Over the last year, I have experienced many passings of friends and acquaintances —including my own sister. While my own pandemic-created brain fog has lifted for the most part, I have been remiss to write about some folks who passed that deserve honorable mentions. All of them were dear comrades of the ’70s Asian American Movement and they all contributed greatly to creating a better world for people of color.

While this does not do justice to the lives they lived, it is important to mark the passing of unsung heroes who uplifted our hearts and minds. In the following tributes, everything seen in italics are direct quotes from the sources mentioned.

Betty Chen passed away on April 26, 2022 as a resident of Winter Haven, Fla. She was my mentor when I was a film student and budding activist in the ’70s Asian American Movement. Eddie Wong published a collection of eight remembrances of Betty in East Wind ezine: (See full collection at:

From Eddie Wong: Betty seized every moment to make a human connection. She was generous in spirit and exuded joy at being in community.

Betty was one of the teaching assistants for an affirmative action program that brought in dozens of Third World students to desegregate UCLA’s Film School in the 1970s. Much of her instruction centered on the mechanics of operating a 16mm camera, setting up lights, and managing a production crew. I’ve never had a more patient and encouraging teacher.

But far more than technical information was imparted in our sessions with Betty. She taught us that true artists care deeply about the people we photograph and must nurture relationships that go beyond the act of recording and documentation.

We spent many hours working on various photo projects in the early days of Visual Communications at our tiny office on South [sic] Jefferson Blvd.*

From Josslyn Luckett*: Betty Chen. The name was everywhere, and then I got to see her work. I have never seen a two-minute animated film that shocked me more than her Portraits of a Young Girl. What begins as a fanciful, almost psychedelic sketch pad of images of young women’s faces turns into a horrifying reminder of the Kent State massacre of 1970.

Who was this radical animator, who seemed to shepherd a generation of Asian American filmmakers at UCLA at the same time she was showing up in the credits for Sylvia Morales’ Chicana, Judith Dancoff’s Judy Chicago and the California Girls, as well as illustrating projects for Nobuko Miyamoto and Nancy Dowd?

Then all at once she seemed to vanish. Her vanishing concerned me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about a statement Alice Walker once wrote about Zora Neale Hurston: “We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and if necessary, bone by bone.”

Professor Josslyn Luckett (Cinema Studies, New York University) published her article “Searching for Betty Chen: Rediscovering the Asian American Filmmakers of UCLA in the Seventies” in Film Quarterly, Volume 73, Number 3 (2020).

Betty’s vanishing was her return to Florida to care for her aging parents. Ironically, Betty informed me that her town is just over 50 miles to where the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival takes place in Eatonville. Betty was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Lake Alfred, Fla.

Naomi Uyekawa Chan passed on July 9, 2022. Her obituary from the Green Hills website reads: She was born in Los Angeles, California on January 30, 1950. She is survived by her husband Dr. Sam Chan, her sons Akira (and his wife Renee) and Kenji, two grandchildren (Silk and Osiris), and brothers David (and his wife Karen), Gary, Richard, and Eddie (and his wife Jeannie). 

Naomi (“Nachi” to friends and family) resided in the South Bay throughout most of her life. She was a UCLA graduate and worked as a family planning assistant and health educator for UCLA Student Health Services and T.H.E. Clinic for Women (Asian Women’s Health Project). Following her brief career, she dedicated herself to raising her two sons and later caring for her granddaughter Silk. She also served as a medical volunteer for the weekly senior health clinic at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute for over 20 years.

Nachi gave a speech for the National Cancer Survivors’ Day in 2016 at the Torrance Memorial Medical Center on: How has cancer changed my life? What advice do I have for others?

Full text of her speech:

When Dr. Hool called last month and asked me to speak tonight I said OK, sure. Because he has been such a caring and wonderful doctor, I couldn’t say no.

Well, after I hung up, the terror sunk in. Dr. Hool, your job is to help heal me, not make me a nervous wreck !! But later, Dr. Hool and Miriam calmed me down … So thank you both. And thanks to my husband Sam for his patience and understanding in the weeks leading up to this event.

I’ve been asked to talk about how cancer has changed my life. The way I’d like to do that is to share how my loved ones helped me before, during, and after I got cancer.
My older brother was diagnosed with lung cancer about two years before my first diagnosis. During his fight with cancer he was so strong and calm and funny … he never lost his sense of humor. He became my role model and was such an inspiration and beacon of hope for me during my cancer.

I’d think about his courage and if he could beat cancer, then so could I !
After my cancer came back the second time, my youngest son started to grow a small pony tail and said to me: “Mom, I’m not cutting it until you’re cancer free.” As his pony tail grew longer over several years, it became my good luck charm. I asked him if I could braid it once in a while and cherished those times because it was so therapeutic for both of us. When we finally cut his pony tail off, I saved that special lock of hair and it still brings me good luck.

Getting over cancer is hard enough, but when it comes to regaining your overall health, they say: The best thing you can do for your heart is to lean over and pick up a child.
And that’s exactly what I ended up doing … and a whole lot more. About a year after my last chemo treatment, my granddaughter Silk was born. As my only grandchild she has brought me so much joy and happiness.

