Friday, August 29, 2008

Re: T.G.I.F.: Barack Obama & Politics

I've been glued to C-SPAN and the commentaries on CNN and MSNBC all week. I've been blogging all week about the Democratic National Convention in Denver. I've been anxious about the speeches and how things would unfold with Hillary Clinton and her supporters, Bill Clinton's remarks, the roll call, Joe Biden's speech, and then finally the culmination of Barack Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco field.

And last night Obama gave a speech that was a rhetorical tour-de-force.

He spoke to over 75,000 people in the stadium and millions upon millions around not only the U.S. but around the world. And what dawned on me as I once again had tears in my eyes, was how incredible it was for Obama, his family, his supporters, the Democratic party, and OUR NATION to get to this point.

THIS is The Great Impossible Feat. What is "THIS"? There's so many things in "THIS":

*Obama's rise from delivering a rousing and inspiring speech at the 2004 DNC where he hadn't yet even been elected to the U.S. senate to four years later accepting the nomination for president in 2008.

*Obama's background: his mixed-race background, his working-class background, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, his extended family in the U.S. and in Kenya (and around the globe), and the choices he has made in his professional and personal life.

*Obama as our first non-white, first African American candidate for a major party. Again, in terms of "history," 45 years ago people marched on Washington to shed light on the need for Civil Rights. Segregation and institutional racism was rampant. The idea that we would have an African American president was something found in Science Fiction and not The New York Times. The idea that the image below would and in fact *COULD* be our first family was unfathomable. And yet...45 years later, here they are:

*Finally, what "THIS" is, is a sea change. It's large numbers of people, mass numbers of people, getting involved in politics FOR THE FIRST TIME. On a personal note, for the first time I got involved in a presidential race in my own very small, very minor way, by knocking on doors and registering people to vote. Others have been much more active and vocal than I have, but what we all share is a desire to get involved in the political process because we are inspired to do so. Whether that inspiration comes out of fear and anxiety that we do NOT want more Republican mis-leadership or whether it's from the inspiration of Barack Obama and his platform, the simple truth is that people are TRYING to make a DIFFERENCE this election. People are getting involved and showing up and doing something as basic as registering people to vote and talking candidly and with conviction about why they are supporting Obama and why we want to take the country in a direction that is positive and progressive.

And THIS is T.G.I.F.: The Great Impossible Feat. That people are trying to make a difference, are taking seriously the rhetoric that what is supposed to make our country "great," that distinguishes our government as a "democracy" from other forms of government, is that people, average citizens, can take part in the election process. Even if it is as simple as casting a ballot. But sometimes it's the simplest acts that are also the greatest ones.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Making History

Almost every news outlet has noted the historic nature of this date, August 28, both for today and 45 years ago.

[August 28, 1963 -- March on Washington for Civil Rights]

And tonight, in Denver, CO, Barack Obama will accept his party's nomination to be the Democratic Presidential candidate for 2008.

[The convention is moving to Invesco field where they estimate more than 70,000 will be in attendance]

I think it would be easy to think that in a blog post titled "Making History" that I'm talking about Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama as the ones who are making history.

[Obama at a campaign stop in Texas]

But these are just two men, albeit two effective and inspiring leaders. But still, they are just two men. However, what you need to look at are the crowds. Look at the people who gathered on the Washington mall 45 years ago. And look at the crowds gathered in the rain in Texas.

Although there's a 45 year gap, the crowds are remarkably similar in their attentive focus, in their diversity, and in the conviction and desire of these people to gather together to make history. Because history doesn't get made by individuals alone. History is made through completely mundane acts, such as someone taking the time to show up and listen to a civil rights leader speak in our nation's capital. Or a U.S. citizen taking the time to become a delegate and to attend the DNC in Denver. Or for an average American on November 4 to get in his/her car or walk to her/his local polling station and casting a vote.

