora

zootsuit2b

The Forgotten Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

By Guest Contributor Ellen D. Wu, cross-posted from Nikkei Chicago

Sus Kaminaka was a zoot suiter: one of the many young people in 1940s America who embraced a distinctive, working-class urban aesthetic characterized by flamboyant fashions and irreverent comportment. Kaminaka and other hipsters sported pompadours and ducktail haircuts, “drapes” consisting of broad-shouldered, long fingertip coats tapered at the ankles, pleated pegged pants, wide-brimmed hats, and watch fobs. They also loved to party. Jazz, jitterbugging, lindy hopping, drinking, casual sex, and “cool” were just as integral to the lives of zoot suiters as their characteristic dress.

Sus Kaminaka was also a Nisei: a second-generation American born to immigrant Japanese parents and raised in the farmlands of California’s Sacramento Delta region. Planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, Kaminaka enrolled at a local agricultural college to study truck crops.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942 and authorizing the secretary of war to “prescribe military areas… from which any or all persons may be excluded” completely upended his ambitions. Ostensibly region- and race-neutral, the order targeted Pacific Coast Japanese Americans. Forced to leave school, home, and community, he soon found himself in the Stockton Assembly Center, one of the 16 temporary way stations for the 120,000 Nikkei (persons of Japanese ancestry) en route to longer-term concentration camps.

On incarceration, Kaminaka’s worldview changed entirely. Previously intent on earning his college degree, a goal he now considered hopeless, he dropped out of his center’s adult education program. Once “proud of living in the best country in the world,” Kaminaka abandoned the idea of registering for the franchise. “I don’t think I was too interested in voting anyway because I didn’t know what it was all about and my vote didn’t mean a thing,” he shrugged. Deciding that hard work was an exercise in futility, he instead “concentrated on having fun like [he] saw the other kids doing.” Before the war, he used to regard Nisei girls as “something sacred” and “never had any dirty thoughts [about] them.” But in Stockton, he shed his “nice boy” reputation. He signed up with an eight-member “gang,” and spent his days and nights chasing young women and going to camp dances. It was during this time that he also acquired his first zoot suit.
Continue reading

lily1

Chinese like You: White Adoptive Mothers and the Reality of Racial Privilege

By Guest Contributor Sara Erdmann

Cover to “Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China.”

Despite the fact that international adoption has become commonplace — most recent studies show that over 70,000 Chinese girls were adopted into the United States between 1991 and 2010 — Beth Nonte Russell’s path to motherhood was a nontraditional one. In her 2007 memoir, Forever Lily: an Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption, Russell describes accompanying a friend who intends to adopt on a trip to China.

This book, while almost 7 years old, is continuously recommended across the web for adoptive mothers — it’s pinned on Pinterest and a regular on the book club circuit. In an era obsessed with memoir, it seems only natural that Russell would choose to chronicle her journey as such, particularly considering the major surprise (read: book sales) that characterizes her trip: Russell’s friend changes her mind. Quickly becoming the heroine of her own story, Russell looks down at the little girl she has only just met and begins conceiving a history in which the two of them were meant to be together. Eager to substantiate her sudden role as Lily’s mother, Russell proclaims that “there was a past life connection between [her] and Lily,” and that her “longing brought [Lily] into being.” To suggest that this child living in an orphanage in China exists because Russell willed her into being is problematic to say the least, but Russell goes one step further in her desire to feel permanently and unalterably connected despite her and Lily’s cultural and racial differences.

White adoptive families are regularly challenged by the idea of incorporating their child’s birth culture into their family. Researchers have long questioned whether an adopted child’s birth culture should be ignored, as in cases when families essentially raise their child of color as white, or whether it should be embraced, even to the point of trying to mimic a Chinese upbringing in the United States (think Chinese New Year parties and Mandarin lessons). In Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant observe that “there is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete, and objective. And there is also an opposite temptation: to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct which some ideal non-racist social order would eliminate.” Because Russell sees Lily’s race as an essence, something unalterable, and she needs to feel she was meant to be Lily’s mother, she relies on personal epiphanies and memories that confirm that, in some way, she is also Chinese.
Continue reading

Voices: March For Immigrant Dignity And Respect

By Arturo R. García

About 3,000 people attended the March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect in San Diego, Calif. All pictures by Arturo R. García.

On Saturday, thousands of immigrants and immigration advocates took to the streets across the country for the national March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect, a renewed call for U.S. lawmakers to stop dragging their feet on heavily-promised immigration reform. In San Diego, the event drew at least 3,000 people by police estimates, a mix of religious, labor, education and nursing groups from multiple communities.

In English: “Obama, where is the reform?”

