Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Life Lived: Her story had plenty of drama, Hollywood-style


Myrtle Goldfinger was caught in a confused cultural dichotomy: She was born in Tokyo but moved to Southern California with her Japanese parents when she was just a year old. She looked Japanese, but her attitude was pure American. She was gorgeous by many counts, but not her own, because having grown up in Hollywood in the 1930s, her idea of beauty was all-white, all-American. Even in old age, Mrs. Goldfinger wouldn't leave the house without first putting on eye makeup to make her eyes look wider, said her daughter-in-law, Danna Kostroun.
"People don't want to see Asians," she'd say in declining an invitation to attend, for example, a grandchild's music recital.
Mrs. Goldfinger married twice, and both of her husbands were white Americans. Her son, Marian University political scientist Johnny Goldfinger, recalled that when he married Kostroun, a white woman from Ithaca, N.Y., "it was the happiest day of (his mother's) life." But despite her self-doubt, Myrtle Machiko Goldfinger, who died Feb. 18 at 94, was ambitious. She could sing, and she could dance, and if she didn't have what she considered all-American beauty, she did have beauty. This she exploited.
Her father, Imahei Takaoka, was a fire-and-brimstone Christian minister, a founder of the Hollywood Japanese Independent Church. He died young of tuberculosis, leaving his family poorly fixed. It was then that Mrs. Goldfinger's drive showed itself. She went into show business, getting sporadic work as an extra at the movie studios in Hollywood. She got at least one bit part, as a maid serving tea, at the age of 16. She went into vaudeville, she and her two sisters hitting the road as the Taka Sisters. For the time, the act was somewhat risque. Mrs. Goldfinger laid it out one time (with some embarrassment) for her curious daughter-in-law. Kostroun, who has a Ph.D. in history from Duke University, teaches history at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
"They'd dance around in a sort of 'Three Little Maids' routine (from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado"), like a traditional Japanese dance," Kostroun said, "then the band would go into some fast jazz, and they'd throw off their costumes and dance to the jazz." The sisters performed all over the country, but the biggest sensation they caused was when one of them was murdered, knifed by a jealous boyfriend. The boyfriend was white. "The newspapers played it as an East-West love triangle," a cautionary tale of "the dangers of 'exotic love,' " Kostroun said.
In 1942, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mrs. Goldfinger and her family were among the more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans to be rounded up and put in "War Relocation Camps." Mrs. Goldfinger spent most of the war at the Manzanar camp in the California desert, about 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. She passed the time teaching ballet to the children.
After the war, she married and had a daughter. The marriage failed, and she moved to Tokyo to take a job as an interpreter for the American occupation forces. There she met her second husband, Arthur Goldfinger, who was in Tokyo with the Air Force. They married and had a son.
The Goldfingers returned to the U.S. in 1969 and settled in Mobile, Ala. Mr. Goldfinger taught high school history; his wife did secretarial work. Mr. Goldfinger died in 2006. Mrs. Goldfinger became deeply religious, a committed Seventh-day Adventist. She lived uneasily with her own past. She came to believe it was wrong to watch movies, and here she'd been in them -- she appeared in the 1934 James Cagney vehicle "Jimmy the Gent." And the dancing. She asked her daughter-in-law not to tell her parents about the dancing.
Late in life, Mrs. Goldfinger was faced with still more drama: Hurricane Katrina. She and her husband, both 89, didn't have to evacuate, but they went weeks without electricity. They soon moved to Indianapolis to reside with their son and to live out their years here. Mrs. Goldfinger is survived by two children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren
Will Higgins@ indystar.com

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spies and traitors: New exhibit in Philadelphia traces their impact on our lives


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Exclusive to the National Constitution Center's showing of 'Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs,' visitors can view glass and granite fragments from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, as well as a shoe that was recovered from the wreckage, on loan from the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. (CAROL H. FEELY, CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / March 12, 2011
Twisted pieces of metal, salvaged from planes that struck the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 are stark testimonials to the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil in the 21st century. But they're just one chapter of a larger story being told at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.


