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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.

April 30, 2005

Written by C.N.

Dennys Discriminates Again

Here’s one from the “Here We Go Again” files: a group of minority customers has brought suit against a Denny’s restaurant for racial discrimination. This time, as reported by CBS News, it was a group of seven Arab Americans who alleged that they were verbally abused and denied service at a Denny’s restaurant near Miami, FL. As the article describes,

The seven men say they went to Fernandez’s restaurant in Florida City, on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 2 a.m. Jan. 11, 2004. They say they were seated, given menus and received their drink orders. But an hour later, their food hadn’t arrived. One of the men — Ehab Albaradi — approached Ascano and inquired about the group’s order, the lawsuit says.

Ascano allegedly said: “Bin Laden is the manager of the kitchen” and “Bin Laden is in charge.” Albaradi and a second man, Usama El-A-Baidy, decided to speak to Ascano again about their order. Angered, Ascano told the short order cooks in the kitchen to cancel the group’s order, the suit claims. El-A-Baidy then asked Ascano why he had used the name bin Laden.

“We don’t serve bin Ladens here! You guys, out!” Ascano allegedly said. A group of officers from the Miami-Dade County and Homestead police departments eating at the Denny’s also told the seven men to leave and threatened to arrest them if they didn’t, the lawsuit said. The officers have not been identified, Kauffman said. . .

The 1,600-restaurant chain, which has annual sales that exceed $2 billion, settled a 1994 lawsuit for $54.4 million that accused the chain of asking blacks to prepay for meals. Since then, it has faced at least six more discrimination lawsuits filed by African-Americans and Hispanics and has been investigated in at least two cases involving discrimination against people of Middle Eastern descent.

Do we see a pattern of discriminatory behavior here? Do we really need any more proof that for whatever reasons, Denny’s restaurants systematically discriminates against people of color? Absolutely unbelievable . . .

April 27, 2005

Written by C.N.

First Asian American NFL Quarterback? has an article about the prospects of Tim Chang (senior quarterback at the University of Hawai’i) becoming the first Asian American quarterback in the National Football League. The article notes that although Chang has set numerous NCAA passing records, he has not received a lot of positive attention from scouts, and his ethnicity may have something to do with it:

[Don] Yee makes it clear he is not suggesting NFL personnel evaluators have practiced any overt or intentional form of discrimination in assessing Chang’s prospects. But as the league’s only Asian-American agent, he can draw on his experience and the well-meaning perceptions he sometimes ran up against in becoming a pioneer in his field.

“I do think [Chang’s] ethnicity to some degree plays a part,” Yee said. “But there’s no malice intended. It’s almost a subconscious perception problem. There is kind of a perception that people have of Asians. There are still stereotypes that well-intending people still buy into. When I got into this business, it took a couple years before I was able to not have to listen to any jokes any more about being Asian. It wasn’t malice. It was more ignorance.”

The article goes on to say that at least on the surface, most the suspicions against Chang center on him playing in a wide-open “run and shoot” offensive system that usually doesn’t translate well into a stricter, more balanced and controlled NFL system. In this past weekend’s NFL draft, Chang went undrafted, but he did sign a free agent offer with the Arizona Cardinals shortly thereafter.

If Chang ends up playing professional football somewhere (either in the NFL, the Canadian Football League, the NFL Europe, or Arena Football), Chang may find himself in the role of “trailblazer” — forging the way and eventually getting trampled in the process, but hopefully clearing the path for others to follow after him. I wish him the very best of luck.

April 24, 2005

Written by C.N.

30th Anniversay of the Fall of Saigon

April 30, 2005 will mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Viet Nam War, and the beginning of the Vietnamese American experience. There are sure to be many stories in the media over the next week or so about this commenoration. I have reprinted an article published just today by Associated Press reporter Erin Texeira entitled “Vietnamese in U.S. Take Stock of Community,” in which she interviewed and quoted yours truly in her article.

Another nice collection of articles comes from the Orange County Register, home to Little Saigon and the largest Vietnamese American community in the country. They will have a different story each day this week, so be sure to check their site every day for the latest article. The Register also has an excellent multimedia presentation of the events surrounding the fall of Saigon and ensuing evacuation and resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese into the U.S.

For most Vietnamese Americans and me personally, this is a time to reflect back on how far we’ve come in overcoming the obstacles in our path, and to look forward to what the future holds for us as a collective community. As I’ve said before, as the Vietnamese American community continues to develop, flourish, and become integrated into the American mainstream, I hope that collectively, we will recognize, respect, and embrace the diverse elements that make up our community, in terms of socioeconomic position, age/generation, Vietnamese and English fluency, and most importantly, political/ideological.

April 22, 2005

Written by C.N.

Peace Between India and Pakistan?

