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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 30, 2006

Written by C.N.

Hong Kong Movies Banned in China

Even though Hong Kong is technically a part of China these days, in many ways, the two lands remain separated from each other. One area in which that is plain to see is in regard to how many movies that are box office hits in Hong Kong are never shown in China:

Supernatural films are a staple genre in the Hong Kong cinedrome. One recent success is The Eye, from Hong Kong-based Applause Pictures. The film – about a cornea-transplant patient and her eerie post-surgery visions – was a smash hit at the Hong Kong box office, and remake rights have been purchased by Hollywood’s Cruise/Wagner Productions.

But don’t search for The Eye at Beijing cineplexes any time soon. Despite decades of economic and social reform, the mainland maintains a cinematic nix-list: nudity, homosexuality, extramarital affairs and supernatural themes all remain verboten.

Why is Beijing so concerned about ghosts and goblins? Politically, secret societies based on arcane beliefs have posed threats to China’s power structure for centuries. Socially, the shift toward a modern culture has motivated Beijing to create a list of “approved” religions and conveniently prohibit all else.

So in this case, China wants to ban anything that even hints at traditional beliefs and instead, wants to promote “modernity” and “progress.” Apparently “modernity” and “progress” include censorship, human rights abuses, prohibiting freedom of expression, no freedom of religion, corruption, and a totalitarian regime firmly opposed to democracy.

Yeah, sounds like real progress to me . . .

March 29, 2006

Written by C.N.

Post-War Tensions Among Vietnamese Americans

In many ways, the legacy of the Viet Nam War still haunts the Vietnamese American community. As a result of their political refugee experiences, many Vietnamese remain strongly anti-communist and as a result, react fiercely at any hint that a fellow Vietnamese may potentially harbor any form of sympathy for communism. An intra-community squabble in St. Paul, MN illustrates this clearly:

Tuan Pham says he has been smeared and his business ruined because of intense feeling in the Vietnamese immigrant community about the country’s flag — and whether he dishonored it. To Tuan Pham, it was a simple act of respect for a visiting dignitary.

But for some of his fellow Vietnamese immigrants, Tuan Pham’s role in briefly lowering the flag of South Vietnam from atop the St. Paul Vietnam Center was a shameful deed. For months, protesters rallied outside his small shop on University Avenue.

Ultimately, Tuan Pham and his wife, Mai Vu, sued more than 50 people for defamation, claiming they tarnished his name, labeled him a communist and ruined his business, which has since closed. The case, going to trial this week in Ramsey County, shows that emotions over a war that ended more than three decades ago still simmer within the city’s Vietnamese community.

Unfortunately, this incident only goes to show that narrow-mindedness and ignorance can originate from many different types of groups. Even though I do not know the exact details of this case, I get the distinct feeling that the Vietnamese who protested against Mr. Pham and caused his business to fail are nothing more than bullies.

Like a classic bully who doesn’t get his way and then takes his frustrations out on other people, the defendants in this lawsuit apparently are still upset about what happened to them in the Viet Nam War and even though it was more than 30 years ago, still cannot deal with their resentment and hostility in a constructive way.

Instead, they constantly look for the slightest little potential provocation and then fly off into an angry rage against a convenient scapegoat, oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Except in this case, Mr. Pham is holding them accountable for their reckless actions, as he absolutely should.

It’s one thing to express our opinions and protest but living in the U.S. should teach anyone that with freedom of expression comes responsibility. If you express yourself irresponsibly, recklessly, and irresponsibly, you should be held accountable. Whether they defendants like it or not, that’s the American way.

March 28, 2006

Written by C.N.

Leaving Kids Alone at Home

For many Korean parents, it’s common to leave their kids at home alone while they’re at work or running errands, etc. But as you can probably imagine, the norms about leaving kids at home here in the U.S. are much different. As the Pacific News Service reports, this cultural disparity has resulted in some serious consequences:

Often many immigrant families cannot afford daycare for their children. They are also especially prone to leaving their children to fend for themselves because they lack the support of grandparents or other relatives nearby who might otherwise help in the care of the children. Cultural attitudes also can influence parents’ decisions. . . .

