In the Spring of 2012, two Duke freshmen running for the positions of Class of 2015 President and Vice President circulated a campaign image that members of the Asian American community at Duke found issue with. These two students posed for their campaign picture smiling in front of two Duke eateries: one holding a piece of matzah (Jewish unleavened bread) in front of the Duke Freeman Center for Jewish Life (known to serve Jewish food); the other, holding chopsticks in front of Panda Express (an on-campus “Chinese Bistro” restaurant that also serves sushi). An overlay on the photo made a quip about the candidates eating preferences for “Latkes and Lo Mein.”
Members of the Asian American community, including leaders of the undergraduate ASA (Asian Students Association) and the AAA (Asian American Alliance) were quick to respond with comments regarding the appropriateness of such imagery. Public criticisms, and personal outreach to the candidates running were made. Fortunately, the candidates retracted their campaign image within the span of hours and issued a public apology in the following day, saying they did not intend to offend any members of either the Jewish or Asian community. The quick and genuine manner in which the candidates responded was greatly appreciated by the Asian American community leaders. However, while the candidates stated their intentions were completely innocuous, discussions of the racial offensiveness of such a campaign continues among those who saw the campaign ad.
Was the campaign “racist?” This was perhaps the most burning question of all— was this just a “light-hearted campaign,” or was it a situation worthy of the big “R” word? Many people have their own working definitions of what is racist and what is not, but according to historic and current academic definitions of racism, no— the campaign was not racist, though it was racially offensive. Since the candidates were directly representing only themselves in a racially stereotyped way (as a Jewish and Asian American), the campaign image was not racially oppressive (racist), more than it was racially self-deprecating. The stereotypical image they perpetuated was only harming their own racial communities—a much different case from the Pilgrims and Indians party hosted by Duke’s chapter of Pi Kappa Phi last fall, in which a primarily white group of students were portraying a racially defined people of color in a stereotypical and degrading way. That was racist.
The problem with this campaign was it fell too easily into historically stereotypical narratives that are racially oppressive and “muticulturally comforting.” In America’s past, white supremacists have used political cartoons of Jews with facial hair and large noses, minstrel shows, and Chinese language mocking as a way to put down people of color strictly on a racial basis. These examples are just a small part of a larger mainstream American culture of racialized imagery, stereotypes, and narratives that oppress people of color— historically initiated by elite white men, and primarily benefiting elite white men. When people of color refuse to deny these depictions of themselves, or aid and further these stereotypical narratives, it becomes racially offensive due to the universality of race. While these candidates probably did not intend to make a stereotyped claim on behalf of their races, the problem with the world is intentions don’t carry over into reality. Because race is such a unifying characteristic, this Jewish and Asian Americans’ depictions of only themselves inevitably reflected upon the members of their collective racial communities.
In other words, the campaign ad was racially offensive because it spread a message that stereotypical (un-complex) views of Jewish and Asian people are okay, because they are true and supported by actual Jewish and Asian Americans.
This is a very dangerous slope to play on. As smiling candidates looking for some easy votes, pandering to a very white-racial-framed way of understanding people of color as simply different “flavors” downplays the real significance of race—that as racial minorities in America, people of color have been subjected to centuries of oppressive history that primarily benefits white males. Instead of playing off the benefits that being a person of color may give you, such as a unique perspective into how power and privilege works, these candidates unintentionally played to a racially stereotypical mainstream tune, suggesting that all being a racial minority “really is” is enjoying different kinds of food and having some “really interesting (commoditized, un-American, and non-progressive)” culture.
Ultimately, the quick response of the candidates running to the ASA’s political judgement showed open-mindedness and political competence. Following the retraction, the freshmen resourcefully requested a BSA board member to represent them in a summit between the two cultural groups. As a cultural group dedicated to educating Duke about its Asian/Asian-American population and calling out racial insensitivities, the ASA was very pleased in the manner in which these candidates responded. While this in no way excuses their racially offensiveness of their initial campaign image, the ASA believes this episode shows hope for the future of Asian American depiction on campus.
I keep having this conversation with people:
There is no such thing as sexism against men. There is no such thing as racism against white people. Racism, sexism, and classism are INSTITUTIONAL and SYSTEMATIC forms of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and class. People of color, women, and the lower class do not have the power to institutionally and systematically discriminate against you. If you are slighted, I promise you, 100%, that it is not because you are a white male.
That being said, we had an interesting discussion in my feminist theory class today about whether sexism against men was possible. One of my classmates argued that sexism is based on gender stereotypes, and there are indeed certain expectations of masculinity that we impose on men, and these can be just as restricting as those imposed on women. We expect them to be macho, for once, and, as my professor put it, we have this sense that they are “rapacious capitalist pigs”.
Well, okay, I agree and disagree. When men behave in rapacious capitalist ways, having sex left and right and drinking everything you put in front of them, the adage is that “boys will be boys.” This is what people say when they hear about sexual assaults at college or whatever. As Maggie Thatcher said, “Boys will be boys, and girls should say no.” Poor behavior on men’s parts are often excused and even expected. It’s when you DON’T behave like a rapacious capitalist pig that men seem to expect a prize or something. That’s why you have the whole “nice guy” syndrome, where guys think that, just because they’re not abusive and they’ve ostensibly treated a woman like a fellow human being, they deserve sexual compensation. Or they think that being decent to women is something we punish with “the friend zone.” I saw this wonderful image of Morpheus in his glasses going, “What if I told you women are not machines that, when you put kindness coins in, sex comes out?” The point is, men justify and excuse their bad behavior, and feel entitled to women’s bodies.
