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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.

January 28, 2005

Written by C.N.

Outsourcing in Reverse

As you probably know, there’s been a lot of controversy about outsourcing in the last few years and the perception that too many American jobs are being shipped overseas to Asian countries like India, China, the Philippines, etc. But how about outsourcing in reverse, a.k.a. ‘insourcing’ — bringing jobs and investment from Asia over here to the U.S.? The Christian Science Monitor has an article that describes just that. An excerpt:

Across the country, mayors are brushing up their chopstick skills in an effort to win Chinese investment. Individual counties and cities are setting up trade offices in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Some places are enlisting their Chinese-American citizens to translate and show visitors that their city cares about Asian culture. . .

There is no question the Chinese are coming . . Observers expect further investments in US companies involved in oil and gas production and appliances. . . “This is the first inning of a very long game,” says Don Straszheim, an economist who follows China trends in Santa Monica, Calif. Chinese officials don’t dispute that the future is likely to include some significant investments in the US. “The Chinese have adopted a policy to go global,” says Zhanling Yuan, an economic and commercial consul in New York.

As with virtually all other issues relating to Asian Americans, this development can have both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, as China and other Asian countries invest more in the U.S. and ideally create new jobs for Americans, it will hopefully start to dispel the notion that China is only interested in draining the U.S. economy by taking jobs away. It would also certainly help balance out the trade deficit that currently exists between Asian countries and the U.S. And on the cultural side, it is likely to help China improve its image (and by implication, the overall image of Asian Americans) among U.S. citizens.

However, there are potential negative consequences as well. You may remember the Japan-bashing that occured back in the 1980s when Americans were feverishly accusing Japanese companies of trying to “buy” the U.S., and that what Japan could not accomplish militarily during WWII, they were now trying to do economically through buying up U.S. companies and property. Well, there is no reason to believe that the same suspicions would not be raised here as China invests more in the U.S. — just witness the fears about Lenovo’s recent acquisition of IBM’s computer manufacturing division.

We all remember the consequences of Japan-bashing back in the 1980s, most infamously Vincent Chin’a murder by two Detroit auto workers who took him for being Japanese and blamed him for the recession and decline of the U.S. auto industry. Is something like that going to happen again once China, still a political and military rival to the U.S., and Chinese companies start buying up more U.S. companies? Stay tuned . . .

January 23, 2005

Written by C.N.

Another Racist Radio Skit

On the heels of the recent tasteless and offensive incident in which a radio DJ insulted and physically threatened a call center operator in India, Hot97 FM in New York recently created a parody song to “We Are the World” entitled “Tsunami Song” that mocks the tragedy in south and southeast Asia and that also uses racial slurs against Asians. Here are the lyrics:

There was a time, when the sun was shining bright
So I went down to the beach to catch me a tan
Then the next thing I knew, a wave 20 feet high
Came and washed your whole country away

And all at once, you can hear the screaming
And no one was saved from the wave
There were Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away
You can hear God laughing, ‘Swim you bitches swim.’

So now you’re screwed, it’s the tsunami,
You better run and kiss your ass away, go find your mommy
I just saw her float by, a tree went through her head
And now your children will be sold to child slavery

Apparently the radio host, Ms. Jones, played the song twice, had a heated on-air argument with one of the show’s other hosts (who is Asian American), and then later the radio station apologized for airing the song. The latest is that the staff of the morning radio show that first aired the song have agreed to donate one week’s pay to tsunami aid efforts.

I applaud that the station eventually realized that the song was completely tasteless, offensive, and racist and apologized. I also applaud the morning staff’s decision to try to make amends by donating one week’s salary to the relief efforts.

However, I still cannot fathom why so many people apparently felt that it was ok to mock and ridicule a human catastrophe that has already claimed over 200,000 lives and that it was even better to call the victims of this tragedy racial slurs. What saddens me even more about this event (as well as the previous radio incident described above) is that the people behind these racist acts were Black — other people of color.

If people still wonder why the Democrats lost this past election and why “The Left” is in such shambles these days, this is a perfect example — people who should be supporting each other and helping each other out in times of crisis are instead ridiculing each other and using human tragedies to try and be funny.

Many people apparently feel that tensions and conflicts between Asians and other groups of color are overexagerated or blown out of proportion by the media. That may be true to some extent, but incidents like this only serve to once again show that there are very real differences between groups of color. Further, this most recent slap in the face of Asian Americans all across the country is likely to negate years of goodwill and bridge-building between the Asian and Black communities.

