John Ohashi: Interview
NOTE: John Ohashi was one of the founding members of Pacific Ties in 1977. Part of his interview was featured in this quarter’s print issue. The rest can be found here.
PACIFIC TIES: I heard we were a group founded on advocacy.
JOHN OHASHI: I don’t know about advocacy, but at the time there was really nothing. So, the first issue was pretty political. I wrote this article [points to an article in the first issue, which he is flipping through]. This was back in the late 70s. It was this case called Bakke versus Regents. This was one of the first affirmative action cases. This is the one where UC Davis Medical School saved 16 slots for minority students, and Allan Bakke couldn’t get into UC Davis Medical School, and he alleges that the reason he didn’t get in was because he was white and that the minorities who weren’t [as] qualified as he was [were] given the slots. So he couldn’t get in and sued. And so. It was a big issue. And the point I was raising here in all those discussions back in those days about Asians [was that] it was always Asians and it wasn’t broken out into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese. Asian was just one big clump. So I was just trying to make that point that if you wanted to talk about the Asian experience you had to break it out into different groups.
Anyway, now, the second one. I don’t have the second issue. The third issue. We were all seniors. We had senioritis; we were sick of being political. This third issue is–I had the expression back then [that] was socie-ocie. It was just talking about Thetas and Chis. Are the sororities still here? Date a Chi. Marry a Theta. Issue on makeup. Features. This was what I sent over to you guys. This was a Point-Counterpoint that was written by myself and one other writer. It was just in pure fun. All we wanted to do was have a blast and take a shot at everybody. I don’t know if you’ve read this, but one of the things was about [how] we thought Powell Library was a pick-up spot, and so we just wrote about it, and it turns out after we left and after we graduated people that were still here the year after all the things we pointed out in here–we were kind of joking around that Powell Library was a pick up spot, and all of a sudden it became a pick-up spot. I would be really interested to know if there was something similar now.
This was the most popular issue of the year. This issue where everybody was yakking [about it]. They were talking about, “That was great.” It was controversial. It was having fun, but it was a fun issue. I don’t know what happened after that. We all graduated. If you want to rerun this. This is 1978. Quite some time ago. I don’t know if you guys have your own equivalent now.
When we started the newspaper, we really didn’t have an agenda. It was pretty much: “Well, what do you want to write about? Well, what do you want to write about?” The first two were–the first one was political. The second one was more social-oriented. And by the end of the spring, to heck with [it]. It was fun. It was all about having fun.
PT: So there were no themes?
OHASHI: Not really. Not really. It was just the beginning. There is a mission statement. It is about Asians and of interest [to] Asians. But, aside from that, there wasn’t really any cohesive thing. We were still just experimenting. Trying to figure out. Because remember there was no history. Nothing. At this point, there was no history whatsoever as far as what to write about. So everybody had free reign. The editor-in-chief, this guy named Kendall. He didn’t try to say, “We’ve gotta do this, gotta do that.” It was, “Here’s our team. Let’s see what we can come up with.”
PT: Did you like it like that?
OHASHI: I did. At the time, I liked it because it was freedom. I wasn’t told, “Oh, you should go cover this. You should go look at that.” It was, “What is interesting to you? What do you guys want to do?” At the end, the deadline, we would just submit our articles.
PT: So was [the Bakke trial article you wrote] more like pointing out the Asian perspective of it rather than an opinion piece?
OHASHI: Yeah. It was all about the Asian perspective. All the literature at the time tended to group all of the Asians together. Well, the Asians are this. The Asians are that. Well, at the time. The Japanese experience is not the same as the Chinese experience. In ’78, there really was no Vietnamese experience to speak of. Most of the Vietnamese came over in ’75, ’76. You didn’t really have the Vietnamese experience. The Koreans were just starting to come over. There was no Koreatown. It was really JTown [Japanese Town] or Chinatown. But, everybody kept grouping Asians together. My point is that if you want to understand the Asian experience, you have to dig a little deeper. You just can’t look at Japanese and Chinese.
One thing I did notice. And, I’ll point this out to you. Back in the 70s [opens up first issue to the staff page], see, look at the staff here. If you notice, the names, when you said “Asians” on campus, you were only really talking about Japanese and Chinese.
So, when you said “Asian” back in late ’77 and ’78, UCLA, you were really talking about the Japanese and Chinese.
PT: This is actually really interesting because we are Asian Pacific Islander. We include the Indian population and the Cambodian population [and] Filipino people. We are actually doing a piece on Samahang Pilipino for Filipino Cultural Month.
OHASHI: That’s the genesis. If you really want to talk about the Asian experience, you can’t talk about these people here [on the staff page] because that is not the full Asian experience. Because, I looked at your current issues, and there is yourself, Tran, and Ashley Truong.
Back in the beginning [it was] Japanese, Chinese, and not this sort of inkling that there is something else outside there. I’m glad. I’ve been looking at what you guys have been doing, and it’s been pretty much born out.
