Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Satire plug: Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is one of my favorite contemporary authors.

[click here for a link to the article where this photo came from, which also gives a five-day summary of Whitehead's meat diet]

Recently, he wrote a satirical piece for The New York Times that is just so spot on. Titled "Visible Man" it chronicles the life of the character "The Guy Who's Where He Is Only Because He's Black."

I have read all of Whitehead's novels (my favorite was Apex Hides the Hurt--again, in the realm of satire it's fantastic). You can also check out his blog for a sampling of his writing style, but definitely check out the New York Times piece. It's a classic.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poetry celebration month coming to a close

We are nearing the end of April, which means your chances of hugging a poet are becoming slim, so go out there, find a poet, and hug the stuffing out of him/her!

And buy a book of poetry. Preferably by a living writer, because poets do this out of love and passion, and like all artists I think they deserve some compensation for their effort and art. Of course, memorizing a poem is also nice--and a fine tribute.

One living poet in particular, Mary Karr, has a way with words I find both haunting and dazzling.

Here's a poem from her latest collection Sinners Welcome. It's called

"Easter at Al Qaeda Bodega"

At the gold speckled counter, my pal in white apron--
index finger tapping his Arabic paper,
where the body count dwarfs
the one in my Times--announces,
You're killing my people.

But in Hell's Kitchen, even the Antichrist
ought to have coffee--one cream
and two sugars. Blessings
upon you
, he says, and means it.
--Mary Karr

[an appropriate poem for our times, because the body count keeps getting higher and higher--and it's not just U.S. soldiers, it's the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, because they have to actually live their daily lives in a war zone. Karr reminds us of this in such a concise and powerful way.]

Monday, April 28, 2008

What does it mean to win an Asian American book award?

So this is the post I really wanted to write about 5 days ago but didn't know how to start to explain all the things I'm wrestling with--my sense of hypocrisy in wanting to de-essentialize race and yet having knee-jerk reactions to expectations of "authenticity" when certain people write/speak, my working through of my own subject position as an Asian American female professor working on mixed-race issues when I am, myself, not mixed-race, and just a host of other philosophical, largely academic (in both senses of the word--related to academia and also not of much practical/applied value) musings. If you really want to re-cap all the long and rambling and semi-coherent thoughts I laid down to get to this long and rambling post, you can click here for the most recent post, and it will lead you down the path of my thoughts to the original post that started this trek.

What is all this fussing about?

The Association for Asian American Studies-THE professional organization of academics, activists, students, and anyone else who wants to be involved with Asian American scholarship, recently awarded it's literature prize for best Asian American work of prose to James Janko's Buffalo Boy and Geronimo (the prizes are for works published in 2006--I think there's a 2 year lag that we're working with because all the book prizes in all categories were for works that came out in 2006).

Here is a link to the publisher's page for James Janko--it also gives a brief bio and a link to an interview with him:

Now, before I go any further, I want to clarify one VERY IMPORTANT thing. It is my belief that when it comes to fiction, a writer has every right to create whatever work and to take on whatever voice he or she chooses. We see instances of men taking on women's voices/stories and women taking on men's voices/stories, and plenty of authors imagine time periods that happened centuries ago and places they've never been and historic events they've never witnessed. In the land of fiction, everything is fair game. And if someone wants to write transracially/transethnically/transculturaly, they have every right to do so.

So my problem isn't that a man who, for all intents and purposes, appears to be a white man has written a novel with a Vietnamese main character's voice and a Chicano main character's voice. Janko gets to write whatever he wants to write.

Publishers, readers, teachers who assign these works in their classrooms, and awards committees--these are the people consuming the works of fiction, and there are different issues raised by these consumers--different amounts of power and politics come into play.

My problem is that when I heard that the award had gone to Janko and his novel (and I hadn't heard of either until learning about the award), my gut level reaction was "HUH??? How could the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) give an award for best Asian American prose to a white guy???"

Am I being small minded/essentialist? I haven't even read the novel--it may be a fantastic novel (I just checked it out from the library, so I'll be reporting back on that issue in a few days). But beyond its literary merits, here are a few thoughts that I had:

*How is the AAAS applying the term "Asian American literature" to the book in question? Is it based on the identity of the author (doesn't seem to be, but again, I'm not certain as to how Janko "identifies" or what his background is--I'm only going off of his appearance, although I have to say I was at the Awards banquet and the reaction of the people at my table mirrored my own, ie: we all thought he was white and were shocked at the prize) or is Asian American to be determined by the content, in which case, if the novel is about the war in Viet Nam, set in Viet Nam (ie: not in the U.S.) and features no Asian American characters, but does feature a Chicano U.S. soldier and a Vietnamese man, what exactly is the "Asian American" piece of the book?

*Is AAAS trying to push our boundaries about what we consider to be Asian American literature? What other books were up for possible nomination (I wracked my brain but the only other novel I could think of published in 2006 was Lois-Ann Yamanaka's Behold the Many, which I have to say I thought was a fantastic novel, but she was given the book award a few years ago and more significantly, it's EXTREMELY CONTROVERSIAL to give the award to Yamanaka--details would be too long to repeat here, but suffice it to say, I wasn't surprised she didn't make the short list given the past controversies with AAAS, book awards, and this author).

*Why does this raise so many questions/make me feel uneasy? That probably has to do with all of the previous posts and my trying to work through issues of power and representation and race and racism and the effect of having certain people teach certain material. But it does strike me that this award to Janko raises all sorts of questions about how a definition for Asian American literature is really up for grabs and not well defined.

But maybe that's the point? Maybe we can't really define Asian American literature--and I suppose another question is, should we? Do we need to define it? What is at stake in trying to put boundaries around a term like "Asian American"? What am I afraid of? Appropriation? False or inaccurate representation?

[Aside: I know the members of the award committee. They are my friends-colleagues, and I trust them. I also know many members within the ranks of AAAS and like/trust them. And yet, when I polled my Asian American scholarly colleagues, those at the banquet and not, almost all of them reacted in the exact way I did. So obviously there's a disconnect between thinking about something "in theory" and then the reality of what an award like this conveys about legitimizing what counts as Asian American literature.]

This is the last post on this topic. I welcome comments--and for those of you tired of this thread, rest assured--I've got other things to write about--the ongoing Democratic slug-out between Obama and Clinton, the latest Harold and Kumar film (just saw it this weekend), and one golf friend in particular has asked me to weigh in about Lorena Ochoa versus Michelle Wie.

[Update--June 27, 2008: For my further musings on the novel, see my post "Thoughts on Buffalo Boy and Geronimo"]

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Legitimizing Credentials

I know it's taking me a long time to get to the point I want to make. But the anecdote or question or conundrum (not sure what to call it) that I want to get to has multiple layers to it. So I'm taking my time laying out all the parameters, so to speak. Or at least throwing out various tidbidts, little "appetizers" if you will (in the "food for thought" mode).

In the last post I wrote about the expectations of faculty of color when they are "one" with their research--and questions about "authenticity" in the classroom (click here for link).

Today I want to talk about credentials--which credentials one uses to "legitimize" one's ability to write and research on certain topics.