So what about men who aren’t macho? What about gay men, or simply men who are metrosexual or effeminate? I’d argue that when men are penalized for behaving too much like women, this is not sexism against men: this is sexism against women. If you think about the worst things that you can call a guy, or even little boys as they’re growing up, they are all things like, “Don’t be a pussy, don’t be a sissy, don’t be a little girl.” The worst insult to a man is being likened to a woman. Now who does that actually insult, huh? I defend your right to be emotional, enjoy chick flicks, wear makeup, and listen to Glee. I reject your notion that these are traits that need defending in the first place, even if you simultaneously have a penis.
Just because there is no sexism against men does not mean women can not be sexist. They certainly can be sexist, just not against men. Until women own more than 1% of the world’s property, we can’t be sexist against men. Unfortunately, with things like slut shaming and aligning themselves as ‘bros’, women can effectively be sexist against other women. Whenever a woman tries to set herself apart from “most women” for being less emotional, less preoccupied with clothing/gossip/Adele, being physically stronger or smarter, more virginal or more sexually active, she is degrading the rest of her sex. She is saying, “Look at me, I’m not like other girls, I pride myself on being things that my gender is not.” She is Taylor Swift being a special snowflake, going, “She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts, she’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers…and she’s a slut so you belong with me.” By taking a positive trait about herself and turning it into a point of difference, rather than something that all women can be, she is reinforcing sexist stereotypes like the worst of men.
The people I was having this conversation with made the argument that there are certain radical feminists who hate men and “think penises are the devil.” I’m 100% sure that they are not as numerous, not as loud, nor taken as seriously as men who hate women, who rape or joke about rape, demand that we stay in the kitchen, and order us to make sandwiches. I am 100% sure that if you were to post a man-hating image on the internet, you would get an overwhelmingly negative response and get called a “feminazi” and all sorts of other things, but if you were to post a woman-hating image on the internet — what’s that? People post women hating images all the time? And people think they’re funny and they get thousands of likes?
So this is the disadvantage of being a man. Even if you have never discriminated against a woman in your life, even if you have never once said anything misogynistic and you have only ever been respectful, you must recognize that this discrimination exists and you are a part of it. You have privilege. You don’t need to be afraid when you walk home alone at night. You don’t need to worry about getting raped when you go out in attractive clothing. When you make a mistake, you don’t need to worry that it might reflect badly on your entire sex. You don’t feel violated when people look and make comments at your body.
You have privilege.
And in all sincerity, I understand how hard that must be. You never asked for privilege, you were just born with it. It’s not your fault. You feel guilty, you do. You’d rather be a victim than an oppressor. You’d rather be David than Goliath. But short of getting a sex change, there’s nothing you can do about it, and you just have to go about the rest of your life with the knowledge that there are certain places you can go, certain things you can do and say, certain advantages you can expect, all because of that lovely organ dangling between your legs. How terrible is that?
But don’t worry, don’t give up yet. Did you know that, as a man, you can be a feminist too? That feminism isn’t some sort of occult club where we do vagina checks before we let you in? Did you know all it takes to be a feminist, is to want equality for all people, regardless of what genitalia they have? It’s that easy. All you have to do is resist your privilege, to stand up against ignorance when you see it, and to never perpetuate the inequalities that exist. You have to be constantly vigilant, always conscientious of the effect you have on people, and it will be exhausting. And sometimes you will mess up. You’ll laugh at that off-color joke, you’ll stare at that woman who didn’t asked to be stared at, you’ll get promoted over a woman who was just as competent. But it’s okay! Yes, you are responsible, but you didn’t create society the way it is. All you have to do is pick yourself up again, maybe let a woman know how much you appreciate and respect her strength and dignity, and move on.
And never complain about sexism against men, ever.
Pacific Ties asked graduate students who are majoring in Asian American Sutides to talk about why they chose the major, what their research interests are, and what they hope to gain from the field. Below are the responses.
Ger Xiong; 1st year
Asian American Studies has provided me interdisciplinary analytical lenses to explore the historical and cultural experiences of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States. I chose the program because of its exciting and dynamic community of students and scholars who are committed to student empowerment. Moreover, I saw that the program’s astounding history of activism, innovation and interdisciplinary research could advance my research interests and learning experience. The program has been an amazing phenomenon and it is an utmost privilege to be a part of it. The faculty as really challenged us to deepen our talents, to think critically, and analyze laws not only from a theoretical perspective but also from the perspective of ethnic communities affected by them.
My research interests revolve around examining reproduction control among underprivileged and marginalized communities. I am interested in examining reproduction control within the Southeast Asian community—in particular the Hmong, who have very high rates of fertility in the United States. I want to look at how reproductive sterilization affects Hmong women’s notion of motherhood, gender identity and sexuality. I desire to conduct qualitative research that asks questions about contemporary reproduction injustices, to systematically investigate institutions that envelop them, and to understand how and why its mundane control has persisted underneath the public eye.
