Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bullying is NOT OK, esp. when you target an individual based on race/ethnicity/sexualitiy/gender

Recently a study came out that found that 54% of Asian American teens experienced bullying--this is compared to 31.3% of white teens and 38.4% of black teens and 34.3% of Latino teens. Cyberbullying is even more ramapant among Asian Americans, with a remarkable 62% of Asian American teens being targeted on-line compared with 18.1% of white teens.

Many of those bullied seemed to be targeted as "terrorists"--assumably because they are either identified as Muslim or Arab American or in the case of South Asians, potentially mis-identified, at least in terms of ethnic nationalism and religion (in the case of non-Muslim South Asian Americans).

This disturbing study comes out at the same time as a news piece about a soldier in Afghanistan, Chinese American Private Danny Chen, who was found in a guard tower with a bullet to his head. It's not clear whether it was self-induced (ie: suicide) or whether he was murdered (and it's unclear who might have murdered him). What is reported in the New York Times story is that Chen described being harassed in the Army, by fellow privates and his superiors, based on his racial and ethnic difference from them--bullied because he was Asian American.

I know I've written before about my admiration for the "It Gets Better" project and the stands that people are taking against bullying based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

Do we need a similar grass-roots movement for Asian American teens? To reassure them that it will "get better"--that the harassment and bullying that they are experiencing will cease or at least become more tolerable? Or should we, as a society, be trying to educate our youth (and our adults) that bullying someone based on their race or ethnicity--targeting Asian Americans because they are Asian Americans, is plain and simple racism. Making fun of Asian Americans because they may look different from white Americans, because they may speak with a non-American accent (we all speak with an accent--it just depends on how you choose to normalize it), about the differences in their values and what they eat--and my all time favorite, when people pull back their eyes to suggest a "slanted" look. These things are NOT OK -- THEY ARE EXAMPLES OF RACISM. And they are also never harmless. I think when we imagine a small child doing these things, we think, "Oh, these are just kids." But when mocking someone of another race goes unchecked, I think our entire society needs to be held responsible.

[Addendum--Dec. 13, 2011: I just found this article crossposted from Hyphen Magazine on the New American Media website--it's really a heart breaking article to read about a group of first-generation/immigrant teens who were repeatedly and violently targeted/bullied in the Philadelphia area. The Justice Department had to intervene and things are looking better, but it's really tragic that it had to come to THAT in order for Asian American youth to feel safe in their own schools.]

Friday, November 4, 2011

Help out a fellow blogger -- calling all African American women!

I'm posting this message from my dear blogging sister, Tami of What Tami Said -- although she specifically mentions African American women, I suspect that she'd be interested in hearing from black women around the world. Read on--and if you have any questions, please contact Tami at Tamara@BackTalkBook.com--you can also find the original post here.

The way our society talks about black women and marriage--from the daily paper to the pulpit to movies and self-help books--is flawed, sexist and damaging. When black women tell their own stories, a more thoughtful truth emerges.

I am working on a project juxtaposing the authentic experiences of African American women with the tragic common narrative about black women and marriage--a narrative that narrows lives, turns black female successes into failures and unfairly burdens us alone with responsibility for the success of black male/female relationships, black families and the black community. My goal is that my efforts will result in a published book.

I am currently working to identify black women to have frank discussions about how they navigate relationships, sexuality, singleness, marriage and divorce. If you, or someone you know, is willing to be a part of this effort, please contact me at Tamara@BackTalkBook.com.

Some things to know:

I am interested in interviewing black women of all ages, backgrounds, geographic locations and experiences. One goal of my effort is to illuminate the lives of women often erased in discussions of the black marriage rate, including married women, divorced women, women who don’t wish to marry, lesbian women, women in interracial relationships and others.

Subjects should be willing to participate in multiple one-on-one interviews both in person and through technology. Initial interviews will be conducted by phone in November. While I will not require an inordinate amount of time from interviewees, I will need to interact with them enough to understand their stories, experiences and perspectives.

Elements of participants' stories, including quotes, will be included in a published work, written by me. Women have the option of being referred to by their full, real names; first names only or a pseudonym.

Beyond the ABC specials, “think like a man” romantic advice tomes and panic-inducing women’s magazine articles, exist the real stories of black women—too often told from another perspective and voice. Everyone is talking about black women and marriage. I want to talk back.

Please help by responding to and sharing this call for participants through your networks. Please direct questions about this project to Tamara@BackTalkBook.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today is spirit day--support LGBT youth

Yesterday I got an email letter from Brian Pines of the "It Gets Better" Project. I know there has been some controversy around the project--some saying that it has devolved away from its original mission to support queer youth and the bullying that they endure in school. Some saying that it's message is too feel-good and doesn't do enough in terms of activism. But I suppose I'm a moderate in the sense that I think any message that attempts to reassure and tell a teenager that they aren't alone--that there are others who have been through similar experiences--who were bullied--who thought about suicide--who didn't know who to turn to--that things get better--that they aren't alone--that there are people and organizations who can help...I think that's not a bad message to send out.

So today, October 20, is Spirit Day--a day that the "It Gets Better" Project has marked for support of LGBT youth.

I, unfortunately, do not own anything purple, but I DO support queer youth and queer people and their right for society to recognize their humanity. And I support our society growing and progressing so that we are inclusive of all people -- so that we will stand up to bullying and support queer youth especially who may feel alienated in their homes, schools, communities.

And I found this image--and if we replace "purple" with "LGBT/Queer" youth, then I think it's quite appropriate:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mixed race in America -- New York Times edition

Over the year, the New York Times seems to be doing more pieces on multiracial Americans. I'm not sure why this focus--or perhaps it's not a focus and it's just that as someone who is interested in multiracial issues, I'm more attuned to it.

[Aside: Actually, the ARE doing a series called "Race Remixed" -- I've posted links to some of the pieces in the past, but if you click here you can see other essays in this series]

Anyway, this morning I woke up and saw this video on their home page:

with this accompanying article (click link).

One of the things I was struck by in the above video are comments from the white parents who adopted bi-racial (black-white) children. The mother says that she does not think of their family as mixed--that they are "just a family." The father acknowledges the stares and comments that they received in the 1970s and says that they experienced racism on behalf of their children.

While there is a part of me that has a problem with the color blind rhetoric of "we're just a family"--there's another part of me--the part that looks ahead to my own future family that will be formed out of adoption, and wonders if I, too, will want to claim that we are "just a family"--one that challenges the nuclear norm of biological, same race, families but still a family none-the-less. As for experiencing racism on behalf of your child, I'm not sure that parents experience racism for their children so much as they may (esp. if they are white parents who perhaps had not been conscious of their white privilege or racism before) be experiencing racism with their children. Because I guarantee that the targets of the racist comments are not just the parents but the children as well.

[Aside: If you read the article, you will realize that the Dragans (the parents) are not clueless to racism and are not people who acted in the past or the present in a color-blind manner--which makes me wonder if their comments were edited out of a larger context (which often happens when you are filming/interviewing someone). The article is much more nuanced and complex in how they handled racist incidents in their family, although I still think the question of how or if one should "normalize" one's multiracial family experience is interesting to think about]

However, as someone who is not yet a parent and not multiracial herself, I'm curious what other folks think about this piece and the idea of whether a multiracial adoptee family can ever be (or should ever be) "just a family" and whether one can experience racism on behalf of one's children. Thoughts?

Friday, October 7, 2011

R.I.P. to the world's most famous mixed-race adoptee -- Steve Jobs

As most everyone around the world knows by now, Steve Jobs passed away at the age of 56, succumbing to his long-time battle with pancreatic cancer. Quite frankly it’s amazing that he lasted as long as he did. I know his form of pancreatic cancer was an extraordinarily rare form that actually responds to cancer treatment, which is why after his diagnosis in 2004 he has done as well as he had. But I also know that typically a pancreatic cancer diagnosis means that most people die within a year (this was true of a maternal aunt of mine, my cousin’s mother-in-law, and a friend’s mother).

There have been tributes galore to Jobs, heralding him as a technology and taste pioneer—a revolutionary of design—someone who literally changed the way the world interacts with one another. Like many people, I learned about Jobs’ death by reading about it on a Mac device (one of 5 that we own—yes, my household has drunk the Apple kool-aid). And in reading about the many details of Jobs’ life, one that has emerged (or two I suppose) is that he was adopted by two working-class white parents and raised in the Bay Area of California and that his birth parents were graduate students who met in Michigan—his birth mother was a white American woman and his birth father was a Syrian international student.