I've already mentioned that I did a PhD in English with a dissertation written on Asian American literature. I'm currently researching a new project on mixed-race Asian American issues (which means I'm immersed in reading books, articles, blogs on this topic as well as attending lectures and conferences on this subject, and watching film/television/documentaries, as well as speaking to people who identify as multiracial Asian American). And I teach classes in contemporary American literature, generally classes that focus on race and ethnicity and gender, and classes specifically about Asian American issues.

But I think there are other ways I become "legitimized" as a professor of Asian American studies, ones that are not discernible on my c.v.

For one, I identify as Asian American. And not only Asian American, but a mixed-heritage Chinese American woman, with cultural roots in Jamaica and relatives in China, Canada, England, and the U.S. I grew up in the SF Bay Area, did my undergraduate degree at a U.C. college, and grew up with many Asian American friends, neighbors, and acquaintances--in other words, I grew up with a type of "Asian American" community and consciousness, one that would not be available to someone of my age-group who had lived, for example, in the rural Midwest of the 1980s (or rural anywhere actually).

In other words, one could make the argument (as was done in my previous post's comments) that my personal experiences contribute to my expertise in Asian American studies, and matches my own self-identification as well.

But what happens when all of the above is true, but the person's identity is not Asian American?

I know we've all heard of the person who claims authority by invoking personal or intimate connections. For example, the person who says, "But my best friend is [fill in the blank] or the guy with the Chinese American girlfriend who claims to "know" what it's like to be Chinese American based on his intimate relationship. Or the gal who "knows" what it's like to be black because she grew up in an African American neighborhood. Or the person who studied abroad in Mexico who identifies with Chicano people.

I'm guessing that a lot of people may disclaim the above type of authority--the credentialing through either friendship or travel abroad. But I also wonder about this scenario: the Japanese national who is hired to teach Asian American literature, whose work is on Hemingway but who is nonetheless hired to teach Asian American literature classes because to the hiring committee his exterior identity as "Asian" is enough to grant him authority in the classroom, even though his training is in early 20th century American literature and his personal experiences are based in Tokyo and his syllabus contains novels by Pearl Buck and Amy Tan. Should we hire this candidate or the white American candidate who wrote a dissertation on John Okada's No No Boy (a classic text of Asian American literature--part of the "canon" I'd say) and who grew up in a suburb with many Asian American friends?

I absolutely believe that we need more ethnic studies classes. And we need to hire more people of color. But I don't want the two to be the same--that more ethnic studies classes means that you automatically hire people of color or that people of color should only be hired in ethnic studies classes. Whenever I've complained to colleagues about the lack of Asian American faculty at Southern U., many point to the science departments (biology, chemistry, physics) and the number of Asian surnames there, to which I also point out that it's a bit unclear whether these faculty members identify as Asian American or Asian, and more importantly, there is a dearth of Asian American faculty in the social sciences and the humanities, to which my colleagues point out that there aren't any faculty lines to teach Asian American studies currently.

But my point is, why don't we hire the guy who specializes in Russian literature who is also Korean American? Or why can't the 20th century African historian be Chinese American? I know it happens--I have Asian American colleagues who teach in subjects that are not related to their personal identities. My only point is that too often we are pigeonholing people into teaching or researching a subject based solely on what they "look" like rather than how they identify, what they are trained in, or what their personal experiences are.

[Aside: By the way, I haven't even delved into politics. I mean, I would rather gouge my eyeballs out than have Michelle Malkin or Dinesh D'Souza be a university colleague of mine--they are NOT the kind of Asian American faculty I want to see hired because their right-wing conservative jingoistic and nearly fascist politics make me want to call them all sorts of crazy-nasty names. So clearly, there is also a political subtext to all of this as well, for me, the lefty-liberal-progressive democrat, and yet I'm aware of the dangerous nature of bringing politics into hiring committees (sigh). It's all so complicated!]

But here's the rub: I do take more seriously a discussion about racism from a person of color than a white person. In other words, if I know a book on Asian American studies has an "Asian" surname I grant an automatic authority to it, and then I read it to determine if that authority is deserved. But if there is a white surname and I don't know the person's scholarship already, then there is a little voice in my head that wonders what perspective this person is coming from. Why? My assumption is that a person of color has experiences that shape his/her understanding of race and racism that a white person does not. I think it's unfair, my assumption--because I have many white allies who are able to make powerful claims in their research and classrooms about racism from the point-of-view of white privilege and supremacy, and I have white colleagues who are wonderful Asian American scholars.

So why am I fixated on seeking legitimation of issues of people of color by people of color? Is it just about representation? Do I mistrust the white person who claims to be an ally by pointing to personal experiences with anti-racism? Why aren't my professional beliefs matching up with my visceral reaction? Can I overcome my visceral reactions and let logic triumph over them? Am I, as I sometimes fear, an essentialist at heart? And yet, don't I want to work against this type of essentialism--because I want to work against racism and the continuing reification of racial identities and believing that you can only be legitimated through your racial identity?

More on Monday.

Friday, April 25, 2008

One with my research

So this post continues the thread begun yesterday over the question of an authorial voice. I speculated and rhetorically questioned whether I, or anyone else for that matter, had the right to research and write about issues that did not match my personal identity. (click here for yesterday's post)

Again, let me be clear, I agree with one of the commenters who avowed that one's subject position and one's research should never be thought to be one and the same. In other words, I think most everyone would agree that it would be ludicrous for someone to tell me that I couldn't teach Jane Austen just because I wasn't a white British woman (or a white person in general). But at the same time, I am well aware that when I walk into my Introduction to Asian American Literature course, the students often expect to see someone who looks like "me" and when I ask them how they would feel if they walked in and saw a white male professor, many disclosed that the credibility of the instructor would fall short based on their preconceived ideas about the "experience" of the instructor as a non-Asian American person versus those of a visible Asian American person.

It does turn out that I am one with my research, as the title of this post states. But it's also true, and more important for my scholarly credibility as well as classroom authority, that my TRAINING has been in the area of Asian American studies and Asian American literature.

A very well-intentioned and beloved former mentor of mine in graduate school, Professor "A" once gently told me that I should not feel pressure to study Asian American literature just because I identify as Asian American--that I was free to study any topic of my choosing. I took what he said as a testament of the times and his own liberal views of the world because I know there are stories from colleagues of mine (and stories that continue to this very day) of departments who pigeon hole graduate students of color into studying African American literature if they are black, Jewish American literature if they are Jewish, and in my case, Asian American literature because I'm Asian American. Or there is an expectation in a job search for 19th century American poetry that the Asian American candidate can be a two-fer and teach both Emily Dickinson and Maxine Hong Kingston--when really, just because a person visibly presents as Asian American doesn't mean that (a) That person identifies as Asian American and more importantly (b) That person has any valuable TRAINING and EXPERIENCE in teaching Asian American literature.

