Friday, November 28, 2008

T.G.I.F.: One Laptop Per Child

About a year ago I wrote a post called "Making a Difference--Part II" in which I talked about the XO laptop or as the program is called "One Laptop Per Child" or OLPC for short.

And I got a message from OLPC asking me to share this video by a girl in South Africa, Zimi:

I have to confess that I haven't played around with my xo laptop lately, although when I first got it, I would take it to cafes in my hometown and I got a lot of people asking about the laptop and it gave me a chance to talk about the OLPC program and to direct people to the website (click here).

And really, when you think about this concept--that this organization is making laptops for children--making them affordable and kid user-friendly and more importantly, making them in a way that people living in developing countries can actually use the laptop--providing solar power, hand cranks, and community support--all to allow kids to learn, to educate themselves, to have access to global technology, that is an astounding feat.

Which is why I believe the OLPC gets a T.G.I.F. award--because it is a great and impossible feat to have the imagination to give kids laptop computers in rural areas in developing countries.

Please consider going to and making a contribution. I know times are tight, but if you decide not to eat out once a month or you give up your starbucks coffee once a week, you can afford to change someone's life. And how often can you make that claim?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Today is my favorite holiday, hands down, bar none.

[Aside: The conscientious part of me, the "p.c." part you could say, feels obliged to say that I'm aware that for Indigenous Americans and Vegetarians, this is NOT a great day--or potentially not a great day--and I recognize both the history of Native American genocide/appropriation of lands and mythologizing of the "first" Thanksgiving, as well as the overly romanticized notions of American Indians that this perpetuates. And I'm aware of the millions (if not billions) of turkeys killed and consumed. So for my American Indian and Vegetarian readers, forgive me--I'm aware of the complexity of this day]

I begin the day with watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a ritual that began when I was three and living in NYC with my parents. There's a picture of me dressed up in a sky-blue ski suit--you know, the kind that covers the kid from head to toes with just an oval opening for your face to peek out. I'm holding one of those red twisty balloons, and my Dad is holding me, and there's this big crowd in the background. Since that time I've plopped myself on the couch of wherever I've been living and turned on the tv set to the Macy's parade. There aren't many rituals that I've kept as consistently as this one--I may eat different foods at different homes and at different times on Thanksgiving day, but at 9am in whatever time zone I'm in, I sit down and watch the parade.

Of course I also love the food.

Although turkey isn't my favorite protein, there's just something about the big roasted bird and the side dishes and the community eating that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Growing up we never had fewer than a dozen people over to Thanksgiving--typically our meals began at 1pm buffet style and featured ham in addition to turkey, along with white rice (I'm Chinese American--no meal is complete without rice), and with my grandparents (while they were still alive), aunts, uncles, cousins, and an occasional international student from my uncle's program (he's a professor of public health and often invited his grad students and post-docs from all over the world to join us). So between 16-20 people is the norm for Thanksgiving for me. And that many people and that much food meant lots of loud conversations and lively (and argumentative) discussions and my late uncle "F" taking a nap on the couch, snoring loudly, and then the second wind we would all get around 6pm.

So on this day I want to give thanks

*For my health. Corny, I know, but I'm watching the House marathon on the USA network right now, and anyone who has had someone close to them battle with a chronic illness or who has gone through a medical scare (or is undergoing a medical scare) knows how wonderful it is just to be healthy and have your body function the way you want it to.

*For my family and friends, because when things are really great or when I feel grief-stricken, it's my family and friends I count on.

*For stories, because I love stories--the ones I read, the ones I watch, and most of all, the ones you hear from others and the ones you create, in line at the grocery store, while riding the bus, or sharing stories over the dinner table.

*For my dog, which may sound silly to non-pet owners/dog lovers, but I love my dog. Just this morning I asked Southern Man whether he could imagine a time before we had "B"--and he said he couldn't, and we both smiled because we feel like our lives are richer for having him with us.

*For food and fellowship, because ultimately that's what this day means to me.

And finally, for a macabre look at Thanksgiving, I give you the cartoon below.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Strugging to feel American

I've just finished teaching Jhumpa Lahiri's first published work--her collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies. I've been teaching this work consistently over the last five years, and I must say that each time I teach this collection I see something different, largely because I'm blessed to have wonderfully bright students who bring different insights and observations into their interpretations of the stories.

And just yesterday morning, Lahiri was interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition about "struggling to feel American," describing her parents' disconnection from feeling "American" and Lahiri's own ambivalence with connecting to a sense of American identity.

Although I can understand a bit of what she means, to be honest, I haven't ever really felt that way. And I've been thinking about why that is. Why I actually DO feel very American and why my definition of "American" has always allowed me to feel connected to this phrase and this amorphous ideal while rejecting the standard symbols of what it means to identify as American.

