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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.

November 30, 2005

Written by C.N.

Jackie Chan: Avoid Hollywood Movies

CBS News reports that Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong action/comedy star of movies such as Rush Hour 1 and 2, has been publicly urging Asians to avoid American movies for fear that it will dilute or otherwise damage traditional Asian culture:

Even though he plans to soon start shooting “Rush Hour 3,” the Hong Kong native told The Times of India newspaper “Asians should unite against American cinema.” Hollywood movies are eroding the culture of Asian countries, he said. “Why do we need to ape their culture,” Chan reportedly said. “I see an Indian saying, ‘Yo Man!,’ but that’s not what Asians are about.”

That’s a pretty interesting set of statements from someone who has benefited greatly from American movies himself, not to mention someone who has received mixed reactions from Asians and Asian Americans about the quality of the roles in his Hollywood movies and to what extent they are a positive step forward for non-stereotypical portrayals of Asians in American culture.

It seems to me that if he really wants to put his money where his mouth is, he should use the millions of dollars that he’s earned through his American movies and start producing his own films that include more positive portrayals and images for Asian and Asian Americans to see. Otherwise, his position strikes me as a little hypocritical.

November 29, 2005

Written by C.N.

Continuing Violence Against Asian Students

In an earlier post, I wrote about a persistent pattern of discrimination and physical violence perpetrated against Asian American students at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn — so bad that the Justice Department had to step in to force the school to take corrective action to protect the Asian students. Following up on this trend, the Associated Press reports that despite recent efforts to highlight this growing problem around the country, physical attacks still continue to occur:

Nationwide, Asian students say they’re often beaten, threatened and called ethnic slurs by other young people, and school safety data suggest that the problem may be worsening. Youth advocates say these Asian teens, stereotyped as high-achieving students who rarely fight back, have for years borne the brunt of ethnic tension as Asian communities expand and neighborhoods become more racially diverse. . . .

Stories of Asian youth being bullied and worse are common. In recent years: a Chinese middle schooler in San Francisco was mercilessly taunted until his teacher hid him in her classroom at lunchtime; three Korean-American students were beaten so badly near their Queens high school that they skipped school for weeks and begged to be transferred; a 16-year-old from Vietnam was killed last year in a massive brawl in Boston. . . .

Increasingly, some victims are fighting back. A 2003 California survey . . . found that 14 percent of Asian youth said they join gangs for protection. Department of Justice school crime data found the number of Asian youth carrying weapons nearly tripled from 1999 to 2001. “There are more Asian kids being brought to juvenile court for assault and battery,” Arifuku said.

“The thing we’re finding in their history is that they had been picked on — called names and teased — and in some cases they lashed out and retaliated.” Advocates and students say that, typically, large fights erupt after weeks or months of verbal taunting.

It is truly sad and infuriating to see Asian American students — or any students for that matter — first, being targeted for physical violence on an everyday basis, and second, being subjected to utter indifference and even contempt by school officials who deny that there are any problems. It should tell you something that even the Bush administration’s Justice Department felt that things were getting out of hand at Lafayette High and had to finally step in.

For every article or news story that describes how Asian culture is increasingly being accepted, embraced, and integrated into the American mainstream, there are stories like this one that remind us that in many ways, Asian Americans still have to fight an uphill battle not just to be considered “real Americans,” but for many, just to stay alive.

November 27, 2005

Written by C.N.

Pat Morita Dies at 73

As the Associated Press reports, actor pat Morita has died at the age of 73. of course, he was best-known for his role as Mr. Myagi in the Karate Kid series of movies, but as the article notes, his career and life in general span a much broader set of experiences:

Born in northern California on June 28, 1932, the son of migrant fruit pickers, Morita spent most of his early years in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis. He later recovered only to be sent to a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

“One day I was an invalid,” he recalled in a 1989 AP interview. “The next day I was public enemy No. 1 being escorted to an internment camp by an FBI agent wearing a piece.” After the war, Morita’s family tried to repair their finances by operating a Sacramento restaurant. It was there that Morita first tried his comedy on patrons.