In other words, at a time when both our communities should be marching forward together, what we have instead is one step forward, two steps back. This is a tragic incident in more ways than one.

January 21, 2005

Written by C.N.

Terror Alert for Chinese Immigrants

The FBI has notified law enforcement authorities in the northeast about a possible terror plot that involves about 10-14 Chinese nationals who may be be planning some kind of terrorist attack against Americans involving some sort of nuclear or “dirt” bomb in the Boston area. Suspected Chinese terrorists © Associated Press This alert is significant because, as far as I know, it is the first time that an Asian or Asian American has been identified as a possible front-line terrorist (as opposed to being suspected of espionage or assisting terrorist suspects).

It will be interesting to see how law enforcement officials handle this alert, especially since many authorities believe that this “tip” is nothing more than an act of revenge against these Chinese for failing to pay a smuggler who helped them enter the U.S. illegally. Will they treat this alert just like all the other ones that I’m sure they receive on a daily basis, or will this particular alert receive extra attention, perhaps based on the implicit assumption that, once again, Asians are perpetual foreigners and therefore, not “real” Americans.

Even though the FBI has actual names and photographs in this case, should we expect another case of racial profiling here, where virtually all Chinese Americans (and by implication, virtually all Asian Americans) are suspected? We’ll have wait and see.

Latest update: The FBI is now saying that as I suspected, this terror alert was a false alarm and that the person who made the original tip most likely did do so out of revenge against the Chinese immigrants. It’s nice to know the truth, but I find it interesting how much attention this alert got even when the FBI itself admitted that it was never substantiated nor independently verified.

January 20, 2005

Written by C.N.

Gary Locke’s Legacy

The Seattle Times has a very interesting article about the legacy of Washington Governor Gary Locke. If you’ll recall, Gov. Locke was the first mainland Asian American governor ever, and his governorship recently ended after two terms (he decided not to seek a third term). As the article describes, Gov. Locke seemed to have a rather complex set of priorities and accomplishments:

Many conservatives view him as a big-government liberal. Many liberals view him as, well, a conservative. . . As a legislator, he supported one of the biggest business-tax increases in state history and frequently argued for imposing a personal income tax. As governor, however, he approved billions of dollars in tax breaks to big business and vowed to never support an income tax. . . He has championed civil rights and tough-on-crime measures. He is a big backer of social-service programs and preaches personal responsibility.

During his first year as governor, Locke joined with Republicans to enact landmark welfare-reform legislation — but only after they agreed that the program be open to immigrants. . . As governor, Locke has been dogged by the charge that he lacks the vision of a true leader. Technocrat and tinkerer are two of the words most frequently used to describe him. He has been portrayed in cartoons as a limp rag-doll and as captain on a ship that remains tethered to the dock. Some say it’s just his low-key manner and his plain way of putting things. He once referred to his legislative agenda as “prudent yet bold.”

Does Gov. Locke’s shifting stances on issues and programs represent a tendency toward indecision and lack of executive backbone, or is he merely being pragmatic, realistic, and more focused on results than ideology? I may be a little biased but as someone who has always admired him, I think it’s more of the latter.

In fact, I think Gary Locke represents an excellent example of what sociologists might call a “postmodern” leader — someone who is not bound by traditional political or ideological boundaries and instead, focuses on what is the right thing to do at the moment given the circumstances and at the same time, what will benefit the most people in the long run.

As I have repeatedly stressed throughout Asian-Nation, the Asian American community is way too complex and diverse to expect all of us to think, act, or attain socioeconomic success (or fail to do so) in the exact same ways. In other words, Asian Americans are another reflection of the world around us — complex, multifaceted, and ever-evolving. With that in mind, I think Governor Locke is an excellent example of contemporary Asian America.

January 17, 2005

Written by C.N.

Best and Worst of Asian Pop Music

The San Francisco Chronicle has a series of articles written by Vera H-C Chan and Jeff Yang that reviews the Best and Worst of Asian Pop Music 2004, along with summaries of other Asian American culture-related news from this past year. It’s a very nice, interesting overview of many events that made news (and some that should have). Make sure to check it out.

January 11, 2005

Written by C.N.

Look Out For Michelle Wie

Perhaps you may have heard about Michelle Wie, the 15 year old Asian American golf phenom and rising star of the women’s golfing world. She’s been described as the next Tiger Woods and as this New York Times article describes, she’ll be once again competing head-to-head against many of the top male golfers in the world this weekend:

Michelle Wie © Robert Laberge/Getty Images

During a magical two days at last year’s Sony Open in Hawaii, Wie impressed her competitors and bruised a few egos, shooting 72 and 70 to finish two over, missing the cut by one stroke, and finishing ahead of 48 players, including three who have won major championships – Todd Hamilton, Jeff Sluman and Craig Stadler.