Through the Asian American Studies MA program at UCLA, I seek to engage in extensive learning and fieldwork that will cultivate my intellectual growth to become an Asian American Studies scholar, and ultimately a professor. My career goal to become a university professor reflects my inspiration for student learning. I believe it is at the university level that academics can uplift spirits and political consciousness of our youths—to power student to think critically, to ask relevant questions, and to organize and collaborate on solving difficult problems in our society.
Daisy Kim; 2nd year
I am a Bruin for Life, having completed my BA majoring in Women’s Studies and minoring in Public Policy. Immediately after receiving my undergraduate diploma, I parted ways with my background in non-profits and joined the corporate world at a large-scale pharmaceutical device company. As I settled into the corporate world structure and what it entailed, I realized that everything I learned of in my interdisciplinary undergraduate courses was playing out in the real world in front of my eyes: transnational flows of capital, geopolitical negotiations and its impact on policies that affect people of color, genders, and the various socioeconomic classes disproportionately became evident beyond reams of paper. It was a mild awakening, but it was enough to have me leave my job and apply for graduate school to explore the systematic structures more critically.
I ultimately settled on UCLA’s Asian American Studies program because it was the top program of its kind in the nation and had an extensive list of faculty members that I would want to work with. More importantly, it encouraged students to engage with and build upon resources outside the classroom and with community organizations and under-represented/under-served populations.
I entered the program wanting to focus my thesis projeect on the issue of the high percentage of uninsured and underinsured API communities and their alternative, transnational ways of accessing and negotiating for healthcare access outside of the U.S. From literature-based courses to studying adolescent psychology and mental health, I have been exploring widely in theory and in practice. My thesis project has made a sharp turn and I’m now examining Asian pop cultural crossovers (KPop) and its impact on existing and emerging Asian American (sub)cultures and the negotiations of transnational space and capital.
If my divergence can explain anything about the program, it is that students will be welcomed to explore various areas of research within Ethnic Studies, Cultural Studies, Transnational/Global Studies, and American Studies. I recently completed and returned from an internship program at a U.S. Embassy abroad and have yet to decide what I will be doing after completing the M.A. program later this year. most likely, I will be working on a research project or a career track that focuses on transnational geopolitics and trying to uncover ways to minimize the disparities and exploitations that often occur as a result.
Sophia Cheng; 1st year
Asian American Studies was my undergraduate major at Pomona College and now I’m at UCLA continuing my studies in the MA program! As an undergraduate, I originally wanted to study English or Philosophy—English because I like stories and Philosophy because I like to think about the Big Picture. I had never heard of Asian American Studies, or any Ethnic Studies, but I found that Asian American Studies is actually an ideal space to combine stories with “big picture” analysis. You link the experiences of your family and friends to a “big picture” view of immigration, labor, trade, and war. you understand how policy and large institutions affect your daily life—and at the same time, you learn our community’s history of struggle to challenge, and build alternatives, to these institutions.
After college, I worked at the Los Angeles Unified School District, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and Southeast Asian Community Alliance. I returned to school to learn more about policy and regulatory processes affecting immigrant communities, like housing and jobs, and also to gain stronger research skills. My research is on the intersection of economic and environmental just organizing. As a case study, I’m looking at urban redevelopment in Los Angeles Chinatown and Lincoln Heights.
So far I’m very happy with the flexibility and support that the MA program offers. The cohort is small (our year has nine students), and my classmates and I support each other on basic things, from how to write a CV to more complex situations, like how to balance personal relationships and school.
After I finish the program in 2013, I would like to work for a community-based organization or worker center, and also teach at a community college or CSU. To anyone who is considering Asian American studies for undergraduate or graduate school — I say go for it! Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies are unique because they were founded through student activism, with a commitment to social justice. UCLA has one of the top departments in the nation, and it’s important not only to take advantage of this resource, but to also push its sustained commitment to student activism and socially relevant teaching and research.
by Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran
Labs. Science Classes. Research opportunities. Layhannara Tep came into UCLA as a “hardcore” biology major, as some students would call it, taking on the whole stereotypical pre-med package. However, she was confronted with that realization that the path she had set out on was not a path that she had chosen for herself. Shewasn’t happy and this reflected in her grades.
Like Tep, many students feel indebted to their parents. They fed us. They raised us. They taught us. They put so much into our well-being, and it’s only right for us to pay it back in some way. Many times we find ourselves making our decision based on this mindset, yet it calls into question the decisions that we want to make.
Conflicted with the wish to fulfill her parent’s or her own wishes, Tep found guidance from a program called Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention (SEACLEAR) during her freshman year. She has been involved with it ever since.
The goal of SEACLEAR, a Retention Project of the Vietnamese Student Union, is to help students face academic and personal challenges and successfully graduate from UCLA. The point of retention is keeping students at UCLA at an academically strong level, and making sure that they graduate rather than drop out.
The Vietnamese Student Union officially founded SEACLEAR in 1998. The people at VSU discovered that many members of the community were experiencing academic troubles. These members included student leaders who found themselves placed on academic probation and subject to dismissal.
SEACLEAR’s main target student population is Southeast Asian studentswho have been dismissed from the university or are on academic probation. The first focus is bringing these high-risk students back up. The second focus is prevention.
