I was invited by an old friend, Sabrina Chan who works for the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families to speak at conference titled Roots 2006 about youth and community resources, presented by the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. It was held at the Asian-Pacific American Department at NYU. Coincidentally, it was the last day of the Archivist of the Yellow Peril exhibit and I decided to snap some photos and share them. Check out that link along with an article reproduced from the New York Times about the exhibit, as well as a piece about it from NPR. The photo above is of Charlie Chan books and what I believe is a Charlie Chan puppet.


G.G. Rupert, The Yellow Peril or the Orient vs. the Occidental as Viewed by Modern Statesment and Ancient Prophets, 1911
G.G. Rupert was an influential independent minister of the Church of God (7th Day) who established many congregations across South America. Ruper traces clues in the Bible to identity with “the Kings of the East” (Revelation 16:12 as China, India, Japan and Korea. This yellow peril would attempt to overtake the modern incarnations of Israel (Britain and the United States). Jesus Christ, he predicted, would return to keep them at bay.

“The Crimson Kimono,” poster, 1959
Starring James Shigeta (b. 1933) as detective Joe Kojoku. First contemporary Asian American actor to be groomed by film studios to play romantic leads. Shigeta attended New York University majoring in English, with aspirations to become a teacher and writer.

Samuel Gompers, Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion, Meat vs. Rice, American Manhood Against Asiatic Cooliesm - Which Shall Survive? American Federation of Labor, 1901
Authored by a founding father of the U.S. labor movement, Gompers argued the Chinese were inherently submissive and would not demand fair wages. This stereotype led many to see Chinese men as a direct threat to white labor.

Wednell Thomas, Hinduism Invades America, 1930.
While Thomas states that his book is not “anti-Hindu,” he argues Hindu thought is, unbeknownst to most Americas, permeating American culture and replacing Christianity. Thomas’ expose of Hinduism’s hidden influence in the Christian Science movement and his investigations into many budding spiritual circles seeking to encourage Hindu thought in the United States promotes the image of an intellectual yellow peril conspiracy.

Evacuation notice, 1942.
Signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Executive Order 9066 (Februa7 19, 1942) ordered the immediate internment of all Americans of Japanese descent to concentration camps in remote areas of the West and the South.

New York Times
In a West Side Apartment, a World
by Anemona Hartcollis
Like ancient Egypt, which buried its dead surrounded by their worldly goods, New York seems to nurture the most fabulous pack rats. The Collyer brothers famously perished after being sealed in their Harlem brownstone by 180 tons of ephemera.

But few have heard of Yoshio Kishi, a 74-year-old Japanese-American film editor, who has made up, perhaps, for his unheralded jobs filling union-mandated slots on films like “Raging Bull” by filling his apartment near Lincoln Center with a relentless abundance of Asian-American memorabilia. I collect, therefore I am.

In the dimly lighted apartment, thousands of books, sealed in yellowing Mylar bags, bristle from floor to ceiling shelves in every room. Paper bags stuffed with records, videos, sheet music, pamphlets, buttons and even dolls march along all but a narrow alley of floor. Since Mr. Kishi’s mother, Haru, died in 2002, the collection has been inching into her once pristine bedroom.

He estimates that over 40 years, he has collected at least 10,000 items of Asian-Americana. Some universities have some of what he has, but experts say Mr. Kishi’s collection is distinguished not just by its size but by the eclectic nature of his curiosity and tastes.

His compulsion started with Mark Twain. “I had a craving,” Mr. Kishi explained, “not a craving, but I felt like rereading ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ ” He went to the library, but “Huckleberry Finn” was checked out, so he bought a copy instead. And then he kept buying more books, so that, as he put it, “When I feel like reading, it’s there.”

Once he hatched a plan to write a best-selling novel. Figuring that crime, sex and murder would be essential ingredients, he collected dozens of books like “Eros and Evil” and “A Thief’s Primer.” He never wrote the best seller, but the collection remained.

In the mid-1960’s, around his 30th birthday, he found himself in the throes of a classic identity crisis. He began to regret that he did not know more about his Japanese heritage. He had grown up in a predominantly Irish and Italian tenement neighborhood, about two blocks from where he lives now. During World War II, his immigrant parents avoided speaking Japanese, for fear of being labeled enemy aliens, and blended in by attending a Lutheran church.

In search of material that would explain his ethnic identity, Mr. Kishi began trolling flea markets in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. “For some reason I felt panic that if I didn’t find the material and preserve it, it would be lost,” he said.

With the help of his friend Irene Yah-Ling Sun, an actress and avid shopper, he collected arcana like a 1929 issue of the Master Detective, featuring an illustration of a long-nailed “Chinaman” threatening a blue-eyed blonde, the sheet music to “Chin-Chin Chinaman” from 1917, a set of Joe Jitsu and Dick Tracy hand puppets from 1961, and a Wheaties box decorated with a picture of the figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.

Mr. Kishi is partial to stories of humble immigrants, like his father, a houseman, and his mother, a seamstress. “I’m not moved by I. M. Pei, who gets millions of dollars for building a house,” he said.

By 1981, Mr. Kishi’s apartment was so cluttered that, as he put it, “It was either my mother or my books.” To relieve the pressure, he sold 1,500 items to the National Diet Library in Japan, the equivalent of America’s Library of Congress.

Now he is slowly transferring cartons of memorabilia to New York University, where John Kuo Wei Tchen, director of the university’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute, is trying to acquire Mr. Kishi’s archives. Some of the material, including first editions of Asian-American literary classics, Charlie Chan comics and World War II propaganda posters, is on view in an exhibition called “Archivist of the ‘Yellow Peril’ ” at the institute’s gallery, at 269 Mercer Street in Greenwich Village, through July 15.

Mr. Tchen, who organized the show, chose the demonization of Asian-Americans as a theme. To Mr. Kishi, who is proud of his range, that is “like talking about the black American experience and just talking about the Ku Klux Klan.” As he divests himself of his collection, Mr. Kishi may lose some of his hard-won identity, but there are compensations. Already, he has gained enough space to be able to replace his single bed with a double bed.

And he still maintains a robust interest in all sorts of trivia. He admires the actress Bernadette Peters and the Italian novelist Italo Svevo. He is fascinated by pigeons and by the Japanese Zero, the World War II fighter plane. “I also like squirrels,” he adds. Once the Asian-American artifacts are gone, the sky’s the limit.

More Media:

Village Voice: Fearing the Unfamiliar: A History of Asian Demonization - Archivist of the Yellow Peril
NYU Exhbits “Yellow Peril” Collection