Because prospects for a Japanese-American standup comic seemed poor, Morita found steady work in computers at Aerojet General. But at age 30 he entered show business full time. “Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did,” he commented. “If I tried it in Japan before the war, it would have been considered blasphemy, and I would have ended in leg irons.”

Even though his Mr. Myagi character may not have been the most enlightening and high-quality depiction of Asian Americans in the history of American cinema, Pat’s quality as an actor and his status as an icon of Asian American culture are unquestioned. Here is a man who overcame two debilitating barriers in his life — physical and then political — to pursue his dream and to blaze a trail for other Asian American actors in the industry.

For that, all of us as Asian Americans owe Pat our gratitude and appreciation. Well done, Pat and may you rest in peace.

November 25, 2005

Written by C.N.

Gary Glitter’s Troubles in Viet Nam

Last week, media such as CBS News, have been reporting that government officials have been looking to arrest former ’70s rock star Gary Glitter (whose real name is Paul Francis Gadd) on allegations that he had sex with two underaged girls — a 12 year old and a 15 year old. There are reports that he was finally arrested trying to board a plane out of Viet Nam. One of my favorite sports commentators, Jim Rome, had this comment about this situation:

Gary Glitter is in some very hot water in Vietnam. Remember, Glitter is the guy who came up with the rock anthem, “Rock and Roll Part II”. This is the song that’s played in every sports arena everywhere. Anyway, I don’t think he’s going to be composing any more songs for a while, or ever, for that matter.

Glitter was arrested in Vietnam Saturday on child molestation charges as he was attempting to board a plane. Local authorities had been looking for Glitter for 2 days after he it was announced that he was wanted for questioning after he was accused of having sex with 2 girls, one 15, the other 12. If he’s found guilty of his crimes, he could face up to 12 years in the hole.

Believe it or not, this is the very least of his problems. Glitter could also face the death penalty if convicted of child rape, which would be carried out by a firing squad. Yes, you heard me right, a firing squad.

You know, I don’t have a huge problem with this. If he’s going to be touching 12-year-old girls, then I think a firing squad is an appropriate punishment. In fact, I wish we had that he in the Untied States. I bet a lot fewer 12-year-olds would be getting touched if people knew the punishment was a blindfold, a final cigarette, and a few bullets to the chest. Hopefully Michael Jackson has a trip planned to Vietnam in the near future.

I’m not sure if I completely share Jim Rome’s opinion but his sentiment is well taken. Child prostitution is unfortunately a big problem in several Asian countries. The CBS News article also notes that Gary Glitter was previous convicted of possessing child pornography in England and was permanently expelled from Cambodia a couple of years ago, for “unknown reasons.”

Perhaps Gary Glitter’s situation will make pedophiles think twice the next time they feel the need to travel to Asian countries to satisfy their urges.

November 22, 2005

Written by C.N.

Ethnic Rivalries Reignited in Asia

The New York Times has an article that discusses the emerging popularity of several comic books published in Japan that contain rather stereotypic, derogatory, and hostile portrayals of Chinese and Koreans. One might initially dismiss these comic books as ultra-nationalists trying to appeal to a small niche, but as the article describes, they have actually become runaway best sellers throughout the country:

The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months. In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan’s fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan’s worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

They also point to Japan’s longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity. Much of Japan’s history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea’s rise to challenge Japan’s position as Asia’s economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here. . . .

So far the two books, each running about 300 pages and costing around $10, have drawn little criticism from public officials, intellectuals or the mainstream news media. For example, Japan’s most conservative national daily, Sankei Shimbun, said the Korea book described issues between the countries “extremely rationally, without losing its balance.”