After last year’s experience, and with so many Waialae practice rounds under her belt, Wie did not hesitate when asked about her goals for the week. “To do a lot better than last year, to make the cut,” Wie said when interviewed after last week’s Mercedes Championships pro-am. “A top 20 would be fantastic, if everything works out well.”

Reminded that to finish in the top 20 she would have to beat more than 120 men, Wie flashed her photogenic smile and said, “That would be really cool.”

Michelle is also one of several up-and-coming Asian and Asian American women golfers who have taken the Ladies Professional Golf Association by storm. Notables include Se Ri Pak, Grace Park, Aree Song, Jinnie Lee, Ya-Ni Tseng, In-Bee Park, Mi-Hyum Kim, Jung Yeon Lee, Jennifer Rosales, Christina Kim, and Seol-An Jeon, to name just a few.

Asian Americans are not well represented in many professional sports, so it’s nice to see that we’re doing well women’s golf. Good luck to everyone and in particular, go get ’em, Michelle!

January 10, 2005

Written by C.N.

“Father” of the Newest Mustang

Those of you who are “automotive enthusiasts” probably know by now that the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the Los Angeles International Auto Show are going on right now. And one of the most anticipated debuts in both shows is the latest Ford Mustang, which blends retro styling from the first Mustangs of the 1960s and early 1970s with brand new and (mostly) up-to-date mechanics and performance.

Hau Thai-Tang and the 2005 Mustang © USA Today

But did you also know that the man mainly credited with bringing this new Mustang to life is a Vietnamese American named Hau Thai-Tang? Mr. Thai-Tang is clearly a rising star within the Ford corporation and was also recently named as Director of Ford’s well-respected “Special Vehicles Team” operation. As various media outlets such as USA Today have described, like many Vietnamese Americans, Mr. Thai-Tang was a refugee who fled Viet Nam with his family at a relatively early age and eventually settled in the U.S. He eventually came to Ford as a race car engineer and then landed the assignment as Chief Engineer of the new Mustang.

It’s always nice to see a fellow Asian- and Vietnamese-American (especially a male) doing well and representing our community in a professional that’s not usually identified with Asian Americans. Way to go, Hau!

January 7, 2005

Written by C.N.

Further Proof Against Spying

Yesterday, as CNN reports, a federal judge dismissed all charges of illegally possessing and copying documents relating to national security that could have been used for espionage purposes against the U.S. against Chinese American Katrina Leung. The judge dismissed the case due to misconduct on the part of federal prosecutors:

“The government decided to make sure that Leung and her lawyers would not have access to Smith,” the judge said in her decision. “When confronted with what they had done, they engaged in a pattern of stonewalling entirely unbecoming to a prosecuting agency.”

This decision follows on the heals of recent similar decision that exonerated Asian Americans suspected of disloyalty and espionage against the U.S., such as Army Chaplain James Yee and nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. In all these cases, overzealousness and blatant misconduct on the part of federal prosecutors ultimately played a part in the dismissal of the charges. All these dismissals also include the judge chastizing the federal prosecutors on their misconduct as well.

Lesson to be learned, once again: Just because someone is Asian American does not mean s/he is more likely than anybody else to be disloyal to the U.S. or to be a potential spy. Period.

January 5, 2005

Written by C.N.

Congrats to USC and Norm Chow

If you follow college football, you know by now that last night, the USC Trojans destroyed the Oklahoma Sooners 55-19 in the Orange Bowl/BCS Championship game to repeat as national champions. It was a pretty impressive performance, and as more than one observer has noted, for example in this recent Sports Illustrated/ article, much of the credit goes to USC’s Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow.

Coach Chow is one of the most respected, well-paid, and successful (he has mentored several Heisman Trophy winners) assistant coaches in the game. At the same time, there’s been a little controversy about why he isn’t a head coach yet. Some would argue that it’s because he’s Asian. Others point out that it’s not entirely clear that he absolutely wants to be a head coach and/or that he doesn’t have any head coaching experience at this point. As the article points out,

Many feel Chow’s lack of comfort with the spotlight may explain why, almost inexplicably, he remains a coordinator while less accomplished peers ascend to the head-coaching ranks. Granted, Chow has pretty good gig as it is and therefore doesn’t pursue just any old opening. However, when Stanford came calling last month, Chow thought he’d finally found his match. He interviewed at length and was one of two finalists, but the Cardinal elected to go with Pittsburgh’s Walt Harris.