Maybe history books won't record the average person who goes to the polling booth. But it's important to remember that neither Martin Luther King Jr. nor Barack Obama would be making history if it weren't for the millions of people who helped to make history happen in their own small ways.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Symbols count

I have just finished watching the roll call at the DNC and the choreography of Illinois "passing" when it was their turn to vote, then New Mexico "yielding" their votes to Illinois, and then when it bounced back to Illinois they, in turn, yielded to New York (the state that follows, alphabetically, to New Mexico) at which point, the New York delegation, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, took the stage and asked the convention leadership to break with procedure, to cease the roll call and declare by acclimation that Senator Barack Obama would be the unanimous candidate representing the Democratic Party in the 2008 Presidential election.

And Nancy Pelosi took the stage to ask for a motion, and a second, and a vote, which I admit was actually not a "real" vote since Pelosi glossed over the "nay" section after an ear-splitting round of "Ayes!" to announce that Barack Obama would, indeed, be the presidential candidate.

And I found myself once again in tears, actually openly crying. Because, as I told "Southern Man" (who is here watching the DNC with me) I just never thought this day would come. I never thought that I'd see a non-white candidate, an African American candidate, win the nomination for president of a major party. Actually, I always assumed that if I were alive to see this day, it would be the Republican party who would be nominating someone like Colin Powell or Clarence Thomas. I didn't think it would be the Democratic party, my party, who would nominate someone whose platforms and values I actually respect and believe in.

And I was crying because this picture above--this could be our first family.

[Right now MSNBC is interviewing John Lewis, a major figure in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and he's talking about the monumental nature of this moment and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in Obama's candidacy]

I know that symbols can be too easily deconstructed and dismissed. I make my bread and butter through tearing apart language and images in literary texts. My training in the academy has been to be suspicious and cynical of easy symbols and overly sentimental narratives.

And yet here I am crying at the realization that our nation has nominated an African American man to be the presidential nominee and that WE COULD HAVE OUR FIRST NON-WHITE, AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESIDENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

And that symbolism is powerful. It sends a message of progress. It tells me that while we aren't moving as fast or as far as I would personally like, we are moving ahead. We are trying to do things better. And it sends a message to a lot of others that our idea of who counts as a leader, who counts as president of one of the most powerful nations on this planet--that this face and the symbolism of electing, specifically, an African American man--that this is powerful. This is history. This is hope.

Over a year ago I spent a weekend reading through the websites of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama trying to decide which candidate I wanted to support in order to take back the White House and end 8 years of Republican mis-leadership. I wanted to put my vote and my faith behind a candidate I truly believed in. I chose Barack Obama in many ways because his narrative was one that resonated with me--his story, the story of race in America, was one that I understood all too well. And the symbolism of Barack Obama and his family is inspiring--of Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, but also of his grandmother, his sister, and his nieces and nephews and siblings and uncles and aunts in the U.S. and around the world: a vision of mixed race that isn't just part of America but part of a new global order. And this symbolism is so powerful. This symbolism gives me hope that this country, which I have often had a cynical and pessimistic attitude towards, and the Democratic party, which I have often lamented over the lack of leadership, that at this very moment I feel proud. Proud of my party. Proud of my country. And giddy and anxious over the possibility that THIS could be the picture of our next first family:

Hillary Clinton: party unifier

I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect last night. I wanted to believe that she could pull it off, rally the troops, inspire her party, speak to the nation.

And she did! Last night's Hillary Clinton was the one I remembered from the time she came to UCSB to campaign for Bill Clinton in Spring 1992.

If you missed it, here it is on YouTube--it's worth taking 25 minutes to hear her unite the party and unequivocally endorse Barack Obama. And if you look at the crowd at the DNC, you can't help but feel that this is what America actually should look like--a real mixed race America.

Ps. I've always been a Chelsea Clinton fan, and she seems to have grown into a really lovely young woman.

Pps. If you haven't already guessed, I'm devoting this week to posts about the DNC--I am a political junkie at heart, but lets face it--this is HISTORIC, and it's important--for every single person on the planet because like it or hate it, the person in the White House in the next four years will have a global impact that only the leader of a world superpower can have.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I *heart* Michelle Obama

I just finished listening to Michelle Obama deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO, and I teared up, especially at the end when her daughters joined her on stage.

