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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.

June 27, 2006

Written by C.N.

Justin Lin’s Take on The Fast and the Furious

The third installment of the Fast and the Furious series of movies is out (Tokyo Drift), sporting a few changes from its first two predecesors. The most obvious is that it is set in Japan and features a large Asian and Asian American cast. Part of the reason may be due to its new director, Taiwanese American Justin Lin, of Better Luck Tomorrow fame. Here’s MTV’s take on the film and on Justin Lin’s career up to this point:

The result is — as you’d expect — an eardrum-assailing, lightning-paced, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride that might send your bag of popcorn flying through the air. The real shock, however, is that it’s the first “Furious” movie with a brain under the hood.

“It’s a self-discovery movie,” Lin insisted, equating the story of street racer Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) to his own experiences as an Asian filmmaker navigating Hollywood. “This is really, at the end of the day, about this kid who is outside and comes into town. . . .

“It’s still funny sometimes,” Lin added, saying that as passionately as he felt about exposing American audiences to his world, he realized on day one of the “Drift” shoot that he was still working in theirs.

“The first day of my big movie, I drive on the set and the security won’t let me in. They thought I was a P.A. [production assistant]! It happens all the time. Every time I go to a meeting, they’re like, ‘So, what are you delivering?’ “It constantly slaps me in the face, that I’m still perceived as a bit of an outsider,” Lin lamented.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but will try to soon. It’s nice to see Justin Lin moving up in the Hollywood hierarchy, from unknown independent filmmaker to director of feature-list mainstream studio movies. It’s also good to hear that he had enough power to demand — and get — major changes in the storyline and plot to make it more realistic and professional, and not just a retread of the first two movies and of tired stereotypes of Asian culture.

At the same time, it’s frustrating to hear about Justin’s experiences of still being treated as an outsider in the moviemaking industry. Unfortunately it just goes to show that although Asian Americans have made nice strides in penetrating the silver screen (or is that white?), there is apparently a long way to go until we are seen as regular, legitimate players in the industry.

June 25, 2006

Written by C.N.

Latest Research on Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

When affirmative action was first implemented in the 1960s, Asian Americans generally benefited from it. In more recent years however, the consensus seems to be that affirmative action seems to hurt more Asian Americans than it helps. Now, a new study argues that it’s not really affirmative action that hurts Asian Americans, it’s actually just racial discrimination, pure and simple:

Kidder argues that the vast majority of the gains that Asian American applicants would see come from the elimination of “negative action,” not the opening up of slots currently used for affirmative action. Based on the data used by the Princeton study, Kidder argues that negative action is the equivalent of losing 50 points on the SAT. . . .

Kidder argues that all the references to growing Asian enrollments in a post-affirmative action world encourage a return to the “yellow peril” fear of people from Asia taking over. More broadly, he thinks Asian Americans in particular aren’t getting accurate information about the real cause of their perceived difficulties getting into competitive colleges.

Their obstacle, he says, isn’t affirmative action, but the discrimination Asian Americans experience by being held to higher standards than anyone else. He says that the differential standards appear to be growing and are similar in some ways to the way some Ivy League institutions limited Jewish enrollments in the first half of the 20th century.

“Whether an individual Asian American supports affirmative action or not, this is an independent problem, not because of affirmative action,” Kidder says.

As a supporter of affirmative action myself, I applaud Kidder’s research and interpretations — that it’s not affirmative action that hurts Asian Americans, but differential and discriminatory standards that are applied to them and not other groups. I should point out that in fact, his argument is the same that’s been advocated for years by Asian American scholars such as Don Nakanishi, Dana Takagi, Bill Ong Hing, Suchen Chan, and others.

The implication here is that eliminating affirmative action by itself is not likely to benefit Asian Americans much at all. Instead, the real causes of difficulties that many Asian American applicants face are unfair criteria that is applied only to them that artificially limit their numbers and that is where we need to focus our attention and actions.

I’m sure there will be plenty of Asian Americans who, even after reading these findings, will still vehemently argue that affirmative action is bad for Asian Americans and that we should oppose it. Unfortunately, affirmative action is one of those hotly controversial issues (along with abortion, illegal immigration, etc.) where individual beliefs frequently override data, statistics, and empirical research.

Hopefully this issue will gradually become more clear as more research like this is done to show what the real barriers are to Asian American educational attainment.

June 22, 2006

Written by C.N.

