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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.

January 30, 2008

Written by C.N.

Interview With Yul Kwon at Reappropriate

One of my blogger colleagues, Jenn Fang at Reappropriate, recently conducted a lengthy interview with Yul Kwon, Korean American winner of the Survivor: Race Wars reality show a couple of years ago, while they both participated in a voter registration drive in Nevada last week.

Jenn’s interview and Yul’s comments cover a wide range of issues, from media portrayals on Survivor, the model minority image, gender relations, and Asian American political power, to name just a few. A very worthwhile read — check it out for yourself.

January 29, 2008

Written by C.N.

Buddhism Resurging in Mongolia

Within the context of Asian-Pacific affairs, we usually don’t hear a lot about Mongolia. Since the early 1990s, when 70 years of Soviet rule over the country ended, Mongolia is slowly starting to reassert its own unique history and culture.

As one example, National Geographic has put together an interesting short video clip that describes the resurgence of Buddhism within Mongolia (unfortunately I can’t embed the video in this post).

I’ve also written about the cultural resurgence of Genghis Khan in Mongolia as well and the different efforts and challenges of “cashing in” on his historical legacy.

Mongolia is still a developing country but nonetheless it is nice to see that its national pride and indigenous culture are reemerging after decades of foreign domination.

January 28, 2008

Written by C.N.

Asian American Skaters Finding Success

As the number of Asian American (as opposed to Asian) players in big-time professional sports such as football, baseball, and basketball continues to lag, it turns out that Asian Americans are finding much more success in other sports. For example, in women’s professional golf, 10 out of the top 27 money-earners in 2007 on the LPGA Tour were Asian/Asian American (and that doesn’t even include Michelle Wie).

The second notable example is in women’s figure skating where, following up on the successes of previous Asian American stars such as Kristy Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, CNN/Sports Illustrated reports that emerging Asian American skaters such as Mirai Nagasu, Bebe Liang, and Caroline Zhang are poised to become the sport’s next superstars:

Nagasu pulled off one of the biggest upsets ever at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday night. In her very first senior nationals — heck, her very first competition as a senior — the teenager won the short program with a spectacular performance that showed amazing flexibility, strong jumps and a presence on the ice well beyond her years.

Her score of 70.23 would stack up against anyone in the world. She had a 12.65 lead over Meissner, and it will be almost impossible for the defending national champion to beat her in Saturday’s free skate.

About the only one with a real shot at catching Nagasu is Ashley Wagner, second with 65.15 points. Rachael Flatt was third with 62.91 points. Even if Nagasu wins, though, she can’t go to the world championships because she’s too young.

“It was just fun out there,” Nagasu said. “I’m not going to let any of the pressure from being in first bother me.”

The Associated Press later reports that as expected, on Saturday January 26, Mirai did win the U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Championship. Unfortunately, as also noted in the article, she is too young to compete in the World Championships, but Bebe Liang will be one of those to represent the U.S. in the World Championships.

Congratulations and best of luck to Mirai Nagasu — she looks to have a very bright future ahead of her. It’s nice to see that there are some Asian American athletes out there attaining success and notoriety out there.

January 24, 2008

Written by C.N.

Online Surveys: Working Mothers and Sexuality

I’ve received announcements to help publicize the following online surveys about Asian Americans. Please take a few minutes to help out these researchers and contribute your input (and to forward these links to your friends, relatives, and colleagues).


Survey #1

Greetings! My name is Amy Tsai, and I am a psychology graduate student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I am conducting an online survey study on the experiences of Asian American working mothers.

If you are a married Asian American mother who works at least 20 hours a week and you live with your husband and at least one child under the age of 12, I am inviting you to participate. You may choose to be entered into a drawing to receive one of the two $100 gift certificates.

It is also hoped that the knowledge gained from this study will ultimately benefit Asian American mothers across the country. This study has been reviewed by the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board Behavioral Science. If you are interested and have 15 minutes on your hands, please consider filling out this survey here:

Amy H. Tsai, M. A. (
Doctoral Candidate, Psychology , University of Michigan


Survey #2

This study involves Asian American and Pacific Islander women and their experiences with their sexuality and being Asian American and/or Pacific Islander. It will take 15-20 minutes to answer questions about your thoughts and feelings surrounding your ethnic experience and sexuality.

We are looking for Asian American, South Asian American, and Pacific Islander women who are 18 years of age or older. Participants must currently live in the United States. The completely anonymous survey is to be completed entirely online, so it can be done anywhere and at any time you are able and feel
most comfortable.

