By Darrell Y. Hamamoto

As an admirer of his work for many years, I had the opportunity at last to meet Bill Wong at a 1997 conference organized by Professor Ling-chi Wang of the University of California at Berkeley held at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco's Japantown. The gathering had been called to ponder the implications of the so-called campaign finance scandal, which involved a host of well-placed Asian and Asian American donors and operatives who had been accused of strategically applying gobs of money where they thought it might be most effective within this system of government by plutocracy.

Momentarily suspending discussion of the issues raised by the most recent of periodic "Yellow Peril" moral panics, I asked Wong about a piece (included in the present collection) he recently had written that described his thirteen-year-old son's spontaneous hail-to-the-chief, President Bill Clinton. The Head Man himself (well before Fellatiogate) had appeared in Wong's hometown Oakland, California, at a political rally with about fifteen thousand people in attendance. Sam Mende-Wong, representing the Museum of Children's Art where he worked as a volunteer, seized the moment to exhort the crowd into calling for the president's reelection. Concluding his rousing cry of support, Sam then turned to the funky tenor sax-playing leader of the free world and gave him the thumbs up, shouting, "Rock on, Mr. President!" Thus did the paternal grandson of an immigrant from Guangdong province named Gee Seow Hong "make his mark" on a world shaped by his tenaciously resilient forebears.

As co-editor of the Temple University Press monograph series Mapping Racisms, I floated the idea past Wong that a collection of his essays would be an invaluable resource for those of us who needed a perceptive and empathetic intelligence to guide us over the tortuous terrain of contemporary politics, culture, and society. Wong said that he had been thinking along the same lines and I asked him to submit a proposal to produce an anthology of his writing. I left the conference buoyed up in anticipation of hearing from the dean of Asian American journalists. But months were to pass with nary a word from Wong. Unlike those of us who have the good fortune of being kept on salary to think deep thoughts, I understood that a working freelance journalist such as he would need to keep producing salable new articles to keep rice on the table. The meticulously tedious job of preparing a manuscript suitable for publication would be onerous even if there were no other demands on his time and resources. Prospects for the project dimmed with the passing days.

Many months later, I did a guest shot in a segment on Asian American media depictions broadcast on KQED-FM, the San Francisco public radio station. I took the opportunity to pitch the necessity of an Asian American porno practice to counter attempts by The Man to contain Yellow people politically through the control of our sexuality. Among the listeners was one Bill Wong. Hearing my plans for producing Asian American erotica apparently was enough to rouse our man Wong into action. When I checked for e-mail the next day, a message from Wong awaited me. He had contacted me to inquire whether the offer to do a book still stood. It did. He promised to whip-up a proposal. After sending the proposal and a selection of his articles to a committee of outside reviewers---who voted unanimously in favor of publication---Temple University Press gave the project the green light. The result is the volume of essays before you.

In reviewing the passionate, reflective, and sometimes whimsical pieces in this collection, one is struck by how "right" Wong has been on questions that have been fiercely debated and contested by the best and brightest minds in policy circles, academia, and government. Affirmative action, the gender wars, race relations, sexuality, multiculturalism, and contemporary immigration are among the "hot button" issues that have fueled political discussion over the past decade. Wong even has managed to provide fresh perspectives on perennial questions of Asian American "identity," a topic that too often founders upon clichˇs, trite observations, and tired formulations.

Looking back on his writings, why is it that Wong so often has been proven correct in his observations and assessments? For the coherent thinking-through and making sense of complex historical events and issues as they are unfolding is a decidedly difficult task. There are several possible reasons for Wong's percipience. For starters, he evinces a profound humility in the face of vexing dilemmas that many of us have tried either to finesse or to conveniently ignore. In taking on the challenge of real-time sociocultural analysis, the author brings a deep appreciation and understanding of history to his work. Even as he delivers well-reasoned arguments, Wong takes care to consider all sides of a given controversy and is never judgmental except in his blanket condemnation of injustice. Importantly, he transcends the naive moralism of many social commentators by consistently pointing to the political-economic roots of the problems subjected to his critical scrutiny. Finally, in all its obvious erudition, there is an all-embracing humanism that animates Wong's life-work.

No innocent bystander, Wong on occasion has found himself at the center of history-in-process rather than simply reporting on it. After his having been invited by civil rights leaders Kweisi Mfume and Myrlie Evers-Williams to assist an NAACP-sponsored dialogue on race relations, the intrepid journalist had hopes of moving the discussion beyond the "black-white narrative." But in finding that his goal of a truly multiracial, multicultural approach to the extirpation of America's original sin did not fully resonate with the NAACP leadership, Wong uses the experience to argue forcefully for a new model of race relations that includes all non-White peoples. The various pieces in this collection---tackling as they do persistent problems of media racism, criminality, interethnic tensions, and political marginalization---certainly make a strong case for the centrality of the Asian American historical experience in U.S. race relations.

It is only appropriate that this volume opens with an homage to the Oakland Chinatown of the author's childhood. For it was in this milieu that Wong lived the formative realities that shaped the sensibilities of an immigrant's son whose writing has become a guiding light to those of us groping through the darkness of duplicity, misinformation, and our own willful ignorance. From the world of the Great China restaurant operated by his family for seventeen years after its opening near the end of the robust war years, Wong early on absorbed the meaning of immigrant lived-experience, social justice, economic inequality, and the centrality of community struggle against the multiple forms of oppression. "Chinaman," Chinese American, Asian American; any way you slice it, Bill Wong is one straight-up righteous Yellow Man. We are fortunate to have him battling at our side armed with a keen intelligence that cuts through the rhetoric, lies, and evasions of our foes.

Home | About the Author | About the Book | Author Appearances
Reviews | Order the Book | Contact the Author

Receive William Wong's Alerts | Download Photos

Site developed by