Thursday, March 26, 2009

Random thoughts and link love

I have turned into one of those bloggers. One who doesn't find the time to blog on a regular basis. One who even lets a week elapse between random thoughts. And I feel guilty.

But should I? For those of you (which means almost ALL of you) who weren't here for the inaugural post nearly two years ago, I began the experiment of blogging as a way to do some pre-writing in preparation for writing my book manuscript (for those non-academics out there, the book is still a work in progress--I'm like the tortoise in that story, definitely NOT the hare, which I suppose is a good thing if the finish line is getting a book contract).

Anyway, I'm in the final stretch of the spring semester, which means lots of time with my students (both undergraduate and graduate) and it seems as if every important or interesting talk has been scheduled for the month of March--and of course it's also admissions season, which means being a person who has a hard time saying "no" I've been doing my duty representing Southern U. for both the English department and as a face who is not white, male, or Southern.

There are LOTS of things I've been thinking of lately that would be blog-worthy: women's history month, the etiquette of campus/academic talks, the much delayed post about sports/atheletics on college campuses, Obama's first 100 days, census data for mixed-race people in the upcoming 2010 census, and what we do with a novel written by an Asian American author with no Asian American content--is it still an Asian American novel? Does one's racial identity categorize a work regardless of its content? Does anyone other than people in the academy care?

For more lucid thoughts, let me direct you to some newsworthy articles and blog posts of interest:

*John Hope Franklin R.I.P. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dr. Franklin, he is a pioneer in the fields of history, Southern Studies, and African American studies. He died yesterday of heart failure in Durham, NC. Please click here to read his New York Times obituary--Dr. Franklin was a prolific scholar, and he consulted with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education. He was a civil rights and human rights trailblazer, and his legacy will live on in the countless scholars and students and people he influenced through his life and works.

*West Point Grads Form Gay Support Group. This was taken from Angry Asian Man--apparently the gay West Point alum have formed a group called Knights Out. Perhaps this is one more step towards fully enfranchising queer men and women in the military.

*Women's History Month Blog Carnival. Tami of What Tami Said has a great post about her response to an anonymous commenter's fairly glib/dismissive remarks about her very nuanced concerns regarding how things placed out in the Democratic primary last year. You can also head over to Women's Space to read more of the Women's History Month Blog Carnival that Heart and Tami are sponsoring. I wish I had gotten my act together to contribute something. Oh well, maybe I can do a belated April post about this very timely topic of how I felt impacted as a woman of color by the very long run-up to the Presidential election.

*And now for something completely different...

[tip of the hat to Poplicks for this one]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Turning Japanese

When I was a recent college grad, a friend of mine, who was going through an MA in education to become a high school English teacher, told me the following anecdote. He had been paired up with a woman to work on a teaching assignment. This woman, lets call her "Lily" (not her real name at all--I have no recollection what her real name is) and my friend, lets call him "Pat" (again, not his real name at all) were discussing the best way to conceive this particular teaching assignment, when Lily said, apropos of nothing "Well, we can't make this too difficult, otherwise the Asian students will commit suicide." Pat (who is white) looked at Lily (also white) oddly and asked her to explain. Elaborating on her first comment, Lily explained that because Asian students feel SO MUCH PRESSURE to succeed, they will commit suicide if they believe that they will not receive an "A"--in fact, what she said was "Yes, Japanese students commit suicide when they don't get good grades."

Fast forward to March 2009. Republican Senator Charles Grassley (Iowa), in reaction to bonuses for AIG executives had this to say about the action that AIG execs should be taking, noting that they should

"follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide."

Elaborating on these comments he noted:

"Japanese CEOs either go out and commit suicide, and probably in most cases they don't, and when they don't they come before the public and bow very, very deeply, and express regret, and may resign or may stay on, but the point is they accept full responsibility."


Is there a rash of suicides among Japanese students and executives that has somehow escaped me or is this just a stereotype that has persisted from the days of WWII of kamikaze pilots and Samurai films depicting warriors committing seppuku (ritual Samurai suicide).