[This is a photo from a campaign stop in New Hampshire with three generations of Robinson women--Marian (grandmother), Sasha, Malia, and Michelle]

I have a crush on Michelle Obama. She is an amazing speaker. She seems, from her biography and her life as described by both herself and others, to be an intelligent, charismatic, dedicated, motivated, inspiring, beautiful woman.

Michelle Obama for president in 2016...2020?

Obambiden: the Democratic ticket

Barack Obama is in Denver this week to claim his right to represent the Democratic ticket (and damn it, did he earn it!) for his presidential bid, historic many would say. And after months of speculation he has announced his running mate.

He has chosen, but has he chosen wisely?

I honestly don't know, so the Monday morning question is: what do you think of Senator Joe Biden as

*Vice President
*Obama's running mate
*being a heart beat away from the presidency
*racially (in)sensitive (After all, this is the same guy who said that you couldn't go in a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts without hearing people with at least a slight Indian accent. If you look at the clip on YouTube, it's clear that Biden "meant well" but being well intentioned doesn't mitigate the insensitivity of the remark, and how much he missed the mark, because he was approached by a young Indian American man who was a constituent of his (and apparently wanted to show his appreciation of Biden) and this is how Biden reached out to him. Ugh. And I don't need to mention the whole "clean, articulate, gaffe that he made about Obama do I?)

I've heard from people in the know that Biden is a good guy--a saavy politician and experienced. He lets his mouth get away from him, but he is smart.

I have to say that I'm at a point where I just want A WIN. I want the Democrats to win. I want Obama, in particular, to win--because I'm a true believer, because I want change. Because I CANNOT BEAR THE THOUGHT OF YET ANOTHER FOUR YEARS OF REPUBLICAN MIS-LEADERSHIP. And truly, what I can't bear the thought of, what sends me into cycles of despair, is believing that Barack Obama might lose, not because of his policy platform, not because he's a Democrat, not because he's chosen Joe Biden as his running mate, but because quite simply people will not vote for him because the color of his skin, prevents them from seeing him as presidential material.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I wonder if my race radar is tuned too high

I've been watching a fair amount of the summer Olympics over the last two weeks. And NBC, which is the official and seemingly sole network covering the Olympics (well, their affiliates also show coverage--so that includes MSNBC, the Oxygen network, and the USA network) has had their talking heads doing not only stories about athletes (predominantly American but also others, like top ranked gymnasts and swimmers from other nations) but "cultural" pieces.

In particular, The Today Show has been doing these, ranging from the serious (they featured some teenagers from the Earthquake ravaged Szechuan province coming to Beijing to see the Olympics for a week) to the silly (Meredith Viera getting a ping pong lesson from a member of the U.S. team--so it's sort've both "Chinese" and "American").

But occasionally as I watch their hijinks I can't help but cringe and wonder: are they mocking Chinese culture? Making fun of Chinese people? Laughing at the Chinese language?

In this morning's episode, one of their correspondents does this whole report on "chops." A chop, in case you don't know, is a Chinese seal.

[Here's some examples]

I have two--they both are of my Chinese name, and I have used them to stamp my books (along with my name in English). The seals are used on everything--as a way to sign your name, to declare a document official, to be the imprint of a company, organization, group, or individual. They are also an art form--people carefully carve the characters for each person into a soft stone that is then pressed into red ink and onto a document. It's really quite beautiful.

And in the piece, this came through, but what also came through is this sense of how needless the beauracracy of China is with their insistence that a document is only official once it has the seal imprinted on the piece of paper. And then the correspondent made the usual series of bad jokes by punning on the word "chop"--including using the phrase "chop, chop!" which I definitely felt was in bad taste.

Because while perhaps people don't know the origins of this phrase, it was one commonly used to instruct Asian servants, typically Chinese, Japanese, or Filipino house boys to hurry up. As in "Ling Ling, chop, chop! Missy wants her tea now!"

And once again, I wonder if my racial radar is tuned too high. In particular, because they have been in China, because I was raised in a Chinese American family, am I being oversensitive when it comes to all things Chinese?

