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Interview with Dr. Gary Okihiro

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Okihiro, Gary Y., 1945- ; McKiernan, Stephen


Dr. Gary Okihiro is an Asian American scholar and an author of twelve books. Okihiro was a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and the founding director of Columbia's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. He is the originator of "social formation theory" and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association. Dr. Okihiro currently is a visiting professor of American studies at Yale University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California and an honorary doctorate degree from the University of the Ryukyus.




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McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Gary Okihiro
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: Jessica Obie
Date of interview: November 2010

(Start of Interview)

SM: My first question is a question I am asking really everyone in that— how did you become who you are? I mean, in terms of your background, your growing up years. And when you discuss this, were there—who were your kind of early role models or events that really inspired you to go on your life's path?

GO: Right. So you are speaking about my life's work basically, right? The person, but my life's work. And on reflection, I think it must have been having grown up on a sugar plantation in Hawaii and the education provided by that context of growing up, you know, among working class people. I can, you know, expand more on that. The second would be, going to Africa and living there for three years and doing research work in Africa. [inaudible] I think both events have been pivotal in my education. So let me go back to the plantations in Hawaii. Hawaiian plantations are divided largely by race and ethnicity, in terms of the workforce. Up at the top were white people. In the middle were not quite white, but they were white, there were Portuguese. And then at the bottom were workers mainly beginning with Hawaiians and Chinese and Japanese and Filipinos and Puerto Ricans. And so those were the divisions within the hierarchy and then also they were kept separate. So we lived in separate camps. So we lived basically in the Japanese camp. So that kind of education along with the exemplar of my father and grandfather working as we will call "yard boys" for the various bosses on the plantation, again, sort of impressed on me the privileges of race. So, I think that's really a very important kind of education. The second, going to Africa to do research, and also serving in the Peace Corps for three years in Botswana affected me deeply in terms of the very different environmental studying. Not only is Botswana in the southern hemisphere, so it changes the orientation of the whole sky, but also the kinds of perceptions of time and space, which transformed my ideas about time and space. And then also the kind of learning that I undertook at the university. And the kind of unlearning I had to undertake while doing research among African people.

SM: When you got your PhD at UCLA, where did you do your undergraduate work?

GO: At a small college called Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, which is in northern California.

SM: Is this also when you talk about the concept of race and power, you learned that through that experience in Hawaii, too, race as a direct link to power. And when you joined the Peace Corps— which I did not know!— was John Kennedy's speech, was that influential on you in 1960, at the inaugural or you know—

GO: Of course, yeah, for most of us— come on. By the way, you know, I am born before your generation.

SM: Well, that is fine.

GO: In (19)46.

SM: Well, one third of the people I have interviewed, were born before (19)46.

GO: All right. Not far off 1945. But yeah, of course, that was inspirational. It inspired, you know, members of my generation to service but really, service in the Peace Corps was an alternative for me for military service in Vietnam. So I applied as a conscientious objector to my draft board, which was in Hawaii. And extraordinary for a Hawaii draft board, which is very pro-military, they allowed me to use the Peace Corps in lieu of military service.

SM: My second question here was, I think you have already answered most of it, but what was it like growing up in the late (19)40s and (19)50s? But I am actually really making a commentary, too, about: what was it really like in America to be an Asian American during that period right after World War II, until about the time President Kennedy came on board, and how were Asian immigrants treated during this period as well. And I preface this by— I have kind of broken it down. So the first group I would ask you to talk about are Japanese Americans that had to go through that terrible experience of the internment camps and just your thoughts on that.

GO: Well, yeah, I mean, the post-World War II experience varied by ethnic group among Asian Americans. So for example, during World War II, Chinese and Filipino Americans were allies, to the United States. And thus they benefited, however, despite the— during the war in terms of job opportunities, educational opportunities, and so forth. Whereas, as you know, Japanese Americans were not so treated. But I also represent Japanese Americans who were in Hawaii, which oftentimes is seen as exceptional to what happened on the West Coast to Japanese Americans. But I doubt that very much because I think what happened, as demonstrated in my book Cane Fires, is that the military saw the Japanese in Hawaii as a bigger threat than those on the West Coast, because they constituted over 40 percent of the population and because the Hawaiian economy was so dependent upon their labor. So they investigated Japanese Americans much more, well, earlier and more assiduously in Hawaii than along the West Coast. So I think Hawaii actually posed as the kind of exemplar leader in terms of the treatment of Japanese Americans once Pearl Harbor occurred. What happened in Hawaii briefly was that: the leaders of the community were quickly rounded up, while the smoke was still rising from the wreckage in Pearl Harbor, and put into prison camps. And the idea was that: devoid of leaders, Japanese Americans could not rise up in rebellion or in support of the enemy. I did not know but my father's brother, my uncle, was investigated by the Naval Intelligence and was recommended for internment among those groups because he was a "kibei" or educated in Japan, just like my father was educated in Japan. But my father's saving grace was that he was in the US military. He served in the segregated one hundredth infantry from Hawaii, and that saved his brother from internment. But anyway, the reason I am describing this is because Hawaii is not an exception to the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In the post-war experience, it was very similar. Even though my parents were not put into internment camps, they well knew that several thousand Japanese Americans in Hawaii were put into internment camps. And during the war, my grandparents and my parents burned and buried any trace of connections with Japan, like flags, letters, records, and so forth. So they were very concerned about being put away. And so the war— I mean, the years after the war, people like my parents tried to instill on my generation, the third generation, that Americanism was above all important to demonstrate one's loyalty. And that being quiet and so forth was the way by which to gain admittance into wider society, which is typical, also, of Japanese Americans on the continent.

SM: I remember, there is that historic picture of factory workers in the (19)50s on the West Coast that showed a picture of Chinese Americans saying, 'We're Chinese, not Japanese.' And actually there is three or four of them I saw. So Chinese Americans were treated a little better, were not they, in the (19)50s?

GO: Yeah.

SM: Even though they had not been treated that— as well in the (19)30s, or (19)40s, or whatever.

GO: Sure. Well, in (19)43, the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed and Chinese could become naturalized citizens and Japanese could not until 1952.

SM: What did the— in terms of the Korean War, because here we are in a war against Germany and Japan and the war ends and then we— What happened to Korean Americans during this time frame, particularly in the early (19)50s?

GO: Actually, that is a really good question because most of the Korean Americans came from or have relatives in the north. But, you know, I know no study of Korean Americans during the 1950s. Which is really very [inaudible] camps. You know, there is stuff on Chinese Americans because of the cold war in China, but I do not know of any on Korean Americans.

SM: When we are talking about other Asian Americans, we are talking about Vietnamese, people from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and the Pacific Islanders— are not we really talking about— they become much more well known in the (19)60s and the (19)70s. But weren’t there people from those nations in America, even in the (19)50s, and (19)40s?

GO: Oh, even in the 1700s, we had South Asians, or Asian Indians, on the East Coast, and in US South, serving in slavery. You know, so we have that. And then Hawaiians were in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1800s, and we have several Hawaiians serving on US vessels in the War of 1812.

