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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.

October 30, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Arab & Muslim Americans

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.

Recently, a reader emailed me to ask why Arab, Muslim, and other ethnic and cultural groups from western Asia are not included within the “Asian American” category. I replied that from a sociological point of view, collective group identities such as “Asian American” are based on more than just geography — there are also political, economic, cultural, and religious similarities and differences.

That is why the consensus of scholars generally separate out “Asian Americans” and “Arab and Muslim Americans” as distinct group identities. Nonetheless, I also noted that both Asian Americans and Arab & Muslim Americans share many things in common and in fact, I have written several articles and blog posts on this site on the connections between the two groups.

Below are some recent and notable books that highlight the recent histories and contemporary experiences of Arab and Muslim Americans even more:

A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories, by Alia Malek (Free Press)

A Country Called Amreeka by Alia Malek

This book is the most powerful approach imaginable: it is the story of the last forty-plus years of American history, told through the eyes of Arab Americans. Each chapter describes an event in U.S. history — which may already be familiar to us — and invites us to live that moment in time in the skin of one Arab American. The chapters follow a timeline from 1963 to the present, and the characters live in every corner of this country.

We meet fellow Americans of all creeds and colors, among them the Alabama football player who navigates the stringent racial mores of segregated Birmingham, where a church bombing wakes a nation to the need to make America a truly more equal place; the young wife from Ramallah — now living in Baltimore — who had to abandon her beautiful homeand is now asked by a well-meaning American, “How do you like living in an apartment after living in a tent?”; the Detroit toughs and the potsmoking suburban teenagers, who in different decades become politicized and serious about their heritage despite their own wills; the homosexual man afraid to be gay in the Arab world and afraid to be Arab in America; the two formidable women who wind up working for opposing campaigns in the 2000 presidential election; the Marine fighting in Iraq who meets villagers who ask him, “What are you, an Arab, doing here?”

We glimpse how America sees Arabs as much as how Arabs see America. We revisit the 1973 oil embargo that initiated the American perception of all Arabs as oil-rich sheikhs; the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis that heralded the arrival of Middle Eastern Islam in the American consciousness; bombings across three decades in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and New York City that bring terrorism to American soil; and both wars in Iraq that have posed Arabs as the enemies of America.

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, by Moustafa Bayoumi (Penguin Books)

How Does it Feel to be a Problem by Moustafa Bayoumi

Just over a century ago , W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: How does it feel to be a problem? Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same about America’s new “problem”-Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Bayoumi takes readers into the lives of seven twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, home to the largest Arab-American population in the United States.

He moves beyond stereotypes and clichés to reveal their often unseen struggles, from being subjected to government surveillance to the indignities of workplace discrimination. Through it all, these young men and women persevere through triumphs and setbacks as they help weave the tapestry of a new society that is, at its heart, purely American.

Al’ America: Travels Through America’s Arab and Islamic Roots, by Jonathan Curiel (New Press)

Al' America by Jonathan Curiel

Four out of ten Americans say they dislike Muslims, according to a Gallup poll. “Muslims,” a blogger wrote on the Web site Free Republic, “don’t belong in America.” In a lively, funny, and revealing riposte to these sentiments, journalist Jonathan Curiel offers a fascinating tour through the little-known Islamic past, and present, of American culture.

From highbrow to pop, from lighthearted to profound, Al’ America reveals the Islamic and Arab influences before our eyes, under our noses, and ringing in our ears. Curiel demonstrates that many of America’s most celebrated places—including the Alamo in San Antonio, the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina—retain vestiges of Arab and Islamic culture.

Likewise, some of America’s most recognizable music—the Delta Blues, the surf sounds of Dick Dale, the rock and psychedelia of Jim Morrison and the Doors—is indebted to Arab music. And some of America’s leading historical figures, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Elvis Presley, relied on Arab or Muslim culture for intellectual sustenance.