I've never felt patriotic, not really. Nor have I ever really felt "pride" in being American. Not that I've necessarily felt undue shame (although the words "Abu Ghraib" make me feel distinctly embarrassed, saddened, and horrified), it's more like I feel ambivalent. Because on the one hand, America does seem to offer up a lot of promise and hope--it inspires one to "dream" as in to reach the "American" dream. On the other hand, at an early age I immersed myself in learning about the history of race in the U.S., which means I understood the darker underbelly of America and realized that unexamined proclamations of nationalism weren't something I would ever be comfortable with.

And yet.

I've never not identified as American. I have gone through the different iterations of Chinese/Jamaican/Asian but always appended "American" to the end of those. I don't know that I've ever identified as an un-hyphenated American--somehow I've never been comfortable not qualifying my national affiliations. And somehow I always felt like even if others didn't always see the American in me, it was my absolute right to claim America for myself.

So I'm just curious about everyone else out there--do you now or have you ever struggled to feel "American" and/or have you simply taken this for granted--and for the non-Americans in the blogosphere, what is your impression of "Americans" (and I'd love some push-back from our North American neighbors to the north and south as well as our South American counterparts on this issue).

[Side Note: For anyone looking for a good read, I do recommend Lahiri's latest collection Unaccustomed Earth--especially the last three stories that comprise a short story cycle/novella. Of course, of all her works, Interpreter of Maladies remains my favorite; I just find her stories heart wrenching and in some cases even heart breaking. Plus, she's a master prose stylist, and it's just all a good read. Head out to your local library or independent bookstore and pick up a copy--you won't be disappointed.]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Knee jerk reactions

So I have to confess something that isn't very nice about myself. Which is the knee-jerk reaction I have when I hear a male Southern voice.

And that knee-jerk reaction is that with the voice comes an assumption I have that the person speaking holds conservative, possibly racist, potentially homophobic viewpoints.

It is something I began to notice about myself when I moved "South" a few years ago. You can imagine my surprise and chagrin upon realizing that almost EVERY man I encountered at Southern U. and in my nice college town had a Southern accent and thus was causing me to have this knee jerk reaction that forced me to deal with the fact that I was probably WRONG at least half the time.

In other words, it's almost as if there was a higher power at work that was forcing me to deal with a secret prejudice I had against white Southern men (because, lets face it, that's really the demographic I'm talking about--black Southern men I don't assume to be racist, and while they could be and might be homophobic, it's really the white Southern men who trigger my racial paranoia).

I've been dealing with my knee jerk reactions--forced to really because I can't live hear for over five years and NOT realize that there are many white Southern men who are not racist and homophobic, even when I do encounter examples who live up to my sense of racial hypochondria.

But I am reminded of my knee jerk reaction because in the car listening to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" I heard the dulcet tones of a male Southern accent beginning to speak about the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy and I ASSUMED that the person belonging to the voice was advocating on behalf of this policy that forces queer military men and women to stay in the closet.

But lo and behold--I WAS WRONG. Because the voice belonged to retired Rear Admiral James Barnett, and he spoke in powerful and eloquent terms about the dehumanizing effects of this policy on gay and lesbian soldiers--and had some very strong arguments for why the military needs to abolish "Don't ask, don't tell" -- and he, along with 103 other retired military leaders, recently signed an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama asking him to get rid of this intolerant policy:

We – the undersigned -- respectfully call for the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Those of us endorsing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish. Scholarly data shows there are approximately one million gay and lesbian veterans in the United States today as well as 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in our armed forces. They have served our nation honorably. We support the recent comments of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, who has concluded that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would not harm and would indeed help our armed forces. As is the case with Great Britain, Israel, and other nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality. Such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy.

For the think tank that helped produce this letter and a list of the 104 signatories, click here.

For the "Talk of the Nation" interview with retired Rear Admiral James Barnett, click here.

Once again, my knee jerk reaction is proven wrong. Once again, I try to be the change that I want to see in the world by recognizing and owning my own internalized prejudice.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Successful Diversity

My path in graduate school was not strewn with roses or paved with gold. It also wasn't a bed of hot coals, and lets be frank--anyone complaining about the rigors and traumas of graduate school has NOTHING to complain about once you start reading about the working conditions and compensation of various professions--like miners. Whether it's gold or coal or diamonds, mining is a dangerous profession, and especially in places like China and South Africa, the working conditions are not simply less than ideal, they are life threatening (and there's no OSHA rep to call when you develop nasty lung symptoms later).

So bear with me--I understand from what privileged place I am speaking.

