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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.

July 30, 2006

Written by C.N.

Americans Buying More Import Cars Than Domestic

You may have heard that U.S. automakers (Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford) have been experiencing hard times recently. Another example of their struggles is that for the first time in American history, Americans are buying more import cars than domestic ones (retail sales only, as opposed to fleet sales):

New statistics compiled by R.L. Polk and Co. . . . show foreign brands commanded 52.9 percent of the retail auto market in the first five months of 2006, while domestic automakers fell to 47.1 percent. While the power shift has been long in the making, it’s nonetheless a disheartening sign that Detroit’s auto industry is losing the battle for the hearts and wallets of American car buyers. . . .

Industry experts say the numbers illustrate that Asian automakers such as Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co and Nissan Motor Co. are doing a better job meeting the needs of U.S. car buyers. Domestic brands have been hurt by lower quality scores, and more recently, a heavy reliance on large trucks and SUVs at a time of a high gas prices. . . .

Toyota’s U.S. brands posted a 12.5 percent increase in retail sales in the first five months of the year. By contrast, GM’s retail sales slipped 7.7 percent. Excluding fleet sales, Toyota brands now outsell Ford and Chrysler nameplates in the United States, Polk reported.

I’ve written before about how many Asian automakers have several factories in the U.S. and are opening up even more and hiring thousands of U.S. workers, while at the same time, several domestic automaker factories are being closed and laying off thousands of employees.

However and unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, there will always be the lingering sentiment among many Americans that despite their commitment to contributing to the U.S. economy, Asian automakers such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc. will continue to be seen as “foreigners” and not “real” American companies.

Unfortunately, this sentiment also trickles down to how many of us Asian Americans are treated as well — that despite our contributions as loyal Americans to this society, we are still frequently treated as “outsiders” and not “real” Americans. Nonetheless, and as these numbers about the success of Asian automakers show, our impact is undeniable and that fortunately, most Americans seem to recognize excellence when they see it.

The slow march of progress and acceptance continues . . .

July 26, 2006

Written by C.N.

Filipino American Porn Star Running for Governor

I’ve written before about how Asian Americans are increasingly entering politics and government as a profession and about how many non-Asian politicians are spending more time and money courting different Asian American ethnic groups. Here’s the latest example of Asian Americans in the political arena: former porn star Melody Damayo (aka “Mimi Miyagi“) is running for the Governor of Nevada as a Republican:

Last May, she surprised many of her followers when she announced her decision to run for governor of Nevada. She is running as a Republican, and under the campaign slogan “For the bare and honest truth.” As an “alternative candidate,” she has been getting a lot of mainstream press.

Damayo was featured in Tucker Carlson’s MSNBC show, and she has been endorsed enthusiastically by an influential political blog site . . . Damayo is hopeful that with more people finding out about her, her chances of making a good showing at the polls would increase. She is also hoping for endorsements from Filipino groups.

There’s so many ways to look at this story — where do I begin? How about I describe the things I like about her candidacy:

  • It is another example of Asian Americans not being afraid of the public spotlight and entering the field of politics.
  • She serves as an example of how Asian Americans from “non-traditional” occupations can attain a high profile in American society.
  • As a woman, she also helps to break down the stereotypes of Asian women as docile, quiet, and submissive.

Now onto the things about her candidacy that I find a little disturbing:

  • A former porn star isn’t exactly the type of public image I would like associated with Asian Americans.
  • She’s running as a Republican instead of as a Democrat.
  • She doesn’t seem to have any special talents that would qualify her to be a worthy political candidate (unless you count having the potential to get into sex scandals as a special talent).

I guess the bottom line (no pun intended) for me regarding Melody Damayo/Mimi Miyagi is that she’s nothing more than a sideshow freak who doesn’t really seem to have much connection to the Asian American community. As such, although I wish her well, I won’t be shedding any tears when she fails to make the cut in her party’s primary.

On second thought, maybe I should hope that she becomes the Republican candidate so that the Democratic candidate can more easily trounce her in the general election. Hmmm, that’s a tough call.

July 23, 2006

Written by C.N.

Meth Use Increasing Among Asians

The methamphetamine phenomenon, and especially its exploding rates of use and addiction among many Americans — has attracted plenty of news over the past few years. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Asian Americans are not immune from this trend either. New American Media reports on the rise of meth use among Asians in the San Francisco Bay area:

In San Francisco, where Asian-Americans make up at least 33 percent of the population, law enforcement officials agree with Konishita’s frontline assessment that meth use is spreading — largely off the community radar. . . . Stigma has a lot to do with why Asian-American meth use has not yet surfaced as a pressing problem, either in public debate or in the Asian language media.