Latest Asian American Golf Prodigy

You’ve probably heard of Michelle Wie already, the 16 year-old Korean American golf phenom whose ambition is to not just compete against other women golfers, but against the top male ones as well. But there’s a new name on the horizon — 15 year-old Tadd Fujikawa from Hawai’i, who unlike Michelle Wie, was able to qualify for the 2006 Men’s U.S. Open:

Tadd Fujikawa, a 15-year-old who just completed his freshman year at Moanalua High School, beat out nine other players in the smallest U.S. Open sectional qualifier to earn a trip to Winged Foot next week. . . . Fujikawa missed by one year becoming the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open. Tyrell Garth was 14 when he qualified to play in the 1941 U.S. Open at Colonial. . . .

Lori Fujikawa said her son didn’t start getting serious about golf until four years ago when he began taking lessons. He was previously into judo. Despite being just over 5 feet, the teen averages about 285 yards off the tee.

It’s always nice to have another Asian American representing. Congratulations to Tadd and best of luck to him at the U.S. Open and beyond.

Update: Unfortunately but probably not surprisingly, Tadd missed the cut at the U.S. Open. Nonetheless, he certainly did not finish dead last and actually finished with a better total than veterans such as Nick Price and Mark Calcavechia. We are sure to hear more about Tadd in future PGA events.

June 20, 2006

Written by C.N.

Best Companies for Asian Americans

Diversity Inc. Magazine has just released a survey that ranks the Top Ten Best Companies For Asian Americans to Work For, based on proportions of total employees who are Asian American, salaries, promotions, and executive representation and in their words, “a long-term commitment to this community and to recognizing, developing and promoting top Asian-American talent”:

1. Hewlett Packard (Computer Technology)
2. Abbott (Pharmaceuticals)
3. New York Life Insurance Co. (Financial Services)
4, Merrill Lynch & Co. (Financial Services)
5. Southern California Edison Co. (Electricity & Public Utilities)
6. Sempra Energy (Electricity & Public Utilities)
7. Novartis Pharmaceutical (Pharmaceuticals)
8. Merck & Co. (Pharmaceuticals)
9. HBO (TV & Entertainment)
10. Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. (Financial Services)

Overall, the list looks to be balanced in terms of industry representation, although pharmaceuticals and financial services seem to be overrepresented. At any rate, it’s good to know that there are companies out there who do value Asian Americans as executives and supervisors, and not just as employees.

I wonder why there are no government agencies on the list. Hmmm . . .

June 18, 2006

Written by C.N.

Health Clinic Designed for Asian Americans

Many sociologists — like me in fact — will tell you that demographic change is likely to lead to social/cultural change. One example is what’s happening in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NYC — the opening of a health center designed to cater to the area’s Asian American population:

The $1 million clinic was carefully designed to cater to Sunset Park’s fast-growing Chinese population, one of the largest in the city. Because the color white is associated with death in China, the walls are mostly painted in yellow and pink tones. And because Chinese immigrants have high rates of tuberculosis infection, every patient is tested for it.

The chefs in the main hospital’s kosher kitchen have learned to prepare rice porridge, a beloved Chinese comfort food. “Language, culture, food — it’s all tremendously important,” Ms. Brier said. . . . It also reflects a broader national shift in health care as urban hospitals move beyond the translation services that started becoming common in the late 1990’s and acknowledge that language is not the only barrier they face in treating people from all over the globe.

Some come from cultures that are broadly skeptical of Western medicine, and prefer the herbs and poultices of traditional healers . . . Others come from cultures where they are expected to hide sickness from strangers, or where it might be offensive for male doctors to examine female patients.

This clinic is a great example of cultural competency at its best — service providers clearly understanding not just their patients’ medical needs, but also their cultural needs, which can be just as important when it comes to improving the patient’s overall state of wellness.

Kudos and congratulations to all involved and I hope that this is the start of a beneficial trend when it comes to social services for the Asian American community — and for that matter, all underserved communities.

June 15, 2006

Written by C.N.

Viet Nam Set to Enter the WTO

Viet Nam is set to enter the World Trade Organization after signing a new trade agreement with the U.S. that will open up virtually all of Viet Nam’s economic sectors to the world:

Vietnamese and American trade officials signed the pact, which will open the Southeast Asian country’s markets in virtually every sector, in the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. It paves the way for one-party Vietnam to enter the
World Trade Organization this year, 11 years after it began applying. . . .

For the deal with the United States to come into effect, the U.S. Congress must grant what is called Permanent Normal Trade Relations Status. Any bill passed by Congress will be opposed by some critics of Vietnam’s human rights and religious rights record.