Hae Sun Shin, a counselor with the Korean Youth Cultural Center, says there are many detrimental emotional side effects for small children left alone. “Latchkey kids often suffer from emotional distress and other negative side effects,” she says in the Korea Daily. Latchkey kids, she says, often suffer from high levels of separation anxiety.

It’s a pretty sad situation for everyone in these types of situations. Thankfully, social service agencies are apparently becoming more sensitive to these types of situations and how they are often merely the result of cultural misunderstandings rather than overt neglect or abuse. On the flip side, as Korean immigrants become more acculturated into American norms, they will hopefully realize that this practice can have serious negative consequences and should be avoided.

Hopefully as both sides become more aware of each other and educated about the specifics involved, this issue will become one less problem that Koreans (and all immigrants) will have to worry about.

March 26, 2006

Written by C.N.

Justice in Chinese Deliveryman Murder Case

Back in 2004, in the process of delivering a $10 Chinese takeout order, an 18 year old Chinese American deliveryman was lured into an apartment and then repeatedly beaten and stabbed to death by three young men. These three men were subsequently found guilty of murder and two of them were recently sentenced to more than 50 years in prison:

Prosecutors claimed the killing was a robbery and initiation into a branch of the notorious Bloods gang. Another one of the teens, Charles Bryant, 18, was already sentenced last May, to 52 years to life in prison. The third member of the group, Nayquan Miller, 18, agreed to a plea deal. He later testified against Capehart and is expected to be sentenced next month. . . .

Community leaders hailed the stiff prison term. “This is the kind of sentencing that will ensure criminals will face the full force of our justice system, especially if they think food delivery workers are easy prey,” said New York City Council Member John Liu.

Normally I consider myself liberal in terms of crime and criminal justice, and that young and first-time criminals should normally be given a chance to atone for their crime and become rehabilitated into productive citizens. However, there are certain crimes that defy understanding and as a result, defy my usual sympathy for the accused. This is one of those crimes.

In this case, justice was (somewhat surprisingly) served for the entire Asian American community, American society in general, and of course, for the Chen family who lost their son in such a violent and devastating way.

At the same time, I can’t help but fear that this entire episode is not likely to do wonders for Asian-Black relations. Although there are plenty of Blacks who probably feel that the murderers got what they deserve, there are also likely to be many who feel that the guilty men were sentenced too harshly and coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, were not given an opportunity to redeem themselves.

Ultimately, I hope that many Americans of all different races and backgrounds can agree on is that the vast majority of minorities who are poor and disadvantaged do not gang up on and murder innocent Chinese takeout deliverymen. Being victims of racism does not make it ok to perpetrate such an evil act — one that hurts all Americans, whatever their skin color.

March 23, 2006

Written by C.N.

Japan: World Baseball Classic Champions

Congratulations to Japan for beating Cuba and winning the inaugural World Baseball Classic championship. This was a tournament that included many of the best all-star players from around the world, with the U.S. fielding its own team of superstars (who ultimately and embarrassingly lost in the quarterfinals):

Despite having only two major leaguers, Japan won the tournament. Despite having no major leaguers, Cuba finished second. The United States feels it has the best players in the world. In this tournament, that was untrue. Japan, as the flying flags showed, was the class of this classic.

Personally, I probably rooted for the U.S. the most. Nonetheless, this outcome of Japan winning the championship is very rewarding nonetheless because it goes a long way in demonstrating that although baseball is an American invention and that American players are the most well-known and well-paid, that does not automatically mean that American baseball players are always superior to non-American players.

In other words, players from Japan, Cuba, and many other countries are just as good — if not even better — than many U.S. players. It was this kind of arrogant, jingoistic, and racist attitude that kept Black players out of the major leagues for so long. I would also argue that it is this same kind of attitude that leads many Americans into believing that Japanese baseball is inferior to American baseball.