Which makes Jobs one of the most famous mixed-race American adoptees.

Although I suppose it also begs the question about whether we would consider the child of a Syrian father and white-American mother “mixed-race” – because people from the Middle East, depending on their particular ethnic and national background, identify as “Caucasian” or “Asian” or “African.” None-the-less, the fact that Syrians are claiming Jobs as their own (declaring him the most famous Syrian to have passed in recent memory) means that he is at least seen as Syrian by his ancestral homeland.

But is he Syrian? He was raised in a white household by white parents and by and large seemed to have navigated in a predominantly white world (the nascent diversity of California in the 1970s not-withstanding). By all accounts he did not have a close relationship with his birth parents—he wasn’t really in touch with either one. And I can’t really find anything that suggests that Jobs was curious about his Syrian heritage, at least not curious enough that it would come up on a google search or appear in one of the many obits about his life that have been appearing in every magazine, newspaper, and blog.

I guess what I’m asking is, if race is a social construction—is ethnicity constructed as well? Can you really be Syrian if you were not raised Syrian? And particularly since Jobs, for all intents and purposes, appeared to navigate the world as a white man, is this, indeed what he was?

Of course, like everyone else, Jobs was so much more than just the sum of his race, ethnicity and gender. This is the man who wasn’t afraid to drop out of school and to take courses that appealed to him and to be a perfectionist. Most of all, it’s the words of his commencement address to Stanford University that I think is a great summation of what his life represented: Stay hungry, stay foolish. Great words for all of us to live by.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An open letter to the UC Berkley College Republicans and their misuse of the concept of racism

An Open Letter to the UC Berkley College Republicans,

I just read an article in the on-line version of the San Francisco Chronicle that you will be holding an affirmative action bake sale on Tuesday, Oct. 27 as a way of mocking your fellow students' support of SB185--a bill that would allow the UC system to consider issues of race and ethnicity when considering admissions criteria.

On your Facebook page (listed as "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" you say that

"Our bake sale will be at the same time and location of a phone bank which will be making calls to urge Gov. Brown to sign the bill. The purpose of the event is to offer another view to this policy of considering race in university admissions. The pricing structure of the baked goods is meant to be satirical, while urging students to think more critically about the implications of this policy."

and then you go on to offer the following price list:

White/Caucasian: $2.00
Asian/Asian American: $1.50
Latino/Hispanic: $1.00
Black/African American: .75 cents
Native American: .25 cents

.25 cents off for all Women.

Additionally, on your Facebook Page, you claim that

"The Berkeley College Republicans firmly believe measuring any admit's merit based on race is intrinsically racist."

Racist. . . really???

Do you even KNOW what the concept of "racism" is actually rooted in? Do you actually KNOW the history of the United States--the full and real history of the United States--about what made America so great--what made us a super power? Free labor and cheap labor--which means exploited labor. And for the most part, it was a stratified labor system that targeted people based on (wait for it!) THEIR RACIAL DIFFERENCE FROM THE PEOPLE IN POWER (ie: white folks).

Chattel slaves from Africa were taken and exploited based on the belief of their racial difference (read inferiority). Understanding the history of this exploitation--the systematic belief in one group's inferiority to another. Understanding the workings of hegemony (read some Antonio Gramsci--you're college students and should know how to parse political theory) means that when you use a word like "racist" to describe people who are invested in a system of "racism" you should use this term ACCURATELY. You are, after all college students at one of the finest institutions in the nation. But your mis-use of the word "racist"--as if the word "racist" was synonymous with paying attention to racial difference--as if you actually believe (which you probably do, which is so sad since you are supposed to be among our nation's best and brightest) that there's this level playing field. That all races are equal. That there's no need to have a system in place that recognizes the historic oppression and systematic subordination of groups of people based on skin color/racial difference. That there's no need to try to rectify for this imbalance--to try to correct for centuries of WHITE PRIVILEGE and WHITE SUPREMACY that have kept non-white students from institutions of higher education.

If you want to use the word "racist" correctly, let me re-direct you to your own price listing.

Which is, in my opinion....racist.

The Blogger of Mixed Race America and all people who understand what words actually mean and who understand the basic concept of racism.

[UPDATE: 9/27/11: Since this blog is called "Mixed Race America" I should have originally mentioned that of the many problems and offenses that the price list of the bake sale raises, the exclusion or lack of recognition of multiracial people seems glaring. Also, this is a quote from the president of the UC Berkeley College Republican from CNN's website: "We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point," Lewis wrote in response to upheaval over the bake sale. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender." (BIG SIGH) Well I'll say this, the kid is getting his 15+ minutes of fame]

Monday, September 19, 2011

Putting my money where my mouth (or ethics) is

So there's this weird American idiom, "Putting my money where my mouth is"--and I'm not even sure how apropos it is for the post I'm going to write, but somehow that's what came to mind as a title when I thought about recounting a recent decision that Southern Man and I just made.

We have decided that it's time for the house to be painted--a daunting prospect because while it's not a large house that we have, it is an original mill house from 1949 with real wood siding--and since it's the South, it means that paint peels and you have to re-paint or at least touch-up your house every 5-7 years if you have real wood siding. Which is also an expensive prospect. I think we'd even think about doing the job ourselves, except we both have a healthy fear of heights and it is a two-story house we're talking about (and it would just look a little odd to only have the first floor painted).

Anyway, we have been interviewing painters this week and the first and lowest bid that we got is from a Painter I'll call "Joe" (not his real name). Now what you need to know is that I live in a very liberal town--it's not even the college town that Southern U. is in--it's the uber-liberal, crunchy-granola, recently gentrified formerly working class enclave that is located right next to the college town. It has the highest property taxes in the entire state because it's a small town with many residences but a tiny downtown business district and a population that likes slow to no growth. It's the kind of place that had Obama placards all over the place, where you can actually see the occassional same-sex couple holding hands (just saw two women strolling down my neighborhood the other day), and where the locavore movement reigns supreme.

So Joe comes and he's a chatty guy--mostly Southern Man is showing him around the house since I've holed up in my office to try to finish some fellowship applications. But I get called out so that I can get introduced to Joe and to see if I have any additional questions. I mention to Joe that the last time I had the house painted, I hadn't been that happy with the company I used because they were these contractors who farmed the work out to other people who weren't part of their company. And before I could explain further, Joe says:

"Oh, I use my own crew, and I never hire Hispanics"

Cue awkward pause.

Joe seemed oblivious at our discomfort and just kept talking away about what he and his crew would do to the house. And then, for some inexplicable reason, he showed us pictures of his cessna right before he left. He also, oddly enough, didn't try to shake hands with us. And he seemed, as Southern Man put it, odd and awkward, especially when I came out of the house.

The thing is, it's clear that Joe knows what he's talking about in terms of painting--and that he'd do a good job (we were referred to him by a very reputable source). But the minute he made that remark about "Hispanics" there was no way we could hire him. And truthfully, I wonder if we threw him off when I walked out of the house--that he may not have been expecting and inter-racial couple (although again, he's sort've an idiot if he didn't think that making a remark about "Hispanics" to an inter-racial couple in a liberal town wasn't going to go over well).

Anyway, the next guy is about $2000 above his price, but I think we have to do it--because at the end of the day, if I just talk the talk but don't walk the walk, what does that say about me as someone committed to issues of racial awareness/diversity/anti-racism?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Are Jewish people a race?

The question in this blog's title was one posed to me by one of my student's after class recently. Actually, the question was more sophisticated. I had been lecturing, in class, about terms like "race," "racism," "anti-racism," and "white privilege." And I had talked about the racial pentagram--the way that we (meaning most people in the U.S.) talk about race as if there were 5 predominant categories: black, white, Asian American, Latino/Hispanic, and American Indian/Native American. I said that of course I wasn't saying that this was a good thing or trying to reinforce that we should only acknowledge 5 and only 5 races--that in fact our understanding of racial groups and racial formation is an ongoing and flexible thing--and that we may be talking about a racial hexagram soon since increasingly Arab and Muslim Americans are being racialized into their own category in the U.S.