Continue reading

FYI: “Black” doesn’t mean “African-American”

mandela_composite-1024x1024

By Guest Contributor T. F. Charlton; originally published as Grace is Human

A couple nights ago I made an offhand comment on Twitter about the conflation of “Black” with “African American” – the two aren’t synonymous – in response to a tweet referring to Nelson Mandela, y’know, the XhosaSouth African Nelson Mandela, as “African American.” It touched off a long and really interesting conversation about race, ethnicity, and identity, which is Storified and shared below.

A conversation on blackness, ethnicity, nationality, and identity. Not in strict chronological order – somewhat rearranged so the conversation flows more logically.

http://storify.com/graceishuman/thoughts-on-blackness-ethnicity-and-nationality

Image Credit:  MastaBaba creative commons

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Suheir Hammad

By Andrea Plaid

Since it’s National Poetry Month, let’s talk about one of my favorite poets: Suheir Hammad.

Of course, Hammad speaks quite a few women of color’s truth with her classic piece, “Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic”:

Continue reading

Call For Submissions: ¿Y Tu Abuela, Donde Está?: Multi-dimensional Afro-Latina/o Identities In The 21st Century

The Migration of Afro-Latin@s. Via williamsbsu.wordpress.com

The Migration of Afro-Latin@s. Via williamsbsu.wordpress.com

“The Black and White Dialogue on race and culture in the United States has consistently ignored the existence of more than 150 million people of African ancestry in the other Americas. The total absence of Afro-Latinas/os from the Caribbean Mexico, Central America and South America in the consciousness of the national discourse in the United States, including in institutions that educate and inform the civil society of the nation, contributes to the absolute disregard of the presence and realities of African Diasporic communities within the U.S. national territory and aboard. This lack of recognition and omission of the history, contributions and lives of more than 150 million people of African ancestry, many of whom reside here in the United States renders their contributions and lives irrelevant.”   

–Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora, “Afro-Boricua: Nuyorican de Pura Cepa,” page 75

“Of the estimated 11 million enslaved Africans brought to the New World from the late 1400s to the 1860s, most were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean, with only some 645,000 landing in the United States. “So when you’re talking about blackness, you’re really talking about Latin America.”

Miriam Jimenez Roman

Context:

“¿Y Tu Abuela, Donde Está?: Multi-dimensional Afro-Latina/o Identities in the 21st Century” is an exhibition examining Afro-Latino identity and culture in a contemporary context. The title is appropriated from a popular phrase within the Spanish-speaking Latin American community that examines the racial and cultural heritage of people of African descent. Sometimes used as a biting remark towards Latinos who elect to identify racially and culturally as something other than “Black” or of African descent, the phrase alludes to the idea of individuals literally hiding their background by keeping their grandmother, presumably a dark-complexioned woman, in the back part of their homes where no one can see her. However, some Latinos have also appropriated the adage to proudly profess their African heritage. As North America’s population shifts and the rate of Latin Americans grows in the United States, there has been an increase in interest of the historical, cultural, cosmological and political narratives of Latina/os of African descent and those who racially identify as “Black.” But most importantly, there has also been a push by Afro-Latina/os for the acknowledgement of the existence of a population of millions of people of African descent living outside the U.S. in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The term “Afro-Latino” has also given rise to nuanced conversations about non-Spanish speaking Latin Americans from places such as Brasil and the Francophone Caribbean. CCCADI has been at the forefront of conversations about Afro-Latinos since its founding by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, an Afro-Puerto Rican scholar, for the past three decades. As an institution, CCCADI is committed to delving deeper into this complex conversation to examine where Afro-Latina/os are today as individuals and as a community, particularly as younger generations boldly proclaim their Latino AND African identities.

HOW TO SUBMIT

Continue reading

Meanwhile, On TumblR: Intergenerational Afropolitan Genius

By Andrea Plaid

This photo of literary/cultural African American female icons got lots of love this week:

L-r: Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Angela Davis. Photo credit: Jim Stroup.

This video of Os Kuduristas, a troupe of kuduro dancers from the Angolan diaspora, caught my soul–like, it’s-on-replay caught.

According to Okay Africa, Os Kudurista (the people dressed in blue and gray) just performed in NYC and will be in Washington, DC at the Tropicalia Club, 2001 14th Street NW, on Friday, 12/21. I say, if you’re in DC and if possible, give yourself a treat and see them…

…and check out what other treats Racializens love on the R’s Tumblr!

 

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Mira Nair

By Andrea Plaid

Having watched several of Mira Nair’s films repeatedly, I swear her guiding directive is, “If you’re 1) brown,  2) grown, and 3) sexy, you need to be in my film.”

Continue reading