[I know I've already written on the topic of being over-sensitive and in-sensitive about race--but I return to this because I think it's hard to figure out what the small stuff is and not to sweat it and what the bigger stuff (even if seemingly smaller) means in terms of trying to live the anti-racist praxis.]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's all fun and games until someone does the slant eye

Yesterday I posted four photos of athletes from Spain and Argentina doing the tried and true racist gesture of taking their fingers and pulling up the corners of their eyes as a gesture meant to mimic the eye shape of Asians.

Some bloggers have already done a fine job parsing out the racist implications of this gesture: Angry Asian Man (which is where I found the images), Racialicious (which has a great clip from a CNN interview Carmen did), and Anti-Racist Parent.

Now here's a question for you: Is this a big deal? Spain says it was all fun and games and just a "wink" to their fans, their sponsors, and the host country of the Olympics, China. The Chinese embassy in Spain said, no offense taken.

Is it a big deal? I guess no and yes. I mean, if we are going to compare contemporary racist incidents, is this particular racist incident worse than others? Worse than Spanish fans showing up in black face to taunt a Formula 1 driver? Well, maybe it's on par (and it certainly shows that Spain and racism and sports is not a new phenomenon). There are certainly worse things--in terms of racial discrimination and violence.

But here's the thing: the small things matter too. In some ways, the small things are profoundly important, because they are the everyday things--the assumptions we make without wondering where they come from, the small hurts we inflict on others without realizing that we are being harmful. The judgments we make that we don't realize are causing others to second-guess their place in the world.

All that from pulling your eyelids up? Yes. Chinese eyes, slanted eyes, chink eyes--anyone who is Asian in America (or in a non-Asian country) has experienced this particular taunting. And it's painful. Because they often occur in childhood--and kids don't have the same type of rationales and defenses as adults. For Asian American kids, having kids pull the slant eye at them, usually with an accompanying taunt like "ching chong Chinaman!" or "So solly Cholly!" or "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these" is an exercise in learning how different you are from everyone else--to be made to feel less than--to feel like your difference is bad.

That's the thing. Difference isn't bad. Difference just IS. But when racial difference is turned into a taunt--a reason to single out someone and mock them--to make them feel inferior--then that's racial discrimination, also known as racism.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Signs that racism is not a U.S. phenomenon

[Spanish Men's basketball team]

[Spanish Women's basketball team]

[Spanish tennis team]

[Argentinian soccer team]

Tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man. Words fail me. I think these images speak for themselves, but for anyone who thinks this is all just good fun and games, I'll provide some analysis and break down the racism tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reality tv (and other media)

Lately I've been watching episodes of America's Best Dance Crew, and while the performances are fantastic, I really started watching them because so many of the crews have Asian Americans on them (actually this season, #2, every crew had at least one Asian American member).

Because sometimes it's nice for me to see visible evidence of Asian American life reflected in our culture and society. And oddly enough (or maybe it's not odd) reality tv has actually been the one place where you can see some diversity (and I'm not just talking about Survivor's botched attempt to divide tribes along racial lines (although the ironies of all ironies about Survivor's four tribes is that it all takes place on an island somewhere in the South Pacific and, of course, there is no discussion of the indigenous populations and people of these islands--except in one reward where they meet the tribal leader and get hosted by all the tribe members. Because we SO OFTEN forget about the indigenous populations of the world).

So here's a Sunday afternoon question for everyone: how accurately does tv, film, reality shows, commercials, or any other form of media reflect reality? I'm sure it must reflect someone's reality, but it just doesn't resemble mine.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Sisterhood don't date white American men

Recently I took in a matinee of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. I recognize with that sentence that a few readers may be looking to the sidebar so they can link over to another blog, but BEAR WITH ME!

First of all, I think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was a good first film (the movie franchise not the young adult novels, which I've never read). Seriously, I tear up every time that Carmen confronts her father for his absenteeism (what daughter with an strained relationship with her father wouldn't tear up?!). The film follows four friends, all very different in type and temperment, but they support each other through good and bad. And the first film dealt with some very serious issues like blended families, suicide, leukemia, and yes, conflicted young love. Plus there's these magic pants, but that's really the side note to the strong girl bonding.

