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ABR speaker explores social movements of '60s and '70s

By KBell
Jan. 23, 2012 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 24, 2012 at 7:25 p.m.

Expect to relive the gamut of social issues from the '60s and '70s: civil rights, gay rights, feminism, protests and cultural revolutions.

Karen Tei Yamashita, a renowned author and a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for her novel, "I Hotel," will revive the dynamic era Thursday at the American Book Review Reading Series at the University of Houston-Victoria.

As a Japanese-American, Yamashita's presentation will particularly focus on Asian-American activism in the San Francisco Bay area during the '60s and '70s.

"That's a history that is quieter and maybe somewhat erased or not known," Yamashita said. "It was in so much solidarity with everything else that was going on. You can't really talk about any of those movements in isolation."

"I Hotel" is a series of 10 novellas set between 1968 and 1977 in San Francisco. At the center of the story's conflict are the tenants of the International Hotel, many of whom were Filipino or Chinese. Several of these tenants were elderly, without families and some were veterans, Yamashita said.

When the building's owner announced plans to demolish the hotel in order to build a parking lot, the tenants fought back.

"This also coincides with civil rights movement, ethnic movements, feminist and gay rights. All of those things were happening at the same time. Students were coming out of the universities also to advocate for the community," Yamashita said.

Yamashita was a high school student entering college at the time, and though her story is fiction, it's based on a lot of research, she said.

Uppinder Mehan, chair of the UHV School of Arts and Sciences Humanities Division, in a news release, praised Yamashita's ability to tackle the array of complicated issues.

"She combines careful and thorough research with an inventive yet disciplined imagination. Her latest novel, 'I Hotel,' brings together San Francisco, Vietnam and civil rights, in a vibrant and often darkly humorous way," he was quoted as saying.

Yamashita also will incorporate into her presentation photos from San Francisco in the '60s and '70s, which she said will help make the story resonate with the audience.

Even though she grew up around the action, Yamashita said she uncovered more in the writing of "I Hotel" than she realized.

"I wondered myself what happened. I thought I knew about history, but I realized I did not and that there were so many layers and that the history is very rich," she said.

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