Despite the inevitable protests by many Americans and many Vietnamese Americans that this new agreement only rewards Viet Nam’s communist government and legitimizes their oppressive policies, I see this as a positive development. I believe that since a revolution restoring democracy in Viet Nam is highly unlikely any time soon, real change will only happen gradually.

In other words, as Viet Nam is increasingly integrated into the mainstream community of nations, its policies are likely to moderate over time. I may be naive and wrong, but my hope is that engagement and an increased international presence will hopefully bring about better human rights practices and an easing of government control over every aspect of life for most Vietnamese.

As Sun Tsu said, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

June 13, 2006

Written by C.N.

Racial Profiling Against Arab Americans Continue

Almost five years after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, Arab Americans are still consistently encountering racial profiling as they travel, prompted by nothing more than their physical appearance and/or their Arabic names:

Getting through United States airports and border crossings has grown more difficult for everyone since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. But Muslim Americans say they are having a harder time than most, sometimes facing an intimidating maze of barriers, if not outright discrimination. Advocacy groups have taken to labeling their predicament “traveling while Muslim,” and accuse the government of ignoring a serious erosion of civil rights. . . .

“I find myself enunciating English like never before, totally over-enunciating just because I want the guy to know that I am an American,” says Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-born, Berkeley-educated actor. “Middle Easterners are just as scared of Al Qaeda as everybody else, but we also have to be worried about being profiled as Al Qaeda. It’s a double whammy.”

The article describes several instances in which Arab Americans continue to be subjected to discriminatory searches and detentions while traveling, only to be released shortly thereafter once it’s clear that they have no connection whatsoever to terrorist groups. In particular, many Arab Americans deplore how it is virtually impossible for them to be removed from the government’s “watch list” even when their names are on there erroneously.

Unfortunately, these are more examples of how the current administration continues to run roughshod over basic human and civil rights against those who have no connection at all with terrorism while virtually ignoring the real threats to homeland security, or at least badly bungling attempts at addressing them (i.e., securing ports and shipping containers, protecting sensitive chemical and nuclear installations, and finding the real enemies of this country, Al Qaeda).

In other words, contrary to “official” denials, racial profiling is still alive and well — and in fact thriving — in this country.

June 11, 2006

Written by C.N.

Affirmative Action Debate in India

Affirmative action has always been a controversial and divisive issue here in the U.S. But apparently, arguments about affirmative action have really heated up in India, centering around the government’s plans to increase educational quotas for India’s lower castes:

In spite of the disruption, the government has sworn that it will not back down, regardless of who resigns or how many protest. Increased quotas, it claims, are the only way to foster social equality at the institutions that are driving the Indian economy forward. . . .

The government proposal at the heart of the conflict aims to reserve an additional 27% of university seats for the unfortunately termed “Other Backward Classes (OBC)” — those who, while not on the lowest rung of the social ladder, are not far from it. Once the new quotas go into effect at the start of the 2007 school year, nearly 50% of seats at elite universities will be set aside for members of the lower castes. . . .

Detractors stress that it is not just because of merit that they oppose the quota system; they believe it is not addressing the real problems in India. If the lower castes and classes had equal opportunities earlier in life, they argue, quotas wouldn’t be necessary for higher education.

“Instead of reserving 10 seats at AIIMS, educate 10,000 children. Then you will see a difference in Indian society,” says Sen.

The article goes on to describe many of the same arguments supporting and opposing affirmative action that we constantly hear in the U.S. However, the one main difference that I can see is that India’s proposal seems to call for a significantly large increase in quotas for disadvantaged citizens — from about 20% to 47%.

Based on that fact alone, even though I generally support affirmative action here in the U.S. — even in cases where it may hurt some Asian Americans — I’d have to say that an immediate 27% increase seems rather drastic. It makes me wonder why Indian officials apparently don’t want to institute more gradual increases over time, in order to make them more acceptable.

Furthermore, it also makes me wonder whether India has the will to do what many of these protesters say they need to do to really address the problem — improve living conditions and socioeconomic opportunities for the lower castes from the beginning. Ultimately, that’s a question we can ask here in the U.S. as well.

June 9, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian Identity: Gone or Just Lost?

The following is a ‘guest post’ by Brintha Gardner:

What is an identity? According to the Oxford English Dictionary the definition of an identity is ‘the fact of being who a person is’. So where do Asian Americans stand?

From a decade of observation in India, I’ve noticed that some people try to be ‘different’. They are not always pleased with whom they are or their background and so they try to put on a new identity which will ‘help’ boost their confidence. Now looking at Indians born in America, that is a completely different story.

