Response to the Economist

Written by Shengxi Li in response to this article  

Controversy has surrounded affirmative action ever since it was institutionalized in 1954 through Brown v. Board of Education. In the late 20th century, the hot button phrase was “reverse affirmative action.” Today, the point of contention seems to be around Asian Americans being against affirmative action because we think that other minority groups are stealing our opportunities.

On October 3rd, the Economist published an article titled, “The model minority is losing patience,” arguing, in essence, that affirmative action is blocking Asian Americans from fulfilling the American dream and overcoming years of historical discrimination in the United States.

I rarely see acknowledgement of the history of discrimination experienced by Asian Americans in this country so I appreciated the brief overview with which the article set the stage after its opening anecdote. Key facts the author highlighted include the fact that the largest mass lynching in American history, in 1871, was not of blacks but of 17 Chinese, and that in 1942, 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned, compared to negligible numbers of German or Italian-Americans. I add to that reality the facts that the first Asian Americans were brought to the US as indentured servants to work on plantations in an antebellum attempt to solve the “slavery problem” and that anywhere from 150 to 1,200 underpaid or unpaid Chinese laborers, working under terrible conditions, died building the transcontinental railroad.

I also agreed with the article’s subsequent description of the work ethic and cultural factors that have led Asian Americans to become what the article calls “unusually well educated, prosperous, married, satisfied with their lot and willing to believe in the American dream.”  

From here, though, the article does a little bait and switch. The articles argues that even though there has been an astonishing level of Asian American academic success, it is not nearly as much as the amount of hard work, the level of familial pressure, and the generally outstanding grades and accolades “would seem to merit.” And the reason the article provides is because of affirmative action:

“Racial prejudice of the sort that Jews faced may or may not be part of the problem, but affirmative action certainly is. Top universities tend to admit blacks and Hispanics with lower scores because of their history of disadvantage; and once the legacies, the sports stars, the politically well-connected and the rich people likely to donate new buildings (few of whom tend to be Asian) have been allotted their places, the number for people who are just high achievers is limited. Since the Ivies will not stop giving places to the privileged, because their finances depend on the generosity of the rich, the argument homes in on affirmative action.”

By framing this entire article through the lens of the lawsuit that is currently being levied by 64 Asian organizations against Harvard for discrimination in the admission process, the Economist seems to suggest that this is not simply an argument it puts forth, but rather, an argument being made by the majority of the Asian American community – that we are tired of their spots being taken by other, underqualified people of color as recompense for their history of disadvantage when we too have a history of disadvantage and are more qualified.

Yet, where the Economist sees a complaint against affirmative action, against other racial minorities in the United States, I see a complaint against the solution that the American institutions and government have offered to the problem of racism.

As the article pointed out, the Asian American community was not spared the discrimination so commonly experienced by groups of color. No compensation or even formal apology has ever been issued, however, as redress for those decades of deprivation, discrimination, and violation.

After the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, we received no apology from Congress. After Brown v. Board of Education, there was no judicial decision aimed at integrating Asians into the white school systems despite Yick Wo v. Hopkins, decided in 1886, designating Asians as “colored” and barring Asian Americans from attending white schools as expressly as blacks were barred in Plessy v. Ferguson from riding in white train cars. After Korematsu v. United States stripped Japanese Americans of their guaranteed rights as citizens and ordered all ethnic Japanese in the United States into internment camps regardless of citizenship, we received no compensation for our losses of property and deprivation of liberty.

What limited redress and compensation that has been provided by the American institutions over the years has been on stark black and white terms.

I do not and cannot speak for all Asian Americans – as the Economist acknowledges, the Asian American population is extremely diverse. It is possible that those filing the lawsuit against Harvard truly are bitter against black, Latino, and other underrepresented minority students, as the article suggests. However, I personally do not begrudge any group of color receiving compensation for the wrongs that the American government has done to it over the years. What I begrudge is the government and other institutions providing an institutional remedy in exclusive terms of black and white, when for centuries, they propagated wrongs under a system of white and colored, with the latter encompassing all those unfortunate enough to have a drop of blood other than Caucasian. What I begrudge are these institutions trying to sweep under the rug years of wrongs that it has inflicted upon certain groups instead of giving them their due compensation. What I begrudge are the continuation of excuses like “Ivies will not stop giving places to the privileged [i.e. white] because their finances depend on the generosity of the rich,” and the insistence that hence, the only way to make spots for those who have been deprived is to take from others who have also been deprived.

That is not a solution; it is a compromise. And after decades of being compromised, you can bet I am “losing patience.”

 

 

Go See “China: Through the Looking Glass”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest exhibit “China: Through the Looking Glass” examines China’s influence on Western fashion.

The exhibit gained widespread media attention when pictures of Western celebrities MET Gala outfits flooded the internet. There was Rihanna in a Guo Pei haute couture yellow robe, Miley Cyrus in Alexander Wang, then Sarah Jessica Parker in a “phoenix crown,” and Lady Gaga in a kimono. (See: The Most Questionable Interpretations of the MET Gala’s Chinese Theme)

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One would likely jump to the same conclusion that the exhibit, like some aspects of gala, is just another example of cultural appropriation.

After my visit to the exhibit on College Group at the MET night, I am writing to tell you that it’s not as offensive as perhaps depicted in the news. Yes, at first glance, themes of opium, calligraphy, Chinoiserie, and even the Cultural Revolution seem borderline stereotypical, but once you see the gowns on display, you just see a beautiful gown. Yes, there’s Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Versace, etc., but all are expensive gowns with delicate embroideries and fine attention to detail. There are no slanted eyes, no yellow skin tones, or exaggerated Chinese accented English (the films used are Chinese classic films). The recurring question is always what is the line between art and appropriation. I asked my Asian friends if they thought it was offensive for a non-Asian to wear Asian inspired clothes. Many of them agreed that they appreciated the effort to understand their Asian culture through fashion and, as long as the design is respectable, more sharing of and exposure of their culture is a good thing.

Anna May Wong

I was glad to see that a significant section of the exhibit was dedicated to attire worn by 3rd generation Chinese American actress Anna May Wong.

"Why is it that the screen Chinese is always the villain? We are not like that."

"It's a pretty sad situation to be rejected by Chinese because I'm 'too American' and by American producers because they prefer other races to act Chinese parts."

Roles were limited to Dragon Lady or Lotus Blossom in the 1920s for an Asian female actress. Wong grew tired of alternating between the two choices of  supporting character, she even moved to Europe briefly to escape typecasting. Perhaps one of the few benefits of playing stereotypical Asian characters was the opportunity to wear some nice designer dresses. One literally had an embroidery of a dragon on the back of a dress. I would have liked to see more than just Anna May Wong’s costumes (maybe a Flower Drum Song section?), but an exhibit can only include so much and the emphasis of this exhibit was high fashion, not film.
I encourage you to see the exhibit yourself at the MET and remind you to read all the signs throughout the exhibit. A lot can be misinterpreted if you go through the exhibit without reading them. As one sign in the exhibit states,
“This exhibit is not about China per se but about a collective fantasy of China. … As opposed to censoring or disregarding depictions of other cultures that are not entirely accurate, it advocates studying these representations on their own terms.”
Chances are, in a couple more decades, the outfits we saw worn by celebrities at the 2015 MET Gala will end up in a museum exhibit too.

Once A Part of ECAASU 2016 Philly Bid Team, Forever A Friend

7 Reasons why I joined:

  1. I wanted to be more involved in the Asian American community outside of Bryn Mawr College.
  2. I wanted to meet people outside of the Tri-Co (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore).
  3. I had fresh ideas of speakers, workshops, entertainers after networking with the Asian American community through my Asian Cinevision internship at the Asian American International Film Festival.
  4. I have never attended a Pan-Asian American conference (other than UPenn APALSA).
  5. I am having a positive experience as an ECAASU blogger, so I wanted to get more involved in ECAASU.
  6. I wanted to challenge my creativity in designing a clear, yet visually attractive, template for the bid.
  7. I truly believe Philadelphia is the perfect host city for the ECAASU conference.