Part travelogue, part cultural history, Al’ America confirms a continuous pattern of give-and-take between America and the Arab-Muslim world. The rich and surprising tapestry of Arab and Islamic influence on America includes:

  • Architecture: from the World Trade Center to the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina
  • Music: from the blues to surf music and the Doors
  • Philosophy and poetry: from the Transcendentalists and Henry James to Khalil Gibran and Rumi
  • The food we eat: from ice cream cone to coffee
  • Pop culture: from P.T. Barnum to the Shriners and Star Wars

Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects, edited by Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber (Syracuse University Press)

Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11 edited by Jamal and Naber

Bringing the rich terrain of Arab American histories to bear on conceptualizations of race in the U.S., this groundbreaking volume fills a critical gap in the field of ethnic studies. Unlike most immigrant communities who either have been consistently marked as “non-white,” or have made a transition from “non-white” to “white,” Arab Americans historically have been rendered “white” and have increasingly come to be seen as “non-white.”

This book highlights emergent discourses on the distinct ways that race matters to the study of Arab American histories and asks essential questions. What is the relationship between U.S. imperialism in Arab homelands and anti-Arab racism in the lives of Arab Americans? What are the relationships between religion, class, gender, and anti-Arab racism? What is the significance of whiteness studies to Arab American studies?

Transcending multiculturalist discourses after September 11 that have simply “added on” the category “Arab American” to the landscape of U.S. ethnic and racial studies, this volume locates September 11 as a turning point, rather than a beginning, in the history of Arab American engagements with race, multiculturalism, and Americanization.

October 28, 2009

Written by C.N.

Role Reversal: China and Japan Relations with U.S. Changing

Ever since World War II, the Asian-Pacific political and military landscape has been pretty stable from the U.S.’s point of view — Japan has been the U.S.’s staunch ally while China looms as possible threat and enemy to the U.S. However, we might be seeing this situation change in opposite directions — China and the U.S. moving closer together while Japan starts to increase its distance from the U.S. In regard to the former, as Reuters reports, the Chinese military (no less) says it wants closer ties to the U.S.:

At the start of a visit to Washington, Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the People’s Liberation Army Central Military Commission, said military ties were generally moving in a “positive direction” and defended China’s fast-paced military development as purely “defensive” and “limited” in scope. . . .

Xu’s visit, which will include a tour of major U.S. military bases, including U.S. Strategic Command, was meant to give a boost to military-to-military dialogue, which Beijing resumed this year after halting it in 2008 to protest a $6.5 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan. . . . Last week, Gates said better dialogue was needed to avoid “mistakes and miscalculations.”

Xu said U.S.-Chinese military relations have improved since President Barack Obama took office in January and can be expanded further.

As an example of the latter development (Japan and U.S. relations moving farther apart), the Brookings Institute describes how Japan’s new government is looking to do things a little differently than its predecessors:

Among the changes sought by the [Democratic Party of Japan, DPJ] is a new approach to the Japan-U.S. relationship. In a statement made both before and after the election, [new Prime Minister Yukio] Hatoyama has pledged to build “a close and equal relationship with the United States,” which implies that the new government will re-examine the current relationship with Washington.

He has also proposed an idea to create a so-called “East Asian Community” . . . [that] would include such countries as China, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, and the ASEAN countries, but would exclude the U.S. . . .

[DPJ co-founder and former leader Ichiro] Ozawa’s basic argument is that the [Japan’s] overseas deployment for international peace activities should be carried out based on UN resolutions, rather than on alliance-based agreements with the United States. His basic idea is “Japan has to have an equal relationship with the U.S. It should have its own voice.”

This approach is already causing some concern in Washington, and it will certainly cause stress in the Japan-U.S. relationship when in January the DPJ will terminate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling activities in the Indian Ocean which support U.S. and coalition activities in Afghanistan.

We should note that both articles make clear that the status quo is still in effect for now. That is, big differences and suspicions remain between the U.S. and China and that the overall political relationship between Japan and the U.S. is still strong. Nonetheless, these developments demonstrate that international relations can change rather quickly.

In fact, this rapid pace of international political and military evolution seems to be one of the basic characteristics of the Asian-Pacific region in the age of 21st century globalization. On the heels of apparent increased tensions between China and India, flux and fluidity are likely to be the normal dynamic of the region for the foreseeable future.

