Thursday, May 29, 2008

The authenticity trap

One of the things I loved about being in San Francisco is the amount of Asian food I got to consume.

Let me amend that: authentic Asian food.

But how does one judge "authenticity"?

I usually go for word of mouth and recommendations from friends whom I know to be either foodies or who grew up eating that particular cuisine. Of course, I want to toss out a caveat--which is that, I think people should eat what they want to eat. Meaning, if you grew up on what author Mei Ng calls "gringo Chinese food"--that greasy suburban take-out style Chinese food, then more power to you. You should not feel ashamed of your childhood tastebuds. And it's understandable if you prefer General Tso's chicken to "bak jam gai" (this wonderful poached chicken that comes with this amazing ginger-garlic dipping sauce!) I grew up putting Log Cabin syrup on my pancakes and waffles and the first time a friend from Vermont served me *real* maple syrup I nearly gagged. I'm sure this shocks all my foodie friends, but it's true. To this day, I keep Log Cabin in my kitchen (but never Aunt Jemima--just can't do THAT).

Another indicator of authenticity seems to be if the clientele of the restaurant matches the ethnicity. This is imperfect, I admit, but lets face it--we all do it. We are more inclined to believe a Mexican restaurant is "authentic" if we see lots of Latino faces inside. And especially in an ethnic neighborhood, like Chinatown, a Chinese restaurant with lots of Asian faces and people speaking either Mandarin or Cantonese seems to be a good bet for real deal Chinese food.

I admit to falling into this trap. And I say it's a trap, or perhaps more accurately a catch-22, because the truth is, I'm always questioning my own "authenticity" when it comes to my "Asian-ness."

On the plus side of my Asian credentials is my face (I look Asian), my background (I have two immigrant Chinese parents, albeit one is an immigrant from Jamaica, so really, I only get to count my Dad in this column since my mother's heritage does problematize the authenticity bit). I grew up in the SF Bay Area in a suburb that was not majority white. I had grandparents who lived in Oakland Chinatown.

On the minus side there's my mother's complicated Jamaican heritage (and all those pesky Chinese Jamaican mixed-race cousins of mine), the fact that I didn't grow up speaking either Cantonese or Mandarin (I do a very bad version of restaurant Chinese in which I know the names of certain dishes but my pronunciation is atrocious), and I have dated predominantly non-Asian men (for the record, one Korean American, one Filipino American, and sadly only one Chinese American--sad for my father, who secretly holds out hope for a Chinese American son-in-law one day).

[I am obviously being tongue-in-cheek with this checklist, btw]

So that brings me to dim sum.

I went with my cousin "E" and her husband "J" and of course, I was accompanied by "Southern Man" who had his first taste of dim sum when we were in Toronto for my cousin's wedding this summer. The chinatown restaurant we went to, New Asia, was authentic both by its recommendation (my aunt and uncle take my cousin and her husband on a regular basis) and because it was chock full of Asian primarily Chinese people, most of whom were speaking Cantonese (a few Mandarin speakers were in the mix). A quick scan showed that "J" (who is of the Caucasian race) and my boyfriend were one of half a dozen non-Asian people in the entire restaurant (which looked to have 100+ patrons).

So it should not have surprised or annoyed me that when the dim sum women (they are always women...there's probably a certain type of sexism involved in Chinese restaurants over this--waiters are almost always men and dim sum cart pushers are always women--in fact, I just wrote "dim sum cart ladies" automatically because that's how I'm used to thinking about them) came by our table, they switched from Cantonese into English and then launched into a detailed explanation of the dish.

Why was I surprised and annoyed? Because both "E" and I grew up going to dim sum restaurants and eating Chinese food. "E" even speaks Mandarin. But we were instantly marked by our white partners--and for me, as a non-speaker, I am doubly marked. And I was annoyed that we were seen as "inauthentic." And the truth is, I understood that for everyone in the restaurant, we were.

But what does it mean to be authentically Chinese American?

Perhaps, what it means, is to face encounters like the one above and to realize that authenticity isn't just a recommendation for a great dim sum restaurant but to also recognize the problematics of trying to figure out real vs. fake, when everything is so gray and when Log Cabin maple syrup is more widely consumed than Vermont's finest.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back at home in the South

I'm back--a bit jet lagged, especially after taking a red-eye flight. But the title of my post is true and accurate: I am back at home in the South.

[I live in one of these "red" states--although perhaps in the next election, one or more will turn blue? Actually, I got this map from the website Carbon Tax Center. Check it out--especially if you are interested in environmental issues and ways to offset our every increasing carbon footprint]

All in all, the trip was wonderful, although this was the first time that I traveled to California with "Southern Man" and seeing familiar things through the eyes of someone else, especially an intimate someone else, is always a good exercise in reality checking.

Case in point: my rosy colored portrait of California as this Promised Land, particularly a live-action version of Disney's "It's a Small World," as a multicultural/multiethnic/multiracial paradise. We had some interactions and one pretty harrowing bus incident that threw this romanticized vision out the window. I'll write about it later--it's a bit lengthy and complicated, and truth be told, I'm still trying to process parts of it.

What I will leave you with, dear readers, is a small anecdote that happened on my flight into California. We were on Continental Airlines, and I have to commend Continental to be one of the last if not THE last airline in the continental U.S. that will serve food gratis to its passengers. We were en-route during the dinner hour and got box sandwiches (turkey or ham) and the requisite beverage. Now, I always get orange juice as a help to the dehydration of flying but I noticed that the flight attendant was handing people soda cans that had Chinese script on them--and as she got closer, I could see that it seemed to be some kind of tie-in with the Beijing Olympics--you know, Sprite and Coca-Cola cans with the Beijing Olympic symbol and the writing in Chinese. Except I think these cans were actually meant for their Asian airline route because everything was in Chinese: the ingredient list, the advertising, the processing plant.

Apparently a few passengers were skeptical about the contents of the cans--sure, it looks like the classic Coca-Cola can--it says "Coca-Cola" in English, but everything else is in this strange foreign script?! How will I KNOW that I'm getting a real Coke? And the flight attendant wasn't helping matters much--especially when she apologized for the cans--acknowledged that the soda tasted different because it was bottled "over there" and that they were Japanese and Mexican sodas.


