Asian-American athletes to watch at the 2016 Rio Olympics

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This August, Team USA will be headed to the 2016 Rio Olympics with over 500 athletes across 42 Olympic sport disciplines. Of these athletes, over 30, competing in a variety of sports including swimming, fencing, table tennis, and volleyball, identify as Asian American. Below are 10 Asian-American athletes to watch during the Rio Olympics. Keep their names in mind, as there’s a good chance that some of them will be leaving Rio with new medals.

Alexander Massialas

Born to a Greek father and a Taiwanese mother, San Francisco native Alexander Massialas is poised to win a medal at the Rio Olympics this year. Currently ranked the number one male foil fencer in the world, Massialas was also the youngest male member of the 2012 U.S. Olympics team.

He comes from an accomplished fencing family — his father Greg was a three-time Olympic fencer and his younger sister Sabrina was the first U.S. fencer to ever win a Youth Olympic Games gold medal. Massialas is currently a student at Stanford University and majors in mechanical engineering. He can speak Mandarin and attended the Chinese American International School as a child.

Gerek Meinhardt

Like Massialas, Gerek Meindhart is also a Taiwanese-American fencer. The two are good friends since Meinhardt’s mother Jane was primary school classmates with Massialas’ mom Vivian, and it was Vivian’s suggestion to have Meinhardt join the fencing club. While both of Meinhardt’s parents were architects and not fencers, Massialas helped coach Meinhardt for competition.

In the past, Meinhardt also played basketball. His sister Katie played the sport at Boston University (BU) and still holds the BU record for most points in a game. Meinhardt recently received an MBA from Notre Dame and works as a Deloitte consultant when he isn’t competing in the games.

Lee Kiefer

Filipino-American fencer Lee Kiefer is currently ranked third in women’s foil and was the first athlete to ever win seven consecutive individual titles at the Pan American Championships. Fencing also runs in the family — she is the daughter of a former Duke University fencing captain and has a sister Alex and brother Axel who also compete.

Kiefer is currently a senior pre-med major at the University of Notre Dame. Her father Steve is a neurosurgeon, her mother Teresa is a psychiatrist, and her older sister Alex is a Harvard pre-med student.

Nathan Adrian

This three-time Olympic swimming gold medalist will be back in 2016. In this year’s Olympics, Adrian will compete in the 50 meter and 100 meter freestyle events. Adrian is in a good position to defend his Olympic gold medal in the 100m, as he finished first place in that event at the U.S. Olympic Trials. This Bremerton-born athlete is half-Chinese and was honored at the Robert Chinn Foundation‘s Asian Hall of Fame. Adrian majored in public health and graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Spring 2012. After he retires from competitive swimming, Adrian has expressed interest in becoming a doctor.

Paige McPherson

Paige McPherson is an Olympic taekwondo competitor of Filipino and African-American descent. McPherson, who won a bronze medal in the women’s 67 kilogram taekwondo event in 2012, will return to compete in Rio. While McPherson grew up in Sturgis, South Dakota, she comes from what she likes to call a “rainbow family.” McPherson is one of five adopted kids in her family — she has a Korean brother, a St. Lucian little sister, and two Native American siblings. McPherson attended Miami-Dade College and continues to train primarily in Miami. After the 2015 Pan Am Games Team Trials, McPherson got the chance to meet her biological brother. Once the Rio Olympic Games come to a close, McPherson hopes to meet more members of her biological family.

Lia Neal

Olympic swimmer Lia Neal identifies as both African American and Chinese American. Neal celebrates all Chinese holidays, and went to a Chinese pre-school program — which is why she speaks Cantonese and has studied Mandarin for years. This Brooklyn native won a bronze medal at the London Games in the 4 by 100-meter freestyle relay with Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, and Allison Schmitt. This year, Neal came in fourth during the 4 by 100 freestyle Olympic trials, allowing her the fourth spot in the 4 by 100-meter freestyle relay team. Neal is currently a Stanford University student, and her classmate Simone Manuel also made it onto the Olympic swimming team. This makes it the first time two Black female swimmers will swim simultaneously on the U.S. Olympic team.

Jay Litherland

Jay Litherland is an Olympic swimmer majoring in business at the University of Georgia. He’s also a triplet – and has triple citizenship in the U.S., Japan, and New Zealand. He can speak Japanese and started swimming at the age of 8. At this year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he managed to finish second in the 400 meter individual medley. Litherland won the second of two U.S. Olympic spots in the event, eking out the defending Olympic gold medalist, Ryan Lochte, by approximately a second. This will be the first time he will be attending the Olympics. He previously competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012.