I find this development to be rather disturbing, but not entirely shocking. As many observers and citizens in Asia will tell you, unlike Germany, Japan’s government and its people have never fully come to grips with their acts of hostility and brutality against their Asian neighbors during World War II. Every year, a furor erupts over the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to a war veteran shrine that among others, honors war criminals.

In addition, as the article also notes, for several decades after the end of WWII, Japan has enjoyed the status of Asian’s only economic superpower. But in recent years, the emergence of China, South Korea, and India represent increasingly significant threats to Japan’s economic dominance. Therefore, as sociologists will tell you, when there is economic or political competition, there is inevitably also going to be racial/ethnic hostility as well.

Unfortunately, this cultural rivalry between Japan and its Asian neighbors doesn’t look to be waning in intensity any time soon and in fact, looks to be intensifying. Hopefully these incidents will not affect the development and continuing proliferation of a pan-Asian American identity among us Asian Americans. In this case, it becomes even more important for Asian Americans and non-Asians alike to remember that being Asian is not the same as being Asian American.

November 20, 2005

Written by C.N.

Daniel Dae Kim: One of the Sexiest Men Alive

According to People Magazine, in their annual list of “Sexiest Men Alive” that always makes the news around this time of year, we learn that they named Daniel Dae Kim, star of ABC’s hit TV show Lost, as one of the sexiest men alive:

Because he plays such a serious character on ABC’s Lost, people are pleasantly surprised to see Kim, 37, grin offscreen. “I’ve actually gotten a lot of compliments on my smile,” says the married father of two. Even sweeter, the actor, who came to the U.S. from Korea when he was a toddler, is a romantic. “I’ve hung onto almost every love letter any girl has ever written me.”

I also heard that People Magazine named Ken Watanabe, the Japanese star of recent movies such as The Last Samurai and Batman Begins as one of the “Sexiest International Men Alive.” Not too bad, I guess. Nice job, Asian guys and keep up the good work of helping to slowly change the image of Asian men in the U.S. Every little bit helps.

November 18, 2005

Written by C.N.

China Attracting U.S. Scholars

The New York Times has an article that describes a very interesting — and ironic — trend in the academic and scientific world: China is stepping up efforts to lure American scholars to live and work in China and to help them build up their universities to eventually rival those in the U.S.:

China wants to transform its top universities into the world’s best within a decade, and it is spending billions of dollars to woo big-name scholars and build first-class research laboratories. The effort is China’s latest bid to raise its profile as a great power. China has already pulled off one of the most remarkable expansions of education in modern times, increasing the number of undergraduates and people who hold doctoral degrees fivefold in 10 years. . . .

The model is simple: recruit top foreign-trained Chinese and Chinese-American specialists, set them up in well-equipped labs, surround them with the brightest students and give them tremendous leeway. In a minority of cases, they receive American-style pay; in others, they are lured by the cost of living, generous housing and the laboratories. How many have come is unclear.

China is focusing on science and technology, areas that reflect the country’s development needs but also reflect the preferences of an authoritarian system that restricts speech. The liberal arts often involve critical thinking about politics, economics and history, and China’s government, which strictly limits public debate, has placed relatively little emphasis on achieving international status in those subjects.

The article goes on to describe that China still faces a variety of barriers in their quest for scientific excellence. Perhaps the most interesting obstacle is the emphasis that China’s government has on short-term immediate results. As an up-and coming-superpower still in the process of proving itself, China does not have the luxury of waiting 10 or even five years for results — it needs them in three years or less.

Along with that, lack of academic freedom may be another potentially significant obstacle. Like the excerpt above describes, China is focusing on developing excellence in its scientific disciplines that would involve less political controversy, rather than those in the social science or humanities. Nonetheless, observers warn that if China continues to stifle academic freedom, the scholars that they bring in today may quickly get frustrated and leave within a year or so.

At any rate, this situation represents an interesting irony — in the past, Chinese students were doing whatever they could to study and work in the U.S. But now, that may be starting to change, as Chinese universities begin to offer the same kinds and levels of benefits and perks as those in the U.S.