Unfortunately, the Rutgers team won the 2016 bid. However, all was not lost. I am glad I was part of a productive team of students from Temple University, Drexel University, University of the Sciences, and 2 young professionals who already graduated. Admittedly, it is always nice to get out of my small suburban women’s college environment, which we refer to as the “Bryn Mawr Bubble.”

Our bid team members were assigned specific roles, but all had input on the overall direction of our bid. I was the graphics and web design manager. My main contribution to the team was to develop a graphics template for the bid proposal on Microsoft Word as well as Google Presentation. Had we won the bid, I would have moved on to creating the conference website appearance. Creating the bid proposal involved innovative minds and lots and lots of editing. Our bid team spent nearly 11 hours together in the Temple library, 4 hours preparing for the bid presentation, and countless hours working remotely on the proposal online via Google Drive and Hangout. By the time we finished, I had over 20 scrapped drafts of our proposal in my computer’s trash.

In hindsight, I would have liked to have University of Pennsylvania representation on the Philly 2016 bid team. None of the schools from which our bid team members hailed from had Asian American Studies Departments or Centers. University of Pennsylvania has both a renowned Asian American Studies Department and a wealth of resources (hello, IVY LEAGUE). I would have liked to see an Asian American Studies professor give a keynotes speech at ECAASU 2016 Philly. The chances of enticing a University of Pennsylvania student to join the ECAASU Philly bid team are low since he or she may not feel the need to contribute when things are already good on their campus. (UPenn has its own APA Heritage Week and Culture Shows.)

One of the friends I made on the bid team was our advisor and ECAASU Campus Tour Coordinator Melody Lam. Although she graduated college a couple years ago and works full time, she still finds time to be involved in the Asian American community. She was also able to give me a different perspective of life after college. I was relieved to learn that your college major does not limit your career options. (Melody was a biology major but is currently planning on going to law school.)

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from her is that Asian American activism is not just a college hobby; it’s a lifetime pursuit and network.
Maybe we’ll consider submitting another bid proposal for ECAASU Philly 2017..

In the meantime, after finals I am looking forward to my summer in Philly. Most of the ECAASU 2016 Philly Bid Team will also be in Philly, and it is highly likely we will reunite or bump into each other in our small city of brotherly (and sisterly) love.

You can view our 43-page bid proposal here

And our bid presentation here

The Asian American Christian

Growing up in a predominantly Caucasian town, my family was one of two Asian families in my church. I never felt like my Asian Americanness factored much into my religious beliefs. I had always felt welcome at my church, which had a reputation of leaning very liberal. (We had a gay pastor.) When I entered high school, I started to notice the significant amount of Korean Christians who belonged to Korean Churches. I saw their retreats and mission trips to Guatemala all over Facebook. Their church group looked like fun. This trend continued when I got to college and there were not one, but two Asian Church Groups on campus. I stopped going to church once I got to college, but some part of me thought I belonged in an Asian church. This Easter, I joined Bryn Mawr’s Barkada (Filipino Students Association) on an outing to attend Filipino Easter Catholic mass. I am not very connected to my own Filipino roots, so I was excited to experience my first Asian Church. Some church goers dressed like my Filipino grandaunts and the pastor had the same Filipino accent as my grandfather. To my disappointment, other than the majority of the congregation being Filipino and singing an occasional Church hymn in Tagalog, the Church service was just the same as any other Church service. I uncomfortably sat through the rest of service listening to a sermon where the pastor preached that we should pray for our pastor and rejoice in being Born Again Christians (I am NOT a Born Again). While I consider myself a non-practicing Episcopalian, Asian Christianity is actually on the uprise. I do not quite understand why so many Asian churches tend to lean right, but I am not the only one who has found this to be true.

I now realize I was mixing up my desire to be in an Asian affinity group with belonging to an Asian church. Asian churches are NOT affinity groups. There are some people who go to church for the community, but I cannot belong to a community if my ideology differs. Strangely, I think my visit to the conservative Asian church reaffirmed my belief in liberal Episcopalianism. Maybe I should try Buddhism next...

 

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Fresh is STALE? GASP

I don’t want to say it…but the last two episodes were pretty weak. Generally lack luster and not very funny. All sitcoms have these kinds of episodes but having boring, unoriginal episodes near the end of the season is quite alarming. I want another season, but episodes like “Blind Spot” and “Very Superstitious” could kill the series. There have also been outbursts from Eddie Huang (not the character from the show, but the actual person), in the form of tweets, echoing what he said about the show from the beginning:

 

“I'm happy people of color are able to see a reflection of themselves through #FreshOffTheBoat on @ABCNetwork but I don't recognize it.

“I had to say something because I stood by the pilot. After that it got so far from the truth that I don't recognize my own life.”

“I don't think it is helping us to perpetuate an artificial representation of Asian American lives and we should address it.”


Like Huang I’m going to echo what I said from my very first blog:

“They haven’t seen us.” Fresh Off the Boat is something radical, like changing form regular milk to soy, but not too radical, like changing from steak to stinky tofu; the goal of Fresh off the Boat is to give something that the average American can swallow, without causing anger, panic, or “a yellow scare.” When we watch the show over the next few days, we will understand that it is not Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir, but a more watered-down, “American” friendly ABC: Panda Express-style orange chicken Fresh Off the Boat. It is how it is, but it IS progress. Fresh Off the Boat is the first pill given to medicate American ignorance and to start research for a cure. For now, it’s time to get some popcorn and watch for any side effects.”

In all fairness, this is a family orientated sitcom. IT’S NOT HIS BOOK. Obviously the series is going to be watered down and have several incongruities. BUT, it is helping out the Asian American community especially in media in the long time, acting as bridge to new opportunities.

 

Episode 11: “Blind Spot” (6/10) – I almost fell asleep. Boring. Not that funny. Gross use of LGBTQ stereotypes

Jessica’s college ex-boyfriend Oscar is coming to Orlando and is staying with the Huangs. Jessica’s annoyed that Louis isn’t jealous and then proceeds to actively try to make Louis jealous by talking about her and Oscar’s grand plans to test-drive Jacuzzis. When Oscar arrives, he presents Eddie with wind chimes as a gift and reveals he’s in town to audition for a dance role in Aladdin on ice. It’s clear, as Louis puts it, that Oscar is “very, very gay,” but Jessica has a blind spot when it comes to gay people. Oscar have a crush on Louis and he was also under the impression that the two were a couple in college, because they hung out and sometimes split dessert. Louis’s blind spot is not knowing when people are in love with him. Jessica becomes insecure and goes to lesbian bar (she doesn’t know it’s a lesbian bar) to drink away her troubles until Louis and Oscar come to cheer her up. The lesson, according to Jessica: “It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. The one thing we can all agree on is that I’m hot.”

 

Episode 12: “Very Superstitious” (7/10) – Funny moments with Pippen, but otherwise stale.

Things are going well at the real-estate office with Jessica managing to sell the Allen house (which is undeniably haunted). “No one ever goes in. No one ever goes out.” At first she’s like, “Pshhhhh whatever,” until she sees that there is a 4 in the home’s address. The janitor proceeds to tell us that, in Chinese culture, 4 is considered unlucky because it sounds like the Chinese word for “death.” Although she is gravely superstitious, she sells the home by standing outside and yelling through the window. When she gets her commission, she realizes that the bad luck followed her, since the check number is 4444. She tears the check up, but Louis tapes it back together so he can purchase a creepy electronic mooing bull for Cattleman’s Ranch. Eddie trips over it at the restaurant and breaks his arm. Louis asks his son to a “little white lie” about how the injury happened, so Jessica won’t find out he cashed the possibly cursed check. Like most of Louis’ advice it backfires, prompting Eddie to tell everyone at school he got into a street fight. The lie helps him win the election and become president. Unfortunately the lie raises the suspicions the new guidance counselor who now thinks Eddie’s parents are abusing him. This of course results in an awkward, unwanted visit from Child Protective Services that unravels Eddie and Louis’ web of lies to Jessica. The situation is eventually resolved with Louis respecting Jessica’s superstitious nature and with their grandmother providing a cleansing ritual.