So my student, after class, asked what I thought about Jewish people being considered a separate race in the U.S. And I said that certainly not that long ago, Jewish people were, indeed, considered a separate race in the U.S. and certainly around the world. And that anti-semitism is still with us--there are people who continue to discriminate against Jewish people based simply, sadly, and solely on their Jewishness. But I also said that with respect to how we think about race currently in the U.S. it was complicated because similar to either mixed race individuals whose multiraciality may include whiteness or with Latino/Hispanics, Jewish people whose phenotype trends white have white skin privilege because their Jewishness, at least at first sight, is not going to be apparent. And I said that like with all types of identities, there are elements of intersectionally that informs times when we exercise more or less privilege and find ourselves in oppressed or minoritized positions versus in majority positions. As an Asian American woman, I am seemingly in a minoritized position by my race and gender, yet as a straight identified, able bodied person who holds a PhD and a position at a research university, I exercise privilege in very tangible ways.

So I thought about all of this when I watched the film Sarah's Key yesterday. It is a film that I hope everyone watches, because it tells an incredibly moving story. And more importantly, it reminds us of an underdiscussed moment in history--the round-up and deportation of over 13,000 Jewish immigrants and refugees (and their French-born children and grandchildren) on July 16 and 17, 1942 in Vichy France--what is commonly referred to as the Vel d'Hiv (a shortening of Velodrome d'Hiver--which was the winter stadium in which these 13,000 people languished for days before being transported to transit camps in the countryside before being finally shipped off to Auschwitz). Click here for an article about the filmmaker's motivations for making the film.

The film was incredibly moving and powerful -- and an important scene in the film (and don't worry, this isn't going to spoil anything in terms of a plot point in the story) is when one character expresses disgust at the way that the average French citizens did nothing to stop this atrocity. And another character asks her what she would have done had she been there--how would she have protested or tried to stop this from happening? Would she have the courage, during the German occupation of France, to risk her life or the lives of her family to help a group of people being persecuted by the state?

This is the question I ask myself when I insert myself back in WWII in California when posters announcing the roundup of Japanese Americans were plastered all over the state. Or in the mid-1950s on segregated busses in the South. Or in the era of apartheid in South Africa. I think we all want to believe that we'd be brave--we'd stand up and speak truth to power--that we would risk our lives for our beliefs. But I don't know.

And honestly, if we look at history, over and over again, people often don't. They look after themselves rather than others. There are, of course, extraordinary exceptions--and these exceptions are important. At any rate, I think that films like Sarah's Key and my student's question are important reminders about the fact that it was not that long ago that Jewish people were racialized into an oppressed category in the U.S. -- the Holocaust may feel like the past, but it was not that long ago that Hitler's final solution was enacted all over Europe and 6 million people were murdered because enough people didn't believe in their humanity. And that is the ultimate form of racism--believing that another race isn't even human.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yes, I'm still here!

Hello readers of Mixed Race America--if there are any of you left. I realized, today, that it had been about a month and a half since I last wrote a post. And for that, I apologize. I ended up taking a vacation--truly my first in well over a year, maybe two years. And when I mean vacation, I mean that I did not do any work. I was not checking email. I was not reading the news or paying attention to the news or reading any of the usual blogs that I typically read.

You see, Southern Man and I finally went on our honeymoon--the one we had originally planned a year ago but had to delay since I was in the middle of chemo. So we had 2 and a half weeks in Northern California and for 8 glorious days we were in a house in wine country with no t.v., no internet--we were unplugged. And it was great.

And then when I got back home, I immediately got on a plane for Toronto, where my cousin A was getting married. And, again, I did no work--it was all a big blur of wedding rehearsal (I was a reader at the wedding--as I joked with folks, they picked me because they figured that as an English professor they knew I was literate), rehearsal dinner, family gatherings pre- and post- wedding, and the big day itself.

Anyway, all of this means that this blog went on hiatus. Which I probably should have taken the time to explain...but I was too busy being on vacation to remember to do this.

So now I'm back. Reality hit hard when I got off the plane and realized that classes were starting THE NEXT DAY (Southern University has a 16 week semester--I think it may be the longest in the nation because the state legislature wanted to make sure that the taxpayers were getting their moneys' worth from us lazy academics). And I'm sure that a few of my students are going to find their way to this blog this semester because one of the classes that I'm teaching is a class called . . .


Ethically I would, of course, never blog about a specific student or things that go on in the class. But I may end up sharing some stories about the pleasures and challenges of teaching a class that is focused on issues of race/anti-racism/white privilege and multiraciality/mixed-race issues. Because I think it is challenging--to have honest dialogue or attempt to have honest dialogue about different perspectives and opinions about race and anti-racism. The students are great--I think we're both feeling each other out, but I think they are willing to be really open (some of them already have been open) and it's exciting to think about the kinds of conversations that will be happening throughout the semester.

I'll wrap things up now, but I just want to say to any loyal readers of MRA still out there, don't worry--I'm back now and promise to be more diligent about my blogging. In the weeks to come I'll share stories about being back in CA, about Toronto's multiracial complexion (and the multiracial complexion of my extended Chinese Jamaican family), and of course things that are in the news--like the murder in Mississippi of the black autoworker (who also happened to be gay--although authorities don't believe that was a factor in his murder, but who knows) by the white teen who ran over him in a pickup truck and reportedly yelled racial epithets at him as he did. And I'm going to blog about The Help. Because I've decided after reading an interview with Viola Davis (one of the leads in the film) that I should see the film first and then criticize it. Fair enough--I like Viola Davis so I'm willing to pay matinee price. And of course I'd love to hear your comments on any and all of these things.

Friday, July 15, 2011

T.G.I.F.: Maurice Lim Miller & Family Independence Initiative

This morning I read an article in the New York Times about a unique program, the Family Independence Initiative, which is, in their own words:

"a national center for anti-poverty innovation that over this last decade has demonstrated that investing in people’s strengths and initiative delivers stronger, more sustainable and cost effective outcomes for working poor families."

As I read the article, a name recurred throughout--Maurice Lim Miller, the person credited for creating Family Independence Initiative, which began as a research project (inspired by then Oakland mayor, Jerry Brown) to make families be the drivers and leaders of figuring out the resources that they needed to get themselves out of poverty. The NY Times article and the website for FII describes their goals and process in detail -- but it was this description of Lim Miller that left me intrigued:

"Lim Miller, whose mother was an immigrant from Mexico who worked multiple jobs to support her children, had previously spent 22 years building Asian Neighborhood Design, a youth development and job training program, for which he was honored by President Clinton during the 1999 State of the Union address."

Intrigued by someone with a Mexican immigrant mother, the surname "Lim" embedded in his name, as well as his work with Asian Neighborhood Design, I decided to google Maurice Lim Miller, and this is what I found.

Maurice Lim Miller's parents (father, Chinese, mother, Mexican) crossed the Mexican border in the mid-1950s so that Miller could be born a U.S. citizen, and then they crossed back into Mexico. But at the age of 2, Lim Miller's parents had split, and his mother moved him and his older half-sister to Northern California. Insisting that Lim Miller got to college to get their family out of poverty, he received an Engineering degree from U.C. Berkeley, worked at Union Carbide, and then was drafted and was shipped off to Viet Nam. It was there that Lim Miller (who identified strongly as Mexican but who, because of his Asian features, was never fully accepted by the Chicano community) began to understand what it meant to be an Asian American:

“Being in Vietnam politicized me about being Asian,” he said.“I was pissed off all the time having to defend myself as an Asian.”

When he returned from Viet Nam he began working in political activist organizations in Chinatown and then got involved with Asian Neighborhood Design and eventually helped to develop Family Independence Initiative.

[If you want to read a full description of Lim Miller's life, google his name and find the pdf file for Asian Neighborhood Design's report]

For more on Lim Miller and FII, click on this link to hear an interview with Crosscurrents on KALW News and click here for the transcript of the interview with Holly Kernan.

Maurice Lim Miller literally personifies what it means to be a Mixed Race American. And Family Independence Initiative empowers families and individuals to make the best decisions for themselves--to be the drivers and leaders of their own success. And for that both are deserving of the T.G.I.F. award--because it is a truly Great and Impossible Feat to empower people to solve their own problems and to recognize that people who are living in impoverished circumstances aren't perennially marked by their poverty but, instead, can help one another find ways to strengthen themselves and each other.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why is a mixed race character in this white novel?