In this context however, one potential drawback for the Asian American population is this — it will give racist elements in the U.S. another opportunity to question the loyalty and patriotism of Chinese Americans — and by implication, Asian Americans. That is, if a Chinese American decides to leave the U.S. to live and work in China, that may be seen as an indication of his/her true ethnic/nationalistic loyalty.

Once that happens, a new wave of anti-Chinese suspicion and hostility will be right around the corner — it is almost inevitable.

November 16, 2005

Written by C.N.

Two New Asian American Political Leaders

Results from last week’s elections show that two Asian Americans have just been elected into local government leadership positions: Sam Yoon as the first Asian American elected to Boston’s City Council and Jun Choi as the first Asian American mayor of a New Jersey city (Edison).

In the case of Jun Choi’s victory, perhaps not surprisingly, his challenger (a White male) is accusing Choi of “playing the Asian card” and relying on Asian votes for his victory. This is rather ironic considering that the stats show that about 80% who voted in the mayoral election were White. But more importantly, once again it goes to show that even if Choi had heavy support from Asian voters, it does not mean that those votes were not as “American” as any other vote.

Congratulations to both Sam Yoon and Jun Choi on their victories. As I always say, progress is almost always measured one step at a time . . .

November 14, 2005

Written by C.N.

New Form of Korean Entrepreneurship

The New York Times has an article that describes one of the latest, and apparently increasingly prominent, example of entrepreneurship among Korean immigrants in the U.S. — buying real estate in the Los Angeles metro area:

Yet Mr. Lee, who came to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, 34 years ago at age 17 and trained in internal medicine at Northwestern University Medical School, is relatively little known outside his ethnic and professional circles. A modest, quiet-spoken man, he is no Donald Trump. . . .

Bargain hunting is an art the doctor has practiced since buying his first office building on Wilshire Boulevard in 1995. Los Angeles was under a cloud at the time in the aftermath of riots in 1992, brush fires in 1993 and an earthquake in 1994. Insurance companies were selling half-empty buildings at knockdown prices, seeing no way the economy would revive.

But David Lee knew that a hidden market existed among Korean immigrant entrepreneurs, many of them recent arrivals who had been forced into early retirement in corporate restructurings back home. Lacking a credit rating in America but rich with severance and retirement bonuses, they had cash to pay the rent for office space for businesses to serve the city’s fast-growing Korean population, which is pushing 300,000 today, up from 190,000 in 1990.

Coming to the United States as adults, often nearing middle age and with few English-language skills, these newcomers have become renowned for a hard-charging desire to own businesses. And some see deeper historical roots to the phenomenon. “Koreans are like many people who were poor and colonized for centuries; they want to prove something to themselves and to others,” said Charles Rim, a Korean-born, U.C.L.A.-educated accountant.

As my article on Asian American small business ownership shows, Koreans have the highest rates of entrepreneurship among all Asian ethnic groups. What exactly is it about Koreans that makes them so likely to be entrepreneurs? Do they possess some kind of intrinsic aptitude toward self-employment? Are they more willing than other racial/ethnic groups to take such risks? Do their ethnic community and networks make it easier for them to enter self-employment?

All of the above?

November 11, 2005

Written by C.N.

Possible New Dodgers GM: Kim Ng

The Associated Press reports that in their search for a new General Manager (the person in charge of making player personnel decisions), the Dodgers have interviewed their current Assistant General Manager, Kim Ng, a Chinese American woman who has been with the Dodgers since 2001 and previously worked for the New York Yankees:

Kim Ng, a vice president and assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers the past four years, became the first candidate to interview for the team’s vacant GM job. Team spokesman Josh Rawitch said Ng was interviewed Saturday. If hired to succeed Paul DePodesta, she would become major league baseball’s first female GM.