The second film flash forwards about 3 years to the summer after these four friends have completed their first year in college. And what surprised me when I left the theater was this realization: none of the male love interests was a white American guy. In fact, one of the plotlines had nothing to do with romantic love and focused, instead, on making peace with one's family.

Of course one of the girls is Carmen, who was apparently conceived by the young adult author Anne Brasheres as a half-Puerto Rican, half-white character. She is the only visible girl of color, although ethnicity does factor into the series through Lena, a Greek American. And Lena, her heart broken by Kostos, her Santorini boyfriend, begins to date a male model at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) who looks like he's black or mixed-race. Carmen's love interest is a white British actor who is her co-star in The Winter's Tale (she plays Perdita), and reprising his role as Brian McBrian from the first film is Leonardo Nam, the Korean American actor, who is also Tibby's love interest. And even Kostos, Lena's love from the first film, is Greek rather than Greek American.

Which means that there are no white American men in the romantic role in this sequel. I'm not saying that this is monumental. I mean, lets face it--the white British actor guy hardly disrupts notions of white male European beauty (although during the film I kept thinking he was a dead ringer for a teenage Keanu Reeves, so maybe this guy is mixed-race Asian like Keanu). But what does feel heartening is that the whole issue of interracial romance is not made mention. In other words, none of these characters has to agonize about dating across the color line. They simply do it. And none of their friends or family bats an eye. In fact, Carmen's Latina mother has remarried a white American man (so I guess there's one that makes it into the film as a romantic love interest). But it only confirms that interracial love seems to be the norm of this film.

Again, I don't mean to overstate this or to say that it is revolutionary. But I do have to say that given the dearth of Asian American men in films, and particularly as love interests, I was very pleased to see that Leonardo Nam had a prominent role in the film (and the guy is HOT! He takes his shirt off in one scene and sports a pretty nice set of abs...I mean, if you are into that sort of thing...), and that his romantic partner was white (because, Asian American men are very rarely depicted as romantically paired with non-Asian women).

Much more to say about interracial pairs, on screen and in real life, but I figure this is one way to start the conversation. Because, as I noted above, I was really pleased that this film, which is geared for tweens/teens/young adults (and for women in their late 30s who need an afternoon diversion) made interracial romance seem like no big thing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My politics stop at body lotion

I was shopping at Bath and Body Works for some body lotion and found a scent that I really enjoy. But I went back and forth about whether I should buy it. And finally, my sense of smell prevailed over my sense of politics.

You can't see the back, but this is the description of Japanese Cherry Blossom:

"EXOTIC. This exotic fragrance is a sensuous blend of Japanese cherry blossom, vanilla rice, oriental woods and delicate mimosa petals."

Really? An "exotic" frangrance composed of "oriental" woods associated with "Japanese" body lotion? And why sensuous?

Of course, perhaps this is the marketing tactic of this particular line of lotion (the "Pleasures" line of lotion--seriously, each bottle is labeled as "PLEASURES" right underneath the company logo). For instance, take Coconut Lime Verbena

"INVITING. Be whisked away to your own paradise with this luscious blend of fresh coconut, lime, and fragrant verbena warmed by vanilla and musk."

What IS Bath and Body Works exactly selling???

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sad mixed race statistic

This morning I read an Op-Ed in The New York Times that begins with this sentence:

"ONE in three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes, statistics gathered by the United States Department of Justice show."

and this is the second paragraph:

"The situation is unfair to Indian victims of all crimes — burglary, arson, assault, etc. But the problem is greatest in the realm of sexual violence because rapes and other sexual assaults on American Indian women are overwhelmingly interracial. More than 80 percent of Indian victims identify their attacker as non-Indian. (Sexual violence against white and African-American women, in contrast, is primarily intraracial.) And American Indian women who live on tribal lands are more than twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as other women in the United States, Justice Department statistics show."

