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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 29, 2007

Written by C.N.

The Quest to be the Next Bruce Lee

There are schools and academies to train musicians, singers, dancers, even models to succeed in the entertainment industry, so why not a prep school that trains boys to become the next superstar kung fu action hero:

They may not kick like Bruce Lee, pack a Jet Li punch , or even act like Jackie Chan. But for 18 teenage boys living at the Heng Xing Ying Shi Kung Fu Acting School, becoming a kung fu star is their dream.

Their largely poor, rural families are staking much on that dream – sending the boys off to this bare-bones, but pricey, school run by Master Guo Shao Heng. They hope that the master – a prizewinning fighter in his teens who has been kicking and punching his way through movie sets for 12 years as a movie-fight choreographer – can help them hone their fight-acting skills enough to break into kung fu films. . . .

On referrals from local kung fu teachers, rural families ship their sons off to Beijing and pay up to $1,000 a year for a rigorous three-year program of early morning and afternoon training six days a week.

I suppose this is another example of how traditional Chinese culture and American-style entertainment culture and capitalism is coming together in China. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having big dreams and trying to improve your life. But that is certainly a lot of money for poor rural families to spend on the faint hope that their son will become the next Bruce Lee.

March 28, 2007

Written by C.N.

Shocking News: Chinese Food Can Be Unhealthy

I normally like to promote most forms of Asian and Asian American culture, but sometimes I also have to be realistic, especially when it comes to things that are healthy or unhealthy. Case in point: as Wired News reports, a new study confirms that many of us have already known: Americanized Chinese restaurant food can be rather unhealthy for you:

A plate of General Tso’s chicken, for example, is loaded with about 40 percent more sodium and more than half the calories an average adult needs for an entire day. The battered, fried chicken dish with vegetables has 1,300 calories, 3,200 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of saturated fat. That’s before the rice (200 calories a cup). And after the egg rolls (200 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium).

“I don’t want to put all the blame on Chinese food,” said Bonnie Liebman [Center for Science in the Public Interest]. “Across the board, American restaurants need to cut back on calories and salt, and in the meantime, people should think of each meal as not one, but two, and bring home half for tomorrow,” Liebman said. . . . In some ways, Liebman said, Italian and Mexican restaurants are worse for your health, because their food is higher in saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Chinese food . . . does offer vegetable-rich dishes and the kind of fat that’s not bad for the heart. However, the veggies aren’t off the hook. A plate of stir-fried greens has 900 calories and 2,200 milligrams of sodium. And eggplant in garlic sauce has 1,000 calories and 2,000 milligrams of sodium. . . .

It offers several tips for making a meal healthier: Look for dishes that feature vegetables instead of meat or noodles. Ask for extra broccoli, snow peas or other veggies. Steer clear of deep-fried meat, seafood or tofu. Order it stir-fried or braised. Hold the sauce, and eat with a fork or chopsticks to leave more sauce behind. Avoid salt, which means steering clear of the duck sauce, hot mustard, hoisin sauce and soy sauce. Share your meal or take half home for later. Ask for brown rice instead of white rice.

Most people — even Asian Americans — shouldn’t be shocked to learn that many of the dishes in Americanized Chinese restaurants and takeout joints can be unhealthy. So with everything else, enjoy it in moderation. Chinese food is great for an occasional meal, but as with the vast majority of fast food or restaurant food, you definitely should not make it an everyday part of your life. And by Chinese food, I mean Americanized Chinese restaurant food.

Here’s another suggestion: try Vietnamese food — it tends to be lighter and uses less frying and sauces. In fact, many of my friends have told me after they tried Vietnamese food for the first time that they would never eat Chinese food again. Sorry, General Tso!

March 27, 2007

Written by C.N.