SM: The history of Chinese Americans, to go back to, you know, the building of the railroads and so forth. But in the American history books you do not hear— you hear about the Chinese Americans and maybe the Japanese Americans, but you do not hear about the other ethnic groups as much.

GO: Right, you know, we were in Louisiana in the 1760s, before the US revolution. [laughs]

SM: Yeah and a lot of people think that the Vietnamese came here when the boat people came. [laughs]

GO: Right.

SM: And the people that escaped, you know, Vietnam in 1975 when the war ended; the people that were lucky to escape and the boat people.

GO: Well, the first wave were intellectuals, Vietnamese intellectuals, who were brought to the United States to counteract any communism and so forth. That was during the (19)50s.

SM: Can you discuss again— because you have written a couple books. And I have my little notepad here that you wrote, Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II, and also the book on Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment. What were the— what was the main thesis of these books? And— basically, that is my question.

GO: Well, the main idea— well, okay, there is actually two different projects. The first one was a collaborative project with— project with a professional photographer who took pictures of the remains of the camp, not you know, during World War II. And so my comments that accompany the photographs were designed to just present the reader with a brief history of the events, largely through the voices of the internees themselves, Japanese Americans. The second, done with Linda Gordon, Linda was at the time and she already published a biography of Dorothea Lange and she was interested in Lange's photos of World War II's internment. And that is why the title is Impounded because Lange's photographs were impounded by the army and not [inaudible] down because they were considered to be possibly damaging to US interest during the war, unlike Ansel Adams whose photographs were distributed in the museums in New York here and also widely circulated. So that is what Impounded is about, about the contrast between Dorothea Lange's treatment and Ansel Adams and then the different depictions.

SM: Well, you think the— a lot of the images of Franklin Roosevelt were certainly destroyed when people read about the internment camps. Since this book will be read as oral history and many of them may not have read your book, or know very little about the internment camp experience, could you discuss the internment camp experience of the— I have got a few notes here. In terms of when the order was given by FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt]; the location of the camps; how many Americans were involved, that is Japanese Americans; where and when; and particularly about the job discrimination that probably took place not only during the war, but right through, you know, 1960; the effect it may have had on immigration of Japanese once the war ended; and the overall psyche, Americans of Japanese descent who were raised in a nation that had a constitution, and their rights were infringed upon. So it is a lot here but to me, my thoughts of FDR have never been the same since I read about this many, many years ago.

GO: [laughs] Well, ultimately the President was responsible for it but I do not think that he was the only one responsible.

SM: Right; I know there are many.

GO: There are a whole series of people that got involved. And my basic thesis is that it begins in Hawaii, with the military stirring over Japanese Americans in Hawaii and I briefly touched on that, because of the demography and their importance to the army. And that much of the planning on the West Coast was haphazard, by comparison. I mean, Hawaii was very well organized, in terms of what they were going to do once a war with Japan was happening. And the executive order that Roosevelt signed had to be implemented and that was stumbled along, in my opinion, and not really fully formulated until summer of 1942. So, by contrast, Hawaii was much more planned. But let me address a question about like the internment and its impact on Japanese Americans. And I think that oftentimes people miss the point about the internment and see the internment as a loss of land and the financial, you know, catastrophe that greeted them and so forth. But I see it more as sort of kind of extinguishing of the human spirit or the attempt to extinguish a people's will. And the reason I am saying that is that it seems to me that the— it was not so much the loss of property that bothered Japanese Americans. It was the loss of their humanity, their dignity as people. Because they were treated as subhuman, treated like cattle: rounded up, given tags with numbers instead of names, put into cattle trucks to be assembled in horse stalls, or race tracks and fairgrounds, then to be dumped in horse stalls that still reeked of manure. And then from there taken to these camps that were unfinished, with open sewers, and so forth, and these were photographs taken by Dorothea Lange. That sort of defeats the kind of treatment that the government had in mind for Japanese Americans and that is that they were the enemy and as the enemy they were subhuman. That sort of deprivation then— of one's past and also a sense of a future because most Japanese Americans did not even know how long they would be put there, in fact, many of them thought they were going to be executed— denies their sort of basic humanity. Now, I do not think that all Japanese Americans agreed to that. And they asserted their humanity in many ways. But it seems to me that that was the essence of the camp. So the lesson learned coming out of that was that we need to prove our loyalty to the government. And to do that, we need to just simply be quiet, not raise a ruckus and actually be "un-American" in that sense, not be you know, a democratic citizen, but just go with the flow, work hard, and eventually we would be accepted.

SM: You raise a point there that during the Vietnam War, well many of the Vietnamese were looked upon as subhuman too.

GO: Sure.

SM: And—not all. I think sometimes the warriors were taught that in training camp, but many of them, you know, just went with the flow; they did not really believe it. The overall description of Asian American Boomer experience during the following periods and I— a question that I bet— let me preface this again. I have asked this question to several people, as a person who grew up after the war myself, and growing up as an elementary school student in the 1950s. And I am always fascinated, no matter what ethnic background you were, including Asian American, in the 1950s is what that experience was like and I put three qualities and you—you have already raised one—three qualities that many Boomer children had— of all races!— during the 1950s, maybe even through 1963. And that is a sense of being very quiet,

GO: Mmhmm.

SM: A sense of fear,

GO: Mmhmm.

SM: And a sense of being naive.

GO: Naive?

SM: Naive. Someone told me, 'well, all young children are naive until they have life experiences' but when you watch television in the (19)50s, it is almost as if— there were some good documentaries of Mike Wallace and Edward R. Murrow and Dave Garroway; there were some good ones— but most kids were watching: Howdy Doody, the Mouseketeers, westerns were Indians were always bad. And you did not see very many people of color; you only saw Charlie Chan movies. You saw the slapstick of Amos and Andy in the early (19)50s. And so it was a very isolated— to me very naive, trying to protect kids from the reality of what life was about. Would you say those are three qualities that even the Asian American Boomer kids went through?

GO: I would think so. And it seems that, you know, the fear that you refer to— the fear had different aspects to it. Clearly, there was the fear of the Cold War and atomic warfare. You know, and the kind of drills that we had in school about hiding under your desk if there was an air raid, building bomb shelters in your backyard. So there was that kind of overall American fear. But there were also other fears specific to particular groups, I think. Like I said, the Japanese Americans had, I think, a particular fear because of the lessons learned during World War II, which, you know, other groups did not necessarily have.

SM: Yeah, of course, there is also the McCarthyism of the early (19)50s. And, where, you know, you speak up and—"have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" So the fear of speaking up or any past affiliation, and— that is why Korean Americans fascinate me at times because—

GO: Right, and Chinese Americans.

SM: Yes. When you look at the— I look at the way the Boomer parents were— the overall description of maybe Asian American Boomer parents were like our parents— were like my parents, they were born between 1920 and 1945 most of them, and then the kids of course, were different ages during this timeframe— were Asian American Boomers' experience similar or different, than Boomers who were white, black, brown, and red?

