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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 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.


September 4, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Emerging Perspectives of Color

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.

The following two books connect history with the emerging 21st century from the point of view of African American and indigenous groups, respectively.

The End of White World Supremacy: Black Internationalism and the Problem of the Color Line, by Rod Bush (Temple University Press)

The End of White World Supremacy by Roderick Bush

The End of White World Supremacy explores a complex issue— integration of Blacks into White America—from multiple perspectives: within the United States, globally, and in the context of movements for social justice. Roderick Bush locates himself within a tradition of African American activism that goes back at least to W.E.B. Du Bois. In so doing, he communicates between two literatures—worldsystems analysis and radical Black social movement history—and sustains the dialogue throughout the book.

Bush explains how racial troubles in the U.S. are symptomatic of the troubled relationship between the white and dark worlds globally. Beginning with an account of white European dominance leading to capitalist dominance by White America, The End of White World Supremacy ultimately wonders whether, as Myrdal argued in the 1940s, the American creed can provide a pathway to break this historical conundrum and give birth to international social justice.

Indigenous Peoples and Globalization: Resistance and Revitalization, by Thomas Hall and James Fenelon (Paradigm Publishers)

Indigenous Peoples and Globalization by Hall and Fenelon

The issues native peoples face intensify with globalization. Through case studies from around the world, Hall and Fenelon demonstrate how indigenous peoples? movements can only be understood by linking highly localized processes with larger global and historical forces.

The authors show that indigenous peoples have been resisting and adapting to encounters with states for millennia. Unlike other anti-globalization activists, indigenous peoples primarily seek autonomy and the right to determine their own processes of adaptation and change, especially in relationship to their origin lands and community. The authors link their analyses to current understandings of the evolution of globalization.


April 22, 2009

Written by C.N.

Kimchi Quesadillas and Korean BBQ Tacos

A common theme in many of my posts on this blog is how Asian American identities are evolving in the 21st century and how Asian Americans will fit into the American racial landscape as our society continues to become increasingly diverse, globalized, and transnational. I’ve also noted that alongside the evolution of the Asian American identity, a new and more inclusive “American” identity is inevitably taking place as well.

To illustrate one example of these emerging identities and racial dynamics, earlier this week, ABC News’s NightLine program had a segment on the fusion of Korean and Mexican food in Los Angeles, in the form of kimchi quesadillas and Korean barbecue tacos and burritos, served by a taco truck run by Korean Americans:

These particular menu items may or may not be a fad or temporary trend, but they nonetheless illustrate the inevitable fusion of different cultures and in this case, cuisine traditions. As such, represent another microcosm of what’s taking place in American society in general. And like the video shows, these new cultural combinations may be an acquired taste, but for those willing to be adventurous and who have the personal initiative, they can be quite satisfying.


April 8, 2009

Written by C.N.

Creating an Arab and Middle Eastern Racial Category

Next month is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and inevitably, many people wonder exactly who or which ethnic groups are included in the category of “Asian Pacific American.” Specifically, several have asked me whether Arab and Middle Eastern Americans should be included. This is a complicated question to be sure and the short answer is technically (i.e., from the Census Bureau and federal government’s definition), they are considered White, not Asian.

However, as the Los Angeles Times reports, several in the Arab and Middle Eastern American community don’t consider themselves White (and certainly aren’t always treated as if they’re White) nor Asian. Instead, they are tying to create a new racial definition that more accurately represents their history, characteristics, and experiences:

Nicole Salame, 19, was filling out an application to UCLA last year when she got to the question about race and ethnicity. She thought a mistake had been made. . . . Her Lebanese-born mother told her Arabs are considered white, but Salame didn’t believe her. Her high school counselor told her the same thing. . . . For years the federal government has classified Arab Americans and Middle Easterners as white. But confusion and disagreement have led some students to check “Asian” or “African,” depending on what part of the Middle East they came from. Some, like Salame, simply marked “Other.”

Now several UCLA student groups — including Arabs, Iranians, Afghanis and Armenians — have launched a campaign to add a Middle Eastern category, with various subgroups, to the University of California admissions application. They hope to emulate the Asian Pacific Coalition’s “Count Me In” campaign, which a few years ago successfully lobbied for the inclusion of 23 ethnic categories on the UC application, including Hmong, Pakistani, Native Hawaiian and Samoan.

The UCLA students said having their own ethnic designation goes beyond self-identity and has real implications for the larger Arab and Middle Eastern communities.

The article points out that in past decades, those of Arab and Middle Eastern descent fought to be legally and officially designated as White, which was formalized by the Census in 1970. However, in the context of recent demographic, political, and cultural trends, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans now are more inclined to identify as a separate racial/ethnic group, one that better reflects the uniqueness of their community:

UCLA junior Shawn Gabrill said he has more in common with other children of immigrants than with those whose parents were born in this country.

“I feel like when I put down ‘white’ on an application, they assume my parents finished high school, went to college and that English was my first language,” the 20-year-old English major said. “And none of these things describe me.”

Gabrill, the son of Jordanian and Egyptian parents, said he had difficulties with the college application but, because he was seen as white, he wasn’t identified as someone who needed extra help from high school counselors.

“So it’s kind of like we’re in between. We’re not white, but we’re not as disadvantaged as the other groups so we don’t get any of that aid,” he said. “So we’re kind of invisible in that way.”

Of course, the usual criticism from more “traditional” Americans is that such an effort to create a new racial category will only divide our country further and would make it harder to unite everyone under a universal “American” identity. The problem with that argument is that first, based on our country’s history and still embedded in most of our social institutions, a universal “American” identity has usually meant being White. Therefore, in denying Arab and Middle Eastern Americans their own identity amounts to another misguided “colorblind” approach that ignores the historical legacies and contemporary realities of American racial history.

The second problem with this colorblind argument is that it flies in the face of real and significant demographic changes taking place all around us, and the political and cultural shifts that result from such changes. As I’ve consistently written about, being “American” in the 21st century is more than just a sense of patriotic loyalty. That’s part of it, but it also includes making real contributions to America’s political, economic, and cultural future in the face of globalization, financial crises, and the changing political landscape around the world.

With that in mind, just like Asian Americans, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans are poised to use their transnational cultural ties to bridge the gaps that currently divide the U.S. from other religions and countries. If the U.S. is to retain its “superpower” status and level of influence around the world, trying to impose American ideals and models of government or economy will not work any longer and in fact, will only hasten our country’s decline.

Instead, as the Obama administration has recognized, we need to embrace these global trends and build more mutually-respectful connections, relationships, and networks with countries and religions around the world, particular in Asia and the Middle East. Although it’s too late to be officially implemented in the 2010 census, one step in that process is to support the efforts of Arab and Middle Eastern Americans to create their own racial category that reflects their unique history, experiences, and resources that they can contribute in helping us forge a new American identity here in the U.S. and around the world.


March 30, 2009

Written by C.N.

Gary Locke and the Future of Asian American Identity

As news organizations are reporting, the Senate has confirmed Gary Locke as the new Secretary of Commerce. Below is an Associated Press news clip of President Obama introducing Secretary Locke:

If you’re keeping track, Sec. Locke is the third Asian American in President Obama’s cabinet, following Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Three Asian American cabinet secretaries is unprecedented in American history and needless to say, I join many others in expressing my elation and gratitude at President Obama’s picks for his cabinet.

For those who haven’t heard of Sec. Locke before, as Governor of Washington between 1997-2005, he was the first Chinese American governor in American history and the first Asian American governor of a mainland state. He was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and a possible Vice Presidential candidate. However, he declined to run for Governor after his second term and returned to private life thereafter.

As illustrated in PBS’s excellent 2005 documentary Searching for Asian America, Sec. Locke is known for being very intelligent and detail-oriented and as such, in many ways personifies some common cultural assumptions about Asian Americans. That’s not to say it’s good or bad, just to say that he represents a “safe choice” for President Obama in that way and was an attractive option since Obama’s first two nominees for the position both dropped out.

But I think another reason that President Obama chose Gary Locke is because, as also pointed out in the PBS documentary, Sec. Locke has many ties to the land of his ancestors, China. Therefore, it’s probably safe to assume that President Obama felt those personal and professional ties to China would come in handy as our nation and its economy tries to navigate through this recession and the 21st century global economy in general, one in which China will play a major role.

As such, Sec. Locke is the latest example of a theme that I’ve been writing about for some time — how Asian Americans are forging a new identity for themselves, one in which our “foreignness” or more specifically our transnational cultural ties and networks back to Asia, are seen as assets, rather than liabilities as we assert our identities as legitimate Americans in the 21st century.

In other words, in this era where American society is inevitably becoming more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse and where economic issues are likely to be a paramount concern for Americans individually and American society institutionally, we as Asian Americans now have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to American society. In the process of doing so, we can also help to reshape the image and definition of what it means to be an “American.”

This expanded definition of being an American includes not just emotional attachment and patriotic loyalty to an American identity, but also involves helping to achieve greater economic prosperity for American society. As we’re seeing right now, economic issues have emerged as significant factors and challenges to American society and its overall sense of national identity.

Within this contexts, Asian American are poised to make significant contributions to rebuilding the American economy and helping it become more competitive in the 21st century. These opportunities can involve many different examples. First, we know that at the aggregate level, Asian American households have the highest median income of all the major racial/ethnic groups.

Even when it comes to personal/per capita level, as data is beginning to show, US-born Asian American have matched or even exceeded the income level of Whites. Of course, we have to be careful and recognize that not all Asian Americans are economically successful, but overall, I think our community is doing well.

In fact, a recent article at New America Media noted that said communities of color have an estimated $282 billion in purchasing power, with Asian Americans possessing about $90 billion of that.

There was also the recent commentary in the NY Times which suggested, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that one way to stimulate the economy is to let in more Asian immigrants, who would buy up all he sub-prime homes, work 14 hour days to do it, improve the national savings rate, and start up businesses that will employ American workers.

More realistically, we’ve already seen examples of Asian enclaves proliferating around the country — in both urban and increasingly suburban areas — that have resulted in these areas becoming revitalized, with new businesses, jobs, homes, and other amenities being created.

The point is, the economic contributions of Asian Americans to the American economy is undeniable.

The second way that Asian American can contribute to a new and stronger American society relates more to the cultural level. As I mentioned earlier, it is clear that the world in general and American society in particular is becoming more diverse, globalized, and transnational. With that in mind, Asian Americans occupy a very central role in this evolving process.

As the U.S. seeks to maintain its influence around the world, it has no other choice but to embrace these global trends and to build more mutually-respectful connections with countries around the world, particular in Asia. In fact, Hillary Clinton has been doing just that as Secretary of State — in February she made high-profile visits to Japan, South Korea, China, and Indonesia.

So with this mind, Asian Americans can serve as a valuable facilitators in these connections because on the individual, community, and institutional levels, we still have strong ties and networks to Asian countries. This can take many different forms — maintaining relationships with friends and family and sending remittances back there, or using our bicultural skills and resources to do business back in Asia, or bringing our educational expertise to work on issues and projects focused on environmental sustainability, social equality, or human rights.

In the case of Secretary Locke, I think he represents this new form of Asian American identity — a “real” American of Asian ancestry but whose Asian ancestry can be a significant asset and advantage in terms of making significant contributions to strengthening our country, our economy, and our society.

Many Asian Americans (and for that matter, Americans from all kinds of backgrounds) are in a similar situation and as such, also have the same opportunity to become leaders in their community and in our society in the 21st century.


March 9, 2009

Written by C.N.

The Cultural Emergence of Indian Americans

We all know by now that the previously underdog movie Slumdog Millionaire is a huge hit around the world, but particularly in the U.S., having just won eight Academy Awards and grossing over $120 million dollars in North America. As MSNBC writes, the movie also symbolizes the cultural/popular emergence of Indian Americans as a community:

The past few weeks have underscored their increasingly high profile: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave the Republican response Tuesday night to President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress, while Dr. Sanjay Gupta is under consideration to be Obama’s surgeon general.

Model and cooking author Padma Lakshmi finished another “Top Chef” TV season, then became the celebrity face for a new Procter & Gamble Co. Pantene shampoo line as well as a Hardee’s hamburger promotion. Anoop Desai, dubbed “Noop Dogg,” drew fans with his singing on this year’s “American Idol,” and Aziz Ansari was in TV’s medical comedy “Scrubs” before moving to a regular role in the upcoming comedy series “Parks and Recreation.” . . .

Indian-Americans have been one of the fastest-growing and most successful immigrant groups, though [Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor and dean of student affairs for Columbia University’s journalism school] and other Indian-Americans are quick to point out that some Indians continue to struggle economically and socially in this country. . . .

For years, they have proliferated in this country in the fields of health care, information technology and engineering, with higher education levels and incomes than national averages. And recent years have brought more Indian heads of major U.S. companies — PepsiCo Inc.’s Indra Nooyi is among about a dozen current CEOs.

They also are making their presence felt in journalism. Gupta, a neurosurgeon and medical correspondent, and Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, have their own weekend shows on CNN, for example.

Slumdog Millionaire’s extraordinary success is well-earned, although we should note that not all Indians and Indian Americans are enthralled by its story. Nonetheless, I agree with the MSNBC article that the film’s success does have cultural, as well as economic, significance for American society and the Indian American community in general.

Among other things, the article also spends some time discussing the political emergence of Bobby Jindal, who despite his less-than-successful televised response to Barack Obama’s recent address to Congress, is undoubtedly being groomed to be a high-profile national leader for the Republican party for years to come. By the way, CBS’s 60 Minutes just did a very interesting profile segment on him, embedded below (about 12 minutes long):

The part of the segment that I found most interesting was that he and his wife hardly identify as Indian American at all — they clearly prefer to think of themselves as just plain “Americans” and “Louisianians.” That is their prerogative of course — not everyone who has non-American ancestry should be compelled to identify with that particular ethnicity. But I am interested to hear what Indian Americans think of Jindal’s sense of his identity (apart from his politics) — does it bother Indian Americans that one of the most high-profile Indian Americans in the country has little if any personal attachment to his ethnic roots?

In the meantime, back to the Indian American community as a whole, the MSNBC article is not really groundbreaking news. As my article on Socioeconomic Statistics and Demographics show, Indian Americans are clearly the most socioeconomically successful of the major Asian American ethnic groups. As such, it should be no surprise that, along with their socioeconomic success, their cultural prominence would soon increase as well.

At the same time, I also wonder what effect political events back in India will have on Indian Americans and the perception that others have of Indian Americans. Specifically, there is still a lot of suspicion and even hostility towards India and the perception that is largely responsible for many jobs being outsourced away from the U.S. and that India is profiting from globalization at the expense of American workers. This is likely to continue being the case as the current recession gets worse before it gets better.

Second, the recent and continuing terrorist attacks and related violence in India have many people worried not just about the physical safety of people inside of India, but also of India’s political stability and even its future economic development. Both of these concerns affect Indian Americans both here in the U.S. and around the world in terms of their public image and of course, the well-being of friends and relatives back in India.

Nonetheless, I for one welcome this cultural emergence of our fellow Americans of Indian descent. Our society and its diverse mosaic of culture is enriched even further by it.


October 22, 2008

Written by C.N.

Marketing Professional Basketball to Chinese Americans

As the 2008-2009 season of the National Basketball Association (NBA) prepares to start later this week, NBA fans should already know that when Yao Ming began playing in 2002, he opened up professional basketball to aspiring Chinese back in China, and to Chinese Americans as a potential fan and marketing segment for his team, the Houston Rockets, and the NBA in general.

Following in his footsteps is Yi Jianlian, the second high-profile NBA player to come from China. After playing his rookie season last year for the Milwaukee Bucks, Yi was traded and is now set to play for the New Jersey Nets.

The Nets happen to be located in the New York City metropolitan area, home to an estimated 650,000 Chinese Americans. As the NY Times reports, these numbers and the potential revenue from the Chinese American fan base in squarely in the minds of the Nets organization:

Yi’s name recognition runs high, and people in Chinatown said they would go watch him, if time and funds allow it, but would not necessarily go out of their way to cross the Hudson River. . . .

The Nets are hopeful that Yi connects with the nearly 650,000 Chinese-Americans in the New York area and beyond, reeling in a coveted new fan base. And like Yao, the Houston Rockets center, Yi carries global appeal in hailing from the world’s most populous nation. . . .

“He has to build a relationship with the community,” said Sunny Moy, president of the Asian American Youth Center. “Right now, everybody is more into Yao because Yi is still nearly a rookie. Yi is a good player, I’ve seen him play, but he has to donate tickets, connect with the kids in order to have an effect.” . . .

The Nets are offering a four-game package aimed at the Chinese-American community for games against the Rockets, the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Rockets and the Lakers feature the league’s two other Chinese players in Yao and the rookie Sun Yue.

The Nets hired a multicultural marketing agency and are planning game-night promotions that include a night serving as Yi’s interpreter and a celebration of the Chinese New Year.

As I’ve said before, whether Americans like/want it or not, the world is getting smaller and the many manifestations of globalization will only continue to become more prominent in American society. In this case, it comes in the form of the Nets trying to market Yi to the Chinese Americans in the NYC metro area and the 1.3 billion Chinese back in China.

It’s also nice to see Asian athletes continue to become more popular in professional sports. At the same time, as I’ve also said in the past, it would also be nice if Asian American (as opposed to international Asian) athletes get to enjoy the same kind of popularity.

Fortunately, with the recent rise and fame of athletes like professional golfer Anthony Kim, to name the most recent example, we (hopefully) seem to be moving slowly in that direction.


September 5, 2008

Written by C.N.

The Beginning of a Post-America World

For some time now, I’ve written about how, on the international stage, countries such as China and India are emerging as economic, political, and cultural superpowers in the 21st century and domestically, how American society is becoming more and more diverse and globalized as a result. So what does the future hold for the U.S. as these trends become more institutionalized?

That’s the question that CBS News asks in a very interesting article entitled “Coming Soon: A Post-American World:
With The Rise Of China And Other Economies, The ‘Golden Age’ Of American Influence May Be Coming To An End.” Some excerpts:

“We can model the economy and show that by 2035, it will be as big, if not bigger than the United States’ economy will be at that time, and by the middle of the century it will be twice the size of the U.S. economy at that time,” [China expert Albert] Keidel said. . . .

In case you missed that – within the next 50 years China’s economy will double the size of the United States’ economy. Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, said, “What’s happening right now is, the world is moving beyond America. The future is, in many ways, being shaped in distant places by foreign people.” . . .

“That’s a big shift from a world in which America was at the center economically, financially, culturally, militarily, politically, to a world in which there are more centers and many forces, from India to China to Brazil to South Africa that have to be taken into account,” Zakaria said. . . .

“This is not happening because America is failing or declining,” Zakaria said. “It’s happening because the rest are rising, and it’s happening because the natives have gotten good at capitalism.”

The article goes on to discuss what the U.S. can do to retain its economic and political superiority in the face of these momentous changes:

[Alan Wolff, former U.S. trade negotiator:] “We need to change our tax policies, change our immigration policy. We made the U.S. a magnet, an attractive place for the best and the brightest in the world, and we frustrate that by saying, ‘You get a Ph.D. here and that doesn’t matter. Right now, we’re throwing you out.’ That’s very self-destructive behavior.”

“We save too little, we consume too much, we borrow too much from the rest of the world, we use energy in a profligate and wasteful fashion,” said Zakaria.

So is the decline of the American economic empire inevitable? That’s a very complicated question and one that I will continue to explore in this blog, but for now, I would love to hear from you, my readers, on what you think the future holds for the U.S. in terms of keeping its status as the most powerful nation in the world.

Feel free to add your comments and let me know what you think.