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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 29, 2013

Written by C.N.

New Books: Challenges and Rewards of Racial/Ethnic Diversity

Below are some recently-released books that highlight the challenges and the rewards associated with racial/ethnic diversity in U.S. society. Almost all types of heterogeneity is likely to produce strain and tension, but if dealt with in certain ways, can also result in many positive changes and greater cohesion as well. These books provide some glimpses into how these dynamics are taking place as we speak. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education: ASHE Higher Education Report, by Edna Chun and Alvin Evans (Jossey-Bass Publishing)

'Bridging the Diversity Divide' by Chin and Evans

The sweeping forces of globalization present new challenges for higher education but also represent a clear mandate for change. Because of the unfinished business of remedying the underrepresentation of minorities and women in higher education, this book is designed to assist campus leaders and educators in the difficult process of cultural transformation in support of diversity and inclusion. The book explores the model of reciprocal empowerment as a moral framework linking the institution’s values, culture, and workplace practices to the outside world through the prism of diversity.

Bridging the Diversity Divide is a practical guide that provides concrete approaches to the creation of a genuinely inclusive campus. Its focus is on research-based strategies that will enable institutions of higher education to assess current practices, create successful action plans, and move beyond structural representation to true reciprocal empowerment. The measurement strategies, organizational learning tools, and best practices included here will assist institutions of higher education in building a flexible repertoire of institutional approaches to reciprocal empowerment and inclusion.

Only by systemic organizational change will universities bridge the diversity divide and create a campus culture that values and celebrates the contributions of all its members. This is a must-read for educators seeking to translate diversity principles into practice.

Postville: USA: Surviving Diversity in Small-Town America, by Mark A Grey, Michele Devlin, and Aaron Goldsmith (Gemma Media)

'Postville' by Grey, Delvin, and Goldsmith

Postville is an obscure meatpacking town in the northeast corner of Iowa. Here, in the most unlikely of places, unparalleled diversity drew international media. Now people declare the town’s experiment in multiculturalism dead. It was not native Iowans, or the newly-arrived Orthodox Jews, or the immigrant workers who made Postville fail.

Postville was stopped in its tracks by a massive raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on May 12th 2008. 20% of the population was arrested, forcing the closure of the town’s kosher meatpacking plant. The raid exposed the disastrous enforcement of immigration policy, the exploitation of Postville by activists, and disturbing questions about the packing house’s operators.

Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, by Li Wei (University of Hawai’i Press)

'Ethnoburb' by Wei

This innovative work provides a new model for the analysis of ethnic and racial settlement patterns in the United States and Canada. Ethnoburbs — suburban ethnic clusters of residential areas and business districts in large metropolitan areas — are multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual, and often multinational communities in which one ethnic minority group has a significant concentration but does not necessarily constitute a majority. Wei Li documents the processes that have evolved with the spatial transformation of the Chinese American community of Los Angeles and that have converted the San Gabriel Valley into ethnoburbs in the latter half of the twentieth century, and she examines the opportunities and challenges that occurred as a result of these changes.

Traditional ethnic and immigrant settlements customarily take the form of either ghettos or enclaves. Thus the majority of scholarly publications and mass media covering the San Gabriel Valley has described it as a Chinatown located in Los Angeles’ suburbs. Li offers a completely different approach to understanding and analyzing this fascinating place. By conducting interviews with residents, a comparative spatial examination of census data and other statistical sources, and fieldwork—coupled with her own holistic view of the area—Li gives readers an effective and fine-tuned socio-spatial analysis of the evolution of a new type of racially defined place. The San Gabriel Valley tells a unique story, but its evolution also speaks to those experiencing a similar type of ethnic and racial conurbation. In sum, Li sheds light on processes that are shaping other present (and future) ethnically and racially diverse communities.

On Being Different: Diversity and Multiculturalism in the North American Mainstream, by Conrad Kottak and Kathryn Kozaitis (McGraw Hill)

'on Being Different' by Kottak and Kozaitis

Understanding of cultural diversity is essential to a healthy multicultural society. Fundamental to this book’s approach is the belief that a comparative, cross-cultural view of human differences and similarities enhances understanding of diversity and multiculturalism within contemporary North America.

On Being Different provides an up-to-date, comprehensive, and interdisciplinary account of diversity and multiculturalism in the United States and Canada. Conrad Kottak and Kathryn Kozaitis clarify essential issues, themes, and topics in the study of diversity, including ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. The book also presents an original theory of multiculturalism, showing how human agency and culture work to organize and change society. The authors use rich and varied ethnographic examples, from North America and abroad, to help students apply the material to their own lives, and thus gain a better understanding of diversity and multiculturalism.