PT: So, when you started, were you thinking political? Or were you thinking, “We’re just going to write about the issues that we want to do”?
OHASHI: We wanted a voice. Whether it was political. It was just. We wanted a soapbox. To be able to stand on top of something and say, “Here’s what we think.” I don’t think it started out as political. I don’t know what political thoughts everybody had. It was just commentary. There wasn’t a theme, like, let’s make the first article, first issue political. It was “What do you guys want to write about?” and left it to everybody to their own. That’s how the issue came about. It just coincidentally, as we looked at it in retrospect, was highly political.
PT: How many copies of the issue were actually printed the first time?
OHASHI: I don’t know. It was quarterly. And, it was sort of. The deadlines were always delayed [chuckles]. As far as circulation, I have no idea what circulation was.
I think we got funding from the Comm Board. But also one of the things that we did have a meeting with the Comm Board about was the advertisements.
We had to [advertise]. We didn’t have a choice. So we had our business manager, Gayle. Gayle was in charge of going out and getting all of the ads. Same here. If you notice all of the ads, Nakaoka, Gardenia, Fukai. They were all Asians, but they were all Japanese These were all Japanese.
The demographics were very different from what they are now. But, at the time, you can see, not only from the staff but from the demographics of the ads, it was really more about the Japanese or Chinese experience.
PT: Was there a design aspect going on or was there a focus on the writing?
OHASHI: Focused on the writing. We weren’t organized at the time. It was just a bunch of people [who] said, “Oh, let’s do an article. OK. Great. We got funding from the Comm Board. Let’s do it. Let’s write an article. Let’s get an issue out.” Then we submitted to Kendall. There was one person who was an editor. Did the editing. Did the typesetting. Did all that.
PT: So, was it: go into a meeting, what issues do you like, and then write by this deadline?
OHASHI: Nope. Nope. It was, “OK. First issue will be out on November something. We’d like to get our first issue out by this. Get your articles in at least two weeks before.”
PT: So [Kendall] had no idea what the materials he would be getting were about?
OHASHI: I don’t think so. Because we weren’t organized at the time. It was. Just think of anything that starts for the first time. It wasn’t centrally planned. It was very organic. Just people doing their own thing, and let’s just see where it was gonna go. We had no idea. There was no history to it. So, let’s just see where it goes.
PT: So there were no media workshops?
PT: Media law briefings?
OHASHI: None. Nothing. It was just, “Get your articles in. Let’s see what the magazine looks like.”
PT: When you were starting out, was there any fear that people weren’t going to actually read it, or are people going to be interested in it or anything like that?
OHASHI: I don’t think we cared. I think, at that time, at least I’m saying for myself and the other people I remember, this whole concept of “We just wanted a voice. Here’s what we think. And, we’ll put it out. It’s from an Asian perspective. If you like it, you like it, if you don’t, you don’t.” I don’t think there was anything offensive in any of these things. It was just sort of the random thoughts of a bunch of people. As far as the editorial, I think [the copy editor], she did more. We didn’t have spell check and those type of things. Everything we did was on a typewriter. All of the articles were submitted on a typewriter. Triple spaced. Then, they did typesetting. And then, just print. It was ancient.
PT: Were you guys thinking that you were going to be writers? Like journalists?
OHASHI: No. I don’t think so. I think this was a vehicle for expression. Like if you take a dance class or something, because it was a way to express yourself. There was no vehicle to do that back then. This was a vehicle for a relatively small group of people that just said, “I’d like to express myself. Oh great. We have a magazine now. Let’s do it.” It’s just sort of a self-expression.
PT: When going in, did you always want to do articles that were more politically minded?
OHASHI: Going in, we didn’t talk about it amongst ourselves. I said, “Yeah, I’m going to do an article on Allan Bakke.” So, I did. Affirmative action situation. You know, because, being a minority back then. It was a little different than what it is now. We really [were] a minority. Just a small, small population.
PT: So, not like UCLA, You See A Lot of Asians.
OHASHI: No, nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. There were Asians here, but [we were] a minority. I don’t know what the numbers were. You definitely knew everybody, because there were not that many people. There wasn’t a kind of centralized center.
PT: So, there was no ACA, ACA Hiphop, Samahang Pilipino, NSU?
OHASHI: It was different. So, I looked at the magazine now, and how you developed it, it was actually pioneering. You can see the genesis of what happened at UCLA in the first issue.
PT: Were there ever any disputes or anything?
OHASHI: No, not really. I can’t say we all hung out together. We weren’t all buddies, but we had a lot of respect for each other. It was like, say what you have to say, and nobody was judgmental. You write whatever you want to write. You want to write an article on enhancing Asian features? Go for it. You want to write something about being more political? Fine.
PT: Was there any fear of being sued or any complaints?