Since its inception, SEACLEAR has developed into a project with four different components: Mentorship, Internship, Peer Counseling, and Wellness. It has also recently introduced a new component: Transfer Component.
The mentorship program entails the pairing of an upperclassman or alumni to a student. SEACLEAR focuses heavily on the pairing process, and considers student preferences ranging from gender to academic field of study. The goal is to find a mentor that will be ideal for the personal support and professional growth of the student. Once a pair has been selected, the mentor engages in one-on-one meetings with his or her mentee. Through these one-on-one interactions, the mentor and mentee build a support system together.
The peer counseling component is for the students who would prefer a person who is experiencing college as they are. There are one-on-one counsel services that are holistic in nature, which are centered in three meetings each quarter. Discussion topics range from academic plans to more personal issues.
The new transfer component will focus primarily on transfer students who face a different experience from the typical undergraduate who began at UCLA as a freshman. Many Southeast Asian students are accepted as transfer students, and despite the many other programs UCLA offers in assisting transfer students, there is a lack of retention geared services.
The wellness component focuses on addressing taboo topics such as gender, sexuality, mental health, and spirituality. Students who share similar backgrounds in being familiar with the refugee experience can share their stories and expand their mindset.
Students who use SEACLEAR’s services can also give back to their community through the internship component, bringing the service around full circle. The internship component is for students who wish to take a step further in being involved with the Southeast Asian community and take the opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills as a leader. Interns find themselves participating in fun and creative topics, small group discussions, and challenging the taboos and misconceptions in the community concerning their background, culture, and education.
That’s what SEACLEAR comes down to: the act of giving. The idea of rising above the challenges that poverty and pressures can weigh on a student, and then helping another student.
`”Some of the students that are most rewarding to work with are students who were previously dismissed or who struggled on academic action and who find a way to make it back,” Tep says. “[They] work hard and end up giving back because they understood how significant the community was in helping them to graduate and helping them to get back in.”
Tep graduated UCLA last year with a double major in Asian American Studies and English with a Creative Writing Concentration. She continues to be involved with SEACLEAR as the full-time Project Director. She has no regrets.
by Ashley Truong and Tony Le
Jeffrey Kho, a second year at UCLA, has come to expect the looks of surprise when he tells his fellow students that he is double majoring in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology and Asian American Studies. They question why he is majoring in Asian American Studies, a field which many students consider impractical, with no real career opportunities.
As a freshman at UCLA, Kho had the same belief about Asian American Studies. In high school, he was a science person who excelled in his courses. He studied hard and received good grades. The next logical step was to pursue a career in the hard sciences, which made him declare MCDB as an incoming freshman. Asian American Studies as a field of study had not even been on his list of possible majors.
Kho is clearly not the only student who thought it would be unlikely for him to major in Asian American Studies. In a survey done by Cal State LA’s Asian and Asian American Studies (AAAS) Department, 50% of the students surveyed answered that they were “unlikely” to major in AAAS if an Asian American Studies option was included. More than half of the students surveyed answered that they were “unlikely” to pursue an M.A. in AAAS as well.
It wasn’t until he took Asian American History for his History G.E. that his viewpoint changed. He says that his high school had a very Euro-centric history education, but the Asian American History class taught him the history of Asian Americans. “[Asian American Studies] is a really powerful way to get in touch with the history that’s been forgotten,” Kho says.
The class also discussed the model minority myth, which suggests that Asian Americans are successful academically and socioeconomically simply because they are “Asian,” rather than because of their hard work and dedication. Before taking the class, Kho had also bought into the model minority myth. “Things were good [for me],” he says. “Why should I care?”
But now, Kho considers majoring in both MCDB and Asian American Studies as the natural step towards his future career. The two majors complement each other, especially since Kho is interested in pursuing a career with public health. He cites higher cancer rates among Asian Americans, as well as lower access to health care for Southeast Asian Americans, as areas of interest for him. For Kho, MCDB gives him the tools to understand the science behind health, and Asian American Studies provides the perspective with which to understand the social issues behind disparities in health as well as health care.
Professor Jinqi Ling, head of the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA, also emphasizes the highly complementary and interdisciplinary nature of Asian American Studies. He says that the faculty has many areas of expertise, like public health, anthropology, urban planning, psychology, public policy, and literature. Asian American Studies is not merely a field of theory, but a practical one that is heavily imbued with a sense of community and service. After all, the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA was founded in 1969 as a way for Asian American students to give back to their communities by conducting research focused specifically on their communities.
In addition to service, Asian American Studies is also a tool for students to understand their identity in the world. Before the term “Asian Americans” was coined, they were known as “Orientals.” According to Professor Lucy Burns of the UCLA Asian American Studies department, the intellectual knowledge that the major provides students with an understanding of themselves in the national and global context.
Moreover, it helps students develop their own identity as well. Professor Ling says, “One of the things Asian American Studies does is raise the students’ Asian American consciousness and make them more aware of history, community, and the relevance of this kind of education to the potential transformation of society.”
For Jeffrey Kho, reaffirming his own Asian American identity through the major became directly linked to his community, and he encourages others to take the same approach. “Ethnic Studies really helps to awake people to the need for getting involved in the community and getting involved politically,” he says.