GO: Well I think they had different kinds of families depending on which group, because they most—that is Asian migration was a male migration and women came later. And so like, the parents would be quite different in that way and generational. There could be a twenty year difference between the husband and the wife, purely for Chinese Americans. But in any case, you know, different kinds of families and like, women might have been more recent immigrants brought over by men. And then of course, you had a lot of "war brides"— so-called "war brides"— after World War II.

SM: One of the things that, I think, Boomer parents, you know, they instilled in a lot of their young kids, and particularly white kids, and maybe even African American kids, that people who served in World War II that had had to fight in the Pacific, they knew about the Bataan Death March and some of the really bad things and I can remember hearing— I do not, I never heard my dad say this, but I can remember hearing my mom say, you know, that they really did a number on the— on our boys. Our boys. But she forgave. She gave forgiveness. But I grew up in a community where there are a lot of World War II vets and they could never forget what the Japanese did to our American boys. And so they never changed their terminology they just kept calling them Japs. And to me that was— it is like using the ‘N’ word.

GO: Yeah. [laughs]

SM: But I can understand where the World War II— but I am wondering if you have done any studying of the effect that Boomer parents, that went through that war, had on other Americans in their attitudes toward Asian Americans.

GO: No, I have not done any study like that. Others have, but not me.

SM: A couple of things here, too. When you look at the Brown vs Board of Education decision in 1954, then you had the Civil Rights Acts, the Voting Rights Acts of (19)64 and (19)65, and the Open Housing Act of (19)68— all were centered on equality. And, I know that it was— those poor people who have been denied. Many people see the civil rights leaders with LBJ [Lyndon Baines Johnson] in 1964 or (19)65. Or they see Thurgood Marshall in 1954, winning that major decision, and they think that these were all about black people. But they were important for Asian Americans and all people of color. Could you explain and give examples of how these major decisions really helped all people of color in the United States?

GO: Well, not just people of color, you know. I mean, white folk too. I mean, the Civil Rights Movement transformed the nation as a whole. And the transformation is a fundamental one. I mean, because the African American experience since 1619 was one largely of exclusion from membership within the community, whether pre-Revolutionary War or post-federal government. So, you know, their full inclusion as citizens was a major sort of transformation of the American government and people. And that affected all people. Because I am convinced that, you know, the Constitution is only a guarantee when all people are included within its guarantees. And any erosion of Constitutional guarantees of rights and privileges devolve to all Americans. So like, by victimizing or clipping the civil liberties, for example, of Muslim Americans affects the rights of all Americans. So anyway, I think that the civil rights movement was momentous for all those reasons, the full inclusion of African Americans, which meant a transformation of the American nation and people.

SM: Well, the media may be part of the problem here in terms of perceptions. Because when you look at all the major signings, except for Senator Inouye, who has been around for a long time, and I think, Patsy Mink too is another person of—

GO: Well, she is dead now.

SM: Yes, she has passed away, but she was a person of renown. And those are two Asian Americans that most people knew about. But, we do not see Asian Americans in any of the pictures of the civil rights marches. You know, Dr. King, you see Ralph Bunche, you see Catholic priests, you see Rabbi Heschel, you see, you know, but you do not see Asian Americans. Do you feel that part of this is they were there but they were— could not be there because of some of the things you have already said, that there was a fear of speaking up or being seen?

GO: 29:15
I think people of my generation, I mean, were the only ones— meaning young Asian Americans— were involved in the civil rights movement, not the older ones, mainly. And the Asian Americans were largely in support backgrounds. I mean, they were never leaders. So you know, they were part of these struggles, but never really led them. In fact even when leading, for example, say the Chicano or Mexican American, you know, farm labor movement was begun by Asian Americans or Filipino Americans that Cesar Chavez joined on with his— and then they formed the United Farm Workers Union as the United Front. Cesar Chavez was the leader and people like its Manong, Larry Itliong who was the leader of the Filipino group. Never— they were vice presidents, they were supportive. So Asian Americans were in very few leadership positions, but they were you know, among those who supported those guys.

SM: Is not it true, if I remember— I do not have the case in front of me but— the Brown versus Board of Education, an Asian American was involved in this.

GO: Of course, the JACL: Japanese American Citizens League, joined in the suit, yeah. But earlier, you know, the NAACP and the JCL joined a suit against Mexican children in California, which is a kind of prelude to Brown v Board of Education, called the Lemon Grove, challenged segregation in schools. And of course, Brown fighted, as a kind of precedent, the US Supreme Court decision involving a Chinese American child who sued against segregation in Mississippi. So, yeah, Asian Americans were involved in Brown v. Board.

SM: See, this is where the history books need to be much clearer in terms of explaining this, because when you think about Thurgood Marshall— and I can remember Dr. King talking when asked about "what do you think of the Brown decision?" He commented that, 'well, I praise that decision, but it was a more of a gradualist approach,' and his approach of non-violent protest is: we want it now; we're not going to be a gradualist in our approach. So that was interesting. You may have already covered this, but explain how life was similar for Asian American youth in the (19)50s, (19)60s, (19)70s, and (19)80s. And I preface this by saying, explain how life may have been different for people whose heritages may have been different in the (19)50s, (19)60s, and (19)70s, including Japanese Americans, Chinese, India, Pakistan, Vietnam—

GO: Well, I think I briefly brought up the Cold War, 1950s, and the kind of particular sort of sensitivities brought to, say Chinese Americans during that time and Korean Americans. Whereas Japanese Americans were model citizens during the (19)50s because of Japan, sort of, being tutored back into the nation of civilized groups by the US, under US occupation. But in any event, so like that is sort of a kind of similarity but a difference. I think the civil rights movement also was momentous, influential. But I think Asian Americans were more caught up in the anti-war movement, because of the particularities of another war in Asia. I know I was, you know, caught up in both the civil rights and the anti-war movement, but felt a greater kinship with the anti-war movement because of this, you know, making war in Asia again.

SM: You had mentioned earlier that many scholars came over in the 1950s from different countries. So some of them went back become the leaders of their countries and then of course they became our enemies. But I find that interesting that the education took place here. Many of them, went to Harvard and they went back and you know, became leaders and then became our enemy.

GO: Right even in Japan, before World War II, many of their governmental leaders were educated in the US.

SM: During World War II, Vietnam and Korea— do you know how many Asian Americans were— fought on our side?

GO: No, I do not.

SM: Because I know there were quite a few in Vietnam. And there's many of them— many on the wall. And of course, Senator Inouye was a World War II vet.

GO: Right.

SM: And— but I am just curious. That experience there is—

GO: Oh, you can get the numbers very easily.

SM: Mmhmm.

GO: Yeah. But again, you know, each of those wars and the service meant something different because of their "Asian-ness," because being Japanese. You know? In Vietnam I know many Asian American soldiers were afraid that they were going to be killed by friendly fire. You know? Because they look like the gooks.

SM: Securing a quality education and going to college seems to be a very important goal for all Asian American groups. When did large numbers begin to— let me get my thing here— begin on college campuses? And where did that— I, again, I add this because I know many— I think even when you visit our campus, the two words that our students hate the most are "model minority". They really do. And—do not bring that up; and I do not want to ever hear that, those two words. But where did the slogan model minority come from? And why in this— why is this a sensitive issue in the Asian American community, particularly in reference to one's educational background?