I tried to make this known to a well-intentioned colleague who, on discovering that I was joining the faculty at Southern U. exclaimed that the students would be glad to finally have someone to teach Asian American literature because my predecessor, a lovely man in the Asian Studies department, had taken on the task of teaching an Asian American literature course at the behest of a group of very activist Asian American students. But these students had been decidedly disappointed because my colleague, an older Chinese man (who identifies as Chinese and not Asian American) is trained in classical Chinese poetry and not Asian American literature. My colleague claimed that I, an authentic representation of Asian American-ness, would be able to "relate" to my students better than my predecessor. To which I replied that my PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES teaching Asian American studies classes would certainly benefit students who wished to learn about Asian American literature. I left alone her implication that only Asian American students would find their way into an Asian American lit course and that only I, an "authentic" representation of Asian American-ness would be able to "speak" to them on their level.

[Aside--you can well imagine that at a place like Southern U. I am not teaching classes only filled with Asian American students, although in all fairness I do admit to teaching one first-year seminar on globalization and global Asians (yes, very punny) that was 50% Asian American students, a first for me here since most of my classes have some Asian American representation (as well as African American and Latino) but remain predominantly white. And to the best of my knowledge, I've been able to "relate" to all of them just fine]

I think I'll end with all of that, only to demonstrate that our beliefs and desires about "authenticity" are often tricky--and I share some of those same desires and beliefs, even while questioning them and trying to resist them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Personal disclosures and other perils of blogging

There has been a disclaimer that I've thought about making for a while, ever since I realized that the readership of this blog has grown beyond my parents and two best friends. But I've hesitated to make it because the academic in me believes that personal disclaimers can sound overly apologetic and/or needing external validation, when the reality of academic writing is that as long as you do the research and the writing is good/analysis is solid, then you don't need the hundred personal caveats and disclaimers.

However, this is a blog and not a piece of academic writing. And there have been a series of observations I've wanted to make--things related to the academic writing that I am doing--and I think that rather than unload all at once in one large unreadable blog post, I will try to unfold them bit by bit, my musings on race and racial representation, that is.

So the first thing to disclose is that while this blog is called "Mixed Race America" and while I do write about and research on many topics related to mixed-race issues, I am, myself, not mixed-race. That is to say, in the racial pentagram of race, I would stick with the single category of "Asian American" and not need to check any other boxes.

[Further disclaimer: Even as I write this, I am uncomfortable with validating the "racial pentagram"--you know, the 5-pronged scheme that has us believing in the coherency of racial categories like "white," "black," "Latino," "Asian American," and "American Indian," because quite frankly ALL races are mixed--there are no "pure" races--and especially a category like "Latino" becomes very problematic to establish as a separate "race" and yet I don't want to ignore the fact that race exists as an organizing principle in so much of our lives that we have come to naturalize it (sigh)--I am doing that thing I hate in some academic writing which is the continual caveat-making and disclaimers, so I'll stop now]

Why do I disclose this now? Because I do write about mixed-race people--specifically mixed-race Asian American subjects (both in terms of the actual people who identify as mixed-race Asian Americans and the academic subject matter of Asian American studies, which is often a mixed-race study, if that makes sense).

And so here's a question for everyone: if I identify as Asian American but not mixed-race Asian American, am I qualified to write about mixed-race Asian American people either on this blog post or in other writing venues? In what ways do we expect a person's personal identity to match up with his/her writing topics? And to push this further, do my mixed-Asian heritage experiences give me "license" (if there is such a thing) to write about mixed-race issues (ie: the fact that I did grow up with a bi- and multi-cultural perspective since my maternal family claims Jamaican heritage/roots)? Do my academic credentials (PhD in English, dissertation written on Asian American literature, professional affiliations in Asian American organizations) qualify me to write about racial topics, Asian American and not, mixed-race and not?

I start here, with my own subject position and identity as well as the subject matter of this blog and my research, because as much as I want to claim that I am thinking in complicated ways about race, I think I continue to have knee-jerk reactions about race and who gets to speak for whom and about which subjects.

Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh the pleasures of TV addiction...

I'm watching Top Chef Chicago, and I LOVE it. It is my current favorite TV addiction. And the episode which originally aired about 2 weeks ago had the special guest judge, Ming Tsai. Ming Tsai, voted People Magazine's sexiest man once upon a time (which, for those of you who know the politics of race and gender KNOW that's a big deal to have an Asian American man listed as "sexy").

But more importantly, Ming Tsai's restaurant, Blue Ginger, is fantastic! Four years ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Wellesley, and my hosts took me out to dinner there and it was hands down the best meal of my life--everything lined up: wonderful atmosphere, great dinner companions, scintillating conversation, and a meal, start to finish, that made my mouth sing with rapture and joy! I can still smell and taste the main dish--a Cantonese inspired lobster dish that was HEAVENLY (I salivate just remembering it!)

Where was I?

Oh yes, Top Chef Chicago.

The challenge for the contestants was to divide into teams of 3 and create a dish inspired by the element they had been given. For the "Fire" team, the sole Asian American contestant, Dale (a version of last season's winner, Hung, you could say, because they are shaping Dale up into being sort've the ass**** of this season, although he doesn't seem to be quite as diva-ish as Hung) announced to his teamates (two white women, Lisa & Stephanie) that he really didn't want to do "Asian"--with Lisa insisting that because Ming Tsai was the guest judge (and because she also specializes in Asian-fusion), she really thought they NEEDED to do Asian food.

And I couldn't help but think about the racial implications (because this is what I do, right?) which is to say, it seemed to make sense that Dale, who does cook with Asian flavors, wouldn't necessarily want to do Asian-inspired food for the Asian guest judge. Because who wants to be pigeon-holed and who wants to pigeon-hole someone else?

But really, I'm blogging about all of this because I'm currently watching Top Chef and this gives me an opportunity to tell all of you that based on the fallout from this challenge in particular, I've come to DESPISE Spike and to be TOTALLY annoyed by Lisa and to really feel for Jennifer (whose partner, Zoi, was eliminated on this challenge).

Among the reasons for me despising Spike is his VERY dismissive comments about Zoi and Jennifer as the "lesbians" of the show. Way to be reductive Spike! See you later buddy--misogyny and homophobia are SO last year's deconstructed salad (WTF IS a deconstructed salad anyway??? And STOP with the creme brulee infused with lavender, espresso, and worst of all BAY LEAF--I actually tried it in a restaurant--not good).

Anyway, if I had to put money on the show, it'd all be riding on Stephanie. She's low key, seems respectful, and more importantly, has been whipping up some amazing looking dishes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008--we only have ONE planet

To celebrate Earth Day, Mixed Race America wants to promote the idea of one planet (and perhaps many races, although we can, perhaps for today, talk about the "human" race, in the sense that really it only took one race of people, humans, to change the atmosphere and climate on our planet to dangerous levels that will impact other races (or more accurately species: amphibians, other mammals, birds, fish, insects, etc...).

So, what can we do? I think this is always the issue--our problems seem so ENORMOUS so how can we, as individuals, make a difference?

Well, for starters, you can check out this website that describes the process of Climate Change and Global Warming and talks about Carbon Footprints and Carbon Offsets and also has a tab on "What you can do"--meaning, what you can do about climate change (like recycling, using less water in your showers, conserving energy and electricity, driving less). So go to the blog "How Stuff Works" and read about climate change, which is their theme for Earth Day 2008.

