Serve the People Documents a Radical APIA History

L to R: Karen Ishizuka, Mike Murase, Warren Furutani, Qris Yamashita, traci kato-kiriyama. All photos by Vicky Murakami-Tsuda.
L to R: Karen Ishizuka, Mike Murase, Warren Furutani, Qris Yamashita, traci kato-kiriyama. All photos by Vicky Murakami-Tsuda.


While the histories of political activism within the African American and Latino communities are well known, the history of Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) activism remains invisible to many. JANM exists partly to correct this underrerepresentation. And a new book, for which JANM hosted a signing and panel discussion on June 18, marks a significant contribution to the existing literature on APIA political history.

Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties traces the history of the Asian American civil rights movement, beginning in the early part of the 20th century, focusing strongly on the pivotal decades of the 1960s and ’70s, and continuing to the present day. Drawing on more than 120 first-person interviews with key players and witnesses, the book aims to be the movement’s definitive history. Serve the People was written by Karen L. Ishizuka, a noted scholar and pioneer in the anthropological study of home movies. Ishizuka was also a longtime JANM staff member and co-founder of what is now the Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center; she was recently honored at JANM’s 2016 Gala Dinner.

Karen Ishizuka introduces the book and the panel.
Karen Ishizuka introduces the book and the panel.


On Saturday, Ishizuka led a panel discussion that featured longtime Asian American activists based in Los Angeles. The audience was treated to a series of brief but rousing talks from each panelist. Mike Murase, Director of Service Programs for the Little Tokyo Service Center and co-founder of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center as well as the radical APIA newspaper Gidra, evoked what it was like to be on the ground during the formation of the movement in the sixties.

Qris Yamashit gives a slide presentation of her graphic design work.
Qris Yamashit gives a slide presentation of her graphic design work.


Qris Yamashita, a graphic designer and artist whose unique graphic style helped to form a visual identity for the APIA movement, gave a slide presentation of her work and explained the sources of her imagery. traci kato-kiriyama, an artist, educator, community organizer, and co-founder of Tuesday Night Project, a free public program dedicated to presenting AAPI artists and community organizations, decided to read from the book as a way of paying respect to her forebears.

Warren T. Furutani, a California State Assembly member who is currently in the running for State Senator, gave perhaps the most spirited talk, as he called for continued radicalism in the face of increasing public bigotry. While he spoke, a photograph was projected overhead that showed Furutani shouting down Assemblyman Don Wagner on the Assembly floor in 2011 for the latter’s offensive remarks against Italian Americans. Please enjoy our exclusive video of Furutani’s panel talk above.

To learn more about Serve the People, read our Discover Nikkei article. To purchase your own copy of the book, visit the JANM Store.

Our American Voice

Our American Voice program coverJoin us every Saturday at 1 p.m. for Our American Voice, a two-person show exploring six diverse stories of Asian Pacific Americans, held every Saturday at 1pm in the gallery.

Created in partnership with East West Players for our new exhibition I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story, the performance is directed by Jennifer Chang and features Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Johnny Kwon in the six pieces written by D’Lo, Vivian Keh-Hue, Giovanni Ortega, Jeanne Sakata and Ova Saopeng, and Judy Soo Hoo.

Each piece is a slice in the life of an Asian Pacific American. Overall, they come together to form a larger picture representing the worlds of vastly different people, spanning decades and ethnicities, but ultimately united by their experience of being Asian in America. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see the work of talented writers and actors come alive in an intimate setting!

Here are brief synopsis for the 6 pieces:

TAKING FLIGHT (excerpt) by Judy Soo hoo
Katherine Cheung defied family tradition and crossed racial lines to become the first licensed Asian American female aviator in 1932. During the 1930s, Cheung barnstormed across California, and her fame as a stunt pilot led to an invitation to join Amelia Earhart’s Ninety-Nines, an all-female flying club.

Lao-American siblings Soukki and Joy, refugees from the Vietnam War Era, must confront each other about a return trip to their homeland of Laos. How will they reconnect with a homeland that has long been forgotten and is so far away?

ALLOS (excerpt) by Giovanni Ortega
When young ALLOS arrives in the United States we witness his journey to find employment as well as acceptance amid the hardships of the Great Depression and bigotry of our past.

An immigrant Sri Lankan nurse shares her conclusions on love and loneliness in America.

HOLD THESE TRUTHS (excerpt) by Jeanne Sakata
At Seattle’s University of Washington during WWII, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a curfew is announced for all people of Japanese ancestry requiring them to be in their homes by 8PM. Gordon Hirabayashi, a Nisei student at the University, reluctantly obeys the order until one night when he rushes back to his YMCA dorm—and suddenly has an epiphany that stops him in his tracks.

DUTY AND DESIRE by Vivian Keh-Hue
In the midst of the trendy Koreatown club scene, an unexpected reunion occurs between childhood friends Penelope and Chester. While quick to judge one another regarding their choices in life, both characters find themselves driven by values common to the Korean American experience, having to navigate the rift between duty and desire.

Performance Dates:

Premiere at the I Want the Wide American Earth Opening Party
Friday, September 13, 2013 • 6:30PM – 10:30PM

Performances held in the exhibition gallery at 1PM each Saturday:
September 14 • September 21 • September 28
• October 5 • October 12 • October 19 • October 26

I Want the Wide American Earth tells the story of Asian and Pacific islanders in America through a series of 30 evocative banners accompanied by a selection of artifacts chosen from the collections of the Japanese American National Museum and the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. I Want the Wide American Earth runs from September 14 to October 27, 2013.

For more information about the exhibition, visit