As always, such changes can create both dangers and opportunities for different actors and parties. This includes Asian Americans, who may have the chance to play a greater role in helping to shape these changing political, economic, and cultural landscapes.

October 26, 2009

Written by C.N.

Struggles and Opportunities for Immigrant Minority Businesses

I previously wrote about data showing that in many ways, racial minorities are hurt more than Whites by the current economic recession, largely because in many occupations and industries, people of color are overrepresented among those who are recently hired, have less overall years of job experience and therefore, are more likely to be laid off.

However, a large part of daily life for many communities of color, particularly immigrants, centers on local small businesses. How are they doing in the recession? As New America Media points out, while they struggle just like almost all area of American society these days, they still remain focal points for cultural and social life within many communities of color. In addition, many entrepreneurs say the recession actually offers some interesting opportunities:

Recession or not, Mexican businesses that serve up traditional foods like conches, paletas, tacos and sopes to locals in San Francisco’s Mission District remain popular social gathering places in the neighborhood. But sales are another story.

“There used to be lines of people out the door. It’s not like it was,” said Estela Valle, 56, describing the drop in customers at her panadería, La Mexicana Bakery . . . Since the economy collapsed, Valle says she has seen a 40 percent drop in business. But the bakery continues to be popular among the usual crowd of housewives and construction workers, says Valle; they are just buying less. . . .

Nail salon owners, many of them Vietnamese immigrant women, say their businesses are slumping along with the economy.
Susan (Xuan) Le, owner of Susan’s Nail and Spa in Oakland, has been a manicurist for 20 years, and she says this is the hardest time. . . .

“People can’t afford it. They can’t afford to pay rent and eat, how can they have money to pay for manicures and pedicures?” she said. “They are coming back, but it’s taking longer than before. If they used to come every two weeks, now they’re coming in once a month. My income is cut in half.” . . .

While [others] cut back, Quyen Ton is venturing out on her own. After 14 years as a manicurist in other peoples’ shops, she decided to start her own business: White Daisy Nail Spa in San Francisco. “I have the skills and am good with customers. I had the ability and confidence to run my own business. I wanted to see if I could make a go of it, and make a better living,” Ton said.

Ton said a bad economy didn’t deter her. Instead it gave her an opportunity. “The good thing is that it’s easy to get a lease, they don’t require a lot, and it’s easier to negotiate a lower rent,” said Ton.

Certainly immigrant minority small businesses and their owners are just like other American businesses and workers — the recession has led to tough times and many businesses struggle to stay afloat. As the article describes, many immigrant minority owners have had to change and adapt to the economic downturn just like anybody else.

Nonetheless, the article illustrates some interesting points about immigrant business owners — even though sales are down, they are still prominent fixtures in their communities as places where people can congregate, socialize, maintain relations with friends and neighbors, and in doing so, perhaps share information about jobs, social services, or other ways to better survive the recession.

In other words, many immigrant minority businesses are more than just a place to buy goods or services — they can also serve as spaces for ethnic groups to maintain ethnic solidarity. This collective process also serves as an informal kind of networking and social support that can have many direct and indirect benefits for community members in times of economic difficulty.

In providing a space and social structure within which members collaboratively provide and access informal resources to/with each other, churches frequently perform similar functions as well. Taken together, such immigrant minority institutions can provide a form of social “safety net” for ethnic groups and may help to lessen some of the more negative consequences of the recession.

October 23, 2009

Written by C.N.

Miscellaneous Links #17

Here are some more announcements and links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents. This time around, the announcements are about independent Asian, Asian American, and Asian Canadian films:

Independent Movie: The Killing of a Chinese Cookie

My name is Chris and I work for a small Asian American production company, Cherry Sky Films. We’ve produced Asian Am indies: Better Luck Tomorrow, Finishing the Game, Ping Pong Playa.

I wanted to get in touch with you because we’re trying something new for our next film, The Killing of a Chinese Cookie. We’re actually releasing it online through as site called Snag Films and it’s completely free!

