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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.

April 30, 2008

Written by C.N.

Chinese Students Lashing Back

In the wake of the recent increased attention and criticism against China as it prepares to host the Summer Olympics, the New York Times summarizes how there’s been a boisterous and growing backlash against western-style “Sinophobia” and all things perceived to be anti-Chinese by Chinese students studying in the U.S.:

Since the riots last month in Tibet, the disrupted Olympic torch relays and calls to boycott the opening ceremony of the Games in Beijing, Chinese students, traditionally silent on political issues, have begun to lash out at what they perceive as a pervasive anti-Chinese bias. . . .

At the University of Washington, students fought to limit the Dalai Lama’s address to nonpolitical topics. At Duke, pro-China students surrounded and drowned out a pro-Tibet vigil; a Chinese freshman who tried to mediate received death threats, and her family was forced into hiding.

And last Saturday, students from as far as Florida and Tennessee traveled to Atlanta to picket CNN after a commentator, Jack Cafferty, referred to the Chinese as “goons and thugs.” (CNN said he was referring to the government, not the people.)

The student anger, stoked through e-mail messages sent to large campus mailing lists, stems not so much from satisfaction with the Chinese government but from shock at the portrayal of its actions, as well as frustration over the West’s long-standing love affair with Tibet — a love these students see as willfully blind. . . .

Rather than blend in to the prevailing campus ethos of free debate, the more strident Chinese students seem to replicate the authoritarian framework of their homeland, photographing demonstration participants and sometimes drowning out dissent.

The NY Times article does a very good job at describing the recent international history that frames much of the current climate of criticism against China but also the students’ role in speaking up loudly and forcefully.

In my previous post that I linked to above, I wrote that, for good and for bad, I’m trying to maintain an objective and moderate stance on these issues. The boisterous backlash of Chinese students does not change my position, which is still that both sides have a democratic right to express themselves and to criticize the other side.

However, those rights also entail knowing the limits of such criticisms and counter-criticisms, namely implicit and explicit threats and displays of intimidation and violence against others.

The NY Times article described how some pro-Chinese protests have crossed that line, and it’s at that point where I agree with the reporter’s statement that “the more strident Chinese students seem to replicate the authoritarian framework of their homeland, photographing demonstration participants and sometimes drowning out dissent.”

In other words, for the Chinese students to make a difference and to change people’s negative impressions of their homeland, engaging in and perpetuating the same kind of repressive techniques aimed at silencing opponents that their government is criticized for is not the way to go.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” With that in mind, if the goal is to change the world’s perception of China from negative to positive, then China’s supporters need to act positively, not negatively.

April 29, 2008

Written by C.N.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon: Film About Korean Adoptee

I received the following announcement about a new film coming to PBS in May, entitled “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” It’s a story about Asian American women told through the eyes of a Korean adoptee. From the looks of it, it should definitely be worth watching:


Tie a Yellow Ribbon to Air on Public Television During May 2008
First Feature Drama by Joy Dietrich Offers Compelling View into the Lives of Young Asian American Women through the Eyes of a Korean Adoptee

Making her feature debut, writer-director Joy Dietrich, also a Korean adoptee, introduces audiences to the world of Asian American young women and delicately addresses the abnormally high rates of depression and suicide among Asian American girls, creating a work of great compassion and poetic beauty.

In TIE A YELLOW RIBBON, Jenny Mason (Kim Jiang), a Korean adoptee and aspiring photographer, walks the streets of New York in a state of resigned indifference. Her days are spent with white friends and colleagues, her nights with white men. She has no contact with her Midwestern family due to a childhood indiscretion with her white brother, Joe (Patrick Heusinger). She rejects any attachment, dumping men as fast as she can pick them up. Yet she longs for a connection that would make her feel at home-a home that she has lost and is forever seeking.

One day, her roommate asks her to move out, fanning her fears of abandonment. She moves in with the beautiful but troubled Beatrice Shimizu (Jane Kim) and meets super-cool Simon Chang (Ian Wen), whose socially awkward sister, Sandy (Theresa Ngo), lives next door. Raised in the predominately white Midwest, she is both fascinated and repulsed by the other Asian Americans whom she meets.

