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Naomi Osaka is COMING FOR YOU

Featuring Pachinko novelist Min Jin Lee

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News from the front

Updates on stories we've reported on previously.

A quick note since this happened literally 30 minutes ago as of writing—we get very excited about Asian Americans in sports, and when Haitian Japanese American Naomi Osaka (read her story!) crushed Madison Keys 6-2 6-4, she sent us into hysterical tweets.

Osaka, the first Japanese woman to reach the Grand Slam finals, is playing for Japan, and her biracial heritage is challenging what it means to be “Japanese” in her motherland, which she left at age 3. She’ll face Serena Williams on Saturday. Her pre-battle message to Serena? “Um, I love you.” More to come. (Thanks Yvonne L.!)

The unsung heroes of labor

As we play catch-up from Labor Day holiday, let’s honor some of the Asian American activists that shaped and defined the labor movement—ones often forgotten in the mainstream.

For starters, how about Larry Itliong, the charismatic, outspoken, Filipino organizer? Itliong  organized Manongs (migrant, bachelor Filipino farmworkers) to go on strike, asking for better wages. He appealed to Cesar Chavez to join them, uniting Mexicans and Filipinos in the movement.

That built the foundations of the farm workers’ movement, propelling Cesar Chavez and others to form the national United Farm Workers.

There’s more—obviously.

Let’s talk Philip Vera Cruz, another Manong leader instrumental in uniting Filipino and Mexican laborers. Tasked to build broad base support for the Delano grape strike, Cruz spoke before community organizations, churches, students, and workers across the country.

Under his leadership, the Manongs voted to strike threats to reduce wages. And overcoming a lack of formal education, Cruz became vice president of the United Farm Workers.

Enter AsAm women

May Chen has been organizing since the 80’s. Chen led over 20,000 Asian Americans in the garment factory workers’ strike in New York’s Chinatown—one of the largest strikes recorded in Asian American history.

As a strike worker, Chen tirelessly negotiated contracts for fair wage practices, helped factory workers through their naturalization processes, and improved workers’ conditions. Later, Chen became a founding member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and served as vice president for UNITE HERE.

And even more

Velma Veloria. Sue Ko Lee. There’s a rich history of Asian Americans in labor, launching movements that awakened a nation to struggle. They’re worth remembering—so make your flash cards.

Natalie Bui, editor, who suggests you read this article here for a deeper dive on Larry Itliong
7 more labor activists you should know

NOW PLAYING: Here at The Slant, we’ve made a conscious choice not to talk about individual stories of racism, in favor of keeping the focus on being informed and celebrating our community. But when something happens to you (as it did to two Slant editors just this week) it helps to get affirmation that it wasn’t ok and you’re not alone.

Which is what the New York Times’ podcast “Still Processing” did in a recent two-part series, where the two hosts turned the mic over to AAPI to talk about the specific racialized nonsense that we deal with. It’s insightful and relatable and after dealing with this your whole life, extremely cathartic.

Jessica Yi, editor, is working her way through the Korean fire noodle varieties and it’s not pretty

The Rock, a.k.a The King

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson announced this week that he’ll be the lead in “The King”, a WB film documenting the life and times of King Kamehameha. The film is set to be a Braveheart-like epic featuring Hawaii’s fabled first king.

King Kamehameha united the warring Hawaiian islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii, ruling as its first king after its unification, ruling from 1782-1819.

“The time is right.”

This is a veritable dream come true for the actor, and it’s a role that Johnson is grateful for. He took to his Instagram to share the news, stating that “From the day I began my Hollywood career (2001), my dream was to bring this legacy to life.

“In Polynesian culture we have a belief, that something isn’t done when it’s ready... it’s done when it’s right. The time is right.”

But some Native Hawaiians argue that the title role should have gone to an actor who is Native Hawaiian, rather than a Samoan actor who only lived in Hawaii part-time.

Others are concerned that Hollywood has the rights to tell this important indigenous story, especially since Hollywood hasn’t created accurate depictions of history in the past.

Between The Rock and a hard place

But Hawaiian filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu sees Johnson’s Polynesian heritage as a reason to support his casting, and is more concerned with an accurate story and depiction.

She also suggests that Johnson’s international fame and celebrity will help to promote the movie and give the story visibility and appeal: something it needs, since not everyone is familiar with Kamehameha and the American overthrow of his kingdom just 80 years later.

Filming is set to begin in 2020. We’ll see if The Rock can, like Kamehameha, unite his audience.

Chery Sutjahjo, editor, who stans the Rock because he tweeted at Lana Condor (TATBILB)

You can take The Rock out of Hawaii... but actually don’t

Min Jin Lee's novel, Pachinko

Min Jin Lee on examining assimilation, suffering, and our greater pursuits

Min Jin Lee is widely known as the author of Pachinko, which details four generations of an immigrant Korean family during the Japanese occupation. Lee spent four years in Korea researching and interviewing people to capture the generational narratives of Pachinko, inspired by the biblical story of Joseph.

Pachinko has been named Best Book of the Year by PBS, NPR, the New York Times and many others. We caught up with Min Jin Lee over e-mail to discuss her novel.

How do you tackle the baggage of being an “Asian American” author?

There is definitely baggage, but I try to put it into perspective. It is an extraordinary privilege to be a working artist. Always, I feel the burden of representation, but I also feel the immense magnitude of my community and its growing power. There are a lot of labels, indeed, but those labels can have good meanings, too. I try to draw strength from my complicated history, and I want to bear witness to the great reserves of stories found in all of our respective communities.

