Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chinese American WWII Vets Remember Flying Tigers Days

Chinese American WWII Vets Remember Flying Tigers Days

Posted: 10/03/11 01:30 PM ET

2011-09-30-P1100849.JPG 2011-09-30-kimlauFT.jpg
14th Air Service Group Veterans with members of New York Chinatown's American Legion Lt. B. R. Kimlau Post at their headquarters and at the Kimlau Memorial Arch. Courtesy David Len. Last week, Chinese American World War II veterans of the legendary Flying Tigers reunited for their 68th Anniversary in New York City. Their all-Chinese American units served a special mission: to assist American Flying Tigers pilots and train Chinese Air Force ground crews to defend against Japanese invasion. They flew the "Hump" (the lower range of the Himalayan mountains), drove the legendary Burma Road, performed troop transport, repaired planes, and did crash recovery.

B-29 Gun Turret
Courtesy Richard Y. Wong

Now ranging from 86 to 93 years in age, these veterans came from across the country to bond and reflect. At the American Legion Kimlau Post 1291 in Chinatown, the first Chinese-American American Legion Post established after the war, they met friends and traded stories. A panel shared their experiences to a capacity crowd at the Museum of Chinese in America, where a short film featured photos of the men handsomely donning their American G.I. uniforms. They reminisced on the 1940s, when their uniforms first brought to them a sense of equality and pride. World War II marked many milestones for Chinese Americans. Most significantly, defense and other mainstream jobs became available, freeing Chinese Americans who had been confined solely to restaurants and laundries. The Montgomery G.I. Bill helped them afford education. Chinatowns transformed from bachelor communities to family communities, with the help of a special War Brides Act passed by Congress that enabled Chinese Americans to legally bring their brides over from China. Any soldier who served a minimum of 90 days gained citizenship, even if he had entered the country illegally.
It's been all but forgotten that 20,000 Chinese Americans served in World War II. 61 percent of those who served were born in America, 39 percent from a foreign country. It is astonishing that in New York City alone, 40 percent of all Chinese Americans between 18 and 36 enlisted or were drafted -- the highest ratio among any national grouping in the country. Because some of the drafted and enlisted were "paper sons" who came to America with falsified papers, many of the men were actually younger or older than the legal age to serve. In one of the all-Chinese American units, the 407 Air Service Squadron, the actual age of the men ranged from 15-50.

Mack Pong pictured with Squadron flag at Chihkiang. Courtesy Albert Fong collection.
91-year-old Mack Pong who was born in Houston, Texas, graduated high school in 1938. "When I finished high school, in 1938, I couldn't get a job. They didn't want Chinese. Finally, I got a job at the post office, because they needed people, [after] so many were drafted."
Eventually, Pong himself was drafted in 1943 and put in a unit of 250 Chinese Americans, which later formed the 407 Air Squadron Group of the 14th Air Service Group. They trained in Patterson Field, OH, and made their way to Calcutta. "Our group was formed, so we had to pick up supplies. Outside Calcutta was Kanchrapara, which was a service depot -- they had all the supplies. We had to pick up stoves for the kitchens, mechanical ware for the mechanics, food, practically everything to suffice, to make it self-serving. That was tough, because they had no cranes, and everything was transported by hand. Everything was moved onto a steamer ship on Brahmaputra River, then we had to take it off the boat, and put it on a narrow gauged railroad. Then we set up a base and squadron in operation at Dinjan."
After the war, the Chinese American soldiers promised to keep in touch and make something of their lives with their newfound rights. Over the years, Mack Pong kept in contact with at least 175 of the 250 Chinese American comrades, mostly those on the West Coast, from his 407 Air Service Squadron. Later, friends from the 987th Signal Company joined as well. Richard Chin of New York City, who passed away this year, kept in contact with those on the East Coast. Their initial reunions were informal dinners where the men drank and smoked cigars at the San Francisco VFW Hall. By the 60s, they brought their wives, and by the 80s, the reunions became family events.