Micah Christenson, Kawika Shoji, and Erik Shoji

These three athletes will be representing the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team at the Rio Olympics. Micah Christenson comes from a tall family – his father played basketball at the University of Hawaii-Hilo and his mother won three national volleyball championships at the same university. Anderson currently plays for Italian club team Cucine Lube Civitanova but won a gold medal with the USA team in the 2015 Men’s World Cup. Christenson graduated from the University of Southern California and will be a setter for the men’s national team. His full name is Micah Makanamaikalani Christenson, and his middle name means “gift from heaven.”

Erik and Kawika Shoji are brothers — and both will be at the Rio Olympics in the U.S. Men’s volleyball team. The Honolulu-born pair both attended Stanford University and played on the volleyball team when they were there. Their father Dave has coached women’s volleyball at the University of Hawaii for more than 40 years, while their mother Mary played basketball at the same university. Kawika is currently a member of Turkish club Arkas Izmir, while Erik Shoji plays for German club Berlin Recycling Volleys.

Announcing the Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship

Medium.com (by Anoop Prasad):

Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus is excited to announce a new fellowship for formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islanders. Too often, the movements against prisons and deportation are out of sync and ignore the intersectional experiences of people in both systems. Advocates often make decisions without inviting formerly incarcerated people into the conversation and without consulting people who are locked up. Through the Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship, we hope to begin changing that. By centering and building leadership among directly impacted people, we hope to support a movement led by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

Over the next several months, the first two Yuri Kochiyama Fellows will be using their experiences to advocate for changes to America’s incarceration and deportation systems. As people who have spent years in prison and immigration detention, their voices and leadership are sorely needed in the movement.

We chose to name the fellowship after Yuri Kochiyama. She was a tireless political activist who dedicated her life to social justice and human rights for almost five decades. Yuri spent two years as a young adult in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Arkansas during World War II. Later in life, she worked with Malcolm X, the Harlem Parents Committee, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and other groups. Throughout her life, she supported people in prison by exchanging letters, advocating for their release, and organizing support committees.

Our first two Fellows will carry on Yuri’s legacy by using their experiences in prison and immigration detention to advocate for those still locked up. Their first advocacy project will be in support of a ballot measure that limits the ability of District Attorneys to charge children as adults. The reforms will keep thousands of children from being sent to prison for decades and from facing deportation for those crimes.

Rajeshree Roy, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama Fellow, was arrested at the age of fifteen for a robbery. Rather than receiving services as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who was homeless, she was tried as an adult and sent to prison for fifteen years. She would later spend a year in immigration detention.

Aelam Khensamphanh, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama Fellow, fled war in Laos and came to the United States as a refugee when he was eight-years-old. His family was resettled in Modesto, a poor community plagued with violence. Unable to speak English and without language services, he struggled in school as a child. Attempting to fit in, he joined a gang at fifteen. After a shootout with a rival gang, he was sent to prison for life at the age of seventeen. While in prison, Aelam worked with the Squires Program to intervene with at-risk youth. After serving twenty-two years in prison, he spent months in immigration detention before being released earlier this year.

Aelam and Rajeshree will be working to make sure that future generations of children will not go through the same cycle of trauma, incarceration, and deportation that they did.

George Takei reacts to gay Sulu news: “I think it’s really unfortunate…”

George Takei on Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry: “He was a strong supporter of LGBT equality,” recalls Takei, now 79. “But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope — and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air.” 

The Hollwyood Reporter (by Seth Abramovitch):

Star Trek has lived long and prospered for studio home Paramount, spawning six TV series and 13 feature films. True to its title, the latest big-screen outing, Star Trek Beyond, has gone where none have gone before: Star John Cho — who assumes the Sulu mantle for the third time in the reboots — has told Australia’s Herald Sun that the character is revealed to be gay.

The idea came from Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the new films and penned the Beyond screenplay, and director Justin Lin, both of whom wanted to pay homage to Takei’s legacy as both a sci-fi icon and beloved LGBT activist.

And so a scene was written into the new film, very matter-of-fact, in which Sulu is pictured with a male spouse raising their infant child. Pegg and Lin assumed, reasonably, that Takei would be overjoyed at the development — a manifestation of that conversation with Roddenberry in his swimming pool so many years ago.

Except Takei wasn’t overjoyed. He had never asked for Sulu to be gay. In fact, he’d much prefer that he stay straight. “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”

Takei explains that Roddenberry was exhaustive in conceiving his Star Trek characters. (The name Sulu, for example, was based on the Sulu Sea off the coast of the Philippines, so as to render his Asian nationality indeterminate.) And Roddenberry had always envisioned Sulu as heterosexual.

Proving that is not so simple a matter, however. Sulu never had an onscreen love interest duringStar Trek‘s initial three-season run. He did mention a daughter, Demora, who appeared in 1994’s Star Trek Generations, the seventh film in the series (she was played by Jacqueline Kim).