Her indifference toward life starts melting away however, as she embraces Bea, who battles her own self-esteem issues with family and a philandering boyfriend, Phillip (Gregory Waller), and tries to help Sandy overcome her shyness. Jenny’s biggest obstacle is opening herself up to the possibility of a relationship with Simon. Meanwhile, Bea and Simon encourage and help jumpstart Jenny’s career in photography.

Suddenly, Joe appears at her door, shattering her current life. As Jenny searches for a voice and photographic style that she can call her own, she finds that she must face her unresolved feelings toward her brother and family, and ultimately reconcile her identity as an Asian American.

“I wanted to make a film that gave nuanced portraits of young Asian American women whose stories are seldom told in mainstream media. The dirty little secret is that Asian American women have one of the highest rates of depression in the United States,” said writer/director Joy Dietrich.

“While this film doesn’t attempt to explain the reasons why, it does expose the isolating, alienating factors that make the young women feel the way they do-the greatest among them the lack of acceptance and belonging. TIE A YELLOW RIBBON is ultimately about three young women’s search for love and belonging.”


TIE A YELLOW RIBBON will air on public television stations around the United States during the month of May 2008. More information about airdates can be found online at Please also check your local listings.

April 28, 2008

Written by C.N.

Struggling for Solidarity

One of the contradictions in being Asian American is the tension between emphasizing unity versus uniqueness. That is, on the one hand it’s frequently in our best interests to be a unified racial/ethnic community and to speak with one collective voice so that we are more likely to be heard.

On the other hand, in fighting against the stereotype that all Asians/Asian Americans are the same, we also want to point out the various ways in which our community has unique histories, characteristics, issues, and needs — ethnically, social class, politically, etc.

This tension between being united one day and being unique the next day can be very frustrating, especially for bloggers like myself who try to strike that balance and reconcile some of the contradictions that arise form this dichotomy as best as possible.

As one example of these tensions and contradictions, my blogging colleague Jenn Fang at recently wrote about her struggles in discussing issues of Asian American feminism and gender equality on her blog and how her posts on such issues frequently leads to more division than unity and the personal toll it takes on her:

I’ve found myself extremely angry and frustrated by the level of the debate. I’m weary of the arguing, frustrated by the tone, and disillusioned by the blog’s mission. My open comment policy has been misused over the past month, and I’ve had to ban several readers — undermining my disagreement in idea censorship and my belief in the power of democratic idea-building. . . .

I’m tired of discussions of sexism being misconstrued as male-bashing, I’m tired of people who don’t know feminism thinking they can define it, and above all, I am tired of the suspicion of my racial solidarity and my pride in the Asian American community because of my identification as a feminist and the choices in my personal life. . . .

I feel like I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall, and all I have to show for it is ostracization, derision, and occasionally ridicule from some Asian American men. I feel like the adage “working twice as hard to get half as far” is poignantly relevant to how hard I’ve struggled for the same acceptance in the APIA online community that some of my male colleagues enjoy almost innately. . . .

I need to remember that advances in APIA feminism is measured in inches, not miles, and that there is a silent majority of Asian American readers who also believe in that dream of a united, politicized Asian American community.

As I wrote to Jenn after reading her post, I found her points to be very genuine and moving. I admit that I don’t read her blog as much as I should and we probably don’t agree 100% on every single issue, but through our previous interactions, I have always admired and respected her work and writings.

Further, as Asian Americans, liberals, and academics, I told her that we have many more things in common than differences. I therefore wanted to post about the struggles she’s been going through as a way of showing my solidarity and highlighting the issues that still unfortunately divide our community.

There is no easy answer on how to address this contradiction between unity and uniqueness, between asserting our similarities versus our differences. But what I can say, and that I hope everyone will keep in mind, is that we can disagree with one another without resorting to personal attacks.

Anonymity on the internet and in blog comments does not give anyone the license to put aside basic norms of human civility and respect for others and to pretend that we’re back in kindergarten and that it’s perfectly fine to call each other names.

Ultimately, my hope is that regardless of our ethnic, political, or other differences, we can all agree to discuss and debate these issues in a calm and rational manner. This does not mean that we can’t be subjective or emotionally invested in our beliefs, just that we should express ourselves to each other fairly and respectfully.

I don’t think that’s asking for too much.

April 25, 2008

Written by C.N.