My graduate program was hard. And I don't mean that it was more intense or rigorous than any other grad program. I mean that I was the most naive graduate student to enter a PhD program in English literature, and my fellow students quickly realized this, because I often felt like chum bait at a shark feed. Of course walking into a Boston graduate seminar in literary theory dressed in khaki shorts, white tee-shirt, white keds, and a pony tail tied back with a white scrunchie, just puts a big red "X" on you--like the red-shirted guy in Star Trek--you assume that on the next away mission, that guy is a goner. The program was competitive--literally and figuratively (only half my peers in my first year Master's program were invited to continue on to the PhD portion--it was THAT kind of place); the atmosphere in the classroom was often one of one-upmanship--who could tear down and deconstruct the fastest--and no one was spared, not the novels we read, the secondary criticism, our fellow seminar members, and even our professor. I learned not only to do that day's reading but to try to read additional materials on reserve or on the side and then to demonstrate my knowledge as a pre-emptive smack-down to another student who might try to knock me down.

And should I say, at this point, that during my three years of graduate coursework, I never took a class from a non-white professor and I was the only graduate student of color in all of my English seminars, with the exception of the "other" Asian American woman "S"--who took particular delight in ripping me apart, perhaps because of our shared California background and Asian American identity.

[Lest you think I am complaining about the dear faculty at my alma mater, let me also say I had wonderful professors who were great teachers and brilliant scholars--so I don't want to seem unduly ungrateful, and even my peers challenged me to be a better thinker, so I shouldn't seem ungrateful to them to, although it did feel like a trial by fire, at times, and I did wish for a more diverse curriculum]

So lets fast forward to Fall semester 2008 and the current graduate seminar I am now co-teaching, which has just ended (yes, absurdly early, but Southern U's semester ends the Wed. after Thanksgiving, and this seminar met once a week on Thursdays, so we end before Thanksgiving). The seminar is on theories of subjectivity and literature that spans three centuries--from Aphra Behn's Oronooko to Chang-rae Lee's Aloft. It was an overly ambitious course, in both primary and secondary reading, and my co-teacher (a fantastic senior colleague "R" who is an amazing teacher and brilliant thinker/scholar and honestly is one of the main reasons this class is so successful) and I weren't sure if it would be a huge success or a complete failure because of its large scope, but I think we managed to pull it off, in large part because of the wonderful chemistry of the class.

And here's where we get to the title of this post. Because this was the most diverse class I've probably ever taught in every way you can imagine. It was diverse in the materials we were teaching. We spanned multiple continents and regions: Asia, South America, Europe, Africa, North America, the Caribbean. We covered female and male authors, queer and straight, novelists and theorists, poets and literary critics. We covered the racial pentagram with texts either by or about (or both) Asian American, Euro-American, African American, Latino, and American Indian people. And most importantly, our seminar members were a very diverse group. First of all, I have to applaud the graduate admissions committee in my department, who admitted one of the most racially diverse groups of students to enter Southern U. Up until 2 years ago, it would have been taken for granted that graduate seminars would be all white spaces. And I mean not only content of material but the bodies of the professors and the students. Of course there were always exceptions--my colleagues who are African American and Latino and the sole African American and Asian American graduate students still in course work would have proven that claim false. But generally speaking, it would not have been a-typical for students to be in a nearly all-white space.

In our seminar we have people from a truly mixed and diverse background. Female and male, people who are queer and straight, who are married parents and who are single, people who had careers prior to coming to graduate school, people who went straight from their undergraduate institutions to Southern U., and yes, we have racial diversity--besides myself, there are two other Asian American women (one of whom identifies as "mixed race"), there are three African American students, and a Jewish student. And these students are studying a variety of subjects, including Medieval literature, contemporary ethnic American, Southern literature, popular culture, hip hop, American modernism, and the list goes on and on.

[For anyone who thinks that it is unremarkable to have 6 visible racial minorities in a graduate seminar at Southern U., then let me explain that when I started on the tenure-track here, besides the African American faculty (about 5) there was one professor of Latino background, making about half a dozen self-identified/visible racial minority professors out of about 60. And in terms of the graduate student population, there was one African American male graduate student, two female African American graduate students, 2 Latino graduate students, and one Asian international graduate student--so half a dozen out of over one-hundred graduate students. Not a great stat.

Last night we had an end-of-semester pre-Thanksgiving turkey feast, in which I roasted a 19lb turkey, my co-professor brought libations, and students brought side dishes. It was wonderful, geeky fun, because we ended the night with our medieval scholar reading the prologue from Chaucer's Cantebury Tales (the way he reads Middle English will have you swooning--or maybe that's just the English geek in me) and then, almost in the next breath, recounting the DVD extra from R. Kelly's "Trapped in a Closet" hip hopera (we were all in tears laughing at the description). And after the last person left, with their left-overs covered in foil, I felt like I had been healed of my traumatic graduate school memories of cut-throat courses and attempts to insert diversity into the conversations I was having in and out of class. Because the students in our seminar were very respectful of one another--and valued the diversity of opinion and insight that each one provided to the class.