Thankfully, not all Americans feel that way. One example comes from Jim Rome, the nationally-popular and celebrated talk radio sports commentator who said the following about Ichiro Suzuki, perhaps Team Japan’s best known player:

Ichiro Suzuki, as he usually is, was the man for Japan. He hit .364 (low for him), had a jack, stole four bases, and drove in 5 runs. He had 2 knocks last night and scored 3 times in the championship game. This guy is just a phenomenal player. Too bad that he plays on such a non-descript, go nowhere major league team.

The guy is collecting 250 hits a season, and no one seems to care. Granted, he isn’t all pumped up on moo juice, beef roids, and clomid, (allegedly), but there aren’t too many guys that are more entertaining to watch play ball. Ichiro runs like a deer, uses a bat like a magic wand and plays right field as well as anyone, but nobody cares because he is on the Mariners, and they have lost 93 and 99 games the last 2 seasons.

I know it is asking a lot to actually sit through a Mariners game, but do yourself a favor and watch this guy play. There’s nothing else in baseball like the guy. As agonizing as it would be to sit through an entire Mariners game, what this guy brings to the field makes it worth it.

Congratulations again to Ichiro and the entire Team Japan and let’s hope the U.S. has a better answer next year.

March 21, 2006

Written by C.N.

British Asian Divorcees and Technology

Divorced British Asians, much like their Asian American counterparts, are frequently caught between two worlds — their traditional Asian culture and contemporary British culture on the other. When British Asian marriages end in divorce, the divorcees frequently encounter a social stigma and ostracism from their Asian communities. That’s where technology and the Internet come in to help:

“The Asian success story is based on family, and marriage is the ultimate success story,” he told Reuters. “Family is the backbone. Its disintegration is a very serious threat to the Asian community.” For Hindu, Sikh and Muslim divorcees, marrying again can be a tough proposition. Asian families, Samra argued, can struggle to come terms with divorce. . . .

Samra’s site [] has provoked condemnation from some quarters. Samra conceded that the site may even increase the divorce rate among British Asians because it showed those trapped in unhappy marriages that there was a way out.

But he has won some support back in India. The Times of India, commenting on the site, concluded: “No one is sure if one Web site can change a whole community frozen in the aspic of the cultural mores of yesterday’s South Asia. But it may be worth a try.”

I found this article to be an interesting illustration of the the kinds of issues and pressures that Asians around the world frequently have to deal with as they continue to integrate into their adoptive societies while still holding on to different parts of their traditional ethnic culture. As sociologists describe, as the size of the U.S.-born Asian American population continues to grow, so too will the complexities associated with balancing two cultures.

Ultimately, the choice does not have to be limited to one culture or the other. Instead, many Asian Americans are creating their own unique culture that combines elements of both cultures into a new creation that is unique and personal. This may be the new form of the “melting pot” that can include intermarriage but also emerging forms of personal identity.

After all, America is the land of creativity and innovation . . .

March 19, 2006

Written by C.N.

Japan’s Proposed Anti-Discrimination Law

I’ve written before (see here and here, for example) that in many strange ways, Japan seems set on politically and culturally isolating itself from its Asian neighbors and in fact, on antagonizing them at almost every opportunity. Thankfully, a new proposed comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination against ethnic minorities in Japan seeks to point Japan in the opposite direction:

Japan’s constitution already prohibits racial discrimination, but activists told reporters in Tokyo that a more comprehensive law is needed to protect human rights and punish offenders. . . . A U.N. mission on racism in Japan concluded in a report in January that minorities — including ethnic Koreans and Chinese, the Ainu indigenous group, and the so-called “untouchable” underclass — suffer discrimination in education, housing, health care and employment. . . .

Still, the activists said the bedrock xenophobia of Japanese society was getting worse, fueled in part by fear of foreign terrorists, the growing conservatism of the government and worries about foreigner-linked crime. “The Japanese government is getting more and more racist and more and more anti-foreign, but there is a realization that Japan cannot remain closed to foreigners,” said Mushakoji.