So I'm back after a 2-week stint at the Project Narrative Summer Institute at Ohio State University. For any humanities or even social science scholars out there who are looking to deepen their understanding and appreciation of narrative theory/narratology, I highly recommend PNSI. It was an intense 2 weeks--I feel like my brain expanded in a myriad of ways--and I am hopeful that the things I learned and the relationships I developed with my fellow PNSI seminar members will be long-lasting.

But I digress.

The above explains my lack of blogging over the last 3 weeks (I came back a week ago but needed a week to decompress after such an intense experience) and why I have been thinking about certain narrative elements in the fiction I'm reading. In this case, why the race of certain characters is either pronounced/announced or muted/invisible/assumed.

The book in question, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, is a story that I quite liked. In fact, I got to a certain point in the narrative where I couldn't put it down but simply had to keep reading it until I found out what "happened" (so to speak) to the main protagonist, Rose Edelstein, the first person narrator of Bender's novel, whom we are introduced to on the eve of her 9th birthday and whom we follow through her young adulthood over the course of more than a decade. The central conceit of this work of magical-realist fiction is that Rose can taste the emotional life of all the people who handled the ingredients that comprise a dish. In the case of the title food--the lemon cake that her mother prepares for Rose tastes hollow and full of emptiness, and every subsequent meal that her mother makes reveals the same flavor of unfulfilled promise and quiet desperation that her mother's perky exterior masks but that Rose's newfound taste buds discern.

However, my quibble isn't with the premise (which I accept--along with the other fantastical elements woven into this realist novel) but with the introduction of the character George--the best friend to Rose's older brother Joseph:
"He was Joseph's best and only friend. George Malcolm: half white, half black, with messy tousled hair, rumpled and tugged between kind of curly and extremely curly. Once, a year or so before, he'd been at our house and he'd pulled out a lock of his hair and used it to teach me about eddies and helixes. It's a circular current into a central station, he'd explained, giving me one to hold. I pulled on the spring." (31)

Then there's this description, much later in the book:

"The nurse, a black woman with a perfectly shaped nose and red-tinted hair, said he was getting tested at the moment by a specialist but that I was welcome to wait." (286)

In both these accounts, the "blackness" of these characters does not seem to have anything to do with their function in the novel. With the exception of George using his hair to demonstrate a helix (and one can imagine that nearly anyone with curly hair could have produced this type of demonstration), his mixed-race status is never dealt with again. In other words, in terms of what he is doing in the novel (and George actually does a lot--he is a major-minor character, if you will) George's race or racial difference from Rose and her family is never a question, a point of contention, or important from the perspective of plot or character development. It's simply a non-issue. Similarly, the race of the nurse in this brief sentence seems a non-starter--she appears on two pages of the novel, and her race apparently has no impact on her function as a nurse or her interactions with Rose or any other character.

Which brings me to the issue of racial difference. How do I know that Rose is white or even is Rose white? Her race, like that of most characters in the novel, is never announced. Indeed, the only two characters who are racially marked are George and the unnamed nurse--all other characters, major or minor, are never noted for their race--although Rose does reveal that her father's family is Jewish. So to the degree that we read and understand Jewishness as a type of racial category--as a type of whiteness--then Rose does, in fact, announce her family to be white.

Yet even her father's Jewishness is not pronounced or seemingly has anything to do with family dynamics, background, characterization, or plot. It simply seems to be a piece of information that, at some point, Rose shares with readers in her first person narration--in the same way that she informs us that George is mixed-race and that the nurse is black.

So why does Bender do this?

In a novel set in Los Angeles in our contemporary period, it seems very odd that her book isn't populated with more people of color--particularly Asian American and Chicanos/Latinos.

[Aside: although Bender doesn't specify an exact date, there are computers and the internet towards the middle-end of the novel, so my best guess is that it opens sometime in the mid to late 90s and closes in the first decade of the 21st century--the great thing about setting the novel in LA instead of NYC is that you don't have to put in a reference to 9/11 or the twin towers if you don't want to--your periodization can remain ambiguous.]

But even if Rose and her family live in a very white neighborhood (which seems to be the case), the fact that whiteness is the default setting--the universally taken-for-granted identity--the identity that need not be named--remains a point of annoyance for me. Rose's best friend--her neighbors--her class mates and teachers--are not racially marked and thus I think most readers assume that they must be white--a point emphasized through the way that Bender has clearly marked George as mixed-race within the first 6 chapters of the book. The fact that she goes to the trouble to mark the nurse as black, even though her blackness seems to do nothing for the narrative, again highlights the seeming racelessness of all other characters--a racelessness we are to see as synonymous with being white.

Which is a problem. To believe that whiteness is a universal--that it is a form of racelessness--is a HUGE problem in our day and age when trying to understand the ways in which people of color are racialized and the ways in which racism operates--because this IS one of the very subtle ways that racism operates--as a form of normalizing certain races (white) and emphasizing difference for all others (the non-white).

I did like The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake--and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good summer read, particularly if you like quirky magical-realist novels (although it has an air of melancholy to it--so don't pick it up expecting a light-hearted read). But I am disappointed in Bender's bow to convention (which I'm sure she didn't even realize she was doing) by marking some characters race but not all. Which makes me, particularly sad.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

All things Asian American

So I know that this blog skews Asian American -- which I suppose is a function of the fact that I study/research/teach Asian American studies, and I identify as Asian American myself. What this means is that folks send me lots o'links to all thing Asian American. Sometimes I sit on them for months, thinking that I'll write a whole blog post about them. And then months past and what we have is a situation where I realize that the relevancy of the moment has passed and now I have all these links.


Here's a few of the links I've been sent over the last few months. I'll include a little blurb by me, but for the most part I think you should check them out if you too are interested in things Asian American. And if you would like to see more diverse content on my blog, feel free to write to me (you can find my email address by looking at the sidebar and the "About me" link) and send me more links.

*Asian Americans & You Tube
This is not going to be a surprise for most folks--that Asian Americans have adopted YouTube as their own network--African Americans have BET and Asian Americans have YouTube (OK, that is an imperfect analogy for several reasons, but you get my gist). Anyway, this is an NPR piece about Wong Fu Production and Ryan Higa--Asian American young men who have created YouTube mini-movies that have reached millions--yes, MILLIONS. Check out Agents of Secret Stuff--it's a bit masculinist and sophomoric at times (I mean, these guys are straight out of college or in college) but it's also interesting for the way it handles issues of race and being Asian American, which is that it doesn't--it normalizes it--which is fascinating in itself. And Higa is pretty funny!

*What it means to be an Asian American man?
So Wesley Yang has written a piece in New York magazine about what it means, to him, to be Asian American and the stereotypes that cohere around Asian Americans and the fact that being a model minority is not all its cracked up to be, especially with that damn bamboo ceiling that no one can crack [insert Panda joke here]. The thing is, for all the hand-wringing that Yang does, there really isn't anything new that he's talking about (for 11 pages--it's a looooonnnnnggg essay) for folks who work in Asian American studies. In fact, I was formulating a response when a much smarter and cooler colleague, erin Khue Ninh wrote her own trenchant and insightful piece in The Huffington Post directly answering many of the points that Yang raised in his article. In particular, I was SO GLAD that erin dealt with the sexism inherent in this essay--because one of the things that bothered me A LOT was the idea that somehow Asian American men have made it in America only when they are able to have sex, at will, with white women--this is erin:
Learning to become an "alpha male" who can confidently paw strange women is a sexist way of dealing with the sexism directed against Asian men. Needing to bed white people as proof that you've made it is a racist way of dealing with the racism directed against Asians. Yang claims in interviews here and here that his article doesn't sanction either of those aims per se, but in that case he really should not have wrapped with this particular call to arms: "we will need more [Asians] ... willing ... to beat people up, to seduce women."

*More Asian-white inter-racial romance
The inspiration for my last post on inter-racial romance was actually this piece in The New York Times by Diane Farr (who apparently used to be on Num3ers, which I've never seen), a white woman who falls in love (gasp!) with a Korean American man (they're married with 3 children). The spin, if you will, is that it's not just her parents who object to her cross-racial dalliances, it's HIS Korean parents who are racist and who object to their son dating across the color line. She's apparently written a book about the whole experience of her inter-racial love. I'm sure Wesley Yang will feel very encouraged to know that at least one Asian American man has succeeded in America by bedding and wedding a white woman.

