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Since 1970 Asian American Curriculum Project, Inc. - Books for All Ages August 2003
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MY WORD/Forbidden Dreams
Reproduced from
With permission from the author Ben Fong-Torres

I couldn't tell whether he was cold, crying, or what. Larry Ching, standing in his living room in his duplex in the Sunset District, his hands thrust into the pockets of his blue jeans, was shivering as the CD played.

Not just any CD, but his CD. He'd recorded most of the tracks in a studio at San Francisco State in late February, and now, a month or so later, he was hearing the results for the first time.

It wasn't finished yet. John Barsotti, who'd engineered and produced the recording session with me, was still tweaking the final mixes. I was still messing with the order of songs, and at least one of them still needed some editing.

But I couldn't wait to let Larry hear the recording he himself had waited to make for-oh, just about 60 years.

At 82, Larry Ching just may be the oldest artist releasing a debut album. Larry, old-timers may know, was a star performer at the Forbidden City, the legendary all-Chinese nightclub that flourished in the Forties and Fifties on Sutter Street, just outside Chinatown.

He was billed as "the Chinese Sinatra." But that was just hype, a way to help non-Chinese customers identify with the performers (there was also a "Chinese Sophie Tucker" and a "Chinese Fred Astaire"). Unlike Sinatra, Larry has a sweet tenor voice, perfectly suited to love songs like "Prisoner of Love" and "Embraceable You." As Arthur Lee, in his book, Picturing Chinatown, notes, "Ching had a full repertoire of songs and, with a range of several octaves, could ad-lib others at a moment's notice."

But when the Forbidden City folded in the early Sixties, Larry had no place to go. There was no market for Asian performers, who producers and promoters still saw as little more than a novelty. Larry became a truck driver for the local newspapers: the News, the Call-Bulletin, the Examiner and the Chronicle.

He still loved to sing, and would make appearances whenever he was asked. But for many years, that silk-sweet tenor of his went largely unheard.

And now, in his living room, he was listening to himself, backed by a stellar three piece combo, doing "I'm In the Mood for Love," "I Only Have Eyes For You," and a ripping "All of Me."

Larry is a man of extremely few words. But, after one tune, he'd say, "Band sounds nice." After another, he'd nod when his wife, Jane, or I offered a compliment. When the CD ended, he offered his hand. "Thank you," he said.

I had no reason to worry, then, about his shivering. He was simply soaking in, and responding to his own music.

Coming to San Francisco to attend S.F. State in fall 1962, I missed out on Forbidden City, which After about 30 years of writing about music-mostly rock-I've produced my first CD. I got the session together (courtesy of Barsotti), hired the musicians, licensed the music, got the CD designed and manufactured. It's been a lot of time, work, and money. But for Larry Ching, I had no choice.

had become a strip club before closing shop. It didn't matter. The Sixties were on us, and by the time I graduated, I was steeped in the rock scene, which I'd continue to cover when I got to the just-born Rolling Stone magazine in '68. By then, standards were strictly squaresville.

But not to me. As a kid, I appreciated the wizardry of a wide range of songwriting, from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Leiber & Stoller. And when, in 1989, Emerald Yeh of KRON and I were invited to co-host the world premiere of Forbidden City USA, Arthur Dong's fine documentary about the club and all the performers who smashed through racial and social barriers and stereotypes to be entertainers, I instantly fell in love with them all-on film and in person. One of them was Larry. On stage at the Palace of Fine Arts, he sang a few songs that took the crowd right back to the Forties. In the film, he spoke about dealing with racism, even from audience members. During the war, soldiers and tourists would call him "Chinaman" and "slant-eye," and he sometimes had to be restrained from jumping off the stage to confront them. "I had to accept it," he told me. "If I didn't, I wouldn't stay in the business."

A few years after that evening, Larry and I met again, when he sang at Emerald Yeh and Ron Blatman's wedding reception. I approached him and his regular pianist, George Yamasaki, about one day making a record. I wanted to preserve that voice of his, and to have his music available to whoever wanted it, and to others lucky enough to come along and discover it. Larry was agreeable, but, with life being what it is, "one day" became another day, for years.

Finally, late last year, we met again, at S.F. State, at a celebration of the DVD release of Forbidden City USA. Once again, I MC'd; once again, he sang, still beautifully. Meeting members of his family, watching as young people surrounded him, and listening in as he kibitzed happily with fellow Forbidden City alumni, I was more determined than ever to get him down on record.

And so we have. And I believe it's got an appropriate title: Till The End of Time.

Closing note: Larry Ching passed away on July 5, 2003

Up Coming Events

Here are some events that AACP will soon be attending.
Invite us to your events.

