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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.

March 29, 2005

Written by C.N.

College Admissions and Asian Americans

The Washington Post has an article that discusses one of the most vexing issues that Asian Americans contend with — situations where highly qualified Asian American college applicants are rejected to the top schools in favor of other applicants of color who have objectively lower qualifications. In other words, many Asian Americans apparently find themselves to be the victims of affirmative action, in much the same way that Whites have claimed:

Asian American students have higher average SAT scores than any other government-monitored ethnic group, and selective colleges routinely reject them in favor of African American, Hispanic and even white applicants with lower scores in order to have more diverse campuses and make up for past discrimination. Many Asian Americans and some educators wonder: Is that fair? Why shouldn’t young people of Asian descent have more of an advantage in the selective college admissions system for being violin-playing, science-fair winning, high-scoring achievers? . . .

Many Americans, including some of Asian descent, have grown accustomed to seemingly irrational and unfair admissions decisions by selective colleges and shrug off the Asian numbers as something that can’t be helped. . . But Arun Mantri, born in India with children at Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, said he thinks the system should change. Asian American applicants’ chances “would improve dramatically if race was not used as a factor in admissions, perhaps at the cost of the white applicants, something that only a few selective schools have dared to do,” he said.

This kind of issue is not new — the article discussed the Asian college admissions controversy of the late 1980s where several top universities around the country were found to have unfairly rejected Asian American applicants at disproportionately high rates. It’s a very complicated situation for sure. On the one hand, fairness would dictate that applicants should be judged solely on academic merit, rather than racial/ethnic identity. On the other hand, we still live in an unequal society and still have to make up for past discrimination committed against Blacks and other disadvantaged groups.

Does this mean that some (maybe even many) Asian American students who have objectively higher qualifications are necessarily rejected in the interests of promoting diversity? It’s a very hard call to make but I would still have to say yes. Addressing the history of systematic disadvantage and promoting campus diversity should still be the paramount priority for universities and online schools alike. Further, as the article described, where’s the diversity when so many Asian American applicants want to major in math or engineering and are good at playing the piano?

We as Asian Americans should strive to diversify our interests as well, not just for the purpose of helping us to stand out from the other Asian American applicants, but also to enrich and diversify our community as a whole. It’s fine to be doctors, engineers, and scientists, but our community also needs more artists, teachers, professors, activists, etc. We are more than a one-dimensional group of people in so many ways. It’s time to apply that to our majors and occupations as well.

March 24, 2005

Written by C.N.

Xenophobia Rising in Europe

Many of us may have an idealized image of European society — very open, tolerant, and multiethnic/multicultural. However, a new survey apparently finds that increasing numbers of Europeans are growing intolerant of immigrants, as reported by Reuters through Yahoo News:

The study, based on pan-EU opinion surveys between 1997 and 2003, found a significant increase in support for the view that there were limits to a so-called multicultural society. . . The center’s analysis of the data found:

60 percent in the former EU of 15 states and 42 percent in the 10 mainly east European states that joined the EU last year believed there were “limits to multicultural society.” Nearly 40 percent across the EU opposed granting legal immigrants full civil rights.

Fifty percent expressed “resistance to immigrants” and 58 percent saw a “collective ethnic threat” from immigration, meaning they answered yes to questions including whether immigrants threaten jobs and a country’s culture, add to crime problems and make a country a worse place to live.

Pretty surprising and unsettling results. It makes me wonder — if so many Europeans, who are supposedly known for being more open-minded than Americans, can have these blatantly xenophobic and nativist sentiments, what kind of example and message are they sending to us across the pond, where there are plenty of examples, historical and contemporary, of anti-immigrant ideology already in existence?

March 22, 2005

Written by C.N.

