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Stanford Report, May 21, 1997

Documentary traces Okada House history


When junior Chou Yang became a theme associate at Okada house this year, he went on a search for stories of Okada's past so he could educate current residents about Okada's history.

He found almost nothing.

"I tried going back to see what the house was like, and I couldn't find anything," Yang said. He was amazed that there was so little to be found about the dorm's past 25 years, and he decided to do something about it.

"I wanted to start some sort of recording of the history of Okada, so others that come in the future can look back and see what actually happened," Yang said.

He decided to do a film documentary on Okada after taking history Professor Gordon Chang's course "Multicultural History of Stanford." Yang's section started work on the documentary as a class project. He and others researched the history of minorities at Stanford and brought in guest speakers, including a reporter and a documentary producer, to learn how to make the film.

Yang and other members of the section carried the documentary project into spring quarter as a directed reading through the history department, Yang said. About five people currently are working on the film, with other Okada house members and interested students also helping out.

It's no easy task. Because there is no official documentation of Okada, the students use a wide variety of memorabilia, including home video footage, letters and photographs. They are also interviewing former residents and staff, Yang said.

The goal is to get a preliminary version of the documentary completed by the end of May, and a final version completed in autumn quarter. The project has gotten help from Channel 6 (MPAC), a local cable access channel, which loans equipment for filming and editing the project, Yang said. The project also has received funding from Residential Education.

Ben Longoria-Valadez, a freshman Okada resident who is working on the documentary, said that another purpose of the documentary is to compare Okada today with the Okada of the past.

The Asian American theme house was started in 1971 when graduate student Nelson Dong and others petitioned the housing office to establish a residence that would provide a more comfortable environment for the few Asian American students at Stanford.

The theme house was originally located in the house now called Junipero in Wilbur. In 1979, the house was renamed Okada, in honor of Asian American author John Okada, author of No-No Boy, a book about the trials of Asian Americans in the United States during World War II. In 1993, Okada was moved into another Wilbur house, Madera, after growing too large for its former home.

"The history is amazing," Longoria-Valadez said. "Groups went through a lot of struggle at Stanford to set up theme dorms." For him, the most interesting aspect of the documentary was comparing the changing role of Okada over the years.

"In the past it seems that Okada was a refuge, a place where people had power through a collective view," Longoria-Valadez said. "Today it has more of an informative role."

Yang agreed, saying that Okada is unique among ethnic theme dorms because while in the past there were few Asian students on campus, today Asian Americans make up almost 25 percent of the student body. "We want to see if the reasons the house was founded [still exist] today," Yang said.

Yang said that talking to alumni and working on the project gave him a new perspective on Okada. "I realized that it's the students and staff who come in each year that make or break the program," Yang said. "It's a new challenge each year." SR