Some thoughts on racial (non)representation in a book about San Francisco – Part 2

In part 1, I discussed the under-representation of Asian Americans in a panel about the book The Season of the Witch. In this part, I look at the book itself.

First of all, I’ve noticed that, out of all of the reviews of the book on Goodreads, the one with the most likes is this review.

I think Talbot paid a little more than lip-service to the African American community – there are two entire chapters focused on African-Americans, and there are a number of other chapters where African-Americans are dicussed, heck, the book even mentions Sylvester, a prominent queer African-American (though it only mentions Sylvester on two pages and almost does not mention that he was African-American, while having an extended discussion of Sylvester’s white colleague Hibiscus), but I otherwise agree with the reviewer about the book’s “white scope”.

However, in a book that is over 400 pages long, Asian-Americans only get serious discussion in one 9-page chapter “The Empress of Chinatown” (one of the shortest in the books), and that chapter is mostly about Rose Pak, Ed Lee, and Gordon Chin, and does not even really describe how Rose Pak “was able to protect her own community from suffering the same fate as the Fillmore district.”

Speaking of the Fillmore district … the book gives the “negro removal” in the Fillmore district quite a bit of attention, as it should, and one the audience members who got the microphone also made a big deal about it, yet the book – nor anybody at the panel – even mentioned that Japanese-Americans were forcibly removed from the Fillmore District before African-Americans were. It is yet another example of how relevant Asian-American history got ignored.

I was also really surprised that destruction of the International Hotel only got three paragraphs (in that same short chapter – “The Empress of Chinatown”). The book puts a lot of emphasis on the radical leftist groups in San Francisco, especially the Symbionese Liberation Army, so why not mention the radical leftist groups which were involved in the struggle over the International Hotel? Also, there are multiple chapters about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple – why not mention the role he played in the International Hotel saga? I certainly think the International Hotel merited its own chapter in the book.

The book discusses various racial conflicts in San Francisco … where Asian Americans are conspicuously absent. The only thing the book has to say about Asian Americans and the Zebra Murders (which, according to the book, nearly caused a rupture in racial relations in San Francisco) is:

When the city was convulsed by the SLA and Zebra, Chin and his fellow activists just kept their heads down. “We knew all that stuff was just a passing circus,” he reflected. “We were committed activists who were in it for the long haul. We weren’t out to overthrow the American government or even city hall.”

Okay, so that was Chin and his colleagues’ take on the Zebra murders, but what about the Chinese-American community in general, or other Asian-American communities? Also, just because Gordon Chin and his associates were not so interested in revolution, that was not true of all Asian-American activists – one of the groups which was most active in the struggle over the International hotel was a Filipino-American communist organization with ties to the Communist Party of the Philippines, which was (and still is) waging guerilla warfare against the government of the Philippines (there is more information in the book San Francisco’s International Hotel by Estella Habal).

Speaking of Jim Jones again, much is made of the interracial nature of his church, Peoples Temple, yet nothing is said about where Asian-Americans fit into this. Were Asians significantly represented in Peoples Temple, or not? If yes, that should have been mentioned. If no, it should have been mentioned that the People’s Temple was not appealing to a major racial group in the city. Someone in the book is quoted in the chapter “The Reckoning” as saying “I still think the goals of the Peoples Temple was beautiful: black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, all coming together.” Asian-Americans are not on the list.

I continue in Part 3 with more thoughts on the way the book presents Asian-Americans, as well as Latinos and American Indians.

1 thought on “Some thoughts on racial (non)representation in a book about San Francisco – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Some thoughts on racial (non)representation in a book about San Francisco – Part 5 | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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