Not only that, but Asian American Studies affects students on a much more personal, microscopic scale as well. Natasha Saelua, an Asian American Masters student at UCLA, said that the self-knowledge that Asian American Studies, and ethnic studies in general, gives students the ability to reflect that knowledge out to their friends and family, pushing their assumptions and norms.
Armed with this knowledge, students and professors involved in Asian American Studies today still strive to not only to define themselves, but to give back to their communities. The ways in which they do this are unique and diverse: Professor Robert Nakamura makes documentaries about the Asian American community; Ninez Ponce, an Associate Professor at the UCLA School of Public Health, serves on the Executive Board of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus of the American Public Health Association; Natasha Saelua researches the long-term impacts of the education access group Pacific Islander Education & Outreach (PIER).
The intersections within Asian American Studies with other fields, such as film-making and public health, may come as a surprise to some people. But for students like Kho, Asian American Studies unlocks pathways to different careers. Kho says that he could have gone into research, but he now sees the possibility of going into public health and addressing the concerns and needs of Asian Americans, where there is a higher rate of cancer.
“Knowledge is one thing,” Kho says, “but application is another. Asian American Studies gives me the critical perspective to see what I’m going to do with the biology I’m learning.”
by sam lai
How younger generations see Asian American identity through older generations
While I have been fortunate to have visited Taiwan several times with my family, I took those vacations for granted as a child. My older sister, brother, and I lived comfortably with our Taiwanese parents in Los Angeles, but at times Ma and Ba needed a change of scenery. They wanted to go back to Taiwan not because they felt sick of Southern California suburban life in the same way their children did, but more that they have always felt at home in Taiwan. Once a year, during either summer or winter breaks, we would fly to Taipei to stay with wàipó and wàigōng, my maternal grandparents. My siblings and I welcomed these trips with a different kind of anticipation than my parents did.
Born and raised in America, we never thought of Taiwan as a place we belonged to, and perhaps we saw it more as tourists than as locals no matter how familiar we grew with the surroundings. Young and materialistic, I would buy as many trinkets as I could stuff into my suitcase. I came to see Taiwan as a shopping spree, having more skill in spending money than in speaking with my grandparents.
I have not been to Taiwan in over two years, and I say this not to complain but to highlight a moment in my life which I am still trying to understand. The last time I went to Taiwan was October 2009. My wàigōng had passed away. Since my sister and brother had to study for midterms at the time, only I could be there for the funeral, and for a day at most because I had school. Unable to join in the hymns because I could not read the Chinese lyrics, I sat feeling only numbness. I knew I should have felt loss, a grief I saw when my mother and grandma held each other as the funeral staff pushed the casket into the cremation chamber. Regret more than any kind of anguish haunts me when I think of my grandfather.
Not until I came to Berkeley did I start coming to terms with my grandfather’s death and what my family means to me. Away from home, I could step back and reflect on how my parents identify as Taiwanese compared to the way I see myself as Asian American. From my classes, I heard about the generation gap, a broad term that generally describes the conflict in ideologies between older generations and younger ones. The most common perception of the generation gap involves immigrant parents and their U.S.-born children, but taking into account the fluidity of Asian American identity, nationality alone does not influence interpersonal relationships within families. Rather, the beliefs and ideologies that individuals absorb from living in the United States and other countries gives a transnational perspective on the generation gap.
For 1.5 generations like freshman Bonita Choi, the emphasis on being educated came not just from parental pressure, but also an overarching pressure for recent immigrants to assimilate. Born in Korea and raised in Vancouver, Bonita remembers her mother talking to other Korean moms, overhearing how their children felt afraid to go to school because they did not understand English.
“My parents went to university in Korea, and when we first immigrated, we lived in a bad part of Vancouver,” Bonita commented.
Knowing the struggles of her parents and other Korean immigrants to adapt and integrate, Bonita said, “I agree with them about the value of education, [so] I always felt like I had to go to school.”
A major point of struggle between the older generations and their descendants sparks from the desire to conform to Anglo-American rules but also to preserve ethnic background. For younger API generations, knowing one’s history can be limited by a number of factors: geographic barriers, a lack of fluency in a particular language, and the very validity of memory. All of those aspects became clear to me when I took a beginning Mandarin class in community college a year after wàigōng’s funeral.
Speaking conversational Mandarin came to me gradually, but on paper, the traditional characters turned me into a bungling monolingual. For hours on end, I would practice by writing the characters over and over again until they covered an entire page. From this routine, I gained a literacy at the same level as my young cousins’ in Taipei, with whom I exchanged two letters before lapsing back into English-only once I started going to Berkeley. The brief correspondence between my cousins and I unlocked a door that had been closed for a long time, providing an emotional contact made possible only through a common language.
From my own experiences, the generation gap relates more to the absences and silences that result from a lack of communication and understanding. Younger generations may struggle to comprehend the demands of older generations, but each side should take the time to tell their stories because the further they move away from a specific point in time of their lives, the less accurate the account.