 

Growing Up With Mulan

Word came out earlier this week that Disney plans to make a live-action film of the 1998 animated film Mulan. My gut reaction was, “Yes, it’s our time! I love Mulan!” I was Mulan for Halloween three years in a row in first through third grade: two years as Mulan in the pink dress and one year as Mulan the warrior. I even had the Mulan DVD in Chinese.   some_text

Perhaps my exposure to Mulan at a young age makes me not so critical of Mulan. Some claim that Mulan is a white feminist who rejects her Asian culture, while other parts of the internet tell me that Mulan is a real Chinese legend from the 6th century. Through my 7-year old self, I saw a hero worth admiring for her wits and strength, but most importantly, someone who looked like me. My own Chinese culture seemed cooler to me when I saw Mulan speaking Chinese on my TV screen. My mom bought many the Disney movies with Chinese subs and dubs in hopes that I would practice my Chinese more, but it always seemed unnatural watching Ariel with red hair speaking Chinese. Mulan just made being Chinese that much more awesome. It also helped that the Mulan soundtrack was well received.

When I went to back to Disney this past winter break for the first time since I was 7 years old, I rushed to Epcot to see Mulan. The Mulan I had in mind was not the Mulan who greeted me in the China section of Epcot. This Mulan had a black wig on (well, all Disney princesses wear wigs so…), blue eyeshadow, thin eyebrows, and tan Asian skin. I watched Mulan before I even knew what an Asian American was. Mulan is Chinese, she never was meant to be Asian American. Subconsciously imposing stereotypical Asian beauty standards (pale skin, thick natural eyebrows, and natural black hair) on Mulan did not seem fair to her, yet I left Epcot without a picture with “Mulan” and slight disappointment. This raises the question of who should be casted as Mulan for the upcoming live-action film. Now that I am older and more aware of Asian and Asian American media representation in the USA, I feel conflicted in finding actors who are “American” enough to bring in the box office and “Asian” enough to satisfy the true story. Such a cast probably does not exist, but these are who I would cast for the live-action film:

 

Mulan: Grace Huang

Shang: Chris Pang

Mushu: Justin Chon

Ling: Eugene Yang

Chien-Po: Randall Park

Yao:

 

Mulan’s Mom: Michelle Yeoh

Mulan’s Dad: Russell Wong

Mulan’s Grandma: Cheng Pei-Pei

Shan Yu: Rich Ting

Emperor: Al Leong

Chi-Fu:

Jessica is Too FRESH

After a one-week break, Fresh of the Boat hit hard with another great episode. Constance Wu’s performance as Jessica continues to be the highlight of the series. Wu’s character, Jessica, could have easily been a stereotypical, “Tiger Mom,” if it not for the excellent writing and acting of the series. Jessica, instead, is a portrayed as a strong, kind woman with clear intentions. And, as we learned with Louis in “Showdown at Cattleman’s Ranch,” she wants everyone in her family to be happy and successful. In “License to Sell,” we learn more about how Jessica views herself and how that translates to the pressures she puts on her three sons. Episode 9: “License to Sell” (9/10) – Just a very enjoyable episode. Funny jokes, great acting, important morals.

In episode 7, “Showdown at Cattleman’s ranch,” Jessica gets into real estate by casually selling a house to a gay couple. She attempts to continue selling houses, even though she doesn’t have a license. Jessica, finally, decides to get a license, when a rival relator comes to the open house, which Jessica is showing off, with a police officer. When Jessica goes to take the exam, she meets Kim McKinnen, a successful realtor who is renewing her license. Kim brags about being in the business for ten years and being the best relator in the area with hundreds of houses sold under her belt. This causes Jessica to have an uncharacteristic confidence crisis. Instead of getting her license, Jessica binges on some junk food and lies to her family when she gets home. Jessica is constantly telling her children “If you’re going to do something, be the best,” and feels that she has to keep up the appearance of being the best. Louis finds out, from Honey, about the situation and confronts Jessica. Fortunately Louis convinces her to retake the test and Evan and Emery help her out with a bit of role-reversal tutoring; Jessica passes the test.

Ever since their move, the Huangs have been trying to fit in and catch up with the rest of white society. Louis is trying to catch up to the successful restaurant owners that are similar to his, Eddie is trying to catch up to his older crush, and Jessica is trying to catch up to her fellow wives, who seem to have their lives and careers already figured out. “They are a minority family in an overwhelmingly white town, always playing catch-up to try and get on the same level as their neighbors — and to general white America.”

While Jessica’s main story is going on, the side story is centered on Eddie’s crush on Nicole. When he asks his father for advice, Louis tells him to “find out where she’s going to be and be there, always.” Nicole hangs out in detention after school. At first, she blows him off; they have a short conversation the next time, when Eddie tries his best to pretend “he’s interested in everything she’s interested in.” Nicole says she wants to go to beauty school and asks Eddie to “come over sometime after school.” Nicole gives Eddie an ear piercing and some henna on his hands. After getting caught by his parents, Eddie stands up to Nicole and explains that he is not interested in the beauty stuff. This side story dealt with the general moral of being yourself. It also expanded the father and son relationship Eddie and his father have.

Also if you hadn’t noticed, the title, “License to Sell,” is alluding to the Beastie Boy’s album, “License to Ill.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVZEM3nRr5o

Diversity Training in Higher Ed

Wednesday marked the first annual at my school: a Community Day of Learning: Race and Ethnicity at Bryn Mawr College and Beyond.” After months of campus discussions on race, but no action, a series of unfortunate events involving two students hanging a Confederate Flag and drawing a Dixie Line in concurrent with the Ferguson unrest sparked outrage on campus and a renewed demand for changes Many colleges and universities also have diversity education and training programs, some required for freshmen and some optional. Bryn Mawr had neither. On the Community Day of Learning, all classes were cancelled and two workshop slots were scheduled with over 40 different choices of workshops led by faculty, staff, and students. It was Bryn Mawr’s first active step towards opening a safe space for faculty, staff, and students to learn from each other’s personal experiences.

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Given this was the first year, I understand things were not going to be perfect. Before Wednesday, I wondered if people would actually go to the workshops, or sleep in because there was no class. I wondered who would come to my workshop on Asian identities when there were 40 other workshops and only two sessions. I wondered who would care about Asian identities when the Asian American (and Latinx) experience is often forgotten in the usual Black-White binary discussion on race. Would the people who needed to hear about these issues the most, with an open mind, even show up.

The Bryn Mawr administration had contacted the co-presidents of the Asian American Students Association and the South Asian Students Association to put together the “Perspectives on Asian Identities” workshop, but we were only notified two weeks in advance. I am glad that the administration included the input of students, but I also felt like I was brought in as a token Asian American to speak on Asian experiences. Leading a workshop also meant I had one less workshop to attend myself. The other presenters and I tried to emphasize diversity of the Asian American experience and portrayals and consequences of the Model Minority Myth, but I found it somewhat difficult because my experience growing up in Northern Jersey was so different from my classmates who grew up in California or even Central Jersey. I can honestly say that I had never been discriminated against or had to deal with familial pressures and stereotypes until I learned about what others had experienced before coming to college. I had also never taken an Asian American Studies class (much to my dismay, Bryn Mawr doesn’t offer one).

My only hopes for the future are that Bryn Mawr continues the discussion outside of that one day of the year, and that Bryn Mawr keeps a good record of the presentations shown so anyone can access them.

FOB: American Dream and Asian Adoptees

Fresh Off the Boat is inching toward its season one finale and I am eagerly waiting for ABC to announce another season. Right now it’s all up in the air, on whether FOB will have a second season, but over the course of the season FOB’s views and ratings have been quite consistent after a slight dip flowing the season premiere. Episodes seven and eight, again, were not as heavy as the first few episodes, but still brought up important issues such as the “American Dream” and Asian adoptees. Here is a quick recap of episodes seven and eight.  