When she approached my row she had apparently grown so frustrated over these foreign soda cans that she got another flight attendant to help her swap out these offending cans with American ones (the foreign cans were put into a lower shelf and then who knows what was going to happen to them?). I actually told both flight attendants that there was nothing wrong with the sodas--they were simply cans with Chinese script on them and were promoting the Beijing Olympics and furthermore, that I WANTED a soda can with the Chinese writing. The first flight attendant, the one who had the cans banished, told me that the sodas were Japanese and Mexican. And I said, "Well, no they are Chinese." And she said, "Well, I can't sell them to people; they taste different because they were bottled over there in Mexico, but if you want one, here you go."


It seems fascinating to me that this woman, even after I confirmed that the script was Chinese and not Japanese (I may not be able to read Chinese but after years of growing up in a Chinese American home and having grandparents live in Chinatown, I can recognize Chinese script) still insisted that the cans were somehow Mexican, and THAT was bizarre because there was NOTHING resembling Mexican references let alone Spanish on these cans. It would seem, perhaps simplistically, that for this flight attendant, anything "foreign" and perhaps "distasteful" must come from south of the border.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Going Home

I'm flying home today. Let me be more specific: I'm attending a conference in San Francisco and extending my stay a few days because I grew up in the SF Bay Area and will therefore be seeing friends and family members in addition to do the usual conference schtick.

I had grappled, once-upon-a-time, about where I consider "home." Is it where I'm currently paying my gas bill; is it where my parents live; is it where I feel most comfortable?

I don't think there is a definitive answer--at least not for me. I have multiple homes. But truthfully, California and specifically the SF Bay Area will ALWAYS be home for me in a specific and special way because it is where I grew up--where I spent the years from 4 to 25.

Here are a few things I'm looking forward to when I arrive in California:

*Seeing my friends and my family (because I love them and miss them)
*Eating REALLY GOOD Chinese food (specifically Cantonese food) at one of my favorite restaurants
*Being near the Pacific Ocean--smelling the sea air--enjoying the view of the Bay
*Going to museums like the DeYoung and the SF Moma
*Urban hiking--because I miss the rhythm of cities and specifically SF
*Not standing out and seeing a truly DIVERSE array of folks

Let me concentrate on the last issue. I know I have waxed poetic about California before here. I know that I have created rosy-colored memories of my multicultural childhood, and I know that I, and other transplanted Californians take a perverse pleasure in elevating our cultural superiority over everyone by going ON and ON about how GREAT California is and how much BETTER it is than the current state we are living in.

[Note: the one key exception are people living in urban places like Chicago and especially New York and my friend P who lives in Minneapolis and prefers the cold even though he grew up in the Bay Area]

But the fact is: California is a diverse place. There is the ocean and the mountains. There is geographic diversity culturally and socially within California. There is conservative Orange County and the liberal-progressive SF Bay Area. And there is the history--one that hasn't been pretty--it's not like California erupted as a multiracial and multicultural utopia or emerged as a state of tolerance and benevolence towards all overnight. There has been and continues to be a history of discrimination and prejudice and bigotry--of racism and homophobia and sexism. California isn't paradise--as much as the rhetoric I use suggests it is "the Promised Land."

It is, however, mixed. It is open to difference in a way that does seem profoundly different from some other states in the union. And I know, when I step off the airplane in Oakland, that I will not be the only one. I won't be the only Asian American person in the airport, waiting at baggage claim, at a restaurant, riding the bus. And I certainly won't be the only person of color in a store or at the movies or in a coffee shop. And I don't know whether this will be true when I arrive back in "The South," because I've definitely been the only Asian American and sometimes the only person of color in all the situations I've mentioned above.

And this means I can breathe just a little bit easier when I'm in California. This means that my subconscious and sometimes not so subconscious guard is lowered. This means that I dial down the racial paranoia and hypochondria, and I don't have to second guess my interactions with people as much. If someone is a jerk to me in CA, it may or may not be because of my race/ethnicity. Chances are the person being a jerk could have a face that looks like mine. And they get to be just a jerk rather than a representative of their race. That's what you get when you have a critical mass and a mix of people.

Anyway, I'll share some observations about California when I return. In the meantime I won't be blogging or doing comment moderation, so please bear with me. And here are a few links to look at until I'm back blogging next week Wednesday.

*Interesting discussion about race fatigue at Anti-Racist Parent (tip of the hat to What Tami Said)

*George Takei announces his marriage plans to longtime partner Brad Altman on his blog (tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man). Be sure to scroll to the end of his announcement--he makes interesting and astute connections between his experiences being interned in a Japanese American concentration camp during WWII and public reaction to Japanese Americans during that time period and what is going on with same-sex marriage in our current cultural climate.

*Houghton-Mifflin is considering legal action against the Marietta, GA tee-shirt vendor who created shirts with a picture of Curious George eating a banana and the tag line "Obama '08" (tip of the hat to my friend B alerting me to this issue). For more, see this Boston Globe article.

*Finally, I forgot to wish Malcolm X a "Happy Birthday" on Monday, May 19. Here's an interesting article at The Root about the man, his legacy, and how we can honor his memory.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Not too late to do the right thing

On Sunday, May 18, 2008, about 200 Japanese American UW students, who were forced to leave the university and face incarceration during WWII, were granted honorary degrees.

[Tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man]

Most of the graduates are now in their 80s, but as Norm Mineta, the keynote speaker who was former Secretary of Transportation and a former internee himself said, it is never too late to do the right thing. Here is an excerpt from his commencement speech:
"It's never too late to do the right thing. It's never too late to rejoice that the right thing has been done. It's never too late to be grateful to people who do the right thing."

For more on the graduation, click on this link. I had tears in my eyes when I read it. Because it's true--it's never too late to do the right thing. It's never too late for us to remember that we CAN do something--we don't have to just sit back and say, "There's nothing I can do." The faculty and staff at UW who helped make this graduation ceremony possible should be commended. Because they didn't have to do this. But it was and is the right thing to do. Which makes me wonder, will our current administration ever be brave enough to admit its mistakes and apologize? Will we recognize, much later, the harm we've done to others--the racial profiling we do to anyone of Muslim or Arab descent--anyone who "looks" Middle-Eastern?

Monday, May 19, 2008

What do YOU excel in?

I'm doing home improvements this week, which includes some semi-major painting and home repair projects. Like re-porcelain-ing (is that a word? I just made it a word) a bathroom tub, and in this same bathroom, getting rid of all the horribly gross faucet knobs (circa 1960) with something more modern/clean, as well as a bunch of painting projects.

