Navigating the movement as an Asian

Japanese Canadian Concentration Camps Postwar Deportation Attempts Resettling in Chatham Father's Sacrifice Joining the Civil Rights Movement Chauffeuring the SNCC Leadership Navigating the movement as an Asian Photographing the movement Re-examining Identity Defining "Nikkei"

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Being Asian in there was great. In a lot of ways, it was great because we ain't white and we ain't black and neither side really knows what to do with us.

I*: You were criticized for maybe making the wrong move?

Nope. Nope. So we could ooze into either of those two solitudes. Infiltrate both of them. We could go back and forth, and nobody would really question that. I can remember one time, Stokely Carmichael, it was the time when I got inadvertently drunk. Fletcher had handed me this drink which had Southern Comfort Bourbon in it, and I was sweltering in the dark room. This terrible place, unventilated, in the middle of Atlanta summers. I mean, I almost died in there. So he gave me this drink and I turned bright red when I drink. So Worth Long was just coming in the office and he said, “My god! You're bright red!” And just called everybody from the office and said, “Look at this guy!” So I'm exhibit A at that point, and Stokely was around there, and Stokely, there was never a crowd that he couldn't play to. So Stokely was into black power and that trip, and he was really, really going to challenge any semblance of paternalistic, white, do-gooder consciousness.

So he saw this crowd around, and so he came up and said, “Hey, white boy. How many of us poor niggers you save today?” He challenged me. And so because of the bourbon and whatnot, I figured, alright Stokely, best defense is an offense, I'm going to give you a shot of the dozen. So I said, “Hey nigger, who you calling white? And don't give me none of this jive of how you is descended from one of the seven great tribes of Africa, because while your great, great, great grandfather was chucking spears in the jungle, mine were building great cities and creating great works of art.” So Stokely said, “Damn!” And he went away chuckling. I could do that. I could out-chauvinism him if I chose to.

*"I" indicates an interviewer (Patricia Wakida)

Date: February 9, 2011
Location: California, US
Interviewer: Patricia Wakida, John Esaki
Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

activism asians civil rights movement

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