GO: Right. Well, I have forgotten the precise date. I thought it was 1961; a sociologist wrote a piece in The New York Times Magazine on Chinese and Japanese Americans. And he used the term model minority. It was Peterson, was his name. And at the time, also, you know, was black urban uprisings, riots, and so forth, just on the heels of Watts. And he— Peterson— used the Asian example to African Americans, how they needed to sort of get things right. You know, to go to school and so forth, before they can burn down things. But in any case, Asians then were used as an example to discipline unruly African Americans. And so that pits Asians against African Americans and of course— well, not of course— but that leads or could lead to conflict between those two groups. And that is really quite unpleasant, I think for Asian Americans and African Americans. But the model minority idea was a false one in that— you look at the various statistics to demonstrate Asian American superiority, specifically Chinese and Japanese at the time, in terms of overall income, educational attainment, and social mobility. And the statistics themselves are skewed. Because if you look at a family income at the time, Asian Americans or Chinese and Japanese Americans might have been about white. But if you took it per capita, Asian Americans fell far behind white. And so what that meant was per household, Asian Americans had more workers than white households. The other thing is that, that sort of achievement does not fully measure acceptance or assimilation within US society. Anyway, there are a whole number of arguments against the model minority stereotype. And thus, there is a great deal of objection to it.

SM: I think part of that model minority also came from the fact that is: the (19)60s evolved particularly after John Kennedy's assassination. And as the Vietnam War was becoming a part of everybody's everyday experience on TV, that those who were protesting the war or irritating a lot of people in America early on who supported the war, and they did not see Asian Americans there so maybe they call them model minority. And the perception that many people have of Asian youth in (19)46, in America, is that they are a model minority that never speaks up and supportive of the status quo, they work very hard and secure quality education that leads to a good job, they are quiet, they never rock the boat, they are major— they major in business, math science, they become doctors, MBAs. Is this stereotyping to the max?

GO: And a recent phenomenon, also, a recent stereotype. Because previous Asian American stereotypes were hugely negative. If you can think of this as positive. Right?

SM: Yes.

GO: Japanese Americans during World War II, for example. Chinese and Koreans during the Korean War, Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, and so forth. So these images are quite recent.

SM: Part of this too is, and again it may be the media and the perceptions of picture taking units. I do not know why they picked certain pictures for every single protest, but whether it be at Berkeley or Columbia or Harvard or whatever. But the question that you have to ask is if you're really into pictures, and were Asian American protesting, the students— were they protesting with other students on college campuses in the (19)60s, were Asian Americans protesting the draft, were they linked to the anti-war, civil rights and women's, gay and lesbian, environmental movements.

GO: They were. They might not have been included within the pictures.

SM: Right.

GO: I mean, you— well, appreciate that American society is largely a binary— racial binary of black and white, and thus the features would be black and white. Thinking for example of the LA Riots— in 1993 was it? I have forgotten the date.

SM: With Rodney King?

GO: Yeah.

SM: Yeah, that was (19)93.

GO: And, you know, one would think that's an African American riot. But there are more Latinos involved in it than African Americans.

SM: Why cannot we all get along? Rodney King, and then I think he got in trouble after that too for something.

GO: Yeah, I have forgotten what. He was arrested.

SM: I think he was abusive to his girlfriend— wife or— I do not know what the story was.

GO: Well I think so yeah.

SM: One of the— this is a very sensitive one for someone who cares about Vietnam and, the Warrens as a whole in— it is the boat people in 19'—in the early (19)70s, and particularly in 1975 when the helicopter went off the top of the embassy and many escaped, and got on the boats and came back to the United States or different parts of Europe. But thousands upon thousands did not have that luxury and got in those boats and many drowned at sea and many went to camps. And a lot of the students that I know or knew at West Chester University, their parents met at these camps. It's a very sensitive issue. And they asked— they asked this question, "Where was the United States when the war ended and they knew that all these people were going out on boats? Why were not they there to help us because we did not want to live in that government under a communist rule." And so I do not know if anybody's written or you have thought about this at all, but where was the United States when the boat people issue became such a major news item and so many died at sea?

GO: Yeah. Well, the United States was nowhere to be seen, that is for sure. And I do not— in fact, we know the reason for that. But there are several books about this.

SM: I know that one of the criticisms and it is actually— a lot of people admire the boat people that came to United States because they became very successful in a very short period of time, many of them even in Philadelphia. They started on the streets of Philly selling sunglasses or small businesses, and they ended up sending their kids off to Harvard and Yale. And so the conservative community in the United States, you have heard this, is very critical of the African American community for— if boat people can become a success story since 1975, why cannot you?

GO: Right.

SM: Have you heard that too?

GO: Of course, yeah.

SM: You have mentioned here that— can you give some specific examples of Asian Americans who may be in— may have been involved in these anti-war and women's movements? Civil rights movements?

GO: Oh, there are many of them, but the most visible or prominent one who has a couple of biographies written about, her name is Yuri Kochiyama.

SM: How do you spell that?

GO: K-O-C-H-I-Y-A-M-A, Kochiyama, and Yuri is her first name Y-U-R-I. And the reason is because well, she is not only a huge activist— she was— but she also was the one who cradled Malcolm X's head as he laid dying in the ballroom here in New York. She is still alive. And she's involved in a lot of, sort of, anti-war, peace, the women's, and third world movements, campaigns.

SM: She may be a good one to try to contact. If she is still—

GO: If you can get her, yeah. She has a biography written by Diane Regino.

SM: Did that biography come out recently?

GO: Maybe about three-four years ago.

SM: Vietnam was obviously a watershed event for just about everybody in the Boomer generation, as two veterans told me they went off to war only because they wanted to be involved in the watershed event of their lives. And I, you know, other people obviously thought differently on that. But within—within your family, when you became a conscientious objector, did you have generation gap issues with your parents over the war or any other issues? Because the generation gap seemed to be across the board regardless of ethnic background between generations.

GO: Yeah, you know, that is a very interesting question because my father was a World War II vet, but I think like most Japanese Americans who fought during World War II, they were not fighting for American freedom. They were fighting for themselves, their families, and their people, as it were. But my father never expressed to me his— not that I recall, yeah, no— he is never expressed to me disagreement with my stand on the war. Meaning, Vietnam.

SM: Did, did any of your friends have that issue with their parents?

GO: Not that I know; I had high school peers who went to Vietnam. And— but I do not know of people who were like me, meaning, you know, claiming deal.

SM: Jim Webb—the current senator, but back in 1980, in a book that— he was in a symposium with five other Vietnam vets basically said that he, when they were talking about the generation gap, he said: the real generation gap in the boomer generation is not between parents. Well, he said it is between parents and their kids, but it's also between those who went to war and those who did not, within the generation.

GO: I think that is really true.

SM: And— he went so far as to say that I know that the, the boomer generation is called the service generation because many went in the Peace Corps, many went to VISTA, and many did not meet the call to action and go to war and took John Kennedy's slogan to heart. But when you were called to war, he said, you go. And so he said the real generation gap is between those who served in Vietnam and those who did not.

