Friday, April 17, 2009

James D Houston - A California voice lost

James D Houston - A California voice lost

California just won't be the same without the melodious voice and glorious words of James D Houston. He died yesterday at his home in Santa Cruz.

Through some sort of a magical stroke of good luck, I have been a close friend of his oldest daughter Cori, for over 30 years. We played soccer together for years in Santa Cruz. We connected one afternoon after finishing a tournament in Sacramento, sitting on a dock at the river next to the field where we had played.

We discovered that we were both literate, had actually thought about life, struggles, what we wanted to do with ourselves, kind of grown up, adult things. A special friendship was born in the steamy heat of a summer afternoon.

She opened her door to her family who lived in a special house near the water on the east side of Santa Cruz, explaining the architecture of a cupola, a widow's watch, the outdoor shower and what's that, what the heck is a hot tub? Why is this room full of a room full of typed index cards and a typewriter. Oh, both your parents write books. Like what kind of books?

Now almost all of these books are in my bookcases: Farewell to Manzanar, Snow Mountain Passage, Bird of Another Heaven, and Hawaiian Son. One of my favorite opening lines in a book was in one of his. Unfortunately you have to go to the link at my personal blog to read it otherwise my normally easy to get along with editors might not be so easy to get along with anymore.

Okay here it is but it is not a direct quote cus I don't have the book in front of me:

The man wakes up and turns to his wife.

"Do you wanto play county fair?"

Woman responds:

"What's county fair?"

"You sit on my face and I tell you how much you weigh."

See??? I couldn't have that in the Chronicle.

He was always Mr Houston to me because he was Cori's dad. Not in that Eddie Haskell kind of way, "Oh hello Mr. Cleaver." But more out of respect for my friend's father. Or maybe because he was an award winning local author, someone I aspired to emulate. As someone recently graduated with a degree in journalism from Chico State, I was impressed with his graciousness and easy going manner. Why was he like that? Was it his time in Santa Cruz and Hawaii? Or his confidence in his writing skills? A combination things or some other variable I had no knowledge of at age 23? I know, it was the old Mercedes and the Panama hat with the Hawaiian shirt!

Both Mr and Mrs Houston were always friendly and open to me, answering questions about how they wrote, how they got ideas for books, what drove them to complete books. Their writing styles were completely different, as different as they were as people and as different as a Japanese American and Anglo guy could be. What a surprise. Together they wrote one of the first books about the Japanese-American experience, Mrs Houston's experience in internment camps, Farewell to Manzanar.

During that time I had been going over there and just whining about every little thing. Drama, drama, drama, whine, whine. I read that book and was just embarrassed that I had complained so much to Mrs Houston after what she been through, imprisoned for years by her own government. I told Mr Houston about it once and he just smiled in a very knowing way, clapped me on the back and moved on.

Over the course of knowing a friend and her family for over 30 years there are vignettes, meals at the Santa Cruz wharf discussing politics, the unexpected death of Kathy Akao, Jeanne and Jim's niece, Cori's cousin, the weddings and always in the background the Hawaiian music. The Houston family, especially Mr Houston, was close friends with Hawaiian musician Eddie Kamae who came over to play at Cori's wedding. Mr. Houston wrote the book, Hawaiian Son, about Eddie. I have managed to compile stacks of Hawaiian music thanks to the introduction by James D. Houston.

The tears many of us shed today are for a man who had a life well lived. Aloha Jim. Mahalo for all the gifts you gave us while you were here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Texas seems to have a surplus of idiot legislators

From Think Progress among many outlets:

Texas lawmaker Betty Brown: Asians should change their names to make them easier for Americans to deal with.

What? Really?

Lee is too difficult? How about Chung? Wait, wait, I know, it's Chang, Low, or Lew. It's really those Japanese names, like Devin Setoguchi, a star forward for the San Jose Sharks. Perhaps Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston who wrote about her own painful experiences in one of America's most shameful chapters, imprisoning its own citizens on Japanese descent in the award winning "Farewell to Manzanar". How about Evergreen Community College Trustee Randy Okamura, that's a tongue twister. I bet Betty Brown, the Texas legislator who made this asinine comment and wanted the Asian population to change their names would surely like Randy to become Randy Smith or probably Randy Brown in order to make her life easier.

I grew up in Santa Clara Valley and it has always been a magnet for people seeking a better life. Before a silicon wafer was an idea and a computer was the size of an elephant, the valley was an agricultural hub, full of orchards, prunes, cherries, citrus and called the Valley of the Heart's Delight.