And for the meat-eaters/omnivores out there, you can try to reduce the amount of meat (or fish) you eat by 20%. I recently listened to an NPR story that talked about the amount of energy that is used to produce a pound of beef and pork. In addition to the very unsanitary (and unsavory) practices (and labor conditions) used to support beef/pork/chicken farms, the amount of energy used to ship grain to feed these animals and then to ship these animals around the world to feed humans is part of what contributes to climate change.

Now, I'm not advocating for wholesale vegetarianism. I am a dyed-in-the-wool meat eater. But I also recognize the problems of my omnivorous consumption--and I'm trying to do something about it. One small thing? To try to eat 2 dinners a week meat-free. Breakfast is pretty easy to do if you eat yogurt and granola. So really, it's just lunch and dinner that seem to be the trick to reducing meat eating.

Let me start us all off by including a link to The Food Network website--if you type in "vegetarian" in the search box, you will find over two-hundred recipes for some yummy vegetarian meals.

Finally, let me include my own very simple recipe for pasta primavera:

1 lb pasta (I like to use farfalle, but any pasta will do)

1-2 tbsp. of olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

[now the rest is up for your improvisation and/or whatever you have leftover in your vegetable bin, but here are some recommendations]

2-3 tbsp sun dried tomatoes

1-2 medium tomatoes (depending on how "tomatoe-y" you like your pasta)--diced

2-3 zuchini or yellow squash, diced

3-4 carrots, peeled and diced small

a bunch of spinach, torn into bite-size pieces

1 ear of fresh corn or 1/2 C. canned corn

(optional): fresh basil

1 tsp. dried basil or oregeno

salt & pepper to taste

1/4 C. of parmesean or romano or asiago cheese (or combo)

Put water in stockpot to boil for the pasta. Heat olive oil in large sautee pan or wok. Add garlic and cook for 1 min., stirring so as not to burn. Add chopped onion and sautee about 5 minutes or until just translucent. Add carrots and continue to sautee another 5 minutes. Then add squash, tomatoes, corn spinach, and whatever other vegetables you want (beans are good, like chickpeas or navy beans, broccoli is good, as are green beans, but potatoes are not recommended, although if you would like to add them, you should par-boil or microwave). Add more olive oil if needed, the herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

After the pasta is al dente (or mushy according to your tastes), strain and toss with vegetable mix. Add cheese and serve with bread and salad. YUMMY!

[April 23--Wed: A friend of mine sent me a link to a recipe that is about the polar opposite of this pasta primavera recipe, and although I cannot endorse this based on health issues (because one SHOULD NOT eat a stick of butter), the carnivore in me is ashamed to admit that this sandwich does look good! So check out this omnivore's delight at "The Pioneer Woman Cooks"--the sandwich is called "Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich"--need I say more?!]

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Minority View

Well, I'm back from my conference, refreshed intellectually, emotionally, and mentally, but unfortunately physically suffering from a bad head cold (that's what I get from very little sleep and more wine than I normally imbibe!)

One of the things I took away from the past four days was a renewed appreciation for having a "minority view." I don't necessarily mean my perspective as a racial minority, although I suppose there's that, but the perspective I have had, over the years, from being one of the "only ones" in the room--whether that is based on gender or race or geography or a host of other factors that have positioned me on the margins.

I think that a minority view has given me a broader sense of the world--certainly it has exposed me to thinking that I would not normally have experienced if I had continually found myself in a majority position. For example, take nationality. Yes, I'm in a "majority" position in terms of being an American citizen. And it would be easy to just say "We're #1! America is the world's superpower!" in this uncritical way, but having a minority position has made me see a perspective of U.S. nationalism that is not quite so one-dimensional or rosy. And has made me appreciate that you can critique something and try to make it better without throwing out the whole concept.

It has allowed, in other words, a complexity of thought that I don't know I would get if I found myself in a majority perpsective. And being at this conference, I was reminded of this because so many of my friends and colleagues working in Asian American studies are also "the only one" in their institutions, regardless of what their personal subject position might be.

So here's to those of us in the minority, in whatever way that might be. Maybe it's lonely sometimes, but there may just be more of us "minority" perspectives out there than we think--and I think our thinking has been better because of it!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Conference Hate & Conference Love

Now I know putting things into this binary of "hate" vs. "love" is much too simplistic, but I literally have 10 minutes before my paid internet use expires, and plus, it's much more PROVOCATIVE to say love and hate, don't you think? Plus, I don't know which is going to turn out to be greater--love or hate--so here goes:


*People who read their paper off their laptops--C'mon! Get it together! Print it out!

*People who grossly underestimate their timing and either run over their time allotment, thus inconveniencing their fellow panelists or cutting on the fly, thus making it hard to ultimately follow their argument.

*Fancy-schmancy hotels that, even at the conference rate, makes it feel like you should be getting a nightly massage and a fruit basket, but the same fancy-schmancy hotel does NOT have free wifi and makes you pay $9.95/24hours, which you do because the hotel website said there was wifi in the hotel and didn't specify that you had to pay so you left off emailing key people until you got to the conference and then realized that you really just had to pay the money for access. Curse you Fancy-Schmancy international hotel chain!

*People who sit next to you when you are absorbed in what YOU think is an interesting talk yet your rude seat mate spends the entire time CHECKING EMAIL ON HER iPHONE!

*No cheap food eating options/interesting sight seeing, thus requiring one to take a cab into the downtown areas.


*Seeing friends from around the country that I only see once a year!

*Blowing off a panel and grabbing a drink with above friends and catching up on their lives.

*Eating really yummy ethnic food (like Latin-Caribbean fusion and sushi) that I normally don't get in my small Southern college town (yay for raw fish!)

*The book exhibit because I'm a nerd and love books and love to see who is publishing the latest interesting monograph that will cause me night sweats thinking, "Damn, why can't I be that smart!" but also grateful that said academic IS that smart because his/her work helps to push my own thinking, especially about race.

*Being around a whole group of people who KNOW what Executive Order 9066, I Was Born with Two Tongues, and Angel Island mean. Ahhh...the shorthand of being with likeminded folk.

*Getting to talk Asian American lit crit with folks--remember: this is an academic conference; we are all nerds; this is part of what we do for a living. But also remember the FIRST thing I listed about friends and grabbing a drink!

*And last but not least, not being the only one. I am awash in a sea of dark haired folk, most of whom are wearing black, many of whom are wearing glasses, all of them interested in all things Asian American and I'm guessing almost all of whom are working on social justice issues around ending racism.

I'll be back on Monday when I finally have free wifi in the comforts of my own home.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 academic's version of vacation

So tomorrow I'm getting on an American Airlines flight *hopefully* and leaving for a conference. So this means that I may not be blogging on a regular basis (although I'm sure this conference will provide plenty of fodder for this blog, especially since I'll be immersed in all things Asian American since this is the big "A" conference for me--A as in #1, A as in Asian, A as in ... America?)

Anyway, in honor of the fact that I will soon be immersed in a world of jargon and a sea of dark haired people...