[For the full Op-Ed article, click here]

I don't have anything profound or enlightening to say. Only that I think our understanding of race with respect to indigenous people in the U.S. (and around the world) is poor. And in the U.S. I think that we live in this amnesia or willful ignorance about the history of U.S. colonization of American Indian land and culture. But clearly, as this Op-Ed piece shows, there is a real albeit violent/tragic way that American Indians are aware of the presence of all us settler-colonists.

And I think it goes without saying that rape against women is a phenomenon that our society has NOT gotten a handle on. In college I had three close friends who were raped (by acquaintances--in other words, men they knew), and I am sure that all of you know someone who was a victim of rape (even if s/he hasn't disclosed this to you).

Not a happy Monday post, I know, but I think it's important to remember that this goes on--largely uncommented about--and that the repercussions of rape not just for individuals but for their families, friends, and larger communities (and I'd add our entire society) are too huge to ignore and yet...this still goes on? Why???

Saturday, August 9, 2008

8/8/08 (woops, I missed it)

I had planned to write some type of post about the significance of yesterday--August 8, 2008, or 8/8/08 (which, for those of you who don't know, the number *8* is a very significant number in Chinese culture--a good luck number if you will. Yesterday there were a record number of weddings happening across the Chinese diaspora (and in China) to take advantage of all this good luck--and it's no coincidence that the Olympics, currently being held in China, began on 8/8/08 at 8:08 pm.

[Here are the Olympic mascots--cute huh?]

Out-of-town houseguests, Southern bbq, and gin and tonics have been keeping me from my laptop the last few days.

And truthfully, I'm uninspired right now. My old house guests have left (close friends from grad school--always fun to re-bond with folks who knew you when--especially when they knew you in your mid-20s) and one of my closest friends from my days as a Gaucho just arrived on a red-eye flight from the West Coast so I'm not sure how much blogging there will be in the next week or so.

Thus, Mixed Race America goes on a bit of a hiatus. Of course, perhaps I will become inspired by a host of things percolating in the world, for instance, perhaps it's time to concentrate on the Chinese diaspora and things that are Chinese, such as:

*The Summer Olympics (after all, they only come around every four years).

*Human rights abuse in China (after all, we should be aware of this in light of the attention that China is getting because of said Olympics)

*The deranged Chinese Canadian man who attacked, killed, and decapitated a fellow passenger aboard a Greyhound bus.

*Is Wayne Wang an indie auteur (Chan Is Missing, Smoke) or a wannabee mainstream Hollywood director (Maid in Manhattan, Last Holiday) or something else entirely?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Senator McCain, tell us what you REALLY think about race in America?

This Monday I wrote that there was more to say about John McCain and the topic of race in America. But the truth is, I have actually written about this topic before. In March, I called on journalists to start asking John McCain to talk about race ("Calling on McCain to talk about race")--because doesn't it strike anyone that as a white American man detained in an Asian country as a POW and one who regularly used a racial slur against Asians, "gook," until he disavowed its use in the 2000 campaign--doesn't anyone think that John McCain has opinions about race in America? Particularly since his family is mixed-race with the addition of the daughter that Cindy McCain brought back from Bangladesh unannounced.

[By the way, does it strike anyone else as a bit odd that Cindy McCain was able to just bring back a baby from Bangladesh into this country and she seemingly did it without first discussing the matter with her husband and the rest of her family? And then there's the whole background check, the paperwork, the months and sometimes years of waiting. She went to Bangladesh, toured an orphanage, and then brought back two little girls, one she kept and the other that got adopted by friends. And John McCain's reaction is "Whoa, honey! Didn't realize you were bringing back souvenirs!" but then he quickly says how delighted he is, but how much would you give to go back in time and be a fly on the wall at the McCain house?]

And besides one audience member at a town hall event in Ohio, doesn't anyone want to ask John McCain about women and gender issues, especially in light of the sexist slur he used against HIS OWN WIFE? ("Who is John McCain?").

Plenty of other bloggers I respect have also commented on John McCain and race and who this straight talker REALLY is:

Tenured Radical has an excellent post about the use of the phrase "the race card" and the McCain campaign's invocation of this specter.

What Tami Said has a post detailing the various racial slurs that McCain is overheard to have made at bar he liked to frequent in DC.

