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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.

October 31, 2005

Written by C.N.

George Takei Comes Out

As many news organizations are reporting, including, George Takei — Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series on the late 1960s and a beloved icon of Asian American entertainment, has just publicly announced that he is gay:

Takei told The Associated Press on Thursday that his new onstage role as psychologist Martin Dysart in “Equus,” helped inspire him to publicly discuss his sexuality. Takei described the character as a “very contained but turbulently frustrated man.”

“The world has changed from when I was a young teen feeling ashamed for being gay,” he said. “The issue of gay marriage is now a political issue. That would have been unthinkable when I was young.” The 68-year-old actor said he and his partner, Brad Altman, have been together for 18 years.

Takei, a Japanese-American who lived in a U.S. internment camp from age 4 to 8, said he grew up feeling ashamed of his ethnicity and sexuality. He likened prejudice against gays to racial segregation.

I commend George for his courage in going public with his identity as a gay man. I had a very high opinion of him before and this “news” hasn’t done anything to change that. If anything, I have even more admiration for him now that he has found the courage to come out of the closet and proudly proclaim his identity and solidarity with the Asian American GLBT community.

You’re still an inspiration to many of us, George.

October 30, 2005

Written by C.N.

Hate Letters for Philly Chinese Businesses

The NBC affiliate in Philadelphia reports that several Chinese-owned small businesses around the city have recently received racist hate letters that threaten physical violence against them. The letters indicate that they were sent by the White supremacist group Aryan Nation:

Disturbing hate letters and threats have left some Asian market owners rattled, prompting an investigation by Philadelphia police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The letters threatened the rape of Asian women and the bombing of Asian businesses. “The author of this letter indicates that they are from the Aryan Nation and that these people are basically being targeted because of their ethnicity,” said Philadelphia Police Inspector Bill Colarulo.

[Community activist Ken] Wong said that the disturbing letters were also sent with graphic pictures. “There are photographs of Asian bodies, so it’s pretty shocking,” Wong said. . . . Conmmunity activists in Philadelphia said that since the police have taken possession of the three letters, three or four other business owners said they had received similar letters.

It is truly sad to see that there are still elements of American society that not only detest racial/ethnic diversity in the U.S. but apparently are willing to use intimidation, violence, and potentially murder to express their intolerance. It just goes to show that racism is still alive and well in the U.S.

If you would like to sign an online petition urging city and state government officials to take all measures necessary to address this blatant episode of racism, go to

October 26, 2005

Written by C.N.

Yale Discriminating Against Chinese Students

Newsday reports that graduate students leaders at Yale University charge that the school routinely discriminates against Chinese students and subjects them to unfair requirements and harsher standards of performance:

“Year after year, Chinese graduate students in engineering face expulsion and are called upon to defend their academic standing,” Cong Huang, president of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale, wrote in a letter to Yale administrators. “We have no hard data, but know for sure that every year someone fights a very trying and high-stakes battle.

“There are no different standards for different groups of students,” he said. . . . Xuemei Han, who works and studies in the ecology and evolutionary biology department, said administrators told her they were stripping her of funding and she must leave the university at the end of the year because she is not in good academic standing. Han said she passed all her exams and requirements.

Han also said a professor told her it would be too much work to advise a Chinese student because of language difficulties. “I believe I’m doing good work,” said Han, whose case is at the center of the complaint. “My department has tried very hard to push me out. It’s extremely unfair and unreasonable.”

At this point, we should understand that these are just allegations. However, if they are true, it would not be the first time that foreign students (particularly from Asian countries) were treated with disdain, as if they were disposable in the eyes of some faculty members.

Apparently, there is still an ingrained belief among professors and university officials that foreign Asian students are more exploitable than your garden-variety American student because they are less likely to fight back against their unequal treatment, in line with the stereotype of Asians being quiet and passive.

Is this what’s happening at Yale? We’ll have to wait and see.

October 25, 2005

Written by C.N.