[OK, let me be really frank: I've already talked about feeling tired, sometimes, exhausted, sometimes, when I recognize that I'm the "only one" in a room -- which happened AGAIN when I went to a Southern U. meeting of about 50 faculty/staff/students from around the university and I was the ONLY Asian face in this "important meeting" (sigh). So one of the things I'm looking forward to by going to this conference is that I will NOT be the only one: not the only one working on Asian American issues, not the only one interested in issues of social justice related to Asian American populations, not the only one who has read the latest journal article on Asian American literature, and not the only Asian American person in the conference hotel, although I also want to note that there are many fine academics who are NOT Asian American--like Professor X who gave the wonderful Japanese American Internment talk. So for any of you more conservative readers out there, I don't even want to HEAR you tell me that this is a segregationist/racist conference. Personally, it's a place I get to re-charge once a year--to be with folk I share a shorthand with--and quite frankly I really need it, because damn it, I get tired of the face staring back at me in the mirror being the only Asian face I see most days.]

Rant over.

What was I saying?

Oh yeah. In honor of entering into the land of academic jargon, I thought I would actually write this post dedicated to Asian American literature (a topic near and dear to my heart), specifically picking up a comment thread from the discussion I started on Ha Jin's novel A Free Life about Asian Immigrants becoming Asian Americans.

One of the commenters expressed a disdain for Jin's latest novel--feeling like it rehearsed worn out themes already expressed in the canon of Asian American literature. I don't know that I entirely agree with this statement, but I understand where the comment is coming from. Because Asian American literature is so often associated with "THE IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE," as if those are the ONLY types of experiences that Asian Americans are having or are capable of relating, or, perhaps more accurately, are getting publishing contracts. In other words, there seems to be a certain "vogue" for Asian American novels that depict a type of "immigrant" experience.

Case in point: This past Sunday's New York Times book review had an ad for a book I've plugged in the right sidebar of this blog (under "Jennifer's Current Book Recommendations"), Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee.

And in the ad, there is a quote from a reviewer (who is unnamed) that reads:

"Not since Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake has an author so exquisitely evoked what it's like to be an immigrant..."

Now, I have to tell you--this is NOT what I think about when I think about this novel. Because the main character, Casey, who we follow for 800 pages, is a first-generation American born Korean American woman, whose life follows the plot of a sprawling Russian or English novel. I did not see resonances with The Namesake, and can only conclude that this reviewer wanted to compare two Asian American immigrant experiences together (I mean, why not compare it to Nicole Krause's The History of Love, which also deals with multiple immigrant experiences (Russia, Poland, England, Latin America), or Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, which talks about the Greek American immigrant experience? Must Asian immigrants always be compared against one another?)

It would seem that the only way you can "sell" an Asian American book is to draw upon the typical tropes of "Asian-as-foreigner" which means "Asian-as-immigrant," which brings me full circle back to my point in the April 12 post: when does an immigrant actually become a citizen? When does an Asian immigrant, in particular, become American? And when will Asian American writers be free to write whatever kinds of stories they want to write about, with whatever cast of characters they want to choose to write about--without invoking the typical tropes of immigration or generational or cultural conflict?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Loaded words and contested terms

You can imagine that as an English professor I believe that words matter, that language matters. And that what you call things matters quite a bit. Take, for example, my preference for using "Asian American" to refer to people of Asian ancestry/descent rather than "Oriental." It's actually not just my preference; a whole movement in the late 1960s was formed, in part, around wanting to affirm the place of Asians in America and to dismiss the notion of people as objects (because remember: only rugs are Oriental).

Two of my most recent posts have touched on the issue of loaded words and contested terms. The April 11 post about the use of the term "Concentration Camp" to talk about where Japanese Americans were detained during WWII has sparked some interest from another blog, "Is That Legal?," where Eric Muller (remember Professor Muller? I gave a plug for his excellent book American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty during World War II) provides more nuanced examination for thinking through the use of the term "concentration camp"--particularly its charged nature and yet why it IS an accurate term to describe the situation of Japanese Americans during WWII--click here for the link to "Is That Legal?"

[If you are reading this Eric, thanks for plugging my post/blog on your blog--I'm honored!]

And in the April 12 post asking when Asian immigrants become Asian Americans, a commenter and fellow blogger, John B. of "Domestic Issue," began an interesting exchange with another commenter about the use of the phrase "miscegenation."

Now, I don't know if any of you were reading my blog this summer, but that exact phrase came up in my August 2 post relating a racist comment made to me by a woman about purity and Asian Canadians. I said in the post: "That word has such a controversial connotation--rooted in a history of race baiting." This is the history of the word:

Originally coined in 1863, the word first appeared on a hoax pamphlet entitled “Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro.” Conceived by two New York journalists, David Goodman Croly and George Wakeman, the pamphlet was an attempt to depict the Republican party explicitly as proponents of inter-racial marriage and implicitly with the propagation of mixed-race children. By doing so, the hope was that voters would reject President Lincoln in his re-election campaign, for the man who supported the emancipation proclamation was also obviously in favor of promoting not only equality of the races but inter-mixing as well. Thus from its inception, miscegenation was a word linked with political propaganda and fear mongering for the purposes of supporting segregation and defying racial equality

[taken from a talk I gave five years ago at Southern U.]

So here's the question for you, dear readers: Can loaded words and contested terms be rehabilitated? Can they escape, in the case of "concentration camp" the tragic and overwrought associations with one of the worst genocides of the 20th century? Can we use a term, like "miscegenation" to simply mean "inter-racial" without invoking its etymological roots in race baiting and its historic use as a word associated with negativity, rancor, and hatred (because whenever "miscegenation" was invoked in the mid to late 20th century it was usually done in the context of "anti-miscegenation" laws, ie: laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage, or white racist Southerners invoking the fear of "miscegenation" as a rationale for school segregation.

I suppose a few more questions to consider are:

*Why is this loaded word or contested term being used in current, contemporary usage?
*What is the purpose of this rehabilitation?
*Who is trying to use this term and for what purpose?
*Is there another term that is as accurate/precise in its meaning as the contested term? Why is it important to use the contested term rather than the less loaded word?

I'd love to hear from anyone out there with an opinion...anyone???

Saturday, April 12, 2008

At what point does the Asian immigrant become an Asian American?

I recently finished Ha Jin's latest novel A Free Life (2007). This novel is Jin's first set completely in the U.S. discussing life as a Chinese immigrant. I was going to include a link to the NY Times Book review, but I found this one by a blog called "Hallucina" that I think gives a very good summary of what the book does in terms of its adherence to the themes of immigration and living as an immigrant in the U.S. (click here).

I liked the novel--I actually liked it better than any of the other things I've read by Jin (his award winning novel Waiting, his collection of short stories Ocean of Words and The Bridegroom). There was a bleak repetition, for me, of these works in their themes dealing with Communist China of the 1970s and 1980s and with the bleakness of much of the characters' lives.

I suppose, in some ways, these themes continue in his latest novel. But for some reason, I found them more compelling--and I agreed with Hallucina--that one of the most powerful things about this novel is recognizing that regardless of whether people are living in China or America, their humanity is always with them--which is to say, the difficulties of being human follow you in the U.S. just as they do in China. This novel isn't going to be for everyone--its over 600 pages, although each chapter is only 3-6 pages long, which makes it feel as if it's easier to read or that it reads faster than it probably does. Perhaps I appreciated the descriptions of writing--the challenges of trying to be an artist and the compromises you have to make between the prosasic needs of putting food on the table versus the poetry you want your life to be immersed in.