In Indian slang terminology, Indians born in the United States are affectionately called ABCDs. This word is basically an abbreviation for American Born Confused Desis (Desi, pronounced ‘They see,’ is a slang synonym for Indians). Let’s just say that over the years, Indians have found many ABCDs, lost. Their Indian roots have stayed just there, underground, with no room to emerge.

To choose not to follow one’s culture and religion due to preference based on prior knowledge on the same is an educated and justified reason these days but to acknowledge one’s culture and religion and ignore it intentionally on the pretense of peer pressure and ‘other’ reasons is according to me, just not right.

Every individual is unique, I truly believe this. We are where we have come from, what we’ve seen and how we have molded ourselves. So how far does one have to go back to know where they’ve come from? Apes? Ancestors? Great grandparents? Truth be told, I think it’s all in an individual’s perspective on either where they think they really come from or where they want to think they really come from.

Could what we see truly be chiseled in our identities? Oh pish posh you say. Well, look at the clothes you wear, the music playing on the radio station you selected, the transportation you commute in…I could go on but I’ll stop here on this point. We didn’t wake up one morning oblivious to our surroundings before making any of the just mentioned decisions. Our preferences are very important in defining us and in return reflecting our identities.

Moving on to my third question, how have we molded ourselves? Let’s see…potty trained, no longer crawling…fast forwarding….we adapted habits (good or bad), we got an education and a career, we picked what we liked and dropped what we didn’t like along the way (if we have the luxury of choosing).

With the multitude of interests available to an individual in the world today, we find ourselves never short of it. Being great (or not so) at something doesn’t make an individual. The fact that it is/was a part of your life makes it a part of you.

I feel during this period of time despite controversies, people more prominently began to standing up for what they believed in this aspect. Once exorbitantly frowned upon all over this country and still in some places, many couples of different races still face occasional struggles in their marital life from external sources. Love does not have a race. Why then must people be secluded into the fathomless abyss of uniformity?

I have quite a diverse background myself having spent most of my life in three countries. I treasure and respect my roots (Indian if you didn’t figure that one yet) and I cherish the lessons I have learnt in the Middle East and the United States. Being an Asian American is exactly what it says it is: you’re Asian, you’re American; not just the latter but both.

It is never too late in life to accept what you are, but earlier is always better. That way you don’t miss out in the beauty that lies in traditions and values that you have yet to explore in your heritage. Besides, if a great personality like Tiger Woods can accept being Caucasian, Native American, African American, Chinese and Thai; I’m sure you can accept your background also.

Not many people get the opportunity of having two or more cultures mixed in them so instead of feeling you stick out or are odd in a group, treasure it, be proud of it and tell anyone who gives you a hard time: ‘Yeah, I am a combination of cultures and that just makes me a more interesting person. If you don’t like it, well I just feel sad for your narrow-minded, culturally-challenged, miscegenation-ignorant self.’

And if you really don’t want to acknowledge your roots, remember that it’s not going anywhere. It’s only lost until you choose to find it.

June 8, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian Small Businesses Flourishing

Two articles, one from the Washington Post and the other from the San Francisco Chronicle, describe how Asian American-owned small businesses in each respective metropolitan area have flourished in recent years:

The number of Asian-owned businesses surged in the Washington area from 1997 to 2002, as a diverse mix of entrepreneurs with broad global ties flocked to the region’s technology and government contracting sectors in suburban commercial centers outside the District, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released yesterday.

The number of firms owned by ethnic Asians locally rose 30 percent, to 40,152, during the five years studied, double the national rate of growth for all businesses and more than the 24 percent growth in Asian-owned firms nationwide. Though the number of Asian-owned firms in the District fell slightly, growth in the outer suburbs was explosive. . . .

San Francisco’s 19,639 Asian-owned firms generated $5.4 billion in 2002. Only New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu had more Asian-owned enterprises, and San Jose rounded out the top five cities with 16,233 Asian-owned businesses. California had 371,425 in all with revenues of $125.6 billion.

As I’ve written before, Asian Americans as a group are overrepresented as small business owners, although there is a lot of variation among different Asian ethnic groups. As the Census Bureau notes, “The robust revenues of Asian-owned firms and the growth in the number of businesses provide yet another indicator that minority entrepreneurs are at the forefront as engines for growth in our economy.”

The other interesting feature to note in this context is how many Asian American businesses are increasingly leveraging their transnational ties and connections to Asia as a common method of expanding their businesses. I’ve also written about previous examples regarding Vietnamese and Koreans.

In other words, Asian Americans (in this case, business owners) are once again showing that, in the context of today’s globalized and transnational society, there does not need to be a contradiction between being both Asian and American.