Rosa Parks

As virtually all news organizations such as CBS News are reporting, Rosa Parks passed away last night at the age of 92. I’m sure you know that Rosa Parks became an iconic figure of the Civil Rights Movement when she refused to give up her seat to a White man in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955. Picture of Rosa Parks in 1999 © Associated Press

Her courage, bravery, and determination to stand up for herself and her community eventually led to the monumental Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 and was one of the first major acts of defiance and public disobedience of the Civil Rights Movement. As Jesse Jackson eloquently commented:

We are saddened by the passing of Rosa Parks. We rejoice in her legacy, which will never die. In many ways, history is marked as before, and after, Rosa Parks. She sat down in order that we all might stand up, and the walls of segregation came down. Paradoxically, her imprisonment opened the doors to our long journey to freedom. These three giants, Rosa Parks, Dr. King and Mandela – without bombs, bullets or wealth – have shown the awesome power of right over might in history’s long journey toward peace and freedom.

Ms. Parks was one of the first people I considered to be a role model and true pioneer of strength and social justice. She is not only a personal inspiration to me but I think the entire Asian American population owes her (and others of course) a debt of gratitude and reverence. She showed that the actions of one person can have far-ranging consequences for an entire country.

Not only that, but she also showed that a woman can be just as courageous and determined to fight for the dignity of herself and her community just as much as men. In a time when women were routinely considered subordinate and inferior to men, Ms. Parks fought and contributed to two separate wars — one for racial/ethnic justice and equality and one for gender equality.

She is truly one of the most remarkable figures of American history — a humble but incredibly powerful inspiration to millions of people today, and into the future. Thank you Ms. Parks, and may you rest in peace.

October 24, 2005

Written by C.N.

Asian American Students are Least Religious

The Christian Science Monitor (which is an independent, non-religious journalism organization despite its name) has a very interesting article that describes the results of a multi-year survey of college freshmen nationwide on how religious they are. The results generally show that based on their measures, Asian American students are the least religious of all the major racial groups:

Some of the biggest differences in the study emerge in the following categories:

“Religious commitment” (following religious teachings in everyday life and gaining strength by trusting in a higher power): Forty-seven percent of African-Americans scored high on this scale, compared with 25 percent of whites, 23 percent of Latinos, and 22 percent of Asian Americans.

“Spiritual quest” (interest in finding answers to the mysteries of life and developing a meaningful philosophy of life): African-Americans scored the highest on this (36 percent), with other groups ranging from 23 to 34 percent.

Measures of spirituality by racial group

Most interesting. My slightly educated guess is that Asian American students tend to be more focused on academic performance, rather than religious or spiritual activities. This is not to say that it is either good or bad, just that different racial/ethnic or cultural groups may tend to have slightly different priorities.

October 20, 2005

Written by C.N.

Vietnamese Gulf Coast Shrimp Industry

Many of you know that in the Gulf Coast, particular around the Houston and New Orleans metropolitan areas, there are numbers of Vietnamese Americans, many of whom work in the fishing and shrimping industries (continuing their long legacy of working in those trades from back in Viet Nam). Not surprisingly, many had their livelihoods devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Houston Chronicle describes their current situation:

As Port Arthur’s Vietnamese residents come back to clean up after Rita, some worry the storm may have dealt their community a devastating blow. Local Vietnamese have always depended on shrimping, an industry that was in decline long before the storm wrecked a few boats and drove up fuel costs for those that remain. “Even before the storm, business was down, down, down every year,” said Nick Tran, the owner of Nick’s Market, a Vietnamese grocery on 9th Avenue, the traditional business area for local Vietnamese. . . .

Some locals say the devastation from Rita might not have been as bad as first thought, even to the shrimping industry. JBS Packing Inc., the major shrimp processing plant in Port Arthur, escaped without significant damage. Many Vietnamese work at the plant. . . .{Owner Jack] Hemmenway estimated that “eight to 10” of the shrimp boats in the Port Arthur fleet were damaged, out of a total of about 150 boats.