Michael Williams and Lyn Johnson of the New York Veterans Administration, Minority Office, giving Mack Pong, with Christina Lim, a commendation for the reunion. Photo courtesy of David Len

Christina M. Lim is the daughter of Harry Lim, a veteran from the 407 Air Service Squadron. Along with her brother Sheldon Lim, she co-authored In the Shadow of the Tiger: The 407th Air Service Squadron, 14th Air Service Group, 14th Air Force, World War II and organizes these now yearly reunions. She explained how the World War II military service helped the Lim family get their first house in America. An army salary provided Chinese-Americans the basic, yet crucial step towards home ownership. "My grandma took the army pay that [her sons] sent home, and saved it. When they got out of the service, my dad came home and qualified for an FHA loan, and grandma used their army pay as a down payment on their very first house in America. My family went from renting flats and rooms to a nice three-bedroom house with a backyard. By then my grandfather was 86. He'd spent his whole life cooking for Caucasian families, as a house cook, and at last he could retire and prune the fruit trees in the backyard."
Richard Y. Wong, 89, of Hayward, California, was also in the 407 Air Squadron. He was able to bring a wife over from China easily, which, pre-war, was unheard of. The Chinese Exclusion Act, which allowed only 105 Chinese into America per year, was repealed in 1943. This was not done to pacify the Chinese Americans, but because it was considered distasteful to exclude people from an allied country. The War Brides Act passed in 1945 allowed American G.I.'s to marry and bring foreign wives to the U.S. However, Chinese War Brides entering the country were still charged to the 105 quota. Chinese American G.I.'s protested and on August 9, 1946, Congress passed the Chinese War Brides Act--which placed Chinese wives of American citizens on a non quota basis. The arrival of the thousands of Chinese brides transformed Chinatowns into family communities.
Richard Y. Wong was discharged in 1946. "There were many more [Chinese American] boys than girls. 5 boys to every 1 girl. In those days you could not date a girl. You had to have a mother or another older female relative go with you to meet her family. You couldn't just go with a father or uncle--who was working 12 hours a day anyway. My mother and aunts were stuck in China because of the quota. No mother here meant a girl's family wasn't going to accept you. In 1948 when I went back to China to get a bride, there were maybe 50 boys in the boat, like me, my age, looking for a wife. And I remember one guy got married within 10 days, because he had to come back for work. In my case, I stayed 6 months because my father had a place in Hong Kong. I came back 8 months later and had 3 kids."

Photos: Richard Y. Wong and Guy Yep in Assam, India, 1944. Courtesy Richard Y. Wong collection.
Richard Y.Wong, Guy Yep, Lily Yep, at American Legion Kimlau Post, New York, 2011
Guy Yep, 89, from Houston, Texas, who served in the 407 Air Service Squadron, hasn't attended many of the reunions, but came to New York this year, accompanied by his daughter Lily, a Sergeant of the Houston Police Department.
"I figured this might be the last one."
He wore a Bronze Star on his jacket awarded to him by the VA. In China, he was at the scene when an American plane carrying Chinese soldiers crashed. "I got five of them to the hospital. And the Americans couldn't take care of them. So they said, take them to a Chinese hospital. We took them to five different hospitals, and finally one of them said 'we'll take them.'"
Uniformed service is not often considered a major part of Chinese American life and culture today, yet through a decade of formative struggles in the 1940s, this World War II generation has achieved citizenship for themselves and their family members, transformed Chinatowns, and helped to establish the integrated landscape we know today.
 Copyright © 2012, Inc.

'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles

John Seed    Professor of Art and Art History, Mt. San Jacinto College

'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles.

 The exhibition, which will present the work of five contemporary Chinese American artists -- George Chann, John Kwok, Jake Lee, Milton Quon, and Tyrus Wong -- is part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative.

The exhibition features more than one hundred works by these Los Angeles artists including paintings, watercolors pre-production sketches, drawings, kites and ephemera. Central to the exhibit is an examination of how these artists balanced their art practices with their professional lives, and how they achieved success in the context of the social forces that surrounded their early lives.