*2011 APIA Spoken Word and Poetry Summit--Twin Cities
If you are in the Twin Cities area August 4-7, please check out the APIA spoken word and poetry summit. They've got a great line up of folks--some very familiar and revered, like Lawson Inada and David Mura and newer/up-and-coming artists. If I weren't going to be on my honeymoon (yep, Southern Man and I are finally taking our delayed honeymoon in August!) I'd consider buying a ticket to the Twin Cities/Minneapolis and enjoying the festival.

That's it folks--by the way, tomorrow I'm heading to Columbus, Ohio for a 2-week narrative theory seminar. So I may be taking a bit of a blogging vacation--if you have any recommendations of eats in the Columbus area, please let me know in the comment section!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Politics of Inter-racial Romance

Yesterday I shared a story with a student, "H," about why I wasn't attending a wedding that my husband and his family were at that very same afternoon. My husband and his brother had been asked, a month ago, by their father (my father-in-law if you will) to help work at the wedding of a close family friend--to act as bartenders essentially. I was invited to attend as a guest. Now, I've been with Southern Man going on 4 1/2 years and I have come to know and love his family. So I felt that it might be time to start voicing some of my more honest opinions and concerns with my in-laws.

[Aside: For non-regular readers of this blog, you should know that Southern Man and his family are white--Scotch-Irish on his father's side and southern Italian on his mother's side, which for the South means that my in-laws, when they were married in the 1960s, were actually seen to be in an inter-racial relationship! My mother-in-law was seen as being "ethnic,"--because her parents were immigrants, because she was darker complexioned, because she cooked with garlic, and because she was not from the South (she grew up outside of Pittsburgh).]

So when my father-in-law invited me to attend this wedding, which would be an hour away from our liberal college town in a more suburban and conservative area of the state, I said:

"'C,' I feel comfortable with you and hope you won't judge me too harshly for what I'm about to ask and confess. Here's the thing: I get racially paranoid around groups of all-white people I don't know. Will there be mostly white people at this wedding?"

My father in law was pretty taken aback, I think, although to his credit, he tried to not to act too surprised.

[Aside: my sister in law "L," who is engaged to an African American man, completely cracked up at my question, which made me feel better because she understood where I was coming from]

"C" (my father-in-law) assured me that there would be "diverse" people at the wedding--which was his way of saying that I wouldn't be the only spot of color among the 300 guests.

However, later that night, Southern Man said that he thought his father was being overly optimistic, so I should just stay home, especially since I wouldn't know anyone outside of my in-laws and because I wouldn't even be able to hang out with Southern Man since he would be tending bar.

When I told this story to my student, "H," she and I began talking about the politics of inter-racial romance--especially what it means to be a politically progressive Asian American woman interested in issues of social justice and aware of how Asian American men have been viewed in larger society, romantically speaking, who dates/marries white men.

In other words, how do I keep from being a walking cliche?

The truth is, I'm not sure I do. I mean, I am aware that when people see me and Southern Man, we do not upset the status quo--after all, an Asian American woman with a white man is a fairly standard pairing in real life and even in infrequent reflections in popular culture: Klinger dated a Korean woman on M*A*S*H, Sandra Oh's character on Grey's Anatomy first dated a black surgeon then a white surgeon, that Asian American best friend on The Gilmore Girls dated a white guy, and if I could think of more depictions of Asian American women in mainstream media I guarantee that if they're depicted as being romantically involved with someone it's not with a fellow Asian and usually with a white guy.

[Aside: Or at least I'd say this is true in cosmopolitan areas and college towns--the truth is, we've had our fair share of hard looks in West Virginia and more rural areas of the South--this is where the idea of Asian as honorary white really breaks down--you may be OK eating at their restaurants but you don't want your son and esp. your daughter marrying one of THOSE people]

I am a professor of Asian American literature who studies mixed-race issues--I KNOW the politics of inter-racial romance and especially the way that desire and race have been coded in the U.S.--the ways in which Asian men, in particular, have been feminized in and demonized, so that they are not seen as desirable sexual partners.

[Aside: If you don't believe me, check out the work of scholar Gina Marchetti and Darrell Hamamoto, among others--and the excellent documentaries: Slaying the Dragon (1988) and Slaying the Dragon: Reloaded (2011).]

So why am I married to Southern Man?


I love him. As I write this, I know that it's not that simple. I've written in the past about this very fact--the ways in which I, and others, are impacted by internalized notions of race and beauty. The way I, and others, are influenced by society and popular culture into thinking that there are certain partners who are more desirable and attractive than others. I know that part of my attraction to Southern Man is bound up in the many reasons I'm supposed to find white men attractive, above and beyond other men. And I know that on the surface we look like we are perpetuating certain stereotypes of inter-racial dating models, particularly those that have a history of neo-colonialism and imperialism in Asian nations where the U.S. military has invaded throughout the 20th C.

But I do love him. And there are things I love about him that aren't reducible to either his race or ethnicity or mine (our shared love of dogs, of cooking, of politics). And I think deciding that I couldn't or shouldn't date him because I want to be politically correct--because I want to live the political progressive politics that I espouse--wouldn't ring true.

I think what's difficult is that no one questions the same-raced couples. There is an assumption that if you are of the same racial group and you are dating or partnered, this makes sense. Because this is still seen as "the norm." So it's only when people fall outside of this pattern that questions of politics arise. But as with thinking of the term "ethnic" as referring not only to people of color but to encompass white Americans as well, I think we should begin asking what the politics of NON-inter-racial couples says about our society and culture--why, in a time of increased globalization and an attention to social justice issues--why wouldn't more people date across ethnic, cultural, and racial lines?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A community of one's own

So I just got back this past weekend from the American Literature Association Conference in my old stomping grounds of Boston. As the plane was landing at Logan Airport, I experienced a rush of nostalgia and affection as I scanned the surrounding Boston area, trying to find familiar places, like Mugar library at Boston University, Fenway Park, the Prudential tower, and of course the Charles River. And in the 3 days I spent walking around downtown Boston (and for anyone who lives in the area who knows me, I apologize in advance for not contacting you--I was in conference mode and barely left the Westin at Copley Center, except to eat good sushi and Vietnamese food), I reminisced about my grad student days and enjoyed my time with my fellow American literature colleagues--my academic community.

And 2 weeks ago, I found myself in New Orleans experiencing a different community at yet another conference, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS). This is my go-to conference--the one that I rarely miss (in fact, I've only missed 2 conferences in the last 11 years). This is the conference I feel most at home--the kind of friendly conference where you can usually just strike up a conversation with someone and grab a bite together or strike up a conversation with others at the hotel bar that you barely know and make friends. I feel like I get my batteries re-charged at AAAS because not only am I in a space (roughly 600+ attendees this year) where folks are interested in Asian American issues/scholarship, it's also a place where most folks ARE Asian American.

[Note: But not all--and I certainly don't want to make it sound like the only people who do Asian American studies or who are interested in Asian American issues are Asian American--or that the conference and association isn't welcoming to non-Asian Americans, because that couldn't be further from the truth!]

Anyway, now that I'm back from these back-to-back conferences, I've been thinking about community and what we mean when we talk about community. I think sometimes in academic settings, especially when one is dealing with ethnic studies and/or racial issues, "community" signals non-academic folk who are "real" people with "real" issues and who are often dealing with issues of power/oppression. For example, in many urban places, like Boston, there are Chinatowns that are no longer just havens for Chinese in America but places where other recent Asian immigrants (Vietnamese, Hmong, Cambodian) also live/work and who are oftentimes disenfranchised in terms of language (for those who are not fluent in English), legal resources (for those who may be extralegal or just aren't familiar with their legal rights), and culture/education (for those who may not have graduated with higher degrees or whose lack of English makes their degrees not as useful--there are many cases of recent immigrants who were doctors and lawyers in their home countries who come to the U.S. and work as janitors and cab drivers because of the lack of English language skills and/or because their degrees don't translate, so to speak, in the U.S.).

But is this the only way to talk about "community"? I often wonder if it's a bit condescending--especially in academic settings--to speak of "the community" as if people aren't speaking for themselves. Now, it might be that people aren't listening to them because of issues of access to power/a microphone/soapbox in which people can vent the issues that they are most concerned about. But I have been thinking, lately, about what people mean when they talk about "community" especially with respect to ethnic and racial communities since they are often so diverse in terms of class and religion, and if we're talking about a racial group like Asian Americans, then "community" almost seems non-existent, except in the context of political activists or academics since the issues that face most ethnic enclaves are specific to that group (Koreans in Koreatown, Los Angeles, Vietnamese in East New Orleans, Burmese in Chapel Hill).

