Some of the Headlines and Newsmakers from the Village this Year
By Asian American Village Staff
In January, Army 1st Lieutenant Ehren K. Watada sets off a national controversy within and outside the Japanese American community when he submits his resignation and declares his refusal to be deployed to Iraq. In providing the reason for his refusal, Watada asserts that the war and occupation in Iraq are illegal. Watada, who had requested to serve in Afghanistan, denied that he was a conscientious objector or opposed to war in general. Alternately vilified and lionized by various countrymen, the Hawaii-born commissioned officer had intensively studied the military’s involvement in Iraq in the context of Constitutional and international laws governing war and executive powers.
January 29, Sandra Oh honored for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series” for her portrayal of Dr. Cristina Yang on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.
January, the art world mourns the passing of Nam June Paik, the pioneer of video art, whose experimental, pre-digital multimedia installations were known and exhibited at the leading art institutions worldwide. He died at age 73 in Florida on January 29.
In February, Michelle Kwan‘s decades-old quest for Olympic gold comes to an abrupt end. The champion, whose name had been virtually synonymous with her sport for years, was compelled to withdraw from the Olympics due to a groin injury after a reported fall during practice.
March, Chi Mui is sworn in as mayor of San Gabriel, CA – the city’s first Asian-American mayor, and to some observers a symbol of the growing clout of the area’s Chinese community. Unfortunately, the 53 year old’s historic appointment was short-lived; Mui passed away in April, reportedly from cancer, only a month after taking office.
March 8, Chloe Dao of Houston, TX wins the top prize on Bravo TV’s hit fashion design competition show, Project Runway. A 34-year-old boutique owner who immigrated from Laos with her parents, Dao says she use the $100,000 and notoriety from the show to continue to develop her clothing business, and intends to remain based in Texas.
March 11, premiere of Americanese, director Eric Byler’s adaptation of classic novel, American Knees, by Shawn Wong. The star-studded, all-Asian American cast features such veterans as Sab Shimono and Joan Chen, as well as Kelly Hu, Michael Paul Chan, Chris Tashima and Allison Sie. The tale of a frustrated love affair between a UC Asian American studies professor Raymond Ding and young hapa photographer Aurora Snow wins two awards at South by Southwest Film Festival, including Audience Award for Narrative and a Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Ensemble Cast.
March, Ang Lee makes history as first Asian winner of “Best Director” Oscar, for his work on Brokeback Mountain, which wins in three categories, although Crash takes “Best Picture” category.
March 29, demonstrations are held on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago protesting the absence of Asian American Studies at the campus. The event follows a series of related events held by Asian American students, faculty, and staff at UIC, and meetings in cooperation with other institutions around the state.
April, Harvard college student Kaavya Viswanathan creates a scandal by admitting she plagiarized several passages included in her much-hyped first novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, published by Little, Brown to the tune of a cool half-a-million in advances.
May 16, the U.S. Census Bureau releases findings of a new report, Survey of Business Owners: Asian-Owned Firms: 2002, showing that the number of Asian-owned businesses grew 24 percent between 1997 and 2002, or approximately twice the national average for all businesses. Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon says, “The robust revenues of Asian-owned firms and the growth in the number of businesses provide yet another indicator that minority entrepreneurs are at the forefront as engines for growth in our economy.”
May, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, a Japanese-American activist who championed federal recognition for the site of the WWII internment camp site at Manzanar, California, dies in Los Angeles at age 83.
June, Asian Americans at Bowling Green University and in the surrounding community call for a boycott against a local radio station, WTWR-FM (Tower 98), following a disc jockey’s alleged insensitivity in program segments employing prank calls to area Asian restaurants. The DJ, Josh Garber, aka “Lucas,” reportedly mocked people who answered phones at the restaurants by making fun of their accents — or lack thereof. The station ultimately suspended Garber without pay, according to the Toledo Blade, and the program director resigned.
June 23, Norman Mineta announces his resignation from his Cabinet post as Transportation Secretary. The only Democrat to serve as a Cabinet member in the Bush Administration, Mineta had previously made history as the first Asian American cabinet secretary when he was appointed to serve as U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton.