JS: Tell me a bit about how this show came about and came together.
SM: In June 2010, I attended a presentation given by Getty Foundation's Deputy Director, Joan Weinstein, on the Pacific Standard Time initiative. With the hope of ensuring that Chinese American artists would be included in this unprecedented regional initiative, I pitched a show idea to Ms. Weinstein, after which she invited me to apply for a grant. I had been working as a curatorial consultant at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) since spring 2010 to assist in the inaugural shows for their new museum building. I discussed my exhibit idea with the museum's director, Karen Rapp, who suggested that VPAM would be an ideal venue for the show. We received a lead grant from the Getty Foundation in August 2010 and hit the ground running. The project is also supported by the Pasadena Art Alliance and individual donors, which has made it possible for a catalogue to accompany the exhibition.

George Chann, Rice Paper Calligraphy, 1970s,
Sumi ink, watercolor and oil on rice paper, 24 x 30 inches.
Courtesy of Janet Chann. Copyright George Chann. Photo: Janet Chann
JS: What are some of the political and complexities that the Chinese American artists had to face as they developed their work and artistic careers?
SM: Discrimination was a reality that manifested itself in a variety of ways for these artists. Laws dating back to the mid-1800s were still in effect by the time these individuals were born and arriving in the Los Angeles area. Lawmakers were very clear about preventing an American-born citizenry of Chinese descent. Chinese were ineligible for citizenship. They could not vote, own property, or testify in court against a white person. Chinese women could not immigrate to the U.S. Congress passed the first Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, renewed it in 1892 and again in 1902, and extended it indefinitely in 1904. These artists were in their 20s and 30s by the time the law was finally repealed in 1943.
The tide of international relations changed with World War II: not only did Congress repeal Chinese Exclusion because China and the U.S. became allies, foreign-born Chinese Americans could for the first time in seventy years become naturalized citizens. Even after World War II, Quon and Wong have both recounted how difficult it was to buy a house or insurance. No one would sell to them.
The social climate and complexities in the workplace presented other challenges and rewards. As Wong and Quon are still alive, they've recounted to me what it was like to be the only Chinese American in their work environments. Wong was only the second Chinese to work at Disney. Quon was the fourth.
They each advanced because of their ambition and skill. Others recognized their talent, and so they climbed. Wong recalls that only one man at Disney would invite him to sit with him at lunch. At Warner Brothers he made few friends, however they became lifelong friends. Quon became best friends with an old Los Angeles Junior College classmate, who went on to become Quon's boss at the Los Angeles office of BBDO (now one of the largest, global advertising companies in the world). Quon became the first Chinese art director for BBDO on the West Coast. I have some great old photos of Quon at work: think Mad Men.
Tyrus Wong, Reclining Nude, 1940s, oil on canvas, 29 3/4 x 48 inches.
Courtesy of Leslee See Leong. Copyright Tyrus Wong.

JS: Two of the artists in the exhibition -- Tyrus Wong and Milton Quon -- worked for film studios. How did they manage to balance this work with their personal studio practices?
SM: Actually, in the early years, Wong and Quon worked on the side while they worked at the studios. They worked constantly, taking private commissions and/or working with other clients. They each made names for themselves within the Chinese American community as respected artists. Wong balanced his nascent career at Disney with exhibiting his own work and starting a family. Wong was highly praised by local art writers and critics, and he won awards and commendation in many exhibitions. Wong had a wife and three daughters to support. Quon wasn't an exhibiting artist: he just worked and worked. Quon had a wife and four kids to support.
George Chann and Jake Lee each tried working in the movie studios. Neither of them liked the work, so they moved on. Lee became a commercial illustrator with clients in the automobile and war industries. Chann lived in China then San Francisco before coming back to LA, where he operated the Farmers Market Art Gallery from the early 1950s to the early 1990s.
Jake Lee, Chinatown Alley, c. 1940, watercolor on paper, 22 x 15 inches.
Courtesy of The Michael Johnson Collection,
Copyright Jake Lee. Photo credit: Chinese American Museum

