The Immigration Story: A Conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas

This Thursday, Kasama, the Yale Law School, and AACC are co-sponsoring a discussion with Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer prize journalist who wrote this article in the New York Times about his experience as an undocumented immigrant.  I’m really excited about this event—not only has Vargas shed light on issues surrounding immigration, but he has also put an Asian American face on an experience that we in the Asian American community rarely discuss as affecting us.

More information about the event below.  I hope everyone can come.

The Immigration Story:

A Conversation with Jose Antonio Vargas

Thurs, Dec 1 at 6:30pm

Yale Law School, Room 127

with a reception in the Alumni Reading Room to follow

 

 

Occupy Asian America?

Occupy Wall Street—whether or not you support the movement or not, I think we can all agree that it’s not something the Asian American community at Yale is super involved with. I get the feeling that Yalies in general aren’t as involved in the Occupy movement (and I’m not going to analyze why that is), but even among non-Asian American groups, I hear jokes every once in a while along the lines of “You’re doing an investment banking internship?” “Yeah, I want to be part of the 1%.”  And maybe it’s just the part of the Asian American community I’m part of at Yale, but Occupy doesn’t seem to come up very often, even in passing or as a joke.

There have been plenty of instances of Asian Americans getting involved in the Occupy movement (see here and here).  What’s up with us Asian American Yalies?

Some reasons to throw out there:

  • a “culture” thing about Asians not liking to raise their voices– I’m obviously not a fan of this one.  What specific pan-Asian “culture” would cause that?
  • Asian Americans at Yale just aren’t interested in these kinds of more grassroots movements
  •  Asian Americans at Yale think they’ve already succeeded and may even be part of the “53%,” which I guess ties into the model minority myth and also makes me wonder how “successful” Asian Americans really are

I do think it’s odd that Asian American Yalies aren’t as interested in the Occupy Movement.  Are there really so few of us who don’t feel like the 99%?

What does everyone think?

Racism in our food?

This article was published in Slate about a slew of friend chicken restaurants using Obama’s name to advertise:

“President Obama has found himself embroiled in one fried-chicken row after another. First there was the “Obama Fried Chicken” incident of 2009, in which a Bangladeshi immigrant who claimed to be naïve to the racist stereotype of African-Americans’ consumption of fried chicken decided to rebrand his poultry restaurant in homage to our nation’s commander in chief. He couldn’t have asked for a more effective advertising campaign, once the media caught wind of this fowl scandal. Even the Rev. Al Sharpton got involved in the street protests outside the Brooklyn eatery, pressuring for a return to the restaurant’s original name, Royal Fried Chicken. The owner refused to budge, and Obama Fried Chicken is still serving (apparently mediocre) hot wings and biscuits in Remsen Village today.”

In addition, KFC’s Chinese subsidiary aired a commercial in Hong Kong with an Obama look-alike “campaigning that ‘change is good’ for the KFC menu,” and last month, a Chinese student opened “’OFC’ (short for ‘Obama Fried Chicken’).”

This article got me thinking (tangentially) about the Asian American community for two reasons:

  1. All the offending businesses were run by Asians who claimed to be ignorant of the black-people-fried-chicken-taboo.  I don’t expect everyone who comes from another country to be familiar with the convoluted situation that is race in the United States, but it did make me realize how entrenched the Asian American community is in this country’s racial politics.  Yes, the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement may have happened before many (but not all) of our families arrived in the US, but that doesn’t make us separate from it—even if we didn’t mean to come off as a foreigner, ignorant (or feigning ignorance) of the ways of the US, who inadvertently offended one of the country’s most long-injured minority groups, it happens.  We’re better off accepting our place in the web of race relations.
  2. The article cited experiments that linked what we think people eat and the social judgments we make about them, and I couldn’t help but think about all the food events the Asian American community at Yale.  The article speculates, “A bucket of fried chicken may suggest nasty racial stereotypes by virtue of its unwholesome image…as much as by its particular history as a plantation staple.”  It makes me wonder what people outside the Asian American community perceive us since we seem to be representing ourselves largely by foods because while these foods may be an extremely important to us and our respective cultures, they might just seem exotic to people who show up at our events, eat, and leave.

