Hiroshima survivors + Rocklin teen, UC Davis grant aim for Chinese history education: Your AAPI newsletter

It is Thursday, August 6, and this is The Sacramento Bee’s AAPI weekly newsletter.

Here’s a recap of the stories I’ve recently covered and issues I’m following:

On this date in 1945, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, followed by a second bomb in Nagasaki three days later. About 220,000 Japanese people were killed in the two bombings, most of them civilians.

Survivors living in Sacramento recalled a day of horror, pain and trauma that lasted long after the smoke had cleared. Alfred Dote, 92, had to nurse his badly burned brother using only oil and maggots. Harue Okino, 90, watched as the skin peeled back so far from people’s faces that she could see all of their teeth.

“I just remember looking around and seeing dead bodies everywhere and it was so, so frightening,” Dote said in Japanese. “To this day, I will never forget how traumatized I was.”

“It was a massacre,” said Setsuko Thurlow, another survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. “Indiscriminate massacre.”

Questions still remain over the justification for the United States’ decision, something that the U.S. has historically been reluctant to address. But by commemorating the 75th anniversary of these bombings, activists and survivors hope sharing their stories will help ensure such horrors stay in the past instead of becoming our future. At 2 p.m. Sunday, several Sacramento organizations will hold a livestreamed commemoration event featuring speeches from Thurlow and politicians like Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

“We need to recognize what we did in the 1940s just like how we need to recognize what we did in our country, with its origins,” said Dr. Harry Wang, president of the Sacramento Physicians for Social Responsibility. “No matter what the intention, we have to look at the effects of those behaviors and how the truth was hidden.”

A Rocklin high school graduate called for his school district board to integrate Chinese American history into the district-wide curriculum and name a school building for a Chinese American after learning his high school is named for a wealthy white landowner who historians say exploited Chinese laborers.

Diego Leibman, 17, graduated last week from Whitney High School, named for Joel Parker Whitney. Whitney likely used Chinese laborers for backbreaking work on his ranch, historians said, under-paying and overworking them for fruit cultivation and ditch digging. He also espoused racist, demeaning views of Chinese people in his book, “Reminisces of a Sportsman.”

“It’s really about not necessarily erasing history, but broadening its scope to include all of the perspectives that were involved,” Leibman said.

While doing his own research on Whitney’s past, Leibman learned the town of Rocklin itself has a dark past of anti-Chinese racism. In 1877, about 400 Chinese residents were violently forced out of the town after several Chinese men were falsely accused of murdering a white resident. Their homes and businesses were burned to the ground minutes after they left.

But this history is largely unknown to Rocklin residents, Leibman said, which is why he pushed for his school board to mandate Chinese American history as part of the school-wide curriculum during their board meeting on Wednesday. He also wants to name a school building for a prominent Chinese American activist, listing several suggestions in a Change.org petition.

“It’s really about educating people,” Leibman said. “It’s about elevating Chinese American and Pacific Islander American voices and contributions to our country and our community.”

A University of California, Davis, history workshop won a $190,000 grant last week to improve K-12 education on California’s Chinese American history. The National Endowment for the Humanities grant went to a project called “Building Community in California: The Chinese American Experience,” which aims to educate 72 teachers in K-12 public schools nationwide on California’s Chinese American history and help them design curriculum for their students.

Participants will be given a week-long tour of major California landmarks in Chinese history, such as Angel Island, where many Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were detained, and the Donner Summit, where Chinese railroad workers cut their way through granite rock for the Transcontinental Railroad. At each landmark, visiting historians, community advocates and artists will educate teachers on the deeper significance of each site to California’s Chinese American history.

The workshop will be led by Dr. Robyn Rodriguez, UC Davis Asian American studies department chair, and Stacey Greer, director of The History Project.

“We’re really excited to be able to have this chance to share among a broader audience, giving them this unique lens into the Chinese American experience, but really also the broader Asian American experience,” Rodriguez said.

Chinese American history isn’t given due diligence in California education, Greer and Rodriguez said, and they hope the workshop can help fill in those important gaps.

“We tend to focus on (John) Sutter and the Gold Rush (in California’s history education),” Greer said. “But there’s so many other layers here.”

In other news

  • ‘This is not a solution.’ Sacramento nail salon owners rebel against operating outdoors [The Sacramento Bee]

  • Elk Grove mayor did nothing to stop campaign aide’s sexist, racist remarks, local official says [The Sacramento Bee]

  • Who is Vicki Draves? Google Doodle celebrates Asian American Olympic diver [Newsweek]

  • He was an American child in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb dropped [The Washington Post]

  • Drag queen Kyne Santos uses her love of math and TikTok to fight racism [NBC News]

  • For Asian Americans, food deserts encompass both income and culture [NBC News]

  • A leap into the past: San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1930s and ’40s [San Francisco Chronicle]

  • BCD Tofu House founder Hee Sook Lee has died [LAIst]

  • School of Medicine faculty receive grants to study opioid use and COVID-19 testing [UC Riverside]

  • New Sikh and Punjabi Studies chair to enhance Asian Studies with focus on social justice [UC Santa Cruz]

  • What happened at the El Monte sweatshop? [Smithsonian Magazine]

  • Why does SF’s Chinatown have low COVID-19 case rates? It’s complicated [SFGate]

This week in AAPI pop culture

Lifetime, the TV network famous for soapy, indulgent dramas and reality shows, announced Monday that it has green-lit its first Chinese-American-led Christmas film called “A Sugar and Spice Holiday.”

Jennifer Liao is set to direct the film, with Eirene Donohue, who previously penned “Girls’ Night Out,” as its screenwriter. Both women are of Asian descent.

Here’s the basic premise of the film, if Christmas romances are your thing:

“Suzie, a rising young architect, returns to her small hometown in Maine for Christmas where her Chinese American family runs the local Lobster Bar,” Dino-Ray Ramos wrote. “Following the loss of her beloved grandmother who was a legendary baker in their community, Suzie is guilted into following in her grandmother’s footsteps by entering the local gingerbread house competition. Teaming up with an old high school friend Billy, who grew up to be a catch, Suzie must find the right recipes and mix of sugar and spice to win the competition and perhaps find some love in the process.”

Casting is currently underway, and production is set to begin later this month. ’Tis the season!

Got a story suggestion? Please reach out to me at [email protected]

Ashley Wong, The Sacramento Bee’s Report for America reporter on Asian American and Pacific Islander news.

That’s it for this week’s newsletter. Take some time this weekend to read up on the history of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and remember what happened. Thanks for reading, and see you in two weeks. I’m taking a week off from the newsletter to attend a conference.

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