If you are interested in participating in the study, please click on the link below to proceed. Participation is completely voluntary and you may withdraw at any time, though the more completely and honestly your responses, the more helpful your information will be to our study. Again, the survey is completely anonymous.

Also, if you know other people who might be interested in participating in this study, please forward this email and survey to them. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Maria Luisa Tungol at

Thank you so much for your interest, time, and support!

Maria Luisa V. Tungol, MPH Candidate 2008
Behavioral Sciences and Health Education
Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University
Atlanta, Georgia


Survey #3

My name is Jae Yeon Jeong, and I am a doctoral student at The University of Memphis. Under the supervision of Dr. Suzanne Lease, an associate professor at The University of Memphis, I am conducting a study examining the coping strategies used by Asian Americans. Asian Americans represent one of the fastest-growing racial minority groups in the U.S., and an important step towards communicating and disseminating accurate information is to collect data about their experiences in a confidential and private manner.

If you are at least 18 years old and identify as an Asian American, I would like to request your participation to complete a BRIEF, online 20 minute questionnaire. You can withdraw from the study at any time; however, only completed surveys will be utilized. I would also like to enlist your help in disseminating the link to the survey to colleagues or organizations you may belong to. No personally identifying information is requested. This project has been approved by the Institutional Review Board at The University of Memphis.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Thank you so much in advance! To participate, simply follow the link:

Principal Investigator:
Jae Yeon Jeong, M.S.
Doctoral Student , Dept. of Counseling, Educational Psych & Research
100 Ball Hall Building , The University of Memphis
Memphis , TN 38152

January 22, 2008

Written by C.N.

Top 25 Young Asian Entrepreneurs

One of my primary areas of research is entrepreneurship and self-employment, primarily among Asian Americans (but as the world and the U.S. in particular become more globalized, increasingly there is much overlap between Asian Americans and Asians and their transnational ventures).

As a reflection of that, BusinessWeek magazine has just named its Top 25 Young Asian Entrepreneurs (age 30 and younger) and among that list of 25, at least one-quarter of them seem to have these kinds of direct Asia-Asian America ties, led by Nguyen Minh Tri, a Vietnamese internet social networking entrepreneur.

Others at the top of BusinessWeek’s list are Saloni Malhotra from India (founder and CEO of DesiCrew Solutions, a “a non-urban, socially motivated” business-process outsourcing company”), Ari Sudradjat (founder of PT Braincode Solution in Jakarta, providing content services to Indonesian telecom operators), and Leon Ho (founder of Stepcase and, both being “productivity solution companies”).

The full list is located at It’s pretty safe to say that entrepreneurship is more than just alive and well in Asia, but that from all accounts, it is just beginning to explode and make a major impact in the international global market.

With that in mind, I think Asian Americans are especially poised to be a significant force in this burgeoning wave, as they leverage their Asian and American knowledge, skills, and networks to transcend traditional geographic and cultural boundaries. It’s definitely a trend worth keeping an eye on.

January 21, 2008

Written by C.N.

New Research on Racial Ethnic Attitudes

As our nation celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, it’s appropriate that we reflect on the state of his quest toward racial harmony and equality in contemporary American society.

Specifically, in this day and age, racial/ethnic relations seem to influence many of the most controversial and hotly-debated issues in modern American society. This includes immigration (especially illegal immigration), racist imagery such as recent noose incidents, and most recently, issues surrounding Barack Obama’s campaign.

With that in mind, I think it’s useful for us — or at least for me as a sociologist — to try to take a step back and look at these issues from a more institutional or contextual perspective. In other words, to understand each of these specific issues that I just mentioned better, I think it’s useful for us to first understand the social context which forms the framework within which each issue unfolds.

With that in mind, the results from two national-level surveys have just been released to try to give us this larger, societal picture of the current state of racial/ethnic relations. Specifically, studies conducted by the Pew Research Center and New America Media each provide data and insight on attitudes toward and between different racial/ethnic groups in America. So let’s take a look at each to see what they say and how they can help us understand American racial/ethnic relations better.

The Pew Research Center study generally concludes that among Whites, Blacks, and Latinos, large majorities of each group report that they get along “pretty well” or “very well” with members of the other groups. However, there are some differences — Black and Latino seem to be slightly less positive:

While 70% of blacks say blacks and Hispanics get along very or pretty well, just 57% of Hispanics agree. Meantime, some 30% of Hispanics say blacks and Hispanics get along not too or not at all well; this is the most negative assessment registered by any group in the survey about any inter-group relationship.

