The Oscars of the Library World (2013)
by Janet Wong
This Is Not My Hat.
This hat belongs to
The One and Only Ivan.
you might confuse this hat
with something worn by
Aristotle and Dante
Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
A hat like this is
You put it on and suddenly
Or you are,
Hand in Hand, Ten Black Men
Who Changed America.
“I, Too, Am America”
Martin de Porres (The Rose in the Desert)
and Chengli (of the Silk Road Caravan).
With your hat
(or not your hat)
you’re a winner
[Composed: January 28, 2013]
Janet Wong is a notable APA author who has written numerous critically acclaimed books for children and young adults, such as Apple Pie 4th of July, The Trip Back Home, A Suitcase of Seaweed, and many more. She is also an APALA member who is serving as a Fundraising Committee member. She has written this poem to celebrate literary awards 2013 during ALA Midwinter in Seattle. For more information on Janet Wong: www.janetwong.com
Rebecca Yoonhee Martin is currently working as the Assistant Circulation Supervisor & Faculty Liaison at Boston University’s Pappas Law Library. She focuses on interlibrary loan and document delivery for law school faculty and administration and helps to oversee the access services department.
One of the wonderful things about the member highlights is the opportunity to celebrate the diversities within APALA.
I grew up in a mixed race family and prefer the term hapa kolea to describe my half-Korean and half-Scottish ethnic heritage. My mother is first-generation Korean-American, but my father’s family has been in this country many years with a deep cultural connection to his home state of Texas. I grew up in Boston with my parents and half-sister, Yoonjung, where the kitchen was usually filled with smells of BBQ – both Korean and Texan!
Rebecca attended Rutgers University as a distance student and finished her studies there in winter 2011, concentrating on digital libraries and taking a great interest in the intersection of technology and social change. She tells us how she is thinking about moving forward in the profession.
As a recent LIS graduate, I’m still considering different professional routes. However, through my work at Community Change, Inc., I’ve found I greatly enjoy using my reference and research skills in a non-traditional learning setting – those that tend to elicit more situations of applied research, rather than just academic scholarship. Still, through my academic library experiences, I am exploring and learning how best to use library services and programs to foster civil and social engagement among student users.
I dedicate much of my free time to library work as well: I am an active member of the Boston Radical Reference Collective and serve as the Library Coordinator of the Yvonne Pappenheim Library on Anti-Racism at Community Change, Inc. Through my work at the Pappenheim Library, I presented with a group of colleagues on racism and its manifestations on the Internet at JCLC. I am also an Editorial Board member of the ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter (SRRT), http://www.ala.org/srrt/.
I became an APALA member in 2011, while I was about half-way through my MLIS degree. I joined initially because, as an online student, I wanted to ensure that I had nearly all the same networking and mentoring opportunities as my on-campus counterparts. I wanted to find a community of practitioners who could provide mentorship and support as I entered the LIS professional community. Since joining, I have had the great pleasure of meeting several APALA members in-person, many at JCLC, and have strengthened online collaboration with others.
I currently serve on the APALA Publicity Committee and have contributed to the APALA Newsletter as well. One of my favorite APALA projects is the What’s Your Normal? series. I very much look forward to each entry and getting to know about the perspectives, interests and experiences of APALA members past their professional identities.
See Rebecca’s article, White Screen/White Noise: Racism on the Internet, pp. 10-11 in the APALA Newsletter, Winter 2013.
Article compiled, written, and edited by Charlene Hsu Gross, in cooperation with Rebecca Yoonhee Martin.
Edited, 1/29/2013 for duplicated content.
Last updated: February 8, 2013
Download the APALA Newsletter here:
One of the joys of being mixed-race is that for a lot of people, my face is an open invite for them to approach and start playing the “what are you?” game. Doesn’t matter if I’m waiting for a bus, standing in line for a Daniel Craig movie, or just staring longingly at the Thai lime-and-chili cashews at Trader Joe’s. There’s something about my visage that’s irresistible when it comes to trying to tag me minority-wise. And it’s even better when I decide to fess up since I usually don’t fit the ethnicity they’ve selected for me: “No—you don’t look it.” Or my all-time favorite: “That’s not it—”
So after decades of being an ethnic Rorschach test to strangers, I began wondering: why not make my looks work for me? Heck, I’m ambiguous enough that I look like I was born in a kimono, flamingo dress, or burka. Why not hire myself out to folks who need that little touch of diversity? I’ve even worked up the ad:
Your cocktail parties looking a little too bland ethnically? Tired of friends and coworkers always implying you just aren’t diverse enough? Or do you just want a person-of-color friend without having to deal with the time and liberal guilt involved? Why not hire an ethnically ambiguous, white-collar professional? In other words: why not hire me! Yes, now you can hire your own minority professional for those situations when having a sea of Caucasians just won’t do. As a mixed-race librarian with a questionable ethnic appearance, I can meet most of your minority needs without looking too multiculti, thus avoiding the risk of scaring off administrators, neighbors or that cute person of color you keep bumping into at Starbucks. For a modest hourly rate, I am available for
- Standing behind you during those pesky press conferences when you address why your institution is woefully lacking in some issue that is of concern to minorities and the national media. Nodding in sympathy is extra.