Before joining the Dodgers, the 36-year-old Ng served as vice president and assistant general manager for the New York Yankees from 1998-2001. Ng and Roy Smith, vice president of player development, are handling front-office duties for the Dodgers until a general manager is hired, and will represent the team at the GM meetings, which begin Tuesday in Palm Springs.

You may remember that Ms. Ng was involved in a racial incident in which another executive from the New York Mets mocked her Chinese ancestry and who was eventually fired for his actions.

Admittedly, Ms. Ng is facing an uphill battle, as there are several other General Manager candidates out there who have much more experience than her. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see that she — as both a woman and as an Asian American — is starting to get the national recognition that she has earned. Even if she doesn’t end up getting the job, it will hopefully be useful stepping stone for her career and future attempts to become a GM.

Update: Not surprisingly, Kim Ng did not get the job of being the Dodger’s next GM. But as the New York Times reports, she is now in the public spotlight and it should only be a matter of time before she makes history and is named as GM for some team:

When Ng learned Monday night that she had finished a close second, she reminded herself what teams always tell players who are sent to the minor leagues: “You’ll be disappointed, you’ll take some time to deal with it, and then you’ll move on.” Ng may eventually realize that this was a painful but necessary first step. Just last year, even the most optimistic women in baseball doubted that they would ever have a chance to run a team. But considering the exposure that Ng received this month, the gender gap has narrowed. At 36, Ng will probably be on shortlists for a long time.

November 9, 2005

Written by C.N.

Marines on Okinawa Reduced by Half

As many news organizations like CNN are reporting, the Pentagon has just announced that, in consideration of constant opposition by native Okinawans, it will eventually cut the number of Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa by half in the next six years:

The announcement from the Pentagon came Saturday and stated that the United States and Japan had agreed to shift 7,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam during the next six years. . . . Local residents have held widespread protests periodically during the past decade in response to U.S. military personnel committing crimes.

Protests boiled over in 1995 after three American servicemen were found guilty of raping an Okinawan schoolgirl. Since 1995, U.S. service members have been convicted at least five times on sexual assault charges. An airman was convicted of rape in 2002. In July, Okinawa police in July charged another U.S. airman following the molestation of a 10-year-old girl in a parking lot. Sgt. Armando Valdez, 27, later pleaded guilty.

The Pentagon apparently is trying to portray this as a shift in strategy, all part of an ever-evolving plan to respond to changing geo-military conditions around the world. But make no mistake about it — this is also a capitulation by the Pentagon to the overwhelming anti-American hostility and hatred that they have brought upon themselves by the criminal actions of some of their soldiers.

Why does it seem that almost everywhere the U.S. military tries to set up a semi-permanent presence — and in the process try to win over local inhabitants — they always shoot themselves in the foot by committing criminal acts and atrocities against these very same local inhabitants, thereby squandering any goodwill they’re trying to build and ultimately leading to overwhelming opposition to their presence?

This happened in Viet Nam, is happening in Iraq, and as this story shows, has happened too many times on Okinawa. As the cliche goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same . . .

November 7, 2005

Written by C.N.

Latest Spying Allegations

It seems that allegations against Asian Americans for spying are popping up each week. The latest, as reported by the New York Times, involves two four Chinese Americans accused of trying to smuggle secret documents about Navy warship technology to China:

An engineer, a Chinese television director and their wives were indicted on charges of stealing secret documents on American Navy warship technology and trying to smuggle them to China, prosecutors said. The engineer, Chi Mak, a naturalized American citizen from China, was ordered held without bail on Monday, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office.

Also arrested were Mr. Mak’s wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu; his brother, Tai Wang Mak; and his sister-in-law, Fuk Heung Li. The four face charges of stealing government property, aiding and abetting, transportation of stolen goods, and conspiracy, Mr. Mrozek said.

Not good. I hope we can remember that theoretically, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Nevertheless, the potential implications of these latest allegations are inevitable — due to the alleged actions of some Asian Americans, all of us are likely to face suspicion about our true loyalties and whether we should be considered “real” Americans.