But the rising price of fuel in the past year, combined with the plummeting price for shrimp, had already hurt the industry. . . . Without shrimping, it’s not clear what will keep the Vietnamese in Port Arthur. “People my age go to school in Houston or Dallas and don’t come back,” said Jim Pham, a University of Houston student who came back after the storm to help his parents clean up their Port Arthur home. “Other than shrimping, there’s not a lot to do here.”

It’s unfortunate that the mainstream media did not cover the plight of the Vietnamese Americans in the Gulf Coast even a fraction of the time they devoted to other groups caught in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita. It is especially unfortunate that Vietnamese Americans are the one group that sought to revitalize communities and businesses in areas such as Port Arthur but are now being left on their own.

But as the article notes in the end, Vietnamese are legendary for facing adversity and rebuilding their lives, whether that was when they were in Viet Nam or fleeing the country at the end of the Viet Nam War. Unfortunately it looks like they will have to do it once again.

October 18, 2005

Written by C.N.

Profile of “Angry Asian Man”

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a fan and frequent visitor to Angry Asian Man, a website/blog maintained by Korean American Phil Yu, who posts about news items, current events, and cultural/media examples that relate to Asian Americans and more specifically, to how they affect our image in society. Phil’s site is already pretty popular but he has apparently hit the mainstream, now that he’s being profiled by the Washington Post:

The refrain “That’s racist!” also appears regularly — sometimes half-jokingly, oftentimes not, when Yu stumbles upon what he views as stereotypical depictions of Asian Americans. But no, he’s not actually that angry. He’s just like a lot of other bloggers in the URL-littered landscape, a man who has something to say that he thinks other people aren’t saying. Latinos have a right to be angry, blacks have a right to be angry — why can’t Asians be angry, too?

“I wanted to play with this idea of being ‘angry,’ to take on this persona of an Angry Asian Man, because we as Asians are not usually seen as an angry, militant, conscious group,” Yu, a graduate student in the University of Southern California’s cinema and television school, says by phone from his home in west Los Angeles. “That’s the stereotype that’s been attributed to us — you know, the model minority — so much so that we start to believe it ourselves.”

Keep up the great work, Phil, and keep being angry!

October 16, 2005

Written by C.N.

Ninja-Themed Restauarant in NYC

The New York Post has an article profiling a new restaurant in New York City whose claim to “uniqueness” is that it is centered around a ninja theme and where the wait staff dress and act like ninjas:

With some 3,800 new food- service establishments bombarding New York yearly (and about the same number closing), a restaurant has to do something to grab the spotlight, whether it’s providing a Ninja waiter or a chair for a teddy bear. . . . From the cuisine that gave us tableside theatrics and conveyor-belt sushi comes Ninja, a Japanese import new to TriBeCa, with waiters who dress and act like Ninjas. Or at least they’re trying to.

The “magic” bridge its publicists promised would “descend across a fog-covered river leading guests to their tables” wasn’t working last weekend. Nor did Ninja warriors “spring up from hidden corners to surprise guests,” which may have saved unsuspecting diners from spewing their sake. . . . Kinks aside, Ninja is undeniably unique.

The dimly lit labyrinth of stone-and-wood passages with private dining alcoves set behind dark lattice doors must be the only place in town where a server genuflects before your table. There’s also enough head-bowing to please the pickiest emperor, and enough piped-in sounds of trickling water to inspire a trip to the loo – to which a Ninja merrily leads the way in crouching, spinning spurts.

Apparently, some elements of American society are so desparate to be different that they will recycle just about any cultural image available, if they think it will lead to profits. As I’ve said before, this sort of “Asianization” can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it does attest to the popularity of Asian culture and forms of Asian tradition.

On the other hand, if it is not done right, it can easily reinforce and perpetuate age-old cultural stereotypes and lead to intense protests from the Asian American community. A perfect example were those stupid t-shirts formerly sold by Abercrombie & Fitch that supposedly had “cute” Asian-themed sayings like “Asian Laundry Shop: Two Wongs Make it White.”