- Publicity photo shoots in which I stare intently at any object representing your business or organization (computer screens, recycling bins, Nobel Prize winning professors, etc.).
- Showing up at the Q&A session for your presentation to ask a question that really is a pat on the back for your diversity efforts.
- Fund-raising events where I stand by your sushi or Mexican hors d’oeurves table and pronounce individual dishes with the appropriate accent whenever someone who counts is within hearing distance.
- Community or civic services where you need someone on your team who looks like the people you’re helping while television crews are recording your efforts.
But why limit yourself to professional events? Why not hire me for those social situations when having a minority BFF is an advantage? For the same nominal fee, I will
- Join your friends or family at the ethnic restaurant of choice and loudly announce it’s the only place in town that serves food just as authentic as “back home.” (NOTE: you pay for the meal, including all the alcohol I drink to get through the event.)
- Make you feel less of an interloper or provide cultural street cred by accompanying you to any desired ethnic event: Obon festivals, Cinco de Mayo parties, pow-wows—you name it.
- Attend dinner parties where I kill time while guests are waiting for you to thaw out Trader Joe’s mini-quiches by letting them play “what’s your ethnicity?” Guests are allowed enough questions before I announce my background and dinner served.
- Don the uniform of your choice while friends are chatting at your home. Impress your friends by having me wandering about in a housekeeper, gardener, or nail technician outfit.
I’m also available for those personal requests, ones where an “exotic” touch is needed for the attention you seek. For a one-time fee, I will provide a photo of me for an online dating profile. Warning: A significant surcharge will be assessed for Craigslist and OKCupid profiles.
DISCLAIMERS : Any event requiring me to lift more than twenty pounds or use a power tool is extra. No actual housework, gardening, or nail buffing provided. Eye rolling permitted whenever colleague, guest, or potential date scoffs at perceived lack of ethnicity. Chopstick in hair and/or non-descript Asian accent extra. No actual dating provided.
Linda Ueki Absher is a humanities reference librarian at Portland State University Library and has been known to use a fork in Chinese restaurants.
In late July 2012, I interviewed Judy Lee, University of California, Riverside (UCR) librarian and a founding board member of Save Our Chinatown Committee (SOCC), a grassroots community-based organization in Riverside, California. We talked about SOCC, its significance to local history and civic life, and the programs it holds and sponsors to highlight Asian contributions to American history and culture. This article is an edited version of our conversation.
Melissa Cardenas-Dow (MICD): What is SOCC? Why was it formed and what does it hope to achieve?
Judy Lee (JL): SOCC was formed around October 2008 as a last-ditch effort to save the Chinatown archaeological site in Riverside, California, and to protect Riverside’s Historic Chinatown from development that is incompatible with archaeological preservation. The group filed suit against the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE), the City of Riverside, and the land developer to halt further excavation and destruction of the site. Riverside currently does not have a Chinatown, but there is a historic early Chinese settlement on the corner of Tequesquite Avenue and Brockton Avenue, near Evergreen Cemetery. The site is actually the second Chinatown in the City of Riverside. The first one was in the downtown area of the city, near Ninth Street, and was relocated in 1885 when city officials enacted ordinances that prevented Chinese businesses from operating in the downtown core area. SOCC members formed the committee in response to the Riverside City Council’s decision to accept the submitted Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in order to build a medical office building on the site. The group hopes to protect the site and erect a Chinatown Memorial Park to commemorate the contributions of the Riverside Chinese pioneers. Once the site is protected, I personally would like to see the group continue the cultural education mission for the community. This could include historical research and work to connect to a larger network of educators concerned with Chinese American and Asian American cultural education and preservation.
”Though we are focused on saving a particular ethnically linked site, membership in SOCC is multicultural.”