One of the problems with education is that it's easier to measure failure rather than success, but I have to say that if this group of students is any indication, then it shows that diversity is successful, because I believe our seminar was much richer and stronger for having such diverse voices and backgrounds. And honestly, it's nights like last night and classes like this one that remind me why I love being a teacher.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Education not expulsion

I was perusing one of my favorite blogs, Angry Asian Man, when I came across a post that really saddened me, "Threats against Obama, race crimes increase."

(big sigh)

And the first item in a long list of hate crimes piqued my interest because I have friends who teach at NC State--ones who teach issues of race & African American literature.

To recap, for those who have not been following the rash of hate that, unfortunately, followed President-elect Obama's election, four NC State students (I believe all men, but I could be mistaken about this--the "lead" person who actually wrote the graffiti is a man) spray painted crude, racist, and threatening remarks on NC State's "Free Speech" wall--among which was the phrase "Kill the n*****"--which of course got Secret Service involved. Both Federal and State police officers interrogated the four students (I'm not clear on how they got caught, but they did), and authorities believe that the students don't pose an actual physical threat to Barack Obama or his family, so no criminal charges have been made. But the local NAACP and campus leaders/students have been crying out for the students to be punished, even expelled.

[Click here for ABC video of the story. Click here for NAACP's call for the expulsion.]

And my instant reaction on hearing that there are calls for their expulsion?

Don't do it.

Listen, it's not that I don't think that these four students committed a hateful act--in fact, what they did do was to commit an act of hate speech--to perpetuate racist language and opinions, and harmful ones, that don't simply denigrate or castigate an individual (Barack Obama) but get to the core of America's long, violent, oppressive history with marginalizing groups of people based on "race"--and African Americans have been subject to A LOT of racial hatred and violence over the last 3 centuries--slavery, Jim Crow laws, deprivation of basic rights like voting for centuries--I could go on and on.

So here's the thing. These kids are still salvagable. If NC State expels them, they learn nothing--in fact, they get to be on some weird high horse and talk about the P.C. police, but really, they learn nothing. If NC State insists on a course of education--requiring them to take a year's worth of African American studies courses and other classes on racism/anti-racism; if Chancellor Oblinger requires them to do 100 hours of community service in an African American non-profit agency or black church or organization that serves African American youth; and if these students are required to reflect on what they have learned after their crash-course year of African American studies education, then that seems, to me, a more fitting act of rehabilitation and restitution--especially if they are able, at the end of this year, to truly understand how dangerous their comments are; how embedded in a history of violence, and if they come to a true understanding of how racism operates and why hate speech is not free speech.

So after I wrote all that, I did more digging and found out that the four students had issued an apology for their actions: click here for the apology by the students in NC State's student newspaper. And I also found this most recent official statement issued by NC State's chancellor James Oblinger.

I wish that Oblinger and the campus community had made more stringent requirements about the students' education and rehabilitation. But I have to hope and believe that they are going to change. Isn't that what Obama's election has, in part, taught us? That we want, we NEED, change.

Blog for change

Just received this notice from a friend and thought that I would pass this along to any of you would be bloggers out there:

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For more information, click here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Help Wanted: Allies -- all races encouraged to apply

I am a firm believer in allies. When I teach the novel Donald Duk, I point out how Frank Chin, a man renown for his ethnic-nationalism (as well as his misogyny) and one who is quick to bash white racists, has carefully crafted the character of Arnold Azalea, the rich, white best friend of the eponymous protagonist, Donald Duk. That Frank Chin, of all people (Mr. Yellow Power himself) recognizes the importance of white allies in the fight against discrimination should be a signal that allies are seriously needed and wanted for all types of reasons, causes, movements, and paradigm shifts.

And I have written about allies elsewhere in this blog. And I want to return to the topic of allies because I think for some people, the idea that you can cross lines of affiliation, be they ethnic, racial, sexual, gender, class, or religion is impossible. In other words, as a straight woman I can't possibly understand the discrimination that a queer person experiences. True. I probably can't. But that doesn't mean I can't fight on behalf of queer people. And really, it's not so much, for me, fighting on behalf of queer rights as it is fighting on behalf of my own rights as someone who embraces a social justice worldview. Their fight IS my fight.

Let me also be clear--I'm not talking about appropriating someone else's cause or speaking FOR a community (I don't know that I could even speak for Asian American female academics, a community that I do identify with, but who am I to make pronouncements for my peers?). I am talking about being an ally. On educating yourself on topics, not because you want to fetishize or save the world (and here I'm thinking in particular of the disturbing narrative that emerged at the RNC in September of Cindy McCain "rescuing" a poor little orphan girl in an impoverished third world country, saving her from a life of destitution by bringing her to the bountiful bosom on the U.S.), but because you feel you are part of the larger world and because your commitment to being a world citizen requires you to understand others regardless of your subject position.