Pew Research Center survey on racial attitudes

It’s important to note however, that although this 57% of Latinos who report good relations with Blacks is lower than what Blacks report themselves, it is still a numerical majority.

The Pew study also reports that generally speaking, those with higher education and income tend to report better cross-racial relations. Perhaps surprisingly, Blacks living in rural areas tend to report better relations with Whites than Blacks who live in urban or suburban areas. Also, there were no significant differences in terms of attitudes by region of country. Finally and perhaps on a discouraging note, younger Blacks report worse relations with Whites than older Blacks.

In general, I found the Pew study informative but with one significant drawback — they chose to exclude Asian Americans from the study.

In my opinion, this omission is absolutely inexcusable in this day and age when the Asian American population is close to 15 million, in which Asian Americans are some of the most socioeconomically successful ethnic groups in the U.S., and when Asian Americans increasingly make up large proportions of the population of many states and majorities in many cities.

I am extremely disappointed that an organization as otherwise professional and well-regarded as the Pew Research Center chose to exclude Asian Americans from this important study.

To remedy that, let’s turn to the other national study on racial attitudes, from New America Media (NAM), in conjunction with Bendixen & Associates. This survey included Asian Americans, Latinos, and African Americans, but because it focused on attitudes among and between racial/ethnic minority groups, the study did not include Whites.

Similar to the Pew study, I am a little disappointed that Whites were not included, but in relative terms, there is already a sufficient level of racial attitude data that exists among Whites, but much less so when it comes to data on racial minorities, especially Asian Americans.

Also, I am impressed that the NAM study was conducted in multiple languages to maximize its overall validity and generalizeability. A Powerpoint presentation of their major findings is also available for download. To summarize, the study notes:

[The poll] uncovered serious tensions among these ethnic groups, including mistrust and significant stereotyping, but a majority of each group also said they should put aside differences and work together to better their communities. . . .

Predominantly immigrant populations – Hispanics and Asians – expressed far greater optimism about their lives in America, concluding that hard work is rewarded in this society. By contrast, more than 60% of the African Americans polled do not believe the American Dream works for them. . . .

[Regarding tensions and mistrust], 44% of Hispanics and 47% of Asians are “generally afraid of African Americans because they are responsible for most of the crime.” Meanwhile, 46% of Hispanics and 52% of African Americans believe “most Asian business owners do not treat them with respect.” And half of African Americans feel threatened by Latin American immigrants because “they are taking jobs, housing and political power away from the Black community.” . . .

[Nonetheless], the poll found “a shared appreciation” for each group’s cultural and political contributions. “Hispanics and Asians recognize that African Americans led the fight for civil rights and against discrimination, forging a better future for the other groups,” she said.

“Asian Americans and African Americans say Hispanic culture has enriched the quality of their lives. African Americans and Hispanics perceive Asian Americans as role models when it comes to family and educational values.”

Generally, I am saddened — but entirely shocked — to hear that apparently, there is still a lot of racial tension and suspicion between Asian Americans, Latinos, and African Americans. I agree that important issues need to be addressed for these stereotypes to eventually be disproved.

Nonetheless, I would point out two points in regard to this NAM survey. The first is that as the Pew Research Center study generally showed, more educated and higher-income respondents are likely to be more positive about cross-racial attitudes and experiences.

With that in mind, it appears that the NAM survey did not disaggregate its responses by social class, instead lumping everyone from all kinds of educational, income, and occupational backgrounds together within each racial/ethnic group. This is disappointing and unfortunately, distorts the findings a little bit.

But perhaps more importantly, I am disappointed in some of the wording of the questions in the NAM survey. For example, it asked Asian and Latino respondents whether they agreed with the statement “I am generally afraid of African Americans because they are responsible for most of the crime.”

I must say that I finding that wording to be a biased, leading, and confusing, based on conventional sociological methodologies and guidelines of creating empirically valid surveys. First of all, it asks two questions in one — whether they are afraid of African Americans, and two, whether they agree that African Americans commit most of the crime. One of the key rules about questionnaire design is that you should only ask one question at a time.

Second, presenting the statement that African Americans “are responsible for most of the crime” is leading — it should have just asked the question, “Do you agree or disagree that African Americans are responsible for most crimes committed” would have been less leading and more direct. The distinction between the two is subtle, but empirically valid.