Aug. 10-15 Zephyr Point Fellowship Exhibit Sales Zephyr Point
Lake Tahoe, NV
Aug. 30-31
Cupertino's 5th Annual Moon Festival Memorial Park
Cupertino, CA
Sept. 6
9am - 4pm
Midori Kai Boutique Mt. View Buddhist Temple
Mt. View, CA
Other Event of Interest that AACP May Not Attend
Aug. 7-10 OCA's Annual Convention Honolulu, HI
Aug. 8-10
Pistahan Festival and Parade Yerba Buena Gardens
San Francisco, CA
Aug. 13-16 Asian American Journalists Association(AAJA)
16TH Annual Convention
Sheraton Hotel Marina
San Diego, CA
Aug. 16-17 Festival of India and Parade Fremont, CA
Sept. 6-7 Chinatown Autumn Moon Festival Chinatown
San Francisco, CA
Sept. 13
Sonoma County Bookfair Old Court House Square
Santa Rosa, CA

Give Us Your Feedback

Please feel free to send us your reviews, comments, and book suggestions. You can contact us at -

Addition to the AACP Link Page

Thank you Cynthia Konda for giving us the address to the Okasan & Me website. Cynthia's book and CD were featured in the July newsletter.

If you are an author, have a website, and are not already on our Link Page, let us know about your site. Thanks.

Editor's Message

Hello everyone. As you may have guessed from the articles and list of sale items at the bottom, this month's theme is multi-media. See, we are more than just a bookstore :). Our topics in the newsletter will vary widely from month to month. If you have some particular area that you wish for us to cover, please feel free to give us your feedback.

2004 Calendar
For those of you that saw our "
Asian Americans Celebrate 2003!" calendar, we're trying to make a new one for 2004. If you are a photographer or just a hobbyist and you have some great pictures that you could let us use for the 2004 calendar, please contact us as soon as possible. I know you're out there :), I remember talking to some of you, please help us out. We're looking for pictures that fit the theme of Asian Americans celebrating.

For those of you that know of some company or organization that would like to help sponsor the printing of the calendar, we could definitely use your help too. You could even put in an advance order and use the calendars for your organization's fundraising. Give us a call or email. We'd be glad to work with you.

One last thing, if you have some corrections or additions to the text of the 2003 calendar that you'd like us to make for the 2004 calendar, please email your suggestions to me as soon as possible.

Thank You
Thanks go to our interns Shirley, Alice, Melissa, and Lydia for helping with this month's newsletter.

Thank you Ben Fong-Torres for showing us his new CD of Larry Ching's music and for letting us reuse one of his articles. Ben deserves much praise for helping get this CD made and making Larry Ching's last days happy ones.

For anyone that enjoyed the documentary on the Forbidden City nightclub or anyone that was actually there, this CD is something that you must have. I hope I'm not over-doing this and sounding too much like an advertisement :), but our sale price is a really great bargain. The last time I checked Amazon's price on this CD, it was $15.99.

Have a wonderful remainder of the summer. Bye.

Leonard Chan

Affirmative Action for the Arts
An Editorial by Shirley Yang

Recently, during an early screening of the film Better Luck Tomorrow, which depicts Asian American high school students as overachievers moonlighting as criminals and murderers, a white man stood up and yelled at its director, "What kind of a portrait is this of Asian Americans? Don't you have a responsibility to paint a more positive and helpful portrait of your community?"

At this point Roger Ebert stood up in the film's defense, "What I find condescending and offensive about your statement is that nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How can you do this to your people?!' Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to 'represent' their people." And in his critique of the film in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert adds, "If [the director] had a responsibility to "his community," it was to make the best film he possibly could."

Rightly said. However, if the only responsibility of a director is to make the best film possible while disregarding political correctness, shouldn't the critics likewise judge the film purely by its artistic qualities while disregarding its social and political importance? Ebert claimed in the same critique that there should be "no place for political correctness in films." So should there be any place for political correctness in the review and promotion of films as well?

With the influx of Asian American forms of media such as the popular film Better Luck Tomorrow and the recently launched Hyphen Magazine making groundbreaking social impact for the Asian American community, it is especially hard for critics and promoters to ignore the political and social importance of these new works of art and focus objectively on its quality.

For example, Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow (BLT) recently made history as the first independent film starring and made by Asian Americans to be distributed by a major motion picture company (MTV Films). Also, it is one of the first American movies to break stereotypes by depicting Asians as characters other than gangsters, kung-fu fighters, bucktoothed waiters, bookworms, or exotic sexual prizes. In fact, Lin portrays the teenage boys of BLT just as they are--"teenagers of any race."

Despite the universal theme of Better Luck Tomorrow, its promoters and various Asian American groups such as the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the Japanese American Citizens League and the Asian American Journalists Association, are labeling it as a distinct Asian American film, separate of other American films starring and made by Caucasians, African Americans, Latin Americans and various other ethnic groups of America. According to the Orange County Register, the MANAA and various other Asian American groups are encouraging their members to buy out entire theaters in some cities in support of Asian Americans. Actor Roger Fan, who plays Daric in BLT, even said, "Even if you're going to another movie, buy a ticket to Better Luck Tomorrow and just sneak into the other theater." What these groups want is for demographics to show that Asian Americans are a marketable force.