Job Discrimination Settlement

The Contra Costa Times reports that the University of California, which operates the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (one of the country’s most important military laboratories), has just agreed to settle a lawsuit in which hundreds of Asian American engineers and scientists alleged systematic pay and promotion discrimination against it, for the amount of 1.2 million dollars. However, as the article notes, several of the original plaintiffs opted out of the settlement:

Under the tentative settlement, UC will pay $15,000 each to four of the nine class representatives, up to $765,000 to be shared by the rest of the class, and $350,000 in legal fees and costs. Five of the nine class representatives who originally filed the suit, including Ling, have already decided not to participate in the settlement and are continuing with the lawsuit.

“Our people opted out because it’s a bad deal for them, and they think it’s a bad deal for the class,” said Richard Hoyer, a San Francisco lawyer who represents the five employees. “You’re talking about decades of discrimination and the class members are getting something like $1,500 apiece for all that. For our clients, that’s much less than they deserve.”

The article also mentions that this settlement follows on the heels of a similar settlement brought against the U.C. for gender discrimination:

Last year, UC settled a class-action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination. UC agreed to pay $9.7 million to more than 3,000 women and to spend $1.7 million to raise the salaries of all women at the lab by 1 percent. The lab and UC admitted no wrongdoing in that case either. Of the 3,200 women included in the class, 161 opted out of the settlement, retaining their rights to sue the lab individually.

Absolutely incredible. Here you have an institution of higher learning (the University of California), representing perhaps the most diverse and multicultural state in the union, and who apparently has systematically dicriminated against its workers on the basis of gender and Asian American ethnicity. These workers apparently worked in conditions that amounted to a white collar sweatshop — disposable labor who the company’s executives thought that they could easily exploit like some cheap third world peasants.

The University of California needs to clean up their act, big time. I hope the few plaintiffs who did not settle take the U.C. for everything they’re worth.

March 20, 2005

Written by C.N.

Koreatown in Northern Virginia

Another sign of the changing demographic times — as more and more Koreans are locating in the Washington D.C./northern Virginia metropolitan area, they and their businesses are increasingly making their presence known. Case in point — as this Washington Post article describes, Koreans are increasingly dominating the business district of Annandale, Virginia (just west of Alexandria). In fact, the city’s downtown area is frequently but unofficially referred to as Koreatown. However, several of the long time (that is, White) residents have other ideas:

The term Koreatown offends some members of the area’s civic associations who are mostly non-Asian and who protest whenever their hometown is referred to as a Korean enclave, especially because relatively few Koreans live there. . . Yet many Koreans who work in the Village Centre and who run more than half its businesses said they feel slighted by such comments and ask: Why shouldn’t the area be known as Koreatown?

After all, many Korean business owners said, the downtown was faltering before they came along. Today, it is thriving. . . “I understand why [non-Koreans] don’t like that. I just hope they understand what Koreans have done for Annandale,” said Young Kim, president of the Korean American Association of Greater Washington. . .

The naming issue that divides the Korean retail community and its predominantly white retail counterpart illustrates the tensions that have developed across the region as large-scale immigration transforms neighborhoods into ethnic enclaves. Strained relations are well-documented along residential streets, where immigrants have moved into neighborhoods.

The article goes on to describe that many Korean business owners in Annandale are not shy to say that because of the large population of Koreans in the metro area (about 70,000), they do not need to rely on non-Korean customers to stay in business and therefore, they have no need to cater to non-Korean customers. Also, many Korean owners refuse to participate in the city’s Chamber of Commerce, causing further misunderstandings and tensions.

At the risk of sounding like a cop-out, it seems to me that both sides need to be a little more understanding of the other. On the one hand, the more established business community (i.e., Whites) can probably show a little more appreciation to the contribution that Korean businesses are making to the city’s economy and culture. And if they want more Koreans to participate in their Chamber activities, perhaps they can take the initiative to come to the Korean businesses directly instead of waiting for the Koreans to come to them.

On the other hand (and as one Korean owner stated at the end of the article), it is not constructive for Korean owners to automatically dismiss non-Koreans as unimportant. They may have enough business from Koreans to stay profitable, but they need to understand that they do not live and work in their own private utopia. In fact, it is this kind of arrogant and isolationist attitude that contributed to interracial tensions which eventually exploded against Koreans in the L.A. riots.