The Imperative of Integration, edited by Elizabeth Anderson (Princeton University Press)

'The Imperative of Integration' by Anderson

More than forty years have passed since Congress, in response to the Civil Rights Movement, enacted sweeping antidiscrimination laws in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. As a signal achievement of that legacy, in 2008, Americans elected their first African American president. Some would argue that we have finally arrived at a postracial America, but The Imperative of Integration indicates otherwise.

Elizabeth Anderson demonstrates that, despite progress toward racial equality, African Americans remain disadvantaged on virtually all measures of well-being. Segregation remains a key cause of these problems, and Anderson skillfully shows why racial integration is needed to address these issues. Weaving together extensive social science findings–in economics, sociology, and psychology–with political theory, this book provides a compelling argument for reviving the ideal of racial integration to overcome injustice and inequality, and to build a better democracy.

Considering the effects of segregation and integration across multiple social arenas, Anderson exposes the deficiencies of racial views on both the right and the left. She reveals the limitations of conservative explanations for black disadvantage in terms of cultural pathology within the black community and explains why color blindness is morally misguided. Multicultural celebrations of group differences are also not enough to solve our racial problems. Anderson provides a distinctive rationale for affirmative action as a tool for promoting integration, and explores how integration can be practiced beyond affirmative action.

Offering an expansive model for practicing political philosophy in close collaboration with the social sciences, this book is a trenchant examination of how racial integration can lead to a more robust and responsive democracy.

Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California, by Charlotte Brooks (University of Chicago Press)

'Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends' by Brooks

Between the early 1900s and the late 1950s, the attitudes of white Californians toward their Asian American neighbors evolved from outright hostility to relative acceptance. Charlotte Brooks examines this transformation through the lens of California’s urban housing markets, arguing that the perceived foreignness of Asian Americans, which initially stranded them in segregated areas, eventually facilitated their integration into neighborhoods that rejected other minorities.

Against the backdrop of cold war efforts to win Asian hearts and minds, whites who saw little difference between Asians and Asian Americans increasingly advocated the latter group’s access to middle-class life and the residential areas that went with it. But as they transformed Asian Americans into a “model minority,” whites purposefully ignored the long backstory of Chinese and Japanese Americans’ early and largely failed attempts to participate in public and private housing programs.

As Brooks tells this multifaceted story, she draws on a broad range of sources in multiple languages, giving voice to an array of community leaders, journalists, activists, and homeowners—and insightfully conveying the complexity of racialized housing in a multiracial society.

Dangerous or Endangered?: Race and the Politics of Youth in Urban America, by Jennifer Tilton (New York University Press)

'Dangerous or Endangered' by Tilton

How do you tell the difference between a “good kid” and a “potential thug”? In Dangerous or Endangered?, Jennifer Tilton considers the ways in which children are increasingly viewed as dangerous and yet, simultaneously, as endangered and in need of protection by the state.

Tilton draws on three years of ethnographic research in Oakland, California, one of the nation’s most racially diverse cities, to examine how debates over the nature and needs of young people have fundamentally reshaped politics, transforming ideas of citizenship and the state in contemporary America. As parents and neighborhood activists have worked to save and discipline young people, they have often inadvertently reinforced privatized models of childhood and urban space, clearing the streets of children, who are encouraged to stay at home or in supervised after-school programs. Youth activists protest these attempts, demanding a right to the city and expanded rights of citizenship.

Dangerous or Endangered? pays careful attention to the intricate connections between fears of other people’s kids and fears for our own kids in order to explore the complex racial, class, and gender divides in contemporary American cities.


January 19, 2009

Written by C.N.

King, Obama, Tet, and the Diversity of Change

As you know already, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the national holiday when we celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy of racial equality and justice. This year, Dr. King’s birthday is accompanied by another very auspicious and momentous occasion — the inauguration of Barack Obama to be our next President.

It is also during this time of the year that billions of people around the world prepare to celebrate Lunar New Year (occurring on January 26 this year). For Vietnamese Americans like me, our version of Lunar New Year is of course Tet. As I describe in more detail, Tet traditionally is a celebration of rebirth and renewal.

Each year, in our effort to commemorate Lunar New Year and Tet, my wife and I usually do a small presentation in our daughter’s elementary school class about the traditions of Tet. We will be doing this year’s presentation tomorrow in her class. Since the presentation will be almost a week before actual Tet, we thought we would try to do a presentation that links these important events together — Dr. King’s Day, Obama’s inauguration, and Tet.

The theme of our presentation is the title of this post — “King, Obama, Tet, and the Diversity of Change” and I’d like to summarize it here for you (fyi, the text is simplified because it’s directed at elementary school students).