Racial Tensions and Living in a Colorblind Society

I’ve written before about how Asian American students continue to face various obstacles in being treated fairly and justly on college campuses, whether it relates to dealing with offensive “satire” or being physically and violently attacked.

Some might be tempted to say that these were isolated incidents but as New America Media summarizes, these kinds of incidents are actually and unfortunately quite commonplace on college campuses around the country:

In recent months, incidents have proven this is not the tolerant and highly-evolved society we thought. Hate crimes against Asian students, racial remarks masked under the term “satire,” and institutional discrimination — are just a few causes triggering racial tension on college campuses. . . .

On Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Kyle Descher, a Korean American, headed out to a bar with his roommate after a Washington State University football victory over Oregon. Minutes after hearing a racial slur from one of three unknown men, Descher is “sucker-punched” in an unprovoked attack. Doctors add three titanium plates to Descher’s broken jaw and it’s wired shut. . . .

In [UPenn’s quarterly student magazine “The Punch Bowl” winter 2008 edition’s] “Where Asians Don’t Belong” section, staffers listed Math 104, in a panties drawer, on the basketball court, at a frat party, and behind the wheel. Imagine why the staff didn’t make jokes with the same glee for all the places African Americans “don’t belong.” In their defense, “Punch Bowl” editors said some of the writers of the “satirical” issue were Asian Americans themselves, even posing in photos poking fun at APIs.

The article goes on to list several other racially-charged incidents around the country involving a broad range of groups of color.

It would be great if I could just focus on discussing the positive aspects of how American society and American institutions such as higher education have made progress in alleviating racial inequality. Alas, these incidents only highlight what many scholars have been saying all along — as we move forward into the 21st century, racism and racial prejudice are still alive and well in American society.

The only difference between its nature today versus that of say, 100 years ago, is that in many ways, racism is now expressed in “colorblind” terms. That is, racists now apparently think that racial equality has been achieved (they’ll point to Asian American socioeconomic achievements as one example), so it’s perfectly fine to make fun of Asian Americans and other groups because we’re all equal now — we’re all on a level playing field nowadays, so everybody is fair game.

In other words, this is what it means to live in a colorblind society these days — historical legacies of systematic racism are completely ignored or “whitewashed” and we all pretend that all racial groups are perfectly equal. Or alternatively, racists act on their resentment that minorities have apparently achieved “equality” and physically attack us.

Unfortunately, I predict that this climate of “colorblind” prejudice will get worse before it gets better, especially as globalization continues to reshape the American society, the American economy, and as a result, the fundamental assumption of American superiority around the world.

As Americans, particularly White Americans, continue to economically struggle as we enter a recession and as they culturally struggle with maintaining their exclusive hold on the “American identity” while demographic shifts take place all around them, their fear, frustrations, and anger will inevitably boil over and verbal and physical attacks on convenient scapegoats such as Asian Americans will continue.

I want to be optimistic and hopefully I’m wrong, but as these recent incidents show, racial tensions seem to be on the rise, not on the decline.

April 23, 2008

Written by C.N.

Update on Illegal Immigration

We all know that illegal immigration is one of the most divisive and hotly-debated issues in American society these days. As I’ve said before, even while acknowledging our personal opinions on the issue on either side, sociologists like myself can and should try to contribute as much empirical data as possible so that we as Americans can see the whole picture and all the socioeconomic (not just political and cultural) aspects to understand the issue as best as possible.

Toward that end, I recommend people check out the Truth In Immigration site, operated by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), whose goal is to “rebut legal and factual inaccuracies about immigrants and/or Latinos.”

MALDEF generally supports legal rights for illegal immigrants (as do I) but that does not mean that the site is full of one-sided propaganda. Rather, they analyze information disseminated in the media and try to make sure that they correspond to the best empirical data available on the issue.

Second, to get a more detailed look at the effects of recent crackdowns on illegal immigrants and businesses that hire them, Newsweek magazine has a very good article that describes what’s been going on in Phoenix, Arizona, one of the major metro areas associated with the issue.

The article basically notes that anti-illegal immigration activists have been aggressively targeting employers who they suspect as hiring illegal immigrants and that the sheriff’s department has also stepped up its efforts in “rounding up” suspected illegal immigrants.

