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In a photograph by Isao Isago Tanaka, five men--four of whom are of Asian descent--are shown taking a stroll together, carefree and confident (fig. x). They are walking alongside the wall of a building on which is painted, "INDIAN AMERICA LAND." The photo captures a moment during the Native American 2 occupation of Alcatraz, a demonstration that lasted from November zo, 1969, to June ii, 1971. The occupation was launched when a group of eighty-nine Native American activists, calling themselves "Indians of All Tribes," claimed the island by "right of discovery" as a means to protest the federal government's policy of termination and to call for se1f-determination.3 While the occupation was explicitly and solely about Native American rights and grievances, it inspired sympathy from Asian-American activist groups and community organizations in the San Francisco Bay area. Greg Morozumi, pictured in the photograph with his father and brother, Joseph and Steve, along with their friends Ko Ijichi and Leroy Saunders, was among about twenty Asian-American activists who, on February 14, Pro, ferried to the island with a boatload of supplies to show their support for the occupation. The gesture of solidarity was planned for one day, and documentation of it rests in ephemera: Tanaka's photographs and a few short articles in the student-run Asian-American radical newspaper, Gidra. One has to look in the crevices of history to find documentation of this coalitional moment. Two novels have imagined the Asian-American involvement in the occupation of Alcatraz: Shawn Wong's 1979 novel Homebase and Karen Tei Yamashita's 2010 novel I Hotel Homebase features a scene in which the Chinese-American protagonist, Rainsford Chan, finds himself on Alcatraz Island on Christmas Day, 1969, and, after a conversation with an Acoma Pueblo man there, sets out to seek his own land to claim. Yamashita recreates the development of the Asian-American movement and imagines Alcatraz as a place where Asian Americans found inspiration for their own activism. Cross-reading an old classic and a new one--Wong's novel being an early work in the Asian-American canon and Yamashita's the 2012 winner of the Association for Asian American Studies' book prize and finalist for the National Book Award--stages a conversation about Asian America that widens the scope of what Asian-American political and social critique can and should look like. From examining these two novels and a collection of articles from the Asian-American radical newspaper Gidra, which documented Asian-American solidarity with Native American protest actions, I attempt to assemble a portrait of the Asian American involvement in the Native American occupation of Alcatraz. In so doing, I offer not a comparative model of analysis that attempts to trace the similarities between how Asian Americans and Native Americans have been subjected and have responded to that subjection, but rather an exploration of how political affinities can emerge in spite of, and because of, difference. In this respect, I draw inspiration from Grace Kyungwon Hong and Roderick A. Ferguson's Strange Affinities in pursuing a project that "entails not only articulating commonalities between communities of...
Source Citation (MLA 8 th Edition)
Fung, Catherine. "'This isn't your battle or your land': the native american occupation of alcatraz in the asian-american political imagination." College Literature, vol. 41, no. 1, 2014, p. 149+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 29 Apr. 2017.
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