Around this time, billions of people all around the world celebrate the new year, based on the cycles of the moon, which is called the lunar calendar. One of the earliest lunar calendars was invented by the Chinese around 4,000 years ago and is still one of the most widely used lunar calendars. Because the Chinese lunar calendar is the most famous, many people call this occasion the “Chinese New Year.” But we prefer to call it Lunar New Year because it’s more inclusive.

Each Lunar New Year is symbolized by one of 12 different animals and the traditional legend is that the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius called a meeting of all animals and 12 eventually showed up and he gave them each a year on the Lunar calendar. On Monday, we’ll celebrate the Year of Ox — anyone born starting Monday until the next Lunar New Year will be born into the Year of the Ox, along with anyone who turns 12, 24, 36, 48, etc.

Along with the Chinese, many other nationality and ethnic groups celebrate Lunar New Year. Because my family came from Viet Nam, our version of Lunar New Year is called Tet. Like many Lunar New Year celebrations, Tet is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Vietnamese culture, almost like New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all rolled into one.

Here in the U.S., you have probably seen Chinese or Lunar New Year celebrations that involve parades and Lion dances. But in more traditional terms, Tet also symbolizes “rebirth” and “renewal.” This means that whatever happened to you personally, to your family, or to your country in the past year, the New Year is your chance to start all over again to have a happy and prosperous new year.

In preparation for Tet, many families clean and even paint their home in anticipation of spring, they settle old debts and disputes, buy new clothes, and pledge to behave nicely and work hard in the new year.

This Lunar New Year occurs around the same time as another very important event that’s taking place a little later today in our nation’s capital, Washington DC — Barack Obama’s inauguration — when he officially becomes our next President.

It’s a very exciting and emotional time for many Americans. One of the reasons why it’s so exciting for many Americans is that, in many ways, Obama’s inauguration also symbolizes the rebirth of our country. In terms of his policies, he has said that he plans to do many things differently from what our last President has done, and this was one of the main reasons why so many people voted for him.

But more generally, he represents rebirth in many other ways. For example, as you probably already know, he is the first African American President of the United States. This is a very big deal — this country unfortunately has not treated African Americans and other people of color very well throughout its history. In many ways, African Americans and other people of color are still treated badly and still face many kinds of prejudice and discrimination in American society.

This kind of change was also symbolized by the person whose birthday we celebrated yesterday as a national holiday — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Especially as Barack Obama becomes our nation’s first African American President, it’s important to remember the life and words of Dr. King, especially when he talks about change and rebirth. Here are some excerpts from Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that talks about change:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. . . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. . . . With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, and to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Dr. King’s word have inspired many Americans, such as Barack Obama, to do what they can to change America for the better and in the process, to help people start anew toward a better life for themselves, their families and loved ones, and our entire world.

It’s with this in mind that we celebrate these three wonderful and important events taking place all at the same time — Dr. King’s birthday, Barack Obama’s inauguration, and Tet, the Lunar New Year celebration of rebirth and renewal.


June 4, 2007

Written by C.N.

Asianization of Queens, New York

As I’ve written about before, assimilation can come in many different forms these days. In the past, assimilation usually meant the immigrant or “newcomer” group had to conform to virtually all aspects of the majority culture in order to be accepted. However, as American society and the world in general becomes increasingly globalized and transnational, the rules have changed. And as the New York Times reports, at the forefront of these changes are Asian Americans such as those in the Queens borough of New York City:

Pitched battles have been fought over language in Flushing, whose white ethnic population has receded as Korean and Chinese immigrants have arrived. In the late 1980s, when City Councilwoman Julia Harrison proposed a bill requiring businesses to post signs in English, a public divide seemed to open: On one side were the waves of Asian newcomers; on the other, longtime residents who felt displaced and alienated. . . .

So on a rainy Wednesday evening, she was back in the basement room of the Queens housing project where two dozen adults gather every week to learn Mandarin. The free classes at the James A. Bland Houses draw a motley assortment of students; the current session includes an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, a black woman who grew up in the housing project and the practical-minded daughter of Hungarian immigrants.

They have in common these two attributes: They have lived in Flushing since before it was Asian, and they have decided that the time has come to adapt. “Kind of like, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’ ” said Ms. Farren, whose Italian-American relatives cannot fathom why she hasn’t left for New Jersey.

As the article describes, there are still several obstacles on the road to full acceptance of how “Asian American” Queens has become. There are many residents — new and longtime, and of all races and ethnicities — who are still resistant to the demographic and cultural realities surrounding them. Nonetheless, it is gratifying to see that increasing, there seem to be many more residents who are embracing these trends and realize that Asian Americans add to Queens’ vibrant culture, rather than detracting from it.

Like I keep saying, assimilation comes in many forms these days.