Another reason for its low profile is that, unlike other illicit drugs, young people are not the primary users. “Young people still prefer alcohol, weed and cigarettes, though overall meth use in this group is rising,” says David Mineta, associate director of Asian American Recovery Services. “It’s older people who are more inclined to use meth.”

And it isn’t just men who are using. Almost 50 percent of Konishita’s intake patients at AARS have been women in the last year. “Some women use meth to control their weight. At home there’s pressure from the family to succeed, to be beautiful, to be thin,” says Denise Villegas, a case worker for AARS in Daly City.

Earlier, I wrote about Asian Americans being affected by the growing meth problem from the other side of the table — Asian Indian convenience store owners unfairly targeted by police for allegedly selling cold medicine containing ephedrine to customers knowing that they would use it to make meth. Now we see another side of the picture.

Although the article does not provide any statistics, I think we can be reasonably certain that meth use is indeed on the rise among Asian Americans all across the country. With this in mind, thankfully there are some culturally-competent treatment centers out there like Asian American Recovery Services.

As a society, we certainly need to address the meth problem from all directions, whether they be regulating supplies in a fair way, arrests and punishment, and treatment. Hopefully these treatment centers will continue to receive the funding they need to continue their work, rather than being seen as unnecessary or too narrowly-focused by short-sighted politicians.

July 21, 2006

Written by C.N.

Korean Americans React to North Korea

As tensions continue to rise against North Korea and its threats to use nuclear weapons against its perceived aggressors, it’s understandable that different Asian Americans will have different opinions about the issue. Perhaps most interested in these events are Korean Americans, many of whom have conflicted views on what to do:

In dealing with North Korea in the aftermath of unannounced missile tests, South Koreans face a major dilemma: many support punishing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, but simultaneously they know the North Korean people will suffer. . . .

Several Korean American groups, including the Korean Marine Corps Veterans Association and the Korean Senior Center in Orange County, Calif., have issued statements in protest against the North and have called for a stronger stance from South Korea. . . . Others feel that the millions of dollars of aid sent to North Korea under South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine Policy contributed to Kim Jong-il’s efforts to maintain his regime. . . .

Many South Koreans fear for the fate of North Koreans residents should sanctions come to bear, and, according to a report in the Korea Daily in Seoul, while many still want sanctions they still want to continue to send aid to the North.

Interestingly, these different opinions on how to deal with a repressive totalitarian regime mirror the same disagreements that exist in the Vietnamese American community.

I don’t know what the best solution is regarding dealing with North Korea. However, in this context of debate and disagreement, I hope that Korean Americans (along with Vietnamese Americans and everybody else), will try to be civil toward others who have different opinions, rather than angrily denounce and personally vilify the other side, which unfortunately is too often the case even within Asian American communities.

In other words, let’s try to adopt a pan-Asian tolerance in terms of not just relationships with other Asian American ethnic groups, but among those in our own community as well.

July 16, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian Americans Debate Immigration Proposals

As the House and the Senate wrangle over how to come up with a compromise immigration bill — or if it’s even possible to do so — New America Media has an article that looks at how the competing bills may affect aspects of immigration that are important or more applicable to Asian Americans:

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) reports that the bill would eliminate the backlog for family-based immigrants in approximately six years. The Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) . . . has pushed for this provision for the past decade. The center states that the backlog for some API families is currently more than 20 years. . . .

The bill not only affects illegal immigrants but legal ones as well. Narasaki says it would impose new barriers to naturalization, including “giving unprecedented power” to low-level agency employees to deny U.S. citizenship to permanent residents for “arbitrary reasons and through the use of secret evidence.” . . . .

The current bill not only criminalizes, detains and deports immigrants based on minor documentation and registration issues, but it also expands the list of minor crimes for legal immigrants to be deported. If the Vietnamese government agrees to accept deportees, the Vietnamese American community would be greatly affected, says Lee.

Advocacy groups say the bill threatens the multilingual and multicultural community. Lee cautions the public about a possible English-only provision, which may affect entitlement to language translations. Narasaki warns that the bill . . . encourages policies that may lead to profiling of those who do not look or sound “American,” even if they are in fact U.S. citizens.

In summary, it appears that the proposed bill would contain some provisions that are likely to help Asian Americans, most notably eliminating the backlog of family-based visa requests. On the other hand, there are apparently several provisions that may negatively impact the Asian American community, including broader powers to deport legal immigrants for minor crimes and possible cutbacks in bilingual programs.