MICD: Why is it important to save a historic archaeological site like Riverside Chinatown?
JL: Several reasons. First, an archaeological site is a finite resource. Significant archaeological information gets lost when a site is disturbed. Looking at the site as it is right now, it looks like a vacant lot. Its significance is underground. Land development will disturb this area without the benefit of rigorous archaeological method, research, and study. Typically, developers only have time for and use salvage archaeology on their projects. Second, though the developer agreed to purchase the land from the current owners—the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE)—there were many other sites and empty building spaces in the city of Riverside that could have been used for the same purpose. But Riverside has only one Chinatown. Once it’s dug up, it’s gone forever. Third, the value of the site itself has been documented to have four levels of historic significance. It is a city landmark. It is a county landmark. It is a registered historic place within the state of California and the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Fourth, we know that Chinese migrant laborers have contributed significantly to the development of citrus agriculture in the Riverside area (to name just one place and one industry) and to the economic history of Southern California. Citrus was so important to Riverside’s economic development that at one time Riverside was noted as the richest city per capita in the United States. The site is important historically and archaeologically. In fact, during the national registration process for the Chinatown site, Riverside Chinatown was remarked as one of the most intact archaeological sites of early Chinese settlements in the United States that reflects the connection between village life in rural China and migrant Chinese settlements during the same time period. The strength of this connection was a base for the Riverside Chinatown site’s inclusion into the National Registry of Historic Places. With the growth of citrus culture in Southern California in the late 1800s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established a laboratory in Riverside, which eventually grew into the Citrus Experiment Station (1907). The Citrus Experiment Station was a center for the establishment of the UC Riverside (UCR) campus (1954). Today, UCR continues to be a leader in citrus research. The developer’s plans submitted for the EIR process required the demolition of the archaeological site. Many citizens thought the proposed development was troubling and that the Final Environmental Impact Report failed to answer many questions or to seriously consider proposed alternatives. Last, by demolishing the site we lose that sense of place, which is so important to a community and to American ethnic groups in particular, whose history and significance can often be overlooked or dismissed.
Recently, I attended the second Asian and Pacific Islander American National Historic Preservation Forum (APIANHP Forum), where a plenary session speaker left us with a Native American saying: “Wherever you go, you leave your breath behind you.” It can make a difference to those coming later to know who came before and that some of those people may have been like themselves.
”There’s a social justice element that accompanies the conviction of doing the right thing.”
MICD: Tell me more about the lawsuit and the latest developments.
JL: No one likes entering into lawsuits. We found ourselves in a David vs. Goliath underdog situation. Our lawsuit was an act of last resort since it was the only way we could stop the development of the site at that time. SOCC and the Riverside Chinese Culture Preservation Committee really tried to work with the Riverside City Council to come to some mutually acceptable compromise before the City Council voted to accept the Final EIR. At one point, the developer had agreed to be sensitive to the cultural and historical importance of the site and proposed to have a (static) display case of artifacts exhibited within the new medical office. Practically speaking, I don’t know how much of a benefit that would actually provide beyond window dressing, since the primary purpose of visiting a medical office building is not to learn about the history or culture of that area and the mounted display was not likely to evolve and change. The lawsuit filed by SOCC was done on the basis of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), which says that any historical, cultural, and archaeological significance to a site requires mitigating measures in order to proceed with any land development. But since the plans required complete excavation, the opportunity to gain archaeological information in situ would be lost. Not everyone understands that standard archaeological practice works primarily to protect sites because the relationships of where things are located relative to each artifact are important to the understanding of that culture. The developer was unwilling to move the building off the sensitive area of the site, that portion of the property that contained the main street of Chinatown which was the area listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The EIR didn’t address the CEQA mitigation requirement. The initial lower court ruling stated that the Riverside County Department of Education did not go through the necessary requirements to sell the land. At the appeal, the decisions of the lower court were reversed. The appellate court ruled that the EIR was not properly done, which is a win for SOCC. Now, the appellate court judges and the lawyers are working together for the final wording. The gist appears to be that the Riverside Chinatown site is protected for the time being. But something will need to be worked out and set in motion before long, or the threat of development can occur again.
MICD: With the 4th Appellate District Court’s ruling, what does SOCC have planned for the historic Chinatown site in Riverside, California?
JL: The purpose of SOCC when it was put together was to work on saving the Riverside Chinatown site from development incompatible with archaeological preservation. Our goal is to have a memorial or heritage park built on the site. At the moment, the SOCC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has hired a respected and experienced consultant and is exploring what might be possible. It would be great if a lot of different agencies, groups, individuals, and government officials became invested with this project as it really is about the city’s heritage and is important to us as a community.