So, does Grassley really want AIG execs turning Japanese and why is it that everyone is expressing outrage that he would dare suggest that AIG execs commit suicide AND YET no one has questioned the outrageousness of this stereotype of Japanese as prone to committing suicide at the slightest mention of shame--as if Japanese culture was so honor bound that the thought of censure is enough to drive people, from students to businesspeople, to take that sword to the belly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mixed Race film review: Rachel Getting Married

So I rented Rachel Getting Married this past week, an indie film directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Jenny Lumet, and starring Anne Hathaway (former Princess/Prada flimstar), who is not the titular character but her sister Kym, newly released from rehab and about to wreak havoc in the days leading up to her sister's wedding.

(click here for a link to the film's official website, where you can see a trailer and read more about the cast, crew, and awards this film has won).

This won't really be a "true" film review, more like a film musing/commentary. Because one of the things that became evident in the film, outside of the main plot/character development, were the friends and even family of the central characters (Kym, her sister Rachel, and their father Paul). First of all, Paul (played by Bill Irwin) is married to Carol (played by Anna Deveare Smith). This may not be remarkable if you don't know who Bill Irwin or Anna Deveare Smith are--but if you do know them, then you know that Irwin is white and Smith is black, which makes them our first inter-racial couple. But they aren't the last. Rachel is marrying Sidney--and Rachel is white and Sidney is black (and from Hawaii--there's that extra layer of culture/ethnicity/diversity/regionalism right there). Then there's Rachel and Sidney's friends--a vision of mixed-race Americans of various ethnicities, races, and cultures.

[A scene right before Rachel and her new husband are about to cut a cake that is in the form of a stylized Indian elephant--by the way, this was one element I definitely thought was odd because neither Rachel nor Sidney nor their families appear to be Hindi/Indian and this "theme" for their wedding is never explained--which raises another question about cultural appropriation, especially for weddings, but I'll save that for another post]

According to the DVD extras (on the "making of" segment) as well as this LA Times article featuring Jenny Lumet (daughter of white-Jewish director Sidney Lumet and maternal grand-daughter of Lena Horne), the polyglot of races, ethnicities, and cultures was no coincidence--the director/producer/writer wanted to show life as they knew it--which included having friends and family who were diverse in terms of race, sexuality, age, and a host of other factors. Of course, as my friend "B" pointed out, as much as both Lumet and one of the producers claimed that their friends were this "diverse"--the truth is, most Americans probably wouldn't boast a wedding party that was quite as diverse as the one featured in this film (which included an inexplicable "Indian" theme for the wedding, Brazilian carnival dancers, Eastern European stringed instruments, and a host of very artistic/arty folks just strumming and humming and singing and jamming their way through the film).

Anyway, from a strictly plot point-of-view, I do recommend this film. It was hard to watch, very hard to watch, at times, because there's so much raw pain in this film. On the other hand, it did feel "real" to me--and I have to admit that part of that feeling of reality did come from the very visibly diverse wedding crowd that were both in the background and foreground of events. The other thing I appreciated about this film is that there is no comment about the inter-racial aspect of either the father's re-marriage or his daughter's marriage to African Americans. It is simply a fact that doesn't need explanation or drama. Which is good, because this film has PLENTY of drama without adding racial conflict into the mix. And really, it's just nice to see pictures of mixed-race Americans that just are and that don't need additional film commentary (aside from what people like me are bringing that is).

[Update: 4/18/09: One of the commenters on this thread asked why I believe that the Indian-themed wedding is an example of cultural appropriation rather than an instance of irony. For my longer post about this issue, see my April 15, 2009 post]

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Help a grad student--take a survey

Calling all Asian Americans (or anyone who identifies as Asian American)--a friend forwarded me this announcement and asked (on behalf of his friend) if I'd post this on my blog. So here goes--my one disclaimer is that I am not affiliated with this university in any way, shape, or form, nor do I know this grad student--her information is below if you want to be in touch with her (and of course, please do fill out the survey if you want to help her):


Subject: Survey on Asian Americans - Chance to Win $50


My name is Kathy Nguyen and I am an Asian American graduate student in Clinical Psychology. I'm conducting a research study on how parents and children relate in Asian American families when children are now adults. I am contacting you today to ask for your help in forwarding information about my study to your group members, especially alumni. This is a very important area of study that, unfortunately, has been neglected in the research. I need your help in getting the word out so that we can better understand the unique challenges for Asian American parents and their adult children.

