Book Launch for ‘Samurai Among Panthers’

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BERKELEY — A free event celebrating the life of Richard Aoki will be held on Saturday, April 21, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Multicultural Center at the MLK Student Union, Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way on the UC Berkeley campus.

Diane C. Fujino will present her new book, “Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life.” The program will include spoken word and presentations of AAPI Alumni Richard Aoki Scholarships.

An iconic figure of the Asian American movement, Aoki (1938–2009) was also, as the most prominent non-black member of the Black Panther Party, a key architect of Afro-Asian solidarity in the 1960s and ’70s.

“Samurai Among Panthers” weaves together two narratives: Aoki’s dramatic first-person chronicle and an interpretive history by Asian American movement scholar Fujino. Aoki’s candid account of himself takes us from his early years in Japanese American internment camps to his political education on the streets of Oakland, to his emergence in the Black Panther Party.

Aoki’s voice rings clear in the over 200 pages of oral interview given to biographer Fujino, collected in 100 hours of taped interview sessions between 2003 and 2004. He describes in his own words the story of his life. The result is an 11-chapter treasury of Aoki’s transcript.

Beginning with his early childhood with his family’s forced incarceration at the Topaz, Utah concentration camp, he takes us through his teenage years in West Oakland and Berkeley, to his military service, and subsequent political awakening with his growth as a revolutionary internationalist. His recollections of the formation of the Black Panther Party in Oakland catapult the reader into the heart of the Black liberation movement.

Aoki became a key leader in the birth of the Asian American Political Alliance, the UC Berkeley Third World Liberation Front, and the 1968 TWLF Student Strike, which won the formation of ethnic studies, Asian American studies, Chicano studies, and African American studies at UC Berkeley.

With Aoki’s characteristic wit and talent for talk-story, the reader is given a last gift from the private and courageous life of one of the early leaders of the Asian American radical movement.

Fujino respectfully reserves her independent interpretations and historical connotations in separate comments before and after the chapters. This unique format gives Fujino freedom to differ with Aoki in her interpretation and lends an interesting indirect conversation between biographer and subject. Fujino provides a scholarly historical context to the personal narration.

“Samurai Among Panthers” is a valuable addition to materials available to present and future generations in remembering, studying, honoring a key political leader of the Asian American movement.

Fujino is associate professor and chair of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Her other books include “Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama” and “Wicked Theory, Naked Practice: A Fred Ho Reader.”

Event sponsored by: Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies of UC Berkeley (AAADS), Asian Pacific American Student Development of UC Berkeley (APASD), AAPI Alumni, Eastside Arts Alliance, Eastwind Books of Berkeley, Serve the People (STP) and KPFA Freedom Archives.

For more information, contact Eastwind Books of Berkeley at (510) 548-2350 or visit http://asiabookcenter.com/.

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