9th grade filmmaker wins national award for “The Constitution and the Camps,” documentary about Japanese American internment

Pretty powerful stuff. Matthew Shimura, a 9th grader from Honolulu, Hawaii won the Grand Prize for his documentary, “The Constitution and the Camps,” in C-SPAN’s annual StudentCam competition. The Grand Prize winner (announced March 7) received a $5,000 award and $1,000 for his teacher to buy video equipment for his school. (Coincidentally, he attends the Punahou in Oahu, where Barack Obama went to school.)

The contest chooses themes each year to get students to think about issues affecting the country. This year the topic was “The Constitution and You: Select any provision of the U.S. Constitution and create a video illustrating why it’s important to you.”

Shimura chose to focus his documentary on Japanese American internment camps because his uncle was imprisoned during World War II. The StudentCam website has more information and a list of all the winners (and links to every video in each category).

Here’s also a link to a cool interview with Shimura and Sen. Daniel Inouye on C-SPAN.

Congrats to Shimura for winning the competition, and for the great hard work he did to produce the video. Nice job!

Mike Coffman stands by his apology, but won’t explain his birther statement about Obama

This is what a politician looks like when the media have him under an intense spotlight for a controversial statement.

Nice work by 9News investigative reporter and 9 pm anchor Kyle Clark, who contacted me yesterday to confirm that Republican Congressman Mike Coffman had indeed sent a surrogate to attend an Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month event over the weekend that Erin and I emceed.

What was Coffman thinking, baiting birthers and saying “in his heart, Barack Obama is not an American” to a room of conservative donors?


Rep. Coffman published a mea cupla in The Denver Post in which he flatout retracts his birther statement and says it was a “boneheaded” thing to say:

Last Saturday, at an event in Elbert County, I made an inappropriate and boneheaded comment. I misspoke and I apologize for doing so. I have never been afraid to admit when I am wrong, and I was wrong here.

More importantly, I was also wrong in another respect. I should never have questioned the president’s devotion to our country. The president and I disagree on many issues — his approach to health care, jobs and energy independence, to name a few. But disagreeing on these issues was not license for me to question his devotion to our country.

I believe President Obama loves this country and wakes up every morning trying to do what is best for our nation, even if I disagree with his approach. To question the president’s devotion to our country based on the fact that we disagree over policy issues was wrong of me and I am sorry.

That’s progress. Kudos to Coffman for coming clean. It’s still a bizarre statement, so we’ll see if it’s enough for the public — and the media — to move on.

President Barack Obama’s speech to 18th Annual Gala of the APAICS

President Obama never fails to inspire with his speeches, and for me, especially his speeches in support of the Asian American community. The video above is from his speech in Washington DC on May 18 at the 18th Annual Gala of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

And while I’m at it, I’m embedding Obama’s historic interview yesterday with Robin Roberts of ABC’s “Good Morning America” yesterday, during which he states that he now fully supports gay marriage. Here’s the entire segment and a transcript.

Although I’m sure he and his staff weighed the political pros and cons of making such a statement and decided the cons may not significantly affect his re-election campaign (it may help it, particularly with independent swing voters), I think it took some guts to say it. And for GLBT people everywhere, I can’t imagine the power such a statement of support from the President of the United States must convey.

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Pete Hoekstra’s racist Super Bowl campaign ad feeds — and feeds on — paranoia about China

(NOTE: Updates posted at bottom, including more parodies as they’re posted and more crazy stuff from Pete Hoekstra as he says them).

This ad was shown during the Super Bowl, but only in Michigan, where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra is running to unseat Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. The 30-second spot shows a pretty young Asian woman in what looks like Vietnam, riding a bicycle among rice paddies with a conical hat slung over her back, who stops and says to the camera, “Thank you Michigan senator Debbie Spend It Now,” for contributing to U.S. deficit spending and borrowing more and more money from China.

Yes, the ad shows Southeast Asia (a familiar sight to anyone with even a modicum of familiarity with world history of the past 40 years, and certainly Hoekstra) but it bashes China as a way to get at Stabenow. The woman in the ad never says “China” but it’s clear who the target is, as the woman speaks in her sort-of-broken English, after a gong (that’s not a cliche at all) starts off the spot:

“Debbie spent so much american money, you borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you debbie spend it now.”

The ad is so chockfull of racially-charged symbolism it’s disgusting as well as unintentionally comical (some Chinese are puzzled because they can see immediately the setting isn’t China).

It’s messed up and offensive on multiple levels, and not just because Hoekstra’s campaign chose to mash together westerner’s scant knowledge of Asia into one image: “Oh, relax, it’s all Oriental, right?” It plays on stereotypes of the “Hot Asian Babe,” Asians’ broken English, sense of superiority over outdated notions of third-world rice farming economies, and fear of China/Japan/Koreans/Viet Cong/the Asian flavor-of-the-year.

It’s also politically very dishonest.
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Mee Moua named as new president & executive director of Asian American Justice Center

Minnesota state senator Mee Moua, the highest serving Hmong American politician, speaks at a rally on Oct. 30, 2008 in support of Barack Obama, Al Franken and other Minnesota Democratic candidates. Photo by Calebrw, from Wikipedia Cool news this morning from the Asian American Justice Center, the DC-based AAPI civil rights and social justice organization, that it’s named Mee Moua as its new president and executive director.

Moua, a former Minnesota state senator who was the first Hmong American to ever be elected to public office in the U.S., is a terrific choice. She takes over for Karen Narasaki, who helmed the organization for 20 years before stepping down last summer. Moua is an inspirational and thoughtful leader and speaker, who understands her status as a pioneering role model for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in general, and the Hmong community in particular.

I had the honor of meeting Moua and hearing her speak several times.

The first time was during an Asian American Journalists Association convention held in Minneapolis; I was a mentor to student journalists who visited Moua in her statehouse office for an interview. She was gracious and enightening and the young journalists left in awe of her.

The second was when she spoke to a JACL Youth Conference via video. She apologized for not making it to the conference in person as planned (a last-minute legislative battle kept her in Minnesota), but told her inspiring personal story and urged the youth of JACL to strive for the best in themselves and in their country.

The third time was during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver — the one where Barack Obama was named the presidential candidate for the fall elections. She fired up the crowd at a Democratic National Committee’s AAPI Caucus meeting (you can see a two-part video of Moua speaking to supporters after her speech, below).

And most recently, Erin and I had the pleasure of having a great, free-wheeling conversation with her for one of our early visualizAsian.com shows (you can hear an audio file of the one-hour show here).

Moua is clearly committed to empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the AAJC is the perfect place for her leadership.
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