The population was not nearly as diverse as today. The current demographics show the population to be 64% either immigrant or children of immigrants. California is a majority minority state. We are growing and changing together in this valley. Our successes are interdependent on each other as much as our need to understand each other culturally.

Forming political coalitions has made us more effective. I have worked on campaigns with Asian candidates, learning different cultural norms, ways of approaching problems, respecting different points of views. I have always come away far more educated and wiser from the variety of experiences. In the Prop 8 elections, the Asian Pacific American (APA) population voted the most heavily for equality, well over 60% voted no. At my own wedding in August the guests were over 50% a combination of Latino and APA. I looked out and saw the faces of my friends, family and the reality of California.

In an earlier post about same sex marriage, someone said this lgbt civil rights movement is not the same as earlier movements based on race or gender. I wonder why, then, Dolores Huerta stands firmly with us? Coretta Scott King, when she was alive, said we are part of the civil rights movement. I know I can always count on State Assemblyman Paul Fong to stand up for equality for all no matter what setting, no matter how difficult the conversation. The same is true for San Jose City Councilor Madison Nguyen, Congressman Mike Honda, Asian Americans for Community Involvement Executive Director Michele Lew. It's a very long list of APA politicians who are allies and friends.

My generation understands a lot of things today. Our parents understand and our grandparents understand racism and discrimination. No one wants to be treated the way we have been treated. No camps, no name calling, no segregation, no calls to change our names. We wear our names proudly because it has taken us a long time to get to this place where our President has a different kind of name and a different color skin.

So, no, Ms Betty Brown, we are not going to change our names, not in Texas and not in California. For once it is not all about you and your folks. We learned that lesson, too.

Here's another really important one. When is your re-election? Lots of us are going send some money to your opponent. Maybe even go work on that campaign. Together.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Funny that

Barry Bonds made me a hockey fan.

How did a California gal who has loved baseball and the San Francisco Giants her whole life become such a San Jose Sharks fan in a mere four years. Barry Bonds, that's how. I hate cheaters. I hate people who lie. And I detest when people do all those things in order to get ahead, make a lot of money or make a name for themselves. Hello Barry.

I grew up watching Mays, McCovey, and Marichal. I always wanted to be Orlando Cepeda when we played outside because the Baby Bull was my favorite. My first time freezing my ass off at Candlestick was with an uncle sitting on the third base side for a double header against the Cubs when I was in the fourth grade. We all just don't forget those things.

Nor would I ever forget the first hockey game I went to with my cousin Steve. I saw the zamboni for the first time. I saw men on ice skates doing things that most of us cannot do in tennis shoes on solid ground. I didn't know the rules, nor the plays or the nuances but I knew I really liked this game right away. It also helped that this was the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is one of those times it pays to have an obsessive personality. I absorbed everything I could about hockey and the San Jose Sharks, names, numbers where the guys were from. I checked out Hockey for Dummies at the library. Got all the hockey videos and watched them on hot summer nights.

Tonight, the Sharks beat the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton, 3-2. We have 5 games left and are ahead of Detroit by six points. We are ahead of Boston by three points. If we have the most points on April 11, we win the first part of the season. That means we will have home ice during the Stanley Cup.

All of Canada is watching this tourney, the US is watching, for the most part, the opening of baseball season. One of the many reasons I like hockey, as I said was because I consider hockey players to be much better athletes. OK, if I didn't say, that's what I meant. Know what else? they are really nice guys, at least the Sharks are. I go to practice sometimes and they autograph my jersey, have given me hockey sticks and just chit chatted with me. Can you imagine having a chat with Barry Bonds? I can't imagine wanting to chat with him. That's the difference for me, who would want to talk to him unless you are a sports writer? If I wanted to get abused, I could go get another crappy job.

My point, with dwindling resources, we all have to make decisions about where to spend our money. Sometimes in the past I had to choose between food and meds. I would not go to a Giants game unless someone handed me a free ticket and free food, drove me up there and paid for the parking. Obviously I am not a cheap date.

Ah, but for my bos in teal, I would ride my bike down to the Tank. I would still need a free ticket but I was offered one the other night. My friend Genevieve is struggling in this economy but the Sharks always take care of her because she helps out the guys with errands and cooking, things like that. How's that for helping the community.

Or even better, one of our local councilmembers had to cop to taking free tickets from one of the Sharks owners before voting on one of his projects coming to a council vote. Oh whoops! Big mistake.

Anyway, thanks Barry for steering me away from baseball and towards my local team. good luck Gigantes, maybe I'll come back some day. At least the new park is way better than Candlestick.
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