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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

December 30, 2004

Written by C.N.

Asian Tsunami Tragedy

This past week, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake (the largest one in almost 40 years and the fourth largest ever recorded) rocked the Indian Ocean, causing massive tsunamis (aka tidal waves) to wash ashore and devastate countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. The death toll has already passed 100,000 and is sure to continue rising.

You might remember that about two-thirds of Asian Americans are immigrants. As such, many still have a direct connection to their Asian homelands and to family, relatives, friends, and countrymen back in Asia. Therefore, it is not a surprise that even beyond the shear devastation that has afflicted so many people in that region of the world, this tragedy hits home very hard for many Asian Americans. Tsunami survivors in Indonesia Even if they may not know anyone personally in these areas, my sense is that as people who share many aspects of history and culture in common, many Asian Americans have been deeply affected by these events as well.

It’s in times like this that I remember just how privileged my life is and how easily I take things such as food, shelter, and physical safety for granted. I hope that you’ll join me in offering your best hopes and wishes to everyone affected by this tragedy. If you would like to directly help those in need, please consider making a donation to the American Red Cross (you can designate your donation to be used for the “International Response Fund”, and where your donation is tax deductible) or the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (where you can also designate that your funds be used to help the victims of this tragedy).

Events like this remind us that despite our differences, we are still all part of the same race — the human race.

December 22, 2004

Written by C.N.

Direct Commercial Flights to Saigon Resume

With the arrival of United Airlines flight #869, direct commercial flights to Saigon from the U.S. have resumed for the first time since 1975. My sister actually sent me a clipping from Yahoo News that showed a picture of one of her former boyfriends buying a ticket on that flight.

I applaud this move — it means first, flights to visit my relatives in Viet Nam will now be cheaper presumably, and second, it’s another indication that U.S.-Vietnamese relations are normalizing, whether the staunch anti-communist Vietnamese here in the U.S. like it or not.

December 14, 2004

Written by C.N.

Transnational Assimilation

In the conventional academic literature, these two terms (transnationalism and assimilation) are usually considered close to being opposites to each other, at least as applied to Asian Americans. How can you live in two separate cultures and societies and be considered completely integrated in either one of them?

However, Asian Americans have always had ways to transcend conventional barriers, whether they were legal, economic, or in this case, cultural. As an example, the San Jose Mercury News has an excellent collection of articles entitled Asian Impact, which looks at how different Asian Americans living in the California Bay area (which has apparently replaced New York City as the most prominent Asian American metropolis in the U.S.) bridge the gap between Asia and Asian America.

Very interesting and informative stuff and definitely worth checking out.

December 6, 2004

Written by C.N.

Inter-Asian Sentiments

I recently found two articles that are a good example of the frequently contradictory nature of relationships between different Asian ethnic groups, in this case between Japanese and Koreans. The first article, from, explains,

Koreans have a harsh history in Japan. Their homeland was under Tokyo’s colonist yoke for 35 years, and in Japan they still face discrimination and cruel stereotypes. But thanks to the mega-hit South Korean soap opera “Winter Sonata,” Koreans these days also face something quite different in Japan: adulation. On visits to Tokyo, the show’s two main actors — Bae Yong-joon, 32, and Choi Ji-woo, 29 — are mobbed by swooning fans, and sales of chewing gum and chocolates they advertise have surged.

Winter Sonata

So on the one hand, there are examples of how Japanese and Korean culture mesh well with each other. On the other hand, we are reminded again that there are specific reasons why relations between different Asian ethnic groups are somewhat strained at times. Look no further than this recent headlines, following on the heels of the preceding article: Japan’s Supreme Court Refuses Compensation to South Korean War Slaves.

Even after historical evidence has overwhelming documented how the Japanese army kidnapped hundreds of thousands of young women from Korea, China, the Philippines, and other countries that they colonized during World Warr and brutally and visciously used them for sex slaves (euphemistically called “comfort women”), the Japanese government still refuses to acknowledge these atrocities, let alone offer an official apology for their actions. Even worse, many Japanese are openly defiant against acknowledging Japan’s barbaric actions during the war. The article describes one good example:

Japan’s Education Minister Nariaki Nakayama said this weekend he was relieved current Japanese textbooks have cut back on a “self-tormenting” view of World War II. “There was a time when Japanese textbooks were full of nothing but extremely self-tormenting things saying that Japan was bad,” Nakayama told a town hall meeting in southern Oita prefecture on Saturday, according to newspapers. “We have tried to correct that,” he was quoted as saying. “I’m really glad that recently there are fewer words such as ‘comfort women’ and ‘forced relocation’ used in textbooks,” he said.

I guess it just goes to show that pan-Asian unity is still easier said than done.

December 4, 2004

Written by C.N.