Episode 7: “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” (9/10) – 8.5 for Randall Park and Constance Wu plus the extra 0.5, since Eddie got Nicole to say “Hey”

 

Eddie’s dad, Louis, wants to boost sales at the restaurant and buys a billboard near the longest stoplight in town. Initially things go so well that Louis and Jessica get invited to a charity dinner at the local country club. This week Eddie’s problem is that his bus ride home sucks and that his crush, Nicole, ignores him. I was privileged enough to never ride the bus in middle school, but to my knowledge the bus ride was some kind of hell. Screaming, hormone crazed middle schoolers that wanted to kill each other…Ya sounds about right. Eddie, being the little schemer he is, asks his mom to carpool. Jessica agrees to this during a particularly charitable moment. Nicole, however, likes riding the bus and Eddie just ends up carpooling with some strange neighbor kid and his brothers. He gets a second chance to impress Nicole when his parents go to their country club charity dinner. He thinks she is just coming for dinner but, she ends up babysitting Eddie. Eddie tries to impress her in some cringe worthy scenes but, as you can imagine, fails.

Louis, meanwhile, is facing his own problems. Golden Saddle is repeatedly vandalizing the billboard; Louis reveals that he stole the idea for his restaurant from Golden Saddle. He ripped off Golden Saddle, since didn’t want to pay the $50,000 franchise fee. Jessica says that he is a great businessman that provides for the family and supports his decision. Jessica and Louis vandalize the Golden Saddle sign in retaliation. The cops come by and they run. The next day, Eddie is back on the bus and it seems maybe his scheme with the rap CD actually worked as Nicole actually says “hi” to him on the bus.

This episode deals with immigrants grinding and fighting for their piece of the “American Dream.” In this episode, Louis did some shady things to ensure that he could support his family and help them be well off. Although, I do not condone illegal activities in the name of prosperity and success, I do respect “the hustle.” I respect all those people who knew they were worth more and put themselves out there on a dream. This episode really conveyed this idea well and Randall and Constance really hit it out of the park with their performance.

 

Episode 8: “Phillip Goldstein” (7.5/10) – This episode overstressed the point that America is a melting pot where, “A Black kid and Asian kid go to a concert to listen to Jewish rappers.” This simply made the episode feel forced and unauthentic.

 

There’s a new kid named Phillip in school and he’s Asian! Eddie thinks they can be friends, since you know they are the only two Asians at school. Although everyone at school thinks they look alike and therefore must relate to each other, they have nothing in common: rap vs. classical, Shaq vs. Tolstoy, stinky tofu vs. gefilte fish. Meanwhile, back at the restaurant Louis needs to hire a new host, since Mitch went to work at Golden Saddle (Ya I know kill the traitor). Louis hires a new host named Wyatt, who is almost too good to be true. Ok back to Eddie. Jessica gets to meet Phillip and she instantly thinks he is the perfect Chinese son, since he plays cello, studies hard, and practices all day. Eddie sees this as an opportunity to get his Mom to let him go to the Beastie Boys concert. Phillip wants to go see Les Mis, but it’s on Shabbat and he does not have a ride. Eddie and Phillip make the agreement that if Eddie takes Phillip to see Les Mis, Phillip will go to the Beastie Boys with him. Mitch hates his new job and asks for his job back. Louis agrees to hire Mitch back, but only if he fires Wyatt. After Les Mis ends, Phillip ditches him, so he doesn’t have to go to the concert. Eddie thinks he lost Phillip and Jessica panics. She wants to tell the Goldsteins the truth and goes to their home. When they get to the house, Phillip answers the door and says Shabbat ended at sundown and he took a bus home.

 

Jessica: “I thought it ended at midnight.”

Phillip: “I’m a devout Jew, not Cinderella.”

 

 

 

Jessica stands up for Eddie and declares that Phillip “is not a good Chinese boy.” She makes it up to Eddie by taking him to the Beastie Boys herself. Next day Eddie wears his Beastie Boys shirt to school and the black kid also wears the same shirt.

This episode created the impression that all adoptees are socioeconomically well of and aren't struggling with issues of identity. Many Asian American adoptees grow up in predominantly white communities and lose the ability to learn and identify with their own ethnic backgrounds. There are many cases where parents approach adoption as “color-blind”, where the adoptee’s ethnicity is completely disregarded and insignificant. It is intolerable to pretend that ethnicity does not matter; adoptees will be judged by their ethnicity for all their lives. Nearly every day, they will be confronted with Asian stereotypes that they will be unable to cope with in the white community.

A Letter For My Grandma

It’s that time of the year again. Even though she doesn’t admit it, she’s expecting it too.

Every year I send a Chinese New Year card to my grandma written in Chinese characters. My grandma never demanded this of me. I was actually the one to start this tradition several years ago. At the time, I was still taking Chinese classes and wanted to impress my grandma. A typical card to my grandma consists of a hand-painted replica of a Chinese calligraphy painting I found online and a letter in Chinese either wishing her happy birthday or a prosperous new year.

I am fortunate that there is no language barrier between my grandma and me, and we actually communicate in English. Even if we tried to, we cannot communicate in spoken Chinese. My grandma grew up in Hong Kong and came to the U.S. to marry my grandfather, so she speaks Cantonese and English. I only learned Mandarin because my parents or grandparents never taught me Cantonese, and Mandarin was deemed the hottest language to learn because of China’s recent economic growth.

My grandparents only spoke English to their children, who in turn only spoke in English to me. I think it was because my grandparents wanted their children to know English fluently, so they valued English over their own culture. Soon, Cantonese will disappear from my family like it was almost never there.

Is this what it’s like to be fully “Americanized?”

Who will order dim sum for me when my grandma is not there?

How will I go to Hong Kong and communicate with my relatives there?

Sometimes I think about how I will raise my own children to celebrate their Asian heritage. I'll try to speak Chinese to them. Cook them occasional Chinese dinners when I'm not too exhausted to resort to pasta. Put them through Chinese school and camp (I meet too many Asian American classmates in Chinese classes regretting their previous rejection of their own culture in desperate attempts to "be American"). Maybe even force them to write Chinese New Year letters to their grandma like I do to mine. Perhaps I’ll try to learn Cantonese in the future. In the meantime, writing letters to my grandma is one of the few ways I am trying to preserve my own Chinese American-ness.

I no longer have time to continue studying Chinese in college (maybe I'll regret this later in life too), but I still write Chinese New Year letters to my grandma--never email, just snail mail. (Sometimes I even have to use the Chinese dictionary to look up forgotten characters.)

FOB is Still “FRESH”

Fresh Off The Boat is about half way into its thirteen-episode, first (but hopefully not last) season. The first four episodes established the series’ foundation, giving it character and personality. Episodes 5 and 6, of course, added to the series’ general identity, but seemed more like “breather” episodes than something that was more intense or built toward developing the plot. The issues covered so far have not been particularly heavy, but they have dealt rather explicitly with the characters wanting to fit in. Whether the issue was Eddie wanting friends, his family wanting to impress others, or his parents wanting financial success, every week, we have seen the Huang family projecting their insecurities and hurt feelings with vulnerability and humor. Episodes 5 and 6 weren’t things I could particularly relate to, but were funny nonetheless; here is quick recap of those episodes.  

Episode 5: “Persistent Romeo” (7/10) – Oh the sex talk. It was funny, but I’ll leave it to the “birds and bees.”