Which brings me to a little plug I want to make on behalf of a playwright who recently left a comment on my post on Yuri Kochiyama. The commenter has written a play about Kochiyama and other Japanese American girls who wrote letters to Japanese American soldiers fighting in the 442nd/100th battalion during WWII (largely on the European front in Italy, although there were other Japanese American soldiers involved in intelligence and translation in the Pacific theater during this time). The commenter noted that she was hesitant to write about the history of the Japanese American internment due to her distance from the subject as a Russian-American-Jewish woman, but then she was inspired by the example of Yuri Kochiyama herself, because she had expressed similar apprehensions before meeting Malcolm X, and certainly Kochiyama's life is an exemplar to us all of how to be an ally across multiple lines of affiliation.

So. If any of you are reading this and live in the Bay Area, let me share some information with you about the one-act play Bits of Paradise (click here for original notice in Asian Week):
Play Excerpts to Honor Freedom Fighter Yuri Kochiyama

San Francisco’s Marsh Theatre will host excerpts from the one-act play Bits of Paradise, based on the letter-writing campaign between Japanese American girls and women in U.S. concentration camps and Japanese American soldiers during World War II, at their Monday Night Series Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Known as “The Crusaders,” the internees were led by then-20-year-old Mary Nakahara, who went on to become a prominent civil rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Yuri Kochiyama.

Together they proved the saying that “Occasions do not make heroes, they simply unveil them.” Playwright Marlan Warren directs the young, all-Asian American cast that includes Chanelle Yang, Pisha Wayne, Linda Wang, Connie Kim, Wesley Cayabyab, Jean Franco, and Wilton Yiu. Kochiyama will attend, along with other original octogenerian Crusaders. Tickets are $7.00. No reservations. For more info, contact 415-202-0108.

Go out and see it--and write back and leave a message for all of us who aren't able to take in this performance.

Friday, November 14, 2008

York, PA -- what say yee?

I'm listening to NPR on-line through my old favorite station in the Bay Area, KQED (Thank you live streaming! Thank you Applie iTunes!). And I just finished listening to this series that Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep and Michele Norris have been doing in York, PA (because I guess they figured York, PA was representative of "real" Americans living in a swing state).

At any rate, their conversation has touched on the issues I was writing about in yesterday's post "Mutts-R-Us" (for the edited transcript and a link to listening to this piece, click here).

But what I was really interested in, was a discussion that the voters had about a letter to the editor in their local paper in which a writer complained about Barack Obama's self-identification as a "black" man. The letter writer noted that no other U.S. President self-identified as a "white" man and goes on to accuse Obama for placing undue importance on his "race," and THEN goes on to accuse Obama of being blind to his mixed-race status:
"Where does he come off saying he's a black man?" The letter asked. "Is he that confused on color, or does he want to discredit his mother's color as a white person?"

[NOTE: The letter writer is correct, in one way: no other U.S. President has probably self-identified in a self-conscious way as a "white" man--and there's a reason for this: white privilege. In other words, "race" has been used as a code of "difference"--with the "normative" established as both "white" and "male" throughout much of U.S. history. In other words, who got counted and who continues to be counted, by many, as an unqualified "person" is a white man (and I may as well add "straight" white man). Anyone outside this category, by virtue of gender, sexuality, race, religion, ethnicity, class, etc... is noted with the "hyphen"--literally or figuratively. What the letter writer does not understand or acknowledge is this long history of white privilege in terms of basic subjectivity. Of course Obama identifies,publicly, as a black man and of course President Bush does not identify, verbally and continuously, as a white man. This is how our society has reinforced how we SHOULD identify.]

The responses of the York, PA folk, is also very interesting--and insightful:
That provocative letter started the voters in the group wondering what was really on its author's mind. Maribel Burgos, 46, who's Hispanic, thinks the letter writer, presumably white, was seeking what Orr had finally found: a sense of inclusion.

"They want [Obama] to now acknowledge the white part of him, so that they're now included in his administration, too," Burgos says.

And that, of course, has had me thinking. Because there is virtually NO ONE in national politics who "looks" like me or who "identifies" as me. There isn't a single Asian American, man or woman, on the Supreme Court bench. There is only ONE Asian American (Elaine Chow) in the upper echelon of the Executive Branch (she's the Secretary of Labor--and I'm not a fan, but that's another story and has to do with her silver-spoon pedigree and Republican ideology). And there are a HANDFUL of Asian American Congressional figures, and I believe just one Asian American governor (that'd be Republican wunderkid Bobby Jindal).

So. Do I feel alienated from the U.S. government? Should I play up Obama's upbringing in Hawaii (over 60% majority Asian American population) and his mixed-race Indonesian sister to feel like he is "one of us" (with "us" being Asian Americans).