Tragedy in Wisconsin

Originally posted Nov. 2004

Chai Vang, a Hmong refugee living in Wisconsin, allegedly shot and killed six people the other day in an hunting dispute. Apparently, Vang mistakenly occupied a hunting perch located on private property, was confronted by the owners (or those who knew the owners), told to leave, started to leave, but then turned around and fired dozens of shots from a semi-automatic rifle toward the people and later, those who came to help.

The details are still emerging about this tragedy, but the question that comes up is, was Vang set off by racial taunts or derogatory slurs, as he now claims? As an earlier article reports,

Some Hmong leaders questioned whether racial differences may have figured in the shootings; authorities have not determined a motive. . . In Minnesota, a fistfight once broke out after Hmong hunters crossed onto private land, said Ilean Her, director of the St. Paul-based Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans. . .

Area where shooting occurred © CBS News

Vang’s arrest left some Hmong citizens in his hometown fearful of a backlash. About 24,000 Hmong live in St. Paul, the highest concentration of any U.S. city. And the shooting has already provoked racial tension in an area of Wisconsin where deer hunting is steeped in tradition.

Locals in the Birchwood area, about 120 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, have complained that the Hmong, refugees from Laos, do not understand the concept of private property and hunt wherever they see fit. Michael Yang, a Hmong activist, said various Hmong groups held an emergency meeting Monday to talk about how to respond. Those at the meeting heard stories from some Hmong hunters about friction with white hunters.

Of course, there is no excuse for what Vang did. As the article also points out,

But, Minnesota state Sen. Mee Moua rejected the idea that cultural differences played any role in the shooting. “We’re all just speculating that may have been a trigger for him,” said Moua, who is Hmong. “We’re all searching for answers.” Moua added that Hmong-Americans feel racism on a daily basis, but “that doesn’t mean you kill people.”

A recent article in the New York Times elaborates further on some of the racial/ethnic aspects of this story. Ultimately, Sen. Moua is right — facing racism does not mean that you kill people and in no way am I justifying what he did. But it would clearly explain what made Vang snap — the last spark that finally ignited years, even decades of having to quietly and passively deal with prejudice, racial hostility, and systematic racism.

Written by C.N.

Asian American Studies Progress

Originally posted Oct. 2004

Young Asian American student © Andy Sacks/Getty Images

It’s been a long, long time coming, but I’m glad to see that UCLA has just become the first major research university to establish an independent Asian American Studies Department. Previously, the Asian American Studies curriculum at UCLA was only a an interdisciplinary program.

But now that it’s achieved departmental status, it can offer a doctoral program and hire faculty that would be fully affiliated with the department. Just as important, being a department will allow its faculty and students to feel that they finally have a home base, so to speak, along with a sense of official legitimacy and institutional support.

Bravo to all involved and keep up the great work!

Written by C.N.

Affirmative Action: Beginning of the End?

Originally posted Oct. 2004

You might recall that earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional to consider race as a factor in college admissions as long as racial/ethnic minority applicants are not given extra points in the admissions process. But ironically, wishing to avoid potential lawsuits, many universities are ending programs that specifically targeted students of color and instead, are opening them up to all students. This recent article from the Chicago Tribune explains:

Affirmative action: where do we draw the line? © Getty Images

Throughout the country, schools such as Northwestern are opening up minority scholarships, fellowships, academic support programs and summer enrichment classes to students of any race. The change follows last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that race can be considered in college admissions but only among other factors and that each candidate must be evaluated individually.

That landmark 5-4 decision, hailed as a victory by college and university officials, preserved affirmative action in admissions, but found unconstitutional a University of Michigan program that automatically gave extra points to African-American, Latino and American Indian applicants. In what some now say is an unexpected erosion of affirmative action, colleges are interpreting the ruling to mean they can no longer offer race-exclusive programs designed specifically to help minority students.

This development is happening at a time when the pool of underrepresented students of color applying for college is actually declining. This means that even as affirmative action is being validated, the numbers of disadvantaged Blacks and Latino students may still decline. At the same time, the numbers of Asian American college applicants continues to grow, as does the proportions of students who are of Asian ancestry on major university campuses all around the country.

It is becoming more clear to me each day that most Asian Americans do not need affirmative action any longer. However, notice that I said “most.” A few still do, namely Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians, etc. Thankfully, many colleges have recognized this and are targeting these specific Asian ethnic groups, rather than the entire Asian American racial category.

Does this mean that most Asian Americans are being hurt by affirmative action programs, similar to what many Whites are arguing? I still say no.

Written by C.N.

New Asian American Voters Survey

Originally posted Sept. 2004

New California Media just released a comprehensive survey entitled, the National Poll of Asian Pacific Islanders on the 2004 Election. The survey included interviews with 1,004 Asian American respondents with detailed information on their ethnicity, their age, educational attainment, residence in a “battleground state,” voting pattern in the 2000 election, opinions on the Iraq War and domestic issues, and experiences of discrimination, to name just a few.