Another example of a poorly-worded and misleading question is “Latin American immigrants are taking away jobs, housing and political power from the Black community,” asked of African American and Asian respondents. Again, the problem here is that there are three questions combined into one — whether Latino immigrants take away jobs, take away housing, and take away political power are all three distinct issues and questions that are unfortunately all rolled into one.

Take together, I would argue that these two questions may have distorted and exaggerated the overall level of racial tension between Asians, African Americans, and Latinos, especially considering most of the other findings in the NAM study, which generally showed a high level of willingness to cooperate with each other.

Specifically, 86% of Asians, 89% of African Americans, and 92% of Latinos agreed with the statement, “African Americans, Latinos, and Asians have many similar problems. They should put aside their differences and work together on issues that affect their communities.”

Ultimately and in my opinion, that is the probably the most significant finding from the NAM survey — although some tensions and stereotypes still exist between Asians, Latinos, and Africans Americans (although the true extent is still unknown because some of the questions asked were biased and misleading), overwhelming majorities of each group are willing to work together to address issues of discrimination and inequality that they have in common.

To conclude, both the Pew and NAM studies stand as useful examples of both useful and interesting data, but also how shortcomings in their fundamental design unfortunately compromised their overall value.

As sociologists and as Americans in general, these are the kinds of institutional issues we need to keep in mind when we try to apply them to better understand specific issues.

January 18, 2008

Written by C.N.

Update on Eric Byler’s Immigration Project

Following up on my earlier post about Eric Byler and his colleague’s newest multimedia project about American immigration, Annabel Park, one of the project’s principle creators, emailed me to update me on their latest series of events this week, culminating with the Nevada primary on Saturday:

Eric Byler and I are in Nevada campaigning for Obama and we recruited a bunch of Asian Americans many in the film world to join us. Many are flying here from CA, DC, NY. We are canvassing and making YouTube videos. Here is our first one with Kal Penn:

We’re working with Asian Americans for Obama and APAP. We’re hoping you could post this and our efforts. Kelly Hu and Yul Kwon will be joining us.

They also mentioned that they have an events page on Facebook as well. It might be a little short notice, but check it out if you’re in the area.

January 16, 2008

Written by C.N.

What Muslims Want to Tell the World

A colleague send me this YouTube video link, entitled “A Land Called Paradise.” It’s a short video montage based on the following: In December 2007, over 2,000 American Muslims were asked what they would wish to say to the rest of the world:

I found it very touching and another example of the fact that, in contrast to the stereotypes that all Muslims are terrorists, most Muslim Americans think the way most other Americans think.

January 15, 2008

Written by C.N.

Democratic Politics: Who Can We Trust?

As the Presidential primaries get into full swing, there are a couple of items concerning the Democratic party that caught my attention. The first concerns Nevada’s Democratic primary, taking place on January 19. I received a couple of emails from a reader, Alvina, asking me to help publicize a Democratic political rally that took place yesterday, Mon. Jan. 14.

But the second email that I received from Alvina gave me a little more background and context on the rally. As Alvina writes,

You’d think in a big election year and with the political growth of the Asian community, political parties would be courting Asian voters. Apparently not the case as in Nevada, the Democratic party forgot to include the Asian community in a debate to address minority issues. Tsk, tsk.

The Democratic presidential debate in Nevada on Tues. is supposed to focus on minority issues. The debate features African American and Hispanics, but neglected Asian Americans, even though African Americans and Asian Americans make up about the same portion of Nevada.

Democratic organizers made a mistake by leaving out Asian Americans, especially since the Asian American population is surging (with large numbers in unions) and they’re mobilizing at a record pace for the state’s caucuses.

When Democratic leaders realized they made a mistake, they quickly pulled together an Asian American-specific rally with Sen. Reid and other leaders in Las Vegas’ Chinatown Plaza set for Monday evening, the night before the debate.

Is that enough? Does a community rally make up for the exclusion of the Asian community during early planning stages?

My reply to her was that unfortunately, this sounds like another example of Asian Americans being treated as the “invisible minority.” I was disappointed to hear that Nevada’s Democratic Party completely ignored Asian Americans, but I am not completely shocked by it.

The bottom line is that even our “allies” still have a ways to go in terms of truly understanding and embracing our community, as shown by other incidents involving both the Obama and Clinton campaigns in which Asian Americans were also snubbed (although both campaigns later apologized).

