The Power of the Press: Part 1– May Day Lo

A blog in support of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

In the Lily Wu detec­tive nov­els by Juani­ta Sheri­dan one of the col­or­ful side­kicks is a female reporter named Steve (Stephanie Dugan) who fun­nels infor­ma­tion to her two ama­teur detec­tive friends Lily and Jan­ice. Since many of her fic­tion­al char­ac­ters are based on real life peo­ple, I won­dered if Sheri­dan based Steve on some of the ball­sy female reporters who were break­ing into news­rooms in the 1930s. So my ears pricked when I heard that Li Ling-Ai had a jour­nal­ist friend in the 30s and 40s named May Day Lo. Yes, that is her real name, and no she was not even born in May.

May Day Lo at the University of Missouri (photo courtesy Susan Cummings)

May Day Lo at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cum­mings)

 

In the mid 1930s May Day Lo made his­to­ry by being one of the first Asian Amer­i­can women hired to report for a major dai­ly news­pa­per. The pro­gres­sive Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin hired Lo and Ah Jook Ku after they grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri Jour­nal­ism School. May Day Lo also broke ground at Jour­nal­ism School by being the first “exchange stu­dent” accept­ed there (remem­ber, Hawaii was still a ter­ri­to­ry and not offi­cial­ly part of the Unit­ed States).

May Day Lo Exchange Student at University of Missouri

How does a girl from Hilo get to Mis­souri in 1933?

 

Notably, in 2010 when the Asian Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ists Asso­ci­a­tion put togeth­er a list of pio­neer­ing Asian jour­nal­ists, a major­i­ty of them were from Hawaii. AAJA his­to­ri­an Chris Chow com­ment­ed, “Hawaii was more open to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. There was recog­ni­tion that this is an impor­tant mar­ket and you’d bet­ter well serve them (Asian-Amer­i­cans) if you want to make any mon­ey.”

Back in the 30’s, the Star Bul­letin seemed to cov­er sto­ries about local Asians more com­pre­hen­sive­ly than the rival Hon­olu­lu Adver­tis­er.  And May Day Lo’s byline was on sev­er­al ear­ly arti­cles writ­ten about Li Ling-Ai, includ­ing the one that prob­a­bly prompt­ed Adver­tis­er reporter Rey Scott to call Li Ling-Ai into his office for an inter­view on that fate­ful night in 1937 when plans for mak­ing KUKAN were first hatched.

 

Li Ling-Ai appears on the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1937

Reporter May Day Lo gives front page cov­er­age to fel­low Chi­nese Amer­i­can pio­neer — Li Ling-Ai (aka Gladys Li)

 

I love know­ing that a petite Chi­nese woman who was raised by a rev­erend in Hilo was the first exchange stu­dent at the pres­ti­gious Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri School of Jour­nal­ism and that the pow­er of her pen brought atten­tion to anoth­er pio­neer­ing Chi­nese young woman in a way that changed her life for­ev­er. I want­ed to find out more about May Day Lo, espe­cial­ly when I found an intrigu­ing let­ter from her to Li Ling-Ai:

July 31, 1941,
Dear Li Ling Ai,
Now that I am home again, it all seems like a dream that I met you and all the oth­ers in New York and had such a won­der­ful time…. Please give my Alo­ha to Mrs. James Young, Rey Scott and Mr. Rip­ley when you see them.

May Day Lo had been in New York right around the time when KUKAN pre­miered at the World The­ater just off Broad­way! She had met both Rey Scott and Robert Rip­ley – two key play­ers in Li Ling-Ai’s life at the time. Could May Day hold clues to some of the unsolved mys­ter­ies sur­round­ing KUKAN?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly May Day had died in a trag­ic car acci­dent in 1986. May Lee Chung, edi­tor of the ACUW pub­li­ca­tion that doc­u­ments so many pio­neer­ing Chi­nese women’s lives (see oth­er posts about this “Orange Bible”), could remem­ber clear­ly the cir­cum­stances of May Day’s death. But she did not know what had become of May Day’s only child David, some­one who might be able to tell me more. The trail remained cold until the Pow­er of the Press struck again in 2011. Stay tuned…

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2 Responses to The Power of the Press: Part 1– May Day Lo

  1. duriandave says:

    Great dis­cov­ery, Robin! The past is full of won­der­ful sur­pris­es. All we have to do is look.

    And speak­ing of Lily Wu, I brought two of Juani­ta Sheridan’s nov­els with me on my trip to HK: The Kahu­na Killer and The Waiki­ki Wid­ow. I was hooked! The books are tru­ly spe­cial and a fas­ci­nat­ing response, whether intend­ed or not, to the char­ac­ter of Char­lie Chan. I love the char­ac­ter of Jan­ice and Lily is the epit­o­me of cool. Many thanks for the intro­duc­tion! I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing the oth­er two in the series.

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