This is a blog created in memory of Judy Yung. Please share your reminiscences of Judy by clicking on the comment link above, then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click in the box below the caption Leave a Reply. Thank you.
Judy Yung a Yellow Feminist Force
Chinatown native and early scholar of Chinese American life, dies at 74
Chinese American historian and author Judy Yung passes away
UC Santa Cruz scholar of Chinese American history Judy Yung dies at 74
Judy Yung Obituary
Remembering Judy Yung
Dear Professor Judy Yung (published before her death)
In memoriam: Judy Yung (1946-2020) Scholar Writer Journalist Professor
Local Chinese American historian Judy Yung passes away
Judy’s influence as a historian is immeasurable, and she was a key advisor for my documentaries. But I also know her as a voice talent.
My film Sewing Woman included a scripted voice-over interchange, written by Lorraine Dong, between a San Francisco Chinatown garment worker and a persistent American-born-Chinese researcher. Although the researcher role had only two lines of dialogue, the scene was critical to establish a conflict between two generations and an implied clash between speakers of different Chinese dialects. The voice needed to have a solid fluency in the Cantonese dialect combined with a native speaking ability in American English in order to convey a mix of both. Drawing on her experience as a scholar, Judy had that special combination infused with a disarming inquisitive charm, and I cast her in the part. My friend Mary Jane Lee played opposite Judy in the sewing woman role that spoke in the Toisan dialect. Here’s a link to the scene from my film that features Judy’s distinctive voice, which contributed to the film’s complexity that eventually led to an Oscar® nomination for best short documentary, the first such honor for a film about Chinese Americans: https://youtu.be/jMAIuNYkvN4
From one child of a sewing woman to another, “Thank You Judy”.
My association with Judy goes back to 1976, the year that we, Him Mark Lai, Judy and I, learned of the Chinese poems that were written and carved on the barrack walls of the long-forgotten Angel Island Immigration detention center, where Chinese were imprisoned prior to landing in the U.S. Initially, we had sought to translate the handful of poems that were photographed by Mark Takahashi upon George Araki’s suggestion. George, a biology instructor at San Francisco State College, had been informed of the poems by Alexander Weiss, a park ranger. Judy was a librarian at the first Asian American library in Oakland and editor of the bilingual Chinese-English journal, East West run by the pioneer Chinese American publisher, Gordon Lew. East West had published articles about Chinese American history by Him Mark Lai, a Bechtel engineer and first rate Chinatown historian so this discovery of the Island poems opened a whole new window into a long hidden chapter of Chinese immigration history. I had just returned home to San Francisco after residing in New York for six years and working with CBS News as a Broadcast Associate and volunteering as a contributor to Bridge, an Asian American magazine, affiliated with Basement Workshop so at Gordon’s invitation, I contributed some poems and pieces to the journal.
When the news of the Angel Island poems broke in East West, Judy, Mark and I, decided to translate the photographed poems. Once the community was alerted about the discovery, several former detainees, Smiley Jann and Tet Yee, came forward to Judy at the library, and showed her the numerous poems they had collected and copied in their personal notebooks. It was then, we realized we needed to translate all of them in both the original Chinese and English translations, which amounted to over a hundred poems, which Him Mark Lai translated in literal Chinese, which I, in turn, rendered into poetic English. We decided to include oral histories and proceeded to interview local former detainees, who we had access to. Judy oversaw and transcribed the bulk of the oral histories, which included former detainees, interpreters and inspectors, who conducted the hearings. We tried to find a publisher for the book but was repeatedly told that they did not deal in foreign books. We realized, having seen many Spanish-English books published in the US, that we were up against an exclusionary double standard. We, then, acquired a loan from the Wallace Gerbode Foundation and upon its recommendation worked with the San Francisco Study Center to design and self-publish the book under Hoc-Doi Books. Hoc-Doi, lit. guest boys, was what the early immigrant bachelors were called. The rest is history.
It took over forty years for the Angel Island Chinese Immigration story to widely reach the public consciousness from the time of the poems’ discovery. Subsequent to the publication of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, tireless efforts were made by members of the community, especially, those with the Chinese Historical Society of America, to declare the station as a National Historic Landmark and establish the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. After the completion of the book, I suggested to Judy that we embark on a exhibition project about the History of Chinese Women of America. The idea caught fire and we approached the Chinese Culture Center to sponsor the project. I wrote the project narrative and Judy wrote the budget and acted as the Project Director. The exhibition was the first to acknowledge the contributions of Chinese women in America and became the seed of Judy’s book, Unbound Feet, a title borrowed from our local performance poetry collective of six women, Nellie Wong, Kitty Tsui, Nancy Hom, Merle Woo, Stella Nanying Wong and myself. Unbound Feet drew on the many oral histories and photographs collected for the exhibit, while Judy travelled around the country to interview women of all backgrounds. I, on the other hand, returned to my writing, and wrote the historical prison drama, Paper Angels, about Chinese immigrants on Angel Island, largely due to my concern that our book, Island, would reach only a very small percentage of the general population, who were either, Asian American Studies students or history buffs. The play achieved its purpose and was picked up by PBS’s then popular series, American Playhouse in 1985 with actors Victor Wong, James Wong Howe, Beulah Quo, Rosalind Chao and Joan Chen.
Judy will be remembered for her hard work and dedication to the history of Chinese women of America. A prodigy of Him Mark Lai, who helped guide her footsteps with his sage advice and insights, she rose to become not only a pioneer in the field of Chinese American history, but an important figure in it herself, from her very humble beginnings, as a daughter of a sewing woman and janitor, to become a well-respected, admired and caring friend, teacher, mentor and historian. Judy’s loss, is a loss for us all.