But the only reference to how Demora was conceived appears in a secondary canonical source: the 1995 Star Trek novel The Captain’s Daughter. “It was, to put it crudely, a one-night stand with a glamazon,” Takei explains. “A very athletic, powerful and stunningly gorgeous woman. That’s Demora’s mother.”

Takei first learned of Sulu’s recent same-sex leanings last year, when Cho called him to reveal the big news. Takei tried to convince him to make a new character gay instead. “I told him, ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted.’” (Takei had enough negative experiences inside the Hollywood closet, he says, and strongly feels a character who came of age in the 23rd century would never find his way inside one.)

His timeline logic, however, is enough to befuddle even the most diehard of Trek enthusiasts, as the rebooted trilogy takes place before the action of the original series. In other words, assuming canon orthodoxy, this storyline suggest Sulu would have had to have first been gay and married, only to then go into the closet years later.

Not long after Cho’s bombshell call came another, this one from Lin, again informing him that Sulu was indeed to be gay in Star Trek Beyond. Takei remained steadfastly opposed to the decision.

I said, ‘This movie is going to be coming out on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the 50th anniversary of paying tribute to Gene Roddenberry, the man whose vision it was carried us through half a century. Honor him and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen,” Takei says.

After that, all was quiet from Beyond until a few months ago, when Takei received an email from Pegg “praising me for my advocacy for the LGBT movement and for my pride in Star Trek,” he says. “And I thought to myself, ‘How wonderful! It’s a fan letter from Simon Pegg. Justin had talked to him!’” Takei was certain the creative team had rethought their decision to make Sulu gay.

That is until one month ago, when he received an email from Cho informing him that the actor was about to embark on an international media tour for Beyond. Cho said it was bound to come out that his character was gay, and “what should he do?” A disappointed Takei told Cho to go about his promotional duties, but that he was “not going to change” his mind on the matter.

I really tried to work with these people when at long last the issue of gay equality was going to be addressed,” Takei says. “I thought after that conversation with Justin that was going to happen. Months later, when I got that email from Simon Pegg, I was kind of confused. He thinks I’m a great guy? Wonderful. But what was the point of that letter? I interpreted that as my words having been heard.”

Takei for his part is hoping to take Sulu in new directions as well, potentially on CBS’ upcomingStar Trek series, slated to premiere in January and co-run by Alex Kurtzman and Bryan Fuller, who is openly gay.

 

Google’s homepage honors the legendary Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama on her 95th birthday.

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In honor of Yuri Kochiyama‘s 95th birthday on May 19th, the Google homepage dedicated a Google Doodle to the legendary late activist, educator and humanitarian, who died in 2014.

The doodle, by artist Alyssa Winans, features an iconic image of Kochiyama at the center of one of many protests and rallies, for numerous social and political movements, over a lifetime in the fight for justice.

It’s with great pleasure that Google celebrates Yuri Kochiyama, an Asian American activist who dedicated her life to the fight for human rights and against racism and injustice. Born in California, Kochiyama spent her early twenties in a Japanese American internment camp in Arkansas during WWII. She and her family would later move to Harlem, where she became deeply involved in African American, Latino, and Asian American liberation and empowerment movements. Today’s doodle by Alyssa Winans features Kochiyama taking a stand at one of her many protests and rallies.

Kochiyama left a legacy of advocacy: for peace, U.S. political prisoners, nuclear disarmament, and reparations for Japanese Americans interned during the war. She was known for her tireless intensity and compassion, and remained committed to speaking out, consciousness-raising, and taking action until her death in 2014.

 

LA Times: Japanese-American newspaper Rafu Shimpo must get 10,000 subscribers by year’s end, or close its doors

Little Tokyo's Rafu Shimpo, voice of the Japanese American community, faces closureNao Nakanishi, left, staff writer, and Kenji Tokunaga, right, Japanese typesetter, at the Rafu Shimpo newspaper in Los Angeles on April 28

LA Times (by Samantha Masunaga):

For 113 years, the Rafu Shimpo newspaper has chronicled the story of the Japanese American community in Southern California.

It survived World War II, when writers and editors were shipped off to internment camps. Before leaving, they hid the paper’s Japanese type under office floorboards.

But if the money-losing paper doesn’t raise about $500,000 in revenue — by more than doubling its subscribers — it could close in December, marking the end of one of the last English-Japanese dailies in the U.S., and the oldest.

Some of the things we cover you can’t get anywhere else,” said Michael Komai, 64, the paper’s publisher, whose family has run the Little Tokyo-based publication for three generations. “Some people aren’t going to know they’ll miss us until we’re gone.”

Like many papers, the Rafu has struggled to adjust to the changing media landscape. However, those issues have been amplified by its small community, aging readership and the greater assimilation of younger Japanese Americans compared with other Asian American communities.