I am CLUELESS and HELPLESS when it comes to these kinds of things. I didn't even KNOW that the little "H" and "C" symbols on the knobs popped right off so that you could get to the screw that allowed you to unscrew said knob from the faucet fixture. This is where my boyfriend, whom I'll call "Southern Man" was useful. I wouldn't call Southern Man uber-handy, but he definitely knows MUCH MORE than I do about things in your home, and more importantly, he has a confidence about these things--he just believes that we can go to a hardware store, buy things we need, and figure it all out. In fact, when we went to one of the mega-home stores yesterday to buy our home improvement materials (our 3rd trip in 3 days of doing these projects), I was in despair of finding the right knob fixture (because the day before we bought ones that had circle openings when we needed square openings--I mean WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT TO LOOK!) Southern Man said:

"You're a smart woman--you've got a PhD, this is a piece of cake."

To which I replied: "Having a PhD does NOT mean you can screw in a lightbulb--in fact, most PhDs I know are NOT handy folks and are CLUELESS when it comes to home improvement."

[My apologies to those academics out there who know how to re-wire your house or install toilets, like my friend Dr. A who actually DID remodel his entire house, including a fair amount of the wiring]

What is my point?

I do not excel in home repair. I probably feel like some of my students when they encounter Teresa Cha's Dictee or some dense literary theory. My head hurts, my eyes swim, and my brain starts to feel like it's going to explode.

However, my friend in the blogosphere, "The Constructivist," whose blog "Citizen of Somewhere Else" is one I greatly admire, especially when he comes up with such smart lesson plans that have his students do blog entries about difficult texts like Cha's Dictee, has very graciously given me (and three other bloggers) an award:

[I blush, I stammer, I thank "The Constructivist" profusely!]

And so, as charged to me in this "E is for Excellent blogging" meme, I am going to name four blogs that I believe excel in the blogosphere. It was a tough choice, and one of the things I decided to do was to concentrate on blogs that I don't think get wide national attention (in other words, I'm not listing The Huffington Post). So, without further ado in alphabetical order:

*Land of the Not So Calm. Because Sang-shil shares her perspective with the world about transracial/transnational adoption in such a poignant, thoughtful, introspective manner. I not only learn from her posts, I *feel* from them too. Also, make sure you check out her post on the California same-sex marriage ban being overturned--she's got a great video by Vienna Teng with lyrics included.

*Poplicks. Junichi Semitsu and Oliver Wang provide smart, thoughtful, and ironic/humorous commentary on American culture and current events. You laugh AND you think when you read these guys. In particular, I was moved by Wang's thoughtful musings about reporting on disaster situations, like the recent earthquake in Sichuan, China.

*Tenured Radical. I aspire to both being tenured (3 years and counting on the clock--I begin my 4th year this fall) and radical, although I suppose radical is in the eye of the beholder since I'm sure many would find my stances on same-sex marriage, race, and gender to be radical, whereas I see them as simply logical/progressive. Tenured Radical is a sly and wily blogger--her posts are razor sharp and on point. They are rich not only in analysis but in provocation, which is what a tenured radical should do. For example, see this recent entry about Obama.

And last but certainly not least,

*What Tami Said. What can I say about Tami? Her blog is like my morning cup of coffee--I feel I haven't properly started my day if I don't read her latest post. Her writing is keen, sharp, and intelligent. I often find myself reading her posts and nodding along and saying to myself (or sometimes aloud to my dog) "YES! That's exactly what I think too!" Make sure you read her post on gentrification. One of the things I appreciate most about What Tami Said is that she never settles for easy solutions--she always pushes herself, and her readers, to think about matters in the complexity that complicated situations deserve/need/warrant. She struggles with issues, just as I do, just as we all do.

So there you have it. Four excellent blogs to kickstart your Monday (five including The Constructivist's "Citizen of Somewhere Else").

And if you have any tips about painting crown molding (or any other home improvement advice), I'm all ears!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The last word on APA heritage: Beau Sia

So maybe he isn't the last word for APA heritage month, but I'm concluding this week-long series on Asian Pacific American history/heritage with a shout out to spoken word artist Beau Sia. He is of mixed Chinese and Filipino heritage, which I think makes him a fitting spokesperson for my last APA heritage month tidbit. I'm going to post three of his YouTube performances below, the last of which is a spoken word tribute compliments of the now defunct AZN channel (a cable television station that had been devoted to all Asian/Asian American programming--sort've like the Asian Telemundo or BET). It's a slamming piece, if I don't say so myself, but so are the other two, the first called "Hip Hop" and the second "An Open Letter to all the Rosie O'Donnell." For more on Beau Sia, go to his official website. And of his art below, watch, listen, and learn.

["Hip Hop"]

["An Open Letter to all the Rosie O'Donnells"]

[Asian Pacific American Heritage Month PSA]

Friday, May 16, 2008

Doing the right thing: a history of California's marriage laws

I was all set to write a post about the Cable Act (will return to this in a moment) when I heard the great news last night that the California Supreme Court overruled a previous ban prohibiting gay marriage.

[This is Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who were joined as "spouses for life" at SF City Hall on February 12, 2004. Unfortunately, their union was nullified in August 2004 by the California Supreme Court. But thanks to yesterday's ruling, their marriage will once again be validated by the State of California.]

When Gavin Newsom was interviewed on CNN and asked why the Supreme Court could do this when the majority of voters in California had approved a state law in 2000 codifying marriage as being between a man and a woman, Newsom invoked California's anti-miscegenation laws of the 19th and early 20th C. and quite astutely noted that if Californians were polled in 1948 about whether they approved of marriage between people of two different races, a majority would have voted in favor of prohibiting miscegenation/inter-racial marriage. Yet clearly history has shown that the will of the majority does not always make things right, and that legally the RIGHT thing to do was to abolish such laws--to allow people to marry whoever they want.

And this is SO TRUE.

Once upon a time, there were anti-miscegenations laws that prohibited marriage between people of different races. Actually, it was more specific than that. Most anti-miscegenation laws didn't really care if African Americans married Latinos or if American Indians married Asian Americans (or, if we are going to keep to the language of the 19th and early 20th C., they didn't care if blacks married Mexicans or if Navajos married Chinese). Instead, the majority of laws were specifically designed to ensure white purity and to punish any transgressions of white Americans crossing the color line.

One of the most shocking results of this adherence to the color line was in the Cable Act (1922-1936):
The Cable Act specifies that any U.S.-born woman marrying a "person ineligible for citizenship" would automatically lose her U.S. citizenship. In a marriage terminated by divorce or death, a Caucasian woman could regain her citizenship, but a Nisei woman could not, because she was "of a race ineligible for citizenship."