The second incident that is making the news, at least in the blogosphere, concerns the Asian American political action committee, the 80-20 Initiative. They’re a national lobbying Asian American organization that is trying to organize Asian American voters as a bloc vote, in order to increase our community’s political power (similar to how African Americans and Jews are seen as a bloc vote).

The 80-20 group is basically trying to get at least 80% of Asian American voters to vote for the candidate that they will ultimately endorse (hence their name). That endorsement is based on the candidate’s record on issues important to Asian Americans and whether the candidate agrees to a platform of policies advocated by the 80-20 group designed to benefit Asian Americans.

On that note, Clinton and Edwards have officially endorsed 80-20’s platform, but conspicuously, Obama has so far not endorsed it, which has led 80-20 to call for its members to help defeat Obama. As far as I know, none of the Republican candidates have endorsed 80-20’s platform. This call to defeat Obama is supported by many noted Asian American bloggers such as Emil Guillermo at AsianWeek Magazine.

On the other hand, many of Obama’s Asian American supporters are equally upset at 80-20 and accuse them of unprofessionalism, bias and playing favorites, divisive, and being just plain wrong. These include bloggers such as Jenn Fang at Reappropriate and Asian Americans for Obama.

I’m not ready to make a definitive judgment on whether Obama is “dissing” the Asian American community by not endorsing 80/20’s platform, but I will say that I agree slightly more with Jenn’s arguments rather than Emil’s at this point.

But the larger point that I want to make is that, since most Asian American lean toward the Democrats more than the Republicans, that implies that most Asian Americans trust that the Democratic party and its supporters will embrace and integrate us into their plans.

However, these two examples seem to show that rather than standing beside us as we move forward, some Democrats are making it unnecessarily complicated and confusing when it comes to why Asian American should continue to support them.

Specifically, if Alvina’s description is accurate, it is absolutely unconscionable that the Nevada Democratic Party initially ignored Asian Americans completely in their planning for the presidential primary debate, treating us like we’re invisible.

Second, while I still don’t know exactly who to believe, at the least, the public fight between 80/20 and the Obama campaign highlights how divisive and distasteful the political process can be, even between groups who would normally be allies.

As a sociologist who has an interest in political participation, especially among racial/ethnic minorities, I would suggest that when people — or political campaigns — wonder why it’s so hard to get people motivated and involved in politics, they only need to look into the mirror for the answer.

That is, when people see how their group is marginalized and ignored by people who are supposed to be our friends, or when they see different factions of the same political party sniping at each other, it should not be surprising that people then get turned off from politics or even jump to the other side and join the “enemy.”

I recognize that not all Democrats (Asian American and otherwise) act like this, and in fact, many are genuinely and passionately devoted toward empowering and integrating Asian Americans into the Democratic fold. But it’s very unfortunate when their work is overshadowed by these kinds of gaffes, disputes, and overall ugliness.


Update: On February 1, 2008, 80-20 announced that it had reached a compromise with Obama’s campaign and that Obama has now officially endorsed 80-20’s platform. This now means that 80-20 will now stay neutral in regard to endorsing any Democratic candidate.

However, 80-20 does qualify this announcement that this neutrality does not apply to the California primary, which is a little unclear and confusing.

January 14, 2008

Written by C.N.

Japan Uses India to Improve Its Education

As we move forward into the 21st century, I, like many other observers, predict that there is likely to be more cross-national influence and collaboration between Asian countries, similar to what the European Union has done. Previously I’ve written about some examples of this, such as closer cooperation among ASEAN countries and Korean culture becoming trendy and fashionable in China.

But this trend sometimes produces some unexpected results. Case in point, as the New York Times reports, Japanese are increasingly turning to India as inspiration to improve their own educational system:

Despite an improved economy, many Japanese are feeling a sense of insecurity about the nation’s schools, which once turned out students who consistently ranked at the top of international tests. That is no longer true, which is why many people here are looking for lessons from India, the country the Japanese see as the world’s ascendant education superpower.

Bookstores are filled with titles like “Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills” and “The Unknown Secrets of the Indians.” . . . At the Little Angels English Academy & International Kindergarten, the textbooks are from India, most of the teachers are South Asian, and classroom posters depict animals out of Indian tales. . . .

Viewing another Asian country as a model in education, or almost anything else, would have been unheard-of just a few years ago, say education experts and historians. . . . Much of Japan has long looked down on the rest of Asia, priding itself on being the region’s most advanced nation. . . .