"Spies, Traitors & Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America" details many more events and time periods in which Americans have been harmed by enemies within the country's borders. They range from a Revolutionary War plot to kidnap George Washington and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, to 1960s church bombings in the South and the Oklahoma City bombing.
The exhibition is not intended to make visitors afraid of their own shadows or suspicious of every person they meet. "We hope the exhibit will stimulate dialogue about how we can defend our country while also protecting the individual rights and freedoms that are at the heart of our democracy," says David Eisner, president and CEO of the Constitution Center.
The traveling exhibition, prepared by the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., explores stories of espionage and treason since the nation's birth and examines counter-intelligence measures that affect our daily lives.
"America changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001. The National Constitution Center is the perfect venue for a conversation about what wrenching and lasting change has come to mean to all of us," says the Spy Museum's Karen Corbin.
Those who explore the exhibition will rediscover the courage of first responders who ran toward the burning and collapsing twin towers. And they'll learn of other acts of courage in the face of terrorism, like Dolly Madison's efforts to save Washington's portrait from the burning White House when the nation's capital was under British attack in 1814.
They'll also learn of less-than-admirable moments in our history, like the internment of Japanese Americans — which was triggered when a Japanese pilot returning from the Pearl Harbor attack crash-landed on the Hawaiian island of Niihau. With the help of a Japanese American, he took hostages and terrorized a community. According to the exhibit's information, "This incident perpetuated fears about Japanese Americans that ultimately led to the unprecedented incarceration of thousands."
Visitors also will have the chance to express opinions on questions raised in the exhibition about how the nation responded to events.
Using newspaper headlines, historic photographs, artifacts and video and themed room settings, the exhibition's timeline traces more than 80 acts of terror that have taken place in the United States from 1776 to the present.
One of the most intriguing incidents detailed in the exhibit is the account of the explosion at Black Tom Island in New York Harbor on July 30, 1916. "Although it is something people have forgotten about, the explosions at the island's munitions depot — triggered by German saboteurs at the outset of World War I — were felt as far away as Philadelphia. The response to that incident was the Espionage Act of 1917 that's still on the books today," says Steve Frank, staff historian for the Constitution Center.
He adds, "Some of the threats to national security have come from abroad, but others have been homegrown."
He points to the section dealing with the Ku Klux Klan — probably America's best-known terrorist organization. The section containing graphic proof of their shocking levels of violence, maybe something visitors with young children should skip. Its evolution from vigilante groups inflicting terror on former slaves after the Civil War to its position today as one of many white supremacist groups is a thought-provoking stop for adults and teens.
The exhibition is organized in nine segments: Revolution: 1776-1890; Sabotage, 1914-1918; Hate, 1865-present; Radicalism, 1917-1920; World War, 1935-1945; Subversion, 1945-1956; Protest, 1969-1976; Extremism, 1992-Present; Terrorism, 1980-Present.
Among artifacts and presentations found in the displays:
•Glass and granite fragments from the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City and a shoe found in the wreckage.
•A ritual Ku Klux Klan red robe worn by the Klan "Kladd," who was the elected Klan officer presiding over secret rituals and ceremonies and KKK "business cards," which warned Americans that their every move was being watched.
•A badge and ID card carried in 1917 by an operative of the American Protective League who spied on fellow Americans on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department during World War I.
•A Weather Underground video presentation featuring an interview with ex-Weather Underground member Bernadine Dohrn.
•A replica of an anarchist's globe bomb that was presented as evidence in the 1886 trial of men tried in connection with the Chicago Haymarket riot.
There are designed "environments" too, like a militiaman's closet of weaponry and camouflage clothes, as well as a room set up like the 1950s office of an FBI agent. In the agent's office are file cabinets that can be opened to view the files kept on Americans who were suspected of being Communists, including Lucille Ball.

The beloved, red-headed comedienne apparently had registered to vote as a Communist in 1936 and again in 1938. As it turned out, she had done it only to please her grandfather. The ensuing investigation and interrogation by the House Committee for Un-American Activities failed to turn up anything more on Lucy. Observed her husband, Desi Arnaz, "The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that's not legitimate."
By Diane W. Stoneback, OF THE MORNING CALL

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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