On the flip side, the article describes that many have accused the sheriff’s department with using racial profiling and violating the civil rights of Latinos. Further, businesses and farmers in the area have begun facing labor shortages and many are in danger of going out of business altogether because many Latino immigrants — legal and illegal — have left the for more “friendly” areas.

Of course, the anti-illegal immigrant activists will hail these developments as exactly the kind of results they’re looking for and that their tactics are working in “solving” the illegal immigration issue. It’s true that they are achieving their goal of driving illegal immigrants out of the Phoenix area, but as the article illustrates, there are socioeconomic consequences to their actions.

The point is, as exemplified by the MALDEF site, whatever side of the debate you’re on, we should consider every angle of the issue carefully and base our judgments on a full understanding of all the characteristics and consequences of the issue and those involved.

Illegal immigration will continue to be an emotional issue for many, but the point is, there are objective ways to look at it.

April 21, 2008

Written by C.N.

Reflections About Asian American Studies Conference

I just got back from attending the annual conference of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), in which I presented my paper about the sociological context of individual and group identity formation through Internet media.

As far as my presentation went, I think people understood and generally liked it, although I didn’t really get any questions from the audience about it. As such, it’s hard for me to tell what people thought of it one way or the other, whether they thought it was completely full of crap or they were awestruck by its intellectual brilliance. Probably somewhere in between.

At any rate, I was very grateful to hear that while I was there, almost everybody I met on my own or was introduced to had already heard of this Asian-Nation site and blog. In fact, many people at the conference told me that they use this site and blog in their courses or regularly refer their students to it.

I’d just like to say thank you to everyone for your readership — it’s always nice to hear that your colleagues find your work informative and authoritative enough to recommend to others.

The session in which I presented was organized by my blogging colleague Jennifer Ho. I’d like to echo one of her sentiments on attending the AAAS conference in general: it was great to be around so many other Asian Americans.

For about 361 other days of the year, Asian American academics like myself live in an “integrated” world (although in a lot of ways, it’s more like “predominantly White”). But for these four days, we get to interact with people who look like us, who share many common experiences, and who can relate to the challenges and rewards we encounter as Asian American students and faculty.

It’s incredibly refreshing to talk to others about, for example, how to respond to racially insensitive or outright racist statements by students in our classes, and see everyone smile and nod their heads in unison, because we’ve all been through the same issues.

In other words, it was great to be in a supportive community — even though we may teach in different academic disciplines, do research in different ways, and come from different Asian ethnicities, for these four days, we were all participants in Asian American Studies. In short, this conference is one of the rewards for doing Asian American Studies.

Another one of the rewards is being able to relate academic research to real world issues and examples. During the conference, this was illustrated by the following article that one of my former students, Nate, sent to me: yet another racist t-shirt, this time in reference to the Japan’s latest baseball superstar import, Kosuke Fukudome, centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs:

Unauthorized Chicago Cubs t-shirt © Richard A. Chapman, Chicago Sun-Times

A Fukudome T-shirt with a racist image is the hottest-selling item at a souvenir stand that sells unlicensed Cubs-related merchandise across Addison Street from the ballpark. . . .

For all the innocently mistranslated signs, bows and zealous cheering from right-field bleacher regulars for the franchise’s first Japanese major-leaguer, the mere creation of this shirt — but especially its popularity — sends a raw, vulgar message about Fukudome’s new hometown.

“I don’t know what the creator of the shirt meant this to be, but they should make it right,” Fukudome said through his interpreter after being shown one of the shirts Thursday. “Maybe the creator created it because he thought it was funny, or maybe he made it to condescend the race. I don’t know.” . . .

Kolbusz [the merchant selling the shirt] said he’s “indifferent” to the image on the shirt. “I’m making money,” he said. “It doesn’t offend me. If other people are offended by it, it’s just a silly T-shirt. Nobody is trying to offend anybody.” . . .

Kolbusz went as far as pointing out that the shirt’s creator is “an Oriental guy” and also pointed out an Asian woman he sold a shirt to. But the customer in question, Laureen Hom, had no intention of wearing the shirt, she said.

“I bought it for my mom, who has a collection of racist images of Asian Americans,” she said. And, she added, the fact the creator is Asian “is no excuse.”

Both of Hom’s parents are Asian-American Studies professors at San Francisco State University, and they’re in Chicago this week for the annual conference of the Association for Asian-American Studies.