Proposing a law is one thing — getting it passed and enacted is another. We’ll have to wait and see if Japanese lawmakers are serious about joining the rest of us in the 21st century and institutionalizing anti-discrimination practices into their society. At the least, it’s an encouraging sign that some Japanese recognize that there is a problem, that the problem is getting worse, and that something needs to be done about it, sooner rather than later.

March 16, 2006

Written by C.N.

Typing in Chinese

Have you ever wondered how people type in Chinese? In other words, while English (and other letter-based languages) speakers like us have only around 26 Roman letters to use, the Chinese use thousands of characters to represent their language. Do they have a giant keyboard with thousands of keys on it? Of course not — it’s actually quite simple and users have different options:

In the Peoples’ Republic of China, most computer users type out their Chinese in transliteration, using the standard Roman alphabet keys on a QWERTY keyboard. To generate a character, you type out its sound according to the same spelling system — called Pinyin — The computer automatically converts the Pinyin spelling to the correct Chinese characters on the screen. . . . If the computer still doesn’t have enough information to pick a character, you’ll have to choose from a pop-up list of possibilities. . . .

Speed-typists in mainland China use another input method called Wubi. To type a character in Wubi, you punch in a sequence of keys that corresponds to what it looks like and how it’s drawn. A Wubi-configured keyboard looks just like the Western version but is divided into five regions for different types of pen strokes: left-falling, right-falling, horizontal, vertical, and hook.

You “spell” a character by typing out up to four strokes, in the order in which you’d draw them on paper. If he knows what he’s doing, a Wubi typist can produce up to 160 characters per minute. . . . Older people who aren’t comfortable with typing might be more inclined to use an electronic writing tablet instead. The precise strokes of Chinese characters make them relatively easy for a computer to distinguish.

A Chinese keyboard ©

Pretty interesting, I think, to now know how more than a billion people do the same things we do but using a different method. To paraphrase the old saying, “different (key)strokes for different folks” — diversity in action.

March 14, 2006

Written by C.N.

Rise of Catholicism in Viet Nam

Catholicism is apparently becoming more popular and institutionalized in Viet Nam. After decades of repression at the hands of the communist government, there are tangible signs of official tolerance towards Catholics in Viet Nam, along with optimism for establishing official ties with the Vatican:

Religion is still a sensitive subject in Vietnam. The US accuses it of violating the rights of believers, particularly ethnic minority Christians in rural highlands. Vietnamese officials say they respect religious freedoms and point to recent legislation that bans forced conversions and gives equal protection to all faiths. . . .

Of the six official religions recognized by Vietnam, Catholicism ranks second behind Buddhism. It has between 5 million and 7 million followers, concentrated mostly in the south, and is reportedly becoming more popular among young urban Vietnamese who are enjoying the fruits of the country’s rapid economic growth.

As I’ve said before, as Viet Nam becomes increasingly integrated into the international community, it’s likely that some freedoms will improve, and it looks like that’s the case here. Although the article notes that there is still a long way to go before true freedom of religious exists in Viet Nam, this improvement in religious activity is indeed encouraging?

Now if only we can say the same thing about other freedoms of expression and a true democracy . . .

March 12, 2006

Written by C.N.

Vietnamese Excluded from Viet Nam War Discussions

More than thirty years after it ended, Americans are still acutely aware of the legacy of the Viet Nam War. But in these ongoing discussions about the meaning and consequences of the war, apparently nobody bothers to ask us Vietnamese how we feel about it, as illustrated most recently by several high-profile conferences in which not one Vietnamese speaker was invited to participate:

For two days (March 10-11), the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston will host a conference on “Vietnam and the Presidency,” under the auspices of the National Archives and all 12 presidential libraries. Conference organizers have invited an impressive list of political big-shots. . . . The organizers claim to address a wide range of issues and new information, yet curiously, not a single Vietnamese was among the invitees.