My personal answer is no. Don't get me wrong. I want more representation in our government--I think it should LOOK like America, and America is much more diverse than any of the three branches of government currently reflect. But just because Obama isn't an Asian American woman doesn't mean I don't believe that he can't be my president. And his identifying as "black" or "mixed-race" doesn't make me feel alienated. It makes me feel PROUD, especially knowing the long and troubled history of race in America, that he is unashamed to talk about himself in the complex ways in which he is figured, racially and not.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I am a dog lover. Southern Man and I adopted a dog from a wonderful local rescue league that fosters dogs that are on the kill list at various shelters in our area. Our dog "B" had been found wandering around a local highway, brought to a shelter, was diagnosed with heartworm, was there for a month and was on the kill list, and then was swooped up by our rescue league. Two months later, we found his picture on-line and brought him home.

And we love him. Unconditionally. I am one of "those" people. I have pictures of my dog on my cell phone and have even been known to sneak my dog into my office (Don't Tell!). "B" is loving and fun and sweet and intelligent and loyal, as are most of the dogs I've met in my lifetime.

And our dog is a mutt. And honestly, every dog I've adopted is a mutt/mixed-breed/non-pure-bred because I've always adopted dogs from rescue leagues/shelters and these are the dogs that are dropped off the most.

[This is Coffee--I found her picture on-line through a New York area rescue league called Mighty Mutts. There are MANY rescue league and shelters similar to Mighty Mutts. If you are thinking of adopting a dog, please consider going to to find one at your local shelter/rescue league]

I start here because Barack Obama in his first "press conference" about a week ago, made an off-the-cuff comment about himself as a "mutt" when declaring his preference that the "first dog" be one adopted from a shelter or rescue league (click here ).

I bring all of this up because yesterday I asked readers to submit ideas about conversations on race/racism/anti-racism that they wanted to have and a commenter (and someone whose blog I admire greatly) wrote in asking me what I thought about the Obama-mutt comment.

And honestly, I haven't given it much thought. I know when I first heard the "mutt" comment it struck a discordant note for me--but I honestly didn't process it fully. And upon reflection, I do think that equating "mutts" with "mixed-race people" is potentially problematic, depending on whether you equate "mutts" with negativity, with whether you find it offensive to make a comparison between people and animals, and whether you have had the phrase "mutt" hurled at you as an insult while growing up--a way to demean your mixed-race status.

Having said all of that, I think one reason I didn't think much about it was that growing up I had mixed-race friends who often referred to themselves as mutts. And they used the phrase with affection and an undercurrent of pride. And I remember that there was teasing in our group, among the mixed and non-mixed among us. But this was all back in high school, and I couldn't tell you anything more specific than that. But as a dog lover, I don't find comparisons of humans to dog derogatory, because there have been very few dogs whose company I ever avoided (even the ones who act fierce are just being territorial and have their own issues, but they are fairly explicable in dog-terms). Whereas there are plenty of people I'd avoid like the plague if I found out we were sharing the same air space (Rush Limbaugh? No thank you! I'll take a pitbull-mix any day of the year).

I am, of course, being a bit tongue-in-cheek. And here's the further truth. I don't identify as mixed-race--no one has ever called me a "mutt" in a derogatory way. So I don't have a strong reaction to that word, although I can imagine that some folks might. But I do think that Obama using it to describe himself doesn't strike a bad note with me. It was a discordant one, because it was jarring to hear himself refer to his mixed-status using this analogy, but I was also pleased to hear him refer to his mixed-heritage. Because just as Tiger Woods isn't ONLY a black golfer, Barack Obama isn't ONLY an African American political figure. I'm not saying he is NOT or that Obama (unlike Woods) doesn't consistently identify as African American. I am saying that it is important to remember that the immediate family who raised Obama were white Americans. And that his mother, Stanley Dunham, was a white American woman who raised a black son in an Asian-majority culture.

And the further truth is, the idea that some of us are "mixed" and some of us aren't, is just not true, in the sense of both culture as well as "race." As I've written extensively elsewhere, race is a fiction, albeit a powerful one, and one that we can't wish away. Race is here to stay, at least I believe it is in my lifetime. But the truth is, if you go back far enough, we are all mixed. In terms of culture, I can't imagine a nation more "mixed" than the United States in terms of race/ethnicity/culture. Which makes every "American" a mutt.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two weeks o'hope--WHOOPS--I mean ONE week o'hope...

So it's been two weeks since America woke up and realized that the night before wasn't a dream--that we had, indeed, elected Barack Obama to be our next President of the United Staets.

And there's been a lot of speculation about what his presidency will mean. For example, a recent poll came out that disclosed that over 70% of Americans thought that a President Obama would be able to fix our financial troubles. Human rights organizations are placing great hopes on a President Obama closing down Guantanamo Bay's detention facilities, and advocates for reproductive rights are anticipating an overturning of Bush-era draconian policies that don't allow for sex education and distribution of contraception to developing nations.