A few months ago over winter break, I dug out some old videotapes taken by my father, dating back to my parents’ early marriage in the 80s. I felt bored at home, and finding footage that preceded even my older sister’s existence piqued my curiosity: what kind of life did my parents have when they first came to the United States, as newlyweds and recent immigrants? A thrill of joy seized upon me when I caught a glimpse of wàigōng in one of the videos, and I called over my parents to watch with me. My father left the room not long after, but my mother stayed, transfixed by the moving image of her father on the TV. Simply from her eyes, I knew she missed him, and always will. That moment brought home the fragile opportunity that the generation gap presents: in the face of loss, older and younger generations can unite in finding the missing pieces.
The author at 3 months with her maternal grandfather (Photo courtesy of Sam Lai)
In Taiwan, fidgeting in front of the camera with waigong (Photo courtesy of Sam Lai)
by christine tran
Hazing Asian American men in the U.S. military
Looking back at last year’s events, it’s apparent that for Asian American soldiers, to “Be All You Can Be” is as hopeless an achievement as the “American Dream.” No matter how much blood, sweat and tears colored people may shed for the sake and pride of the red, white and blue, reality often undermines their so-called freedom to prosper and succeed.
Although Danny Chen died on October 3, 2011, I didn’t spot any news articles circulating his case on Facebook until December. It was one of those posts my friends shared with half-hearted remarks, such as “Poor guy,” “That’s horrible!” and “How could anyone do this?” It’s easy to distance ourselves from a person’s harsh situation and think, “I’m blessed to be living a life like mine and not his.” But this hate crime is based on something much larger than the individual. The military hazing of men like Chen is founded upon racial inequalities and prejudices that communities of color struggle against every day.
What’s frightening about this reality is that we American citizens put our faith in the hands of the men who “serve our nation,” the so-called “Army Strong.” Yet judging by how vague and unresponsive the U.S. military is in uprooting these blatant hate crimes, how can APA communities not wonder how many others are undergoing the exact same brutal practices?
These military hazings were first brought up in two high-profile 2011 cases: Harry Lew and Danny Chen. Although both were in different branches of the military, they faced similar circumstances of aggressive treatment by their peers.
New York Magazine revealed that “eight men charged in connection with [Chen’s] death are all white and range in age from 24 to 35,” and that these men were guilty of racial slurs, neglect of duty, and abuse of authority, even going so far as to put Chen in a hard hat and force him to give commands in Chinese.
It also mentioned that because Lew fell asleep on guard duty, “his fellow lance corporals ordered him to do push-ups, then stomped on his back and legs if he didn’t do them right; poured sand in his mouth; punched him in the back of his helmet; and forced him to dig a chest-deep foxhole.”
When questioned whether Lew faced any racial discrimination within the military, however, “several Marines said Lew was the target of some jokes and teasing, like many other Marines of all ethnic backgrounds, but they weren’t aware he was discriminated against because of his race,” according to Associated Press.
Whether or not Lew’s sufferings explicitly stemmed from racism as in Chen’s case, ignorance alone can’t propel “jokes and teasing” to the harsh aggression that led Lew to kill himself. To present Lew’s suffering as an accident is an insult to the glaring issue at hand—that those in the military subconsciously accept hazing and bullying without understanding that these are manifestations of social inequalities.
While these military reports suggest a strong correlation between the hazings and the suicides, the court rulings determining the perpetrators’ fates don’t reflect the gravity of these violent events. In fact, the Army recommended dropping the charges of involuntary manslaughter against Specialist Ryan Offutt, one of the suspects involved with Chen’s death.
An MSNBC update this February on the latest court-martial decision stated that “Orozco was acquitted of charges involving the assault, cruel treatment and humiliation of Lew.”
Defense attorney Captain Aaron Meyer maintains these actions as well-meant, justifying that “Orozco was authorized to have a Marine in the squad do physical training like push-ups if the purpose was to maintain good order and discipline, there was no malice involved, and the training didn’t physically exhaust the Marine.” Of course, every soldier needs to have a battered body and a mouth full of sand to know good discipline.
Although military superiors like Meyer acknowledge the presence of these actions, they make light of the situation when these victims’ families are in grief, their demands for compensation unheard. The fact that racism against ethnic minorities is never explicitly stated as the main cause of these hazings is but a testament to the lack of social justice within the military system. How ironic that our nation fights for freedom and justice when we can’t enforce that within our own ranks of power.
Since Sept. 11th, America’s race awareness has spiked with a hypersensitivity to the threat abroad in the Middle East. It’s unlikely, perhaps even unpatriotic, to address any threat within our own country in a time that calls for nationalistic pride and support for our armed forces. During a recession when everyone needs money to keep afloat, mainstream news stations can’t highlight any discriminatory issues within our military without fear of being labeled as traitors to the “greater good of society.”
What’s even more shocking is the lack of awareness and reception by the APA community, let alone by the general public. How much does the community reallycare about military hazings in the realm of public issues?
In the struggle to integrate themselves into American society, Asian Americans have grown up emphasizing certain social values over others. In fact, New York Magazine quotes that Chen’s mother was against him going to the military, “preferring him to be something else, something safer. Maybe a pharmacist.”
Perhaps that in itself is adopting a cultural hegemonic value that it’s uncommon and somewhat remarkable to see Asian Americans in the U.S. military. There’s also the fact that the U.S. military-industrial complex has influenced the countries from whence APAs came from. Considering what happened with U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, it’s not surprising why Vietnamese American immigrant communities don’t exactly idolize the military.