The important point to note in this quote is that the ONLY race and hence only aliens "ineligible for citizenship" were Asian immigrants--which in this time period meant predominantly Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian people. Thus, our country's earliest anti-miscegenation laws specifically targeted Asians--using not just the Cable Act but anti-miscegenation laws to prevent Asians and whites from marrying.

Thankfully, as Mayor Newsom pointed out, the Supreme Court of California was wise enough in 1948 to realize how unlawful anti-miscegenation laws are:
In Perez vs. Sharp, the California Supreme Court rules against anti-miscegenation laws, stating that they were based on racial distinctions that were "by their very nature, odious to a free people."

[For more on a timeline of events that influenced inter-racial marriages, click on this link, which is the same site that I found the quotations above.]

And if it hadn't been for the repeal of The Cable Act in 1936 and California's anti-miscegenation laws in 1948 (and the repeal of the nation's anti-miscegenation laws in 1967), we never would have a family like Jon and Kate plus eight (you have to imagine that in the mid-1930s this image would have scared the hell out of some folks. Actually, I'm sure this image scares the hell out of some folks now).

Most rational folk take for granted inter-racial marriages. Even people who wouldn't necessarily want their son/daughter to marry across the racial divide would be hesitant to turn back Loving vs. Virginia, understanding marriage to be a private affair between two consenting adults.

And I hope that one day in the not so distant future, this is the attitude our society will have about same-sex marriage. That the whole idea that once-upon-a-time people actually tried to pass laws restricting marriage on the basis of sexual orientation or gender was LUDICROUS and THANK GOODNESS we no longer live in the late 20th C. when such draconian and antiquated ideas about love and marriage were in place.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mixed-race Asian American musicians and comedians

Since this is a blog called "Mixed Race America," I think I'd be remiss in not doing an entry in honor of APA heritage month of some mixed-race Asian Americans--and I've chosen to focus on two female musicians and three male comedians, particularly because I believe that for all but one of these people, their mixed Asian-ness can go overlooked/ignored.

First the musicians: Michelle Branch and Norah Jones

Michelle Branch has Indonesian maternal grandparents and is a contemporary pop musicians. Here is her official website and here is her wikipedia entry. I actually first thought that Branch might be mixed-Asian because she looked like one of my cousins (who is also mixed-race Asian).

Norah Jones is another singer-songwriter (she is, apparently, compared to Michelle Branch, interestingly enough). Her very famous musician father is Ravi Shankar, which makes her half Bengali. Here is her official website and wikipedia entry. This probably says a lot about my musical tastes, but I have all three of Jones's albums, although I wasn't necessarily a fan of the last one in the way that I really loved her first and second records.

Now for the male comedians: Fred Armisen, Rob Schneider, and Steve Byrne.

I've already written about Armisen at the end of a former post (click here) so I'll go straight on to

Rob Schneider--here is his wikipedia entry and official site. Schneider has a maternal grandmother who is Filipina and has portrayed Asian Americans (in pretty obnoxiously racist ways) in some of his films (Ula in Fifty First Dates and a Japanese American minister in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). Which of course, begs the question: is it racist when a mixed-race Asian American does racist caricatures of Asian Americans? I have an answer, of course, but thought I'd throw that out there.

Finally, we have Steve Byrne--his mother is Korean and his father is Irish, at least according to his official website. I caught Byrne's act on Comedy Central two different times--the stuff I saw didn't seem to concentrate on his ethnic/racial identity but apparently he does use this as comic fodder in his show.

So there we have it--five mixed-race Asian Americans in entertainment--feel free to name anyone else I have missed--I'm sure there are many!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spotlight on Yuri Kochiyama--Asian American activist

In continuation of the series I'm doing in honor of APA history, I'm turning the spotlight on Asian American activism in the form of one particular activist:

Yuri Kochiyama

[this is a picture of Kochiyama with two black activists in the late 1960s]

Yuri Kochiyama was born in 1961. She and her family were interned in Jerome, AK for the duration of WWII in an American concentration camp, and after the war, she and her husband, Bill, moved to Harlem, where they became active with a variety of social justice movements. Kochiyama is most famously known in activist circles for her friendship with Malcolm X and her work with his organization and other Civil Rights organizations of the 1960s and 1970s. There is a very famous photo of Kochiyama cradling Malcolm X's head right after he was shot--it can be seen in Renee Tajima-Pena's excellent documentary Honk if you Love Buddha or My America.

Kochiyama had a passion for social justice. In addition to working on Civil Rights with African American activists, she was active in anti-Viet Nam war protests, she worked with Puerto Rican activists agitating for Puerto Rican independence, she labored on behalf of Japanese American reparations for the injustice of the internment, and for general Asian American causes. And even today, when Kochiyama is in her 80s, she continues to be involved in educating younger generations about Civil Rights and social justice and to be active in protesting for causes she believes in, as the tee-shirt she wears below clearly indicates her support for social justice issues.

[for more on Kochiyama's life and activism, click on this link]

Yuri Kochiyama is an amazing woman--she is an inspiration because of her activism and the way she has always worked as an ally in various communities, ones beyond her own identity as a Japanese American/Asian American woman. And truly, that is what mixed-race America is all about--going beyond your own interests and understanding the way that we are all mixed here together--someone else's injustice is OUR injustice.

Thank you Yuri Kochiyama, thank you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hawaii--not just about luaus and Pearl Harbor

Whenever I teach my introduction to Asian American literature class, I show a map of the U.S. to my students and then I show them a map which has the Hawaiian islands in the Pacific.

[if you want to see where the Hawaiian islands are in relation to the continental U.S., simply click on the "Feedjit" map on the right]

And I ask my students WHY Hawaii is the 50th state?
Answer: sugar cane

Well, maybe that's too simplistic an answer. But sugar cane was certainly the main industry that brought immigrant labor, particularly from China, Japan, the Philippines, and Korea, into the Hawaiian Islands.

[photo of Asian immigrant laborers on a sugar cane plantation]
And U.S. sugar interests led to U.S. imperialism in the form of the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian islands.

[Queen Lili'uokalani]

And because the U.S. saw the Hawaiian islands as a useful outpost for their military interests in the Pacific, they built a base in Honolulu, and ... well ... you all basically know the rest. By 1959 Hawaii became the 50th state in the union.

But that's not the end of the story. Because the indigenous population of Hawaii, the Hawaiian people, have been agitating for independence.