OHASHI: No. Back then, it’s a very different world now. We didn’t have [political correctness] training. I can see the article we wrote in the third one of the “Point Counterpoint.” We’d probably get hate mail if it was done now. Then, how dare we offend men who wanted to become engineers. We’d probably get a letter from Boelter Hall.
PT: Has the physical setting changed? Was the Pacific Ties office your “cubby hole”?
OHASHI: We were in this building. But, I have no idea where this room was. I only came to the office once, because everybody kind of did their articles on their own. I forgot if I dropped them off or just gave them to an editor. I don’t remember spending any time in the Pacific Ties office.
PT: [discusses the large differences and formalities involved with the current Pacific Ties office concerning the mandatory media law briefings and workshops and the precautions taken]
OHASHI: It’s sort of like artistic freedom. I think the group that started Pacific Ties. Everybody was sort of kind of a little more edgy. Nonconformist kind of group. You get a group of people together.
PT: What year were you guys in when you started?
OHASHI: I think we got the approvals when most of us were juniors. Kendall Jue was the driving force. I think he was working on the proposal and everything a year before. It took a while. It took a long time to get everything to the Comm Board. I just remember that we got approval right at the beginning of the fall quarter ’77, and I think “Yeah, I got the approval. Let’s get an issue out.”
PT: Did you think Pacific Ties was going to continue on to the present?
OHASHI: No. None. I know the third issue, we had trouble getting it out because we had to get ad space. It’s a lot of work. You have to justify your experience. That was a lot of work. I felt it would go. I had no idea that it would expand to where it is now. I just thought at the time we started this, it was a good idea. I’m glad that it was needed. I’m kind of blown away. Here it is, thirty years later.
PT: How do you feel about the transition to electronic media?
OHASHI: It’s just a sign of the times. I mean, I know it sounds like ancient history. Back then, we still had payphones. We didn’t have desktops. The most sophisticated device we had was the calculators. People had calculators. And the guys who were engineering had scientific calculators. That was it. If you had a scientific calculator, you had the most kick-butt electronic of the day. That was it… You use whatever you had available at the time. What we had was typewriters.
PT: What is your fondest memory of Pacific Ties Newsmagazine?
OHASHI: It was a sense of adventures. I think the first issue was, we had no clue. It was almost like a sense of relief. Here it is. Let’s just get this out of here. The second one, I did an article on Warren Furutani, who is now running for LA City Council. This was in the 70s. He was running a continuation school for Asians in Little Tokyo. That whole mindset of, “How can he do an Asian school for Asians? All the Asians are smart. You can’t have any dumb Asians.” So I went out there and did an article. It opened up my eyes to this whole Asian population out there that [wasn't] going to UCLA. It was like, wow! You had this Asian continuation school. Teenage girls with kids. It was just eye-opening. Being here at UCLA, that model minority myth–that is something I wrote about in Bakke, too–you get that. To go out there, and like wow. I actually ran into him about 2 weeks ago and that is what prompted me to see if you guys still had that article, because he is running for LA City Council.
PT: Is there anything you would like to say to the current staff or the future staff? Any advice you would have?
OHASHI: When we started out, all of us felt that there was something we wanted to express. We had a point of view about the world. Whether or not it is sort of egotistical. You know, listen to me. Here I am. But, we felt that we had something to say, and we just said it. It wasn’t about appealing to a demographic or we should do an article about this. It was real. It was heartfelt. Everything was heartfelt. It wasn’t political in that if I write an article about this group they’ll really like me. Or I might want votes so I’ll kiss up to these people. There was no aspect of that at all. Everybody had a point of view, and they were given the opportunity to express it. I think, for your staff, I would say, don’t lose that inner voice. Don’t let somebody beat it down…if somebody’s passionate about something, well write about it. Explore it. Throw it out there. If there is somebody out there who feels the same way you do, you’ll hit their wave or touch a nerve, and they’ll really like it. If someone thinks you’re an idiot, so what? Who cares? It’s just their opinion. At least you’ve made it something to discuss. If you keep everything really within sort of really big boundaries, then you get bland.
PT: Do you have any suggestions, looking on our own current articles?
OHASHI: No. I don’t really. In the last week, I just looked at some things I think [were] from last year. No. I can’t really comment. I think it would be nice to have somebody who’s kind of like a trailblazer as opposed to a follower because that’s what makes it interesting. You get readers. You get a point of view, as opposed to just being another magazine. That’s just my opinion.
PT: How do you think you’ve changed from the whole Pacific Ties experience?
OHASHI: I don’t think it changed me. I just think it helped me to be more satisfied in that I was able to do something that was an expression of self, which if I didn’t have–you know. Let’s say you go to school and you like to play basketball all the time, but then they don’t have any basketball courts. It’s OK. So what? You go run. You know what I mean? But, there’s no expression there. But, all of a sudden, you’ve got basketball courts. You can go play basketball. Something that is really something you like. Having Pacific Ties here was just an opportunity to give us a vehicle for self-expression, and the people who wanted to do it jumped on it and did it.