But really, what I wanted to write about today was the question in this post's title: When does an Asian immigrant become an Asian American? In Ha Jin's case, to be more exact, when did he start to become a Chinese American writer instead of a Chinese writer? These questions are hard to tease out, in some way, for Jin because one could say that it was either his taking on, finally, Chinese American issues in his writing. Or it could be the fact that he became a naturalized American not long ago, officially becoming a Chinese American citizen.

But lets say, for argument's sake, that Jin had not become naturalized--that he continued to write about China in his fiction. Does this make him a Chinese writer versus a Chinese American writer? Must Chinese American writers write about Chinese American or Asian American subjects? How long does a Chinese immigrant have to live in the U.S. to become acculturated to American customs--and does that acculturation make one an American?

If we believe that the quality of being "American" isn't simply found within a legal document, then is it a length of time that makes one an American--to have lived here for five or ten years? Is it the fluency of one's English or the embrace of certain cultural and societal values that makes one an American?

One can make the argument that for Asian Americans, immigrant generation or otherwise, the stereotype of being "forever foreign" plagues them. But if we assume that this is not the case--if we look at other immigrant groups, Jamaicans, Germans, Ghanaian, Peruvians--at what point do they become Americans? Does it differ ethnic group to ethnic group or person to person? Does it depend on whether they are living in ethnic enclaves of their natal lands or where they are the "only ones"--or does it matter that they are in urban vs. suburban vs. rural areas?

Or, does it matter, at all--the question, that is--since it seems that regardless of what legal papers you hold, claiming America, changing from immigrant to settler, is always a state of mind and always depends on how others perceive you as much as how you perceive yourself in your newly adopted homeland.

Still, it would seem to be easier to be a settler rather than an immigrant if you are a white immigrant or if you are already fluid in English and familiar with Western customs. Or if you have money. Money does seem to be the key factor in all forms of assimilation and belonging.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Japanese American Internment/Incarceration/Concentration Camps--which one is it?

Yesterday I went to a talk given by a visiting scholar, lets call him Professor "X," on a portion of his latest research about the Japanese American internment. There were about a dozen people who gathered for his talk, including one I'll call Older American Historian (OAH), who declared at the onset of the talk that he would probably disagree with Professor X since OAH was writing an essay called "The Myth of Japanese American Concentration Camps."

You see, Professor X had dared to include the phrase "Japanese American Concentration Camp" without the scare quotes around the term concentration camp.

Let me pause here by saying that there is an on-going and long-standing debate about whether to refer to the period of WWII in which Japanese and Japanese Americans were racially targeted, detained, relocated, and held in camps throughout the Western and Southern portions of the U.S. as either Japanese American Internment, Japanese American Incarceration, or Japanese American Concentration. Usually this gets even thornier when talking about the actual locations--as in, were these internment camps, detainment centers, relocation centers, incarceration camps, or concentration camps?

Most scholars throw out detainment and relocation. It doesn't get to the magnitude of this mass removal and racialized dimension of what happened. Internment has become the default term, it seems, although many, particularly those who experienced this period, believe this term is too neutral and too inaccurate to describe the inherent racism of this period and the devastating legacy of this period. Incarceration gives more of a feel to the ways in which Japanese American citizens were imprisoned against their will, although I have read some scholarship that believes that incarceration is inaccurate, as well, since Japanese Americans were not truly prisoners, although Densho: The Japanese American legacy project, prefers this term. That leaves us with concentration camps, which is actually the language used by FDR and the other architects of Executive Order 9066 to describe the ten different centers used to house Japanese Americans during WWII.

So here's the thing: when you hear the word "concentration camp" what immediately comes to mind? The Holocaust? Nazi genocide of Jewish people in Europe? You bet. It's the reason I've usually avoided the term in my own writing on the Japanese American internment.

But I have to say, after the exchange between OAH and Professor X, I'm ready to jump on board the Japanese American Concentration Camp bandwagon, because Professor X made a very intelligent, reasoned, and astute argument for why we should understand the camps as concentration camps and why we should use accurate terms to describe particular historic situations. And OAH came across as a cranky, slightly crazy, and most of all incredibly PRIVILEGED white male academic. And those guys drive me NUTS.

You see, right after Professor X finished his talk, OAH immediately launched into a series of questions (because, as he declared to everyone, HE had to leave EARLY). The first one was asking Professor X to compare Japanese American concentration camps to German concentration camps. You know, the ones used to exterminate over 6 million people of Jewish descent.

AGHHHHH!!!! I HATE this question. It's one that appeared in the early stages of Japanese American internment scholarship. Particularly among people who wanted to discredit the legitimate claims of redress and reparations of Japanese American survivors of internment/incarceration. Professor X was very deft at handling OAH's question--he began by saying that it was futile to compare the two, because German concentration camps were actually death camps, and even the ones that were "labor" camps were designed with the Final Solution in mind (ie: Jewish Holocaust/genocide). And then Professor X went through the history of the phrase concentration camp--a phrase that predates WWII by about 50 years (first usage was in the late 19th C. with respect to South Africa and Cuba). Concentration camps, in Professor X's belief, are accurate because they were designed with the purpose of involuntarily concentrating the majority of an ethnic group into one location--for detainment of an indeterminate length. And that's what the U.S. government did to 120,000 Japanese American people--they were targeted, relocated (twice), and detained in camps solely based on their ethnic identity--their visible ethnic and racial difference from white America. No charges of espionage were every discovered among Japanese or Japanese Americans. And as Ex Parte Endo proves, the Japanese American interment was an unconstitutional act that the U.S. government had no business in perpetuating.

But perhaps my desire to jump on the concentration camp terminology bandwagon has as much to do with my antipathy towards OAH as it does with my admiration of Professor X's scholarship. Because the kind of strange refutations that OAH kept making--focusing on the fact that mass numbers of Japanese Americans didn't DIE as a result of being in these camps and that the quality of life for Japanese Americans in the U.S. was demonstrably better than their German/Jewish counterparts. Well... DUH! The U.S. did many dishonorable things to people of Japanese ancestry--but they did not implement a system of genocide against them. The only reason to bring up this false comparison is to discredit the very legitimate hardships faced by Japanese Americans and to discredit the very real racism used by the U.S. government to disenfranchise an entire group of people based on nothing more than irrational and unsupported ethnic bias.

Older white male academic leaves a rather bad taste in one's mouth.

[Addition--July 17, 2008: If you found your way here because you are looking for more information about this period in history and/or connections with current abuses of civil rights, click here for my July 17, 2008 post]

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"I will live an die a banana man"

Another entry in honor of National Poetry Month. When Robert Pinsky was the National Poet Laureate, he initiated the Favorite Poem Project, where various people around the nation are profiled and they read their favorite poem (President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are featured, so you can guess how long ago this project took place).

