Friday, May 19, 2017

And the Oscar goes to...Li Ling Ai!

The 1942 Oscars ceremony was the first year that the Academy recognized achievements in documentary film.  One of two films which received a Special award (a certificate rather than a statuette) was Kukan, in which evil deeds by Japan were documented in 1940 -- one episode out of their years-long, relentless bombings targeting a city in China, then called Chungking.

Today a complete print of Kukan does not exist --  not even in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' film archive -- while the rich back story has been wonderfully uncovered by filmmaker Robin Lung in her own documentary Finding Kukan.

Kukan (1941, Adventure Films)

Kukan may have premiered in New York City at the World Theatre in June, 1941.  It also screened in Los Angeles at the Esquire Theatre at 410 No. Fairfax on August 15, 1941 and continued into September.  The Desert Sun, a California newspaper, advertised a showing at the Palm Spring Theatre in January, 1943.

The film made known to the American public of the plight of the Chinese, and it caught the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt.  One outcome of the film was a nation-wide drive to raise funds for the Chinese people.

From the Madera Tribune, August 27, 1941, of Gladys Ling Ai Li and Rey Scott
(Image retrieved from the California Digital Newspaper Collection)

Finding Kukan (2016, Nested Egg Productions)

Sunday at an encore "Best of the Fest" at the CGV Cinemas, Buena Park, Calif.
Finding Kukan was screened at the Visual Communications' L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival, Sunday, April 30th.  This blogger was not able to make that screening, but thankfully an encore screening was happening the following Sunday, May 7th.

Afterwards Robin appeared at the Q & A moderated by VC's Abraham Ferrer.

Robin described her eight-year journey in the making of this film.  She pointed out that much of the film consists of an original music score by Miriam Cutler.  This blogger enjoyed the fluidity of the film with its visual feast of shadow performers portraying "shadow" Li Ling Ai and Rey Scott.

Li Ling Ai and Rey Scott

Who were Li and Scott?  Rey Scott was the writer and photographer who risked life and limb to document the chaos and carnage through the film, Kukan.  Li was surmised in Robin's documentary to have been the actual brainchild of the film, but she was only given onscreen credit as a technical advisor.

Li Ling Ai (Li was her last name) was Hakka-Cantonese Chinese and born in Honolulu in 1908.  She traded the Pineapple for the Big Apple by having settled in New York, and she died in 2003.  The filmmaker Robin was struck by their shared backgrounds, and she regretted having discovered Ling Ai years after her death.

Ling Ai was a college graduate, poet, playwright, dancer, singer, lecturer, and as Robin's film emphasized, she was a political activist and filmmaker, making her a pioneer in many of these accomplishments as a Chinese woman.  But she was also the first and only Chinese woman to host an American television show.  And she publish a memoir in 1972.

Flamboyant in dress and appearance, she was outspoken and seemed to be comfortable in her skin though she experienced the usual prejudices.  In retrospect Ling Ai has been described endearingly as a drama queen, a diva, a badass.

She was born in Hawaii when it was a fairly new U.S. territory -- she spearheaded the idea for Kukan successfully, all while the American ban on Chinese was still in effect on the U.S. mainland (the Chinese Exclusion Act would be repealed in 1943) -- her ancestral China turned communist in 1949 -- her native Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state in 1959.

An ample amount of news publicity exists that helped Robin in piecing together the story, but these were mostly about the dashing adventures of Rey and his making of Kukan.  Ling Ai's contributions were elusive.

One of the most amazing finds during Robin's quest was tracking down the raw footage held in a Kansas salt mine (about two hours worth of film?) from the post-production manager for a 1993 Turner Broadcasting Station interview with Ling Ai for a special about the life of Robert Ripley (of Ripley's Believe It or Not).  Excerpts of the interview are included in Robin's film - Ling Ai appearing at age 85 - the interviewers intended her to only speak about Ripley but the salty diva veered off onto tangents concerning her own life.  Ling Ai was a co-host on Ripley's Believe It or Not, a national television show during the early years of broadcasting, and Ripley was her friend and associate.