Alas, it is these kinds of issues that we as students and scholars of Asian American Studies still confront in our research, our jobs as teachers, and in our everyday lives as Americans. The fight for respect and equality continues, and I am very glad to have such a great group of Asian American Studies colleagues in my corner.

April 17, 2008

Written by C.N.

Going to Asian American Studies Conference

I won’t be blogging for the next few days because I will be in Chicago attending the annual conference of the Association for Asian American Studies. I’ll be there to attend sessions to hear about new research in the field, see old friends and colleagues and hopefully meet new ones, and to give a presentation entitled “Virtually Asian: The Social Construction of Identity Through Internet Media.”

Rather than describing specific examples of how Asian Americans use the various Internet sites to help them form their ethnic identity and to develop group solidarity, this presentation takes a broader, more sociological view of this phenomenon and places it in a larger institutional and globalized context.

Basically, I briefly summarize a few examples of how the Internet shapes individual and group identity by first facilitating mass communication, and secondly by actively amplifying and promoting various imagined ideals and visions of an Asian American identity.

Then I discuss how Asian Americans are both overrepresented as users of the Internet and as Internet entrepreneurs, both of which share the common trait of collaboration, in which Asian Americans leverage personal and community networks and social ties to achieve their goals as both users and entrepreneurs, and in the process, facilitating a stronger ethnic bond.

Further, in talking about sociological theories of how ethnic identity is formed, I discuss the likelihood that as Asian Americans continue to use the Internet to develop their personal identity and group solidarity, these bonds are likely to become more “diasporic” or international in nature as they increasingly connect with other Asians and co-ethnics overseas.

Finally, I speculate on how this emerging diasporic or international nature of ethnic and group identity formation fits within the larger context of increased diversity, globalization, and transnationalism both in the U.S. and around the world, and how these trends may provide an opportunity for Asian Americans to assert a new form of “American” identity that better reflects these larger demographic and institutional trends.

Hopefully that makes some sense and I’ll look forward to hearing people’s comments and reporting to you how my presentation went after I return.

April 16, 2008

Written by C.N.

Legacy of Virginia Tech Tragedy and Effects on Asian Americans

As you may have heard, today marks the one-year anniversary of Seung-Hui Cho’s shooting rampage that left 32 students and professors dead at Virginia Tech. Many news organizations and bloggers will offer their own take on what this commemoration means to them, so I only offer my own set of reflections and observations on what this event has meant for the Asian American community.

Firstly, like many Asian Americans, I feared that there would be a significant, sustained, and systematic backlash against Asian Americans in the wake of Cho’s actions. There were some initial reactionary and provocatively racist postings on sites like Facebook, etc., and as I wrote about earlier, at least one instance in which teachers and school administrators seemed to overreact to some disturbing writings from an Asian American student.

But beyond those few examples, there has not been a systematic backlash against Asian Americans.

Asian Americans were not widely and publicly denounced as deranged and murderous psychopaths, nor were we summarily targeted by any increase in hate crimes immediately after the shootings. I apologize if I come across as condescending when I say this, but I want to thank Americans for understanding that these were the actions of a single sick individual, and did not reflect any widespread epidemic of potential murderers among the Asian American community.

At the same time, I am also thankful that Cho’s actions did shine a spotlight on a consistently overlooked and taboo issue — mental health among Asian Americans. Specifically, Asian Americans were forced to confront in graphic detail what can happen when we pretend that Asian Americans do not suffer from mental illness or when Asian Americans ignore or bottle up the emotional issues they have out of fear that it will embarrass themselves, their family, or their community.

In other words, I think Asian Americans learned the valuable lesson that silence can kill. We learned that for everyone’s sake, it is better to confront mental illness directly, before it gets out of hand and becomes too late. I am not suggesting that mental illness has been solved or eradicated among Asian Americans, but that as a community, we seem to be much more open to recognizing and discussing it, and intervening before it leads to tragedy.

Perhaps that is one of the “silver linings” from this tragedy — that it has led our community to take a look within ourselves and see what we can do to prevent anything like that from ever happening again.

April 15, 2008

Written by C.N.

Legal Immigrants Fighting Deportation

We all know that illegal immigration is a very controversial issue these days and that there are many Americans, including a large percentage of Asian Americans, who argue that illegal immigrants should not have any rights whatsoever and should all be immediately deported.