What's the future of the APA vote? © Corbis

The main findings are that, as of the end of August 2004, Kerry holds a 43 percent to 36 percent lead over Bush among their sample respondents, but with a large 20 percent still undecided. Further, the survey found that Vietnamese and Filipinos are the most likely to vote Republican while Chinese, Asian Indians, and Hmong are much more likely to vote Democratic. Further, the NCM survey notes that young APAs and those with at least a college degree tend to support Kerry while older APAs and those with less education tend to be Bush supporters.

While it would have been nice to have even more detailed cross-tabulations on various respondent characteristics and their voting preferences, the survey seems to be very well constructed, administered, valid, and reliable — not to mention quite interesting. On the one hand, some Asian American commentators see these results as an indication that the APA population is more divided these days than ever. If true, this would seem to hurt efforts to organize the APA vote into a unified voting bloc in the same manner as Blacks and Jews.

While I may not describe the situation so pessimistically, it does make me wonder whether it is realistic to expect the Asian American community to be a united voting bloc. The results of the survey also confirm for me that ultimately, a person should be judged not for who s/he is (i.e., an Asian American) but for what s/he believes and acts (i.e., supports liberal causes). In that sense, it would seem that more “progressive” Asian ethnic groups such as Asian Indians, Hmong, and Chinese may have more in common with people groups like than with more conservative Asian ethnic groups such as Vietnamese and Filipinos.

Written by C.N.

Can Ignorance be More Blatant?

Orignally posted Aug. 2004

Michelle Malkin is a ultra conservative Filipino American commentator and writer who, among other things, has just written a book entitled “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror.” In it, she claims that there was enough information about attempts by the Japanese government to establish a spy network in the U.S. prior to the U.S. entering World War II to justify the eventual internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

The Japanese American Citizens League has just released a statement in regard to Malkin’s book which pretty sums it all up for me:

Michlle Malkin in front of the U.S. Capitol

The Magic cables were reviewed by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a fact-finding commission created by the President and Congress in 1980. Following a thorough examination, the commission found no evidence connecting the decision to intern Japanese Americans to any of the information contained in the cables. Furthermore, a finding in the commission report, Personal Justice Denied, stated that “not a single documented act of espionage, sabotage or fifth column activity on the mainland was committed by an American citizen of Japanese ancestry or by a resident Japanese alien on the West Coast,” a view consistently substantiated by independent scholars and researchers for almost half a century since World War II.

In writing the book, Malkin states that her purpose is to debunk the internment as “racist” and “unjustified.” By her own admission, Malkin makes no claim to expertise on the subject, admits that her work is not thorough, fashions conclusions to suit her political views, all the while asking her readers to “reject political correctness… and the ability to view the writing of history as something other than a therapeutic indulgence,” a criticism that fails to escape her own work.

It would be easy for me to denounce Malkin and label her a “sellout,” “whitewashed,” and/or “brainwashed.” Rather, I am left to wonder how anyone, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, can still claim that the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II was anything but a kneejerk reaction, rooted solely in war hysteria, and led by a few zealots with personal vendettas? Hmmm, come to think of it, some people might describe the war in Iraq in similar terms . . .

Written by C.N.

Jumping the Gun

Originally posted July 2004

Annie Jacobsen was a passenger on a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit to Los Angeles when she witnessed what she interpreted as fourteen Middle Eastern men acting suspiciously — talking amongst themselves, frequently looking around the cabin of the plane, and using the restroom quite frequently. Apparently she interpreted these events as the beginnings of a terrorist attack and was so freaked out by these “traumatic” events that she wrote,

What I experienced during that flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats.

Annie Jacobsen ©

As it turns out, these fourteen men were Syrian musicians who were on their way to pay a concert at a casino and resort in San Diego, CA. Nonetheless, she wrote an article that has received extensive attention and has led to strong reactions from both sides of the ideological debate on homeland security. On the one hand, many ultra-conservatives have applauded her reaction as perfectly legitimate and appropriate.

Well, guess what. I (and millions of others) happen to disagree. Instead, we think Ms. Jacobsen severely overreacted and let her racial/ethnic prejudices override her sound judgment. Once again, we see another example of how racial profiling gets played out in American society and of how the actions of a few become transposed and associated with all members of a certain group.

To me, her reaction is no different than the hate crimes and physical attacks on Muslim Americans and their property that occurred immediately after the September 11 attacks — the actions of a group of ignorant, hysterical, and/or close-minded people who, in the absence of any proof that the subjects of their anger or suspicion are guilty of anything except being Muslim, are so quick to immediately jump the gun and conclude that they must be evil terrorists out to destroy America.