Shortage of Chinese Language Teachers

It should be no surprise by now that Chinese language classes are becoming increasingly popular among students in the U.S. After all, China is emerging as a global superpower and American parents are always looking for something that will give their children an advantage in the global workforce. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, the problem is that there’s a shortage of Chinese language teachers:

Enrollment has soared, going from 5,000 primary and secondary school students in 2000 to estimates as high as 50,000 today, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. When the College Board surveyed schools in 2004 about their interest in a Chinese advanced-placement test, 2,400 schools expressed interest – but many also said they couldn’t find a teacher to start a program. . . .

To seed Chinese programs here, school districts are using guest-worker visas to bring over teachers from China and Taiwan. Another 34 schools this January received teachers from China through a new program set up by the College Board and Hanban, a Chinese government organization. Participating schools pay about $3,500 and agree to provide housing and local transportation to the teacher for two years, with the option to extend the contract for one more year. By 2009, the program hopes to bring as many as 250 teachers to the US. . . .

Several factors keep the Chinese-American community from playing a bigger role in bridging the cultural gap. . . . Many, especially in the San Francisco area, come from families who either speak Cantonese, an entirely different Chinese dialect, or an imperfect version of Mandarin. Meanwhile, more recent immigrants have high aspirations that lead them to dissuade their children from teaching . . . as incomes from private- sector jobs eclipsed teacher pay.

Who would have guessed that people fluent in Chinese are in big demand now? Until recently and still true in many ways today, people speaking Chinese were frowned upon, marginalized, or ridiculed. In fact a recent hate crime, where a Filipino high school student was mistaken for Chinese and beat up on a bus while the bus driver did nothing to intervene, shows the extent to which hostility still exists against the Chinese in the U.S.

While I generally applaud the fact that so many Americans are now apparently eager to learn Chinese, I wonder how long this will last. In other words, how long will it take for China’s economic, political, or perhaps military competition with the U.S. lead to increased tensions between the two countries — tensions that would inevitably spill over onto Chinese Americans?

My point is, learning the Chinese language is one thing — learning and respecting Chinese culture and society is something else. Americans seem eager to do the former — are they also willing to also do the latter?

March 25, 2007

Written by C.N.

APA Heritage Essay Contest

A reader alerted me to an essay contest for high school students in the Washington DC metropolitan area: the NBC affiliate station is sponsoring an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month essay contest. The deadline for submissions is Monday, April 9 and the winner will receive up to $1,500 towards his/her college tuition. Hey, you can’t win if you don’t enter, right?

March 22, 2007

Written by C.N.

Few Asian American Ministers in the Pipeline

As my article on Religion, Faith, & Spirituality describes, religion — in its many forms — is a very important part of many Asian American lives and communities. Not only does religion give someone a sense of a higher purpose and understanding, but religious organizations can serve many important material and emotional functions for its members. In that context, as the Los Angeles Times reports, it might be a cause of worry to hear that many Asian American churches face a shortage of new, young clergy:

Asian American churches are going through a “crisis of leadership” because seminaries are not preparing a new generation of pastors to work in multi-generational and multicultural settings, Asian American Christian leaders say. The problem, the leaders say, affects churches throughout the country but is particularly pronounced in California.

At a time when Christian immigrants from Asia and Asian converts in the United States are fueling what a study calls “the most dynamic changes in American Christianity,” few U.S. seminaries offer courses designed to prepare pastoral leaders for the linguistic and cultural needs of Asian American congregations. . . .

Pastors, seminary professors and lay leaders said at the session and in later interviews that generational schisms in Asian American churches are causing clergy attrition and turnover among pastors born or reared in the United States. Some young pastors experience so much frustration that they start their own English-speaking, pan-Asian churches. Others become so disillusioned that they leave the ministry, experts said.

As an example of the kind of generational differences among Asian American clergy that can lead to conflict, the article describes that many Asian immigrants are drawn to churches as a way to demonstrate or show off the own personal prosperity or status that are normally denied to them in mainstream American society. However, many U.S.-born Asian American clergy become disillusioned with this emphasis on material success and strict hierarchical structures.

