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Literary Artists Inspired by Media Art at “AT FIRST LIGHT” Special Program Sept. 19 in Little Tokyo

Los Angeles, CA—In a special program organized by Visual Communications—the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts organization—and the Japanese American National Museum, ten locally based literary artists will perform original works inspired by media arts works featured in the ongoing VC Founders’ photographic exhibition, At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America on Thursday, September 19, in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.

Asian Americans for Peace Rally
Photo by Robert A. Nakamura

The special program, “Reflections/Refractions: 10 Works Inspired by At First Light,” aims to consider the impact of the still images and artifacts contained in the exhibition through the impressions and creative interpretations of Asian Pacific American literary and performing artists. Inspired in part by a unique literary challenge published in June 2019 in the New York Times’ “Books” section, “Reflections/Refractions” draws upon the creativity, inspiration, and imagination of artists whose specialty is not perceived by most to be associated with visual or cinematic arts.

“‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ or so the saying goes,” remarked Eddie Wong, Visual Communications co-founder and co-organizer of the At First Light photo exhibition who was inspired to organize “Reflections/Refractions” with poet/essayist Amy Uyematsu and VC staff member Abraham Ferrer. “But as the images and artifacts featured throughout the At First Light exhibition make clear, pictures can inspire new ways of interpreting our lives and experiences in America. We’re thrilled to enhance our ongoing partnership of At First Light with our friends and colleagues at the Japanese American National Museum, and to invite just a small sampling of our communities’ many artists to be inspired to create new and original works based on VC’s sizeable visual legacy.”

“The Japanese American National Museum is gratified with its ongoing partnership with Visual Communications that produced the groundbreaking show, At First Light,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM President and CEO. “This special program, ‘Reflections/Refractions,’ features the new works of these community artists, most of whom are very familiar to our institution. JANM and VC share many of the same goals, including fighting racist stereotypes and discrimination, standing up for social justice, and documenting histories long ignored by mainstream institutions. This program embodies our partnership with Visual Communications and JANM is pleased to be part of its presentation.”

The literary artists who have accepted the “Reflections/Refractions” challenge include:

  • Teresa Mei Chuc, Poet Laureate of Altadena (2018 to 2020), and the author of three full-length collections of poetry including, Red Thread (Fithian Press, 2012), Keeper of the Winds (FootHills Publishing, 2014), and Invisible Light (Many Voices Press, 2018). Her poetry appears in journals such as Consequence Magazine, Kyoto Journal, The National Poetry Review, Rattle, and in anthologies such as New Poets of the American West (Many Voices Press, 2010) and Inheriting the War: Poetry and Prose by Descendants of Vietnam Veterans and Refugees (W.W. Norton, 2017). An MFA graduate in Creative Writing program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, Chuc teaches literature and writing at a public high school in Los Angeles.

  • Naomi Hirahara, an Edgar Award-winning mystery novelist, social historian, and writer of nonfiction books on the Japanese American experience. A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo, she most recently co-wrote Terminal Island: Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor (Angel City Press) and Life After Manzanar (Heyday Books). Her Mas Arai mystery series, which ended with the Edgar-nominated Hiroshima Boy, have been translated into Japanese, Korean, and French. She is also the writer of the Officer Ellie Rush mysteries; a middle-grade novel, 1001 CranesIced in Paradise, which will be released in September 2019.

  • Miya Iwataki helped build Serve the People programs inspired by the Black Panther Party with JACS Asian Involvement in Little Tokyo, the first Asian movement center while living in a political collective in Boyle Heights. She was director of the first Asian Women’s Center; a delegate to UN Decade for Women Convention in Nairobi, Kenya, sponsored by United Nations NGO; and fought for Redress/Reparations with NCRR. Poet, writer, KPFK Radio host; Rafu Shimpo columnist, her life experiences have informed her cultural and political activism.

  • traci kato-kiriyama is an award-winning artist, community organizer, and cultural producer; performer/principal writer of PULLproject Ensemble; director/co-founder of Tuesday Night Project; Steering Committee member of Vigilant Love; member of Nikkei Progressives and Okaeri. traci has been presented in hundreds of venues throughout the country as a performer/actor/theatre collaborator/storyteller/poet/author/educator/organizer and their writing, commentary, and work appears through a wide variety of platforms [NPR; PBS; C-SPAN;; The Hollywood Reporter; Entropy; Regent Press; Heyday Books; Tia Chucha Press; Chapparal Canyon Press; Writ Large Press].

  • Kenji Liu is author of Monsters I Have Been (Alice James Books, 2019) and Map of an Onion, national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize (Inlandia Institute). His writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Gulf Coast, Apogee, and elsewhere, including two chapbooks and several anthologies. An alumnus of Kundiman, VONA/Voices, the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and the Community of Writers, he lives in occupied Tongva land.

  • Koji Steven Sakai has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films; a one-hour comedy special on Starz, Comedy Invasion, a television series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians, that is currently streaming on Hulu; and Brash Girls Club, a limited comedy series, which will be premiering on Tubi TV.

  • Irene Suico Soriano, an immigrant FilipinX American poet and independent literary curator who authored Primates from an Archipelago and co-founder of the creative lab, Kitakits-LA. She founded and coordinated the reading series “Wrestling Tigers: Asian Pacific American Writers Speak” at JANM. She also participates in antivivisection activism because she believes in the fundamental rights of nonhuman animals to live their lives, free from harm, pain, exploitation, and captivity.