You can find the film here.

It’s a lighthearted look at the origins and history of one of the most ubiquitous foods in American culture; the fortune cookie. We’re trying to get the word out. We hope you’ll like it enough to share it with your readers!

Web Video Series: Lumina

We’re a new fantasy thriller web series called Lumina, and our stars are Asian American (JuJu Chan, also TVB People’s Choice Award for Miss Chinatown USA 2009, Miss United Nation International Ambassador) and Asian Canadian (Michael Chan, star of the viral YouTube hit, Wall Street Fighter IV, and Vince Matthew Chung, winner of The Amazing Race Asia 3).

Although the series itself is not specifically about any Asian American / Asian Canadian identity issues, we’re trying to organically grow the audience for English language entertainment featuring Asian faces! The nine part series is free to view on our website: luminaseries.com and on our distribution partner KoldCast TV.

Best regards,
Jen

Online Library of Films, Videos, & Documentaries from Asia

AsiaPacificFilms.com announces free unlimited access to its on-line library of 500 culturally significant and historically important feature films, shorts and documentaries from Asia and the Pacific. This free trial period lasts until November 1, 2009. After November 1, the monthly subscription rate for unlimited access is $8.99 a month. For more information, visit their site or read their press releases.

October 21, 2009

Written by C.N.

Georgia Celebrates “China’s National Day”

This is a little late, but I only recently found out that apparently, October 1 was “China’s National Day” in the state of Georgia:

Governor Sonny Perdue of the US state of Georgia has proclaimed October 1, 2009 as “China’s National Day in Georgia,” calling on local citizens to celebrate with the Chinese people on the occasion.

“October 1, 2009 marks the 60th (founding) anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. With our strong bond of friendship and growing economic partnership, the state of Georgia is pleased to celebrate with the People’s Republic of China on the occasion of its National Day,” Perdue said in a sealed proclamation dated on September 16. . . .

According to the Atlanta Chapter of the US National Association of Chinese-Americans, approximately 50,000 Chinese live in Georgia.

“The contributions of these individuals, along with the companies, universities and organizations with direct ties to both lands, help bring together two nations half a world apart,” Perdue said, adding that the linkage between China and Georgia continues to strengthen and multiply.

There is clearly a motive to further economic development and investment between Georgia and China involved, but nonetheless I applaud Governor Perdue and the state of Georgia for recognizing the value and contributions of its Chinese and Chinese American citizens to the strength and vitality of their state.

As I’ve written about before, as the world and American society continue to become more globalized, Asian Americans are likely to have more opportunities to assert our “Asianness” (more specifically, our transnational cultural ties back to Asia) as an asset to American society and economy, in contrast to the past in which such associations were a liability in our efforts to integrate into mainstream American society.

I hope Georgia’s recognition of the value and contributions of Asian Americans is a positive sign for the future.

October 19, 2009

Written by C.N.

China-India Rivalry Heating Up

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about how China and India were trying to irn out some geographic, political, and economic differences as they both continue their emergence as 21st century superpowers. While relations between the two countries seem to have been stable for a while, as Time magazine reports, it looks like their rivalry is beginning to heat up again:

India and China fought a war in 1962 whose acrimonious legacy lingers even while economic ties flourish (China is now India’s biggest trade partner). Beijing refuses to acknowledge the de facto border — demarcated by the British empire — and claims almost the entirety of the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory.

Indian strategic analysts believe Beijing’s stance has hardened in recent years, perhaps as a consequence of its increasing economic and military edge over India as well as growing Chinese influence in smaller South Asian countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. . . . “There’s a nervousness among some policymakers that the Chinese see India as weak and vulnerable to coercion,” says Harsh Pant, professor of defense studies at King’s College, London. . . . “Indians feel they can’t manage China’s rise and that they are far, far behind.” . . .

But the real arena for future confrontation, say most Indian strategists, lies not in standoffs on remote, rugged peaks but in the waters all around the Indian subcontinent. . . . Traditionally, India has imagined the ocean as part of its backyard without investing serious resources in its navy — much more goes to an army and air force that are perched by the land boundaries with the old enemy of Pakistan. . . .