In contrast to the escalating tensions and turmoil between China and Japan, CNN and others report that in their recent summit, the leaders of India and Pakistan have declared that the peace process is irreversible between their two nations. As the article describes,

In their statement on Monday the two said they would boost business ties and cross-border travel, set up a joint economic commission and open consulates in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Karachi by the end of the year. Among the most concrete moves, the nuclear-armed neighbors agreed to open up the heavily militarized frontier dividing Kashmir, setting up meeting points for divided families and cultural exchanges.

Of course, we should not get ahead of ourselves since many differences remain unresolved between the two nations. But similar to the encouraging progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestineans, this improvement in relations between India and Pakistan is certain welcome news for Asians all around the world.

April 19, 2005

Written by C.N.

Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Four” has an article by MiHi Ahn about pop singer Gwen Stefani’s version of Asian fashion: an entourage of four Japanese American dancers whose jobs is to, in essence, be media props — a 21st century version of the geisha. As the author writes,

Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, even though it’s rumored they’re just plain old Americans and their English is just fine. . .

Stefani fawns over harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she’s swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that’s suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.

It’s not only Stefani whose big kiss to the East ends up feeling more like a big Pacific Rim job.

You can make up your own mind about what exactly the “Harajuku Four” represent to you, but like others, I see this as another unfortunate example of Asian culture being fetishized, dehumanized, and commercialized for the consumption of Americans who want a taste of Asian-ness, but not too authentic — made mild enough for their own Americanized tastes.

April 18, 2005

Written by C.N.

Anti-Asian Discrimination at the NY Port Authority

Newsday reports that several Asian American police officers at the New York Port Authority have filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and a racially hostile work environment. As the article states,

The lawsuit said that since 1996, Asian police officers have faced racial slurs by non-Asian officers, who called them “chink,” “gook,” “slant-eye” or “fish-head.” It said non-Asian officers, including Port Authority management employees, also made derogatory references to Asian food and mocked Asian accents over the Port Authority police radio. . .

It said officers who complained about the derogatory remarks, racial slurs or discriminatory treatment were either ignored or subject to retaliatory action including false disciplinary charges, denial of promotions, social ostracism and public ridicule. . . In particular, the lawsuit cited the difficulty Asian officers have had gaining promotions in the Port Authority police force, which has more than 1,000 officers.

Racism at a police agency against their workers of color? Absolutely shocking! Yeah right. More like the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, it looks like another example of the “old White boys network” feeling that their Asian American coworkers were unworthy of being treated with respect. The Port Authority apparently also felt that their Asian American coworkers were powerless in standing up and fighting for their rights. Wrong!

I hope the Asian American police officers take the Port Authority for everything that it’s worth. Organizations need to learn that racism has financial, along with cultural and political, consequences.

April 11, 2005

Written by C.N.

International Politics in Asia

As reported by the New York Times, over the weekend, there were a series of often violent anti-Japan protests in China over the recent approval of textbooks in Japan that once again minimized and downplayed Japan’s atrocities committed during World War II against China, South Korea, and other Asian countries. As the article notes,

The marches have set off a steep decline in the already troubled diplomatic relations between Asia’s big powers and threatened to harm their important economic relationship. Japan has recently adopted a more assertive foreign policy, and its relations with South Korea have deteriorated as well, so the dispute with China could leave Japan isolated in Asia. . .

But the fight over the past has also crystallized into a fight over the future, as South Korea and China have each moved to oppose Japan’s effort to win a permanent seat on an expanded United Nations Security Council. South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Sam Hoon, recently said that “a country that does not have the trust of its neighboring countries because of its lack of reflection on the past” could not play the “role of a world leader.”

International criticisms and protests against Japan’s collective denial of their brutal actions during World War II is nothing new, but it appears that in combination with Japan’s efforts to get a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, these tensions between Japan and its Asian neighbors have escalated dramatically as these issues have come to the forefront. Interestingly, has this article about a new strategic alliance between China and India:

The agreement, signed by both premiers, eases decades of mutual distrust between the nations, which share a mountainous, 2,500-mile border and fought a war in 1962. Parts of the border still are not demarcated. . . The agreement outlined steps to demarcate the disputed boundary through a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution, through equal and friendly consultations,” a statement announcing the partnership said. . .

The statement, while giving few details, said the agreement would promote diplomatic relations, economic ties and contribute to the nations “jointly addressing global challenges and threats.” . . The two countries also signed cooperation agreement in areas such as civil aviation, finance, education, science and technology, tourism and cultural exchanges.

For various reasons, Japan has become rather conservative and reactionary in recent years and has been increasingly rubbing its neighbors the wrong way. Perhaps as a result, what is also becoming clear is that despite Japan’s best efforts, its political and economic dominance over the region appears to be waning. As the South Korean official notes, it also does not help Japan’s credibility when it continues to bury its head in the sand over its actions against its neighbors during WWII.

In other words, we may be witnessing the end of Japan as Asia’s primary superpower, replaced by the emergence of China (and its allies India and South Korea).

April 8, 2005

Written by C.N.