Living in a multicultural society means valuing everyone’s unique histories, characteristics, and experiences. Koreans business owners in Annandale can’t expect everyone else to treat them with respect if they don’t show the same kind of reciprocity as well.

March 18, 2005

Written by C.N.

Smoking Among Vietnamese & Vietnamese Americans

The Pacific News Service has a very interesting article that describes the epidemic of smoking among men in Viet Nam and its inevitable health consequences. At the same time, the article also explains that one of the most successful anti-smoking campaigns waged in the U.S. was to reduce smoking among Vietnamese Americans. Some excerpts:

Taking and offering cigarettes is how friends and associates greet each other. It’s like a handshake. If you don’t shake hands, don’t expect the natives to be friendly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 70 percent of Vietnamese men and 5 percent of women light up regularly. . . As it is, Vietnam is now paying dearly for its bad habit. Smoking kills more than 40,000 people each year, and the number is increasing, fast.

The WHO warns that possibly 10 percent of Vietnam’s 84 million population, or more than 8 million people, will die early of smoking. Statistics show that nicotine addiction is more prevalent in Asia than anywhere else. Asian males consume virtually half of the world’s cigarettes. Vietnamese men, of course, contribute to the trend, with highest smoking prevalence rate for men in the world. . .

Ironically, it’s in California where many Vietnamese immigrants quit smoking. One of the most effective anti-smoking campaign ever waged among Southeast Asian refugees here was done by Suc Khoe La Vang, the Vietnamese Community Health Promotion Project out of University of California in San Francisco. “Up to 50 percent of the participants quit in the first year,” one doctor in San Jose boasted about the program.

He showed films, charts and documents on how smoking affects one’s health and, more important, the health of one’s family. One man cried and said he didn’t know secondary smoke was killing his kids, or at least making them less smart, the doctor reported. “He found the strength to quit,” the doctor said.

The success of the anti-smoking campaign among Vietnamese Americans is a great example of how to combine cultural traditions and contemporary circumstances to strengthen communities. In this case, the health researchers were able to apply the traditional “masculine” concern of protecting the family with the goal of getting men to quit smoking. This was also a strategy that we tried at APICHA to educate Asian Americans about HIV/AIDS — to emphasize that in order to protect your family and the community against disease, you need to make wise choices and use protection.

Hopefully this kind of strategy that builds on community and cultural traditions to achieve modern-day goals will become more common and become incorporated into contemporary Asian American communities.

March 16, 2005

Written by C.N.

Racism Directed at Indian Call Centers

More fallout from globalization: the Washington Post has an interesting article about the rash of obscene, hostile, and racist comments that are increasingly directed at call center operators in India. As the article explains,

” ‘You Indians suck!’ an American screamed on the phone,” recalled a soft-spoken Manzoor, 25 [an Indian call center operator]. “He was using a lot of four-letter words, too. He called me names left, right and center.” Call center executives and industry experts say abusive hate calls are commonplace, as resentment swells over the loss of American jobs to India.

According to a survey in November 2004 by an Indian information technology magazine called Dataquest, about 25 percent of call center agents identified such calls as the main reason for workplace stress.

The article later describes some techniques call center operations use to try and “trick” callers that they are located in the U.S., such as advising their operators to keep up on American culture and TV shows, knowing the weather in cities in which they claim to be located, etc. I’m not sure if I would consider trying to trick American callers into believing that you’re located inside the U.S. as an advisable strategy, but it is very unfortunate that so many Indian call center operators have to encounter such racist hostility.

Then again, if we consider how the fundamental nature of capitalism inevitably pits different groups of workers against each other, it makes sense that this kind of thing is so commonplace. In this case, American workers feel economically threatened so they take out their frustrations out on those who they perceive to be “taking away their jobs” and therefore primarily responsible — the Indian operators — instead of at the real causes of their situation — capitalism and the obsessive drive to reduce labor costs and maximize profit.

This is one instance in which the saying is true — don’t blame the player, blame the game.

March 14, 2005

Written by C.N.