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you tonight.

I’d like to leave you with some advice that I got from one of my favorite comic strips. In order to be happy you need three things: Something to do; something to love, and something to hope for.

Nachi was laid to rest at Green Hills Memorial Park next to her parents Kiyoshi and Mitsuye Uyekawa.

Gilbert Tom Hom passed away on Oct. 4, 2022. The following was taken from the memorial program for Gilbert (Evergreen Cemetery, 10.18.2022).

Gilbert Hom was born at California Hospital in Los Angeles on Sept. 30, 1950, the second of four male children to Thomas F. Hom and Alice Lee Hom. Gilbert attended UCLA for several quarters as a physics major. He cut short his formal education to reject the military industrial complex and devoted his efforts to bringing town and gown together so that his university could be a catalyst for social change. He fought with others, tirelessly and successfully, for the establishment of an Asian American Studies Center at UCLA and, despite not being an alumnus, was a lead donor toward an endowment for Chinese American Studies.

Gilbert helped found and establish: Chinatown Youth Council, Chinese Awareness (a ’70s activist community newspaper), Chinatown Teen Post, the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC), and the Chinese Family History Group of Southern California, just to name a few.

Gilbert led the fight to respect the dead who were buried in a potter’s field of Evergreen Cemetery, which had been covered over. Working with the CHSSC, Gilbert was able to pressure city officials to erect a wall that honors the unmarked graves of those buried in this potter’s field. (

Outside of the monument wall is a plaque titled “Memorial to the Unknown Pioneers of Los Angeles.” The plaque reads: “In 2005, a section of the cemetery was excavated during the construction of the light rail line. Over 186 gravesites were disturbed, the skeletal remains of more than 130 individuals were removed, and grave markers of deceased Chinese persons were found lining a roadway of the Crematorium.

“This memorial is dedicated to these Los Angeles pioneers with the hope that their final resting place will be remembered and treated with utmost respect.”

Gilbert’s generous spirit touched so many people that he helped in so many different ways. He was a plumber and pipefitter by trade, working at the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar and the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles.

The memorial service for Gilbert is being held today at Evergreen Cemetery, a place where he spent a great deal of time maintaining the historic Chinese shrine, interacting with Metro and the county, and just pulling weeds.

Gilbert is survived by his wife of 18 years, Linda Po-Yin Chong, and his son, Theodore Wen-Han Hom; brothers Gordon (sons Michael and Kevin Hom), Philip, and Peter (wife Judy, sons Bryan and Erick and daughter Dayna).

Marc Kondo passed on May 2, 2023. Marc’s sister wrote the following tribute:

I am writing some of my memories of my brother Marc Kondo.

Marc was born in 1948 at the Japanese Hospital of L.A. to Milton and Alyce Kondo. He was a “local boy” attending Marvin Elementary, Audubon Jr. High, Dorsey High School and Cal State Long Beach.

He lived in the Crenshaw community at its height of ethnic diversity and popularity among Nisei and Sanseis. Crenshaw Square and Holiday Bowl were the places to be seen, to “talk story,” show off their souped-up cars and discuss issues Sanseis faced (i.e. struggling to find their identity separate from the “Quiet American” Issei-Nisei generations).

Marc was proud to grow up in the “hood.” He thought himself a “soul bro” having many African American friends. He talked and had a “pimp walk” as if he was an honorary member of the Soul Train dance gang.

When he was in college, he was instrumental in helping establish the Yellow Brotherhood (Asian American activist organization) in the area. He was proud to be associated with this group. As I recall, Nobuko Miyamoto, Warren Furutani and Mary Kochiyama and her family were some of his mentors. He was introduced to the Kochiyama family of New York and got heavily involved in their causes. He lived in Harlem, N.Y. to help the Kochiyamas address the anti-war in Vietnam movement, the Japanese American internment camps and reparations, studied the works of Malcolm X and Mao’s socialist ideology, advocated for the rights of political prisoners and more.

Naturally there was never enough time to accomplish all his objectives. As he grew older reality set in and he entered the workforce. Marc became an L.A. commercial real estate broker and property manager in the 1970s.

He always sought to “do the right thing” and “right the wrong” especially for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.

He always looked back fondly on his days fighting for the rights of others hoping his contributions helped his minority brothers and sisters achieve justice, racial integration and equality.

He was a highly intelligent MENSA member and introvert who loved to read and be involved in theatre arts. He was also narcissistic and self-absorbed at times, a poet, and a devout Chinese martial arts practitioner. Marc Kondo was clearly one-of-a-kind. — Cindy Inoue

Marc is survived by his two sisters, Sharon Kondo and Cindy (Gene) Inoue; nephew, Chris (Yaya) Lowe of Hilo, Hawaii; and other relatives.

I didn’t intend for this to be long, but these four lives could not be treated lightly. Betty, Nachi, Gilbert and Marc, your legacies of building a better world are not forgotten.


Mary Uyematsu Kao is a retired publications coordinator of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. She published her photograph book “Rockin’ the Boat: Flashbacks of the 1970s Asian Movement” in June 2020. Comments and feedback are welcome at

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