Instead of wondering if the U.S. can uphold civil liberties, perhaps Ms. Jacobsen should instead wonder how she became so hopelessly prejudicial and xenophobic in the first place.

Written by C.N.

Who’s the More Ignorant?

Originally posted June 2004

Bill Parcells, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, recently used the racial slur “Jap” in an interview with reporters. As described in this article, Parcells tried to preface his comments by saying, “Mike wants the defense to do well, and Sean, he’s going to have a few … no disrespect for the Orientals, but what we call Jap plays. OK, surprise things.” To his credit Parcells and the Cowboys organization quickly issued an apology over the remarks.

It’s clear that Parcells’ comments were insensitive and inappropriate and I give him credit for owning up to his mistake. I certainly hope it was sincere and that he’s learned that it’s never appropriate to dehumanize people in that way. At the same time, what struck me most was reading this excerpt in a related article:

Bill Parcells on a Sports Illustrated cover © Sports Illustrated

Akira Kuboshima, the editor of Japan’s American Football Magazine who was in the room, said he wasn’t offended but believed some people would be. He also said he was surprised more by the reaction of other reporters than the comment. “There is a lot of chance for someone to feel offended,” Kuboshima said. “To me, it was no big deal.”

Excuse me? No big deal? At first, I was shocked to read that this Japanese reporter who heard Parcells’ comments firsthand was not offended. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that unfortunately, it’s not that surprising after all. That is, this Japanese reporter’s reaction (or lack thereof) is a perfect example of how Asians are not the same as Asian Americans. He probably has little understanding of Japanese American history, their imprisonment during World War II, and the context of these racial slurs that are still being used against Japanese Americans.

Also, this reporter lives in a country that has a well-remembered history of brutally oppressing its Asian neighbors during World War II — remembered by everyone except the Japanese themselves, of course, who continue to treat their actions during World War II as basically “no big deal” — there’s that term again. Japan also has a well-documented history of past and continuing discrimination against its citizens of Korean ancestry and of its Ainu and Okinawan ethnic minority groups.

I’m not saying that all Japanese are insensitive to these prejudices and discrimination in their own backyard. However, in many ways, much of Japanese society can learn a thing or two about owning up to their misdeeds and recognizing that their actions can be seen as insensitive and discriminatory by racial/ethnic minorities. Maybe this is the story that the Japanese reporter should write about.

Written by C.N.

The Tragic Anna Mae He Case

Originally posted May 2004

Anna Mae He is a five-year old Taiwanese girl who has been raised by a White family since she was a few months old. Her birth parents have been trying to win back custody of her, claiming that they were misled into giving away full custody of Anna by the Baker family. Rather, Anna’s birth parents claim that all they agreed to was for the Bakers to take temporary custody of Anna until they were able to straighten out some legal issues.

Recently, after four years of legal proceedings, a Tennessee judge recently ruled in favor of the Bakers and terminated the parental rights of the Hes. As described in a New York Times article,

Judge Robert Childers of Circuit Court said that the couple, Shaoqiang and Qin Luo He, had “failed to establish a meaningful relationship” with the girl, Anna Mae, because of “neglect and inattentiveness” and that the “physical environment of the Hes’ home is unhealthy and unsafe.” Judge Childers said they sought custody only so that they would not be deported.

Qin Luo He holding her daughter, Avita, and reacting to the verdict © Associated Press

I’m not completely familiar with all the details of this case, but the judge’s decision strikes me as rather biased and even ethnocentric. He makes some prejudicial and seemingly personal remarks about the Hes and their motivations for wanting Anna back. In fact, if I recall, this judge has been accused before of being rather biased against the Hes. As the Times article describes, not only is this a case over different legal interpretations but also one over differences in culture as well.

Unfortunately I see this case and this recent decision as another example of how Asian Americans, more often than not, get the short end of the stick when it comes to who gets the benefit of a doubt in the judicial system. I could be crazy but it seems to me that the parental rights of the birth parents would only be take away in extreme circumstances, such as child abuse, deliberate endangerment or negligence, etc. But here, the judicial system is willing to take the drastic step of terminating the Hes rights as Anna’s birth parents over a disputed contract.

Is this another example of Asian American being screwed by the White-dominated judicial system, similar to what Vincent Chin and Wen Ho Lee experienced? If you think so, show your support for the Hes by visiting these sites:

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Update: In 2007, the Tennessee Supreme Court finally awarded custody of Anna back to her biological parents. In February 2008, the reunited He family moved back to China. Unfortunately, Anna’s mother and father filed for divorce a few months after their arrival back in China amid allegations of abusive behavior by the father. The following ABC Nightline video chronicles Anna’s bittersweet new life in China.