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.

Bulldog Buzz week of 9/7 — Asian eyes, hot sauce, & writing for the blog

Trend Alert: While Asian women are scrambling to get double-eyelid surgery for a more Westernized aesthetic, in the world of high fashion, Dolce & Gabbana models tape their eyes back for a stereotypical Asian look in this Vogue Japan editorial. Is this cool/avant-garde or just offensive?

Confessions of a Sriracha Fanatic: A foodie recounts her introduction and addiction to the beloved Thai-American hot sauce in this NPR article. Recipes at the end for those with more culinary sophistication; the rest of us will just continue to indiscriminately put Sriracha on all the things.

Did you see us at the Activities Fair or the AASA General Assembly this past week? Are you interested in writing for, promoting, or otherwise getting involved with the APA Blog? Drop us a line at apablog10@gmail.com and we’ll keep you posted.

Alternatively, are you a member of an Asian-American interest organization on campus? AASA member group or otherwise, we welcome all contributors to use the blog as a place to spread the word about your cause, advertise events, or reach out to the general public.

College Seminars

CSBK: Hip Hop Music and Culture

College Seminars here at Yale are one of their best kept secrets. Oops well not much of a secret anymore for me. But for all of those out there PSA: check it out, take a gander! I attended Nicholas Conway’s Hip Hop Music and Culture, and it was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever been to. Continue reading

Reach Out Vietnam

It’s been almost three weeks since Spring Break. I’m still answering some questions about my Reach Out trip to Vietnam with friends that I run into, and it’s interesting what I remember after three weeks.

I remember certain scenes vividly, imprinted in my mind after all this time, maybe because they were strange and new to me.

I remember walking through clay-like, orange mud, past houses where clothes hung out to dry and chickens waddled on the front lawns.

I remember the outhouse by the library – a white basin on the floor, an enormous monarch butterfly perched on it, making it difficult to pee, if having to squat didn’t already.

I remember the classrooms of the middle school we taught at – the shabby walls, the rows of rectangular tables, and the rules of good citizen-students under “Father Ho Chi Minh” posted in the front.

I remember in particular a teacher who served on the board of the college we visited.  He was an elderly man, with squinting eyes and pockmarked tan skin. He had dyed his hair black, in the way that some aging Vietnamese men do.  He said our group’s visit to the college was a diplomacy trip, one that helped bridge the gap between the US and Vietnam. I was skeptical that our mere visit was all that important, but then I realized by the fiercely proud look on his face that our presence was anything but mere to them.

I remember… not a lot. See, I’d been to Vietnam three years before. I didn’t want to write about the trip through the lens of someone who couldn’t see the country with fresh eyes, so I’ll include perspectives from some of the 11 other Yalies on this trip.  One told me that he remembered most vividly the experience of crossing the chaotic streets of Đông Hà, the rural Central Vietnam city where we spent most of our trip, something that had shocked me the first time visiting the country as well.

Another trip member was awed by the shops of the open markets, how merchandise spilled out on the streets and lined every wall, piled up to the ceilings.  Behind these storefronts, were homes.  We were all awed by the unusually tall houses. Some were on stilts and some had several stories.  Families build on each other, so that when children grew up and married, another floor was added.  It’s a small country with a dense population. That makes sense.

People asked me before and after my trip whether I felt any strong emotional connection upon returning to the country of my birth, the site of my heritage.

If there was one connection I felt to my homeland, it was through the language.  I remember singing a Vietnamese children’s song, “Ngày Đầu Tiên Đi Học” (“The First Day of School”), one day with a kind, local man.  I conversed with the young man who worked on a bus that transported us from Đông Hà to Huế.  He clung to the door like a monkey, swinging and sliding across the seats, bending himself to fit into the car when the bus filled to almost twice its capacity.  The entire time, he wore an impish smile.

Remembrance also came in a different way, in remembering the Vietnam War, and its impact on the locals.

It is the living who suffer the most.  On the first day of service, we talked to landmine victims, two adults and two teenage boys who had lost limbs when they accidentally detonated the bombs leftover from the war. I had heard of these bombs, had been flashed with pictures of these sad, handicapped victims in Church-sponsored videos asking for donations from America that my mother often made me watch. The most chilling fact, I recall, is that these bombs were designed to maim.  It took two additional soldiers to help an injured one, whereas if the bomb killed it would only take out one soldier, the guide explained. Now the innocent would have their lives changed forever.

The Vietnamese do not seem resentful against America, but they are scarred.   They desire peace and fear war so much that they are willing to put up with a government most are not happy with.

Looking back on the trip, the days of service do not stand out the most to me.  The experience is not really coherent in my mind. I think I remember most bonding with the incredible people on the trip, the jokes, the laughter, the communal silences on the bus ride home.  The trip, for me, is made of images. The last image I remember are the narrow, rain-soaked streets of Hà Nội, where we spent the last three days of the trip, so beautifully silent and empty the morning we said goodbye to Vietnam. Maybe I did go to another world after all.

 

 

Interview with Phil Yu, Angry Asian Man

Phil Yu, founder of the blog Angry Asian Man, came to speak at the Korean American Students Conference (KASCON) at Yale. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the blog draws tens of thousands of readers a day, covering everything Asian American from the recent outcry against UCLA student Alexandria Wallace to a quirky website featuring Asian perms. After attending his workshop packed with students eager to see the face behind Angry Asian Man, I got to chat with Mr. Yu about what gets him so angry.

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