Angry Asian Man also has commented about John McCain's racism and his use of the slur "gook," plugging a book by Irwin Tang--and here's a video in which Tang talks about the importance of understanding John McCain's particular brand of Asian racism:

Finally, in case you haven't heard, there's been a scuffle between John McCain and...Paris Hilton! McCain used images of Hilton and Britney Spears in his latest negative campaign against Barack Obama, calling Obama a . . . CELEBRITY and likening him to Spears and Hilton. Paris Hilton then shot back with a video of her own with the help of the Internet sensation "Funny or Die":

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

President Hilton? I hope not. But this campaign season just got a bit wackier.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gay guinea pig wedding--who wouldn't love this!

Have you heard of Uncle Bobby's Wedding? Let me give you the premise: a little guinea pig girl has a favorite guinea pig uncle who is getting married. She's a bit anxious about it all because she has been the apple of his eye and isn't sure she wants to share him with someone else. But all goes well--the wedding goes off without a hitch. And everyone is one big happy family.

Why would anyone object to such a sweet story?

Well, because Uncle Bobby is a gay guinea pig and his partner is another male guinea pig. Yes, this is a children's book featuring a gay guinea pig wedding. But it's not treated as a big deal--the conflict isn't that Uncle Bobby is marrying another man; it's that he's marrying anyone at all and therefore his relationship with his niece will change. The wedding is treated as any other wedding would be, gay or straight, queer or non. (For a great book review and introduction to the author Sarah Brannen click here).

You will recall nearly a year ago I wrote about And Tango Makes Three and the flap (no pun intended) over this gay penguin family story. Apparently one library patron in Douglas County, Colorado also objected to the queer-friendly content of Uncle Bobby's Wedding because she wrote a letter asking the librarian to remove the book from the children's book section. Jamie Larue, director of the Douglas County Library system, provided a thoughtful, nuanced, and thoroughly respectful reply to this patron that should be an inspiration for any of us who are confronted by people whose perspectives and ideologies are in conflict with our own.

To read Jamie Larue's reply and affirmation of the appropriateness of Uncle Bobby's Wedding click here. And if you are in need of a great children's book for your little one (or a friend's little one) or for your local library, consider going out and getting your own copy. And really, who wouldn't love this book--those guinea pigs are SO CUTE!

[Tip of the hat to Gilesbott 9000 and my friend "P" for introducing me to this great book and to Jamie Larue]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A writer I respect: Louise Erdrich

I have just finished Louise Erdrich's novel The Plague of Doves, and it is marvelous.

There's this wonderful thing that happens whenever I finish a book I really love and enjoy: I look around me and for a split second I am confused because I have lived so fully in the life of the book, in the world that this author created, among its characters and within its setting and time period that I forget where I am.

That's what happened when I turned the last page on Erdrich's novel.

I was first introduced to Louise Erdrich in a college class I took on the postmodern novel. We were assigned Love Medicine, and I found the prose to be tight and intricate and the storytelling to be wonderful. Especially the story "Saint Marie," which I had the pleasure of teaching years later.

August marks the last of the summer months, and if you are wondering what pleasure reading you can take with you on that final vacation, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Plague of Doves or any of Erdrich's other fine novels (click here for the list of her writing--she is also a poet and children's book author--the woman is multi-talented and extremely prolific!).

And if you buy one of her books, you are also helping to support one very specific independent bookstore, Birchbark Books located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Portions of the sale of Erdrich's book support this bookstore; here is a brief description of Birchbark Books:

"BirchBark Books and Native Arts is a joint venture of local book lovers, writers, Native American artists, neighborhood artisans, carpenters, and painters. We are an independent bookstore, with all of the accompanying quirks and non-corporate eccentricities. As the malling of America continues, it is our mission to be other."

I love that last clause, "it is our mission to be other." Consider supporting Birchbark Books by supporting Louise Erdrich, it's a nice two-fer, plus if you're like me, you may even experience a moment when one of her books transports you away from your own life--which is an amazing feeling.

