L.A. Sansei Amy Uyematsu has just released her fourth poetry collection, “The Yellow Door” (Red Hen Press).
Her poems celebrate her Japanese American roots and chronicle some of the profound changes that have occurred in her lifetime.
On Saturday, May 2, at 2 p.m., she will read from “The Yellow Door” at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo. Musician Taiji Miyagawa will accompany on string bass.
She will also perform at the Poetry Stage this Sunday, April 19, at 11 a.m. at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on the USC campus.
Uyematsu is the author of three previous poetry books: “30 Miles from J-Town” (1992), winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize; “Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain” (1998); and “Stone Bow Prayer” (2005). She was the co-editor of the widely-used UCLA anthology “Roots: An Asian American Reader.”
Recently retired from the L.A. Unified School District, Uyematsu taught math at Grant, Granada Hills, and Venice high schools. She is currently teaching a writing workshop at the Little Tokyo Service Center’s Far East Lounge.
In “The Yellow Door,” Uyematsu writes from the perspective of the baby-boomer Sansei generation who knew their Issei immigrant grandparents, grew up when Little Tokyo was still a bustling and vibrant center for Japanese American families in Southern California, and now are old enough to be having grandchildren of their own.
Her six decades in Los Angeles are captured in poems that link Hokusai woodblock paintings to her grandparents’ journeys to California, trace Sansei dances at Parkview to Buddhist Obon festivals still going on, and recount the yellow stereotypes of her youth to changing notions of Asian American identity.
The collection’s opening poem, “Riding the Yellow Dragon,” celebrates the color yellow going back to ancient Asia. Readers unfamiliar with the “yellow power movement” are introduced to such historical markers as Gidra, the groundbreaking L.A. movement newspaper, and activists like the late Yuji Ichioka, who is credited with introducing the now universally accepted term “Asian Americans.”
Uyematsu pays homage to her Issei and Nisei ancestors, including their vital contributions to the nurseries, farms, and gardens of Southern California. A genuine product of the ’60s, she adds her own L.A. Buddhahead twist to what it means to be Japanese American in the 20th and 21st centuries.