To safeguard its vast appetite for oil and other natural resources, particularly those drawn from Africa, China has . . . [built] ports and listening posts around the Indian Ocean rim. . . . China will eventually possess key naval choke points around the subcontinent that could disrupt Indian lines of communication and shipping.

Reports of a tense standoff earlier this year between Indian and Chinese warships on anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden — though dismissed by both governments — did little to subdue the sense of distrust brewing between policymakers on both sides.

Something tells me that these renewed tensions between China and India are likely to get worse before they get better. If so, this is the last thing the world needs, but something that the U.S. may secretly like to see — two emerging superpowers and challengers to the U.S.’s global superiority sniping at each other and raising tensions in the region.

The other unknown is how will rising tensions between China and India affect relations between the Chinese American and Indian American communities in the U.S. Up to this point, these two Asian American communities seem to have good relations with each other, as they share many characteristics and experiences in common, particularly concerning immigration and entrepreneurship issues.

Nonetheless, with so many Chinese and Indian Americans maintaining connections with their ancestral countries, if tensions rise back there, they may eventually spill over into their lives in the U.S.

October 16, 2009

Written by C.N.

Online Guide to U.S.-China Relations

Here is an announcement from my colleagues at the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA:

UCLA’s “U.S./China Media Brief” Commemorates New Era of U.S.-China Relations

On the People’s Republic of China 60th anniversary year (1949-2009) and on the eve of President Obama’s historic November China visit, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center releases the new electronic, downloadable version of the “Presidents Edition” of the U.S.-China Media Brief to commemorate a new era of Sino-American relations. The “Presidents Edition” also serves as a handy electronic guide, together with the previous downloadable “Beijing Olympics Edition” to current issues in U.S.-China relations.

The U.S./China Media Brief website offers exclusive interviews with experts in U.S.-Chinese relations, commentary by former President Jimmy Carter, and essays exploring topics that range from labor unions to Obama’s potential impact on China.

Recent YouTube and podcast profiles feature: media expert Li Xiguang of Tsinghua University, Beijing; Janet Yang, Chinese American film producer; Gordon Chang, Stanford professor; Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times Beijing Bureau chief; Cheng Siwei “the father of Chinese venture capitalism;” and Y.C. Chen, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on U.S. corporate labor practices in Southern China.

The U.S./China Media Brief is accessible online for your viewing. Downloadable guides and materials include the following:

  • The entire 24-page, six-color 2009 U.S./China Media Brief “Presidents Edition,” which contains useful maps, charts, and commentary as well as summaries of key issues that will form the backdrop of President Obama’s November trip to China.
  • “China and the U.S. in the World,” a seven-page fold-out map that compares U.S. and Chinese energy, resources, and influence in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East developed by Harvard-trained researcher Sharon Owyang.
  • Downloadable video and audio podcasts that contain exclusive interviews with experts in U.S.-China relations. You can also find video interviews with these experts on YouTube.
  • A compact Presidential Chart and Guide that traces the three decades of Sino-American normalization. This chart and guide summarizes past U.S. presidents’ relationship with Chinese leaders, ranging from Nixon to Obama.
  • An illustrated U.S.-China timeline that highlights key events/moments in the 200 year history between the U.S. and China.
  • Also, the 2008 “Beijing Olympics Edition,” reviewed by the New York Times on its Olympics blog (downloadable).

The U.S./China Media Brief was funded by the Walter and Shirley Wang U.S./China Relations and Communications Program at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

October 14, 2009

Written by C.N.

Harry Connick Jr., Blackface, and Recognizing White Privilege

Earlier this week, musician, actor, and community activist Harry Connick Jr. was a guest judge on the Australian talent show Hey Hey It’s Saturday. One of the acts was a skit featuring a group of White men wearing blackface (using dark-colored makeup to appear racially Black), doing an impression of the Jackson Five. As ABC News reports and this video segment shows, Connick’s reaction to their performance was swift and sharp:

[Connick] was visibly shocked by the skit, in which [five] men with afro wigs and blackface sang and danced behind a Michael Jackson impersonator wearing white makeup. Connick, 42, gave the performance a zero score and told them that if it had been done in the United States it would have been pulled off the air.