When it comes to issues of racism and discrimination in the military, different Asian American communities can’t seem to relate on the same level due to their unique cultural and immigrant backgrounds. Considering how insulated Asian Americans are in their respective communities, different ethnic groups may be more focused on their own local issues and concerns. The overall apathy towards military hazings could additionally be attributed to a general lack of political awareness and participation.
Contrary to however the U.S. military and media may try to put it, the actions escalating to Chen’s and Lew’s suicides were not unforeseen and could have been addressed. APAs deserve every right and opportunity to do well in the military as much as they do in education, business and politics. Even though it’s important to retain individual ethnic backgrounds and histories, it’s about time that APAs gain a “panethnic” sense of unity and solidarity and overcome being pushed aside in America’s peripheral vision. In doing so, we can promote social and economic justices that benefit all groups of color. We can develop a strong political awareness that can see through the racial camouflage that the U.S. military has slipped into, and protect our soldiers from discriminations that go by unnoticed.
By Sara Clayton
With the swearing in of newly-installed Kim Jung Un of North Korea, it seemed like brighter days were ahead. Now that Kim Jung Il, the oppressor of North Korea, is gone, it was his son’s chance to turn over a new leaf with his nation and the rest of the world.
When the United States and North Korea reached a deal under which the North would put a partial freeze on nuclear weapons and a mission test moratorium in return for U.S. food aid, the world let out a sigh of relief… for the time being.
However, on March 27th, after only about a month, North Korea breached the deal and decided to go ahead with its satellite launch.
Lee Myung Bak, the president of South Korea, deemed this audacious move as “a direct challenge to the international community.”
But these threats are not new. North Korea has always had a history of trying to make ends meet, only to break promises and propose another ludicrous satellite launch or nuclear attack.
North Korea is a modern day tyranny. The only reason why proper sustenance, among other necessities, cannot get to the citizens is because of the severely corrupted government. The marches that were organized when the notorious Kim Jung Il still ruled were eerily cult-like, as athletes tumbled about and twirled flags around while citizens cheered and applauded for their “Dear Leader.”
It really is revolting, to see royalty standing on the balcony, waving from above as starving and demoralized citizens stare up, feigning joy and happiness for their leader, the brand that has been burned into their minds since their birth.
As those of royal blood greedily munch on caviar and chug down expensive wines, the people of North Korea must find a way to stay alive each day, getting by on whatever they can afford.
When will this cycle, that has been going on for too long, end? Will someone have the courage to try and assassinate Kim Jung Un? Will the son next in line finally step up to the plate, realizing that his crumbling nation is in need of a strong and reliable leader?
As of now, it is all up in the air. It is still difficult to tell whether or not Kim Jung Un will be as fraudulent as his father, but it is obvious that there will not be any large-scale humanitarian efforts being implemented in the near future.
All we can really do now is hope for the future, and do our best keep the relations between the US and North Korea in check, because the worst thing that the US could do is to seriously aggravate an already neurotic and unstable nation.
Like many of North Korea’s failed plans, let’s just hope that this breach-of-contract is yet another lofty bluff.
by stephanie wong
How Proposition 209 stifles diversity in education
Some students may attend a four-year university for the promise of a better career. Some may have parents or teachers remind them of college-bound futures before they can even understand basic algebra. Some may have never questioned why they want to attend a higher education institution, except for the notion that it is what everyone else does. But none of the students at any public education institution in California has been placed in that institution with consideration of their race, sex, or ethnicity, since the passage of Proposition 209 in late 1996. Therefore, only a few students who want to go to college in hopes of a better career or out of a passion to learn must combat multiple obstacles in making their pursuit of higher education a reality.
On Feb. 13th, a multicultural student coalition attended a hearing at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rally for a repeal of Prop 209. The civil rights activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) challenged Prop 209 under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. When California voters approved Prop 209, also known and strategically pushed as the California Civil Rights Initiative, state government institutions, such as the UC system, could no longer consider “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” in public education, public employment, or public contracting. Basically, it was an anti-affirmative action act that used the rhetoric of anti-discrimination to offset its discriminatory-by-colorblindness policies; yes, I just coined that term.
Colorblind policies essentially neglect any characteristics, histories, and experiences associated with certain racial and ethnic groups. I am not referring to stereotypical characteristics that are oftentimes used to undermine or poke fun at a certain group or groups of people. I am referring to social, economic, and political obstacles pertinent to certain minorities.
By ignoring a person’s history and experiences, we neglect any of the struggles that may have put a person on a different route and experience. We thereby discriminate their strengths or capabilities, especially with approaching challenges. Experiences and histories of struggle should not prove a point about a group’s weaknesses. Instead, they can shine light on a student’s power in strength, capabilities, and resilience. Although not all API students have gone through these moments or periods of struggle, family or community struggles from earlier generations can transcend throughout future ones. We need these sorts of perspectives in the classroom. Until there is greater diversity on my television shows and movies, in my classrooms, in my government that reflects the diversity of this state and country, I don’t believe that race and ethnicity are not factors that keep certain groups persistently at the bottom. Merit and performance are not biological.