JS: Sonia, what were the "discoveries" you made while assembling this show? By discoveries, I mean remarkable artistic achievements but also revelations about the history of these artists and the times they lived and worked in.
SM: Although these artists knew of one another and some were friends, they were never a cohort. Decades before the Civil Rights Movement and the notion of multiculturalism, these artists built community with other artists without regard for ethnicity. It was a refreshing surprise to learn that these five artists found invaluable alliances, encouragement, and unequaled support from within the art community, especially their fellow art school alumni. Otis and Chouinard served as pillars in the early art community of Los Angeles.
The artists of 'Round the Clock made friends at school who became lifelong friends and co-workers. Milton Quon, George Chann, and John Kwok were very active in their respective churches, which were based in the Chinese American community. The role these churches played in the early Chinese American community should not be underestimated, however it was the art schools that created vital artistic lineages that coursed through the lives of these five artists. Other PST shows I've visited seem to echo this same relationship, though it seems none have really been able to clearly articulate how important these relationships truly were.
Another discovery is that I learned a great deal about the artists as individuals, as personalities. I had curated retrospectives for John Kwok, Milton Quon, and Jake Lee when I was at the Chinese American Museum. Through this project, I feel I've begun to know the artists in a way I did not before. I plan to create a blog about the artists in the exhibition as a way to include more information about them--material that could not fit into the show--and involve the families and friends of the artists to share stories and images with the public.
They have been so generous and eager in their support, and I'd like to raise the profile of each of these artists with all that they've shared with me. Their insights and memories may not be appropriate for an art exhibition but they certainly are wonderful assets to a project invested in fostering understanding about these artists and their respective contributions to the Los Angeles art scene.
Milton Quon, Santa Monica Pier, 2002, watercolor on paper, 10 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches.
Courtesy of the artist. Copyright Milton Quon.

JS: What do you perceive that these artists have in common? Where do their art and lives diverge?
SM: Each of the five artists expressed themselves in traditional ways. In fact, they each drew on multiple traditions: the tradition of Chinese ink-and-brush painting, the tradition of Western modernism (Impressionism, Synchronism, Abstract Expressionism, and German Expressionism), and the tradition of Regional Painting (specifically the California-style watercolor movement). I always like to say that one plus one makes three.
What the show presents is more than just Chinese art or American art. The works offer insight into each artist's multiple creative fluencies and cultural perspectives. Their career choices, their relationships throughout the art community, and their connectedness (or lack thereof) to the Chinese American community reveal a great deal about how these individual artists derived meaning from their work.
John Kwok, Untitled, not dated, gouache on paperboard, 40 x 30 inches.
Courtesy of The John Kwok Family. Copyright John Kwok.

Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles.
January 21st through April 21st, 2012
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 21, 2012 from 2:00 - 4:00 pm
Gallery Open: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays

Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College
East Los Angeles College   1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez   Monterey Park, California 91754  
(323) 265-8841
Copyright © 2012, Inc.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wing Luke

About Wing Luke          
                        The Early Years                                   

            Wing Luke was born on February 25, 1925 in a small town near Canton, China. His family returned to the United States in 1930 when he was six years old and settled in Seattle where his father and grandfather had lived previously. In the University District, the family operated a small laundry and later a grocery store.  
            Wing was the eldest of six children. In high school, Wing participated in a number of activities and was even then pursuing a political future. At Roosevelt High, he served as Boy's Club president, Student Body President, and as Seattle Inter-High Council President.
In 1944, Wing was selected as one of the nine most outstanding high school students in the U.S. by the Secretary of Labor and invited to Washington, D.C. as a high school consultant for a White House conference on juvenile problems.   
                        Inducted into the Military                                
            Only half way through his senior year, Wing was inducted into the Army. Initially in the Army Specialized Training Program, he then joined the infantry and field artillery and was acting first sergeant and regimental  S-1 sergeant in the 40th division Field Artillery. He served in Guam, Korea, New Guinea, New Britain and the Philippines where he was awarded the Bronze Star.     
                        The College Years                               

