“Fresh Off the Boat” could be the tipping point on TV for Asian Americans


There’s a new ABC sitcom being aired starting in February that I can hardly wait to see. I’m hoping “Fresh Off the Boat” will finally be a show where I can see people like me acting the way my family acts, with funny American situations but filtered through an Asian cultural perspective. I expect it’ll be a moment of critical mass for Asians on the U.S. pop consciousness.

It’s about time.

As a baby boomer, I grew up with very few Asian Americans on television. Few enough that everyone stood out. Even until recent years, my wife and I would point to the TV everytime we saw a minor character on TV played by an Asian, or an Asian face on a TV commercial, and yell, “Asian spotting!”

Among the first notable Asian Americans to be spotted on the small screen was Hawaii-born Filipino musician and comic Poncie Ponce, who was cast as the wise-cracking, ukulele-playing cab driver Kazuo “Kim” Quizado on the detective drama “Hawaiian Eye” which aired from 1959-1963.

My earliest memories of seeing an Asian on TV were of Hop Sing, the Chinese cook on “Bonanza,” a Western that also debuted in 1959 but ran until 1973. Hop Sing, played by U.S.-born actor Victor Sen Yung, wore a long queue hanging from under his cap, and diligently fed the Cartwright family for the run of the series, though I don’t recall that he ever cooked up Chinese food, or Chinese American dishes like chop suey, for Hoss and the others. He did face racism in a few episodes, though.
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Susane Lee’s “Dream Big” video is a funny, biting, truthful look at how Hollywood sees Asians (NSFW)


Asian American actress Susane Lee has had a number of roles mostly in theater and television, including series such as “Gilmore Girls” and “Young and Restless.” She’s also performed in a handful of indie films and had a supporting role in “The Soloist,” the 2009 feature film starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

Now, she’s made a very funny and in-your-face rap video, “Dream Big,” that calls out the Hollywood stereotypes that hold back Asians from stardom.

Asian faces are much more common than even just a decade ago (thank you Sandra Oh, John Cho, Grace Park, Ming Na Wen, Kenneth Choi, Maggie Q, Daniel Dae Kim, Lucy Liu, Kal Penn, Mindy Kaling, Ken Jeong and many others), and those roles (mostly) don’t have to be played with thick accents and they’re not just martial artists or exotic sex kittens.

But we’re still in the minority in lead roles. We’re still too often the sidekicks and assistants.

And, it’s far too easy for the mainstream to marginalize us as the butt of ethnic jokes, like the racist stereotypes of the new Fox show “Dads.”

So hooray for Susane Lee for releasing this uncompromising and hilarious diatribe against Hollywood’s tunnel vision of Asians. Enjoy!

(Note: “uncompromising” and “in your face” means she drops the “F-bomb” a lot, so you probably don’t want to be playing this video loud at your office. If you wanna see it sans F-bombs, here’s a sanitized version of the video)

NMA.TV responds to US college student’s racist video, “Why I’d hate to be Asian”

Taiwan’s Next Media Animation, which produces animated commentary on news events, has become a reliable source for grins after every big international news story for their… uh, slant on world affairs.

This time they’ve responded to a U.S. college student Samuel Hendrickson’s racist rant on YouTube, Why I’d hate to be Asian” (which has since been removed, but you can read his points on 8 Asians’ response). His video evoked memories of Alexandra Wallace, who produced an offensive video after the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami that made disparaging remarks, among other things, about Asian students at UCLA who were calling their families in japan to see if they were OK.

NMA’s response had me laughing out loud, though to be honest, it traffics in Hendrickson-style racist stereotypes by showing white women in Indiana to all be big fat farmers. My favorite responses are to “Most Asians look alike” and Hendrickson’s comment about pot-smoking Asians (the point he makes is that smoking pot makes Asians’ “Chink-eye” so small they look closed). (Language NSFW…) Also, NMA’s counter to Hendrickson’s crack about sweat shops is a little too approving of the reality of sweatshops.

It’s been a bad week for anti-Asian racism:
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Does Buddhism have a diversity problem?

Bronze Buddha at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

This bronze statue of Buddha, at 15 meters (almost 50 feet, or five stories) tall, is the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. It sits in one of the largest wooden structures in the world, Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. I shot this photo during a 2011 trip.

An excellent, thoughtful and thought-provoking article on Huffington Post about the lack of diversity in the Buddhism community in the U.S., “Buddhist ‘People Of Color Sanghas,’ Diversity Efforts Address Conflicts About Race Among Meditators” got me pondering about race and religion. The article, by Jaweed Kaleem, HuffPo’s National Religion Reporter, focuses on Buddhist groups throughout the country but specifically in Seattle, which are almost entirely run by older white practitioners of Buddhism and meditation. This lack of diversity, Kaleem says, has led to a subculture of Buddhist “sanghas,” or groups, of color — white folk not allowed.

Here in Seattle, one of the least racially diverse cities with one of the largest Buddhist communities in the country, a controversial movement in American Buddhism is forming. A handful of exclusive “people of color” Buddhist groups have started to meet each week, far away from the long-established — and almost entirely white — major Buddhist meditation centers that have dominated the Pacific Northwest’s well-known Buddhist scenes. Many members, who have until now shied away from meditation and Buddhism, say practicing away from the white majority, among whom they say they don’t feel welcome, has spiritually empowered them — and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s part of the same demographic tsunami that washed away hopes of a Republican White House and Senate a few weeks ago, but scaled to spirituality. As someone who often enters a room looking for people of color as a measure of diversity, I certainly understand one black woman’s reaction in the article when she attended an all-white Buddhist group’s meeting — she felt she didn’t fit in.
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