Aki Aleong, actor and president of MANAA, explains, "We [Asian Americans] need to be part of the American scene." Yet, how can we say that Asian Americans are part of

the American scene if its movies, music, and culture are promoted as distinct from the mainstream America of which they wish to be a part? How can Better Luck Tomorrow be considered as part of greater America if its appeal ignores all the various other ethnic groups that comprise America?

This marketing goes against Lin's point in Better Luck Tomorrow that Asian Americans are just like other Americans of any race. By labeling BLT as a film for Asian Americans, promoters are showing America that these "teenagers of any race," are really of a distinct ethnic group and that Asian Americans aren't really "part of the American scene."

Why can't Better Luck Tomorrow just be a movie rather than an Asian American movie? The movie itself makes no reference to ethnicity or racial issues, so why should everyone else do so when discussing this movie? When Saving Private Ryan came out, was it promoted as a film directed by a Jewish American? If promoters want Asian Americans to be accepted as part of mainstream American culture, then it should stop trying to separate Asian American works from mainstream American works. It should stop labeling a work as distinctly Asian American so it can only appeal to Asian Americans.

Critics are also guilty of this labeling. In all their praises of Better Luck Tomorrow, critics extol Lin for his groundbreaking work in showing Asian Americans as a full range of characters with a full range of emotions. The San Francisco Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun and endless other newspapers all highlight Better Luck Tomorrow for how well it defies Asian American stereotypes.

It's great that Better Luck Tomorrow shows that Asian Americans are everyday people, but what about the pure, artistic quality of the film? Where is review of the acting, the direction, the production and the script? When does showing a full range of characters automatically make a movie great? The fact that American films should have well-rounded characters with a full range of emotions is a given. No critic should review a film purely on how lifelike its characters are. However when this Asian American film was released, critics review the social innovation of the film and not the quality of the film as art.

In contrast, "The Godfather" has been considered as one of the best American films of all time despite how much it reinforced stereotypes of Italians as violent Mafia kingpins. Most critics ignored the negative social influence that the film would make on America and reviewed it purely by its story, its acting, its direction. Why not use the same criteria for a film with an all Asian American cast?

Simply stated there should be no place for affirmative action in film reviews.

If Asian Americans want to be considered part of mainstream American culture, then their works should be reviewed by the same standard and promoted like any other mainstream American work. By separating Asian American works from mainstream American works, both critics and promoters are creating two different worlds--an America full of various ethnic groups and a separate, distinct Asian America that though lives side by side with mainstream America, is still not incorporated in it.


The following books are discounted for subscribers to our newsletter. The discounts on these books end September 7, 2003.

Till the End of Time

By Larry Ching
Produced by Ben Fong-Torres
2003, Audio CD.

CD Description -
In the 40s and 50s at the legendary Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco, Larry Ching was a star attraction, 'the Chinese Sinatra.' Now, just six decades later, he makes his first CD. To a collection of timeless American standards, including several that evoke his native Hawaii, Larry adds a shimmering musical stardust.

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3173, Price $12.50

Hyphen Magazine
Summer 2003

Publisher Yuki Tessitore
2003, 64 pages, magazine.

Description -
Hyphen is a magazine for Asian Americans that goes beyond identity issues and celebrities to take a look at what is really going on in the Asian American communities.

Hyphen is a magazine that speaks to those who have already found their identity as much as those who are still looking.

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3175, Price $4.95

Hayao Miyazaki
Master of Japanese Animation
Films, Themes, Artistry

By Helen McCarthy
2002, 239 pages, paperback.

Book Description -
Japanese writer, producer, and director Hayao Miyazaki has set new standards for feature-length animation. Now Helen McCarthy offers the first book in English to introduce all of the master's major works. Mixing interviews with critical evaluations of art, plot, production, and theme, she shows Hayao Miyazaki to be a meticulous craftsman whose films celebrate "the strength of nature, the struggle of lesser peoples against greater oppressors, the search for utopia, and the eternal importance of love."

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3174, Price $18.95

Rabbit in the Moon

Producer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor - Emiko Omori
Co-Producer - Chizuko Omori
Editor - Pat Jackson
1999, 85 minutes, video.

Video Description -
Rabbit in the Moon is a documentary/memoir about the lingering effects of the World War II internment of the Japanese American community. It is also the story of two sisters, both former internees, filmmaker Emiko Omori and writer Chizuko Omori, who revisited the absence of this vital history in their lives while searching for he memory of their mother.

View Additional Information
ORDER -- Item #3172, Price $40.00

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