In Pachinko, you write about the suffering of women, and especially that of mothers. Sunja, whose identity revolves around motherhood, anchors the story. Did you resonate with Sunja in particular?

In my interviews, women spoke often of suffering, and how it should be expected, rather than just avoided. This taught me to resist my Western tendency not to speak of suffering, but rather to accept that suffering happens to all and to really look at our suffering carefully. I did not identify primarily with Sunja; she is so very important, but her struggles were so much greater than my own. I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter-in-law, and immigrant; however, I am literate, educated and privileged as a 21st-century woman living in an advanced democratic economy. My struggles look very different than Sunja’s.

You mention in another interview that as Americans, we can find comfort in knowing that it is possible to overturn inequitable things — yet in many parts of the world, there is no redress for suffering or injustice. How do you write about this without falling into a sense of helplessness?

Even when there is no legal redress for an objective harm, individuals have the power to resist in a multitude of ways. It is both critical and valuable to recognize all the ways less powerful people work around their real injuries. I want to recognize that even in captivity, under oppression, or facing seemingly impossible tyranny, some human beings have laid claim to some portion of dignity, integrity, and mental freedom — not all people but some, and this gives me strength. Reading slave narratives, diaries of concentration camp victims, journals of prisoners reveals that human beings are at times truly powerful and imaginative in their resistance. Writers can bear witness to such deeds.

There’s a segment in the book that talks about the challenges of having dual cultural identities — and even the challenges of being in a relationship with someone who might not share that same understanding. How much of that was informed by your own relationships and observations?

I think it is possible to love someone from your own background who can have very different ways of understanding the world. I once dated a wonderful Korean American immigrant man who held different views on education than I did. His views did not make me care for him any less. In fact, he taught me new things because his point of view was quite original. Most of the people we love do not believe/think/perceive/forgive/act as we do. I like this. It is not easy, but I find that these differences push me to re-think/re-imagine my limited world.

To escape racism, one of your characters puts aside his Korean background and adopts a Japanese one. You explore the idea of cultural erasure for the sake of wider acceptance — which is painful to think about at its core. Why was it important for you to share this theme?

Assimilation is necessary but demands a kind of mortification, which makes us cut away/deaden/kill parts of our former selves. All applied learning of new knowledge requires some assimilation, because we are doing a new thing, therefore the old way is gone. Now if you take this idea and magnify it on our personality, it can yield a whole new identity.

So, then, where does the old identity go? Can it remain? After college graduation, can you still be the same person you were in high school? This level of assimilation happens all the time. I see this occurring more rapidly to very successful people, who try to endlessly improve, and sometimes realize too late that somehow, their old selves are somehow erased.

I feel great compassion for those wish to be better, to grow, to improve — all such ideas are certainly the much-heralded precepts of many advanced economies/democracies; however, sometimes, we do not always questions what exactly is better and why. Why is being thin so important? Why is being more educated so much better? Why is more money desirable? None of these things — thinness, education, money — are inherently bad; but the quest for certain goals without examination can cause great harm. I study this pursuit in all my works.

How do you feel about your writing being produced into an Apple series and how do you want your story to be shown through a digital format?

I am delighted that Apple TV is interested in making the book into a series. The showrunner Soo Hugh is an enormously talented writer and producer, and Michael Ellenberg and Dani Gorin of Media Res are tremendously gifted producers, so I trust them to create a very high quality translation of the work for the television medium. The show will be done in original languages, shot in East Asia, so it will be incredible, I think, to imagine and then render this story as a global drama.

Which of the generational stories did you resonate with the most and why?

I connected more often with Mozasu’s and Noa’s generation, because they felt more familiar to me.

Min Jin Lee is also the author of the novel Free Food for Millionaires. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, NPR’s Selected Shorts, The Guardian, and many more. Korean-born, Lee immigrated to Queens, NY with her family at the age of 7. She would go on to receive a Yale and Georgetown degree, and worked as a lawyer before becoming a writer full time.

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This weekend ... 📅

  • ROLL WITH NICKI AND BTS. Once, BTS was just another K-Pop band, but now they’re dancing alongside Nicki Minaj in a new version of their music video for their single, “Idol.” Korean boys. Dougla rapper. New Asian world order.

  • GET ACQUAINTED with resources for discussing depression for Asian Americans. Talking about Asian American mental health can be particularly difficult when it’s still a stigmatized topic in many communities, and Asian Pacific Counseling & Treatment Centers is working to make more resources available to those who need them.

  • HOPE FOR GOOD results from a new program piloted by San Francisco, which aims to curb health issues in black and Pacific Islander babies and mothers by providing doulas to low-income mothers. Doulas would provide emotional and physical support, and help mediate between mothers and doctors.

  • LEARN MORE ABOUT LABOR, and specifically labor 150 years ago, when thousands of Chinese railroad workers simply sat down to go on strike, protesting their low wages compared to white workers. While ultimately the railroad companies cut off food supplies, starving the workers back to work, it was still the largest strike of its time.
  • DRESS UP with this look at international Asian fashion figures, celebrating the “beauty of having an Asian American identity,” from Ruby Veridiano for Hyphen. And if any old picture is worth a thousand words, these are probably worth ten thousand.

This week's stories are curated by Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief, who’s just doing his best, just like you. Got a tip, or just want to share? E-mail us at news@slant.email.

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Marjorie Liu, novelist and comic book writer

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