The profiles of the people and the poems they read are emblematic of a "mixed-race" America. If you go to the website (click here) you can scroll down and see the various poems and the various people who have chosen to read these poems. And when you click on a window, it will give you the story of the person and their reasons for choosing this poem.

Among the ones I hope you will click on is "The Song of the Banana Man" by Evan Jones, a Jamaican poet, and it is read by George Scott, a Jamaican American bakery owner in Hartford, CT. My cousin "I" sent this link to me (thanks "I"). Listening to George Scott read this poem you get a feel for the language of Jamaica and the beauty of poetry. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Warning: the following post is academic

I'm never quite certain how much personal or professional information to share on this blog. And I know I don't want these posts to turn into a kind of "Dear Diary" forum. But I also realize that my one-year "blogiversary" is approaching (mid-May) and that I began this blog as a way to talk about race and American culture as a form of pre-writing for the book I'm working on.

And the decision I made, just today--just a few hours ago--was to re-vamp the entire book project. Because what I realized after talking to a book editor and senior colleague in my field is that the topic of what I wanted to write about is not quite what I am writing about. Let me give you an analogy not in my field. I thought I was writing a book about free-range chickens as a metaphor for the organic food movement, but it turns out that what I'm really interested in is organic farming.

OK, maybe this doesn't make sense...and I'm not comfortable with telling you the specifics of how I'm changing my argument from "M" to "W" (see--I thought it looked like an "M" but it is really a "W" turned upside down).

Anyway, the good news is that I'm still writing about race and mixed-race issues and Asian Americans--at least that's the good news, to me, otherwise the last year of research and writing would feel like it was all for naught.

So I figured that I'd share this with you, especially since many of my readers seem to be people who are familiar with academia, and some of you even know the vagaries of trying to write a book from scratch (this is my first post-dissertation work and in some respects it's liberating not to write with the audience of your grad committee--in other ways, though, it's a bit daunting, especially me being pre-tenure, to think about writing for a book editor/larger audience).

Thanks, dear readers, for indulging my more personal/professional obsessions. I haven't written any real opinion pieces for a week because I've been obsessed with trying to write this book proposal. I've promised someone a copy of it on Friday so maybe by next week I'll have some fresh thoughts to share with you about race and the state of mixed-race America. Lets hope so.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Do you haiku?

April is the cruelest month (nod to T.S. Eliot). It is also National Poetry Month. And in honor of the wonderful poets and poems that our world has produced, and because I'm an English professor, and because, quite frankly, I love poetry, I thought I'd encourage the creative writing kick that I've been on and encourage all of you to come up with a haiku.

Unlike the previous post challenging you, dear reader, to come up with a short story of 250 words or less, the haiku assignment is quite do-able. Let me refresh your memory from your school days:

*A haiku is a poem comprised of seventeen syllables.
*Although there are variations on the haiku in terms of lines and meter, a typical haiku is comprised of three lines in the following variation:
---5 syllables in the first line
---7 syllables in the second line
---5 syllables in the third line

Here is an example (not mine):

Freshly Fallen

By Paul McCann

Snow lay on the street .
It crunched underneath my feet .
Footprints in the snow.

And here is my own example (not great, but you get the picture):

Race in the U.S.,
Is there an answer... perhaps,
But what's the question?

So, here's my challenge to you: send in your own haiku on whatever subject you want to write about in the comment section. The more submissions the merrier!

Or find a poem and read it and savor the play of language and rhythm of the words. And better yet, if you have a chance, go hug a poet!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Short shorts

So recently, I had an informal assignment in my fellowship group to come up with a short short story, one that is under 250 words, otherwise known as "flash fiction." And since I'm feeling a bit brain dead today, what with getting my oil changed/tires rotated/annual car inspection/registration renewal (which took up my whole morning) and then the run I went on and then the talk I attended. And did I mention that for some crazy reason I was awake, and I mean bright-eyed-bushy tail awake, at 6:30am (I went to bed after midnight) and so I came downstairs and wrote, because that's what I'm supposed to be doing during my year off--working on this book--and I need, let me emphasize NEED to write the introduction because I need NEED to figure out exactly WHY it's important that we have another book about race and Asian American culture (anyone want to put out some ideas?)

Anyway, here's my short short--I'll be sharing this with my fellowship group tomorrow. I'm a bit nervous about it--because, my theory is that all English professors are really either closet poets or closet fiction writers (maybe some closet screenwriters or playwrights thrown in the mix too). What I mean is, I think that some of us love literature so much, that we have often dreamed about actually creating the creative works we critique. I know that's the case with me. When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "An Author!" A friend of mine reminded me the other day that I actually AM a writer--because I do write for a living (as well as teach) but, in my mind, a real author is a fiction writer.

So here's my stab at my dream profession--once you read it, you will probably realize that I should stick to my day job. But I figure, why have a blog if you can't force people to read the things that only my Mom would normally read!

"Foul Ball"

It’s Friday, and Forrest Lee silently prays to God that Teresa Williams will be out so that he can go home and the monthly humiliation of kick ball will be over. Forrest is always picked last—out of all of the boys and all of the girls. Forrest walks home from school alone; he eats lunch alone, from a Tupperware lunchpail filled with food his grandmother makes for him. Forrest never buys the school lunch.

Forrest sees Teresa make it to first base. The bases are loaded with two outs, and Forrest knows his team will lose because he’s now up. Suddenly, his whole class yells in unison, “Run, Forrest, Run!” Forrest hates this the most about kick ball days; the kids always chant “Run, Forrest, Run!” He looks at Mrs. Carter, his fourth grade teacher, who, as usual, is scribbling on her clipboard. He looks at the pitcher, Bobby Sanchez, who grins, then shoots the ball at Forrest, who, with eyes closed, kicks the ball as hard as he can. Amid the chanting, amid the heat, Forrest kicks the ball as if it contained all the rage, frustration, and anxiety of his brief nine years.

And the ball, following a trajectory of its own choosing, veers right and smacks Mrs. Carter square in the face, where she falls backwards, clutching her bloody nose. And Bobby’s eyes grow wide. And his class falls silent.

And Forrest runs.

[this is exactly 236 words (not counting the title)--and my challenge to anyone who is out there is to share your own short short story in the comments section of this post--or provide a link to your own short short!]

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

Here are a few things I've observed, recently, that make me think of cognitive dissonance:

[Saw this beach towel on a recent trip through Cherokee nation]

[I'm not saying that Democrats have a stellar record with the Human Rights Campaign, but Republicans??? I guess you do have Larry Craig now]

[Speaking of Republicans who don't make sense, Michelle Malkin puzzles me to no end. In particular, I'm flummoxed by her support of racial profiling and abuses at Guantanomo Bay through the twisted and convoluted illogic of her support for the Japanese American internment, which according to Malkin's unsupported claims, was neither racist nor unconstitutional but instead was designed for both protecting Americans from Japanese spies and protecting Japanese Americans from angry Americans afraid that they were Japanese spies. WTF???!!! The blog Too Sense has some opinions about Malkin worth contemplating]

[Geraldine Ferraro's comments about Barack Obama--REALLY??? C'mon now!]

[Hybrid head feels like it's going to explode now...]