It’s hard to predict how this will all turn out and whether there will even be a compromised bill, since both sides seem to be digging in their ideological heels at the moment. We should also remember that not all Asian Americans agree on one of the main components of the proposed bill — of granting illegal immigrants an opportunity to become American citizens.

At the same time, if there was ever a time for the Asian American community to put aside their differences in regard to arguing over whether to allow undocumented immigrants a path toward citizenship and instead, to unite against provisions that could mean deportation for minor offenses and cuts in bilingual program, now is the time.

July 13, 2006

Written by C.N.

Sen. Biden’s Comments About Indians

Recently, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware commented on a C-SPAN cable television show that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” Many Indian Americans found this comment to be rather offensive, while Biden explained that he actually meant it as a compliment to the Indian American community:

Biden’s office said the senator admires, supports and respects the Indian-American community — and also sought to explain his gaffe.

“The point Sen. Biden was making is that there has been a vibrant Indian-American community in Delaware for decades. It has primarily been made up of engineers, scientists and physicians, but more recently, middle-class families are moving into Delaware and purchasing family-run small businesses,” said Margaret Aitken, a Biden spokeswoman.

“These families have greatly contributed to the vibrancy of the Indian-American community in Delaware and are making a significant contribution to the national economy as well,” she said.

For now, I am willing to give Biden the benefit of the doubt and believe that deep down, he was trying to complement the Indian American community. However, at best, it should be clear that his comments were in rather poor taste and a very bad choice of words.

If he were trying to complement the Indian American community, he should have just said that he’s pleased to see so many Indian families moving to his state and contributing to the state’s economy and their community by buying small businesses, rather than use the tired, generalizing stereotype of “all convenience stores are owned by Indians.”

Hopefully this episode will serve as a lesson to public officials — that even if you think you’re making a compliment to a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group, using generalizations to get your point across can backfire and may ultimately cost you support among those you were trying to complement in the first place.

July 11, 2006

Written by C.N.

North Korea’s Latest Threats

Earlier this month, North Korea once again got the world’s attention by test-firing several long distance missiles into the Sea of Japan. Naturally, this act resulted in near-unanimous condemnation. I don’t want to review the history of North Korea’s threatening behavior in recent years, nor try to analyze Kim Il Jong’s state of mind.

Instead, I would like to focus on how North Korea’s belligerence relates to its Asian neighbors. Specifically, many (most of them liberals) have basically said that the U.S. is in no moral position to condemn North Korea, that North Korea has the right to assert its military and political independence, and/or that criticizing North Korea is tantamount to contemporary imperialism and racism against Asians.

I will first state that yes, North Korea has the right to assert its independence and yes, others need to be careful in how they phrase their criticism of North Korea’s actions. In other words, it is one thing to criticize them for their unprovoked threats against their neighboring countries, but it is another matter to say that they represent the latest version of the racist “yellow peril” image of evil, diabolical Asians scheming to conquer the entire world.

At the same time, I would like to point out that North Korea is directly threatening not western nations like Europe or even the U.S., but rather, their fellow Asian neighbors such as South Korea and Japan. In other words, it’s Asians threatening Asians here. That means that when South Koreans and Japanese condemn the North Koreans, it’s not some western imperialistic superpower trying to tell North Korea to stop, it’s other Asians.

My point is that we should not shy away from condemning North Korea and its government just because they’re an Asian country. Merely being Asian is not a license to bully your neighbors and to threaten them with nuclear annihilation. To the same extent that we criticize dictatorships and government repression in Burma, China, Viet Nam, and other Asian (and western) countries, so too should North Korea be held to the same standards of international conduct as everyone else.

In the end, it’s not a matter of being racist — it’s a matter of ensuring millions of people do not die an agonizing and unnecessary death.

July 9, 2006

Written by C.N.

U.S. and China Compete to Befriend Viet Nam

Apparently, times are good to Viet Nam these days. Their economy is the second-fastest growing in Asia behind China and as the NY Times reports, both the U.S. and China are competing with each other to become Viet Nam’s principal trading partner, with possibilities for other types of closer collaboration:

Vietnam’s leaders have made plain they want the United States on their side for equilibrium against China, a longtime occupier. Vietnam, though an ideological ally of Beijing, fears an expanding Chinese sphere of influence and being reduced to an economic appendage by China, its northern neighbor.

It has fought wars against China, most recently in 1979. But now, relations have “never been so good,” said Ton Nu Thi Ninh, the vice chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the National Assembly. “But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect,” she added. . . .

China and the United States are rapidly increasing their economic presence here. Chinese and American investments in Vietnam last year were about equal — a little more than $2 billion each, according to government figures.

