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Go See “China: Through the Looking Glass”

May 29 2015
By: Miranda Canilang
Categories: Blog
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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.
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Once A Part of ECAASU 2016 Philly Bid Team, Forever A Friend

May 03 2015
By: Miranda Canilang
Categories: Blog
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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

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The Asian American Christian

Apr 18 2015
By: Miranda Canilang
Categories: Blog
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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

Apr 15 2015
By: Ram Sreenivasan
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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.

 

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Growing Up With Mulan

Apr 04 2015
By: Miranda Canilang
Categories: Blog
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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.

 
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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:

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Jessica is Too FRESH

Apr 02 2015
By: Ram Sreenivasan
Categories: Blog
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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.”

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Diversity Training in Higher Ed

Mar 21 2015
By: Miranda Canilang
Categories: Blog
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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.

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FOB: American Dream and Asian Adoptees

Mar 17 2015
By: Ram Sreenivasan
Categories: Blog
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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.

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A Letter For My Grandma

Mar 07 2015
By: Miranda Canilang
Categories: Blog
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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.)

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FOB is Still “FRESH”

Mar 04 2015
By: Ram Sreenivasan
Categories: Blog
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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.

 

(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.”

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