The footage of Ling Ai enamored this blogger.  Perhaps more of the interview could be packaged for a future documentary.  In the meantime, there is a gem of a 26 minute audio of a radio interview with Ling Ai conducting a Chinese cooking lesson and is available on the Internet Archive.  Or more likely she was conducting a Chinese life lesson for listeners.

This blogger just received her used copy of Ling Ai's Life is For a Long Time, a Chinese Hawaiian Memoir, purchased online.  This 1972 work was actually about the immigrant experience of her parents and was also a pioneering first - the Asian American political movement began about 1968 - books about the Asian American experience trickled out in the 1970s, and this blogger took an Asian American history college course about 1975.  So Ling Ai's book, about the Asian experience, was groundbreaking, appearing a handful of years before Maxine Hong Kingston's 1976 book The Woman Warrior.  Because Ling Ai was not an academic as is Kingston (who is a California transplant living and teaching in Hawaii), Ling Ai went undetected on the literary world's radar.

In 1972 perhaps the ongoing war in Vietnam was on her mind.
  But her words could just as well apply to how many of us feel in any period of our lives -- like 2017

A comment made last month by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the U.S. Attorney General, reminds one that Hawaiian islanders are considered to be on the fringe of the country.  Sessions was reacting to a judicial block on the Muslim travel ban by saying “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

This post appears on May 19th, Ling Ai's birthday!  And it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Tribute for Mother's Day: Remembering Pío Pico's Moms

Pío de Jesús Pico has a birthday coming up (b. 5-5-1801).  The last governor of Alta California in the 1840s under Mexican rule is not forgotten.  Mother's Day is nearing, too, a good time to remember the women who mattered in his life.

Pico's African, Native American and Spanish heritage has been a source of pride and a point of interest among those who study his place in history.  His male antecedents are detailed in the only (to-date) biography (Pio Pico, the Last Governor of Mexican California, by Carlos Manuel Salomon, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2010), but his maternal forbears are not a focus of the biography nor are they mentioned in recent articles.  The adventures of Maria Feliciana Arballo y Gutierrez (Pico's maternal grandmother) were examined in a chapter called "Merry Widow of the Anza Expedition" in the 1963 publication Rose, or Rose Thorn?  Three Women of Spanish California, written by Susanna Bryant Dakin.

From Dakin's book Rose, or Rose Thorn?
Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research

According to historian Salomon, Pico's paternal great-grandfather, Pío Pico III, was Spanish-born and likely came to Mexico.  His son, Santiago de la Cruz Pico, was a mestizo who married Maria Jacinta Vasida, a mulata.  Mestizo meaning a man born to Spanish and Native American parents; mulata meaning a woman born to black and white parents.  Santiago had five sons, including José María Pico (Pico's father).

José María Pico was listed as "Spaniard" in the 1790 census.  He married to an "espanola" Maria Eustaquia Gutierrez.  Espanola referred to a "white" person, and these identifications may have provided them better privileges in the late colonial California.  (The accuracy of these labels "Spaniard" and "espanola" is arguable).  José María Pico served as a guard, moving from mission to mission "as duty called."  He was most likely posted at Mission San Gabriel where Pío Pico was born, and several years later he and his family relocated to San Diego. 

Historian Dakin wrote that Eustaquia migrated from Sinoloa, Mexico in September, 1775, at age 4, along with an older sister, Maria Tomasa, age 6.  The trip was expected to include the parents of the two sisters:  Feliciana (a mulata, b. 1755) and Juan Jose Gutierrez (a mestizo).  Also, other persons slated for this trip included Santiago de la Cruz Pico with family, including 11-year old José María Pico.

(Their trip is historically noteworthy - led by Juan Bautista de Anza on his second expedition to Alta California.  It would be another six years before a new group of Mexican colonists headed out to eventually establish El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles, or the town of the Queen of the Angels.)

