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Los Angeles Nikkei

Westside Sansei

saying good riddance to scotch-tape and black mascara
as you board the Asian American Movement—c. 1968
Next Stop…
S. F. State, Manzanar, Agbayani Village, Wounded Knee, I-Hotel…
armed with Issei comrades
Malcolm’s ghost
and the Red Book
you hunt America’s three-headed beast
making Third World-class time
with a strong East Wind at your back
the People at your side

Sawtelle Sansei

pumping gas and checking oil
to pay the note on a new
maroon ’65 Mustang
built by union hands
like those in Pico Rivera
before Ford dropped a bomb
3000 workers wide
front-line casualties
from unfriendly fire
blue collar hollers
finding chorus at
Goodyear, Kaiser Steel, Firestone, GM-Southgate…

J-Town Nisei

losing a husband
in the 442nd
sent you paycheck to paycheck
earning 60 cents to a man’s dollar
an Oriental dollar, a Third World dollar
Yes, you’ll be a renter all your life
holed-up for fear and warmth
behind deadbolts and iron bars
over a noisy 4th Street storefront
your back curving
after years of holding up
half the sky

Uptown Kibei

sewing silk and satin
but never does it touch
your skin
always for another’s comfort
never does the pay
your labor
your labor
always for another’s profit
but sometimes
you smile
as you loosen threads

South Bay Yonsei

crying dojo sweat
to exorcise fists and tongues
of punkass white boys
doing dirty work
for the Fortune 500
go use animal forms
old as Chinese mountains
to draw blood for us all


*“Los Angeles Nikkei” was originally published in the Mixed Up Chapbook, isangmahal collective April 2000.


© 2000 Tony Osumi

442nd activism civil rights laborers Los Angeles nikkei poem poetry