GO: Well, you know, and then even among those who served and did not there were generational differences, before, for example, the draft. You know, people who were privileged could escape the war. I mean, I used, for example, graduate study as an escape from the war until that expired.

SM: I think that was in the early (19)70s—

GO: But some had privileges to escape the war. And then those were eroded, and then one could not after all.

SM: When you look at the figures of three million who died in Vietnam, three million Vietnamese died. And of course, 58,200 plus Americans and God knows how many were wounded and lives destroyed and the land was destroyed and all kinds of things. Where do the Asian Americans— where does the Asian American community overall stand on this war? And where do they stand both then and now?

GO: Well, again, hugely it depends on which group you're talking about. Let us see now, because you know, there was— there were those who fought against communism; that resonated with them. So there might have been Chinese Americans in that, you know, boat. And of course Vietnamese. But then, I think by and large— I am not sure though—because I do not know of any study, actually, of like all Asian groups during Vietnam, but I think most were supportive in terms of it be some demonstrating their loyalty to the US government. That way is service.

SM: You see much—this big, powerful nation trying to take on a small rural nation and did not have any sensitivity in that particular area?

GO: Well, there were among my generation, I certainly felt that.

SM: When we talk about the (19)60s and (19)70s, we talk about the countercultural hippies, communes, drugs, rock and roll, long hair, colorful clothes, sexual freedoms, challenging authority and the status quo fighting to overcome injustice at home and abroad. And I know I am trying to— here I am trying to— I am just trying to get an Asian perspective— Asian American perspective here: how many Asian Americans were in the US in 1946?

GO: I do not know. I am not into numbers. You can find out so easily.

SM: Yep. All right. And I was wondering what the difference was in 1980. So— and following this up is was there a generation gap in the Asian American families in the (19)60s and (19)70s? Overall?

GO: Again, you know, like I said, you know, like, Asian American families are not, sort of, like the usual, you know, white American family, in terms of the ages of people: parents and children. So it is a little skewed or messed up in that way, or more complicated. But I think many in my generation were involved in all those things that you mentioned in terms of drugs, rock and roll, you know acid and so forth, peace movement, free speech movement, the war and so forth. That was very typical of my generation. Some who studied it, saw these as spoiled children, you know, people who had privileges and who were just sort of what they might call "mau-mauing." They— but in any case, yeah— but that was not always the case. I mean, people like me came from working-class backgrounds, we had no privileges— or we had not the privileges that middle class kids had.

SM: Do you, do you remember the very first time that you went to a protest? The first time that you had the courage to go to one?

GO: It was around ethnic studies at UCLA [The University of California, Los Angeles].

SM: Wow. Did, did you fear doing that when you went there for the first time?

GO: 53:02
Well of course there was that kind of fear of being, you know, arrested. But one has to do what one has to do. Let me— you know, something very interesting happened to me personally about Vietnam that I did not serve in the war. But, you know, the imprint of the war was such that when I went to Vietnam, ten-fifteen years ago, for the first time, upon landing, just the air, the feel, the sights, and the sounds were really familiar to me like I—I had been there before. And the reason was because it was so seared in my consciousness, these newsreels and so forth of Vietnam that, you know, it seemed all very familiar to me. Especially driving from the airport, seeing peasants in the rice paddies, were all very familiar. But then, for me, also there was an added thing in which my colleagues in Vietnam were really kind to me, not only as an American— which was startling to me—but also as a Japanese. Because of course, Japan wrecked a lot of havoc and misery on Vietnam during the war. They were so generous and kind to me, those colleagues. But also this familiarity, which again, to me speaks the kind of influence that the war had on people of my generation.

SM: Wow. Like, when I talk to a Vietnam vet— when they get off the plane, after they've been in air conditioning all the way over the ocean, and the doors open and they walk out into the unbelievable humidity and heat. And they said, 'I got to deal with this for the next year and two months? Oh, my goodness.' As, as a teacher, can you see some major differences between the students in the (19)60s and early (19)70s that—that you taught as a graduate student or as a professor, and the students after 1975 and beyond? If so, how were they different in the following areas? And I just throw these out and you can just comment with how are they different in respect to: their intellectual curiosity, their knowledge of history, their willingness to interact and challenge the professor, their writing skills, and in whether grades were the primary reward from learning or ideas were the primary reward for learning and, and then activism outside of the classroom. So those kind of— if you have seen those qualities.

GO: Well, I think this is a kind of caricature, but I think most people would testify to this. That I think that— the students before Reagan, were much more interested in ideas and also thinking against the grain, unafraid to speak up, and to mention, you know, disagree. The world of ideas, it seemed to me, mattered more than getting a job and getting this degree which I think was the kind of post-Reagan period. And then I think more recently, there is this return to ideas and service and so forth. Ironically, amidst the job shortage and so forth, these students today, I think, are far more interested in all kinds of ideas and also thinking of different kinds of possibilities for service for the narrow employment [inaudible] ̶

SM: Do you think— one particular area is— do you find that students really want to know history? They care about history?

GO: Oh, I think Americans probably do not care about history much. [laughs] No they do; they know. But I think yeah, I think the students are very present-oriented still. Could be a kind of age, you know, I mean, like, in your late teens and early (19)20s, I think the immediacy is much more real than the past.

SM: Just from your— I am going to change my side of the tape here, because we are two thirds of the way through here. Hold on a second, let me change my tape. How are your students this year? [tape cuts off]

GO: [tape fades in] I am excited by that. They also are thinking of, you know, international travel and living abroad and service. Which an earlier generation would not have thought of.

SM: Your college experience itself by you got— your PhD at UCLA.

GO: Yeah.

SM: And just your thoughts on— not even breaking it down into the Asian American community, just your thoughts on the generation itself that is often defined by the word anti-establishment but also known for its size, which was seventy-four million. And by the way, the students of today's college now have passed the boomer generation in numbers. The millennials are now the largest generation in American history. So boomers can no longer say that they were the largest generation.

GO: [laughs] Good.

SM: [laughs] Just your overall thought on the generations.

GO: Of my generation?

SM: Yes.

GO: Well, I think that the— it was both that my generation could be characterized by both the activities that we undertook, but also in terms of what happened all around us in terms of the world around us. And I think both of those influence, fundamentally, our lives.

SM: When did the (19)60s begin and end in your opinion?

GO: When did the (19)60s begin and end? [laughs]

SM: And end.

GO: Actually, I have not really thought about that. I do not know what it would be.

SM: Is there a watershed moment or a moment you think had the greatest impact on the generation whether a good moment or a bad moment?

GO: Well, I think clearly the war in Southeast Asia was the largest sort of thing. But you will see also regional differences. I am sure.

SM: Where were you when John Kennedy was assassinated? Do you remember the exact moment where you were?

GO: Yeah, I was a first year student at Pacific Union College.

SM: How'd you find out about it?

GO: TV. Mmhmm. People were riveted.

SM: Were you like a lot of the people that kind of watched TV the entire four days?

GO: Yeah. Mmhmm. Of course. It was a spectacle.

SM: What was your overall first thought when you saw that? That this has actually happened in the United States.