At AAAS I attended the Mixed Race Section meeting, and I was acutely aware that I was the only person (at least I believe I was the only person) who was not multiracial. I teach on this subject and research this subject and my blog is called "Mixed Race America"--but I am not mixed race myself and I do not consider myself a part of the mixed race community because I do not identify as multiracial (although I might consider myself multiethnic, but that's another discussion). And I think that's an important distinction because while I am very interested and invested in multiracial issues and my research and teaching encompasses many aspects of mixed race studies, it is not a personal identification and I don't wish to inappropriately appropriate a community identification.

And yet...it does make me wonder about people who have cross-cultural and ethnic and racial interests. The African American woman who loves manga and K-Pop. The Asian American guy who loves salsa dancing and playing in a Cuban band. The White American woman who cooks Indian food and watches Bollywood movies. In that last instance, I wonder if folks would see the white woman as appropriating or being involved in exoticizing a culture not her own--whereas in the previous two examples, would we cry inauthenticity or appropriation or exoticization at the African American woman who learns Korean to enjoy her favorite K-Pop tunes? Or the Asian American guy whose passion is Latin music?

I don't really have answers for any of these, but I think that thinking of what we mean when we talk about "community," especially for the communities we belong to is important, both to un-fetishize "the community" as real (or the place where people "keep it real") as well as to figure out what communities we exist in or want to exist in but may not have access to (and if it's a community we don't have access to, then it can't really be our community, right?)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

APA shout out!

Just got sent this video link to a music video made by Magnetic North & Taiyo Na, featuring among many artists, Jin.

The video was made, in the words of the artists:

"In celebration of APIA Heritage Month we wanted to make this video a dedication to all the amazing people in our community. We reached out to entertainers, activists, teachers, students, actors, designers, dancers, writers, poets, bloggers, community organizers... anyone and everyone who gives our community strength, depth, beauty."

It's a veritible "Who's Who" of Asian American artists, activists, and academics. But probably my favorite shout out was from Yuri Kochiyama because she is a pioneering Asian American BAD ASS ACTIVIST!

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's May which means it's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

So out of the 3 resolutions I made for myself back on January 1, 2011, only one remains achievable (the draft of my manuscript)--I failed to blog every week and to train for the 4 mile run I signed up for. Or more specifically, I realized that it was overly optimistic for me to think that my fatigue issues post-chemo and post-surgery would be resolved to the point where I could run a race.

[Note: here is where I have to invoke the advice of my uncle "N" who warned me NOT to try to do something foolish like train for a race until a full year after my bi-lateral mastectomy surgery since my body is in repair mode for a full year post-chemo/post-surgery. I, of course, ignored him and he, of course, was right]

I start off this way to say that I KNOW over two weeks since my last post (sigh).

OK, apologies and beating myself up over--this post is really about:


OK, not really.

But it is Asian Pacific American Heritage month. I have blogged about this month before (click here), so in honor of this year's APA heritage month, I wanted to highlight some things that you may find of interest.

First, big props to my friend and colleague Stephen Sohn of Stanford University, who guest curates a post on the Lantern Review blog--a journal devoted to Asian American poetry. Stephen talks about "food pornography" and shares his own creative writing on the blog (which I think is AWESOME)--here's the link. I hope anyone who reads his post will be inspired to write their own food-pornography inspired poem!

Second, this week in New Orleans, May 18-22 the Association for Asian American Studies holds its annual meeting--and this year the theme is: FOOD! Actually, more broadly, the theme is "Consumption" as in "Consuming Asian America." For anyone in the New Orleans area, please check out the conference--you can find the conference program in pdf format on the AAAS website. There's a great line-up of presentations and roundtables and literary readings--I'm VERY EXCITED to be going to the Big Easy where I'll hang out with friends, get invigorated and intellectually stimulated in all things Asian American, and eat REALLY GREAT FOOD, like at The Palace Cafe, which is right across the street from the conference hotel. What's more appropriate than eating good food at an Asian American conference where the theme is consumption??!!

Finally, for anyone who is interested in issues related to illness/disability studies, let me direct you to the Call For Papers of Amerasia Journal--a special issue, co-guest edited by yours truly and my friend-colleague, James Lee (UC Irvine) -- the topic is "The State of Illness and Disability in Asian America" and we are very excited to be working in the intersection of two important and emergent fields of study. You can find the details of the CFP here--the deadline for abstracts is June 1 (I know, only 2 weeks away). But it's only a 1-page abstract and we are hoping to get not just scholarly essays but works of creative writing (fiction and non-fiction, poetry) that engages in the themes of illness/disability and Asian America.

Happy Asian American Heritage Month everyone! And while I don't recommend walking up to Asian American strangers, if there is an Asian American loved one in your life, hugs are always appreciated this month and every other month!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

post-Brown, post-Lawrence, post-hate?

I was going to blog about the ridiculousness that is known as Donald Trump and the inherent racism of the Birther phenomenon. But if you are reading this blog, chances are you understand this all, very well, and do not need me or Bob Schieffer to draw your attention to the subtle (or not so subtle) racism of the Birther movement and of Trump's latest attempts to question President Obama's credentials by wondering how he got into Harvard Law because he heard that he wasn't a "good student."

[By the way, if you want to see Seth Meyers at the recent White House Correspondent's Dinner, click here for the link--Meyers did a great job and had some great zingers, particularly about "The Donald."]

However, rather than giving more airspace to the obvious (Trump is a narcissistic opportunist) I thought I'd instead link to this article in The New York Times, "A Tipping Point for Gay Marriage?" that discusses what may be considered a watershed moment in gay rights activism--namely that we are living in a time when for a segment of the population--the "elites" as the NY Times piece calls them/us (I guess I am one of these elites--I am a liberal university professor who blogs)--espousing any attitude that is not at least tolerant of a queer lifestyle is unacceptable--which is why the prestigious Atlanta firm of King & Spaulding refused to defend the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA)--essentially, they are refusing to defend a law that would uphold marriage as defined as being between a man and a woman. They are refusing to uphold a law that discriminates against gay and lesbian couples.

The article talks about how there is a discrepancy between the "elites" and the masses--that people in legal professions or academia are more likely to see attitudes against gay marriage as discriminatory and prejudiced. And as Yale Law School professor William N. Eskridge says:

"We’re in the post-Brown era,” he said, “which for me is post-Lawrence. After Lawrence, there has been a social revolution in America."

I think that this analogy is telling. This blog is called Mixed Race America--but the idea of ending racial oppression is never only about ending racial oppression--because one is never simply reducible to a race--and because in the intersections of our many identities, sexuality and specifically the rights of queer people as being on a similar trajectory to those who fought for racial equality is instructive for us to remember. That equality against one oppression means equality against all oppressions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

150 years and one day ago...

...the U.S. Civil War began. The first skirmish at Fort Sumter (just outside the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina) resulted in the U.S. Army's surrendering to Confederate forces--and according to Ken Burns (renown documentarian of all things Civil War related) the only casualty was a Union horse who died during the barrage.

I live in the U.S. South, yet I also live in a liberal college town. And at Southern U. (a very liberal research I state university) there was nary a mention of the beginning of the Civil War. I didn't see it noted in the student newspaper, and I didn't see any evidence among my students that anyone was commemorating this event (in other words, no one was whistling Dixie or wearing confederate flag paraphanalia). But then again, my corner of the U.S. South is not mired in nostalgia for a plantation economy, say in the way that Charleston is.

When Southern Man and I spent a few days on the South Carolina coast in December (part of my post-mastectomy recovery and recuperation), one of the things I was really struck by was how SOUTHERN South Carolina felt--and how the greater Charleston area was living through a Gone with the Wind rosy-romanticized-lens of itself. There were subdivisions named after different characters from that film--and everything was named with either "Magnolia" or "Plantation" (as in a condominium called "Plantation Acres"--now why on EARTH would you want to live in a place called "Plantation Acres"??? How is that at all appealing to be associated with a system of servitude???). I imagine that if we were in Charleston now, just as we had been during the 150th anniversary of Secession (click here for an older post on this event), that we would inundated with various commemorations and celebrations and re-enactments and reminders of a Confederate past that is not really past but very present.