In other words, the generation gap is real and is likely to have real consequences in the religious life of many Asian Americans in years to come. If this shortage of U.S.-born Asian American clergy continues, we may end up seeing Asian Americans segmented into separate religious communities — one pan-Asian or largely integrated one where most U.S.-born Asian Americans attend, and one Asian-language one mostly for immigrants.

March 21, 2007

Written by C.N.

America’s Top Asian American Women CEO

I’m assuming that not too many of you have heard of Andrea Jung. No, she’s not some up-and-coming actress or singer. Rather, she occupies a much more potentially powerful position as the only Asian American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, in this case Avon Cosmetics. As BusinessWeek magazine reports, she and her company have had some ups and downs lately but seem to be back on the upswing:

At the height of Jung’s problems, in December, 2005, management guru Ram Charan gave her a piece of pivotal advice. He advised Jung to go home that Friday night and imagine she had been fired. Then, he said, return Monday morning with the mindset of someone brought in from the outside. “If you can be that objective and blend in your institutional knowledge and relationships, you’re going to have an advantage,” he told her. . . .

Jung’s No. 1 role continues to be communicating the company’s new strategy. In the weeks leading up to and just after the February analysts’ gathering, Jung visited Bangkok, Hong Kong, London, São Paulo, Shanghai, and Warsaw. All that travel comes at a sacrifice. Jung has a daughter who will graduate from high school this spring and a son who is 9.

She says she has completely re- prioritized her life in the past two years, skipping business dinners and formal evening affairs in order to be sure she sees them when she’s in New York. But she also tells her children that she loves the company and the work, even if it has been grueling in recent months. “I think it’s important they know that,” she says. “Otherwise why would you do this?”

To be honest, I really don’t know anything personally about her and how important she considers her identity as a woman and/or as an Asian American. Nonetheless, but I think it’s important to know that there are examples of Asian American success in the corporate world out there, especially in her case as not just Asian American, but also as a woman. As such, whether she thinks about it or not, she potentially wields a lot of power and influence over not just people in her industry but Asian Americans — particular women — who see her as a role model.

I hope she does recognize her status and position in this regard and can serve as a positive force to create more opportunities for Asian Americans to follow her path and break through the glass ceiling into the ranks of corporate executives.

March 20, 2007

Written by C.N.

Urban Growth Fears in Saigon

You may know that Saigon (aka ‘Ho Chi Minh City’) is Viet Nam’s biggest city and its commercial center. Like many cities in Asia, it is undergoing tremendous development and expansion. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, the rapid pace of growth has many worried that the city will lose its traditional charm and character:

Glass and steel buildings are already sprouting across the city and by 2009, a 68-story skyscraper, designed to invoke the lotus flower and the ao dai worn by Vietnamese women, promises to be this city’s Sears Tower. But in a city struggling to update its creaking infrastructure and keep its historical core intact, critics say the breakneck speed of expansion could spell a slow death for the unique character of a city once known as the Pearl of the Orient.

Government planners say they want to maintain the essence of the graceful colonial city laid out by French architects in the 19th century. So far, 108 historic buildings have been listed for preservation, and plans are afoot to build a new financial district apart from the old city to satisfy demand for office space. . . . This leaves many wondering which vision of the future will triumph: a planned urban renewal or an unchecked boom that turns Ho Chi Minh City into another sprawling Asian metropolis.

Economic growth in Saigon is inevitable, as long as the Vietnamese government follows its current path of state-controlled capitalism. So the question becomes, will Saigon turn into another Shenzhen, Bangkok, Manila, Taipei, etc., or will it somehow manage to retain its traditional charm? The article does mention decentralization as a potential solution — building outward into Saigon’s suburbs to relieve traffic and congestion inside the city.