The two girls' father died shortly before the departure.  Their mother proceeded as planned - an unusual decision by the newly widowed woman with young kids.  Apparently Feliciana provided moral support to the others during the trek that lasted from the fall of 1775 into the spring of 1776.  The details of Feliciana were included in diary entries of the expedition in disapproving tone by Father Font (translated by Herbert Eugene Bolton):  "It was somewhat discordant, and a very bold widow who came with the expedition sang some verses which were not at all nice, applauded and cheered by all the crowd!"

Dakin wrote that the colonists arrived at the San Gabriel River by spring, and Feliciana and her daughters did not continue the trip to the final destination of the San Francisco Bay.  Feliciana attracted attention upon her arrival in San Gabriel - supposedly striking love at first sight with a young soldier, Juan Francisco Lopez.  They married at Mission San Gabriel.

At 17, Eustaquia married fellow colonist José María Pico (he was seven years older).  She bore ten children, including seven daughters and three sons (one of whom was Pío Pico).  One of her granddaughters was Trinidad Ortega, whom Los Angeles's Spring Street was named.

Early Los Angeles's scant population meant familial ties were common:  Maria Eustaquia's older sister, Maria Tomasa (1769-1798) married Juan Jose Sepulveda (1764-1808), the son of Francisco Xavier Sepulveda.

The "merry widow" Feliciana died at San Diego in the year 1818.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New Simons Brick Company Photographs

These photographs were taken by Warren C. Dickerson, around 1900-1902.  They are identified as Simons Brick Company from the collections of the Seaver Center for Western History Research, accessible through their digital collection.  This was a brickmaking plant at 1119 So. Boyle Avenue, Los Angeles, in operation before Simons' plant number 3 opened in Montebello in 1905.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 Los Angeles' Exposition Park

This post looks at the transformation from recent years in Exposition Park, as captured by this blogger's camera.  Nothing ever stays the same - soon to break ground is the construction of George Lucas' Museum of Narrative Art.

The Expo Line

The light rail opened in April, 2012:

Taken about 2011 along Exposition Boulevard
A test run on the train
Photo taken in late 2016

Space Shuttle "Endeavour" Comes to Los Angeles

The Endeavour's new home was profiled in this early blog posting after its arrive in September of 2012.

Otis Booth Pavilion at the Natural History Museum

The dramatic façade housing the 63-foot-long fin whale skeleton was unveiled several years ago, on June 9, 2013, at the North Campus of the Natural History Museum.  Nearly 100 years earlier, on July 4th, the museum doors first opened to the public (months ahead of the official opening that was coordinated with the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in November, 1913).

One can relive the spectacular unveiling at the museum YouTube channel.

Shown here are photos of the challenging construction work:

At the early stage of the project

The frame being added

From July 2012
Taken in early March, 2013

Workers installing the sheets of glass

Taken in late March, 2013

At the base of the pavilion
A recent photo

University of Southern California

The southern side of USC at Figueroa and Exposition now includes the Fertitta Hall.  It opened September, 2016 as the home for the USC Marshall School of Business.  Below are images chronicling the construction:

Google screenshot captured March, 2015.  Center is the dirt patch of the future building
Another screenshot from Google Maps showing the imposing crane during the beginning phase of construction
Captured by yours truly on the morning commute.  Date now forgotten...

Another morning shot of the ongoing construction

Brave men almost done with the roofing
Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

The choice for the George Lucas museum was announced recently.  It will be in Exposition Park, along Vermont Avenue, just south of Exposition Boulevard.  Its eastern boundary will be Bill Robertson Lane (unless it takes up this part of the street, too) next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as well as the nearby Natural History Museum.  The reported plans are for the site to take over two large public parking lots:

Panoramic photo taken January 24, 2017 with a view towards the parking lots.
The trees and the side street on the left separate the two lots

Additional three photos taken January 23rd from the Natural History Museum.  Shown in order of views from south to north

Just a closing shot - a view onto USC from the Natural History Museum - after a storm