[For more on the Hawaiian independence movement, click on this link]

Hawaii is not simply a vacation paradise. Nor is it a crucial outpost for U.S. military intervention in the Pacific. It does happen to be the only state that has a non-white majority (over 64% of the population, predominantly Asian Americans, or as they are referred to in Hawaii, the Asian-settler community). And it is also the home to indigenous Hawaiians who are actively preserving their culture and agitating for independence.

Monday, May 12, 2008

From Dragonlady to White Castle: Asian Americans in film

In honor of APA history month, I thought I'd start off with two examples of Asian Americans in American cinema, one from the silent era and the other a contemporary stoner comedy.

Anna May Wong, third-generation Chinese American woman, started in Hollywood films at the age of 17 and made the leap from silent cinema to talking movies during the golden age of Hollywood film production in the first half of the 20th century. She was one of a handful of non-white actors appearing in American movies before WWII, and she was typecast into the role of the treacherous yet seductress "dragonlady" stereotype--starring with such luminaries as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and Marlene Dietrich.

[I chose one of the few photos of Wong that doesn't overtly sexualize/stereotype her--although that mask in the upper left hand corner is interesting/odd...]

Anna May Wong was vastly underappreciated for her talents during her time--and is only now being rediscovered through biographies and documentaries about her life.

Although many of the celluloid portraits were gross caricatures and Orientalized and exoticized two-dimensional figures, she did what Asian Americans, indeed what many non-white actors did in the early 20th century (and what many non-white actors continue to do to this day)--she took what roles she could get and did the best she could with them. If you get a chance, watch Shanghai Express, because I really think she makes the film--much more than Marlene Dietrich.

I'll leave you with just a tease from the film (I love the line about respectability and her diss of the boardinghouse lady!)

Now, lets just jump ahead from the early 20th century to the turn of the 21st century with the latest Hollywood stoner-comedy flick, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Now, a lot of people have already weighed in on the (de)merits of the second installment of the Harold and Kumar series--the first was Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. And I admit that when I saw the first Harold and Kumar movie in 2004, I thought "YES! It's about time!" because you see, Asian Americans are so rarely cast in any films and even more Rarely are they cast as leads and even more RARELY are Asian American men cast as leads and romantic love interests. So the first Harold and Kumar film was resoundingly embraced by the Asian American community and the second installment eagerly awaited with baited breath (OK, maybe that's a bit much, but I DID go see the film in its opening weekend, something I rarely do nowadays).

So what did I think of Part II?

Well, not to cop out, but I largely agreed with both Poplicks and Racialicious [warning: there are spoilers in these links, especially in the comment sections]. I wanted to like it much more than I did. Because at the end of the day, I just can't stomach that much gratuitous female nudity. Yes, it's a stoner flick. Yes, it's target audience are teenage and young adult men (and maybe some women). But the misogyny (and homophobia) outweighed some of the slier humor of poking fun of the U.S. government/homeland security, of mocking the stereotypes of Asian Americans (and others), and the enjoyment of seeing Kal Pen and John Cho be first and foremost Harold and Kumar rather than Asian American guys.

And perhaps, the most radical thing the film does, is that it allows us to see Asian Americans as just guys and to see this film not as the be all and end all of Asian Americans in film--but that Asian Americans can be in mediocre films too.

Of course, the only problem with saying that is assuming that there are CHOICES that Asian Americans have for starring in mainstream Hollywood productions...(sigh).

I wanted to end on an upbeat note, but the truth is, in almost a century of Asian Americans being represented and acting in Hollywood cinema, not much has changed as far as mainstream media.

Calgon, take me away!
[for anyone who doesn't understand that reference, lets just say, you either didn't group up with American television in the 70s and/or you are far younger than me].

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yellow Power, Yellow Pride--APA History Month

I have been a bit remiss about noting this, but May is Asian Pacific American history month. Now, as I said when I wrote a post about African American history month, I have some mixed-feelings about celebrating or designating a particular month to learning about certain racial/ethnic/cultural/gender groups in the U.S. My reservation/hesitations are with some folks thinking that every February you roll out the lesson plan about Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington Carver and Sojourner Truth. And the other 11 months, black contributions to American life are either forgotten or invisible. Same thing with Asian American history--except in some ways, Asian American contributions to American life are even more marginalized/invisible than African Americans.

So, in honor of Asian Pacific American history (and really, I promise to dedicate a future blog post to the differences between Asian American/Asian Pacific American/Asian Pacific Islander American tags) I'm going to devote posts this entire week to various Asian Pacific American factoids and historical events, ones that may not be as commonly known (which means I won't be talking about how Chinese built the railroad or the Japanese American internment--although those are certainly two worthy historical events in APA history).

Let me now just leave you with a video that the Asia Society did for APA history month on why "Asians rock":

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Putting race and gender front and center

I'm a little bit of a political junkie, which I'm sure you have gleaned if you have been following this blog over the last year. And I mean political junkie not just Obama fan (although I'm sure that the two are often confused nowadays). But in the last primary I voted in, I also paid attention to who was running in local elections, and even attended a few precinct meetings, because I figured that I shouldn't just say I want change, I should try to make change (although I recognize that volunteering a few hours to canvass for Obama and going to a few meetings isn't really revolutionary).

At any rate, I've been hearing and reading a lot of politicos and talking heads go on about whether the extended primaries for the Democratic nominee is a good or a bad thing for the party and for the chances of a Democratic contender taking back the White House in November. Some say it's good because this gives a chance to educate people on the electoral process and more first time voters have gotten involved in the political process (for both Obama and Clinton) than ever before. Some say it's bad because it's dividing the party and draining resources and letting Obama and Clinton attack one another in the primaries only helps McCain's machine gear up for the real race post-Denver.

But I think one great thing to emerge from the extended Democratic primaries are the conversations in the public sphere over race and gender. Because lets face it, no matter who gets the nod it's going to be historic: the country's first female presidential candidate or first African American/mixed-race candidate*.

[aside: I put a little asterisk (*) when alluding to Obama because race being what it is, that slippery, flexible category, there very well may have been a President or Presidential candidate with African American heritage and certainly with a mixed-race background--but Obama is the first openly mixed-race and African American candidate, so I still think it's appropriate to think about him under these parameters.]

And because of the historical precedent and because race and gender are issues that Americans are fascinated by, there have been many conversations about race and gender, about racism and sexism, about white Americans and African Americans and all other racial categories, about mixed-race Americans, about a history of sexism and gender discrimination against women in public life, about a history of racism and race discrimination. And by and large, I think this has all been to the good.

