Friday, March 16, 2012

The Year in Review: Second Anniversary

In March 2010 I decided to start a blog about a guy in New York City who is working on his Ph.D. He is researching and writing on the history of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, on labor and environment, and on the interconnections between China, the United States, and Pacific Islands in the nineteenth century.


Yeah, I know.

But this blog has turned out to be about so much more than just that. Last March, in the year 2011, I summed up my first year of blogging with an anniversary post. Today I would like to sum up the most recent year with a second one.

The view from Vault Hill, Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx. This is what I do in my free time: wander the city I love.

A Year in a Blog

So what did I write about last year, in case you missed it?

Well, in April 2011 I went on a "China" kick. Which makes sense. I was TA-ing at the time for a class on imperial Chinese history, and doing quite a bit of reading of Chinese history on my own.

And watching Chinese films. After a decade of absorbing and enjoying mainland Chinese cinema, in April I wrote a review of the state of Chinese film.

But one film really stood out for me. "Take Out" is a semi-fictional film about an illegal immigrant from China who works for a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. Watching these "take-out boys" riding their bicycles past me along the busy streets and avenues everyday, I had never really stopped to think about the labor and migration issues here. After watching the film, I will admit that I thought about volunteering my time in Chinatown - perhaps volunteering to teach English - but I never did. Yet I did engage myself in reading more about the recent history of labor migration from China to the United States, especially to NYC in the 1990s and 2000s. I love it when a film makes you want to change the way you approach your own life. This film did that. I am more aware now of the migrant laborers all around me in the city, and I want to make sure their stories are told.

Passover came in April as well. And every Passover I fast from certain restricted foods for eight days and I think about what "slavery" was and is. Unfortunately, slavery is still among us. This passover we should all commit not only to remembering historic Jewish slavery, but working just as hard to stamp out the enslavement of other peoples today, including those presently living under Israeli occupation - a tragic irony.

But don't forget what also happened last spring: in late February 2011 over a thousand New Yorkers rallied in Manhattan on Feb. 26 in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin, who were then fighting their Governor, Scott Walker. Walker tried to strip the unions of their collective bargaining rights, and he ultimately succeeded. The 2011 Wisconsin protests galvanized my own union into action, and they also showed the power of the Arab Spring to reenergize the American left.

Later that day (Feb. 26, 2011) thousands rallied at Foley Square in NYC in support of Planned Parenthood and defending women's reproductive rights.

On the steps of a courthouse at Foley Square, women held a homemade banner that read: "Feminism is for Lovers."

In May 2011, I pooped out, traveled home to upstate New York, and wrote a poem about spring, and photographed the skunk cabbages peaking out from the forest floor.

In June 2011, I moved upstate for one and half months for a summer job at a historic house museum. In my free time, I enjoyed exploring the Catskill mountains, and enjoyed (a bit less) beginning preparations for my doctoral program's oral examination.

On June 11, 2011, my fiancee and I visited Farm Sanctuary in Western New York. I had interned there in the early 2000s. I was pleased to meet all the animals - especially this pig! - and the visit was a reminder for myself why I am vegan, and what my choices mean for the lives of animals like this one.

We drove down beautiful country roads...
The trip reminded me again why I love upstate New York.

June ended with a bang as the New York State legislature moved towards consideration of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. This was an issue my partner and I had fought for for many years (we are straight, but stand in solidarity, as all people committed to love should). I felt extremely lucky to be so close to Albany during the final weeks of deliberation of the bill. As the vote neared, I traveled to the capitol everyday immediately after work and held a sign saying "Marriage is a Civil Right!" and sang songs and chanted and stomped and clapped my hands among wonderful new friends. And every time a senator passed by, we confronted him or her (usually "him," unfortunately). We flooded their emails and answering machines with messages. On the day of the vote, I rallied at the capitol for a few hours then caught a bus to NYC. As I arrived at home to my loving partner the senate was debating the bill. We watched it live along with 50,000 other New Yorkers as the State Senate voted to approve the Marriage Equality Act of 2011! That evening we walked down to the historic Stonewall Inn for a rally, and ended up making many wonderful friends there! A few days later we marched along with tens of thousands of others in the city's Gay Pride Parade. It was, hands down, some of the most euphoric days of 2011, and of my entire life. Because while I am not new to advocacy and public protest, it is a rare thing indeed to actually win, and to win so big. And for tens of thousands of loving couples in New York State, it was worth it.

