Posts tagged with "chains of babylon"

From the mid-1800s through World War II, the dominant portrayal of Asians in the United States relied on Orientalist notions of difference and incompatibility. Asians were imagined to be a threatening Yellow Peril incapable of assimilating into the nation, which was raced as white. The cold war and its imperatives opened up new ways of thinking about Asians that were part of a more general pattern of an American reassessment of race in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This revision attempted to portray the United States as an egalitarian nation in order to counter Soviet allegations of American racism and to persuade newly liberated nonaligned Third World nations to join the western alliance against communism. Rather than posing an inassimilable threat to the nation, Asians came to be represented as an eminently assimilable “model minority”, proof that the United States had overcome its racist past. Asian American scholars and activists have labored mightily to dispel the model minority myth not only proving its empirical falsity but also by pointing to the ideological work it performs in blaming people of color for their own economic exploitation and in driving wedges between Asian Americans and other people of color.

- Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America, Daryl J. Maeda

To My Asian American Brothers


Recently, my good friend Cecilia lent me a book called ‘Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America’ by Daryl J Maeda. Reading the introduction I learned about Japanese American activist Pat Sumi.

The poem below by Pat Sumi, ‘To My Asian American Brothers’ also quoted from other sources as ‘To my Asian Brothers’ struck down the center of my experience and research.  Just a week from today I will debut my new performance piece ‘Hapa Bruthas’ as SOMArts as part of the Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze show with WCA. I’m excited to reveal this challenging piece which will be a collaboration with dancer and martial artist Brandon Agawa.

On top of that, I learned that Gidra- strikingly similar to my name Gidrea, was an Asian American newspaper read by radical activist of the movement. Whoa. Blew my mind.
The poem bridges American racism towards Asian Americans with American Imperialism in Vietnam at the time.

Below text quoted from transitionalzone.blogspot.com
From 1969 to 1974, a group of Asian American activists in Los Angeles published a monthly newsprint journal, Gidra.

To My Asian Brothers by Pat Sumi
Clarity of vision            
           of perception            
           is a color not possible            
           in Los Angeles 
To the far horizons                  
                the city slumbers                              
                in its brown chemistry                              
                of Babylonian chains
           bind my feet                     
                  my eyes             
           as I stumble along the yellow mosaic 
Carefully, I search for the missing pieces 
            a glittering piece             
            a sparkle of discovery 
My family sword is found             
              to strike my chains of sorrow 
But the chains merely part                                           
                                       then re-form 
In despair             
               I stumble
             Now I see you so near             
             You give me strength to rise again 
But why are you so still                           
                          so stoic                                        
Chains of Babylon             
               bind us together             
               but we do not touch 
With this sword             
              I would free you 
But where are your chains?                
                They are not like mine 
In your eyes             
            I see your spirit             
            bound by chains                         
                       by burdens                       
                       by weight                      
                       by heart                                   
                                   so heavy             
             the sword cannot free you                                                   
As you stand so still            
            your eyes                          
                          steadily mirror                          
                          a painful past 
Do you see                 
                  grandfather    back bent                 
                  worked to the ground? 
Do you see                 
                  father        barb bound                 
                  concentration sent? 
Do you see                 
                 brother       Asian death                 
                 Vietnam sent? 
Do you see                 
                 the unshed tears                 
                 the unavenged humiliation?
Do you see                 
                 as you stand so still                                    
                                     so stoic?
To be a man
               to be free
               to love
               to walk proud
               in a clear night
                                     to be a gentle lover
                                     to a home
               is a life not possible
               in Los Angeles
But history is not defeat
The back is bent           but unbroken
The spirit is bound        but unbroken
And you, brother,
               are chained   but unbroken
Strength is will
             is spirit
             is soul
             is love
             is unity
As we speak
             the world has turned
             a revolution
             a great victory in the East
Clarity of vision
           of perception
           is a color possible
           by a new light
           by a new day dawning
The burdens of grandfather
            become light by this new day
The sword glitters and sparkles
                                   with piercing red fire
                 to shatter the chains
           We are free!
           You are free
                             to be a man
          are to be thrown away
          so we walk freely
        are to be free
              to see us and the world
              in the light of a new day dawning
             Come join hands with me
             we have been separated too long
A home of revolution
             of love
             for us is possible
             in Los Angeles 
—Pat Sumi, 1970

I’ve heard that the original Gidra was put together in a sort of co-op house somewhere in South Los Angeles. It was a political journal that was sometimes an inch thick. Inspiring.