But when it comes to legal immigrants — those who came to the U.S. legally, with permission, and who have led exemplary lives as Americans — we probably assume that they don’t have any problems once they apply to become full-fledged citizens, right? Unfortunately that is not the case.

As the New York Times reports, many legal immigrants are being caught in a web of technicalities, bureaucracy, and injustice and in fact, end up fighting orders from the Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE, the successor to the INS) to be deported back to their sending country, even though they came to the U.S. legally:

As applications for naturalization have surged, overburdened federal examiners, under pressure to make quick decisions and also weed out any security risks, prefer to err on the side of rejection, immigration lawyers and independent researchers said. In 2007, 89,683 applications for naturalization were denied, about 12 percent of those presented. . . .

Under the law, a number of grounds for naturalization denial can lead to an order of deportation, and appeals are more limited than in criminal cases. . . .

“It’s no wonder there are so many illegal immigrants,” said Brad Darnell, an electrical engineer from Canada living in California who applied for citizenship but is also now fighting deportation. “The legal method is so intolerant and confusing.”

The article includes many examples of how the ICE has used various bureaucratic items to order legal immigrants to be deported: a discrepancy regarding marriage status from 25 years ago, a 10-year old misdemeanor conviction that was wiped from one’s record, green card holders mistakenly voting in state elections, failing to update one’s home address, falsely accusing someone of committing a felony, and not showing up to an ICE office to be fingerprinted even though the person was a quadriplegic.

The article also mentions that in the process of coming up with such insignificant reasons to deport someone, the ICE consistently denies these legal immigrants the opportunity to present evidence that testify to their character and how their lives as legal immigrants have contributed to their community and to American society in general.

Unfortunately, this is another example of the how the heavy hand of government bureaucracy and the overall “war on terror” climate inevitably leads to more “collateral damage” in the form of ensnaring innocent bystanders more than it helps in catching the real bad guys.

That is, normal and upstanding legal immigrants who have led exemplary lives as Americans are being deported with little if any chance to oppose such drastic actions. Apparently, a person’s decades of positive actions and contributions to his/her community don’t matter in whether or not they should be considered an American.

What seems to be more important these days is whether they’ve completed a form properly or not.

April 14, 2008

Written by C.N.

Miscellaneous Links #2

Here are a few more miscellaneous links that have come my way recently. As always, I forward them on for information only, and not necessarily implying my consent of their entire contents:

Snap Judgments
For the website: “Has there ever been a time when someone has taken a characteristic unique to you and instantly applied it to your entire race or ethnic group? Or a time when someone insists that since other people of your race or ethnic group like or dislike something then you do too? I’m collecting stories that may be included in a book I’m writing & I’d love to hear from you.”

Under the American Sun: Camp Roxas, Guam
“Under the American Sun” (Camp Roxas, Agat, Guam) film project will recount a little-known chapter of American history – the story of skilled and unskilled laborers and professionals recruited from the Philippines’ Iloilo Province by the United States military to rebuild Guam, devastated by years of Japanese occupation and war.”

Thunder From the East
Voman’s very interesting blog about Asian Americans and cruiser motorcycles — not a very common combination, as he describes about his travels.

Asian Texans: Our Histories and Our Lives
Edited by Irwin Tang, the book “chronicles the long and fascinating history of Asian Americans in Texas. Drawing from interviews, archives, articles, and rare photographs, the top experts of Asian Texan history tell the stories of Asian Texan individuals and communities. Every Asian ethnic group, every region of Texas, and every decade of Texas’s exciting history is featured in this volume.”

April 10, 2008

Written by C.N.

Criticizing China and the Olympic Torch Protests

As the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing draws closer, countless news organizations and bloggers in the U.S. and around the world have been covering the controversy over protests surrounding the Olympic Torch relays that have taken place all over the world, including its only U.S. stop in San Francisco.

Similar to my stance regarding anti-communism in the Vietnamese American community, I have previously stated my position on this complicated issue by trying to take a ‘moderate’ approach: I do not support calls for a blanket or total boycott of Chinese goods or other products, but I wholeheartedly support keeping the pressure on China (and the corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics) to improve its record on human rights, environmental protection, safe products, and freedom for Tibet.