Another way in which members of the API community are stripped of their histories and experiences within and out of America is through the umbrella-term: Asian. Beneath this umbrella, there are a variety of subgroups that have different histories and experiences within the United States. These differences in stories should be even more a testament of what we need to hear in order to diversify our conversations in the classroom, to challenge the ways we understand foreign or domestic policies, economics, theories, and solutions.
Most news coverage on the recent student rally focused on Prop 209’s effects on students from black, Latino, and Native American communities. However, according to the Fall 2010 University of California Statistical Summary of Students and Staff, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, and “Other Asian” groups have all decreased in UC Berkeley’s undergraduate enrollment from 2009. Whereas, the UC Berkeley’s international student enrollment from 2009 to 2010 has increased 32 percent for total undergraduate enrollment.
According to CalServe senator Sydney Fang, there was not a very high turnout from the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community, but she also pointed out that one difficulty in organizing rallies is that some of the students most affected cannot make it out to the events due to other commitments or obligations.
Fang wishes to see greater solidarity within the API community. She said, “As students of color, we face a lot of the same struggles and have common histories, so being in solidarity means that when one community or [a member of the API community] excels or rises above, then we all do well.”
Furthermore, in response to the criticism that affirmative action steals the placement of well-qualified students like Abigail Fisher, whose case will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court and who believes that because of affirmative action she was not accepted into the University of Texas at Austin, CalServe senator Fang said, “It’s not about competing against each other, but it’s about how do we open the doors for more people.”
Whether or not the Court comes to its senses to repeal Prop 209, our commitment to our siblings’, cousins’, children’s, our nation’s future in holding their own dreams, should include affirmative action, diversity, and quality education in K-12 levels. Here at Cal, there are APA support groups for current youth in local areas, like Oakland Asian Students Educational Services (OASES) and Recruitment and Retention Centers (RRCs) under the bridges coalition. Perhaps these can be our next steps in supporting diversity in higher education.
Why not reconsider why you are attending a four-year university? Instead of considering your grade-point average, SAT score, or extracurriculars and rather than focusing on the high-paying career you might want after college, consider why you want to be here. Is it the prestige of attending the “No. 1 Public University?” Is it a place to connect with others who come from similar backgrounds and think like you?
What is the purpose of higher education?
No matter what our reasons are for attending higher education, higher education institutions, like Cal, should bring together a mixture of students from different backgrounds, with different interests and perspectives so that we can unite in becoming problem-solvers and innovators in whatever fields we choose, for the sake of our future—or at least that’s a big part of hope.
By Livia Soong
A national dialogue on school bullying has been reignited with the recently release documentary “Bully,” Lee Hirsch’s moving and troubling film about the misery some children inflict upon others.
Sure, the Weinstein Company film doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been talked about before and there is a debate on whether it’s an award-winning documentary or an extended public-service announcement.
Despite personal feelings about the documentary, the national issue seems to persist and remedial action doesn’t seem to be working.
The $1.1 million documentary is pertinent to everyone, especially to the Asian-American community because studies have shown they are some of the most bullied in U.S. schools.
For example, a couple months ago, a YouTube video of a 17-year-old Asian student being viciously beaten by a group of Chicago teens went viral on the Internet. The graphic video shows the seven teens kicking and choking the student while yelling racial slurs. Throughout the duration of the attack, the victim pleads for mercy from the mob.
The question then becomes ‘why?’ Why are Asian Americans targeted as easy victims to bullies? What makes us so vulnerable to both physical and psychological attack?
Being an American-born Chinese (ABC) and growing up in a predominately white community, I’ve seen Asians targeted and victimized time and time again. Is it because we look and dress different? Perhaps, it’s because some speak with accents and some of our names aren’t westernized. Is it because we eat different foods or maybe because we’re simply too nerdy for your liking?
When confronted by bullies, we don’t necessarily breakout into Bruce Lee mode and fight back. Some may argue that we assume the position of a doormat and let the bullies walk all over us in the hopes that if we don’t do anything to draw further attention to ourselves they’ll stop.
Of course, this backfires. One, someone who doesn’t stand up for against bullies is immediately labeled as an easy target for return bullying. Two, as a bully victim, the emotional effects translate into future feelings of ineptitude and lack of confidence.
It’s our differences that make us easy to pick on. Perhaps being raised in America with a different cultural backdrop makes it easier for bullies to alienate us from our “more westernized” peers. And perhaps our vulnerability to attack can be found in the way we were raised.
Let’s not assume that all Asians know some form of Tae-Kwon-Do or Karate or Jujitsu. I, for one, was raised to rise above violence and find other ways to resolve conflict but even that looks more and more like a double-sided coin. On one hand, walking away is being the bigger person, but on the other, it can be misconstrued as being a coward.
Though there’s no doubt bullying has both its short- and long-term adverse effects on the Asian-American youth, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Admission records have shown that there is a disproportionate number of Asian Americans excelling in schools and going on to attend some of the best colleges and universities our nation has to offer. And if there is one thing we should take away here it is that life goes on long after high-school bullying has become a blur in our rearview mirror.
Right now, there isn’t an insta-fix to eradicate bullying from the face of the earth. Nonetheless, when it happens we should remember to not let those moments define us. Life is much more than a string of “give me your lunch money” moments of your yester years.
After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about how you were pushed down— it’s about how you got up. So get up!