[Addendum: I just realized I didn't provide any description or loose plot synopsis of The Plague of Doves, so let me try to sketch out the book's premise without giving too much away. The first thing I want to say is that while the territory is familiar to Erdrich's other novels (Native American reservations in North Dakota, largely Ojibwe and Chippewa and Michif) it does not seem to be part of the sprawling genealogy of the various American Indian families found in Love Medicine, Beet Queen, Tales of Burning Love, etc. The novel does contain within it a very twisted and tangled genealogy largely dominated by a few narrative voices: Evelina Milk and Judge Antone Bazil Coutts (and a few others thrown in) and the central event that animates the various stories within this novel is the turn-of-the-20th century lynching of two men and a boy, and one who survived--all are Native American and the men who lynch them are white immigrant settlers to Pluto, a town that is encapsulated within reservation land. The novel moves back and forth through time and space, through the various descendants of those who were lynched and those who did the hanging. There's much more to the novel then what I just laid out--it's really a magnificent read, but don't take my word for it--find out for yourselves, and check out this book review by The New York Times.]

Monday, August 4, 2008

McCain Monday

Thank you Rolling Stone for providing an example of not only BAD racial satire but RACIST racial satire. Tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man and Racialicious (who cross-posted and who is sure to have an interesting comment thread).

Is there anything left to say? Actually yes, there's much more to say about race/racism and John McCain and Barack Obama and the 2008 presidential campaign. But the caffeine hasn't kicked in yet, and I'm going to post more later in the week.

Friday, August 1, 2008

T.G.I.F.: Living a good life--lessons of Randy Pausch

When I started this series, I thought it might be a sporadic event--occasional Fridays I'd try to acknowledge an organization or individual who was doing something remarkable--hence T.G.I.F.: The Great Impossible Feat.

Of course for the last four Fridays I seem to have found something to write about that I thought was a T.G.I.F. And last week Friday, when I was writing about Berea college, I probably should have acknowledged the passing of Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon university.

The facts of Randy Pausch's life aren't really that remarkable or exceptional. He was born into a working-class, middle-class family, he earned degrees from Brown University and Carnegie Mellon and was mentored by extraordinary people who took time to encourage and help him. He got a job at University of Virginia and then was hired by his alma mater, where he discovered he had pancreatic cancer (one of the worst forms of cancer you can get). He spent the remaining time he had with his family and died at the age of 47 leaving behind a wife and three young children.

I'm sure many of us know of someone whose profile closely fits that of Randy Pausch. But what is remarkable about Pausch is that he's a teacher--a really good one with a lot of natural talent and charisma, and he gained national attention when The Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow wrote about a lecture that Pausch gave to a standing-room-only audience at Carnegie Mellon titled "Journeys" but that had previously been named "Last Lecture"--the premise being that professors would impart words of wisdom as if this was their very last lecture on earth--as if they knew they were going to die.

In Pausch's case, it was true. In September 2007 when he gave the lecture, his doctors gave him 3-4 months to live (he defied their odds by about 6 months). He was literally dying, and he gave a lecture that was, in my opinion, truly remarkable.

Because he focused on the lessons he had learned in life--thanking the many people in his life who helped him to achieve his goals and dreams--and dealing with the many obstacles he faced with humor and as teaching tools rather than moments of failure or defeat.

I read about Pausch's death in The New York Times last week and then I clicked on the video link and spent an hour being amazed by his rhetorical skills, his charisma, his natural teaching ability. But most of all, amazed that he had accomplished something so simple that it really is a Great Impossible Feat: he lived a good life and appreciated that fact.

Of course, maybe what got to me about Randy Pausch was that he was a teacher (and as a fellow teacher I'm always over-identified with others in this profession) and that he left this last lecture for his kids--and the audience and rest of the world who watched the video were an afterthought. Still, it made me think, profoundly, about how I want to approach my own last days, whenever they come. I hope I am able to do it with as much grace and humor and humility and appreciation as Randy Pausch. And for that, I think Professor Pausch has achieved a Great Impossible Feat.

[To read Jeffrey Zaslow's remembrances of Pausch and to see a video by The Wall Street Journal remembering Pausch, click here]