Blackface was a traditional trope of minstrel shows in the U.S. that dates to the 19th century. Whites playing stock black characters — usually offensive stereotypes meant to demean — rubbed coal, grease or shoe polish on their faces. . . .

Public reaction to the “Hey Hey” performance in online forums was mixed. Some Australians said they were embarrassed such a racist sketch had been broadcast, while others said detractors were too politically correct and that the skit was funny. . . . Anand Deva, the frontman of the “Jackson Jive” act, said it was not meant to cause offense but added he would not have performed it in the United States.

White teenagers in blackface

There are two interesting sociological points to note here. The first is the apparent differences in racial attitudes between the U.S. and Australia. That is, even though many Americans still are rather ignorant of the racial significance and racist legacy of blackface and still wear it from time to time (especially around this time of year, Halloween, as seen in the photo on the right), for the most part, I will presume that most Americans understand that blackface is offensive (or at least the reactions and criticisms to it are much more intense).

With that in mind, it is notable to see that in Australia, this sensitivity and recognition of blackface do not exist to the same level. In fact, despite the Australian government’s recent official apology to the aborigine population for centuries of racism, in general the racial attitudes of the Australian public seem to be a few decades behind that of the U.S. in terms of racial understanding.

This diminished level of cultural knowledge comes through in the responses by Anand Deva in defending his group’s skit with the usual refrain, “It wasn’t meant to be offensive, it was just a joke.” What he and other Australians do defend the skit don’t understand is that whatever the intent, the result was that it definitely came across as racist and offensive.

Secondly, the reason why they don’t understand why it was offensive is because as Whites in a White majority society, they have the position of being able to make fun of non-Whites while claiming that they did not intend it to be offensive. That, my friends, is the quintessential definition of White privilege.

As it relates back to Harry Connick Jr., as the video segment notes, he has been accused of being hypocritical because he participated in a previous comedy skit (apparently from MadTV) in which he played some kind of witch or voodoo doctor that some argue also makes fun of Blacks, although Connick counters that his character in the skit was actually White.

Despite this criticism of Connick, I give him credit for speaking up in the moment and denouncing the skit as racist and offensive. It takes courage to recognize such racial ignorance first of all, and second, to speak up and stand in opposition to it, rather than just keeping quiet, as many Americans from any racial background but particularly Whites, are more likely to do.

I know that as a native of New Orleans, Connick was affected by how his city and particularly the Black community were both devastated after Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the disaster, he organized several benefits and other activities to begin rebuilding the city and its inhabitants.

At this point, I can only speculate, but I suspect that as a result of Hurricane Katrina and perhaps after understanding the cultural consequences of such media portrayals as his MadTV skit, he “got it” — that as an affluent entertainer and as a White person, he is very privileged person and has a lot of power and influence that can be used to make fun of people, or to help uplift them.

In other words, Connick’s actions — in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and in regard to this blackface skit — are a great illustration of what I tell me students all the time: for racism to continue, individual Whites like you (referring to my students) do not have to commit racist acts yourself. Instead, for it to continue year after year, generation after generation, all you have to do is to sit by and accept the consequences of discrimination committed against others.

In other words, silence equals acceptance.

October 12, 2009

Written by C.N.

Hummer Sold to Chinese: What Will Americans Do Now?

Most people know the Hummer line of sport utility vehicles as embodying a very “in-your-face” image of conspicuous materialism and conservative, anti-environmentalist values. Hummers have been the bane of environmentalists for a while, with many being vandalized through the years by radical environmentalists. Nonetheless Hummer owners are very defiant and a recent survey of Hummer owners confirms that in buying their Hummers, most of them made a very conscious choice that their vehicles directly reflected their morals about American individualism, “patriotism,” and consumption.