In politics, the media and academia, the voice of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans is rarely heard. From the “Vietnam as History” conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., to the (USC) University of Southern California’s “Vietnam Reconsidered” event in early 1983 to the recent Oakland Museum conference and exhibit, “What’s Going On: California and the Vietnam Era” to the upcoming JFK library conference, the Vietnamese voice has always been circumscribed and gagged. . . .

By purposely framing the conference around Vietnam and the presidency, the organizers have effectively shut the Vietnamese voice out of the historical debate and sidestepped the issue of why America went to Vietnam in the first place. In case the pundits have forgotten, the American promise and premise was to secure the blessing of liberty and self-determination for the (South) Vietnamese people.

Unfortunately, while that last premise may have been used as the humanitarian ideal at one time in the past, we should know by now that the real why the U.S. got involved in Viet Nam — and as a result, the reason why Vietnamese are consistently excluded from contemporary discussions about the war — was to further their own geo-political interests, not to “liberate” us Vietnamese.

Similar to how President Lincoln’s ultimate goal in going to war was to keep the country intact, rather than often-cited magnanimous ideal of freeing the slaves, the U.S. went to war for itself, plain and simple. That’s the reason why the war is called “The American War” inside Viet Nam.

Hmmm, that kind of selfish approach couldn’t possibly happen these days, can it? An American regime using some idealistic and ultimately flawed rationale for going to war, and then struggling mightily to conduct it properly while fending off increasing opposition to it at home? The conference speakers would do well to talk about that past-present connection as the war’s biggest legacy.

March 9, 2006

Written by C.N.

International Women’s Day in Asia

Tuesday was International Women’s Day and thousands of women in many Asian countries rallied in support of themselves and their sisters worldwide:

Among leaders of the [Multan, Pakistan] rally was Mukhtar Mai, a woman who was gang-raped in 2002 on orders by a council of villagers near Multan as punishment for her brother’s alleged affair with a woman from a higher caste family. Mai drew international attention after she spoke publicly about her ordeal. . . .

In mostly Muslim Bangladesh, where women lead the ruling and main opposition political parties, thousands joined calls for an end to attacks with flesh-burning acid that leaves hundreds of women disfigured each year. . . . In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, hundreds more women marched against a proposed anti-pornography bill that would also make the baring of legs or shoulders in public a crime.

As you can see, women all around Asia still face numerous barriers in their quest for gender equality. Lets hope that as Asian countries continue their gradual march toward modernization and democracy that the women in those countries share equally in such political, economic, and social gains and measures of progress.

March 8, 2006

Written by C.N.

Japanese Become More American: Fatter

Americans trends have usually been popular in Japan as well. But one of the newest Americans trends that is increasingly becoming common in Japan is being fat and overweight. In fact, the rise of this trend is threatening to tarnish Japan’s status as one of the healthiest countries in the world:

“I don’t know for how long Japan can maintain the world’s highest longevity,” says Yukio Yamori, director of the International Center for Research on Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases. “If eating habits change, life expectancy will shorten and this has already been made clear.”

Still, Japan’s fat problem pales besides that of the U.S., reports Craft: While about one-third of Americans are obese, the rate for Japan is just 3 percent. Only 24 percent of Japanese aged 15 and older are believed to be overweight, compared to about 65 percent of adults in the United States.

But concern is growing over eating patterns like Sayaka’s. Instead of the fish, rice and miso soup of their grandparents’ generation, younger Japanese are increasingly wolfing down fast food like burgers, fried chicken and instant noodles. Bad diets and less exercise create what psychologists say is a vicious cycle: Fat kids are increasingly picked on at school, get depressed and find solace in eating even more.

Ahh, the march of American capitalism and consumer culture never ends. It pervades almost every corner of the world and is apparently powerful enough to change a national culture previous built on centuries, even millenia, of tradition. Japan, wake up and look at your waistlines before it’s too late.