 

This episode was reminiscent of episode 3 with all the sexual euphemisms; some were funny and some were just plain creepy. But unlike wanting a hot girl or talking about “Flowers and Watering Cans,” this episode was a little deeper. The episode starts with Eddie getting invited to a sleepover. Eddie has gained some popularity after “grabbing” Honey’s butt in Episode 3. Jessica, however, tells Eddie that he can only have the sleepover at his house, since she’s afraid of pedophiles lurking in the area. Eddie convinces his friends to have the sleepover at his house by telling them that he has a porno. Yup, the thing that all male adolescent, middle schoolboys want to watch. Meanwhile, the restaurant is flourishing. To prevent the restaurant from facing any liabilities, Louis decides to give a sexual harassment seminar. Jessica tries to give the seminar herself, but ends up harassing the employees. Louis then gets a professional named Dusty Nugget (sounds like a stripper’s name to me too) to give the seminar. Eddie doesn’t have the porno, but since the boys know nothing about sex, the sexual harassment VCR tape that Louis leaves at home passes for the porno. The next day, all the boys in the grade are using lines from the sexual harassment video and the principal tells all parents to give their children “the talk.” The actual depth of the episode comes from Louis giving Eddie “the talk.” Unlike other parents who sheepishly use metaphors to describe sex, Louis tells him everything and…I mean EVERYTHING. Eddie respects his dad for telling him the truth and this further develops the father-son dynamic. In my case, I learned about sex in school. To this day, my parents will pretend like they don’t know what sex is. Asian American families are simply not as open about sex as other racial groups. The primary reason is that it’s never been “normal” to talk about sex; it has always been a taboo. Asian American parents disapprove of premarital sex and talking about sex openly, is often equated with condoning sex and promiscuity. This belief is so widespread that it has become indoctrinated in the minds of many first generation Asian Americans. However, this stigma is slowly fading. With more interracial marriages, more generations of Asians, and more general assimilation, more Asian Americans are beginning to open up and talk openly about sex.

 

Episode 6: “Shaq Fu” (8.5/10) – Work hard for the “skrill”

 

This episode epitomized many of my friends’ experiences working at their families’ restaurants and working hard for their allowances. It was different from my childhood as I usually would play sports or study afterschool. In my defense, I did not get any allowance from my parents and was broke 99% of the time.

A new videogame called “Shaq Fu” comes out, combing Eddie’s basketball idol Shaq: and his two favorite things kung fu (kinda cliché) and video games.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsuXEJ6e87k

(It was a pretty bad game. EA, the creators of the game, considered it an “abomination.”)

 

Naturally, Eddie wants the game immediately. The problem: is the game cost fifty dollars. Eddie first asks his parents for the money, but his parents refuse. His dad suggests that he work at the restaurant for the money. Eddie works as the, “Fajita Boy,” for a week and only earns 18 dollars. Feeling defeated, Eddie doesn’t go to work one day, angering Louis. Grandma Huang reminds Louis that while his father was a hard worker, he was also un unnecessarily hard man. Louis decides that he was too hard on Eddie, and decides to give him money for the game. Eddie buys the game, but tells Louis that he wants to work and earn the money for his game. Louis is proud of him and calls him “fajita man.”

The Myth of the “Char Siu Bao Boy”

Char-Siu-Bao-Boy_screen.jpg

  Like many other Asian Americans, I have had my eye on the recent TV premiere of “Fresh Off the Boat.” There’s a scene in Episode 2 where Eddie takes out his lunch his mother packed for him, a container of Chinese noodles. When the other non-Asian boys see his lunch, they tease him saying it looks like worms.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KhRKkLS_4I

 

If there’s anything that unites Asians and Asian Americans, it’s food. I scroll through the text messages my family members send me as they watch “Fresh Off the Boat” and realize it’s almost all about the authenticity of that food scene. (I’m not one to comment on how closely the show actually represents Eddie Huang’s life, he can tell you for himself.)

 

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My aunt, uncle, mom, and Eddie Huang are around the same generation, so I compared my own experiences with theirs. 

I would have loved to eat Chinese food everyday for lunch.

In actuality, Chinese food is one of the most complicated foods to make. My working parents didn’t have the time, or the skill, to make that every morning for me. So I ate the average American lunch: a sandwich (okay, maybe an above average sandwich because my mom bought turkey and roast beef cold cuts). Then I looked around at the other Asians in the cafeteria. Some had homemade kimbap, others had nice bento boxes, and then the rest had regular lunches like me. No one was being made fun of for his or her lunch.

My roommate Leila, a 1.5-generation Chinese in America who grew up in Miami shared her childhood with me.

I sold my lunch back in elementary school when my parents owned a Chinese takeout place. I think I charged $1 per dumpling. For the soup and noodles, either they gave me a container, or I just put it in their hands. Still, $1 per soup and noodle serving. Once I got into middle school, I sold Kasugai gummy candies from the Chinese store. Half of my customers were Asian, half were not.

Why was there such a stark difference between Eddie’s experience at school and mine? Perhaps the value of Asian food in American eyes has changed. We live in a society where sushi is regarded as high class Asian food, while Chinese food is still viewed in its cheap takeout form. People have come up to me saying things like “You’re so lucky to be Chinese, you can eat lo mein every day!” and “I’d love to join the Asian Students Association! I love Chinese food!” Those statements actually make me cringe more than someone making fun of my food. (Remember that awful viral music video 'I Love Chinese Food?')

“Char Siu Bao Boy” is a children's book about a Chinese boy who bring Chinese pork buns to school for lunch. Initially, his classmates tease him, but then they try some and like Char Siu Baos too.

** Inspiration for this blog post came from reading "A Moveable Feast," and article by Julia Lee in Huffington Post about her Korean American identity, her working class upbringing, and food in response to "Immoveable Feast," an article by Chang Rae Lee in The New Yorker about his experience eating dining hall food at Exeter.

Growing Up with Fresh Off the Boat

 

 

It was 7:55 p.m. February 4, and I was eagerly waiting for the two-episode premiere of Fresh Off the Boat. At first, I was thinking about all the homework I had to do later that night and how I should probably multitask…Well, good thing I didn’t. The first two episodes (and of course the third and fourth episodes) had my family and I laughing and smiling; it was so reminiscent of our own FOB experience when we first arrived to Boca Raton, Florida in the early 2000s. Fitting in, school being too easy, making friends, success: each episode was like a window into my own life. Although Eddie’s experience of living in the U.S. was more extreme than my own experience, I also had to tackle issues of people thinking I was a “foreigner,” whether because of home-made Indian lunches, getting called weird names, or people telling my English is “good.” Fresh Off the Boat surpassed my expectations of being a basic scripted American sitcom with Asian faces and Asian stereotypes. It is an original, quirky, funny show, bundled up with experiences that reflect upon Asian Americans living and assimilating in America. So far I’d rate the series 8/10. Fresh off the Boat is filled with warm family moments, quirky jokes, and a like-able cast, but suffers at times from forced, uncomfortable jokes (*cough* *cough* Talking about you, Episode 3) and rushed scenes. For example, the scene where Eddie gets called a chink made me a little unsatisfied and unfulfilled; it was a major moment in Eddie’s life, but after Eddie get called a chink, the screen goes black and we skip to the scene with the principal’s office. More emphasis could have put into that scene, that moment of heat, but then again ABC allowing, “chink” to be said is a “big deal.”

 

Episode 1: “Pilot” (8/10) – Good opening, but rushed scenes

The Pilot introduces us to Eddie’s family: his dad Louis, his mom Jessica, and his two brothers, Emery and Evan. They originally lived in D.C. where Louis worked for his brother-in-law, but moved to Orlando so that Louis could follow his “American Dream” and open a restaurant called “Cattleman’s Ranch.” (In my life, I moved from Florida to Maryland so that my dad could follow his own “American Dream” of working at a big research institution.) When they arrive in Orlando, everyone but Emery is experiencing problems. Emery gets a girlfriend on the first day and this leads to one of the most humorous scenes in the first episode.

 

Eddie: Why aren’t chicks giving me soda?

Emery: You want it too much.

 

 

 

Eddie and Evan have trouble fitting in school, Jessica has trouble fitting in with the perky, rollerblading, cliquey women in the neighborhood, and Louis is having trouble with getting people to come to his restaurant. These problems will become the central issues the Huang family will deal with in the coming episodes. In the end of the episode, Eddie gets called a “chink” and gets in trouble for cursing out the boy who called him a chink. He gets sent to the principal’s office and his parents fight for him. Eddie gets off the hook and the show ends with Louis saying,

 

Coming to this new place is going to make us all stronger.

 

 

Episode 2: “Home Sweet Home-School” (9/10) – Not as funny but, heartwarming

Episode 2 deals with Jessica trying to give the boys supplemental education at home, since they had straight “A’s” and there was no Chinese Learning Center (CLC) or gifted programs in Orlando. Louis was also trying to get Jessica to stay home, since she was ruining business by being too critical on the customers and employees. In the end, Jessica stops her home schooling, when she sees Eddie playing basketball with his Dad and that the restaurant was doing well with Louis.