Friday, April 4, 2008

Honor Dr. King by speaking your truth

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's assassination. The Root has a great series of articles reflecting back on the state of race relations, poverty, African Americans, and continuing a theme of this blog and Senator Obama, the need to continue talking and tackling race issues, "Dr. King's Challenge: We're not all guilty but we're all responsible."

Many people have wondered, "What would Dr. King make of the current state of America? What would he think about the fact that for the first time we have a viable African American candidate running for the President of the United States? What would he make of the racial divide, the economic divide, the ideological divide that, at times, seems to be widening in America?"

I don't know what Dr. King would say, but if you want to read some eloquent and powerful words from an African American perspective on the state of race in the U.S., let me direct you to the blog What Tami Said and her post "Dear America: A few things this black woman would like you to know about race."

Here is a small sampling of Tami's provocative and forceful observations on race:

Why is the very mention of our country's racist past and its lingering prejudices anathema to some? Why does discussing racism so often result in defensive bravado? It's as if pointing out racial challenges negates the progress the country has made and condemns every member of the mainstream as an irredeemable racist. That is not the case.

If you are willing to listen, here are some other things that this black woman would like the mainstream to know about racism and the relationship between black and white Americans:

Racism and prejudice aren't about white sheets and Jim Crow anymore. Black Americans know that. Only an idiot would claim that our nation has not made tremendous gains in racial equality.It is just that we know that racism and prejudice still exist, because we live with it every day. Unlike the naked racism faced by our grandparents and ancestors, the bias most of us face today is covert or institutionalized.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., please head over to What Tami Said and read not only this remarkable post (when I read it I literally was sitting up in my chair nodding vigorously and saying "Yes! Yes! Yes!") but also take the time to read through Tami's other posts. I've had the pleasure of getting to know her as a fellow blogger who writes about race in America. Although we've never met, I feel like I've found a real kindred spirit and am so glad that her voice, speaking her truth, is out in the world for all to hear.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Grumpy Thursday

Today I'm grumpy. I could go into a host of reasons why this is the case, but they're a bit too personal and probably not all that interesting to anyone who isn't in the self-absorbed position of being pre-tenure in a tenure track job in an English department.

At any rate, I begin with my grumpiness to explain why some days I feel *it* more than others. What is *it* you ask? Lack of racial diversity. I was out and about for the majority of the afternoon, and it wasn't until I got home and flipped on the television that had a documentary about innovative housing solutions in overcrowded cities, like Tokyo, that I saw another Asian face, other than the one staring at me in the bathroom mirror.

So this means that driving to the doctor's office, driving to the restaurant to meet my lunch date, driving to the Verizon store to get a new hand-free set (lately I've become paranoid about cancer and cell phone use--has anyone else heard anything about this? I caught the last part of "The People's Pharmacy" on NPR, which to tell you the truth, reminds me of that NPR parody they do on Saturday Night Live, except that the doctor they interviewed was VEHEMENT about keeping cell phones away from all vital organs (including your brain) so I decided to go buy a new hands-free set because the one I have broke--this is probably too much information but I'm feeling very James-Joycean-stream-of-consciousness mode today).

Where was I?

Oh yes. No Asian faces at Border's bookstore (unless you count the ones on the DVD of House of Falling Daggers, which I bought for the bargain price of $7.99--have always meant to watch it and now I can).

And it felt, today, exhausting not to see other Asian faces. Most of the time it's like water off a duck's back. I simply accept the fact that I live in the South and that as diverse as my college town is, it's simply not as diverse as other places I've lived (San Francisco, Boston, New York City) and that there is just not a critical mass of Asian Americans here. But beyond the lack of Asian American diversity, one of the things that struck me at lunch was that mine was the only racially "integrated" table in the whole restaurant. Now I was eating at Chili's, which I'm not sure means you get more or less racial diversity. But our wait staff was a mixture of white, Latino, and African American. And the patrons seemed to be predominantly white, but with a sizable portion of Latino and African American patrons. But there were no Asian American diners and there were no mixed-race tables--whites sat with whites. Blacks sat with blacks. Latinos sat with Latinos.

And that made me tired, too. Because even if I wanted to keep the theme of segregated seating, I don't have a lot of options in my area (which of my three Asian American friends living here should I call for lunch?), and besides, that's not what I want. I don't want more Asian Americans in the area to create more ethnic enclaves. What I want is more racial diversity and mixing. And I KNOW I'm romanticizing California right now, but it's just that when I last ate at a Chili's it was in San Mateo with my best friend from college and her daughter and there were DEFINITELY mixed tables there and WE were a mixed table and, DAMN IT I'M GRUMPY AND I WISH WE DID MORE MIXING.

Got the grumps? Feel free to share and vent--that's what today's post is all about.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

In Memorium: Dith Pran

Dith Pran, photojournalist, activist, humanitarian, died at the age of 65 due to complications of pancreatic cancer in New Brunswick, NJ. Pran came to international attention with a film made about his experiences in Cambodia and his friendship with New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg, The Killing Fields.

I saw this film when I was a teenager and it haunted me. Particularly the performance by actor Haing S. Ngor, who won an academy award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Dith Pran.

After watching the film, I started to read about the Cambodian genocide, about Pol Pot's bloody regime, and about the heroic and tragic stories of both Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who, on the day Khmer Rouge soldiers marched into his city, literally left an operating room with a patient on the table, threw away his glasses, and told the KR that he was a taxi driver. Because anyone who was educated in any way, or had signs of "Westernization" like glasses, were executed on the spot. Dith Pran's story of survival is very similar--and the reunion at the end of the film between Pran and Sydney makes me cry every time.

For more on Dith Pran's exceptional life, go to this New York Times obituary where you can learn about this extraordinary man. And if you don't have the time to either read the essay written by his colleague and friend Syndney Schanberg (which is also in book form) "The Death and Life of Dith Pran," then go out and buy or rent the DVD of The Killing Fields, because Dith Pran did not want people to forget the atrocities that happened in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge. And he didn't want genocide to ever happen again--anywhere in the world. Which makes my heart ache when I think about places in the world, like Sudan, and how little we have learned.

Dith Pran (b. Sept. 23, 1942 - d. Mar. 30, 2008)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Today's Headlines

"Halliburton CEO announces $50 million gift to public high schools to initiate honest dialogue on race."

"President Bush apologizes for war in Iraq. Says Bush Jr.: 'I just wanted to finish the job my Dad started...I guess I got carried away.'"

"McCain announces vice-presidential running mate to be Al Gore. Cites INCONVENIENT TRUTH as motivating factor to turn the Republican party from red to green."

"Chinese President Hu Jintao and Tibetan exiled leader the Dalai Lama meet in Beijing to discuss the smooth transition of Tibet from Chinese rule to an independent state."

"Christian Coalition announces support for gay marriage nationwide. Organization realizes its previous stance was 'un-Christian' and seeks unity with the Human Rights Campaign."

"General Motors announces an end to SUV production in favor of electric car development. Claims greenhouse gas emissions as motivating factor for moving production to cleaner more efficient vehicles."

"Universities nationwide join Harvard University in making class on race and racism a required first-year seminar. Declares Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust: 'It's about time!'"

[BTW: Today is April 1]