And one of the things that drives me slightly batty when hearing about all these commemorations is the revisionist history that people seem to want to engage in--to re-imagine that the Civil War was fought over reasons other than slavery. Indeed, if you google "cause of Civil War" the first entry you will find is this article in About.com "Top Five Causes of the Civil War" that insinuates that people have falsely believed that slavery was a main cause when in fact there were many other factors that led to the South's secession from the Union.

[Aside: If you have the stomach to go through the comment thread, you will find a very interesting cross-section of America that shows just how divisive this issue continues to be, and how much people are unwilling to look closely at race and specifically the form of institutional racism that slavery was as a leading factor in the divisiveness that was (and continues to be) the Civil War]

On the PBS News Hour last night (click here for the video) they did a segment on the Civil War that included notable historians whose expertise is in the Civil War, such as Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust. Apparently while U.S. historians are united in their agreement that slavery was the leading cause of the Civil War, a majority of Americans believe that the war was fought over "states rights."

Which is true...the right to own slaves.

Finally, let me leave you once again with the words of Larry Wilmore, who reminds us that it's not politically correct to say that the Civil War was fought over slavery, it's CORRECT, correct!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday link round-up

Well, my plans for blogging at least once a week have failed (sigh). But, I suppose it was good to at least have a goal. I could tell you about all the busy things that happened and my current adenovirus (just got diagnosed by my doctors yesterday).

Because my head feels like it's stuffed with cotton (making any original thought of my own nearly impossible--or at least I'm not confident I could articulate anything worthwhile in my state), I've decided that today would be a good day to put out some links to articles and blog posts that should give you ample food for thought:

*The New York Times has an article about how the number of young white Americans are decreasing faster than originally predicted (click here). Apparently the number of white children born in the past decade slipped 10% and it's now projected that by the year 2041 (not 2050 as originally believed) white Americans will be a minority in the U.S. overall.

*The news that white Americans are decreasing as a population may be one reason why Republicans in Mississippi desire a throwback to the days of anti-miscegenation laws. According to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling trying to gauge which candidate Mississippi GOP want to be their next president, a question about inter-racial marriage was thrown into the mix, with these results:
"We asked voters on this poll whether they think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal- 46% of Mississippi Republicans said it should be illegal to just 40% who think it should be legal. For the most part there aren't any huge divides in how voters view the candidates or who they support for the nomination based on their attitudes about interracial marriage but there are a few exceptions."

Click here for the original post on the Public Policy Polling blog and here on the original blog (sent to me courtesy of my brother "C") that led me to the PPP post.

*Of course, perhaps the Mississippi GOP are upset not just because of the decrease in white American births but because evidence of a mixed race America are abundant and apparent in their own backyards, as this New York Times article, titled "Black and White and Married in the Deep South: A Shifting Image" demonstrates--when you click on the article link, be sure to watch the video of the 2 families that the article talks about. They are visual proof that times indeed are changing, despite the 46% of GOP Mississippi-ians who want a return to the good old days of the government interfering in people's lives by telling them who they can and cannot marry. That's really what the Republican are all about, right?

*And now for something a bit lighter (but no less relevant or important), here's a piece by Jeff Yang on the anniversary of Ken's 50th birthday (as in Mattel's boy-doll Ken--Barbie's boyfriend or manfriend or maybe depending on whether your Ken was gay or not, her fabulous next door neighbor). Lamenting the lack of Asian male dolls, Yang imagines what it would be like to take some real life Asian American "Kens" to diversify Barbie's universe (click here). Personally I'd love to see "Poet Ken" -- because Ken Chen, poet and director of the Asian American Writer's Workshop, is an exceptional person--check out both his collection of poems, Juvenilia (which won the Yale Younger poet's award--one of the nation's most prestigious poetry prizes) and the Asian American Writer's Workshop website--if you are in NYC definitely check out some of the cool events they have going on.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Asian American studies matters

I've been in NYC for the last few days (it was spring break last week at Southern U) so I didn't get to see this video until today--but perhaps by now some of you are familiar with the racist rant from UCLA undergraduate, Alexandra Wallace in which she complains about "Asians" and all those awful things Asians do, like bring their families to the dorms, let their kids run wild, and talk on their cell phones in their "ching chong a ling long" voice (actual quote -- or perhaps actual paraphrase of her quote).

If you want to see the awfulness in its entriety, all you need to do is google the words "UCLA racist rant Asian" and up will pop the youtube video.

However, what I want to post is this vlog response from David So:

It's pretty funny and a MUCH better thing to watch than the actual video itself (which is just PAINFUL) but I do think that Ms. Wallace makes one thing clear, and that is the continued need for Asian American studies -- why people need to be educated about Asian American issues and about Asian American people. And Ms. Wallace is in the perfect place for such an education since the UCLA Asian American Studies department is one of the first such departments in the nation -- and the Amerasia Journal is one of the most pre-eminent journals on Asian American topics.

Also, a word to Alexandra Wallace and anyone else who think that (1) there is a single "Asian" language (2) that it sounds like people saying "ching chong ling long" -- I direct you to spoken word artist Beau Sia's "an open letter to all the rosie o'donnells" because he breaks it down and says it best.

Finally, I want to say one last thing about Alexandra Wallace. I think that A LOT of people have expressed a lot of anger towards her--but in some of that anger (including in David So's response above) people feel the need to make assumptions about her based on the fact that she is a blonde female student showing some cleavage--and so she's been called a whore and other disparaging names. While I confess that she sounds extraordinarily ignorant based on the content of her rant (and grammar is not a strong suit in her speaking skills), I think we need to be careful not to perpetuate another form of violence--misogyny and sexism--in order to decry Ms. Wallace's bigotry and racism. I think we can call her an ignorant idiot without calling her a slut.

[Update: The New York Times has now covered this debacle -- click here for the link to the article. Apparently UCLA officials are considering disciplinary actions against Ms. Wallace. So I decided to write an email message to the UCLA Chancellor--which I've reprinted below:]

March 16, 2011

Dear Chancellor Gene Block,

Forgive the intrusion—I recognize that you are a very busy man and that the last thing you need is more email to sift through regarding UCLA undergraduate Alexandra Wallace's viral youtube video. However, I just read an article in The New York Times that says you are considering disciplinary actions against Ms. Wallace.

As a professor who teaches Asian American literature and researches issues of race and anti-racism, may I make a suggestion? If you do decide to pursue some type of disciplinary action, I recommend requiring Ms. Wallace to enroll in an Asian American studies course. Any course will do. Given the level of ignorance about Asian Americans that Ms. Wallace demonstrated and given the illustrious history of Asian American studies at UCLA, I think it fitting to require Ms. Wallace to learn a little something about the people she is maligning.


[Second Update: So I have been seeing a lot of video responses by folks, and I find it interesting that people (college-aged folks mainly) seem to be using YouTube as a platform to respond to Ms. Wallace. Now, a lot of stuff has been pretty misogynist--as a friend of mine put it (quoting from Audre Lorde) people have to learn that you can't dismantle the master's house using the master's tools--in other words, like I said above, resorting to sexist comments is another kind of violence that isn't helpful.

But humor is--and a friend send me a link to this YouTube video that showcases the humorous and most importantly musical talents of a guy named "Jimmy":

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The post about adoption

As regular readers of this blog know, recently I've been writing about more personal (maybe intimate or private is the more accurate word to use) issues on this blog--my breast cancer diagnosis, for example. And I've been thinking of writing a post about adoption for a while, but for a variety of reasons I've held back. Mostly because I recognize that writing about adoption is a very emotional, fraught, and provocative topic.

But it's also a topic that needs to be talked about, from a variety of perspectives. Especially when it comes to transnational and transracial adoption. I'd be doing a disservice to this blog by not talking about these issues. And while I could write about this from a dispassionate or seemingly objective perspective, it doesn't seem like that'd be the honest way to approach this topic.

I guess I should re-name the title to be "A post about adoption" because I don't think that this will be the only post I write on this topic. But I do think that I want to start with the personal, because like that feminist mantra says, "The personal is political."

And the personal, in my case, is that Southern Man and I will not be having a child biologically. We will be adopting.