July, pioneering Asian American actor Mako dies at 72. Co-founder of the East-West Player theater company in Los Angeles, Mako (born Makoto Iwamatsu) was credited for his life’s efforts to promote increased and higher quality roles for Asian Americans working in entertainment and the arts.
August 11, incumbent Virginia Senator George Allen is recorded at a campaign rally referring to S.R. Sidartha, a Jim Webb campaign volunteer of South Asian descent, as “Macaca” – a term denoting a type of monkey and an ethnic slur. The videotaped incident is distributed widely, inspiring further media investigations of Allen’s racial attitudes, as well as an upwelling of organized opposition to Allen’s candidacy by Asian Americans nationally. Asian Americans with local ties formed Real Virginians for Webb to campaign for challenger Jim Webb, whose wife is a Vietnamese American, and promote fundraising and endorsements in the community nationwide. Somewhat unexpectedly, the incident may have proved decisive in tipping the balance of the Senate to the Democrats during the midterms, by helping Webb close an early gap and inch ahead to a victory of about 0.3% in a neck-and-neck race that was not decided until Allen’s concession on November 9, two days after election day.
September, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the UC Asian American and Pacific Islander Policy Initiative release report analyzing the most recent Census data, finding Asian Americans to be a “sleeping giant” in California politics because of their growing numbers, “now are at a point where Hispanics were about two decades ago”. The population figures are seen to be a sign of Asian voters’ likely significant impact on local and Congressional races in the impending midterm elections.
September, Iva Toguri D’Aquino, long known as “Tokyo Rose” of WWII fame, dies in Chicago at the age of 94. She became stranded in Japan at the outbreak of the war, and served as an announcer and DJ for Radio Tokyo, for which she was later convicted of treason and served six years in jail. She was pardoned by President Ford in 1977.
September, incumbent Hawai’i senator Daniel Akaka, 82, successfully defends his spot against a Democratic primary challenge by Rep. Ed Case, who believed Akaka’s age and strong anti-war stance would harm the Democrats’ chances of retaining the seat in November. Akaka, who is of mixed Native and Chinese descent, has served in Congress for 30 years, and was ultimately victorious in beating back Republican challenger, state Rep. Cynthia Thielen.
September 26, bill encouraging President Bush to return the Bells of Balangiga to the people of the Philippines introduced by CA Rep. Bob Fillner. The bill seeks the return of two historic church bells removed by the U.S. Army in 1901 from the island of Samar, Philippines. The bells are currently stored at an Air Force Base in Wyoming. It is concurrent with another resolution, introduced in 2005, asking for ownership of the bells to be transferred to the people of the Philippines. The bills are H res 3131 and H. Con. Res. 481.
Indian American businesswoman Indra Nooyi, 50, steps up to the top spot on Fortune Magazine’s annual list of “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” rising from rank 11 in 2005, as Pepsico’s former CFO ascends to the post of its new chief (in October). She is joined by a newcomer to the list, Padmasree Warrior, EVP, Chief Technology Officer, of Motorola. Also Indian American, the 46 year old engineer and executive oversees some $3.7 billion in R&D, and is listed by Fortune as one of the year’s new up and comers to watch.
November, former CEO of Computer Associates, Sanjay Kumar, pleads guilty to obstruction of justice and securities fraud in a scandal that nets Kumar and world sales chief Stephen Richards.
Four Asian Americans prevail in their races during the November midterm’s Democratic tsunami, as Hawai’i’s former Lt. Governor Mazie Hirono joins California’s returning incumbents Doris Matsui and Mike Honda in the U.S. House, and Oregon’s David Wu.
December 5, comedienne and TV personality Rosie O’Donnell gets into hot water with media watchdog groups for a segment in which she seems to mock Chinese people’s speech and accents, part of a bit in which she makes fun of Danny DeVito’s appearance on the ABC talk show.
Through strategic coalition-building and ethical gameplay, hunky Korean-American business consultant Yul Kwon won the top prize of $1 million in TV’s hit reality show Survivor: Cook Islands, leading an outnumbered, underdog “tribe” intact to the December 18 finale, including his fellow finalists Korean American Becky Lee and Mexican American Oscar (Ozzie) Lusth.
December 21, President Bush signs a bill introduced by CA reps. Mike Honda and Doris Matsui authorizing a $35 million grant to preserve WWII internment camp sites in in California, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.