At the Hudson Pride Parade, June 18, 2011

Beautiful ladies at the Hudson Pride Parade, June 18, 2011

Passing the historic Stonewall Inn, the NYC Gay Pride Parade, June 26, 2011. This was just two days after New York State passed the Marriage Equality Act.

In July 2011, I moved back to NYC for the remainder of the summer, and wrote up my post about the marriage equality fight and how I was trying to continue my orals prep though it all.

I also began breaking down some of the 2010 U.S. Census data on Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, which is pretty interesting stuff.

On July 29-31, 2011, we camped out on the North Fork of Long Island, an annual tradition. Down at the beach I photographed people fishing in the Long Island Sound.

I photographed peaches at an orchard near our campsite. (We bought many!)

And I photographed piping plovers looking for washed-up snacks in the sand.

In August 2011, I continued breaking down U.S. Census data, actually finding out some of the answers to the questions I could not answer in my July post.

Also in August I finished teaching my course on "Pacific Islands: Histories of Paradise" at SUNY-Stony Brook. It was the first time I had taught an undergraduate course on Pacific history. I wrote about my teaching philosophy and methodology, and mused about the results of it all in late August after the course had just ended. In the end, it was so much fun teaching the class. I had a wonderful group of engaged and smart and charismatic students, and of course, I feel very passionately about the topic, so somehow the 3.5 hour classes just flew by each week! I would teach the course again in a heartbeat. One of the great things I learned this summer is that I love teaching. I have chosen the right career path!

On August 28, 2011, Hurricane Irene hit my fiancee's hometown in the upstate New York. The Hudson River crested the riverbank and flooded the shore.

In New York City, people thought Hurricane Irene was a dud. But it caused extensive damage in small towns all across upstate New York. August 28, 2011.

September 2011 went by without a post - the first month ever without writing a post.

In the calm of early September...
Sept. 10, 2011, we visited Ocean City, New Jersey. It was a beautiful evening for amusement park rides!

And walking on the boardwalk, Sept. 10, 2011

We arrived back in New York City on the evening of September 11, 2011, the ten-year anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center. It was such a humid and misty evening. I found the huge spotlights eerie and beautiful. And the rising Freedom Tower looked like one of those red, white, and blue popsicles we used to eat as kids.

Something remarkable happened in September in New York City, and it is worth flashing back to that moment, six months ago, to put the last six months in perspective.

On September 17, 2011, as many as 5,000 Americans gathered on Wall Street in lower Manhattan to begin what was perhaps the most ambitious public protest in recent American history. They committed to come to Wall Street, to "occupy" it, and to not let it go until the U.S. financial system was restructured in some way to hold big banks accountable for tanking the economy and to ensure that the other 99% of Americans have access to the same political power as the moneyed 1%.

I actually did not hear about Occupy Wall Street until after the pepper-spraying incident on September 26. But where was my mind at the time, I don't know... Caught up in the whirlwind of the fall semester then in its early weeks? I heard about the Occupy Wall Street protestors, but I didn't think even once of joining them.

But in the last few days of September I noticed more and more of my friends posting supportive messages on social media about the movement.

Then, on October 1, seven hundred protestors were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. I heard about it that evening at a dinner party. It sounded to me, like it did to everyone I knew, like the NYPD had lost their marbles. Why on Earth arrest seven hundred people? Well, no matter what their reasons, the NYPD's actions put OWS on the map, and nationwide media began taking notice. And I did, too.

On October 5, I joined my first OWS event, a march from Foley Square to Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) with union allies. Among 5,000 others, I helped occupy Zuccotti Park (if only for an hour of my time!). Walking through the park, from the kitchen, to the library, to the medical station, and among many, many small groups of people talking together about their hopes and dreams and practical plans of action, I was truly inspired by what I witnessed. Young and old, black and white, gay and straight (although recognizing that there were perhaps too many straight white men represented overall), I saw a community forming that had never quite formed like this before. I remember that my first impression of the occupation of Liberty Square was, "this is what Tiananmen must have felt like." Of course, Tiananmen was tens of times larger, both in the size of the space and the number of students and workers participating. But the spirit was similar to everything I had read and seen about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. I only hoped that the outcome would be very different. And it has been, thank God.

In October 2011, actually just a few days after the Oct. 5 march, I wrote a post calling for an occupation of Stony Brook, the university where I study and teach. If you wonder why I thought this was a good idea, you have to read the post.

I doubt anyone was influenced by the post, except myself. In a sense it was a cop-out post, because, as I stated quite clearly, I didn't feel like I was in any position to actually start an occupation of the university. As a graduate student, but also an instructor, I couldn't really make sense of where I fit in there. I hoped that undergraduate students would take the lead, and then I could give support where needed. In fact, some students did take the lead. In October an Occupy Stony Brook coalition was formed, and while they are not physically occupying space, they have put on events and are attempting to engage the campus community on important issues.

The Occupation of Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park), as it was on October 14, 2011. This multi-faith religious space was maintained by occupiers in the northwest corner of the square.

In November 2011, I wrote about my ongoing language study: first Chinese, then Hawaiian, then back to Chinese, and now a little Spanish.

And for Thanksgiving, I gave thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, and to my friends and family who have supported the movement. If you are interested in what went down between October 5 and November 17 in the occupation of New York City, please read my post where you will find lots of photos and videos as well.

I should say, Thanksgiving was a real turning point for me and my relationship with the movement. I went upstate for a week and came back tired rather than refreshed. I was a bit tired, as everyone was, from the previous week when both the occupation at Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) was evicted by the NYPD on Nov. 15, and then over 30,000 protestors converged on NYC to shut down Wall Street on Nov. 17.

The Occupation of Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) as it was, on a bitter cold morning, November 5, 2011.

And the semester wrapped up in December 2011. And I, beginning research for my current project on Hawaiian labor in nineteenth-century California, wrote a post about the way "Kanakas" have been represented in American history.

In the wake of the Nov. 15 eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Liberty Square, occupiers sought a new location - for many of them were homeless and had no where else to go. A group of young men and women conducted a hunger strike to pressure Trinity Church into giving OWS access to their unused private lot at Duarte Square. Trinity Church would not comply. December 17, 2011.

But the creative energy of Occupy Wall Street continued through the winter. A puppet show at Duarte Square. December 17, 2011.

As for 2012? The first month, January, was all about final preparations for my oral examination, which I passed in early February 2012. A few weeks after passing the exam, I wrote a little update on the whole Ph.D. thing, announcing my near-candidacy (if I can say so), having completed all the requirements for the Ph.D. but for approval of the dissertation proposal, and then approval of the actual dissertation!

A patriotic protestor holds an Occupy Wall Street banner and an American flag in front of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in NYC. Mitt Romney was inside hosting a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser for his presidential campaign. March 14, 2011.

It has been awfully nice to put my language exam and oral exam behind me. This semester I have committed most of my energy to writing my dissertation prospectus, continuing work on my history of Hawaiian laborers in California, and flirting with reengagement with social and political issues. And that's where things stand now in March 2012.

What's Next?

Hard to say.

I may teach a class this summer on "Dirty and Dangerous Jobs in American History." Actually, I probably will teach the class - one that I've designed myself. The course bridges labor and environmental histories of the United States, from the colonial period to the present day. And it will include some pretty cool assignments (like having students investigate and write about a workplace of their choosing, preferably their own worksite or a family member's, to keep it safe and within the law, of course), and we will watch some pretty cool films (like Salt of the Earth. Heard of that one? It's worth a watch).

I may go to Hawaiʻi. It all depends on funds. If I do go, I'll visit the University of Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiʻi State Archives, the Bishop Museum, and other institutions on Oʻahu seeking out primary documents in both English and Hawaiian from the nineteenth century. If I go, it will be fun, and extremely productive, although I will miss home.

And I am getting married this summer!!! And honeymooning in Peru!!!
(When I am much older and I look back at 2012, I am sure the most vivid memories I will retain will be of the joy I felt in marrying the love of my life!)

The next year, really the next few two or three years, will be committed primarily to researching and writing my dissertation. Expect updates on that project again and again and again. And as I visit archives and historic sites, and look through primary sources, I hope I can post about these adventures on this blog, for those passionate about historical research, and for those who just like good detective stories, for that's what "doing history" is all about.

As for Occupy Wall Street? Tomorrow (March 17, 2012) marks exactly six months since the occupation began (Sep. 17, 2011). Will we see an American Spring? I am so curious to know, and so hopeful to see a great change occur, that you can be sure I will be there.

Spring is Coming. Re-occupying Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park), March 15, 2011.

I am more committed than ever to taking photographs of Occupy Wall Street events and making videos of marches, rallies, and arrests. I don't know, I guess it's just the historian in me. I want to contribute to the historical record, and I want someday in the future to be able to look back and see what was accomplished.

I do not currently have a public photo-streaming site, but I am regularly posting videos here.

Here's to a great 2012 everyone! I wish all my friends and loved ones the best!

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