GO: Shocking, shocking to see a president assassinated. I was shocked.

SM: Did you witness Lee Harvey Oswald killed live on TV too?

GO: No, not live, but after.

SM: I know it is very hard. You, you have linked up with many and you have known many people in the boomer generation. Are there any overall characteristics, just— good or bad, that you put on the generation as a whole? What their strengths or weaknesses may have been?

GO: Well, I think an optimism, which might have been characterized as naive. But an optimism also born out of youth, I think, that is the optimism of not dying. And that also translates into doing everything that one can do. So I think that kind of optimism was good, but it was also oftentimes misdirected. Naive. Their greatest weakness probably is the kind of trendiness of following what was happening all around us. It was easy to become a hippie for example.

SM: When you heard terms or quotes, like—three things kind of stand out in my mind, signifying different groups of people. You had Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" which was comparable to possibly using guns or violence, if other ways could not be met, including nonviolent protest. You had Bobby Kennedy's famous words that he copied from an author from the 1900s, "Some men see things as they are and ask why; I see things that never were and ask why not," which symbolizes a more activist mentality, fighting for getting rid of all the injustices. And kind of a hippie mentality, which is—was on a lot of the Peter Max posters of the era in the early (19)70s, "So you do your thing, I will do mine. If by chance we should come together, it will be beautiful." Kind of a—hippie mentality. And there are other things like "We Shall Overcome" and "Tune In, Turn On, Dropout" with Timothy Leary and "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." And Kennedy also saying that we will fight any war to protect liberty and that kind of thing. Were there any sayings that really turned you on? That really—I mentioned some that I thought were important. That really defined a lot of different segments of the boomer generation, but there— are there others?

GO: Well, I do not know if you mentioned "We Shall Overcome."

SM: Yeah, I had mentioned that.

GO: Yeah, well, for me that— for me, anyway, "We Shall Overcome."

SM: That is the— I agree. That was Dr. King, the civil rights. In 1989 Tiananmen Square happened, and it happened in the summertime. And I was shocked when I came back to school in the fall and nobody was heard talking about it. And it was this— and certainly Asian American students were not talking about it. And if you brought it up, I thought, we ended up doing a program on it. And we had to go to Temple University to find graduate students and then Asian American students did not want to be seen even around them. What did— what was that experience like? What were your thoughts about Tiananmen Square in (19)89? And why were American universities so indifferent about that particular issue?

GO: Well, I do not really know. But I can hazard a guess. I was at Cornell actually, and there were a lot of Chinese students who organized teach-ins and rallies, and so forth at Cornell. I think there is a kind of mixed emotion here because of not wanting or wanting to be associated with Communist China and then also wanting or not wanting the kind of pro-democracy movement within Communist China, depending on one's political orientation; that is the kind of jacked relationship I think.

SM: Well I know a lot of the students were afraid if they were over here on a visa that they would be sit— would be denied. And they did not— they felt that they could not even be seen in an event, let alone speak up. And I thought it was interesting that American students overall knew nothing about Kent State and things like that had happened here. And that is the whole concept of history. No now is a past history at all. And— but Tiananmen Square to me is, is a monumental historic event that should have gotten more play, more discussion, and its meaning to me still has a lot of meaning to me because it is about university students standing up and speaking up for rights and issues. It is freedom.

GO: Right.

SM: And we had a lot of the speakers on our campus. So we— we thought that the goal was that they eventually would come back to China and be the leaders in China. I am not sure if that is going to happen. So, what were the most important books that influenced you in your life as you were in college or high school, college or even since— books that you think are important for young people to read, not only about the Asian American experience, but about the American experience, or—

GO: Well, you see, let us see, books that I read in Hawaii, believe it or not, were from New England, and many of those I identified with about the leaders of America. Betsy Ross, George Washington, and so forth. I read huge amounts of biographies of American leaders while growing up in Hawaii, but I think that was also a kind of disidentification with Asian Americans or Asians, thinking that my ancestors were pilgrims growing up. But in any case, during my college years, and at that point I'd say the anti-war movement was more important for me, a book by Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, was like, my— our Bible. And as a kind of third world liberation orientation, which we could identify with Vietnamese people and I am not sure. So, you know, and then also the liberation movement so-called in Latin America with Che and his notoriety, but in any case, Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth was I would say the most important.

SM: Did you find it interesting that so many people were carrying Mao's Red Book?

GO: Me too, you know, but I was again quite. [laughter]. It is a stupid book really. [laughs]

SM: Yeah, yeah Mao's Red Book. And then of course Che Guevara was the revolutionary and then Daniel Bell wrote the book The End of Ideology. Remember that book?

GO: Yes, yes, yes.

SM: Basically he said, Marxism is dead, and that was the whole and you will not be seeing too many more protests or talk about Marxism anymore ̶ But one of the— one of the issues that is the issue of trust. I can remember being a first year psychology student at Binghamton University, my undergraduate school. Professor talking about trust and kind of how important it was because if you do not have this quality, you may not be a success in life, because you have to trust somebody and some other people. But it seemed like the boomer generation was— has a quality that they do not trust leaders and they did not trust leaders no matter who they were or university president, senator—anybody in positions of responsibility. Is that good or bad?

GO: [laughs] I mean, well, wait a minute on trust, being it depends how you define that. I think one has to be skeptical or keep a critical mindset, and that is absolutely important for any democracy to function. I mean, one has to be of independent thinking, and also scrutinize dogma, or theory. So I think that is important, that kind of skepticism. But if your professor was talking about trust, insofar as people had to maintain their integrity, and that one has to trust in people— I mean, I have that. And I think that that is the kind of thing my parents— and I think that is important in Japanese and East Asian culture especially, that one has to maintain one's name, as it were, without sort of bringing any kind of shame or disgrace, oneself and one's family or one's group. So I instill that on my children also, I mean that, if I cannot trust you, you know, that's the end of our relationship.

SM: Certainly, the other area here is the issue of healing. The person I grew to know and like is Kim Phúc, the girl in the picture from the Vietnam War.

GO: Oh yeah.

SM: He brought her to our campus and she's all about forgiveness. That is what she talks about and she has got a smile that if you put her on every poster in the world, I think we would have peace everywhere. But the question I want to ask is: I took a group of students to Washington in 1995 to meet Senator Muskie. And the students that went with me had only seen videotapes of the 1968 convention where America was torn apart: the police beating up students, and of course, they knew about the whole year with Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy being killed, and all the other burnings of these cities and so forth. And the possibilities even were heard that someone said, oh, we're going to go into another civil war, the nation was so torn apart. But they wanted to find out what his thoughts were to this question, and that is: Due to the divisions that were so intense in the 1960s and (19)70s, between blacks and whites, and certainly, obviously for people of other colors and whites, between males and females, between gays and straights, between those who supported the war or against the war or those who supported the troops or against the troops— Do you feel that the boomer generation, this generation that grew up after World War II, is going to go to their graves like the Civil War generation: not truly healing; that they will carry a lot of the baggage with them, and that has psychologically affected them. Just your thoughts whether healing is an issue in this nation.