  • Amy Uyematsu is a sansei and 3rd-generation Angeleno. She was active during the early years of the Asian American movement and co-edited Roots: An Asian American Reader. She’s published five collections of poetry, including her most recent book, Basic Vocabulary. Amy teaches a writing workshop at the Far East Lounge in J-Town. Now retired, she taught high school math for LAUSD for 32 years.

  • Eric C. Wat is the author of SWIM (The Permanent Press, 2019), a novel about a drug-addicted gay Asian man planning his mother’s funeral, and The Making of a Gay Asian Community: An Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). He is working on a community memoir of the AIDS movement in the API communities in Los Angeles, for which he received a research fellowship from the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in 2018.

  • Stan Yogi is co-author of the award-winning books Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (with Laura Atkins), and Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants Strikers and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California (with Elaine Elinson). He is the co-editor of two books, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley and Asian American Literature: An Annotated Bibliography.

Additionally, two local musicians will compose a new piece of music inspired by an image selected from the At First Light photo exhibition, and perform their works to open and close the program:

  • Dom Magwili (banjo; guitar) wrote and co-directed Much Adobo About Nothing, nominated for Best Independent Film for 2000 by AMagazine. He and his wife Sachiko created the musical, A Jive Bombers Christmas which has been produced 10 times in 14 years, mostly at JANM. More recently, he directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the EWP Conservatory. He teaches Asian American Film and Video for the Department of Asian American Studies at Cal State Fullerton.

  • Taiji Miyagawa (upright acoustic bass) has collaborated with Asian American artists including the late composer/pianist Glenn Horiuchi, the band Hiroshima, Philip Kan Gotanda, Lawson Inada, and Nobuko Miyamoto. A frequent music accompanist for poet Amy Uyematsu, Miyagawa is currently the bassist for the Crenshaw-based quartet, LosAKAtombros.

“Visual Communications’ ongoing legacy as a creator and incubator of media art extends far beyond the movie screen. In fact, it can be said that we have embraced all major forms of communication, visual, and cinematic arts,” said Abraham Ferrer, VC’s Archives and Distribution Manager. “In spotlighting the literary arts as our muse and as our inspiration, we not only recognize an art form that arguably jump-started the ‘Asian American Movement,’ but one whose practitioners continue to inspire our aspirations to tell more honest, accurate, and sensitive stories, from a uniquely APA point-of-view.”

“Reflections/Refractions” is the third of four public programs presented as part of the VC Founders photo exhibition At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America, on display at the Japanese American National Museum through October 20, 2019; and is a co-production of the Japanese American National Museum and Visual Communications. Click here to RSVP. For more information on the exhibition, visit:


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At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America
Through October 20, 2019
At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America is a multi-media exhibition that explores and celebrates the emergence of a politically defined Asian Pacific American consciousness and identity. A co-production of Visual Communications (VC) and the Japanese American National Museum, At First Light chronicles the transformation of the un-American categorization of “Oriental” to the political identity of “Asian Pacific American” that rejected racist stereotypes, stood up for human rights, recovered lost histories, and created new cultural expressions. The exhibition draws from the collections of VC, the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country, which formed in Los Angeles in 1970 to capture and cultivate the newfound unity that was Asian Pacific America. The resiliency and resistance embodied in At First Light serve as a reminder—as well as a call to action—of what can be accomplished when people unite as a community with commitment.

Fighting for Democracy: Who is the “We” in “We, the People”?
Through January 5, 2020
     We, the people, shape democracy;
     I, too, can shape democracy;
     Those who have struggled for freedom and equality have extended democracy’s reach for all.

Fighting for Democracy: Who is the “We” in “We, the People”? is an experimental exhibition based on these fundamental principles. It features seven real people and traces their stories throughout the prewar, World War II, and post-war periods as examples of the millions of Americans whose lives were affected by the war and how each sought equal rights for their families and communities.

Common Ground: The Heart of Community
Incorporating hundreds of objects, documents, and photographs collected by JANM, this exhibition chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history, from the early days of the Issei pioneers through the World War II incarceration to the present. In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the final section of Common Ground has been reimagined to further emphasize the redress movement, the landmark passage of the Act, and its relevance today.


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About Visual Communications
Visual Communications’ mission is to develop and support the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers and media artists who empower communities and challenge perspectives. Founded in 1970 with the understanding that media and the arts are powerful forms of storytelling, Visual Communications creates cross cultural connections between peoples and generations. The organization turns 50 in 2020. Learn more at

About the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), a Smithsonian Affiliate
Established in 1985, the Japanese American National Museum promotes understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience. Located in the historic Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles, JANM is a hybrid institution that straddles traditional museum categories and strives to provide a voice for Japanese Americans as well as a forum that enables all people to explore their own heritage and culture. Since opening to the public, JANM has presented nearly 100 exhibitions onsite and traveled 20 of its exhibitions to locations around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Ellis Island Museum in the United States, and several leading cultural museums in Japan and South America.

JANM is located at 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. General admission is $16 adults, $7 students and seniors, free for members and children under age five. Admission is free to everyone on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and every third Thursday of the month from noon to 8 p.m. General admission prices and free admission times may not apply to specially ticketed exhibitions. Closed Monday, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. For more information visit or call 213.625.0414.