“Once the site is protected, I personally would like to see the group continue the cultural education mission for the community. This could include historical research and work to connect to a larger network of educators concerned with Chinese American and Asian American cultural education and preservation.”
MICD: SOCC is more than just a grassroots organization focused on a single purpose, correct? What sorts of activities and programs does SOCC host and participate in?
JL: In the meantime, SOCC has done several things in the community to enhance appreciation of local history, cultural heritage, and relating these to many different levels and areas of civic life. For example, with regard to local history and cultural heritage and in addition to speaking to students and various groups, we hold an annual Chinese New Year Banquet fundraising event. We have also participated in other local community events. The most recent was serving as a George Wong level sponsor of Evergreen Cemetery’s Third Founder’s Day Front Row Fireworks event, staffing an SOCC booth at the event, and conducting free tours to George Wong’s gravesite, which is located on a slight incline at the southern end of Evergreen overlooking the Chinatown site. George Wong was the last resident and individual owner of Riverside’s Chinatown. Another booth we regularly staff is at the Mercantile Fair of Old Riverside Foundation’s Home Tour held each May. SOCC has sponsored a booth during past Riverside Juneteenth celebrations. We participated in the 2011 Dia de los Muertos celebration in Riverside with an altar to George Wong. We have worked with other community organizations for various events, such as with the Riverside Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (Riverside JACL) and the Riverside Museum Associates’ Multicultural Council (Riverside Metropolitan Museum). Both Angel Island presentations by Judy Yung for the most recent Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May 2012) and working with Riverside’s Human Relations Commission for Riverside’s first Day of Inclusion celebration (December 2011) are other examples of community partnerships SOCC supports.
One cultural event of note is the revival of the Chinese practice of Qing Ming in Riverside (Ching Ming in Cantonese), an annual festival when we pay respects to our departed ancestors. It’s similar to the Japanese Obon Festival and to the Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos. I’d like to think we have many more similarities than differences with area heritage groups when we hold cultural celebrations. Qing Ming shows many of these similarities. Translated as “clear brightness” from Chinese characters, Qing Ming is also known as Grave Cleaning Day. It is tied to the lunar calendar and occurs 105 or 106 days after the Winter Solstice, so it falls around early April. It is strictly a family-focused celebration. But it is also public in the sense that everyone does it at the same time. Families tend to the graves of their own family’s ancestors, usually those in direct lineage. There are food, flowers, incense, and the burning of paper money and goods. It is also a family picnic day. SOCC revived it as a day of public recognition to give people the opportunity to learn about the festival, customs, and the local history of the city of Riverside. We hold Qing Ming at Olivewood Cemetery to honor the pioneer Chinese Americans who died in the United States without descendants or other family members to remember them.
March 31, 2012 marked our fourth open public Qing Ming event. Representatives of the Gom Benn Village Society, the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Los Angeles, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Council in Los Angeles (TECOLA) visited Olivewood and addressed the ceremonies. Most of the early Chinese pioneer residents of Chinatown were surnamed Wong and came from the village of Gom Benn. The Society has kindly invited SOCC to attend its annual Spring Banquets, as well as generously donated to SOCC for its efforts.
Though we are focused on saving a particular ethnically linked site, membership in SOCC is multicultural, a feature noted favorably when we were visited by one of the Consuls at the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Los Angeles. SOCC is invested in developing and nurturing multicultural ties among people of different cultural groups and backgrounds.
“Librarians are natural candidates for community participation: we’re organized, connected, communicative, and education-focused.”
MICD: What key pieces of information would you like APALA members to take away from our conversation? Professionally and personally?
JL: Right now, the story is ongoing, kind of a cross between “watch this space” and “you, too, can get involved.” We are open to ideas or examples of memorial projects that worked or were successful in conveying the history, memories, and stories of past contributions of Chinese or Asian American pioneers. And we can always use supporters to be “at the ready” for specific actions, both from near and from afar.
The next stage will likely entail fundraising. I was so glad that we achieved our 501(c)(3) status because our supporters can continue to contribute and get a tax break on their donations. Along the way we’ve experienced times of excitement, moments of outrage, heartwarming actions and response, and feelings of empathy and support, all elements of a good tale. At its center is the certainty of “doing the right thing.” It would probably take another interview to capture all of those emotions.