I don't mean that all of the discussions have been good. I think that there have been very heated exchanges, editorials that have been anger producing, and comments from various bloggers, talking heads, media figures, newscasters, journalists, academics, politicians, public figures, celebrities, and average Americans that suggests that we are not getting along when it comes to gender and racial issues.

And that's what I think has been good. Because when's the last time you had SO MUCH ATTENTION focused on issues of gender and race and SO MUCH DEBATE, DISCUSSION, DISSENT, DISAGREEMENT, DISATISFACTION openly expressed in newspaper editorials, magazine articles, blog posts, television talk shows, radio call-in shows, and just general water cooler conversation about race and gender?

I had been thinking about writing a post about the various conversations I've seen going on in the blogosphere alone that have been inspired by Obama and Clinton. There are too many to mention, but I have to acknowledge first and foremost Lesboprof's excellent post that spurred me to finally write the one you're reading. Her post, "Good Racial Conversations" also has a link to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's article about a former white Southern roommate of Michelle Obama and the woman's revelation of her own racism (you can go to Lesboprof's post linked above or to the link here). The Wall Street Journal recently did an article about race and politics and college campuses, noting the disconnect between white students who support Obama but who don't have any black friends and who remain largely ignorant of African American culture and history (click here). And as other bloggers such as What Tami Said and Racialicious have already chimed in about, there was an article in The Nation, "Race to the Bottom," by Besty Reed that very eloquently and forcefully talks about entwined and twinned issues of race and gender, of racism and sexism, and of how we have seen these issues play out in the Democratic primaries and the campaigns and the spin camps of both Clinton and Obama, as well as the mainstream media outlets and the blogosphere.

There's so much else I could write about--there has certainly been a fair amount of discouraging things to comment on, regarding the divide I've been seeing in the blogosphere among women of color and white feminists. And I continue to be amazed by the ignorant things that come out of people's mouths, in terms of race and gender, but also class and sexuality and region. And I continue to amaze myself with my own naivete over others' ignorance and anger and my own biases and prejudices, which I struggle with (I was recently called out by some folks over anti-Southern things I had said or stereotypes I had made that I didn't think were stereotypes or anti-Southern--but in hindsight I can see why a Southerner would have taken my remarks in an anti-Southern way and seen me as a "Yankee elitist"--because my own prejudices against "The South" are ones I'm still blind to and working out).

But like Obama, let me end on a message of hope--that I think it IS possible for us to try to come together. That dissent and disagreement do not have to be bad things--in fact, we need to have a certain amount of tension around issues of race and gender to have things move forward. We have to be ready to live with a certain amount of discomfort and to work through our defense mechanisms and pride in order to try to hear one another and to be allies for each other.

So with that note, I'm leaving you with one final link to Latoya Peterson's series in Racialicious "On facing your bias, owning your prejudice, and allies" -- this is the link to Part II, and the post includes the link to Part I (and Peterson alludes to a Part III, which I'm looking forward to). I find her series to be thoughtful and thought provoking--I hope you do too. And I am glad that America is finally talking about race and gender in the public sphere. While some of the discussions are discouraging and draining and makes you want to hit your head against a brick wall, there are also moments when I've been astounded at the level of discourse--the high level of discourse and self-reflection and candor that people are engaging in over these very tough and complex subjects.

Lets keep the conversation flowing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Yes We Can!

The voters of North Carolina and Indiana have spoken (because a 2% margin of victory for Clinton in Indiana is not much of a victory and a 14% margin in North Carolina is definitely decisive). Barack Obama is on the way to Denver, and short of a debacle happening (which could still happen--this is the Democratic party and this is the U.S., where we've allowed atrocities to happen in our electoral process before) we will see Senator Obama as the Democratic nominee for the Presidential race of 2008.

I am a HUGE Obama supporter--so for readers who are not, please bear with me. What follows is adulation on my part and also a clarification for why I decided, very early, to support Barack Obama in his march towards the White House.

I am supporting Barack Obama because:

*Like most of the nation who saw him deliver his very famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National convention, I was HUGELY impressed with his oratorical skills and the level of passion with which he conveyed his beliefs of America.

*I read Dreams from My Father and was impressed with the story of his life--with the dedication that he has to public service and the honest reflections he has about himself, his family, and his place in the world. I was particularly impressed with the candor of some of his observations--revealing things about himself that clearly weren't designed to "get voters" and certainly did not have a national presidential campaign in mind.

*In reading through his policy statements, I believe that of the democratic candidates who were (and I guess still are) in contention, his were the policies that I believed were most thoughtful and forward thinking in trying to make real change happen in America.

*I like his positive message--I like the optimism of his campaign--I like the message of hope and change--I believe they aren't just buzzwords but words for us to believe in because we want to HOPE that we can CHANGE the direction the nation is headed.

*After his speech on race in Philadelphia I believed, even more strongly, that Obama is the most intelligent and thoughtful and insightful politician to talk about issues of race in our nation--and we NEED intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, and candid conversations about race in this country--and Obama's own background as "mixed-race"--and where he grew up and where he has lived--all contribute to his being able to articulate a message about race in America--about a mixed-race America that I truly believe in.

*Younger voters, people who have never volunteered for a campaign before, who have never donated money to a campaign before, people who have never bothered to register to vote before, are getting behind Obama, behind this campaign. People feel a sense of optimism and activism from him--they want to make a difference in the world, and I know I want to make a difference in the world too.

*This speech (YouTube clip below) in North Carolina is inspiring--because Barack Obama reminds us that WE have a choice, that this campaign isn't about the candidates, it's about US and what WE can do to create a groundswell from the bottom up.


Denver, here we come!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rest in Peace Mildred Loving

Yesterday Mildred Loving, born Mildred Jeter, died at the age of 68. She and her husband, Richard Loving, made history in the 1960s when they challenged Virginia's anti-miscegenation law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1967 the Court decided that anti-miscegenation laws nationwide violated the Constitution's equal protection clause, and so with Loving v. Virginia, laws banning inter-racial marriages were nullified across the U.S.

Mildred and Richard Loving did not set out to make history or become civil rights activists. They simply wanted something very basic: to love one another, to marry, and to live together. Last June, during the 40th anniversary marking Loving v. Virginia, Mildred Loving issued a rare public statement (she stopped granting interviews in the last years of her life)--in the last paragraph, Loving links the Supreme Court decision not only to anti-miscegenation or anti-inter-racial unions, but to a legacy that also includes or should include supporting queer unions:

"I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

For more on Mildred Loving's 40th anniversary statement and some astute analysis about the legacy of Loving v. Virginia, both in terms of the long history of inter-racial unions and anti-miscegenation laws as well as the links to current queer rights struggles for gay marriage, go to this excellent blog post from a year ago at "Slaves of Academe." For the New York Times obituary, click here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

May the force be with Obama

I don't think I need to say anything about this clip--it speaks for itself.