Hummer H2 customized by Geiger Cars

This social image of Hummer and their owners is what makes this most recent development so ironic — as news organizations have begun reporting, Hummer’s current owner (General Motors) has just sold the brand to the Chinese heavy industry company Sichuan Tengzhong:

It marks the first time that Chinese investors have stepped in as buyers into the distressed U.S. auto industry. The sale also comes at a time when China has emerged as the world’s largest auto market and GM remains majority-owned by the U.S. government after being driven into bankruptcy. . . . A person familiar with the deal said earlier on Friday that the Hummer business would be sold for about $150 million, far less than GM’s early estimate that Hummer could fetch more than $500 million. . . .

Hummer’s sales peaked in 2006 but have been hit hard since by a slumping U.S. economy, higher gasoline prices and a shift in U.S. consumer tastes away from Hummer’s heavy-duty SUVs and its military-derived styling. Through September, Hummer’s U.S. sales were down 64 percent this year. Analysts said the new Hummer faces a difficult task of revamping a macho brand associated with the excess of the past economic boom in the United States.

From a sociological point of view, the question now becomes, what will these individualist, flag-waving, American-valuing fans of Hummer do, now that their beloved company is owned by [gasp] a Chinese company?!?

Will they still embrace the brand and its macho, John Wayne-worshiping image? Will they continue to buy Hummers in the future, even though it means that their money will go to a Chinese, rather than an American, company?

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but I will definitely enjoy sitting back and watching how these Hummer owners and fans grapple with this perplexing and ironic dilemma.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Update: On second thought — On February 24, 2010, both General Motors and Tengzhong announced that their deal has fallen through and will not be completed after all.

October 9, 2009

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: October

You might be interested to read the following posts from Octobers of years past:

October 7, 2009

Written by C.N.

Census Describes Lifestyle Changes Due to Recession

This post doesn’t focus on Asian Americans or racial/ethnic issues specifically but is certainly relevant to those kinds of discussion since it deals with what aggregate-level statistics can tell us about a person’s day-to-day life.

During this current economic recession, many of us are very aware of how it has affected our lives and perhaps the lives of those close to us. But beyond the grim stats about rising unemployment numbers that we hear on the news, what is the aggregate effect of the recession on Americans as a collective group? For many sociology students, this question might be rephrased as, “What can aggregate-level data tell us about individual lives?”

To try to answer that question, the Census Bureau has just released a report that describes how the recession has led Americans to make changes in many areas of their lives:

Preliminary data earlier this year found that many Americans were not moving, staying put in big cities rather than migrating to the Sunbelt because of frozen lines of credit. Mobility is at a 60-year low, upending population trends ahead of the 2010 census. . . . The percentage of people who drove alone to work dropped last year to 75.5 percent, the lowest in a decade, as commuters grew weary of paying close to $4 a gallon for gasoline and opted to carpool or take public transportation. . . .

Average commute times edged up to 25.5 minutes, erasing years of decreases to stand at the level of 2000, as people had to leave home earlier in the morning to pick up friends for their ride to work or to catch a bus or subway train. . . . Average commute times edged up to 25.5 minutes, erasing years of decreases to stand at the level of 2000, as people had to leave home earlier in the morning to pick up friends for their ride to work or to catch a bus or subway train. . . .

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans 15 and over, or 31.2 percent, reported they had never been married, the highest level in a decade. . . . Sociologists say younger people are taking longer to reach economic independence and consider marriage because they are struggling to find work or focusing on an advanced education. . . .

The homeownership rate fell to 66.6 percent last year, the lowest in six years, after hitting a peak of 67.3 percent in 2006. Residents in crowded housing jumped to 1.1 percent, the highest since 2004, a sign people were “doubling up” with relatives or friends to save money. . . .

More people are getting high school diplomas. Only two states, Texas and Mississippi, had at least 1 in 5 adults without high school diplomas. This is down from 17 states in 2000 and 37 in 1990. More older people are working. About 15.5 percent of Americans 65 and over, or 6.1 million, were in the labor force. That’s up from 15 percent in 2007.

It is probably no surprise that the recession has led many Americans to put off big life-changing events such as moving far away, getting married, or buying a house, along with smaller-scale changes such as driving alone less, more carpooling, sharing apartments, or working later in life. Many of us can relate to many of these changes ourselves.