I’ve learned a lot from SOCC activities. First, it may sound like a cliché, but really, if it’s the right thing to do, one is compelled to do it. There’s a social justice element that accompanies the conviction of doing the right thing. That aspect can be appealing to some. Others may not see or understand that point of view. Second, there’s often a bigger picture, whether it’s in the political situation (like city politics or developer-city officials relationships) or how various facets of the community view local government in general or with regard to specific issues (like historic preservation, perceived favoritism, or handling of public funds). One may have allies in the larger community without knowing it. Third, through this struggle, I’ve discovered that one person can and really does make a difference. I can honestly say that each and every one of our board members has played an important role in saving the site. If we hadn’t worked together we would not have gotten this far. The odds were against us. The total is, indeed, greater than the sum of its parts.
This project has become intertwined with my life personally, professionally, and how I am involved in my community. My ethnic heritage relates to the Riverside Chinese of Chinatown. I am a second generation Chinese American whose ancestors come from the Toisan region of Guangdong Province. My parents are among the most recent immigrant generation to come to this country. If I had met George while he was still alive, I’m sure we would have understood each other’s dialect, even with my broken remnants of Toisanese, that dialect of Cantonese spoken by many of the early Chinese pioneers (like those who worked on the railroads, or came during California’s Gold Rush, or labored in agriculture or a laundry service).
“I want people to learn about this aspect of my community and to think “hey, I belong, too,” or “this is a rich community of which I am glad to be a part,” or “I didn’t know that, what an interesting place to be.””
JL: This effort ties in with my professional work as a reference librarian with selecting responsibilities for Asian American Studies at a university known for its diverse student body and with graduate students in anthropology/archaeology, U.S. history (and a public history program), sociology, and ethnic studies. I also serve on the University of California Chancellor’s Council on Climate, Culture, and Inclusion, the latest in a line of university service over the years addressing diversity issues. For me, the fight to save Riverside’s Chinatown site has opened up the world of preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has redefined historic preservation to include heritage conservation and has made attempts to involve more Americans of various ethnicities to tell their stories and become a part of the American preservation landscape. As an educator, having this historical cultural resource available for the education of youth is important to me, both as something to pass on to my children as well as to the children in my community. I want people to learn about this aspect of my community and to think “hey, I belong, too,” or “this is a rich community of which I am glad to be a part,” or “I didn’t know that, what an interesting place to be.”
Librarians are natural candidates for community participation: we’re organized, connected, communicative, and education-focused. In a group setting, others gravitate toward the skills we have to offer. When Dan Tsang of University of California Irvine passed along the link to the 2011 Los Angeles Times article on Riverside’s Chinatown to a listserv, he referred to me as an activist librarian. Wow, Dan, thanks! Coming from a long-standing activist and role model of that caliber (and, of course, a librarian!), the comment tells me I’m heading in the right direction. Let’s hope that this story, our history, has a happy outcome. Librarians can be valuable partners. Librarians can be activists. Librarians can!
November 2012 update from JL: The Appeals Court issued a writ at the end of August 2012. It included an order for the City to make corrections to the EIR within 90 days or so, but no other specific instructions. We don’t know what the City intends to do, what their timetable is, or whether there will be an opportunity for public comment.
SOCC’s current chair, Rosalind Sagara, received the NTHP Aspire Award (National Trust for Historical Preservation) at their recent annual conference in early November 2012. The information was released in our newsletter and covered in an article I wrote and published on the SOCC website.
SOCC participated again, our second year, in Riverside’s Dia de los Muertos Celebration with an altar to George Wong. We also distributed our popular handout comparing Ching Ming (Qing Ming) with Dia de los Muertos. This time the photo of George Wong included the story of his driving out the KKK from Chinatown with a shotgun. That, too, was interesting and popular. Many took photos. The Riverside Food Co-op participated for the first time and wanted to pay homage to the Chinese pioneers for their role in area agriculture and the citrus industry with their altar. They were in touch with our committee before the event.
Many thanks to Judy Lee for her time and support. Photo images courtesy of Judy Lee and Save Our Chinatown Committee (SOCC). For more information about SOCC and the historic Chinatown archaeological site in Riverside, California, please visit the SOCC website and the SOCC Facebook page.
Melissa Cardenas-Dow is the Outreach/Behavioral Sciences Librarian at University of Redlands in Southern California.
Happy New Year!
We hope that 2012 was a good year for you and that 2013 will be even better.
To that end, why not start 2013 off right and check a few of the following off your list of resolutions?
Remember: Don’t just wish for a great 2013… Make it so!