[Video: “Charlie Chin and Chris Iijima - Asian Song” on Youtube. An audio track pulled from the Back to Back vinyl album of Asian American folksingers.]
Charlie Chin and Chris Iijima - Asian Song
In 1973, three young Asian American musicians and activists—Chris Iijima, William “Charlie” Chin, and Joanne Nobuko Miyamoto—banded together to record A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggle by Asians in America, a 12-track LP that has earned the title of the first “Asian American” album. I won’t go into details, because I tend to talk about it endlessly, but do listen to the album if you get the chance: it’s a masterful interpolation of Asian American activism four decades ago. Yep, APA music was “born” in egalitarian community organizing. Gotta love it.
Nine years later, Chin and Iijima rejoined forces to put their second album on wax. Fitting for its time, Back to Back resonates with a Movement in decrescendo—more about survival than struggle, less about the world in revolt than the people on the day-to-day grind. Questions of capitalism and communism aside, the twelve songs tackle issues indicative of the changing landscape of social change: alienation, gentrification, environmental justice. As Vincent Chin—who was murdered that same year—demonstrated, the very stigma of Asian Americans as unwanted, inimical “foreigners” was a massive problem unto itself in 1982.
Yet the fire is still there. This is (arguably) most evidenced in Chris Iijima’s “Asian Song,” a working-class ode that weaves between past and present to assert that Asian Americans have, quite literally, built the country from the ground up. The chorus (because we’re here / and going strong / and we’re getting tired of proving we belong) struck me as somewhat reserved at first, but after repeated listens it seems perfect in its brevity. The thirtysomething Iijima wasn’t the professional revolutionary he was a decade prior—in fact, he was a schoolteacher on the Upper East Side by then—but the impatience and disgust he subtly intones says it all.We’ll keep on fighting, and you can’t stop us.
HEIROKU, Strange Fruit Salad Blog