I do hope that these things come to pass. But one prediction that I don't think will happen is the end of racism.

I'm sure most regular readers of this blog will also see the absurdity of believing that the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in this nation does NOT signal an end to racism. Because racism, particularly in its institutional and cultural form, is too big, too widespread, and too amorphous to be ended by as historic a moment as the election of our first openly mixed-race, African American president.


What I do think Obama's presidency offers us is a chance to continue the discussions and dialogues on race that the long primary season and presidential race began. Discussions about sexism vs. racism (or as I like to think of it, the silliness of trying to rank oppressions and the emergence of a recognition that sexism AND racism are inextricably twinned in many ways), the history of African Americans in this country, the history of racial formation and other racial and ethnic minorities in this country, and just a general conversation of our everyday musings and encounters with the big "R" (whether you want to call it race or racism or whether you want to talk about how to live life as an anti-racist person).

So I invite everyone reading this to contribute some possible topics for discussion, and if possible I will try to initiate the dialogue in this space, but of course I also encourage all of you to continue conversations wherever you live. It won't be easy, it will often be uncomfortable, and I don't know what any of us will change others' minds or our own. But the only way to make change happen is to try. And having the conversation or multiple conversations seems to be the best way to start trying.

[NOTE: Amendment 11:41pm EST: I just realized that I didn't count my weeks correctly! Which was confirmed by the comment, below (Thank you Sang-Shil!). Which just goes to show that math skills really aren't my strong suit. Or maybe it shows my desire at revisionist history in terms of wanting that initial giddy feeling to have started earlier than just Nov. 4. Funny what hope will do to you--makes you feel you've been living in the brand new world order much longer than you have...]

Friday, November 7, 2008

T.G.I.F.: Democracy in action

A few months back I started a sporadic Friday series called T.G.I.F.: The Great Impossible Feat award.

And it strikes me that this Friday of all Fridays deserves a T.G.I.F. But it's not for Barack Obama and his campaign, although his election this past Tuesday to become our 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009 is, indeed, great and impossible. And I still feel choked up when I imagine this picture below as our First Family:

But the really Great and Impossible Feat is actually something we take for granted. That every four years, U.S. citizens who qualify to vote (age, felony record, mental competency, etc are potential barriers) are able to cast a ballot for the person they want to be their next President.

And during this election, people turned out in record numbers to vote. For the first time in a long time, people worked hard on behalf of the candidate of their choice--they CARED about WHO was elected. And even for those who didn't donate money or knock on doors or called people, they still did something that is really special: they voted.

[Look at these lines! When was the last time people lined up to vote like this? Or when was the last time record number of people showed up to vote early?]

People voted. And yes, the majority of American citizens voted for the candidate that I supported. And that makes me happy. But the thing is, this was a vote that was historic not just because it resulted in the election of our first visibly non-white, mixed-race, African American President--this was an election that also signaled that people COULD make a difference, that grassroots organizing DOES work, and that every vote COUNTS.

November 4, 2008 was democracy in action. It was historic. It was awe inspiring. And it was simple. People showed up to vote.

And THAT is the Great, Impossible Feat.

Do my ears deceive me?

Scene: Dollar Rental car agency just outside Bradley International Airport

Date/Time: Monday, November 3, 2008 @4:30pm

Characters: Three Dollar employees (all are Caucasian American in their thirties, 2 are female, one is male), Three customers waiting for the shuttle to Bradley Airport (2 are Caucasian and look to be a mother and teenage daughter, 1 is an Asian American female in her late 30s).

Female Dollar Employee #1: "Would you look at this handwriting? I can't make out if it is the number 1, or the number 7, or a Chinese man dancing!" (she laughs)

Female Dollar Employee #2: (Joining in the laughter--very boisterously) "That is SO FUNNY!"

Male Dollar Employee: (finishes his phone call and notices his co-workers laughing hysterically at this point). "What's so funny?"

Female Dollar Employee #2: "She (points to fellow employee) said that this handwriting is so bad it looks like a little man dancing."

Male Dollar Employee: (puzzled) "Oh..."

Customers waiting inside: Silent

[interior monologue of the Asian American customer:

"Chinese man dancing???!!! WTF is that supposed to mean??? Is that a racist comment??? Why did they glance at me and why are they laughing so hard???? Am I being paranoid/oversensitive? Should I say something? What do I say? I am SO TIRED and just want to catch my flight I have to say something? Wait, now the woman is saying that it is a "little" man dancing. Did I mishear the first woman? I could have SWORN she said "Chinese man dancing"? Why else would they be laughing so hard? But maybe I misheard the first woman...maybe my racial paranoia is making me hear things. But NO! I DID hear her say that! But if I say something, they're just going to tell me I misheard, and I KNOW I didn't mishear. Damn, there's the shuttle, I'm just going to let this go, even though this is bothering me and making me feel uncomfortable...."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

California: a state of contradiction

Yesterday I went to Southern U. to meet with some students (yes, I actually to try to be a diligent prof.), and I ran into a colleague in the hallway. Of course we both had bloodshot eyes from our lack of sleep from the night before but we also had this giddiness that felt palatable (another colleague sent me an email telling me that he thought that the mood on campus was just happier and lighter--someone else said the world seemed shinier).