However it turns out, however Saigon looks in the next 20 or so years, I think the more important question is, will Saigon also follow the lead of the other Asian metropolises and incur a growing gap between the urban rich and the poor. Will the expansion of capitalism also result in growing economic and social inequality in Viet Nam? I think that’s the larger question that Viet Nam’s leaders need to worry more about.

March 19, 2007

Written by C.N.

Tensions Between Koreans and Latinos

In states such as California where there are large numbers of both Latinos and Asian Americans, it is inevitable that these two groups are going to have more and closer interactions with each other. The results of such interactions can be positive or they can be negative. As New American Media reports, recent interactions between Latinos and Koreans in the Los Angeles area unfortunately seem to be fraught with more negativity than positivity:

In clubs, schools and the work place Koreans and Latinos are increasingly sharing the same spaces, and yet there is little interaction between them. One public high school teacher here noted that his Korean and Latino students have “learned from their relatives to mutually ignore each other.”

As the two communities continue to grow they are becoming more dependent economically on one another. In major cities across the U.S. it is now common to find Korean-owned establishments employing predominantly Latino workers. While this opens opportunities for cultural exchange it also often leads to serious, sometimes violent, misunderstandings. . . .

Tensions between the two groups have been growing for several years. There has been a recent spike in court cases involving Korean business owners and their Latino employees . According to the New York-based National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, Latino immigrant workers filed a lawsuit against the Food Bazaar, a Korean supermarket chain for $1.5 million in unpaid wages. . . .

One story that caught the attention of both communities was the killing of a Korean man in late January by his Latino employee after his boss apparently criticized him for not working hard enough. The incident raised fears among Koreans, who are concerned over a repeat of the deadly Los Angeles riots of 1992, in which African Americans, angered by perceived racism from Korean storeowners, burned and looted Korea- owned establishments. This time, they say any riots that break out could be between Koreans and Latinos.

It is indeed a shame that two groups of people who share many historical and cultural elements in common don’t take the time to learn more about each other and instead, rely on stereotypes and eventually get sucked into the institutional mechanisms of racism and end up taking their frustrations out on each other.

As the article mentioned, there are indeed similarities with the kinds of tensions that existed between Blacks and Koreans back in the early 1990s that helped to spark the Los Angeles Riots in 1992. However, I am optimistic that things will not get that bad this time around because unlike the situation that existed in 1992, there are now many community organizations — particular ones that serve the Korean population — that have the opportunity to take proactive action to lessen tensions and promote more understanding.

The other thing that I hope is different nowadays is that hopefully the political leaders of Los Angeles will also take proactive steps to facilitate dialog between the Latino and Korean communities before such negative incidents and tensions get out of hand. In other words, hopefully all sides involved will have learned their lessons from 1992.

March 15, 2007

Written by C.N.

Kal Penn’s New Movie

Remember Indian American actor Kal Penn, who played Kumar in the iconic movie Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle? Apparently, he’s been pretty busy and it’s been paying off — as ABC News reports, he is starring in a new movie adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake and is emerging as one of the most prominent Asian American actors these days:

In “The Namesake,” the new movie based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, Penn plays Gogol Ganguli, an Indian-American who struggles with his funny-sounding name and relationship with his immigrant parents.

As one of a handful of Indian actors working regularly in American TV and film, Penn’s face is becoming increasingly familiar. Squaring off with Sutherland’s Jack Bauer on “24” exposed him to a new audience and style of acting. . . . A brown-skinned actor picked to play a terrorist can’t help but raise questions about typecasting. But Penn was quick to dismiss suggestions that his ethnicity influenced his feelings about the role.

He said he’s been training for this moment since middle school — the opportunity to work with the best of the best in front of, and behind, the camera. . . . But Penn’s not about to stop making his fan base laugh. He’s currently in Shreveport, La,. filming the sequel to “Harold and Kumar,” in which the duo attempts to take their misadventures to the promised land of pot — Amsterdam.