This particular issue has become rather prominent here at UMass Amherst recently, as there was a demonstration the other day on campus that pitted pro-Chinese graduate and undergraduate students against pro-Free Tibet and other students opposed to China:

“We’re in support of peaceful coexistence and against the violence and media distortion in Tibet,” said Gorge Liu, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts. “It is reported as if the Chinese police are creating the violence, when in fact it is the civilians.”

Waving the Chinese flag and chanting, “One China,” and “Go Beijing,” the participants handed out leaflets with what they described as educational material on Tibet to passing students. . . .

Members of the Students for a Free Tibet group circulated in the crowd, handing out bags of candy with informational leaflets attached to stopping students.

“We’re talking about current issues in Tibet, where people are getting killed for speaking the truth,” said Lhakyi Lokyitsang, vice president of the student organization. “Tibetans in Tibet are not only protesting, but they’re risking their lives to do it.”

I was not on campus that day and therefore did not personally see the opposing protests, but I certainly understand that this is an emotional issue for members of both sides. This is also an issue that deeply divides the Asia American community in general, and particularly the Chinese American community.

As one example, New America Media has a commentary written by Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams and an icon of social justice and activism in the Asian American community, on why she will participate by carrying the Olympic Torch when it reaches San Francisco:

Unfortunately the calls to boycott the Olympics and to label everything about China “evil” can only isolate China and the United States from each other. China is not a monolith and blanket condemnations of China and its people are as simplistic as blaming all Americans for the U.S. human rights violations at Abu Grahib and Guantanamo.

Such rhetoric, however, is driving many Chinese bloggers into a nationalistic response. Attitudes like these hark back to the Cold War days, when the US and China were completely shut off from each other. . . .

Someday China will join the United States as a world superpower – but the American and Chinese people do not have to retreat back to those Cold War corners. The world will be safer if China, the United States and other countries can address human rights and other critical issues in the community of nations and peoples, not in isolation.

The bottom half the New America Media article contains comments from readers both in support and critical of Helen Zia’s position. These reactions pretty much sum up the range of emotions that many Asian Americans and others have on this issue, and reflect the level of emotion that is involved.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is one attributed to Bill Cosby: “I don’t know what’s the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” At the risk of contradicting that maxim, I again will try to assert a ‘moderate’ position. First, I deeply respect Helen Zia and believe that her life and actions on behalf of the Asian American community entitle her to at least the benefit of a doubt.

As such, I happen to agree with her stance that isolating and a mass boycott of China is not the answer — I believe that the best change happens through engagement and inclusion, not separation and discrimination.

At the same time, I support and defend the rights of China’s to express their opposition to China and just as importantly, tying the Olympics and the Torch Relay to their calls for China to improve its human rights abuses and to allow Tibet to become independent. I support their use of China’s hosting of the Olympics as a legitimate forum within which to engage and criticize the Chinese government.

However, I will remind such critics that such expressions of opposition have a limit — I have no problem with mass protests and demonstrations, but I do not support threats of violence or physical attacks against anyone with whom they disagree and those like Helen Zia who have chosen in this instance to participate in such events.

This is clearly an emotional issue for many of us, but I hope that members from both sides remember that freedom of expression also entails responsibility of expression. People can have any opinion on this issue that they want, but participating in a democratic society also means exercising their freedoms appropriately.

It may be futile, but this is also what sociologists like me can try to contribute to the debate: a balanced — but not necessarily a completely impartial — look at both sides of the issue and proposals that can help to bridge those divides.

Written by C.N.

Casting Call for Asian American Bachelors

I recently received this email about a casting call for Asian American men for a reality TV show. I cannot verify its authenticity but will pass it onto you just in case. If it is authentic, here’s a chance for you Asian American bachelors out there to hopefully defy the stereotypes of us as weak and effeminate:


Hello, my name is Paul Head, I am a Los Angeles Based Casting Director and I am looking to cast some good looking and outgoing bachelor Asian men who live in the LA or surrounding area, who are single. This is for a show on Bravo where they will live in a chic pad in the Hollywood Hills and go on dates with up and coming, young, and beautiful Hollywood celebrity. This is a paid gig.

I have a really quick turn around, casting this week and next week and I need to find these guys ASAP, trying to get the word out there. Not sure if this will find someone who can help but it’s worth a shot! I can be reached at