GO: Well, it is certainly an issue in the nation; I think that it also depends a great deal on the individual. I think also it is a matter of age, you know; as I grow older, I feel much more tolerant of things. Not certainly of injustices, but I guess, ideological tolerance, you know, for ideological differences and so forth. But in any case, yeah, healing is absolutely a necessary thing.

SM: Do you think you— Have you been to the Vietnam Memorial?

GO: Yeah. Several times.

SM: What— that first time you went there, what impact did that have on you?

GO: Well, it is moving, of course. I am into names because I think it is important to have names to remember people as individuals rather than number. So that affected me a lot. But I also felt a little uneasy, I think around the kind of patriotism that might easily misjudge me as the enemy. So, mixed feelings.

SM: Because when you go to that wall for the first time, that reflection sometimes brings back memories of everything—

GO: That is true.

SM:—you were involved with during the time the war was on.

GO: Yeah, and also the consciousness of the designer of the wall being an Asian American.

SM: That is right. Yep. And actually two of the three major pieces there are done by women.

GO: Yeah, which is remarkable.

SM: Well, yeah Glenna Goodacre and Maya Lin. Of course Maya Lin's gone on— does so many other things, unbelievable, from Yale University. Well, Senator Muskie's response was, he did not even respond to 1968. And they were kind of disappointed, I think, because they wanted him to go into, you know, all the stuff. Because these are students that were not alive then. And basically what he said is we have not healed since the Civil War over the issue of race. And he went on to talk about it. And then he said— just think about the fact that in the Civil War, we fought against each other. And 430,000 men died in that war, and almost an entire generation in the South was lost. And these were brothers killing brothers.

GO: Right.

SM: So, that is what he was talking about. And I think what I was getting at also is whether the— and you brought it up— the healing between those who served and those who did not, and those are the ones that have maybe in the sense of sensitive feelings, particularly if they take their families to the wall, and their kids or grandkids say to you, dad or grandpa, what did you do in the war?

GO: Right.

SM: And so, anyway, healing is certainly critical. What do you think the lasting legacy will be of the—You are a great writer; you have written ten books, and you are a great writer. And I love your Columbia Guide to Asian American Studies. I have that book; I wish I'd had it signed when you were here, but what— when the— fifty years from now, or actually when the last boomer has passed on, how do you think historians and sociologists and writers will— what will they say about this generation that grew up after World War II that went through the (19)60s and the (19)70s— what do you think they will say?

GO: Well, it is hard to say, by the way, because I think historians write largely from the present and so whatever is pressing or the ideas that the president will influence their perception of— so whatever they say about our generation is going to be tempered by whatever contemporary situation they were involved in. I know that's a kind of cop out I suppose, but I firmly believe that. What I would like them to say is that— not that this was the greatest generation; I think that's a really bad way to put the World War II generation. But that I think this generation was the one that tried, and tried different means, oftentimes dead ends and errors and so forth. But nonetheless, they tried, they were doers.

SM: Yes, I can remember and you probably remember this too, when you were young in college as an undergrad, that we are the most unique generation in American history. Because the reason is that we are going to make the world different. We are going to end the war, bring peace, end racism, sexism, homophobia; we have the environment, we are going to do it all. And then people look at America today and they say, boy, you guys have failed. But really, there's been a lot of accomplishment. But do you think this generation failed?

GO: No! No. Trying is not failure. Trying is doing, and doing has effect. So, yeah, the effects are with us, and they will continue. Every generation has done that.

SM: I think also, if you have ever been to the Gettysburg battlefield they have the statue there— this man who was the last living person who actually fought in the Civil War. He died in 1924 and they have a statue for him right there.

GO: I do not remember that.

SM: Yeah, it is as you are driving around right past Pickett's Charge.

GO: Yeah.

SM: Okay keep driving down where the old building used to be, where they had the— we went inside and saw the Civil War in the round. Which, the building is closed— well, it is right there— he was— and it got me thinking when I put this question together, because I go to give this report times a year and I was just there last weekend and it's the fact is that they used to meet there every year between North and South and they talked about all their divisions, but they never came to any true healing and then they all finally passed on. So it is a—

GO: Wow.

SM: I have finished my questions, I have this thing where I get into personalities and I ask your responses to them, but it is a little long, so maybe, I do not know if you, I will just mention a few of them because I—

GO: I do not trust those personality scales do not give it to me. [laughs]

SM: I just want to know, some of the events. What did you think of Kent State and Jackson State?

GO: Actually, I— it was like news items for me, but also a kind of identification with students. And a kind of "hora" at the kind of repression of, you know, protest. I am sure that our protests oftentimes went too far and really tested the wills of the older people, but then, you know, to kill people is something else again.

SM: And then Watergate.

GO: Well, now you see this suspicion of leaders and so forth. One is hardly surprised, then, from that point of view. I was not surprised.

SM: Same thing with U-2 when President Eisenhower lied to us. And that is the first— that is the first lie that I ever remember as a child, was one— I remember him being on TV and I always liked him; he looked like a grandfather to me— but he, you know. Well, he was— he was a decent man— I am not saying he was not, but you know, he did lie to the American public. And, and I guess the other one would be the pentagon papers, what you thought of the pentagon papers and Daniel Ellsberg?

GO: Wonderful. [laughs] Yeah.

SM: And then Woodward and Bernstein was— your thoughts? That was investigative journalism that was really beginning to take its hold at that time. And, I do not— I think we're going backwards, are not we?

GO: Oh, absolutely. Oh, both 9-1-1, oh, freedom of the press. None, none. And then with the takeover of the press by this foreigner from Australia, on Fox News, so called, the kind of parody is, is actually disgusting because it works against democracy to have propaganda.

SM: Who took over Fox?

GO: That guy from Australia. What is his name?

SM: I do not know.

GO: He took over, he took over the Wall Street Journal.

SM: My gosh, I do not know. I know that uh—

GO: My god, I do not remember names. That is why I am so old.

SM: I know that the Washington Times is Sun Myung Moon; is he—

GO: I do not know. No. And yeah, that is the Washington Post.

SM: Yeah, that is the Washington Times. Yeah.

GO: Yeah, Times. Yeah. Washington Times. [laughs]

SM: Yeah, then I will just mention a few here because we have got seven minutes left. The Woodstock and Summer of Love; just your thoughts on those.

GO: I love them. I could identify.

SM: All right; how about the hippies and the yippies?

GO: Hippies, yes. Yippies, enh...

SM: They were more political.

GO: Yeah.

SM: How about the Columbia protests of (19)69.

GO: Well actually I did not even know anything about it. The Columbia protests.

SM: Free speech—

GO: Kind of weird.

SM: Free Speech Movement—

GO: —And I was not even in the country. That's why.

SM: No; you were in Peace Corps then. What did you learn from the Peace Corps? Again, you mentioned right there.