[tip of the hat to Poplicks--if for some reason you can't see the clip here, click on this link, which will take you to the Poplicks site]

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Mixed Race America!

Today is my one-year blogiversary. Here was my very first entry titled "Random thoughts about Race":

"Why blog about race? Why the need or compulsion to write about race in a public internet forum? I'm not sure--perhaps this is a continuation of my experiment with the now defunct "Race to Survive" blog (a blog I began this past fall to talk about race in popular culture because the reality show Survivor had divided people into tribes by race). Perhaps I want to talk about race in popular culture and general American culture (like the upcoming presidential race). Or perhaps I want to blog in public because I'm embarking on a 15 month project of finishing my book manuscript on passing. At any rate, whether it's a conversation with random or known people in cyberspace or simply a way for me to get my thoughts on paper in a public way, I'm going to use this space to jot down my miscellaneous musings about race. And I invite you to join in the conversation."

[BTW, I like that I was so optimistic that I wrote "finishing" my book manuscript on passing. Considering I'm no longer working on passing and I only have two and a half chapters anywhere near completion, this was a very ambitious statement to make]

I'd like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has clicked on to this site, whether you were doing a google search with the phrase mixed-race or whether you are a childhood friend, I appreciate the support, on and off line that all of you have given me. And I especially appreciate the people who have left comments--a really big shout out to all of you--because you've all helped me clarify my thinking about race and mixed-race issues--I especially like the push-back I've gotten from people, the moments of tension and dissent which, when done respectfully as 99% of the time has happened (I'm discounting, of course, the episode about the Duke Lacrosse case in July) has been really productive for me (and hopefully for you too!)

To close, I just want to talk about an incident that happened at a party last night, which affirmed both the reason I'm interested in issues of race in the U.S. as well as talking about them on this blog and not just in academic settings (because lets face it, many more people will read this blog than will EVER read the book I eventually produce about mixed-race issues).

I'll try to sum up as concisely as possible because I know I get long winded, but basically I entered into a very intense conversation with a guy I'll call "Well Intentioned White Liberal" (or WIWL for short). Among other things claimed by WIWL was that he questioned Obama's aptitude for being president because of his affiliations with Reverend Wright or (that lunatic) as WIWL referred to him, that he didn't understand why there had to be "black" churches--and why black liberation theology couldn't just be "liberation theology" and that he believed the solution to racism in this country is a colorblind society in which affirmative action is used in cases of poverty and not race or gender. When I asked WIWL where his sources are coming from (I asked him if he had ever been to a black church service, whether he had ever had conversations with African Americans to talk about where their "anger" is coming from, whether he had any black friends or non-white friends, whether he had read or studied issues of race or anti-racism, and I specifically asked him where his facts about affirmative action were coming from), he admitted to not knowing many African American people and having no African American friends, that he is a computer programmer in his professional life, grew up in Vermont, does not have a strong religious affiliation, and when pressed about the source issue for affirmative action, could not site any sources but instead kept telling me (all the while pointing to his head) that he just "knew" things about affirmative action but had no actual "facts" to back up his opinions.

Now, I know it's problematic to claim authority and expertise based on one's PhD, but I had met WIWL in other social situations--he knew I was a professor at Southern U. who works on issues of race and racism (among other things). As we debated I continually mentioned sources and cited scholars as well as my own (and others) personal experiences with racism, but none of this mattered to WIWL--his own opinions were what counted--his own privilege. And he just couldn't recognize the ways in which his opinions were informed by his privilege, to the degree that he felt that we were on an equal playing field in terms of knowledge--that his lack of facts and research in this area counted the same as my years of studying this topic as well as my lived experiences as a person of color and a beneficiary of affirmative action.

And it strikes me that if I had been confronted with a scholar who studied climate change, and I had some theories about global warming based on my one viewing of Inconvenient Truth, and I kept arguing with this scholar, discounting his/her years of scholarship and expertise on this matter, I'd look like an ASS--and yet, WIWL just kept plugging away at his argument.

WIWL is not a bad guy. I was frustrated with him (and angry/annoyed) but I don't think that he's inherently a bad guy. In fact, he was TOTALLY INSULTED when I asked him if he was a Republican--he said that he had voted for Obama in the primaries and was a liberal. I believe that he thinks that all people are equal--that he wants to live in a colorblind world. I also believe that his privilege blinds him and doesn't allow him to see the complication of race--because he doesn't want to feel guilty or bad--because he doesn't want to give up his comfortable position, his privilege.

I wasn't able to completely convince WIWL last night, but I *hope* that I made a dent in his comfort level (judging from the reaction of the rest of the party guests, who teased me all night about my righetousness and intensity, but in an affectionate way) I think that I at least gave him some food for thought. I'm not saying it's my mission to go to cocktail parties and confront all WIWLs or similar people about issues of race, but I do think that I tried to be as respectful as possible while not ceding my own political ground, and I also tried to really get him to *feel* the passion of my convictions. Which is also what I want to do with this blog. I may not always say the right thing at the right moment, but I do hold to my convictions on mixed-race issues in America.

Thanks for stopping by--and please continue to leave comments--I love the dialogue!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Conversations you wish you never had

Scene: Avis rental car agency
Time: late evening
Characters: Me, friend dropping off a rental car whom I'm driving home, Avis rental car employee, my dog "B" in the back seat of the car

Avis guy (looking at my dog, who is inside the car): Is that your dog?

Me (standing outside my car waiting for my friend): Yes (I smile)

Avis guy: Is he male or female?

Me: Male (at this point I notice that his nametag reads "Ousmane" and that he is speaking with a slight French accent. I think about asking him if he has read Sembene Ousmane, but figure that seems like a pretty stereotypical thing to ask someone who appears to be Senegalese and who has the name of a famous Senagalese author).

Avis guy: How old is your dog?

Me: 5 years old.

Avis guy: How long will he live?

Me: Oh, hopefully 12 or 15 years.

Avis guy: And what will you do with him when he dies?

Me (confused): Well, I guess we'll bury him or cremate him.

Avis guy: Oh? You won't eat him?

Me (thinking I misheard him): Excuse me?