Then, when USC administrator Daryl Gross took the athletic director job at Syracuse and promptly fired Orange head coach Paul Pasqualoni, many assumed he’d take Chow with him. “I talked to Daryl [Wednesday] night,” said Chow, “and it’s not a situation either of us would pursue.”

Whatever the case may be, I have to take my hat off to Coach Chow and the incredible work that he’s done. The results speak for themselves and Coach Chow rightfully deserves all the accolades that he has received. Keep up the great work, Coach!

January 3, 2005

Written by C.N.

Robert Matsui

The Asian American community (as well as all Americans in general) lost one of its heroes yesterday. Robert Matsui passed away at the age of 63 from a rare blood disorder.

As the Associated Press article reprinted in its entirety below notes, he was an internee during World War II who fought to win reparations and an official government apology for his community and eventually became a leader in the Democratic party. The story also describes some very moving tributes in his honor from major political leaders around the country.

I have followed his career for a while and personally consider him to be a very inspirational role model. Thank you for your work and your life, Congressman Matsui.


Rep. Matsui, a Top Democrat, Dies at Age 63
Sun Jan 2, 6:32 PM ET
By Thomas Ferraro, Associated Press

Robert Matsuit © Associated Press

Word of the death of Rep. Robert T. Matsui has prompted an outpouring of praises from Washington and California political figures, all honoring a former Japanese-American prisoner during World War II who went on to serve 26 years in Congress.

Matsui died of complications from a rare disease Saturday night at Bethesda Naval Hospital outside Washington, D.C., his family said Sunday. He was 63.

In a statement, President Bush called Matsui “a dedicated public servant and a good and decent man who served with distinction” in Congress, adding, “Laura and I send our prayers and condolences.”

Matsui was an attorney who became a City Council member in 1971 before winning election to the capital city’s solidly Democratic fifth congressional district in 1978. He juggled political and policy roles during more than a quarter-century in Congress, most recently serving as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee where he headed the party’s unsuccessful effort to regain control of the House.

He also was the third-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he was his party’s point man on Social Security legislation.

In a statement announcing Matsui’s death, his office disclosed that the congressman had been diagnosed several months ago with myelodysplastic disorder, an often-fatal form of bone marrow cancer. The congressman’s family said he entered the hospital on Dec. 24 with pneumonia.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called herself “shocked and despondent” over Matsui’s death, saying in a statement, “He has been part of my political life for more than 20 years, and he represented the best in politics.”

Matsui was born in 1941. The following year, his family was among the Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. Decades later, he helped pass legislation which apologized for the internment policy and provided compensation for the survivors. In a 1988 speech to his congressional colleagues, Matsui said he was motivated by “the tears and painful remembrances of internees.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Matsui as “a master of balanced, practical public policy” and praised his successful efforts to seek legislative redress for other Japanese-Americans who had been interned during War II.

Former President Clinton and his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said in a statement, “Bob Matsui leaves behind a rich legacy of service that improved the lives of his own constituents, all Americans, and people throughout the world.”

California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, also praised Matsui in a statement, saying, “Today, all Californians mourn the loss of this tremendous individual and man of integrity.” Schwarzenegger will call a special election for a new representative in his Sacramento-area district.

Matsui was recently re-elected with ease to his 14th term. His wife, Doris, was until 1998 a deputy director of public liaison in the Clinton White House. He is also survived by a son, Brian.

In his hometown Sunday, Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo described Matsui as “our voice, our advocate, our leader” in ensuring federal support for flood control, light rail, transportation, housing and parks projects in the city of 418,000 people.

“His loss obviously goes well beyond Sacramento, but I think it’s felt strongest here,” she said.

Matsui generally supported Democratic legislation, but his support for global trade legislation put him at odds with members of his party on some high-profile measures.

As senior Democrat on the subcommittee on Social Security, Matsui gave every impression during the final few weeks of his life of being eager to lead the opposition to Bush’s plans to establish personal retirement accounts as part of a general overhaul of the program.

“With the passing of Bob Matsui, our country has lost a great leader and America’s seniors have lost their best friend in Congress,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a friend and fellow Californian, said in a statement.

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada recalled Matsui as “a champion for the underdog who was the same kind, gracious man no matter how far he rose in Congress and in life.”