Chinese Food Murders

For whatever reasons, there seems to be a virtual epidemic of Chinese food deliverymen being murdered or visciously attacked and robbed. As this New York Daily News article points out, the latest involves the brutal murder of 18 year old Huang Chen in New York City by two teenagers who allegedly murdered him to get money to buy some new Nikes:

“The community is very concerned because we feel like Asians are being targeted,” said York Chan, who heads the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, a Manhattan-based coalition of 60 groups. “These workers mind their own business and work hard and try to make a living, and they get murdered for such nonsense. We want to see a heavy sentence to send a message.”

Chen’s killing in a Rochdale Village apartment in southeast Queens was the sixth high-profile assault of a Chinese food worker in the past five years. . . But many also are shocked at the sheer brutality of the crime. Chen was pounded in the head with a hammer and a baseball bat, stabbed in the chest with a knife and then tossed into a nearby pond. . . The attack left Huang Chen’s face nearly unrecognizable.

The article goes on to list several other murders of Chinese food deliverymen in recent years, just in New York City:

July 18, 2003: Li Zhen Lin, 25, a worker at the Beautiful Garden restaurant in Far Rockaway, Queens, was shot and killed during a robbery.

Oct. 15, 2002: Jian Chun Lin, 36, delivering for Happy House restaurant, was shot and killed in the lobby of a Brownsville building.

March 20, 2001: Wu-Ching Wang, 51, who worked at the New Cheung Hing Restaurant near Chinatown, was beaten with a baseball bat. He survived.

Sept. 1, 2000: Jin-Sheng Liu, 44, owner of Golden Wok Chinese Restaurant in St. Albans, Queens, was pummeled to death with bricks by five teens as he delivered food to a deserted house.

It is indeed very disturbing to suspect that these Chinese food deliverymen were murdered partly because their attackers believed that, as Chinese food deliverymen, they were somehow less than human — easy to attack, not human enough to have a family to support, and not worthy of being treated as a human being.

I normally considered myself a solid liberal, but there are just some crimes that defy reasoning and justification and cannot be “excused away” by liberals. Torturing and brutally murdering a Chinese food deliveryman is one of those crimes. Although I am not ready to support the death penalty, their attackers deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

March 12, 2005

Written by C.N.

Worst Hollywood Portrayals of Asian Americans

AsianWeek Magazine has a feature article about Hollywood’s 25 Worst Portrayals of Asian Americans. You should definitely read the article yourself to learn the details about each portrayal, but their top ten of the most notorious portrayals are:

10. The movie Year of the Dragon
9. Charlie Chan
8. Fu Manchu
7. William Hung
6. The sitcom All American Girl starring Margaret Cho
5. The movie The Good Earth
4. Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles
3. Injustices suffered by cinematographer James Wong Howe
2. Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
1. Deaths on the set of The Twilight Zone

Not all is doom and gloom — the article also describes the 10 Most Memorable Moments for Asian Americans:

10. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
9. Better Luck Tomorrow (2003)
8. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
7. Flower Drum Song (1961)
6. Charlie’s Angels (2000)
5. Enter the Dragon (1973)
4. The Killing Fields (1984)
3. Shanghai Express (1932)
2. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)
1. Chan is Missing (1982)

In terms of most memorable moments, I would have taken out Charlie’s Angels myself and instead, would have included Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but for the most part, their lists make sense.

March 9, 2005

Written by C.N.

International Women’s Day

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and as reported by Yahoo News, violence against women was the most significant topic of protest in several countries:

Asia has marked International Women’s Day with rallies and protests against a wide range of gender inequalities and acts of violence, although there were some celebrations for hard-won victories. In Bangladesh, where hundreds of women continue to be disfigured each year from acid attacks, victims were due to converge on the capital of Dhaka to call for greater government efforts to stop the brutal practice. Nearly 2,000 women in Bangladesh have had acid thrown on them since 1999, according to the Acid Survivors’ Foundation, with their attackers most often men who have had their advances rejected. . .