Avis guy: You are Chinese, no? Chinese eat dogs--won't you eat him when he dies?

Me (I can hear his words but I'm not quite processing them quickly enough): Um, some Chinese people in Northern China do eat dogs, but I'm not going to eat my dog when he dies.

Avis guy (smiling and laughing): But you are Chinese. Chinese people eat dog, why aren't you going to eat this dog?

Me (not believing I am actually having this conversation): Well, not all Chinese people eat dog, only those in Northern China really, and it's really not that common, and anyway I'm not going to eat my dog.

Avis guy (not letting this go and still laughing): No, no no! I know Chinese people eat dog--you must eat this dog.

Me (getting angry/annoyed): No, I'm not going to eat my dog when he dies! (friend starts to approach car)

Avis guy (still smiling and laughing and shaking his head): OK, good bye!

Me: ?????!!!!!!

Friday, May 2, 2008

An open letter to Senator Hillary Clinton

Dear Senator Clinton,

First of all, thank you for your years of public service. I mean, I know people have squabbled about whether or not the years you spent as First Lady *count* as public service, but being in the limelight in the way that you were during those eight years, not to mention the fishbowl of the Arkansas governor's mansion, and the way I'm sure you aided your husband's political career and public (and international) policy decisions, well, I believe that does count for something.

And certainly your years in the Senate have distinguished you in your unwavering service to the state of New York, your *adopted* state if you will.

But Senator Clinton, aren't you tired? You are heading into the weekend before the Tuesday, May 6 Indiana and North Carolina state primaries. You have been jetting back and forth between these two states and two time zones. You have been shaking hands, meeting the masses, and talking to the press. You must be must really need a vacation.

So may I kindly suggest that you step down? Please? Pretty please with sugar on top? I've heard the talking heads. I know they say that you are trying to prove that you are a fighter--that you are tenacious--that you can hang on despite numbers, despite pundits, despite all odds...and you HAVE hung on--I'm sure you are planning to go all the way to the Denver Democratic convention.

Don't. Please. Don't

I know people say it's bad for the party and others say it's galvanized the party. But you know what? It's bad for YOU. It's bad for you and your husband's legacy. Look at what happened to President Clinton after South Carolina? It was EMBARRASSING. It was CRINGE WORTHY and ANGER PRODUCING. And you, what are you doing? That 3am ad...really?! It was so blatant. And your surrogates...don't get me started on Gloria Steinem and Geraldine Ferraro. Do you know one of the things that has happened since this all began is a serious conversation among women and a divide that I've been seeing between white women feminists and women of color, particularly African American women, who no longer claim "feminist" as a descriptor because they are so disillusioned with the subtle (and not so subtle) racism coming out of the mouths of some white feminist women (please see this post by a friend and fellow blogger Tami--she is quite eloquent on this subject).

Look, I know you feel like this was your time and along comes this younger upstart, this charismatic guy who has the gall to be the Illinois senator of all places (your childhood home state!). But have you read his biography? I mean, like you, he's *adopted* Illinois as his home state--and he did so at an early age, right out of college. He is a good man. You have MUCH in common in the way of policy issues and philosophical values. Do you see the way he's galvanized people? I know words like "change" and "hope" sound like buzzwords, but people really are fired up--they really are turning out in record numbers, to vote, to support him, to try to make a difference because we ALL want to make a difference this election (I guess by all I should say that I'm mainly talking to fellow travelers-Democrats, although I think there are plenty of Independents and Republicans who also don't want to see business as usual).

Barack Obama is smart, caring, compassionate, and dare I say articulate (I'll leave the clean part for Senator Biden). He is NOT crazy--and there are a lot of crazy folks out there, ones in the Republican party who want to actually run for higher office like this guy, Tony Zirkle--the guy actually BELIEVES that if only Europe had stricter anti-pornography/prostitution laws then WWII would have been averted because Hitler used anti-pornography/prostitution as a platform for the Final Solution against Jewish people since 97% of international pornography/prostitution came from Jewish cartels (yes, the man HAS THIS ON HIS CAMPAIGN WEBSITE -- you can find a link in the Poplicks comment section--click here).

You have run long and hard Senator Clinton. You owe it to yourself, to your family, and dare I say to the rest of us, to exit now, to say good-bye gracefully. You can still make an impact on the world. Look at Al Gore. Who would have thought he'd bounce back and win an Oscar and a Nobel Prize?!! And President Jimmy Carter--a man vilified in his time is now the senior voice of reason and wisdom in the Democratic party and has done so much good in this world. Your public service isn't over Senator Clinton...please, Please, PLEASE, leave the race and help campaign for Senator Obama. Just say know secretly you've wanted to.... Yes WE can!

The Blogger of Mixed Race America

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day Flowers and Dissent

Today is May 1, May Day, which I learned to celebrate as a kid by making construction paper baskets, filling them with flowers we picked at our elementary school, and then dropping said baskets off at neighbors' doorsteps, ringing the bell, and running away.

When I recently told some friends about this practice, they told me my school teacher had made me into a delinquent, because they had never heard of this tradition.

But thanks to wikipedia, I was vindicated:

"In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These baskets are small and usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep. When you ring the bell, you are supposed to run away. The person receiving the basket would try to catch the person running away. If they caught the person, a kiss was to be exchanged."

In addition to the flower baskets (and the ditch and dash, which I suppose is much nicer than finding other things on one's doorstep) May Day was often associated with dancing around a May pole, flowers and, generally speaking, was regarded as a fertility festival. Here's a photo from the University of Missouri archives showing such a tradition in 1911:

Of course the other association with May Day is International Workers Day. Unbeknownst to many, May Day as a day honoring laborers and the 8-hour work day began in the U.S. after the Haymarket riots. Of course those very American roots were forgotten in the 1950s with the red scare of communism:

One of the traditions associated with May Day as international labor day is to recognize the contributions of the working class and to offer up dissatisfaction with one's government, especially around issues of social services.

So let me celebrate May Day with flowers and dissent. First the flowers:

[you will have to pretend that I've just rung your doorbell and left this wildflower assortment on your welcome mat]

And now the dissent:

*Unemployment for March 2008 was 5.1%--a rise of .3% from the previous month and .7% from the previous year. [OECD]

*It takes $1.56 US to buy 1 Euro [X-rates]

*Casualties in Iraq since the beginning of the "invasion": American deaths=4,063. Iraqi deaths=1,205,025 []

Happy May Day everyone, and try not to get too confused by leaving dissent on someone's doorstep and running away and spouting flowers--although that would be a sight to see.