To participate in my study, all that's required is for students to fill out a 20-minute survey that is all online and is completely anonymous. There is a chance to win 1 of 3 $50 Visa giftcards at the end of the survey. The survey can be found here: More information about my study follows below.

If students feel comfortable, it would be great if they could forward the survey to any Asians or Asian Americans they may know (e.g., siblings, friends, coworkers, group members, fraternity/sorority members) so that we can get as much input as possible from all Asian American adult children. Again, if you are still in contact with any alumni members, it would be especially helpful to get their input.

Thank you for your time. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Take care,
Kathy Nguyen

Did you know that some Asian American children may be at greater risk of experiencing conflict with their parents? Research has shown that cultural differences between parents and children may be contributors to increased conflict. Unfortunately, there is a lack of research about parent-child relationships in Asian American families, particularly when children are adults.
My name is Kathy Nguyen, and I am conducting my dissertation on parent-child relationships in Asian American families. I am contacting you to ask for Asian American adults to complete an online, anonymous survey (can be found here ), after which you will have the option to enter into a random drawing for 1 of 3 $50 Visa gift cards.
I am asking all Asian American adult men and women to participate in this study, especially if you are currently living at home with your parents, frequently make trips home, or once lived at home in the past as an adult. You are eligible to participate if you are at least 18 years of age and identify yourself as Asian or Asian American. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete and asks questions about your relationship with your parents, your cultural identity, and basic demographic information. The link to the online survey can be found below.
Please be assured that your survey responses are completely anonymous. Any contact information you choose to provide for the gift card raffle cannot be linked back to your responses. After you complete the survey, you will only be contacted if you won a giftcard or if you requested more information about the study. Your contact information will not be used in any other situation and will not be passed on to anyone else. This study has been approved by the Human Subjects Review Board of the College of Sciences at Old Dominion University.
As an Asian American, you may agree that parent-child relationships are an important area of research for Asian Americans. In conducting this research, it is my hope that our findings will help improve the relationship between Asian American parents and children and the overall quality of life of Asian Americans.
The survey can be completed at the following address:
If you have any questions or comments about the study, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at I am working under the direction of Dr. Janis Sanchez, the Psychology Department Chair of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who can be contacted at or 757-683-4439.
Thank you!

Kathy Nguyen, M.A.
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student
The Virginia Consortium Program
in Clinical Psychology
(571) 236-0197

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DC Highlights

Because "C" asked me if I was going to blog and post pics from my trip to DC, here they are (I'll add commentary if necessary, but this is going to be a rather fluffy post for anyone who is hoping for something a bit more pointed--although who knows...maybe there will be something towards the end...)

View from hotel balcony looking out over Key Bridge/Georgetown:

[Aside: Southern Man and I arrived an hour and a half before the official check-in time, and usually I've been able to check-in early. However, the clerk told me quite firmly (when I showed her my reservation sheet) that check-in was 3:00pm and that we'd have to come back. The woman, who looked to be Southeast Asian American, regarded me quite coldly--no fellow Asian American head nod. However, 10 minutes later, when Southern Man and I were trying to figure out where to have lunch near the hotel so we could come back in an hour and a half, and after Southern Man had asked for recommendations from the same hotel clerk (getting both a map and a set of directions for how to get to the Metro station as well as a map of restaurants in the area), the clerk relented and told Southern Man that she was SURE she could find a room for HIM-- and after I handed her MY credit card, after running it through her machine she handed it to SOUTHERN MAN, not to me, and told him that she got HIM a "really nice room." And all I could think was "You have GOT to be kidding me! Am I invisible or what???!!! I suppose one reading of this is that it's the example of the ultimate privilege of being a white man, but the thing is, this happens to us ALL THE TIME--Southern Man has a way of charming everyone and the next thing you know people are handing him mix CDs, complimentary sodas, and getting us checked in an hour early to our hotel (sigh)]