The United Nations-mandated Women’s Day was being marked in Pakistan by a similar battle to end “honour crimes.” In the central city of Multan, high-profile gang rape victim Mukhtiar Mai led a rally of several hundred women on the eve of Women’s Day, less than a week after a court controversially acquitted her alleged attackers. . .

In the Philippines, the decades-old campaign for justice by women who were forced into sexual slavery at the hands of Japanese World War II occupation forces, was again a rallying cry on Women’s Day. Twenty elderly women who say they were sex slaves staged a protest at the Japanese embassy because they were “still bereft of justice and recognition by the Japanese and Philippine governments,” women’s group Kaisa Ka said.

However it was not all bleak news for Asia’s women on Tuesday. In South Korea, women’s groups staged plays, dances and exhibitions to mark a victory for gender equality — the abolition of a century-old family registration. The National Assembly last week voted to abolish by 2008 the “hojuje” system under which children take the family name of their natural father. Women’s groups say the system adds to the stigma of divorce and discriminated against children of divorced women.

Events were also decidedly more upbeat in the modern city-state of Singapore, where the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations was due to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a gala dinner on Tuesday night. Aside from raising money for traditional causes such as charities and women’s support groups, the council will for the first time also support a sporting cause — a planned all-women Mt Everest climbing expedition for 2008.

It’s nice to see Asian women at the forefront of activism to achieve gender equality. As with many issues of social justice, it looks like it’s going to be two steps forward, one step back in terms of improving the status and rights of women around the world.

March 7, 2005

Written by C.N.

Asian American Contributions to Tsunami Relief

The Pacific News Service and New California Media have released the results of a survey of Asian Americans in California, which found that California Asians disproportionately contributed to the tsunami relief efforts. As the article explains,

70 percent of Asian Californians have contributed to tsunami relief efforts, compared to 33 percent of all adult Americans across the country. . . Asian Californians account for about 1 percent of the U.S. population, yet were responsible for more than 15 percent of overall donations. According to the poll, an estimated $200 million has come from the California Asian population out of the $1.2 billion in nationwide donations. . .

According to the poll, only 8 percent of Asian Californians reported knowing someone directly impacted by the tsunami. Despite this, two out of three still donated to the relief effort. . . Asian Americans in the United States have historically split along cultural, linguistic and historical lines and identified solely with their countries of origin. But according to the poll, Asian immigrants — who make up the bulk of the U.S. Asian population — are becoming more comfortable with the all-inclusive Asian American label.

Indeed, it’s very common for inter-ethnic rivalries and historical traditions of conflict and suspicion to hinder efforts among Asian Americans to unite as one collective group. But as this survey shows, in times of crisis, Asian Americans are capable to putting aside their differences and to come together as a united community, whether it’s in the name of fighting for justice for Vincent Chin, responding to racist media stereotypes, or in this case, helping our Asian brothers and sisters in the tsunami relief efforts.

When we’re united as one community, we can accomplish amazing things.

March 4, 2005

Written by C.N.

Los Angeles Mayoral Race

The Pacific News Service has a very interesting article on the leading candidates for Mayor of Los Angeles and how each of their campaigns addresses the city’s complex racial/ethnic issues. To make a long story short, demographic changes in recent decades has led to Latinos becoming the majority population (although not yet a majority of voters) and they are increasingly looking to flex their emerging political power.

Further, as Latino power has increased, the political efficacy (along with the population size) of Blacks has declined and they are trying to hang onto the last vestiges of power. And of course, the power base of Whites continues to slowly decline as well, as White flight into surrounding suburbs has increasingly led to calls among many White residents to split the L.A. school district so that, as the article notes, more affluent White schools are not forced to subsidize poorer and underserved urban schools.

Interesting, the article does not mention Asian Americans at all, despite the fact that as of the 2000 Census, Asian Americans represented 10% of Los Angeles’s population and have surely increased that proportion since then. In all likelihood, Asian American have already surpassed Blacks to become the second largest racial/ethnic groups in the city. Unfortunately, it looks like another case of Asian Americans again being treated as the invisible minority.