“False Gods”

David Williams, gubernatorial candidate in Kentucky and president of the Kentucky state senate, criticized Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear for attending a Hindu prayer service and therefore, “worshipping false gods,” stating  “It’s their right to be a Hindu person if they want to…As a Christian, I hope their eyes are opened and they receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior, but it’s their business what they do.” (http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20111101/NEWS01/311010046/David-Williams-criticizes-Steve-Beshear-Hindu-ceremony)

Sad that politicians are still trying to play off of anti-anything-from-that-is-perceived-to-have-connection-to-the-Middle-East/9-11-even-though-it-has-no-connection sentiment.

Read Deepa Iyer’s, president of South Asian Americans Leading Together, response here: http://blog.saalt.org/?p=1886

Addressing Taste

This op-ed  http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/oct/31/zelinsky-the-taste-of-halloween/ appeared in the YDN today, criticizing the Yale Intercultural Affairs Council for putting up table tents discouraging “’demeaning costumes and parties’” during Halloween.  The writer, Zelinsky, argues that by using “the language of multiculturalism,” groups “quietly encourages members to conform to standards of decency” and asserts that “[a] Yale College in which students enforce their own conception of civility, rather than have it imposed from a higher authority, will be far more effective in creating the welcoming environment we know this place to be.”

What bothers me most is that Zelinsky assumes the most people know what is offensive and what isn’t, what is racist and what isn’t, and that people like the members of the IAC are drawing too much attention to a tasteless minority that doesn’t know what’s inappropriate—that people, especially Yale students, have the good taste to know that, as Zelinsky puts it “it’s generally bad to belittle others.”

Putting aside the Halloween costume issue, I can think of a couple of examples when the Asian American and Yale community at large didn’t seem to recognize when things were getting “distasteful.”

  1. Amy Chua: The woman made sweeping generalizations about what it meant to be a “Chinese” parent and the children of Asian and Asian Americans in generals, and for the most part, we in the Yale community didn’t even stop to question whether or not she was reinforcing stereotypes about an extremely diverse group in the United States population and supported preconceptions that Asians and Asian Americans are an exotic other whose parenting methods and general way of being are completely foreign to the “Western.”  Instead, all we did was debate whether or not “Chinese” parenting created successful children or mindless drones with no social skills.
  2. The Asian Playboy: His thesis was that Asian men are nerds with low self-esteem; therefore, it’s okay to pursue and objectify women, particularly white women because they’re the best, so that they can feel better about themselves.  You’d think bringing someone like that would have caused a bit more of an uproar on a campus like Yale that has a reputation for being extremely liberal—except it didn’t.  I know there were a lot of Asian guys who agreed that they had a hard time with girls but there seemed to be no questioning why this was so besides that Asian cultures make Asian American males nerds.

In these two situations, I think the Asian American community would have benefitted with someone voicing the opinion that perhaps not all our mothers are the stereotypical Tiger Moms and that not all our males are inherently undesirable.  Because as much as we like to pretend we live in a post-racial society, how many can tell me that on some level they don’t take the idea Tiger Moms and the notion that Asian American boys are innately unattractive at face value?

I think that all people are capable of making decisions that aren’t hurtful or offensive to others, but we need help and that’s the task of organizations like the Intercultural Affairs Council and Yale’s cultural groups.  A person’s sense of “taste,” after all, isn’t necessarily innate but needs to be cultivated.

Interview with AASA Co-mod: Jenny Mei

What are your plans for AASA this semester?

We’re trying to foster more communication between all the groups and have more events together.  We’re planning two important initiatives.  First, we’re going to have a New Year’s celebration on February 9 from 9:00-10:30.  Every member group will present a dish that their culture uses to celebrate the new year.  We’re going to have the celebration around the same time as the lunar new year, but it will not be a lunar new year celebration because we don’t want it to be focused on just East Asia.  We’re hoping that this event will kick-start the semester and showcase the different cultures.

Our second initiative is called Politics over Pizza.  Its goal is to raise awareness of Asian American issues.  The Political Action and Education Committee will be working with the political chairs of each member group and have a discussion featuring one cultural group each month and cover a political issue that is important to that group—for example, Islamophobia with the Muslim Student Association.

AASA can be pushed aside because people identify with their own ethnic group.  Last semester, a lot of AASA activities fell short on attendance because no one identified with the group. Our main goal is to solidify a new base for AASA.  Our purpose is to serve as an umbrella group for the Asian American student body.  We directly oversee the activities of all the member groups and distribute money to them.

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