Actor John Cho At the Speakers Forum at Fresno City College

Apr 29, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Movies, Steven Sanchez, TV

by Steven Sanchez

For years, the Speakers Forum held at Fresno City College has brought high-profile names to grace their stage. There was the actor Taye Diggs, the philosopher and activist Cornell West, author Max Brooks, and Sheryl Underwood who is an FCC Graduate and Co-host of The Talk on CBS … just to name a few. These events are for the students and are free to the public. Those who attended these events walked away with knowledge and lessons learned, no matter who was the speaker.

On April 18, John Cho was added to that list. The actor from the Star Trek franchise and Harold and Kumar series made his presence felt at the OAB Auditorium as he spoke to a full house. The event was moderated by professor and poet, Lee Herrick. It was inspirational to see two Asian Americans on the stage conversing about their passion for art and seeing a diverse crowd appreciating and embracing everything they shared.

John Cho and Lee Herrick

Lee asked questions and made observations, and John chimed in with his feelings and perspectives. When first introduced, John joked that this wasn’t a speech but that he was actually studying for a role. He then put on glasses like Lee’s and the audience erupted with laughter.

Then they branched out and delved into his start in theatre at Cal Berkeley. “Theatre started for me in college. I allowed myself to wander into new experiences, and theatre was one of those experiences,” said John. “I tried it out, and the pleasure of that was these are all weirdos like me, and I felt like I found my tribe. But I had no grand plans for acting.”

He was in a production based on the book, The Woman Warrior, and was surprised by how many people in the production looked like him. “Every character was played by an Asian actor, and that’s how I met professional Asian actors. I didn’t know they existed. I would see them on television from time to time, but I didn’t think you could be a professional actor and be Asian, and these people were so professional and fun and brought so much artistic merit to it and that was very exciting and fulfilling,” John explains. He had a big take away from that experience, “It’s worthwhile to ask yourself, do I like to work with things or people? I discovered at that time I like to work with people.”

Not a lot of people know this, but before he was on the big screen, John was a teacher. He was able to incorporate his experience as an educator into his approach as an actor. “I was teaching an English class, and the important part of my job as an actor is to understand what I’m reading and what the author is trying to say. It’s an important skill to have in any facet of life. It has served me well as I select scripts and understand what the character is supposed to be, and being an English teacher allowed me to do that,” said John.

During a Q&A at the end where members of the audience asked questions, he told the audience to find a teacher that they care about and tell them that they’re proud of them and that what they do is important.

John and Lee also talked about Asian representation in film and television. John went in-depth about what it’s been like watching the evolution through the years, both the positive and the negative.

“When I was coming up, there was this idea of one person who will break through, and that’s what we were clinging to. Who was going to break down the door? It’s a lot to put on a person. What I’m gratified by is that it’s been very collective. It takes the weight off a single performer and one story to tell our story. The Asian American story is multi-faceted. It’s been a collective thing for people in front and behind the camera to help each other. It’s become much healthier for Asian Americans to be a part of the industry. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes,” John stated proudly.

John received an ovation at the end of his talk, but his reception doesn’t compare to the appreciation he received afterward while signing his book, Troublemaker. He did tell the audience that he’s looking into adapting his book into a script, so we may see it in the future. The line was very long and everyone who got the chance to meet him was gratified by his generosity.

Much appreciation should be given to a particular individual for inspiring such a profound exchange of words—Lee Herrick. He received the prestigious honor a few months back of being appointed as California Poet Laureate by Governor Gavin Newsom.

This was the first time that he has moderated the Speakers Forum, and he knows how important these things are. “I appreciate the sponsors and the college’s commitment to the forum, and I want for it to continue. But opportunities like this for the students and the community to meet someone who’s shaping our society through media and writing and activism is priceless and it’s an incredible honor for me to be a part of it and I appreciate the community’s support,” said Lee.

All over the world, California is known as an artistic state, but there are certain areas, like Fresno, which may not get the same recognition as other cities within the state for their artistic contributions. Those who are locals and involved in these communities know that we have theatre, poetry, filmmaking, music, and much more. We may not get the same support that places like Los Angeles or San Francisco get but for someone who has received state recognition, Lee has seen first-hand the evolution of Fresno’s rise in the arts and where it’s going.

“Poetry is visible and respected in Fresno, but all forms of artistic expression deserve recognition. People here, I hope, see the beauty and talent and necessary work that artists here are doing: buying their paintings or music, promoting their work, and teaching them how to perform or write. On a higher level, where decisions are made, funding and advancements, expanding visibility in that way helps, and artists here are just as great as people in the other cities in the state in which they cultivate,” Lee boldly stated. “It’s good but it can be better, and I’m going to advocate for artists’ support. All cities are different, can’t compare too much, but this area can equal the same impact as surrounding cities. If we keep doing the work and getting support, I believe we can achieve that.”

Events like this with two Asian Americans sharing their perspectives and showcasing the contributions they’ve made to the arts and the impact it’s had on people is the reason why the Speakers Forum exists and why they continue to bring in great people. Those who attend walk out with insight and a great experience having been a part of it. Much gratitude to Lee and Kathy Bonilla and Fresno City College for putting on this event.

To purchase John’s Book:

To see Lee’s work:

Steven Sanchez is a film graduate of UNLV. He’s a filmmaker, writer, photographer, and music manager. Obsessed with movies, comic books, and rock ‘n’ roll. A football fanatic, big fan of the Oakland Raiders. Enjoys reading and collecting vinyl records. If there’s a rock show in town more than likely he’ll be there. Loves his grandma’s home cooked meals. He has a twin sister and most people call him the pretty one. You can learn more about Steven on his YouTube channel and on Instagram @stevensanchez5807 photos and videos.


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