JAMsj Book Club to Discuss ‘Samurai Among Panthers’

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SAN JOSE — The JAMsj Book Club will discuss Diane Fujino’s book “Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance and a Paradoxical Life” on Saturday, Jan. 5, a 1 p.m. at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, 535 N. 5th St. (near Jackson) in San Jose Japantown.

An iconic figure of the Asian American movement, Richard 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. His life story exposes the personal side of political activism as it illuminates the history of ethnic nationalism and radical internationalism in America.

A reflection of this interconnection, “Samurai Among Panthers” weaves together two narratives: Aoki’s dramatic first-person chronicle and an interpretive history by Fujino, a leading scholar of the Asian American movement.

Aoki’s 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. As his story unfolds, we see how his parents’ separation inside the camps and his father’s illegal activities shaped the development of Aoki’s politics.

Fujino situates his life within the context of 20th-century history — World War II, the Cold War, and the protests of the 1960s. The result of these parallel voices and analysis is a complex, and sometimes contradictory, portrait of a singularly extraordinary activist.

Last year, Seth Rosenfeld of the Center for Investigative Reporting made headlines when he claimed that FBI documents showed Aoki was an FBI informant for many years, including his time with the Black Panthers. The allegations have been debated ever since among scholars and Aoki’s colleagues.

The book club is always open to new members. Selections are chosen collaboratively at the end of each meeting and align with the JAMsj mission: the celebration of Japanese American art, history, and culture. Books may be purchased at the museum store.

Admission is free. For more information, contact Aggie Idemoto at (408) 268-4440 or [email protected]

 

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