 

The episode reflected on Asian Americans and even people in general not needing to tell their family members that they love them and that love can be shown through actions. It was a little cute and sentimental, but honestly true. I said something similar to my friend, when he asked me why my family and I did not explicitly say we loved each other. Something that made me laugh and cry a little bit was that Eddie’s white neighbor did not get any love from his dad.

 

Episode 3: “The Shunning” (7/10) – One word: CREEPY. I really don’t need to see Eddie hitting on a married woman in a provocative way.

First we need to pay homage to Ol’ Dirty Bastard:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnVJms1EgNs

 

This episode is centered on fitting in. Jessica is trying to fit in with women in the neighborhood while Eddie is trying to fit in school and be cool. Since his parents are too cheap to buy him Jordans, he decides that the ultimate status symbol is a hot girl. Although this is misguided and misogynistic, Eddie tries to woo his next-door neighbor, Honey, who ends up being the only woman his mom likes in the neighborhood. They bond over Stephen King movies and books, and over the fact that Honey actually eats and likes Jessica’s stinky tofu. The movie then goes all Mean Girls, since the other women hate Honey and being associated with her is like some plague. Since being friends with Honey might hurt the restaurant, Louis tells her to stop being friends with her. Jessica listens to Louis at first but, eventually makes up with honey and sings, “I Will Always Love You.” Eddie falls in love with Honey’s stepdaughter who later gives him, the finger.

 

Episode 4: “Success Perm” (8/10) OJ Simpson case reference is funny, but again feels rushed

This episode is centered on success. Jessica’s sister, Connie, is coming to Orlando along with her husband and their mother to see how well Jessica is doing. Jessica and Louis try to show off to them by spending more money then they have. Ironically, Connie and her husband do the same thing. In the end, they realize that they did not need to show off to each other. Eddie’s cousin who opened Eddie up to hip hop starts listening to grunge, but let’s be honest, hip hop > grunge.

 

If you missed any of the episodes they are available on ABC’s website:

http://abc.go.com/shows/fresh-off-the-boat

99 Questions: Part II

A few months ago, I wrote the first part of a reflection piece, On Ferguson, Part I: 99 Questions. After several weeks of reflection, here we go:  

There’s this great article detailing the 12 stages that occur when injustice against the black community takes place. One of the stages immediately following such an event is exhaustion: Tragedy after tragedy, injustice after injustice –how long can outrage be sustained? It becomes so easy to say, “I’m not surprised” or “What did you expect?” when the violence or the events aren’t so up close and personal.

 

As 2014 ended and 2015 began, we have borne witness to grand juries that have decided against indictment in two cases: Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Darren Wilson in Ferguson and Eric Garner’s death at the hands of Daniel Pantaleo in New York City. In between, we’ve seen the deaths of a witness at Michael Brown’s case and a 12-year old boy holding a toy gun. We have seen the deaths of two police officers –both men of color –and the mounting criticism of the peaceful demonstrations against police brutality. Most recently, we have witnessed the deaths of three young, bright, brilliant Muslim Americans (a topic that will be tackled in a future post in greater detail).

 

Even our comedians have no more words. It’s incredibly tragic, made even more tragic because this all isn’t just a single isolated incident stacked upon another single isolated incident. The victim-blaming, the smear campaigns, the baseless justifications—and on and on and on: it’s all part of a pattern. When at every turn the events that transpired are denied vigorously, how do we even begin to process what has happened?

 

For me, answering these questions meant asking myself questions that led me to revisit what it means to be an ally. How can I, as an Asian American woman, best support the black community? What does it mean to be in allyship with my peers? As one friend put it, how do I support, rather than take over, the narrative?

 

These questions are ones that prevent me from just throwing my hands up in the air and giving up; these questions force me to recognize the privilege I have in being able to be exhausted. Most importantly, these questions force me to do all I can to understand and converse and stand in solidarity with those around me.

 

I cheered when Arthur Chu wrote, “WTF is the impulse behind changing #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. Do you crash strangers' funerals shouting I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS.”  Many of my peers held mixed opinions when the #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag grew in popularity. Even the musicians who dominated every summer party soundtrack found themselves embroiled in the growing conversation about race and what it means to be black in America.

 

But back to the original question: Why should we care?

 

The AAPI community has historically maintained at times tense, at times supportive relationships with the black community: In the wake the Rodney King shooting, the Korean American community was split over how to respond in the midst of the LA riots. Race relations were tense: Koreans were often disliked and blamed for pushing out black businesses. With the death of Latasha Harlins at the hands of a Korean shopkeeper the previous year still in mind, many rioters took to Koreatown during the spring of 1992.

 

And yet, LAPD largely ignored Koreatown; shopkeepers were forced into a situation where they could either defend their shops and livelihoods or watch and allow the lootings to occur. Our justice and law enforcement system essentially pitted the Korean and black communities against each other and prevented both groups from gaining any sort of resolution, progress, or reconciliation. It was classic misdirection.

 

Ten years earlier, in 1982, Vincent Chin became a victim of a hate crime when two white men beat him to death. Frustrated at the declining jobs in the auto industry due to the rise of Japanese car manufacturers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, took a baseball bat and brutally assaulted Vincent. Vincent spent four days in a coma before he died, whereas Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz only served three years of probation for manslaughter. The reaction of the AAPI community has been seen as a turning point in Asian American activism.

 

I point to these two events as examples of how the AAPI community has been embroiled in race issues in contemporary American history. We should care about what is occurring now not only out of the if-not-us-than-who mentality but more importantly because we have the power to create change and to break the status quo.

 

With groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, 18 Million Rising, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the AAPI community can no longer be ignored or be held up as some sort of standard to which other minority groups should emulate. To do so establishes a false racial dichotomy among communities of color that prevents us from working towards an actual solution for the police brutality, imprisonment of black bodies, and systemic racism and oppression that exists within the current American justice and law enforcement systems.

 

Both policymakers in the “system” and grassroots organizers against the “system” are needed for substantial progress.  And that progress, as Chris Rock so brilliantly pointed out, is the responsibility of society as a whole –all of us. The past few decades of progress are not black progress but rather white progress. We as communities of color must continue to work together to ensure that this progress will not be built upon the bodies of our black brothers and sisters.

A Cure for Yellow Fever?

10441306_1015143158501543_2026054565167344713_n.jpg

  It’s not easy to look at cases of “yellow fever” from the view of the “yellow fever” infected, especially if you are an Asian American feminist on the other side of the issue. I could not even imagine what filmmaker Debbie Lum experienced first hand as she filmed her subject Steven, an aging and quirky White man with a severe Asian fetish, in her documentary “seeking asian female.” There are times in the beginning of the film where Steven stops treating Lum as the filmmaker, but rather as another pretty Asian women he is obsessively attracted to. As a documentary filmmaker, she could not call Steven out on his “yellow fever” or allow her own views to get herself too involved in the marriage. She simply had to watch and wait as the story unfolded. Watching and waiting was not as simple as it seemed, though. Lum still reflected on this internal ethical struggle when driving home after long days of filming Steven and Sandy. If I were the filmmaker, I would find these golden rules of filmmaking extremely difficult to follow and might even give up. Thankfully, Lum persisted and told us a different kind of story.

Admittedly, I could not help but cringe when Steven shows Debbie his collection of Asian female faces stacked neatly like porn at the beginning of the film, but I watched Steven mature as the film went on through his marriage with Sandy, his wife from China. Here was someone who I didn’t even expect to find an Asian wife (Ms. Lum said that most of the men with “yellow fever” she potentially filmed didn’t find their dream girl in the end). Despite language and cultural divides and multiple fights and separations (marriage is hard), Steven and Sandy learn to love each other. Steven cleaned up his life and became a responsible husband.