Nam June Paik's digital art-piece "Electronic Superhighway" in the National Portrait Gallery:

Sculpture of Einstein near the mall:

The Lincoln Memorial:

A segment about the Japanese American Internment in the exhibit on "America at War" at the National Museum of American History:

A display on Asian immigration to the United States at the National Museum of American History :

By the way, the above two photos were pretty much the extent of the Asian American content in the entire National Museum of American History. Which strikes me as being, well, sad. Actually, taking into account Nam June Paik's work, this entire post reflects the Asian American content that we encountered going to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History. It does make you wonder about how much either of these spaces reflect the actual sense of the U.S. being a "mixed race" space and/or representative of the actual demographics of America. And I don't think it's because only white male Americans have had a profound impact on American culture (although it is indisputable that this is a true fact). I would argue that it has to do with the kind of emphasis that we choose to place on certain events. Actually, there used to be a great exhibit that the National Museum of American History had called "A More Perfect Union" which was entirely about the Japanese American internment. But after their renovations they, of course, had to make certain choices about what to keep and what to cut. Unfortunately, this exhibit got cut, or rather truncated to a brief display within another exhibit.

Again, I mention all of this to help us to consider just what we consider to be important on a national scale in terms of our museums and remembrances. And what impact that has on the people who view these exhibits, perhaps hoping to see themselves reflected in their nation's capital and their nation's museums.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Portraying the Nation . . . accurately?

I just returned from a trip to Washington DC. No particular reason--just a very brief weekend trip to our nation's capital for a short holiday with Southern Man. We managed to see two close friends of mine (one from grad school, the other from High School), ate an AMAZING meal at The Blue Duck Tavern (I had, well, the duck, which was DELICIOUS and YUMMY and makes my mouth water just thinking about it), and of course we took in the museums.

One of my favorite's is the National Portrait Gallery. The courtyard is gorgeous--a pleasant place to rest weary legs after a full day of absorbing art.

There is a gallery devoted to all of our past presidents, like



And hanging in the main lobby is the iconic portrait by Shepard Fairey of our 44th President:

[I hope you can tell that there is some texturing/detail that is different from the other mass-produced Obama images of Fairey's--it's really quite extraordinary live and close up--very textured and detailed and alive--and it's a huge print]

One of the things that struck me as I was walking through the gallery of 20th Century American portraits--a gallery devoted to the movers, shakers, thinkers, artists, writers, and public figures who influenced culture/society/history in the 20th century--was just how male and white the pictures are. I mean, perhaps this is a given. After all, isn't 20th C. literature and history and music a record of white American male accomplishments? Works by Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway are a mainstay on many 20th C. literature courses, so why shouldn't that be the case in a gallery devoted to 20th C. American portraits?

Yet, I tried to put myself in the position of an alien who has just landed on this planet. If I were to walk around the vicinity of where the National Portrait gallery is located, in Chinatown (where you can see faux Chinese architecture and a real mix of people, including some Chinese Americans), I'd have a sense of how heterogeneous people in Washington DC, and perhaps as a representation of the rest of the nation, the U.S. actually is (including a few deaf Americans signing to one another--I literally saw three different pairs/groups signing and walking around Chinatown).

But then, if I were to walk into the 20th C. American gallery, almost all of the images that I'd see were of white men (with a smattering of women and African Americans). Which would make me think that the most powerful and influential people in the nation have been white Americans.