But my friend also provided me with a sobering reminder. We are both Californians, at heart, and she reminded me that Proposition 8 in California had passed by a 4% margin.

For those of you who don't know, Prop 8 was an amendment that strikes down gay marriage, preventing more happy couples from celebrating their partnerships. People needed to vote NO on Prop 8 to keep marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Unfortunately, many did not--because the pro-Prop 8 forces were well funded and organized, predominantly by religious groups outside of California (80% of funding to promote Prop 8 came from Utah).

And for liberal-progressive Californians the celebration of Obama's election was tinged by the passage of Prop 8.

I often wax nostalgic for California. I even teach a class on California narratives, one that focuses on the state as a site of social change. And yet, as liberal and progressive as certain segments of California's population is (most notably the SF Bay Area which overwhelmingly OPPOSED Prop 8) I can't help but remember that California is a state of contradiction. It has a very diverse population and one of the largest Asian American and Latino (specifically Chicano) populations in the U.S. But it also has a long and deep history of racial animosity towards these particular groups. And while left leaning, this is also a state that has been governed by Republican stalwarts such as Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson, and now "The Governator."

However, for a realistic take on what we need to do to keep fighting, please see this entry by the Poplicks duo, Junichi & Oliver. I think, in particular, Oliver's reminder to us that we need to keep fighting--that the road to civil rights has never been linear, is an important one to keep in mind.

And for any of you in need of convincing about the need for human rights FOR ALL--let me point you to NYU law professor Kenji Yohsino's Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. Because marriage should be a right for all humans, regardless of their identities (again, need I remind anyone of the anti-miscegenation laws on the books for so long?)

Finally, in a more upbeat note, please see this link:

Californians, or maybe more accurately San Franciscans, definitely have a progressive sense of history making (and a great sense of humor too!)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 5, 2008 -- President-elect Barack Obama

I went to bed very late last night and woke up about an hour ago and laid in bed for a while as my mind slowly woke up.

And as I started to come out of my dream state, a grin spread over my face because I realized that last night, the U.S. had elected Barack Hussein Obama to be our next President of the United States.

It feels unreal. I have been reluctant to let myself imagine what this day would be like--what it would feel like, the next morning, to realize that it had actually happened--that the United States had chosen to elect its first African American, mixed-race president.

Last night, once the polls closed on the West Coast and CNN displayed its graphics declaring that Barack Obama had just been elected president, I wept. I sat on my friend's sofa and cried and cried, big gulping sobs because I had been holding in so much over the last few months.

And in the minutes and hours that followed, as we broke out the champagne, as we continued to follow the CNN maps that showed the electoral votes that Obama had gained, as we each reverentially imagined what this historic night meant, I felt something rising up in me that I don't often truly feel.

I felt pride that I was a citizen of the United States. I felt a huge surge of patriotism for my country. In the words of Michelle Obama, for the first time in my adult life, I felt very proud to be an American.

I know we have domestic and international problems of monumental proportions. I know that not everyone sees Barack Obama's election as the symbol of change that so many of his supporters do. And I know that as the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama won't cure everything that ails us, and his election does not signal the end of race problems in our country--and it certainly does NOT signal the end of racism in the United States.


it gives me hope.

"E" Day, Part III

Yes We Can!

Yes We Did!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"E" Day, Part II

What I wanted to write earlier today (but was too rushed to describe adequately) was that I have really been very emotional today. In addition to being nervous, I also feel incredibly awed by the historic moment and the possibilities that could happen tonight. I know that all sounds very cliche, but it's the truth.

I feel so emotional about all of this that while I was flipping back and forth between the Today Show, CNN, and MSNBC, they showed Barack Obama and Michelle Obama with their two daughters headed to a polling station to vote. And I cried when he and Michelle took their ballots and started to fill them out. And then when he finally submitted his ballot into the machine and people were clapping, I cried again. And not just little tears, I really sat on my sofa and cried.


Because I never thought I would see this happen. That a non-white, mixed-race, African American, person of color would be on the brink of potentially becoming President of the United States.

This is the first election in my memory that I can FEEL the emotion of it--I want this SO BADLY. And as much as I can tell you that there are all these political and ideological reasons that I support the Democratic nominee, there is also the symbolic moment--the symbolic import of his racial identity--that as someone committed to an anti-racist, social justice worldview, this moment is one I will always remember.

"E" Day

It is November 4, 2008. It is election day. My server is down at home so this post will be short (because I'm at school and need to catch a bus).