Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
On Friday, Sept. 29, I joined about 100 of Franklin Odo’s family members, friends, former students and colleagues in celebrating his life and work in oli and in the sharing of memories, heartfelt words and music. The program was held in the Sunset Lounge in George Hall, home of the Ethnic Studies Department, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.
Franklin Odo was a respected professor at UH because of the teacher he was. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, Franklin’s Ethnic Studies 330
“Japanese in Hawai‘i” class was one of the most popular on campus. He taught thousands of students during his 17 years at UH. Additionally, every semester, he took under his wing about 20 undergraduate teaching assistants — “lab leaders,” as they were called. I was one of the 300+ lab leaders that Franklin mentored during his tenure at UH.
From our first day as lab leaders, he was “Franklin” to us — by name and reference. He made it clear that he did not want us to call him “Professor Odo” or “Dr. Odo.” Less clear to me was why he was so available and why he trusted undergrads who barely had any teaching experience and no academic credentials to manage all aspects of his upper-division course. In so many ways, Franklin was unlike every professor we’d had until then.
As a longtime lab leader, I spent a lot of time in his modest office, assisting him with class planning and transcribing oral histories for his book projects. Franklin never completed his books while living in Hawai‘i because he was always too busy working with his students, university colleagues and the local community.
In December 1990, a day after I went to see a Hollywood-produced film about Japanese American internment, I dutifully reported to Franklin that the movie was racist. It was full of offensive Asian stereotypes and presented the internment from a Caucasian male’s perspective. Franklin encouraged me to write a review; he even edited my first draft, and then suggested that I submit it to UCLA’s Amerasia Journal and to Japanese American newspapers around the country. The widespread publication of that movie review changed my life. I told my Nisei grandparents, who I lived with in Kalihi, that I would not be going to law school as I had planned. Instead, I would focus on Japanese American studies with the goal of getting a job in the Japanese American community. Without Franklin’s mentorship, I would never have met then-Hawai‘i Herald editor Karleen Chinen nor applied to become one of her staff writers.
It was during this period that I asked Franklin why he devoted so much time to his students. He shared with me a lesson that Amy Tachiki, his lab leader at UCLA, taught him in 1971 while producing the country’s first Asian American Studies textbook, “Roots: An Asian American Reader,” which came to be widely used in colleges nationwide.
Franklin explained that when he was a student at Harvard and Princeton, the general practice was for the senior professor to be credited for group projects. The senior professor’s name would always be listed first in authorship, regardless of who actually did the work. In a 2018 UCLA Asian American Studies Center oral history interview (aasc.ucla.edu/aasc50/cm_franklinodo.aspx at 1:26:30), Franklin was asked what he felt was important to share from his time at UCLA:
“You know, I will say this about the lesson with “Roots [An Asian American Reader].” Amy Tachiki was the person who was significantly responsible for that. One day when we were transforming it from a mimeographed “Reader” into the publication that would happen in the spring of 1971 . . . . Sometime before then, she walked into my office, and the “Reader” had me as the lead author as the faculty member . . . . And she said, ‘Are you OK with the order of the authors?’ And I thought about it. I had come from traditional academia where faculty customarily marginalized their assistants and their students. I was the only legitimate faculty member in that group, so I said, ‘OK.’ So she turned on her heels and walked out. And the next thing I knew the book was out and it was Tachiki, [Eddie] Wong, Odo [and Buck Wong]. And it taught me a lesson . . . the real workers have to be recognized. I tried for the rest of my career not to exploit and give credit where it was due. That was an important lesson, part of my history.”
Some 15 and 20 years after I helped Franklin on two book projects as an undergraduate lab leader, he sent me a signed copy of each published work and acknowledged my contribution. He had not forgotten the lesson that Amy Tachiki had taught him.
Before he died of cancer on Sept. 28, 2022, Franklin’s longtime UH Ethnic Studies colleagues approached him about creating an endowment in his name. In his enduring commitment to the development and mentoring of undergraduate students at UH, The Franklin Odo Endowment for Ethnic Studies Initiative was created to:
1) Offer lab leaders leadership/teaching assistantship opportunities for Ethnic Studies majors/minors;
2) Provide support for faculty research that engages Ethnic Studies majors/minors;
3) Engage the UH-Mänoa community with experts in the field of Oceanic Ethnic Studies through invited lectures, guest workshops, creative performances and collaborative scholarship; and
4) Sponsor alumni-faculty-student social justice labs.
Contributions to the Franklin Odo Endowment for Ethnic Studies Initiative can be made through the University of Hawai‘i Foundation website at uhfoundation.org. When donating, specify Fund #130-1460-4. Checks can also be made payable to “University of Hawaii Foundation” and mailed to University of Hawaii Foundation, P.O. Box 11270, Hon., HI, 96828-0270. For more information about Franklin’s endowment, contact UH Foundation at 808-376-7800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Santoki is a former Hawai’i Herald editor and writer — and a grateful Ethnic Studies lab leader.