Dear Mongol Empire, I’m sorry that I suggested you caused the Black Death. I’m sorry that I thought your tribe was a bunch of bloodthirsty barbarians who raged across Asia, killing everything that moved, just for fun. I don’t know where I got that idea.
I’m sorry that I mentioned that you used biological warfare to bring the Black Death to Europe, when it was more likely ships that brought infected animals and people from those voyages in search of Chinese silk and porcelains. And I sort of glossed over the millions of deaths of Mongolians and others in the Far East. I’m sorry that I thought this sort of caused the Renaissance rather than giving credit to the Khan’s enhancement of trade along the Silk Road which brought printing and gunpowder from the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty in Northern China to the West.
I’ll admit, I was a little confused about why the Mongols could end up being called hordes, Tartars, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Buddhists, Muslims, and worshipers of a Sky God (Tenggeri). I think I’ve finally figured all that out. “Hordes” comes from a Turkish word ordu which means group, so it’s not throwing shade to say Mongol hordes. Anyway, I’m sorry I thought you all looked like Shan Yu in “Mulan.” I don’t know where that came from. (Oh, maybe “Mulan”?)
Mea culpa. Wait… that’s Latin. How about намайг уучлаарай?
Imagine you’re eleven years old and live in one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. Gun violence surrounds you. Father in prison, mother with substance abuse problems, kids at school throw your homework in the trash. Even the tap water is poisoned. You learn to stick up for yourself; you learn to fight back. Then, you find out you can fight in a gym–hallelujah! Except that you’re a girl.
Fast forward six years, and the gym has let you, Claressa Shields from Flint, Michigan, hang around and learn some things. No longer a punk little kid, you’ve been fighting with the gloves on, boxing for six years. In some sports, you’d be called a prodigy, but this sport isn’t for girls, isn’t for ladies, so you get no respect.
You have won your first 25 matches. The one place you can gain respect–the biggest international tournament on earth–is finally allowing women in to box. The 2012 Olympics is coming, and you can qualify, if you just defeat one more person. She’s older; she’s taller; she’s also never lost. She’s English. Her name is Savannah Marshall. And she beats you.
Quick–who’s your favorite Asian American actor? How about who’s your favorite Chinese-Minnesotan actor? This dude, I’ll bet.
James Hong turned 93 this year, and he’s been acting since before the Korean War. In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, it seemed only fitting to celebrate a gentleman who has had to play That Chinese Guy for seven decades. He only just got the star he deserved.
Number One Son
Hong was born in Minnesota in 1929. His father owned a restaurant. James spent a few of his early years in Hong Kong but came back home and completed high school in the land of golden gophers, making pies and serving coffee at dad’s business. Apparently, he hung out with the drill team helping with their sets and props. While he studied civil engineering at USC initially, his interest was more in their acting school.
I must interject to point out that my mother was born in 1930 in the Midwest and also went to high school less than a hundred miles away. She was a cheerleader before she got a Ph.D. in American Studies. Maybe they saw each other across the football field! Cheerleading and being part of the drill team were clearly handled by different cliques by the time I was in high school.
James finished the engineering degree, which sounds more like his parents’ idea than his, and worked as a road engineer in LA, acting on the weekends. He then went into the army during the Korean War (my father, same age, was sent to Germany during the Cold War). While he was in basic training, the army assigned him to Special Services, the entertainment division. They realized, as he did, that the Korean troops would likely shoot at him in a U.S. uniform, and that his own troops might as well. Better to have him tell jokes, do skits. Something tells me he always played the hapless Korean.