            Following his service, Wing entered the University of Washington. As in high school, Wing was a prominent leader. He was President of his sophomore class, the U.W. YMCA, the Baptist-Disciples' Student Center, the U.W. Red Cross, U.W. Young Democrats, and the committee chairman of A.S.U.W. Publications. He graduated from the university with a B.A. in political science and public administration. He did graduate work in the same fields at the American University in Washington, D.C. returning to the U.W. he earned a L.L.B. in law.      
                        Private Practice Led the Way to Public Office                          
            Initially in private practice, he soon was appointed the Assistant Attorney General of the State of Washington, in the Civil Rights Division and served in that capacity from 1957-1962. In December, 1961 Wing took a leave of absence from his duties to file for position number 5 on the Seattle City Council. Running on the slogan "You are not electing a platform, but a Councilman," Wing maintained a pragmatic position on the issues. Defending criticism of "fence sitting" as well as racial slurs, Wing Luke won the council seat and was sworn in March 13, 1962 and became the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest.
                        What He Stood For                              
            Knowing first hand the effects of racial discrimination, Wing was instrumental in Seattle's passing of an Open Housing Ordinance in 1963 with punitive provisions against racial discrimination in the selling or renting of real estate. He fought for civil rights, urban renewal and historic preservation. 
Wing Luke's plans for the future came to a tragic end in 1965. Returning from a fishing trip to Lake Wannacutt in Okanogan County, a light plane he was riding in crashed. The wreckage was not found for more than three years.             Believing that the culture and traditions of Chinese and other Asian immigrants should be preserved and taught, Wing envisioned a place to present the history and important issues of Asian Americans. The Wing Luke Asian Museum was founded to fulfill that vision.       

The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing) is an Asian Pacific American (APA) community-based museum with a unique emphasis on the community development process. It is dedicated to connecting everyone to the rich history, dynamic cultures and art of APAs through vivid storytelling and inspiring experiences. It is a museum of regional and national significance, and is a Smithsonian Institution affiliate. The Museum is committed to contributing to the economic development of its neighborhood, Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. In 1996 the Museum began its expansion planning, and in 2003 purchased a historic building in the district that was built by Chinese American pioneers in the early 1900s. Over a span of five years, the Museum raised $23 million from more than 1,600 individual and institutional donors and executed a unique expansion project that combines historic preservation with creation of contemporary gathering spaces and galleries. In June 2008 the Museum opened its new doors to the public. An ever-changing living museum, The Wing’s current operating budget is $2 million, and projects 40,000-50,000 visitors annually. The Museum provides public access to its library, collections and archives comprising over 20,000 items related to theculture, art and history of Asian Pacific Americans.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chi Mui, 53; Was the First Mayor of Asian Descent in San Gabriel's History

Chi Mui, 53; Was the First Mayor of Asian Descent in San Gabriel's History

April 28, 2006          |David Pierson, Times Staff Writer

One month ago, a frail but spirited Chi Mui thanked a standing-room-only audience at San Gabriel City Hall for honoring him in becoming the first mayor of Asian descent in the city's 93-year history.

It was a point of pride for him knowing that San Gabriel had found a way to celebrate its transformation from a sleepy suburb of mostly whites and Latinos to what many now consider the epicenter of the San Gabriel Valley's thriving Chinese community."Chi is a great friend and communicator, and an invaluable link to the members of our Asian community," the outgoing mayor, Juli Costanzo, said at the meeting.

Friends say his legacy is visible in the vibrant commercial district along Valley Boulevard -- Mui liked to call it the Golden Mile -- with its Hilton Hotel, where half the guests are from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Mui was one of only a handful of first-generation Chinese Americans to have successfully run for political office when he was elected to the City Council in 2003.He was credited with integrating non-Asian residents with the newly arrived Chinese who now make up half the city's 40,000 population.

Mui was born in Guangzhou, China, and moved to Hong Kong as a young boy. He and his parents, a seamstress and a cook, left for the United States in 1963. They lived in New York City's Chinatown, where Mui learned to speak English.

He graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Polytechnic University of New York in 1980.

Friends say Mui, who spoke fluent Cantonese, never forgot what it was like to come to a new country and grow up in an ethnic enclave. It's what drove him to later work in Los Angeles' Chinatown, where he helped develop affordable housing for seniors and urged immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

Mui lobbied to obtain $35 million from the state to build a park and community facilities in the cornfields north of Chinatown. He also coached youngsters in the Los Angeles Chinatown Athletic Assn. Volleyball Club, which he co-founded.

Though Mui was recognized by the Chinese American mainstream, he was also well-known in working-class communities such as the Indochinese.