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Luckily, I generally have the ability to enter periods of deep thought during finals crunchtime. Unfortunately, it's never really about the finals themselves. This time, it's about my thesis and the reclamation of an Asian American radical history based on theoretical conceptions of, and community actions around, race, nation, class, empire, and society.

I found this video on YouTube, a preview for a documentary on Richard Aoki, a longtime Japanese American radical from Oakland, CA:

This looks legit, featuring the likes of Yuri Kochiyama, Bobby Seale, and Prof. Diane C. Fujino, who penned Yuri's biography and is currently working on a bio of Aoki himself. But to backtrack for a moment, and give a brief description of who this guy is.

Aoki, a third-generation Japanese American, was born in San Leandro, CA in 1938; at the age of 4 he and his family were evacuated and relocated in the forced movement of 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast during WWII. After returning from the Topaz, Utah relocation center in 1945, his family returned to the Bay Area, where he would eventually encounter fellow Oakland residents Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, co-founders of the revolutionary nationalist Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Aoki, credited as a "radical Japanese cat" in Seale's autobiography, Seize the Time, provided the inchoate Panthers with their first firearms in their now-legendary method of patrolling Oakland cops, or "policing the police."

A relatively unsung figure in the BPP (Newton makes no mention of Aoki in his biography, Revolutionary Suicide), and often marginalized (he was, for a while, the sole member of the BPP's Berkeley chapter), Aoki was nevertheless a significant player in the Panthers' activities, one of six Field Marshals. He also enrolled at UC Berkeley in the late 1960's, was a co-architect in the campus' Asian American Political Alliance (one of the first organizations to proclaim themselves "Asian American"), and an organizer in the Third World Liberation Front, the coalition of color whose campus protests in 1969 led to the formation of one of the nation's first Ethnic Studies programs. As he says in the vid, "I do believe in mass action."

Aoki--like fellow Japanese American Panthers Guy Kurose and Mike Tagawa in the Seattle chapter--is part of a hidden history of Asian American activism that, while perhaps no longer so well-figured in a racial consciousness that has been radically altered by the changing face of Asian America since the 1960's, is nevertheless crucial in an understanding of what previous generations have contributed to our lives. Aoki's organizing--bridging campus and community, uniting different peoples of color, challenging the very structural base of state and society--has profound implications for current and future generations of Asian Americans, students or not, activists or not, and provides a space for legacies that must be remembered, kept alive, and cherished.

I'm gonna work on tracking down this documentary. In the meantime (and I think I'll do these from time to time), next up will be Chris Kando Iijima and his mother, Kazu. Now back to studying...



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