Again, perhaps all of this is obvious, after all, we have lived with a system of white privilege for a few centuries--it stands to reason that those who have held power have also held cultural and social influence. However, if I were to then put myself in the position of a young girl looking at these portraits (and yes I realize I'm switching analogies) I might wonder where I would fit in--I mean, especially as a young Asian American girl. Will my portrait ever find its way to this gallery? What are the obstacles I might face to find myself in a position of influence or more accurately, to be recognized for my influence with an honored place among these 20th C. Americans?

In other words, how accurately does the 20th C. American gallery portray our nation?

Yet another reason why I'm hoping that President Barack Obama's election, and more importantly the Obama's tenancy of the White House will augur a more representative sense of what a mixed-race America actually looks like.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Celebrating Mixed Race

A few weeks ago, as I was teaching East of Eden, I ended up explaining why one of the characters, a Chinese American man who goes by the name "Lee" never married. And one of the things I contextualized for my students was in the time of the novel, the first two decades of the 20th Century, Lee's marriage choices would have been severely curtailed because of two legal restrictions: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which effectively barred Chinese immigration to the U.S., and anti-miscegenation (anti-inter-racial marriage laws), which effectively prevented Chinese men from marrying outside of their ethnic group.

My students had not heard the word miscegenation, so I had to explain what that meant, and then began the line of questioning: which states had these laws and when were they repealed. They seemed genuinely surprised when I told them that Loving v. Virginia finally abolished all such laws in the nation in 1967, and I reminded them that just because it was now legal for two people of two different races to marry, that it wasn't socially acceptable among some communities and families. For example in Alabama and Mississippi, there are some high schools that have two proms, a white prom and a black prom (and a few years ago a High School principal made national news for barring an inter-racial couple from attending one of these proms--although I can't remember whether it was the white or black prom they were barred from).

And I mention all this because my students were just shocked and surprised. I suppose some could say that they are naive. But at 18 and 19, what college student isn't? My own spin is that they have grown up in a world where they take certain things for granted, and inter-racial relationships seems to be one of these things that they just don't think about (or at least didn't seem to bat an eye at in class).

And it's times like these that I wish I lived in California--and I'm not trying to wax rhapsodic about my former home, only that the opportunities to learn about and celebrate and discuss mixed-race issues seem to be more prevalent in this state than in any others I've lived in (maybe with the exception of NYC, but NYC has EVERYTHING, right?--I'm throwing that out there for all my NYC friends who think it's the center of the universe).

Anyway, this is where I put in my plug for the SECOND MIXED-ROOTS FILM AND LITERARY FESTIVAL in Los Angeles (click here for the link). The festival is taking place June 12-13, 2009 at the Japanese American National Museum. I was invited to participate, but unfortunately I'm committed to going to another conference. But I'm *hoping* to make it there next summer for the third festival. Because from what I've heard and read about this group, a third (and fourth, and tenth, and thirtieth) festival is much needed and much desired.

Finally, let me close with a YouTube Clip of Kip Fulbeck, the recipient of the Loving prize at last year's festival. This is a series of 3 different media clips put together about Fulbeck and his work--it's about 10 minutes long, but it's worth watching, especially the last two minutes where Fulbeck does his spoken word piece "Speaking Up."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I went to bed in the South and woke up in New England. At least that was the feeling I had when I opened my blinds and saw my backyard blanketed in snow. My dog is currently frolicking in the front yard; he seems to enjoy the white fluffy stuff. And I just found out that Southern U., while canceling morning classes, will be business as usual by my afternoon teaching stint.

[This isn't a photo I snapped, but I've got a bunch of squirrels that my dog loves to bark at, so I thought this was a good photo to show how, some, like this squirrel and my dog, are enjoying the snow day]

There's a lot of things that have been swimming around in my head that I've thought about posting on: the phrase "underrepresented minority," the education gap, athletic departments in colleges during times of fiscal downturn (a topic I had promised to return to, and I will), as well as requests from folks around the blogosphere to make some announcements relevant to the topic of this blog, race and mixed-race in America.

But all of that will have to wait. Because even though I know I'll be teaching, it *feels* like a snowday. And I think I should put on some boots and go outside and try frolicking in the snow with my dog.