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Asian Pacific American Heritage Month - Has Jack Singing “I Enjoy Being Chinese!”

May is the “official” Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, but the celebration of the contributions, cultures, foods and legacies of the vast Asian American community throughout the U.S. just doesn’t stop…ever! It takes all twelve months in the year nowadays to experience what the diverse Asian American experience has to offer. For APA Heritage Month in May 2006, in Los Angeles alone, dozens of events filled the calendar with a huge variety of offerings that included film festivals, plays, music, new books, readings, parades, observances, reflections, and – of course – tributes! For me personally, May 2006 was a super time – I had fun roles in two movies that were released and well-received: “Akeelah and the Bee” starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett; and “Art School Confidential” starring John Malkovich, Anjelica Huston and Max Minghella. They’re still in theaters, and should be avail on DVD soon. Also, I was very pleased to be among a group of my favorite actors who were recognized by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California. Please read on…
Jack and Russell Wong sign commemorative poster
 at Salute to Chinese American Actors gala.

Jack sings his song parody, "I Enjoy Being Chinese,"
 to fellow honorees at Salute to Chinese American Actors.


From Excluded to Saluted:
Heritage Month Event Honoring Actors
Emphasizes Chinese Progress in U.S. Since 1882

 By Jeannie Liu & Dr. Donald Loo

The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California’s “Salute to Chinese American Actors” on Saturday, May 6, “raised the bar again” in the realm of Society events, according to President Kenneth L. Chan, who said the gala was the most glamorous and successful in CHSSC history. It was touted as one of the “premier events” of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

As co-chairs of the event, we humbly concur! Fundraising aside, the Society board of directors and our dinner committee colleagues are still in “seventh heaven” when we think of the smiles, cheers, laughter and joy that we saw and felt throughout the VIP reception sponsored by Washington Mutual as well as the dinner and honors program that followed, emceed by the beautiful Miranda Hoh, who was radiant in her turquoise, floor length cheongsam, keeping the proceedings smooth and lively.

Our “Salute to Chinese American Actors” was memorable in a very significant way: 124 years ago that same day, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law, discriminating against Chinese in the areas of immigration, labor and citizenship. That racist Act was not repealed until December 17, 1943.

Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, when Chinese were recruited and imported as coolie laborers, there was another milestone date -- May 10, 1869, the official completion and dedication of the first transcontinental railway, the western half of which was built largely by those Chinese workers, who were completely excluded from credit for their backbreaking contributions.

A somber hush could be audibly felt during the screening of our Society’s 30-year commemoration movie, “Achieving Our Dreams,” during the scenes showing how CHSSC fighting again today for Chinese American justice in the matter of the 100-plus graves of early immigrants which were unearthed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last summer in its Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension light rail excavations in Boyle Heights. Our Society is at the forefront of community activism currently working to ensure the proper reinternment of the remains.

As for the 14 talented actors CHSSC honored on the evening of May 6 (six honorees were unable to attend), those men and women realize all too well the discrimination and lack of diversity that continues to plague the entertainment industry today. It really hasn’t been that long since Asian roles were played by non-Asian performers. For example, Mickey Rooney, Alec Guinness and Ricardo Montalban as Japanese in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “A Majority of One” and “Sayonara,” respectively; Katharine Hepburn and Luise Rainer as Chinese in “Dragon Seed” and “The Good Earth”; Rex Harrison playing Siamese in “Anna and the King of Siam”; Warner Oland as “Charlie Chan”; and the list goes on and on.

So it was genuine respect and support we felt in the packed room of over 400 people who applauded and cheered as Society president Ken Chan draped the distinctive signature CHSSC medals on  George Kee Cheung (“Rush Hour”), Chao-Li Chi (“Falcon Crest”), Tsai Chin (“Joy Luck Club”), James Hong (“Big Trouble in Little China”), Alvin Ing (“Pacific Overtures”), Dana Lee (“X Files”), Jodi Long (“All American Girl”), Lisa Lu (“Last Emperor”), Julia Nickson (“China Cry”), Jack Ong (“Art School Confidential”), Freda Foh Shen (“Red Doors”), Elizabeth Sung (“Young and the Restless”), Lauren Tom (“A Chorus Line”) and Russell Wong (“Vanishing Son”). Missing honorees (all were “in action” elsewhere, we’re happy to report) who will receive their medals later were Michael Paul Chan (“The Closer”), François Chau (“Lost”), Dennis Dun (“Midnight Caller”), Nancy Kwan (“World of Suzie Wong”), Tzi Ma (“Akeelah and the Bee”) and Ming-Na (“ER”).

Speaking of Russell Wong, he won the “Ladies Choice Award” hands-down, judging by the screams of young girls when he was first introduced. Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, Melody Cheng, and her court (Nancy Kwong, Kaye Ponnusamy and Angela Chao Roberson) were no exception.  And when it came time to collect the special poster exhibit that was on display in the hotel lobby, one board was lost – the one with Russell’s photo, of course!

Another highlight of the event was seeing the honorees sign the special collector’s poster created by Gina Leslie specifically for the CHSSC “Salute to Chinese American Actors” – a collage of unusual photos from each star’s career.

Nor will we soon forget Broadway star Alvin Ing crooning “You Are Beautiful” (from “Flower Drum Song”) to the “Joy Luck Club” ladies, Tsai, Lisa, Lauren and Elizabeth. And who could resist clapping along during the truly grand finale with Jack Ong, who brought us to a standing ovation with his rendition of “I Enjoy Being Chinese” – special lyrics he wrote to the catchy tune of “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (also from “Flower Drum Song”)! His tongue-in-cheek lyrics said it all about the Chinese American mystique, with humor, poignancy and dead-on accuracy. Encore!

Speaking of "Akeelah and the Bee", this Pic of the Week was caught by Colin Sowa of Palm Springs, who was vacationing
 at the Russian River and "came across a small weird theater in the town of Rio Nido"!
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