Why would someone with “yellow fever” deserve a happy ending? What Asian woman would be crazy enough to marry him? I think that while it’s much easier for those against “yellow fever” to automatically dismiss this documentary for giving screen time to a “villain.” Debbie does describe this dismissal as part of the initial reaction she received from the Asian American community. Had Steven and Sandy's marriage crumbled as a representative "lesson" to all that marrying a man with "yellow fever" is downright bad, I would have lost faith in humanity. Much to the delight of the audience, Steven throws away his mail order bride magazines and his collection of Asian female faces because he truly loves Sandy for Sandy. The cure to Steven's "yellow fever" was not a strict lecture on Asian fetishes or punishment for his past offenses, it was love.

 

Check out the Q&A below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2aW6oiTdFw

"seeking asian female," which has been featured on PBS and This American Life, is an eccentric modern love story about Steven and Sandy—an aging white man with “yellow fever” who is obsessed with marrying any Asian woman, and the young Chinese bride he finds online. Debbie, a Chinese American filmmaker, documents and narrates with skepticism and humor, from the early stages of Steven’s search, through the moment Sandy steps foot in America for the first time, to a year into their precarious union. The film recently screened at Bryn Mawr College through collaboration between EALC, Film Studies, the 1902 Fund, academic departments and the Asian American Students Association.

Fresh Off to Hollywood

Has the time come? After years of Dragon Lady, Fu Manchu, and Kung Fu master stereotypes, will we, Asian Americans, get something that doesn’t paint us as foreign beings from the distant lands of Asia? Will this Asian American based sitcom outline the struggles of Asian immigrants? Will Asian Americans be FINALLY accepted into Hollywood without any caveats? My answer is: *drumroll* ... Almost. The new series, Fresh Off the Boat, premiering on February 4th, is an achievement for Asians and Asian Americans, and is one of the first few steps of Asian Americans entering Hollywood as just Asian Americans, and not as household stereotypes. Although, Asian Americans have thrived in new media, especially YouTube, there has always been a “bamboo ceiling” in TV. The thought that white sells and color doesn’t has always lingered in old media; it’s kind of like the smell of rotten eggs or skunk spray or fish or another thing that stinks up the place and needs to be gone. There have always been a few better-scented candles like Everybody Hates Chris or Blackish, but the scent still lingers. Hopefully, with Fresh Off the Boat, we are at the point where the stink is receding and progress has been made; Fresh Off the Boat may serve as a bridge to a new future of Asian Americans in TV. It is NOT the Holy Grail or the end all, be all solution to white TV.

“People watching these channels have never seen us, and the network’s approach to pacifying them is to say we’re all the same. Sell them pasteurized network television with East Asian faces until they wake up intolerant of their own lactose, and hit 'em with the soy. Baking soya, I got baking soya!”

-Eddie Huang

“They haven’t seen us.” Fresh Off the Boat is something radical, like changing form regular milk to soy, but not too radical, like changing from steak to stinky tofu; the goal of Fresh off the Boat is to give something that the average American can swallow, without causing anger, panic, or “a yellow scare.” When we watch the show over the next few days, we will understand that it is not Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir, but a more watered-down, “American” friendly ABC: Panda Express-style orange chicken Fresh Off the Boat. It is how it is, but it IS progress. Fresh Off the Boat is the first pill given to medicate American ignorance and to start research for a cure. For now, it’s time to get some popcorn and watch for any side effects.

Before I leave you to your own thoughts and wild imaginations, I want to talk about the tweet from the ABC Fresh off the Boat account: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B8j4CF_IcAM4jnH.png:large

Eddie Huang tweeted back:

"This is plain offensive and ridiculous”

"Someone please reverse this... at least they didn't do the Native American with chicken pox blankie lol"

"Point isn't whether we in fact wear kufis and rice hats but it's reductive"

Although, this could have been a publicity stunt to create buzz about the upcoming show, it is racist, offensive, and ridiculous. There’s simply no excusable reason on why this should have been posted. Right now, it’s causing a stir of anxiety, nervousness, and fear for show supporters, since it could possibly lower views and simply group Fresh off the Boat as a “racist comedy.” We are biting our nails, crossing our fingers, and knocking on wood, hoping that the premiere does well.

All and all, I’m excited for the show and hope that everyone gives the show a chance.

 

 

 

 

 

The Murdoch Fallacy

It isn’t every day that I have the opportunity to name a phenomenon, so I’m taking full advantage of this chance. The Murdoch Fallacy is henceforth defined as the erroneous reaction to a tragic event in which the race, gender, or other identifier of the instigator is used as a vehicle to place blame that entire race, gender, or member of the other identifier. As an example, Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-American business magnate, tweeted the following message, which has since become viral:

"Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible." (https://twitter.com/rupertmurdoch/status/553734788881076225)

 

This kind of statement is the blood and bone of the Murdoch fallacy. The entire Muslim population worldwide is, according to Mr. Murdoch, responsible for the actions of the few extreme Muslims--the cancer, so to speak. Despite his ‘allowance’ that most Muslims are peaceful, and never mind that peace activists everywhere, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have denounced the actions of these extremists, he still holds this peaceful majority accountable for jihadist attacks.

Nevertheless, let’s allow this leap of logic, just for one moment. Let’s make it acceptable to blame the many for the actions of a few. So then, Mr. Murdoch, if you’re a White Australian, why didn’t you stop the genocide of the Aboriginals? You’re Christian, why haven’t you done anything about your cousins-in-religion, the Westboro Baptist Church folk? Aren’t you also American? Why aren’t you held accountable for the slave trade, for killing my people with internment camps, harsh working conditions, hate crimes? You’re also a man, Mr. Murdoch. What have you to say about your brothers forcing my sisters into child prostitution, for the countless rapes in India, for the fear I feel when I walk alone? Why are we excusing you? Why are you allowed to be a White, Christian male and not be held accountable for all the crimes that your parts have committed?

Because of privilege. To be a White, Christian male means that you live and breathe in an unrivaled position of privilege. You have no need to be afraid of race hate crimes, religious persecution, or a potential rapist around every corner. You simply are not that vulnerable.

When a White man shoots up a school, he is not a terrorist, or a jihadist, or an evil man. He is simply a shooter, a gunman, maybe a misunderstood fellow with some mental disability. When a Christian militant blows himself up, there is no need for a mass movement like #illridewithyou, because no Christian anywhere has to worry for his or her safety. And, certainly, no non-Christian will ever be seen as a Christian just because of outward appearance. While there is stigma attached to all rape, a man will not have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy, about being slut-shamed because he was violated, nor about being seen as ‘damaged’ and unfit for love.

So for shame, Rupert Murdoch. To take the words of Aziz Ansari, I suppose that the existence of the Murdoch Fallacy (all the way back to any jihadist attack ever, any rape ever, and anything ever like the Japanese internment camps) is, without a doubt, #RupertsFault.

 

I Watched The Interview.

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I’ve read the negative reviews and articles:

(and the Sony email leaks, a totally different story on race in the film industry): Here’s a timeline of the Sony Hack

 

Yet this winter break, I found myself actually wanting to watch The Interview. I had watched the earlier trailers last summer and found them funny. I was also binge watching similar stupid comedy films like 21 Jump Street and We’re the Millers over winter break and was in the mood for more. I am also a fan of Randall Park (side note: can’t wait for Fresh Off The Boat!) who played Kim Jong Un in The Interview. I had to see the film.

Before watching the film, I knew it would mostly likely confirm its already criticized racism, sexism, dualism, and other unpleasant –isms. I knew Seth Rogen and James Franco films were usually ridiculous. I also knew that some people who read the reviews and articles before watching it would never want to watch it, some people would want to watch it as an “act of freedom of expression,” others, like me, were curious to see for themselves.

…And did it live up to my expectations?

Yes. I have to say that this isn’t Seth Rogen and James Franco’s best work. The funniest parts were the parts cut into the trailers. The rest is, quite frankly, what I would call “bromance comedy." I’m just glad I watched it so I could create my own opinions. It was difficult to put all prejudice aside after reading the reviews and articles before watching, and spotting the blaring –isms throughout the film slightly detracted from my enjoyment. For example, there is an obvious contrast between the way Seth Rogen and James Franco’s characters both treat Lizzy Caplan’s character, a righteously strong, independent woman, versus Diana Bang’s character, a crazy weird Dragon lady with some quirky shy Lotus Blossom stereotypes mixed in. Not to mention that the other Asian women who appear in the film are hyper sexualized.