June 6, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian Americans Entering the Cultural Mainstream

Two separate articles describe the slowly emerging prominence of Asians and Asian Americans in mainstream American society — one in the field of professional sports and one relating to consumer advertising:

The presence of these [Asian & Asian American] players [in professional sports] is helping, slowly, to break the stereotypes, but obstacles remain. . . . One of the common stereotypes is that Asians are smart, but not athletic. Asians are often considered to be too small and too slow to compete at the highest level of sports.”

He pointed to the example of quarterback Timmy Chang of the University of Hawaii, who wasn’t chosen in last month’s NFL Draft despite setting an NCAA record for career passing yardage. reported recently that, according to Chang’s agent, Don Yee, who is also an Asian-American, a scout said at the NFL combine that Chang is too short to play quarterback in the NFL.

Chang is 6-foot-1, which makes him as tall as or taller than several current NFL quarterbacks. When these comparisons were noted, the scout reportedly answered, “But he plays short.” . . . .

Gitlin says companies can choose to ignore Asian-Americans and other ethnic groups, but he doesn’t understand why they would. “Asians lead the nation on median household income,” he says. “Asian-American households have a median household income that is almost $10,000 ahead of Caucasian households, not just ahead of other multi-cultural groups, but ahead of Caucasian households.”

While some industries, like financial services, have zeroed in on Asian-American households, many others are finally getting in the game. . . . . “It’s not just a question of translation,” says Gitlin. “We need to reflect the lifestyles, the immigrant experiences, and the social and family values and cultures of these populations.”

One aspect of Asian Americans that both of these articles highlight is that numbers eventually bring attention. That is, it was almost inevitable that Asians (with one quarter of the world’s population) and Asian Americans (the second fastest-growing racial group in the U.S. and the most urbanized) would eventually be noticed due to their population sizes.

However, attention is not always positive. Further, positive attention doesn’t automatically lead to success, as the example of Timmy Chang shows us. Nonetheless, these trends are steps in the right direction. There are still many miles to travel before full representation is achieved, especially in big-time pro sports such as football, baseball, and basketball, but the groundwork is being laid.

As Asian Americans increasingly enter the Americans mainstream in terms of professional sports and consumer advertising, we have the opportunity to show everyone that it is not a contradiction to be both Asian and American at the same time.

June 4, 2006

Written by C.N.

Wen Ho Lee Privacy Settlement

You might recall that Wen Ho Lee was a Taiwanese American nuclear scientist who was initially accused of spying for China and was subsequently detained and kept in solitary confinement for nine months until it became clear that the government had no case against him. He was finally released after pleading guilty to one count of mishandling sensitive documents.

At his release hearing, the presiding judge took the unprecedented step of officially apologizing to him for his mistreatment at the hands of the government. Lee later sued the Energy and Justice Departments and several news organizations, accusing them of leaking and publishing prejudicial information about him. His lawsuit is finally over, as five news organizations and two federal departments have agreed to pay him a $1.65 million settlement:

Lee had accused federal officials of smearing him by leaking information that he was under investigation as a spy for China. The case took an unusual turn when federal judges held five reporters in contempt of court for refusing to disclose the sources of their stories about the government’s espionage investigation of Lee.

The payment by AP, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and ABC is the first of its kind in recent memory, and perhaps ever, legal and media experts said. . . . The final terms of Lee’s settlement with the government were not immediately known, but a draft settlement circulated last week included a payment of $895,000 in attorney’s fees and no admission that the government agencies had violated Lee’s privacy rights.

From what I’ve read, it seems that the news organizations were merely reporting what the Energy and Justice Departments had leaked to them. So on the one hand, the news organizations might been seen as “innocent bystanders” who were only doing their jobs and for the sake of journalistic integrity, didn’t want to compromise the confidentiality of their sources.

On the other hand, let us remember that in the wake of the dismissal of virtually all charges against Wen Ho Lee, the New York Times issued an official apology to its readers regarding its coverage of Dr. Lee’s situation and admitted that they did not do the proper research and factfinding when they first investigated the story and that their reporting implied that Dr. Lee was guilty.

Further, the government may try to deny otherwise, but it is clear that this settlement is a clear cut and unprecedented victory for Wen Ho Lee. I hope it will also serve as a warning to the government that even in the prevailing hysteria of “national security concerns,” people are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that leaking prejudicial (and ultimately distorted) “evidence” against people like Dr. Lee is unacceptable.

In fact, I’m sure that thousands of Arab and Muslim Americans who were illegally detained after 9/11 or otherwise harassed by the government might be interested to hear about this settlement.