What may be surprising is that aggregate-level data and statistics like this can capture such individual-level behavior and therefore give us a more fuller picture of how institutional events like an economic recession eventually affect the day-to-day lives of Americans on the aggregate level.

My point is that data like this are a nice example of how aggregate-level statistics help us understand individual-level actions. It’s with that in mind that I again urge everyone to complete and return the Census forms that will be sent out in a few months.

This is your chance to make sure you count!

October 5, 2009

Written by C.N.

Asian American Students Acting Like Idiots

Those who are regular readers of this site and blog know that I spend a lot of time defending Asian Americans and criticizing acts of discrimination and violence committed against them. However, in the interest of fairness, I am also happy to point out and bash instances when Asian Americans themselves act like thugs and idiots.

With that in mind, here’s the perfect opportunity — as the Los Angeles Times reports, three UCLA Asian American students were recently arrested for their role in a fight at an Asian American-interest fraternity party:

Three UCLA students and four other people have been arrested in connection with a melee at an off-campus fraternity party that left three students injured last month, university officials said Friday. The fight broke the morning of Sept. 22 at a party hosted by Lambda Phi Epsilon, a fraternity that was on probation at the time after an incident last fall that involved an altercation with members of another fraternity. . . . None of the students is listed as being a member of the fraternity. . . .

One student was stabbed in the abdomen and required surgery. A second student was stabbed in the arm but did not require hospitalization. A third was hit over the head with a bottle. . . . [A] preliminary investigation indicates that all the suspects were “uninvited guests.” He said the party eventually became overcrowded and, after some disruptions, the suspects were asked to leave. . . .

The Asian fraternity has faced problems in the past. In 2005, 19-year-old Kenny Luong died from fatal head injuries during a tackle football game held at a city park in Irvine to initiate pledges into Lambda Phi Epsilon. During the game, pledges were gang-tackled repeatedly, police said. The fraternity was officially disbanded by UC Irvine in 2007.

In 2003, San Jose State Lambdas were involved in a melee that left one member fatally stabbed and others hospitalized. Police said about 60 fraternity brothers faced off against rivals from another Asian fraternity.

Since I did not witness the fight personally, I can only speculate about its circumstances based on articles such as this one from the LA Times. I also do not know to what extent members of the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity were involved in this incident. I also hope that the criminal charges brought against those who were arrested are fair and just, not overreactions on the part of the police and criminal justice system.

Nonetheless and as the article notes, this fraternity has a history of violence and legal problems, a few of which have involved the deaths of other Asian Americans.

Incidents like this that involve Asian Americans acting violently remind me of the movie Better Luck Tomorrow that portrays a group of high-achieving Asian American students turning to a life of crime and violence to relieve the stress and monotony of their “model minority” life.

On a more sociological level, incidents like this also bring up the question that I posed several years ago when I wrote about the brawl between Lambda Phi Epsilon and Pi Alpha Phi in San Jose that led to the stabbing death of a young Asian American male student — why are many Asian American males, particularly those associated with ethnic-interest fraternities, emulating the same kind of destructive machismo and violence that has plagued their community for so long?

To be sure, most members of these fraternities nationwide do not resort to violence and in fact, are good students and good community members. But even the casual reader can see that there is a pattern of problems involved with these two Asian American fraternities. As I speculated before:

Is there someone or something to blame here? The Greek system for making these Asian Americans feel like they have to defend the “honor” of their frat and of their “brothers” at all costs, including gang violence and murder, even if their antagonists are other Asian Americans?

A misplaced feeling that rather than the prejudice and discrimination out there in the larger society are their biggest threats, they scapegoat their most immediate rivals as the ones to blame for their problems?

An unconscious inferiority complex in which young Asian American men think they need to be hyper-violent to show that they’re just as masculine as Whites, Blacks, or Latinos?

Youthful bravado, reinforced by a mob mentality? Simple insanity on the part of each person who took part in this fiasco?

My guess is, all of the above.