The Rafu currently has a print circulation of about 7,800, down from a peak of 23,000 subscribers in the late 1980s. Its online subscriptions total about 800.

It became more of a challenge for the Rafu Shimpo to be the hyperlocal community voice because the community dispersed, grew older, and unlike most of the other major Asian news media, was not replenished by increased immigration,” said Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, a nationwide organization for ethnic media.

The digital revolution, combined with the recession, has, of course, been tremendously challenging for the ethnic media sector overall,” she said.

The Rafu Shimpo — which means, literally, Los Angeles newspaper — got its start in 1903 as a mimeographed sheet put together by three USC students.

In the early 1920s, H.T. Komai, the current publisher’s grandfather, took over the paper. He ushered in several changes, including the development of a new English-language section to appeal to a younger generation after immigration laws stymied the flow of new arrivals from Japan.

As tensions built between Japan and the U.S., the paper ran editorials urging the Nisei — the second generation of Japanese in the United States — to show they were patriotic American citizens. The paper also proclaimed it was “100%” loyal to the U.S.

But on Dec. 7, 1941, hours after Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, Komai was arrested by the FBI along with other leaders from the community who were labeled “enemy aliens.” That left his eldest son, Akira, in charge of the paper’s welfare.

Before Akira Komai was forced into a camp with other Japanese Americans along the West Coast, he hid the newspaper’s Japanese lead type in hopes that the Rafu could one day restart.

The last issue published before the staff was sent to the camps came out on April 4, 1942, and contains a letter from the newsroom with the headline, “We’ll meet again.” At the bottom of the page is a single-line advertisement in bold: “Buy your defense stamps at the Rafu Shimpo.

On Jan. 1, 1946, the paper resumed publishing.

In the postwar era, Japanese Americans returned to L.A., especially Little Tokyo, and the neighborhood became a vibrant community, according to Lane Hirabayashi, a professor in the Asian American studies department at UCLA. In the late 1960s, legislation opened up further immigration from Japan.

The community also began to spread throughout Southern California. Japanese Americans with higher incomes moved out, toward Gardena and the Westside, after civil rights legislation was passed outlawing housing discrimination.

During this period, the Rafu battled for dominance in L.A. against another Japanese American daily, the Kashu Mainichi, and a few other publications. Nearly all have since vanished, and several of their writers, editors and columnists were absorbed into the Rafu’s staff.

That included George “Horse” Yoshinaga, who penned the popular “Horse’s Mouth” column until his death this year at the age of 90.

Horse and I, we got along very well together,” said Maggie Ishino, 90, a part-time typist at the Rafu who transcribed Yoshinaga’s columns for 16 years. “He really had a great sense of humor.”

Ishino began writing her own column, “Maggie’s Meow,” in 2012. She continues to work at the Rafu and takes three buses to reach the office from her home in West Los Angeles.

Today, there are only a few Japanese American publications left in the country. The Hawaii Hochi, founded in 1912, is believed to be the only other English-Japanese daily in the nation.

The shrinking list of Japanese American publications contrasts with the dozens of publications geared toward the Chinese and Korean communities in L.A. and beyond. The disparity reflects shifting levels of immigration among those groups.

In 2014, there were 274,000 ethnic Japanese in California, all but 103,000 of whom were native-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This contrasts with the higher number of immigrants in the Chinese and Korean communities. There are 947,000 Chinese immigrants and 334,000 Korean immigrants statewide.

Like many print publications, the Rafu’s subscriber base is composed mostly of older readers. And like larger newspapers, the Rafu has been unable to make up for falling ad revenue.

Last year, the Rafu pulled in $549,502 from advertising, an 8% dip from just two years ago. The paper has lost $750,000 over the last three years, and is expected to lose $350,000 this year.

Editors said they plan to shift their coverage to appeal to younger readers and continue homing in on what makes their stories distinct from those of larger publications.

Only the Rafu covers every single summer Obon festival, the annual Nisei Week celebration in Little Tokyo, and numerous community events from awards dinners to bazaars. When someone in the Japanese American community dies, the obituary will probably appear first — if not only — in the Rafu.

 

Some community members have called for the paper’s management to look for new sources of revenue.

To reach a wider audience, the paper could include stories that appeal to readers interested in Japanese culture, or it could increase the Rafu’s digital presence, said Ellen Endo, former Rafu editor.

The paper recently got an Instagram account and is getting increasingly active on Twitter and Facebook.

The Rafu has also initiated the subscription drive, with a goal of 10,000 new online subscribers for $50 each annually. “This isn’t a one-year fix,” Komai said. “We need an immediate boost, but we also … need steady growth, steady progress.”

Community members have started to respond. About 550 people have signed up for an online subscription since March, when Komai published a letter about the paper’s finances on the front page titled, “The State of the Rafu Shimpo.”