As many of you can guess, my cancer diagnosis played a large role in this decision. But it wasn't the main issue--my age was/is. I am post-35, that magic number that doctor's like to throw around to let you know that the biological clock is tick, tick TICKING away. Added to this was the knowledge that I gained, a year and a half ago, that the age of my ovaries and my chronological age were not in synch--that the age of my eggs are older than I am. So when I got the cancer diagnosis in April and realized that the chemotherapy would knock out my ovarian function, perhaps permanently, and that even if it did come back that the tamoxifen hormone treatment that I'm on precludes pregnancy (you definitely do NOT want to get pregnant on tamoxifen--there are serious birth defects and miscarriages associated with it).

So this summer, while undergoing chemotherapy, I made my peace with this piece of my life. Southern Man and I went through a period of grief and mourning over this, but the further truth of the matter is we had always planned to adopt one way or another. That even if I had been able to get pregnant, only one would come from the womb--a second child would come through adoption.

The complication that cancer has brought about in our adoption is that one of the options we had been considering--adopting from China--is no longer on the table because China is one of several countries that does not allow parents to adopt if one has received a cancer diagnosis.

[Aside: Actually, China also doesn't like their adoptive parents to be overweight or suffer from depression or have chronic health issues--the list of physical and mental ailments that would preclude one from adopting from China is quite daunting. Other countries, like Korea, do not let you adopt if more than 10 years separates you from your partner]

Now, we had not settled decisively on adoption from China, but this option seemed attractive to us for several reasons--most especially because I am Chinese American and my father (and a few other relatives) speak Cantonese AND Mandarin (yep, my family is multi-linguistic). So the violence and loss associated with transnational adoption seems like it would have, potentially, been mitigated through that cultural connection--and certainly in terms of the racial identity--of being Asian American, that this IS something I understand and know on a very deep level.

Discovering that China was no longer an option in terms of adoption has been fraught in many ways for me. In some ways I have felt deep ambivalence about international and transnational adoption. But on the other hand, this means that we may be adopting a child whose ethnic and racial identity does not match either of our own since we have decided to pursue domestic open adoption.

I recognize that this is a very VERY private thing to share in a very VERY public space. And I recognize that people have very VERY strong opinions about adoption--about international versus domestic. About transracial and/or transnational. About the loss attendant in any adoption process.

I know all of that--and I don't want to go in blindly or to be naive about any of this. But in the midst of a year that has brought about many MANY losses and changes in my life, there is a part of me that would like to think of this option as simply this: happy. That the uncertainty of whether I can get pregnant has been taken off the table and what we know is that we will begin the process of open adoption at some point in the future (I'd like to be at least a year post-surgery before even beginning paperwork since even with open adoption it's challenging to have a birth parent select us given my health profile). That we know that we will have a family--that adoption allows us that option still. And that at the end of the day, this is what will make us very happy, and in that way, adoption is a blessing for us.

There's so much more to say--but I think I'll just end here, on a happy note. Because future posts will be discussing thornier subjects that are too complicated and complex to be discussed in a single post--and that shade and shadow the kind of happiness that my previous paragraph declares. But even still, I stand by this declaration: I am happy to know that we will be adopting in the future and that we will have a family.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Meet the Happiest Man in the U.S.: Alvin Wong

Gallup (yep, the pollster/survey people) decided that they wanted to figure out what makes Americans happy and, the New York Times asked Gallup for a composite picture of who the happiest person in the U.S. -- and what they came up with was

"he’s a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year."

[apparently men are happier than women--which is NOT surprising]

Now, if you are scratching your heads and wondering, could such a person, actually exist? The answer is: Yes and his name is Alvin Wong.

For a picture of Mr. Wong and a description of the Times piece, click here.

I'm not sure that at 5' 10" Alvin Wong can really be considered "tall," although I suppose for someone Chinese American, it's all relative.

What I want to know is, are Asian Americans supposed to be the happiest race of people in the U.S.? And also, are observant Jews the happiest religious practitioners? If I convert to Judaism, will this make me a happier person? Of course I still need the kids, owning my own business, and making over $120,000...and then there's the little problem of my gender and living in Hawaii. Oh well--I guess not all of us can be Alvin Wong.

Monday, February 28, 2011

It still matters if you're black (or white)

Despite what Michael Jackson may have sung about once-upon-a-time, I believe it DOES matter if you're black or white.

Meaning, it matters, still, whether you identify as African American or as Caucasian. Meaning, it matters if you benefit from white privilege. Meaning it matters how others perceive you, especially depending on where you are, regionally and contextually (ie: are you in the U.S. South or the West Coast? In a cosmopolitan city or a rural township? Are you in a classroom where you are the only one, and is this a course on 20th Century American writers or African American poets?)

I guess I've been thinking about this question a lot, lately, because of a novel I'm teaching in one of my classes and because I've recently read two articles, one in The New York Times that discusses racial passing, tracing how three families changed their racial identification from black to white over a few generations through a combination of inter-racial marriage and consolidating wealth and status. And the other is in the Chronicle of Higher Education with the provocative title, "Does African American Literature Exist?" Both essays, in their own way, talk about the disappearance of African Americans from the public landscape and discourse-- or at least in the latter, that what we think of as African American literature during the Jim Crow era no longer matters since Jim Crow no longer exists in its legalized, institutionalized form (so sayeth the author, not me).

It's tempting to downplay the legacy of race. To talk about race and racism is wearying. It's like beating an old drum that many people have tuned out.

By now we should imagine that a month dedicated to black history, African American heritage, and reminding us of the contributions of black Americans to U.S. life and society would not be necessary in the sense that we have moved beyond a stage of needing to highlight the contributions of African Americans because they should be woven within the larger history of the United States.

Yet it's not. Moreover, I believe that we're still a pretty racially segregated culture. Perhaps I feel this more because I live in the U.S. South. But I must say that I was impressed with the honesty with which my students came to a writing assignment recently. I asked them to describe the racial climate at Southern University. This was in preparation for talking about the novel Caucasia by Danzy Senna (a wonderful coming-of-age novel and a trenchant novel to talk about issues of race and especially mixed-race identity). My students were pretty honest in their assessment of race relations, meaning that while they noted the diversity here at Southern U, particularly as compared with some of the more homogenous town that they have grown up in, they noted two things. First, that compared to other locations, Southern U is probably not all that diverse. And second, that despite this diversity, people still hang out within self-segregated friendship groups by race--something my students readily admitted that they participated in (albeit it sheepishly). In fact, only one of my students disclosed that s/he had a close friend who was of a different racial background to him/herself (this in-class writing assignment was anonymous, so I don't have a sense of who this was, at least by gender--since there are only 3 self-identified Asian American students and 3 self-identified African American students, it's a good guess that this student was white, and also because s/he identified as such).

Nearly all the students lamented the fact that they only had friends of the same race, but none of them really knew what to do about this fact--and a few mentioned that they noticed other races (Asian Americans in the business school, African Americans in the dining hall, Latino students in the dorms) congregating together as well.

Interestingly enough, no one brought up where the mixed-race person fit in--the person who is both black and white. Or black and Asian. I suppose we are still working on hypodescent rules, where the assumption is that you identify with the group you look like the most or that is the furthest away from whiteness.

I was glad that my students felt so free to be honest in their writing about the state of race relations at Southern U. Of course they were also quick to say that they did not notice any racial animosity--that there did not seem to be racial hostility between or among groups, as there may have been once-upon-a-time. But I did wonder about the lack of social mixing, racially speaking. I also wondered if this was a difference in location--because I had grown up, in my high school environment, having close friends who were black and white and Chicano--and when I mean close friends I mean the kind of friends that you have sleepovers with or that you go to prom with or hang out with at parties on the weekend. Not just friends you see in the classroom or chat with because your lockers are next to one another.

A friend recently told me that many white students will say that they have an African American friend but most African American college students don't claim to have any white friends (or friends of any other racial group). The disparity, a researcher noted, was that the white college students were counting, as friends, black students who sat next to them in the classroom or who lived in the dorm--people they chatted with and were friendly with. But the African American students counted as friendly only people they had significant ties to--whom they socialized with outside of a classroom or dorm environment.

And perhaps the last thing I'll end with in closing out this post is whether or not it matters. If, as my students said, there is no racial animosity between groups that they can discern, does it matter that students are self-segregating along racial lines? My gut says that it does--but at the same time I am also well aware of the power of having safe spaces and friends that you have absolute comfort with--and in an environment where you are a minority, being able to be with people who understand your experiences is psychically important.