I was devastated when I learned that my friend, Franklin Odo, died in September. He was a teacher and leader in the struggle for human and civil rights. He used his scholarship to challenge racist beliefs and outmoded paradigms of racial superiority. His thinking and teaching cast light on dark and hidden corners of history. He inspired countless numbers of students, fellow academics, and the general public to examine heritage and personal history as a key to understanding the bigger picture.
Franklin was born in Hawai‘i. His parents were shop keepers and later farmers. He graduated from Kaimuki High School and went on to earn degrees from Princeton (BA and PhD), and Harvard (MA). Franklin had a huge influence on the development of Asian American history and Ethnic Studies throughout the United States. He also had a major influence on me.
We met in 1982 shortly after I was selected to produce and host Rice & Roses, the then-weekly public TV program about labor and the working class. I had significant experience in social and economic justice struggles on the US Continent, but had only a superficial understanding of Hawai‘i history. Franklin, who was appointed (in 1978) director of the Ethnic Studies Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa became a mentor and then a friend for more 40 years.
In 2009, I interviewed Franklin in conjunction with a Rice & Roses special: Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi. He was in the process of writing his book, Voices from the Canefields (Oxford University Press 2013), and we had collaborated on video interviews with several women who would be featured in both the documentary and book. In this interview, he shared a wonderful story about his personal transition from elitist academia to a pioneer in the field of Asian American Studies.
Franklin developed and directed the Asian Pacific American Program at the Smithsonian Institution, then was Interim Chief of the Asia Division of the Library of Congress, and finally returned to teaching as the John Woodruff Lecturer at Amherst College. For those wishing to know more, visit this website.
Franklin’s long and distinguished career is a testament to the knowledge that the struggle never ends. He will be sorely missed. But fortunately he has equipped his many students and colleagues with the tools to continue the struggle against racism and oppression! Aloha Oe, Franklin Odo!
I again express gratitude to all who have helped support our AQ documentary, The Struggle Never Ends, and the companion website: www.laborhistoryhawaii.org.
Mahalo Nui Loa,
Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer