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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.

February 22, 2011

Written by C.N.

ECAASU 2011: Lessons in Mis/Understanding Different Levels of Analysis

As I previously promoted on this blog, this past weekend, the annual conference of the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) was held on my home campus, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. ECAASU bills itself as the largest Asian American student conference in the nation and from most accounts, it was a big success with almost 1,500 attendees from schools all around the country. Kudos are in order for the organizers, attendees, presenters, and entertainers who all contributed to a dynamic and enriching event.

Inevitably, the conference was not without some controversy. Specifically, many attendees and presenters this year questioned the appropriateness of U.S. military branches such as the Navy and Coast Guard and government agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as sponsors of the event. In fact, there were several contentious instances in which speakers vocally criticized various historical and contemporary aspects of the U.S. military and security agencies along with their presence at the conference, with about 30 or so representatives of such military and security agencies sitting directly in front of them in the audience.

Apparently, these and other military branches and government agencies have prominently sponsored ECAASU conferences in the past, so their presence was not new. Since I have not attended many ECAASU conferences recently, I do not know whether there were similar objections raised in a very public way before. Nonetheless, this year the tensions were clearly out in the open.

In trying to not minimize the positive aspects of the conference, I would also like to reflect a little bit on this particular issue and source of tension. Also at the risk of contradicting one my favorite quotes — “I don’t know what’s the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody” (Bill Cosby) — my personal and sociological thoughts on this matter includes praise and criticism for both sides.

Speaking the Truth

On the one hand, the speakers who criticized the military and government agencies clearly had a right to do so and also had plenty of “ammunition” to back up their criticisms. There can be little denial that through the years, the U.S. military and security agencies and a number of individuals working for them have perpetrated or been directly complicit in innumerable instances of injustice and outright crimes against innocent civilians domestically and abroad and in the process, destroyed lives and livelihoods left and right.

To make a long story short, it is because of these actions that many people around the world have a very intense hatred of the U.S. and in extreme cases, feel compelled to resort to desperate actions to fight back against such historical and contemporary oppression. As such, the opposition to the presence of these U.S. military branches and government agencies at a conference focused on, among other things, counteracting institutional domination and cultural colonialism is perfectly understandable and justified.

Taking a Step Back

© Tina Healey and Images.com/Corbis

On the other hand, we cannot dismiss the fact that many members of the military put their very lives at risk to protect our right to criticize their employers — our government. More specifically, in criticizing the presence of the U.S. military and government agencies, I feel that the speakers missed an important distinction — the actions of individuals versus institutional policies. In other words, as a sociologist, one of the first things that I teach my students is that in order to properly understand a social issue or problem, we first need to recognize its dynamics and dimensions across different levels of analysis — the individual level, the group/community level, and the institutional level.

The issue of racism is an excellent example of the need to recognize how sociological understanding takes place at each of these levels of analysis. For instance, when a person of color points out how racism still exists in U.S. society these days, a White person may interpret that as a personal attack and direct implication against them and that they are being accused of being a racist when in fact, the person of color is referring to racism on the institutional level.

Similarly, many Whites may feel that racism will be eliminated once individuals are taught to be colorblind or that it’s wrong to have racial prejudices, when in fact the most enduring mechanisms that reinforce and perpetuate racism exist not among individuals, but within institutional policies and practices that privilege one racial group over another. Ultimately, it is when people discuss an issue like racism from different levels of analysis that misunderstandings, tensions, and hostility inevitably result.

As applied to the ECAASU conference and the speakers’ criticisms against the U.S. military and government agencies, I feel that they missed the opportunity to engage the military and agency personnel in a constructive sociological discussion because they largely conflated these levels of analysis. This happened in instances in which speakers implied that the military and government personnel in attendance at the conference, by virtue of their employment and position within such agencies, were directly complicit in committing crimes or acts of injustice.

More subtly, the conflating of these levels of analysis prevented speakers from conceptualizing the possibility that the military and government personnel in attendance might actually be agents of social change. In other words, on the one hand, there is the strong possibility that people of color, Asian Americans, or anyone else who has a commitment to racial equality and justice may end up just becoming another cog in the machine or another brick in the wall if they enter these military and government institutions and get swallowed into the perpetual system of bureaucracy.

But on the other hand, it is also possible that such individuals can bring their sense of racial equality and justice into an organization, build a coalition, consensus, or critical mass with like-minded others within the organization through time, and after achieving positions of power and authority, begin to apply their beliefs and little by little, change the culture and policies of that organization toward greater social/racial equality and justice. Organizations, institutions, and as we’re seeing in the Middle East, entire nations do change through individual actions — either toward more oppression, or toward more equality and democracy.

The Times They Are A’ Changing

Here in the U.S., we have three recent examples, including one involving the U.S. military — Gary Locke (Secretary of Commerce), Professor Steven Chu (Secretary of Energy), and General Eric Shinseki (Secretary of Veterans Affairs). Within each of their respective careers, all three of these Asian Americans have personified a sense of working toward greater social equality and while there is still plenty of work to be done, I feel are positive examples and role models of how social change can occur within institutions.

I also recall a conversation I had with a student in which she mentioned that, as an advertising major, she also has a strong commitment to use her experiences and training to work toward greater racial equality and justice for Asian Americans and people of color. But she also expressed reservations about entering the advertising industry with its history of portraying people of color in very narrow and even stereotypical ways. One of the things that I told her was that if students like her self-select out of these kinds of industries, everything will just be perpetual status quo and nothing will change. Instead, I encouraged her to bring her determination with her into the advertising industry and as I described earlier, build a critical mass with others who share similar goals and fight for the change that she wants to see happen.

I cannot guarantee that the 30 or so military or government personnel in attendance at the ECAASU conference have the same kind of drive toward achieving racial equality and justice, but based on the brief speeches that a few of them gave, I am confident that many of them do. As such, while we can and should continue to criticize their institutions for the injustices that they’ve perpetrated through the years, that should not preclude us from encouraging individual members of such institutions from doing what they can to change their institutions from within.


January 10, 2011

Written by C.N.

East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference 2011

For those who are not yet familiar, the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) is the largest Asian American student organization in the U.S. Founded in 1977, its main activity is putting on the largest Asian American intercollegiate student annual conference in the country. For 2011, the conference will be held at my college, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst from Friday Feb. 18 through Saturday Feb. 19.

I and my colleagues in Asian American Studies at UMass Amherst and around the Five College area (this includes Amherst College, Smith College, Mt. Holyoke College, and Hampshire College) are very pleased and excited to see that UMass Amherst is hosting the ECAASU conference this year. It’s shaping up to be a very rich and interesting schedule of workshops, presentations, social and cultural activities, and entertainment focused on a wide range of issues, so I encourage everyone to register and attend. Below is the announcement from the ECAASU organizers:

East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference 2011 at UMass Amherst

The mission of ECAASU is to:

  • Strengthen Asian American student organizations through intercollegiate communication to serve the educational and social needs of Asian American students
  • Advance the social equality of minorities by eliminating prejudice and discrimination, defending human and civil rights, and combating racism and hate crimes through activities permissible under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
  • Encourage Asian Americans to participate in the electoral process through nonpartisan voter education/registration and “get out the vote” drives that are not restricted to one election period and are executed in more than five states
  • Promote community-building and understanding among Asian Americans with different nationalities and people of color.

Since its inception during the late 1970s the conference has expanded to serve multiple purposes. Conference organizers have offered educational workshops, leadership training seminars, professional career counseling, facilitated social networking opportunities, and featured various rising talents in our ceremonies. To further inspire attendees, prominent keynote speakers have been brought in to address pertinent issues within the Asian American community. Due to these many offerings, the conference has skyrocketed in popularity attracting anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 students per assembly.

One of the primary objectives of the conference is to encourage intergenerational dialogue between members of the Asian Pacific American community and also facilitate increased cross cultural dialogue between all members of the African, Latino, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) populations. This conference was designed to be a haven for learning and cooperation. Through various approaches, conference organizers have strived to inspire our guests to recognize and appreciate the relationships in our connected backgrounds,
experiences, and perspectives.

For more information on speakers, workshops, entertainers, accommodations, logistics, and how to register please feel free to visit the ECAASU 2011 website. Registration is $55 up to December 31, $60 up to January 31, $65 up to February 1-4, and TBA for February 5 and later. The registration fee covers three meals, one midnight snack, workshops, performers, speakers, and facilities rental/maintenance.

Some of the conference’s presenters and speakers that I have written about in my blog include Vijay Prashad, Eric Byler, Curtis Chin, Phil Yu, and Miliann Kang. I will be conducting a workshop on “Bridging Asian, American, and Asian American Identities in the 21st Century.”

You can also click on any of the following for a PDF with more information on:

Hope to see you there!


December 4, 2009

Written by C.N.

Links & Announcements #18

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. (Previous similar posts were titled “Miscellaneous Links”).

Women’s Center Uses Music Video to Combat Domestic Violence

The New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC) has taken an improbable yet powerful new tack in their efforts to combat domestic violence: music videos. Recently, NYAWC lent its resources and non-profit status to the production of ‘Someday,’ a song by artist May Ling about a woman’s experience in an abusive home. The video, directed by award-winning video producer Scott Gabriel, will be used to raise awareness of domestic violence and promote the initiatives of the NYAWC.

“Domestic violence is often hidden behind the closed doors of perfectly ordinary, middle-class American homes,” says Gabriel. “We want to bring the issue into the public forum and make sure that people are aware that resources exist to help. We were ecstatic that the NYAWC were willing to be the first organization to help us reach the broad internet audience.”

“Music has the special ability to communicate issues that people normally do not want to discuss,” said singer/songwriter May Ling. “In the 70’s, many popular songs were about changing the world for the better. . . . My hope is that Someday will inspire social dialogue and positive change.” . . . Other songs, in May Ling’s collaboration with Bennett Media Studios, deal with child trafficking, the Khmer Rouge, and victims of the Sichuan Earthquake.

The music and clips from ‘Someday’ will be featured in a new public service announcement for NYAWC on NY 1. The group has also completed a Chinese PSA and is currently working to find a station interested in donating air time. They also hope to translate the PSA into other languages and make it available in other regions to help spread the word.

During their life time one hundred thousand Asian women in New York City will be abused by their partner – emotionally, financially, physically, or sexually. NYAWC helps victims overcome violence and govern their own lives, free of abuse. . . . The group’s 24 hour, multi-lingual help line provides assistance in 11 different languages and can be reached at 1-888-888-7702. Songs with a Voice is a collaboration of artists, who combine the mediums of film and music to reach those in need and inspire activism.

JACL Accepting Applications for “Active Choice” Intern

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is seeking to innovate and progress to keep up with the needs of the community. In order to do this, there must be an upsurge of young members to reinvigorate and redirect the organization on the local level. The JACL views the new reduced-rate Active Choice health insurance plan as a viable stimulus in the JACL’s efforts to develop its membership.

Furthermore, the JACL hopes to insure as many young members of the greater community as possible by providing an affordable health insurance option. By introducing the Active Choice Plan, the JACL hopes to mitigate the negative consequences of the uninsured lifestyle among this high-risk demographic and encourage social responsibility.

The Active Choice Intern will assist the JACL in the efforts outlined above. The position will be part-time with a negotiable time frame beginning the week of January 4, 2010; receive a stipend of $1,000 per month; and will report to the JACL National Membership Coordinator at the National JACL Headquarters in San Francisco.

Intern Tasks:

  • Create a database documenting all UC and CSU SHIP costs, contrasting them to comparable plans in the market and the JACL Active Choice Plan
  • Coordinate with JACL Membership Coordinator and JACL Health Benefits Trust Blue Shield Office to create a comprehensive marketing plan
  • Engage potential student subscribers in on-campus meetings
  • Work with Consul General’s office in reaching out to exchange students, and the Shin-Issei community
  • Pursue an aggressive social media campaign utilizing online networking sites
  • Develop language-specific advertising in coordination with the JACL Health Benefits Trust office
  • Some travel will be required

Outcomes/Goals:

  • Recruit 1,000 new JACL members through an appeal to the Active Choice PPO Plans
  • Promote social responsibility and wellness among the 18-39 year old demographic

Skills Required:

  • Good written and oral communication skills
  • Experience with spreadsheets and database management
  • Familiarity and comfort with public speaking and good one on one interactive skill
  • Some creative design experience

Click here for the application and please send all materials by December 23, 2009 to:

JACL National Headquarters
Attn: Active Choice Internship
1765 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
mbr@jacl.org
415.921.5225

Funding Opportunities for Grad Students and Others

Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellowship: The Jennings Randolph (JR) Program for International Peace awards approximately ten Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellowships each year to support the research and writing of doctoral dissertations addressing the sources and nature of international conflict and strategies to prevent or end conflict and to sustain peace.

The Peace Scholar Fellowship is meant to assist emerging scholars at one of the most crucial points in their career. Awards may be used to support writing and research at their home institution or for field-work abroad. USIP welcomes proposals from all disciplines, however, they should be consistent with the Institute’s mandate and present a research agenda with clear relevance to policy issues. Peace Scholars receive $20,000 for 10 months.

Deadline is January 5, 2010.

Blakemore Freeman Fellowships for Advanced Asian Language Study: Blakemore Freeman grants are awarded to individuals pursuing professional, academic, or business careers that involve the regular use of an East or Southeast Asian language. The grants fund a year of advanced language study at an institution in Asia such as the Inter-University Center for Japanese Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the International Chinese Language Program at National Taiwan University in Taipei, or similar structured programs in Asia. Deadline is December 30, 2009.

Registration Open for East Coast Asian American Students Union (ECAASU) Conference

Registration for the ECAASU National Conference 2010 at the University of Pennsylvania is up! Register now until December 15th for the best rate. Get your friends to join you and the rest of your school at the largest intercollegiate Asian American conference in the country.

When? March 4-6, 2010
Where? University of Pennsylvania
Why? Because you want to meet all the great workshop facilitators, phenomenal speakers, artists, writers, and student leaders across the country
How? Go to the ECAASU website

We’re not just coming together because we’re Asian Americans, but we’re at the forefront of larger minority and leadership movement that is closing the gap between ethnic minorities and the divide between the majority and minority, to make those contemporary issues that concern the minority the priorities of our country and our future, to make the face of Asian Americans in the realms of art, literature, politics, business, social media, academia, etc… the norm rather than the exception.