But in the last few years, Japan has grown increasingly insecure, gripped by fear that it is being overshadowed by India and China, which are rapidly gaining in economic weight and sophistication. The government here has tried to preserve Japan’s technological lead and strengthen its military. But the Japanese have been forced to shed their traditional indifference to the region.

Grudgingly, Japan is starting to respect its neighbors.

As explained in the article, the only reason why folks like me see this as a surprising development is not because I question India’s educational excellence. Scholars already know that India has some of the best colleges in the world and as I’ve written about before, plenty of American universities are looking to tap into that educational talent.

Rather, what is surprising is that, as the NY Times article clearly notes, Japan has had a history of being rather nationalistic, chauvinistic, and perhaps even arrogant in regard to its attitudes toward its Asian neighbors. But I suppose desperate times call for drastic changes in attitude.

As another interesting item, the article notes that many Japanese are drawn to India’s rigorous educational structure because it reminds them of how Japan’s schools were structured several decades ago, which formed the foundation for Japan’s educational success up to this point.

I generally support cross-national influences and closer cultural ties between Asian countries. As an educator myself, I also generally support efforts to improve the quality of education for everyone, especially as we move forward into an increasingly competitive global economy.

At the same time, I worry when the emphasis on strict education turns into pressure to achieve material success, which in turn frequently leads to emotional stress and mental illness for young people to “become successful.” I’ve also written about how such pressures and unrealistic standards have led to fraud, suicide, and violence among those who could not meet such expectations.

The bottom line is, improving educational outcomes is good, but an obsessive drive to achieve material success at all costs is not. This is the lesson that I hope everyone — Asian, Asian American, and otherwise — will keep in mind.

January 12, 2008

Written by C.N.

Asian American Political Rally in Las Vegas

I received the following email from a reader, Alvina, asking me to help publicize a political rally on Monday in Las Vegas, in advance of Nevada’s state primary this upcoming week:

Politicians to Gather in Las Vegas to Rally Asian-American Voters

I’d like to let you know about an event coming up on Monday, Jan 14th at the Chinatown Plaza (4255 Spring Mountain Road, Las Vegas, NV 89102). This is a historic event as we’re trying to get the Asian Pacific Islander community excited about the first ever presidential caucus here in Nevada.

Special guests include Senator Harry Reid, Congressman Mike Honda, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley as well as other notable Asian-American guests. We would really appreciate any help you could provide to spread the word about this event as well as perhaps covering it.

This event represents a joining of small businesses, community and political organizations to show their support for political growth of the APIA community.

Let’s hope they have a big crowd there on Monday!

January 11, 2008

Written by C.N.

Toyota Surpasses Ford in Sales

The final 2007 sales numbers for the automotive industry and as CBS News reports, the big news is that Toyota has surpassed Ford to become the U.S.’s second-most popular automaker, behind General Motors:

Toyota sold 2.62 million cars and trucks in 2007, which amounted to 48,226 more than Ford, according to sales figures released Thursday. Toyota’s sales were up 3 percent for the year, buoyed by new products like the Toyota Tundra pickup, which saw sales jump 57 percent. Ford’s sales fell 12 percent to 2.572 million vehicles.

General Motors Corp. remained the U.S. sales leader, selling 3.82 million vehicles in 2007. But that was down 6 percent from the previous year as customers turned away from some large sedans and sport utility vehicles and GM cut low-profit sales to employees and rental car agencies. GM’s car sales fell 8 percent for the year while truck sales were down 4 percent.

Overall, the year was expected to be the worst for the auto industry since 1998 as consumers fretted over high gas prices, falling home prices and the economy. . . .

Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said the distinction wasn’t important to Toyota. “We don’t pay a lot of attention to rankings such as that,” he said. “It’s always nice to see the product is recognized and accepted by the consumer. The consumer’s going to be the ultimate determining factor in who the winner is.”

I’ve written before about the controversy over whether companies like Toyota should also be considered “American” companies because even though they are “Asian-owned,” they also have dozens of factories located in the U.S., employ hundreds of thousands of American workers, and many of their vehicles have enough U.S.-made parts to be officially classified as “American-built”.

But in the end, the Toyota spokesman is right when he notes that ultimately, consumers will decide for themselves who the winner is. With that in mind, it appears more and more Americans are apparently deciding that companies like Toyota are the real winners, whether the rest of America considers them an “American” company or not.