Another goliath-sized mainstream attempt to cash in on the “Asian mystique” is the impending release of Steven Spielberg’s movie Memoirs of a Geisha. We’ll have to wait and see how that one turns out . . .

October 13, 2005

Written by C.N.

Asian Amerian Political Power in NYC

The Associated Press has an article that describes the growing political power and influence of Asian Americans in New York City:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg quietly slipped away from City Hall one morning last week to meet with York Chan, the powerful community leader known as the “mayor of Chinatown.” A day earlier, Chan sat down with Fernando Ferrer, the Democrat challenging Bloomberg in November.

“Two candidates in 24 hours — that never happened before,” Chan said during an interview in his office above bustling Mott Street in the heart of the Chinese neighborhood. “They used to ignore us.” A lot of things are happening for the first time in New York’s Asian communities, where an explosion of new voters is thrusting the campaign trail into unfamiliar territory.

Until recently, candidates did not put much energy into wooing Asians, but that is changing. Asians as a group are becoming an influential force, joining the established blocs of black and Hispanic voters already crucial to winning office in New York City. “The numbers of Asian-Americans on the voter rolls are increasing by leaps and bounds, and the actual turnout rates are increasing correspondingly, so ignore this group at your own peril,” said John Liu, the only Asian on the 51-member City Council.

The article goes on to explain that due to increased immigration leading to citizenship and a high birth rate, the number of Asian American voters has increased significantly in recent years and decades. This in turn has led to politicians paying much more attention to Asian American voters than in years past.

This is obviously a very encouraging sign and it shows that numbers do bring attention and power. However, as other research has shown, although about two-thirds of all Asian Americans consider themselves Democrats, that number may not be enough to constitute a truly powerful bloc vote, especially in comparison to the bloc voting power of Blacks, about 90% of whom are Democrats.

In other words, while it is nice to see Asian Americans getting more attention and being courted by politicians, until we vote as a relatively united and cohesive bloc, our power will remain fragmented.

October 11, 2005

Written by C.N.

The State of Asian American TV Stars

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article and commentary by Jeff Yang about the current state of Asian Americans trying to achieve stardom on television:

The CBS sitcom “King of Queens” takes place in a region of New York where one out of five people is Asian, yet none of the regular or recurring characters is Asian American. You won’t find any of Orange County’s half a million Asians on Fox’s “The OC.” And though the WB’s “Charmed” is set in San Francisco, the three witchy Halliwell sisters seem mysteriously oblivious to the fact that a third of the city’s population — the Asian third — has magically vanished.

In fact, although Asian Americans make up about five percent of the U.S. population, we represent just 2.7 percent of all regularly appearing characters on prime-time TV and have only a handful of the starring or recurring roles in television’s traditional staple commodities: dramas and situation comedies. Oddly enough, hope has come from an unlikely source: reality TV, which has offered a backdoor means for some of Asian America’s most dynamic talents and, uh, colorful personalities to finally find a spotlight on the world’s biggest stage.

On ABC’s breakout reality hit “Dancing with the Stars,” Carrie Ann Inaba was showcased as one of three professional judges evaluating the fancy footwork of celebs like Evander Holyfield, “Seinfeld”‘s John O’Hurley and “General Hospital”‘s Kelly Monaco. And NBC’s much-buzzed-about new reality program “Three Wishes” features Diane Mizota as one of its three “angels,” who travel across small-town America, making dreams come true.

Yang notes that ironically, the one Asian American personality who’s been able to achieve the most fame and stardom is actually the dreaded William Hung — a pretty depressing thought. Yang’s article also gives a nice breakdown of some of the most notable Asian Americans who have appeared on reality TV in recent years and what they’re doing now. So I guess we’ll just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing — doing the best we can given the opportunities we have, and at the same time, trying our best to open our own doors.