Festishizing Asian Women with Urine & Semen

As one of the regular posters on the Discussion Forum initially pointed out, and as described in this article in the Baton Rouge Advocate, Michael Lohman, a 28 year old White male doctoral student in mathematics at Princeton University, was arrested after an investigation found that he had surreptitiously cut the hair of Asian women on the Princeton campus and slipped his own urine and semen into their drinks. As the article notes,

Lohman is accused of squirting his semen or urine into about 50 drinks, squirting those same liquids onto women about 20 times and cutting women’s hair in public at least eight times. “And those are probably conservative numbers,” [Princeton Police spokesman Lt. Dennis] McManimon said.

Lohman is also accused of stealing women’s mittens, stuffing them with the stolen hair, then using the mittens to masturbate. . . Lohman was cooperative under interrogation, McManimon said, and provided information that “made this thing take off.” While declining to offer specifics of Lohman’s confession, he said, “Emotionally I think he’s probably pretty upset and has some issues that will be addressed.”

He has some issues that need to be addressed? No, you think?!? If this guy isn’t the poster child for fetishizing Asian women, I don’t know who would be. Obviously, his case is extreme, but as many Asian men and women can probably testify to, this kind of obsessive and fetishizing behavior is probably more common than most people (particular White men) would think.

Yes, he is a sick, perverted psycho. But I would probably point out that similar to other men who fetishize Asian women, he probably had some strong cultural and media influences that reinforce and perpetuate the stereotype of Asian women as exotic sexual objects, eager to submit to the whims and desires of White men. The truth is, there are probably many more like him all around the country doing similar things. Pretty disturbing.

April 5, 2005

Written by C.N.

Hollywood Remaking Asian Cinema

AsianWeek magazine has an article that discusses the recent phenomenon of Hollywood studios remaking Asian movies, specifically a new generation of supernatural thriller/horror movies. Rather than the traditional blood-and-gore slasher films American audiences are used to seeing, these new thrillers, best represented by The Ring which was a remake of the Japanese film Ringu, rely more on “atmospheric” elements such as tense drama and abrupt plot surprises.

[Hideo] Nakata’s atmospheric thrillers (Ringu, Chaos, Dark Water) fired the shot heard around the world, heralding a new era of more subtle and moody horror films devoid of overt gore and blood. . . Nakata says he thinks Asian horror films have resonated with American audiences because they want more than the cookie-cutter films offered to them by U.S. studios.

[Better Luck Tomorrow director Justin] Lin attributes Hollywood’s recent fascination with Asian cinema to the changes in technology that have allowed filmmakers from other countries to compete with American studio films as well as Hollywood’s constant need for fresh voices and stories. . . But like Lin, [Asian American producer Roy] Lee feels the main reason for the ascendancy of Asian films in America is that the quality of the films themselves has improved and that the lower budgets Asian filmmakers must use have forced them to be more creative.

“The fact that [Asian filmmakers] have lower budgets actually makes the films more interesting because oftentimes the filmmakers use ingenious techniques that, while they are ‘low-tech,’ can be more effective than the standard techniques of Hollywood filmmakers,” Lee says.

Here again we have a rather fine line. On the one hand, many critics would point out that Hollywood (and perhaps mainstream American society in general) has a habit of appropriating elements of Asian culture for their own commercial purposes and in the process, cheapening and even corrupting the original essence and appeal of such Asian cultural elements.

On the other hand, it is encouraging to see that at least when it comes to many of these Hollywood remakes of Asian films, Asian and Asian American directors and producers are put in charge of the projects. While that does not guarantee success or “cultural authenticity,” it does go a long way toward addressing the historical exclusion and marginalization of Asian and Asian American filmmakers in the American movie industry.

In the meantime, if you haven’t learned already, don’t watch these movies alone — these films are seriously spooky.

April 2, 2005

Written by C.N.

Asian Women’s Job Earnings

The New York Times reports that according to Census Bureau data from 2003, among women with a Bachelor’s degree, Asian Americans have the highest median personal income at $43,700. They are followed by Black women at $41,100, then Whites at $37,800, with Latinas close behind at $37,600. Among men with a college degree, Whites earned the most at $66,000 a year, followed by Asian Americans at $52,000, Hispanics at $49,000 and then Blacks at $45,000.

The data for Asian Americans having the highest median incomes among college-educated women isn’t that surprising, but I have to admit that Black women outearned White women was a little surprising (and also that White women barely earn more than Latinas). The article notes,

The bureau did not say why the differences [among women] exist. Economists and sociologists suggest several possible factors: the tendency of minority women, especially Blacks, to more often hold more than one job or work more than 40 hours a week, and the tendency of Black professional women who take time off to have a child to return to the work force sooner than others. . .

Workplace discrimination and the continuing difficulties of minorities to get into higher-paying management positions could help explain the disparities among men, experts say.

So here you have the age old question — is that glass half full or half empty? Relative to Whites as the reference group, for Asian American women, it seems to be half full while for Asian American men (and all men of color), it seems to be half empty.