I think I may be the only member of the 40-and-under male demographic group that does not watch “24.” At any rate, Kal Penn seems to be forging a nice career for himself and for Asian American actors in general — playing non-stereotypical roles and complex characters. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for both The Namesake and the Harold and Kumar sequel when they come out, as I’m sure many other Asian Americans will too.

March 14, 2007

Written by C.N.

Religious Freedom in Viet Nam

As one of the few communist — and officially atheist — countries left in the world, Viet Nam is seemingly caught between the old ideology of official atheism versus the modern advancement of capitalism, information technology, etc. This contrast will be highlighted even further when world-acclaimed Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh makes only his second trip to Viet Nam after being exiled in 1966:

How Vietnam’s rulers handle the visit by Thich Nhat Hanh, a scholar and bestselling author who teaches “socially engaged” Zen Buddhism, will offer an insight into the space for religious expression here. It could also show Vietnam’s abiding adoration for an octogenarian monk who rose to fame in the turbulent 1960s and is trying to engage with a new generation of Vietnamese youths.

In recent years, Vietnam has eased restrictions on public worship while sticking to a policy of recognizing only six state-controlled faith organizations. Last year, the US State Department removed Vietnam from a list of countries of particular concern for religious freedom, citing improvements in the treatment of Protestant churches and other faiths. The move drew flak from human-rights groups that cite continued repression of worshipers, particularly in highland communities. . . .

Buddhists are among those who have felt the sting of government coercion. Leaders of the outlawed United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which refused to join the official Buddhist organization after the defeat of US-backed South Vietnam in 1975, have been detained and harassed. Observers say the Vietnamese government . . . hasn’t forgotten how monks led antiwar protests in the 1960s.

The article goes on to explain that not only are hardline communist officials wary of Nhat Hanh’s visit, but so too are members of the UBVC who charge that Nhan Hanh’s visit only legitimizes the communists’ power and control over religion in Viet Nam. Apparently, it’s one of those cases where Nhat Hanh is unfortunately damned if does and damned if he doesn’t.

As I’ve said before, there are plenty of things about Viet Nam’s government that I would like to change. At the same time, I also recognize that change in Viet Nam is not likely to occur through any kind of popular uprising any time soon, regardless of what many anti-communist Vietnamese Americans would like to see happen.

With that in mind, I believe that engagement with Viet Nam’s communist leaders is better than trying to isolate them. Change is more likely to occur from the inside than from the outside. In that sense, Nhat Hanh’s visit is another step in the right direction.

March 13, 2007

Written by C.N.

The Lack of Asian American Superstar Musicians

Although Asian Americans are becoming increasingly prominent in several high-profile public positions such as TV and movie actors, government officials, that level of success has eluded Asian American musicians. As the New York Times reports, that situation is not because of a lack of talent. Instead and unfortunately, prejudice and discrimination still plague many Asian American musicians trying to make it big:

People in the music industry, including some executives, have no ready explanation, but Asian-American artists and scholars argue that the racial stereotypes that hobble them as a group — the image of the studious geek, the perception that someone who looks Asian must be a foreigner — clash with the coolness and born-in-the-U.S.A. authenticity required for American pop stardom.

Asian-Americans may be expected to play the violin or know kung fu, some artists and scholars say, but not necessarily to sound like Kanye West or Madonna, or sell like them. The issue came to the fore most recently on “American Idol,” where a Korean-American contestant, Paul Kim, 24, said he was giving music one last shot after many disappointments.

Mr. Kim, who sang ballads for the show, was praised by the judges for his “range” and “tonal quality,” but he was among the first four contestants to be voted off by viewers after the first round. While he was still on the show, Mr. Kim wrote on his page that “I was told over and over again by countless label execs that if it weren’t for me being Asian, I would’ve been signed yesterday.”

The article goes on to note that of the few Asian American musicians who have achieved some level of success, they disproportionately tend to be mixed-race, multiracial Asian Americans, such as Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls, Allan Pineda Lindo ( of the Black Eyed Peas, and Cassie (singer of the R & B song “Me & U”).