GO: What did I learn? I tried to stay away from the Peace Corps as much as possible. It was another government bureaucracy that stood in the way of real people. You see that's my generational take. [laughs] It had become a bureaucracy by 1968, when I joined. And that— I tried to stay away as much as possible. But the Peace Corps enabled me to remain in Africa, and to have this deeply moving sort of transformation of my life, through the Temple teachings of African people. It was a remarkable, life changing experience. I can tell you some— I mean, I was decent out— say about sixty miles outside of the nation's capital, and into southern Africa, flew Senator Hiram Fong from Hawaii, a Republican senator from Hawaii, and he, upon hearing that I was in the Peace Corps, another Hawaii person, made the trip all the way out to the desert and it is this dusty road and so forth, to see me and I was not about to see him. So I went off into the desert and did not see him and the Peace Corps director was so pissed off with me. Activist. [laughs] Insubordination. But again, that was very typical of my generation.

SM: Oh yeah! You do your thing. I will do mine, if there's a chance we should come together [laughs] it will be beautiful.

GO: You know, as opposed to Senator Hiram Fong. He was using me as a PR.

SM: Yeah, that is exactly what he was doing.

GO: I was not about to.

SM: What did you think of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden?

GO: [laughs] Well, I admired, Jane Fonda for her stand on Vietnam. But look what happened to her subsequently—also Tom Hayden for Chicago and so forth. And actually he's still very principled I think to today. But Jane Fonda has lost her way.

SM: And, of course, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. They were the yippies.

GO: Yeah.

SM: Any thoughts on them? Or—

GO: No.

SM: How about the Black Panthers that, Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown?

GO: The— a Japanese American was a member of the Black Panthers in Oakland, and he just died this past year. And people do not know that Asians were part of Black Panthers. They frightened me. But I thought that their revolutionary span was really courageous and influential, moving politics.

SM: Black power— did you, what did you think when Black Power came in?

GO: Yeah, again, at first, it was frightening. Mainly, I guess, because my information came from the crowd. But quickly, I thought Black Power is really important. So Asian Americans mimicked them and yellow power and brown power and red power and so forth. But it was not to the degree of like, if you were interpreting "by any means necessary" to mean armed rebellion or insurrection.

SM: All right. Yeah. Stokely Carmichael challenged Dr. King as Malcolm X challenged Bayard Rustin. Basically telling them 'your time has passed. It is a new way now.' You know, nonviolent protest is not working.

GO: Right.

SM: And then, of course, the 1968 Olympics, you had Tommy Smith. And, and we had Tommy on our campus and he says, I am not a Black Panther. He never was.

GO: Right, right.

SM: It was about rights and injustice. I guess the other— last couple things is just your thoughts on people like Benjamin Spock and Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern?

GO: Well, oddly, you know, I was really not like Clean Gene or a fan at the beginning. I think in retrospect, I was wrong. I just thought it was a kind of bandwagon that he was trying to capitalize on. But I respect the man immensely now, but at the time I was very skeptical. Spock of course was really important, I think, in terms of human liberation. I do not know about his child psychology, but in any case, his advocacy of progressive causes and so forth were really important. And who was the other one?

SM: McGovern.

GO: Oh wait, did not I— oh, McGovern, of course was also important in terms of like, sort of like, McCarthy for many of— well, for me.

SM: Of course Robbie Kennedy is another one in that period that—

GO: Yeah, you know that he actually hit me more because, you know, I was right there. Actually, I was not in the ballroom, but just a block away.

SM: Oh, wow, when that happened.

GO: And also his identification with the migrant farmworkers, which was really important for me and so well, seeing him lying on the floor there dying was really traumatic. Worse than Kennedy— JFK.

SM: When you look at the presidents during that whole time frame from World War II— the end of World War II until today, you are dealing with Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush the first. And then you have got Bill Clinton, George Bush the second, Obama. Now, two of them were boomers— actually, the third one— there is a third one was only two when the boomers— but of those presidents, which ones do you— did you like and ones did you not like that may have had the greatest influence on this generation.

GO: Well, I think LBJ, both in terms of hating him and also liking him and admiring what he did.

SM: Even though he was the guy responsible for the Vietnam War?

GO: Of course! Yes, yes. But think about his social idioms and transformation of the nation, domestically.

SM: Did you have issues with McNamara or with Kissinger?

GO: Of course! Yeah. But LBJ is, you know, was really important for civil rights.

SM: And of course, I know your best— your favorite person was Spiro, right? [laughs]

GO: Agnew.

SM: Spiro Agnew boy he loved to attack the,— boy he loved to attack the universities, did not he?

GO: Really?

SM:' Hobnobs and' he was—

GO: He was a really stupid man, really.

SM: Yeah, he was as crooked as crooked can be. And I guess the last—the last one is just the, the women leaders: the Betty Friedans, the Gloria Steinems, the Bella Abzugs. How important were they at that particular time?

GO: Well, I loved them all. And I thought it was— it is I mean, they were exceedingly important. I do not think that feminism is unnecessary today. I think it is so important for these leaders of this new wave of feminism were really important. I think many of their things were wrong, but still, you know, it was important at the time.

SM: But when we talk about the American Indian Movement, which was basically (19)67 to (19)71—or (19)73 excuse me, and then you had the Stonewall which was the gay and lesbian in (19)69. And then you had Earth Day in (19)70. Those are three other areas that are directly linked to a lot of the events of the (19)60s and (19)70s and in Americans—

GO: Hugely influential.

SM: Yep. Are there any final thoughts on—anything I did not ask that you thought I was going to ask?

GO: Not really. What was remarkable was 1968, which you did not—

SM: Well, yeah, that was one of the things that I—

GO: Colombia and so forth. American Indian Movement was formed in 1968. There was the protest against the America— you know, Miss America Pageant in 1968, Richard Nixon in 1968. And—Anyway, there is a lot of things in 1968, which was a pivotal year.

SM: Did you ever think as a young person or actually as a heading-toward-a-PhD that we were close to another civil war?

GO: Not at all. No.

SM: Because that was out there.

GO: Yeah. But no, I never.

SM: People were burning cities down and a lot of things. All right, well, I— if you do not have anything else, I guess that is it.

GO: Okay, and so you are going to email me about you coming by for pictures?

SM: Yep, yes ̶

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Stephen McKiernan


Gary Y. Okihiro, 1945-

Biographical Text

Dr. Gary Okihiro is an Asian American scholar and an author of twelve books. Okihiro was a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and the founding director of Columbia's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. He is the originator of "social formation theory" and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association. Dr. Okihiro currently is a visiting professor of American studies at Yale University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California and an honorary doctorate degree from the University of the Ryukyus.





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Binghamton University Libraries

Digital Format


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2 Microcassettes

Interview Format


Subject LCSH

Asian American authors; Scholars--American; College teachers; Okihiro, Gary Y., 1945--Interviews

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Pearl Harbor; Japanese Prison Camps; Asian-Americans; Baby boom generation; War draft; Vietnam War; Lack of trust; Civil Rights Movement; Nineteen seventies



Item Information

About this Collection

Collection Description

Stephen McKiernan's collection of interviews includes more than two hundred interviews with prominent figures of the 1960s, which were collected between the mid-1990s and 2010s. The collection provides narratives of people who were actively involved in or witnessed events in the 1960s, an era which spurred profound cultural and… More

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“Interview with Dr. Gary Okihiro,” Digital Collections, accessed July 25, 2024,