October 6, 2005

Written by C.N.

Filipino American Spy at the White House

ABC News reports that Filipino American Leandro Aragoncillo, a U.S. Marine formerly assigned to Vice President Cheney’s staff, has been arrested and charged with passing sensitive information and documents to operatives in the Philippines:

Officials say the classified material, which Aragoncillo stole from the vice president’s office, included damaging dossiers on the president of the Philippines. He then passed those on to opposition politicians planning a coup in the Pacific nation. . . .

According to a criminal complaint, Aragoncillo was arrested last month and accused of downloading more than 100 classified documents from FBI computers. Since that arrest, officials say Aragoncillo has started to cooperate. He has admitted to spying while working on the staff of Vice President Cheney’s office.

First, we need to remember that people are (theoretically) presumed innocent until proven guilty. We should also remember that there are several documented cases where Asian Americans were accused of spying for a foreign country but in the end, virtually all charges were dropped against them (Wen Ho Lee, Katrina Leung, James Yee), with many of these cases involving the prosecution being chastised by the judge for misconduct and being overzealous.

Having said that, if in fact Aragoncillo has admitted to the charges brought against him, it strikes me that he was not actually spying against the U.S. Instead, it sound like he is accused of only passing information about Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to her critics and opposition leaders. In other words, the information does not seem to be of vital national importance or sensitive to national security.

Yes, what he allegedly did was in fact illegal, but it did not involve passing along names of American secret agents to our enemies, or technical information on building weapons, or any other type of sensitive information that could be used to harm Americans.

Nonetheless, it is almost inevitable that the same kind of anti-Asian hysteria that accompanied these previous accusations of spying will once again surface against us Asian Americans, and that our loyalty and status as “true” Americans will once again be called into question, based on the alleged acts of one individual.

October 5, 2005

Written by C.N.

Michelle Wie Turning Pro

Many of you have probably heard of Michelle Wie, a Korean American from Hawai’i who has set the golf world on fire and is being described as the female equivalent of Tiger Woods. She is getting ready to turn 16 (still just a teenager!) and to turn professional. She has already played in a few professional men’s PGA tour events as an amateur but as she gets ready to turn pro, as this article by Reuters describes, the debate about whether to allow her to play against men on a regular basis is intensifying:

The Hawaiian-born teenager should concentrate on smashing records in the women’s game rather than joining the men’s tour, according to [former European Tour executive director Ken] Schofield. “The history of golf is of men playing men and women playing against women. That has stood the test of time so why should we change it? “Are we talking about a civil liberty issue here, a restraint of trade? I don’t think so,” Schofield said. . . .

In Schofield’s opinion, it is not Wie’s ability that is in question, rather the direction the sport should take. “There is the great history of the women’s game to consider,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “The U.S. Women’s Open dates back to 1946 and its roll call of champions includes the likes of Babe Zaharias, Mickey Wright and of course Annika (Sorenstam). “Attempting to add their names to that list is where all aspiring women’s golfers — Wie included — should focus efforts. “The structure of golf is not best served by mixing up the issues of men versus women.”

I suppose there is something to be said for having separate tours for each gender, as is done with virtually all other professional sports, including tennis, soccer, basketball, etc. But this rationale that women athletes should only strive to outdo other female athletes strikes me as a little sexist and patriarchal. I tend to agree with what Jim Rome, a nationally popular sports radio host and commentator, has already said regarding this situation — if Michelle has game, let her play with the men. Ultimately, to be the best, you have to compete with and beat the best, regardless of what gender they are.

Up to this point, there has not been any talk of what effect, if any, Michelle’s status as an Asian American has to do with it the talk surrounding her. Let’s hope it stays that way. Michelle should be judged on her talent and her performance, not by her status as a woman or an Asian American.

Having said that, I think it would be a huge morale boost to the Asian American community to see her succeed, although it is a little unfair to put that kind of pressure on one person (especially when she’s not even 16 yet).