At the same time, a few Asian American musicians say that part of the reason for why there aren’t Asian American superstar musicians out there is because Asian American artists haven’t really developed their own sound in the same way that Blacks and Latinos have, nor do they have major media marketing outlets such as BET or Telemundo to help them. Many also note that the Asian American population is still relatively small and fractured across ethnic and language differences.

And of course, many Asian American musicians are rather resentful that the one Asian American “musical act” that received so much media and public attention in recent years was William Hung, who many critics charge is a comic caricature of traditional stereotypes of Asians as nerdy, “fresh off the boat,” and socially inept.

I think these are all valid points and each seem can be one plausible explanation for why Asian Americans have not achieved musical superstardom. But I also think that this situation also presents a sociological paradox — Asian Americans are frequently seen as being “perpetual foreigners” and not “American” enough but at the same time, some are saying that we have to develop a more “Asian-esque” sound to differentiate us from everybody else.

Is that a contradiction? I would say so. But then again, America is full of contradictions, so this situation really isn’t new. Frequently American society says one thing, but can respond in their actions quite differently. So where does that leave Asian American musicians? I actually think that Asian Americans can use this paradox to their advantage by broadening their style to include both Asian and American styles.

That is, as the world in general and American society in particular become increasingly diverse, globalized, and transnational, Asian American musicians can leverage both sides of their identity to expand their appeal. In that sense, they have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this new globalized identity as we move — and boogie — forward into the 21st century. Keep up the good fight, y’all.

March 12, 2007

Written by C.N.

NFL Recruiting Chinese Players

Sports fans know that in the U.S., football is king in terms of popularity, richest TV deals, merchandising, etc. But the National Football League (NFL) isn’t stopping there — it has eyes to penetrate the untapped Chinese market. To begin doing so, as the New York Times reports, they are recruiting a group of Chinese football players to eventually play in the NFL:

The Chinese athletes Gao Wei, Ding Long and Shen Yalei are being Americanized. For the past five weeks they have lived here in western Oregon. They have combed the malls, learned to love diner food, studied English and adopted the Westernized names William, Rambo and Sean — all in an effort to become the first Chinese to play in the United States’ most popular sports league, the N.F.L. . . .

Gao, Ding and Shen knew next to nothing about football when they were selected by the N.F.L. at a tryout last summer in China. Now they are immersed in the experiment, a crash course on the craft of kicking footballs that may culminate in August with one or two them taking the field in the N.F.L.’s first exhibition game in China. . . .

Until now, the three kickers said, football has had little resonance in China. N.F.L. games are generally broadcast on Mondays, when few people have four hours to spare. Ding said that even with his background in rugby, he had a difficult time understanding the game at first. Gao’s and Ding’s parents were startled by the sport’s violence when they first saw it on TV.

I suppose something like this was inevitable, as American capitalism — in this case American football — continues to penetrate Asian countries such as China, India, etc. And it certainly falls in line with the recent trend of Asian players coming to the U.S. to play baseball (Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, etc.) and basketball (Yao Ming).

In general, I think this is a positive development as it recognizes that athletic talent can come from any country or culture. Rather than denying the emergence of globalization and transnationalism, I think it’s better to embrace it and see it an opening of opportunities for both sides.

At the same time, I am wondering why the NFL is not doing more to help recruit more Asian American football players. There have been a few examples in recent years, most notably Dat Nguyen, recently retired from the Dallas Cowboys. But unfortunately, more often than not, Asian American football players seem to be subjected to the same kinds of stereotypes of being too small or weak that still pervade the Asian American community in general.

The NFL and other professional sports leagues need to remember that being Asian is not the same as being Asian American and that if it wants to expand its cultural popularity and its “inclusiveness,” they shouldn’t forget about its Asian fans and players here at home either.