Two-way trade between the United States and Vietnam rose to nearly $8 billion last year — from less than $1 billion in 2001 — most of it shrimp, clothes and shoes exports for American shoppers. Not to be outdone, the Chinese commerce minister, Bo Xilai, said in a visit here this month that trade between Vietnam and China could reach $10 billion in 2006, an increase of almost 40 percent from 2005.

As I’ve said before, there will be plenty of diehard anti-communist Vietnamese Americans who oppose normalizing and strengthening relations with the communist government in Viet Nam, and who will see these closer economic ties as rewarding the communists’ human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, I continue to see this trend of incorporating Viet Nam into the international mainstream to be a positive strategy. Rather than isolating and antagonizing them — as we do to North Korea who then react with unpredictable belligerence and threats of war — a growing international presence and economic prosperity in Viet Nam will hopefully lead to a gradual liberalization of government control over the lives of the Vietnamese people.

As the article notes, this has already happened when the Vietnamese government allowed for the creation of privately-owned small and medium-sized businesses in the country. As the old proverb says, there is a time and place for everything. Progress in Viet Nam will come — not today, and certainly not with any dreams of an armed uprising against the communists. But it will come one day . . .

July 6, 2006

Written by C.N.

The State of Asian American Politics

A new study by the Asian American Action Fund political action committee describes the emerging political power of Asian Americans, both as political representatives and as a political constituency group:

In 1996, there were about 300 Asian American elected officials nationwide. By 2005, it was 555 including two U.S. Senators, five U.S. Representatives, 64 State Senators, 97 State Representatives, three state governors, 19 city mayors, 123 city or county council members or other elected officials and 236 judges. . . .

[F]or various reasons Asian Americans are poised to gain greater political power. . . . Asian Americans are concentrated in key battleground states, California, Washington, Nevada, New Jersey and Virginia. In these states, the growth of the Asian American population is greater than that of other groups. . . .

Asian Americans are voting in increasing numbers. Between 1990 and 2000 their voting numbers grew from a million to 1.98 million nationally. That’s an increase of 118 percent. In 2000 83 percent of registered Asian Americans actually voted. . . . Asian Americans [also] do more than vote. They contribute money to campaigns. In 2000, almost one-fifth of U.S.-born Asian Americans contributed to a political campaign.

As I’ve written before, there are many compelling reasons why politicians need to take Asian Americans seriously as not just a constituent group but also as a major emerging cultural and demographic force in the years to come.

The next step is to translate this burgeoning political power into less occupational discrimination, fewer incidents of hate crimes and racial harassment, etc. In other words, while we should be proud of, and build upon, our growing influence, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

July 2, 2006

Written by C.N.

“Cute Culture” in Japan

Have you noticed that Japan is increasingly becoming known not just for high-tech electronics and reliable cars, but also for “cute” popular culture, such as Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and Nintendo characters, to name just a few? Many people have taken notice of this “cuteness” trend and wonder what it means for Japanese society:

The prevalent obsession with things cute has the world’s second biggest economy engaging in some serious soul-searching lately, wondering what exactly is making its people gravitate so frantically toward cuteness. A big reason for the emerging debate: Cute-worship is gaining such overseas acceptance it’s rapidly becoming Japan’s global image.

“Cute is a boom. This style has suddenly become a fashion element among youths around the world,” said Shuri Fukunaga, managing director at Burson-Marsteller in Japan, who advises global companies about communication and marketing. “Marketers in Japan are seeing this and are adept at churning out products that incorporate this style for overseas.” . . .

Skeptics here say Japan’s pursuit of cute is a sign of an infantile mentality and worry that Japanese culture — historically praised for exquisite understatement as sparse rock gardens and ukiyoe woodblock prints — may be headed toward doom. . . . On the other side of the argument stands Tomoyuki Sugiyama, author of “Cool Japan,” who believes cute is rooted in Japan’s harmony-loving culture.

I am not an expert on Japanese culture, in either an academic or consumerist manner. But one thing we need to remember here is that along with this “cute trend,” Japan has also been increasingly known for its growing ethnocentrism and hostility toward its Asian neighbors. The question becomes, are these two trends related?

It might sound a little cynical, but I would probably agree with those who say that this preoccupation with cuteness has deeper roots in nationalistic narcissism and difficulties in relating to outsiders in a mature manner. Historically and despite its technological innovations, Japan is not exactly the most openminded society in the world (although we can say that about many Asian countries), and that is not a good legacy to have.

In the end, if this cuteness trend helps the Japanese to become more relaxed, easy-going, and openminded, more power to them. But if it is another indication that the Japanese are again a little out of step with reality, I would not say that I would be surprised.