What does it say about mainstream media that the APIA women in the film were so stereotyped? What if the actress is knowingly portraying her own racial stereotypes to an audience who still sees some of those stereotypes as true (see Margaret Cho in Golden Globes skit)? I'm sure no Asian girl wants to grow up to be any of the Asian characters in The Interview. Does that make Seth Rogen and James Franco's characters offensive to White people? I'm also sure that no White boy would want to grow up to be Seth Rogen and James Franco's characters. Seth Rogen and James Franco's characters may be offensive to some White people, but that does not matter because there are millions of other films portraying White people as admirable beings. To this day, the continuous lack of diversity in Hollywood makes any representation of a person of color in a movie important to viewers of color.

Pretty much all of the characters in The Interview, regardless of race, were there for comedic relief (in this case, the forced comedy was not very funny). The question we should ask ourselves is whether or not we always have to be so politically correct because comedy rarely is.

The Real Asian Man

Since I documented my experience with real Asian women in my previous post, I felt it only fair to document my experience with real Asian men. While the trope of a strong Asian woman (Dragon Lady) does actually exist, there is no such male counterpart--instead, Asian males are seen as nerdy, unathletic, and, in their own way, submissive. But rather than be submissive to the opposite gender, they are instead submissive to the Caucasian and White American members of its own, that Asian men underperform, are socially inept, and are irreparably geeky. While this trend has seen a welcome reversal in recent months with the “discovery” of sexy Asian men, there are still misperceptions that should be corrected. After all, most Asian men are not singularly in either the nerdy or sexy category--as with every other race, there is no need to fit in one particular box. All humans fall along a spectrum scale, and Asians are no less deserving of this same distinction. A real Asian man is a son, a father, a brother, a grandfather, a best friend, a boyfriend. Like every other man, Asian men are strong, ambitious, creative and heartfelt, caring and sometimes a little thick-skulled. Without any further ado, here are my experiences with real, brilliant Asian men, within my family and my own inner circle.

My father has been my inspiration for most of the decisions I’ve made in my life. The only one among his siblings to come to and stay in America, he has successfully made a life for himself as well as for the rest of his family. Plowing ahead despite the challenges, his steadfast and headstrong manner is something I’m proud to say I have gotten from him.

My brother is, in a word, persistent. Exercising excellent discipline and demonstrating iron will, he has shown maturity much greater than his teenage years. He is both tough and sensitive, with an innate tendency towards leadership and befriending shyer classmates.

My grandfather is a youthful spirit in a wise, old body. He learned how to type after he was already a grandfather, teaching himself even later how to use the computer, navigate the web, and effectively utilize a smartphone. Our home is filled with countless of his inventions and ingenious devices--I still have the board game he made up for us out of bottle caps and an old piece of cardboard. He weaved a wire fence by hand for his balcony to keep the pigeons from the potted plants he nurtured from near-death with his miraculous green thumb.

I am lucky enough to be able to also call my best friend my boyfriend. His sense of humor and patience have pulled me out of many a dark mood, and he never ceases to surprise me with how affectionate and thoughtful he can be. He is passionate about the things he loves and full of new ideas.

It is not enough to look at the outer shell of a person and presume to place him or her in a category without delving further. Physical appearance may be the first thing you see, but there is so much more to Asian men than the worn-out tropes and well-trodden stereotypes, as there is to any man, and to any member of any race. I am blessed to have these people in my life--these are the real, genuine Asian men, free from airbrushing and crude caricatures.

Reflect on the Asian men you know and consider again whether there is any truth to the stereotype set forth by Hollywood and Western netizen culture. It’s easy to see that, when compared to real life, the clichés simply hold no water.

Nothing Lasts Forever: Archiving in the Digital Age

Paper will not last forever. Neither will a plastic container of leftover ramen and arts and crafts from previous years passed on from year to year to the next club president. The plastic will fall apart, and shreds of scrap paper will line the bottom. Despite not being very effective, this is how my school’s Asian American Students Association has been doing it for the past couple years. But as 2015 rolls in, one of our goals is to revamp the official club website (which started in 2009 but has been inactive between 2010-2012 and 2013-2014 for unknown reasons) to create a permanent institutional memory database and to uncover the history of our own club. Many college clubs also converting physical archives to digital archives thanks to a rise of interest in digital humanities. Digging through "the sisterhood of the traveling plastic container" and whatever else has been handed down to me, the new co-president of AASA, is like digging through a bottomless treasure trove of information.

 

Some may wonder: Why is it important to record what happened in the past?

For one, you do not want to repeat the same organizational mistakes committed in the pastespecially when planning a big event like the annual culture show. For example, it would have been nice to know how many programs we should print out based on previous attendance numbers instead of printing too few. We learned the hard way this year and were short by about 100 programs. Once the culture show was finished, the two co-heads wrote reflections and a manual to better prepare future co-heads for the job. All documents were uploaded and saved onto the club executive board Google Drive.

It is also important to be aware of previous incidents of racism on and off campus. It’s another learning from and understanding your mistakes so you never do it again type of thing. As students pass through college and move on with life, it is easy for the next leaders to forget significant events of the past when they are not properly passed down and remembered. This can also lead to time wasted repeating the same mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are avoidable had there been proper basic history/psychology/sociology education such as diversity training. A recent incident of a student hanging up a Confederate flag in a public space at Bryn Mawr sparked a renewed interest in creating a mandatory diversity training program for students, faculty and staff. The administration responded with the creation of multiple diversity councils assigned the task of creating such a curriculum when, in fact, the curriculum had already been started by a specific dormitory leadership team years ago.

A good record of previous events and executive boards also creates a network of alumni. Bryn Mawr does not have an Asian Alumni Group yet (Wellesley has one and bigger schools like Yale even host annual Asian Alumni reunions). However, I uncovered the names of some previous members of the Asian American Students Association through posts on the formerly outdated blog and Facebook group (AASA had a Facebook group before transitioning to a Facebook page in 2011). From here on, it should not be difficult to contact them and perhaps invite them back to Bryn Mawr to speak to AASA about their accomplishments and involvement in their communities.

 

Archiving is a lot easier these days with constant technological advancements and an eager force of tech-savvy millennials. All you need is basic knowledge in html/CSS and an eye for design, both of which are easy enough to self-learn from the internet. This leads to another challenge:

Is a strictly digital archive enough?

As accessible as a website can be, nothing can replace the "original cathedral of learning"-- the library. (Recognize that access to internet is still a privilege for those who can afford access to a computer or wifi.) A typical college library serves a million purposes other than a book collective these days. These purposes includes a computer lab, printing station, study space, writing center, gallery, special collections, museum, and digital archive (Bryn Mawr uses Tripod). So I also should look into whether or not the library wants the original arts and crafts made to represent Asian American identity. I don't think the quality of art is high enough to make a gallery or museum exhibit on, but I just don't want them to rot inside our "sisterhood of the traveling plastic container" in my dorm room. In the meantime, I've taken pictures of all the art works and plan to upload them to the AASA website as a digital art archive soon.

Other college clubs have had unsuccessful attempts at paper archiving. The Swarthmore Asian Students Organization has a space in a filing cabinet of manila folders dating back to the 1990s in Swarthmore’s Intercultural Center, but they say that no one really checks it. Bryn Mawr AASA has tried to keep a binder of meeting minutes and posters in the plastic bin, but over time we became lazy and never updated it, opting for Google Drive instead. While I do think it is important to have easy, unrestricted access to a club history database, I wonder who would actually read a physical record of documents stored in a public place like the school library. While I am unsure of the effectiveness of physical archiving, I am certain about the need for digital archiving. The best chance of preserving institutional memory for now seems to be to have both digital and partial physical archives, and that definitely takes time and effort to maintain.

 

2014 was an eventful year.
Save some of it. Here are some popular tools to get you started:
Generating views to your website:
  • Posted your website on the school website
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  • School Radio Announcements
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