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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Asian Americans are making progress in mainstream American pop culture

I Am Bruce Lee

I happened to catch a terrific documentary the other night, “I Am Bruce Lee,” which combines a well-researched biography of the late great martial arts star Bruce Lee with interviews with everyone from his wife Linda Lee Caldwell, to LA Lakers star (and martial artist) Kobe Bryant who discuss Lee’s legacy and enormous influence on American pop culture.

Much of the documentary focuses on Lee’s efforts to overcome racial stereotypes of Asians that were prevalent in the 1960s and ’70s (many are still with us), and his struggles against a system that was stacked against featuring a male Asian in a leading role.

One segment got me thinking, where the film asserts that the system is still stacked against Asians – even today, there has been no major Asian male star who has the draw of, say, a Brad Pitt.

Sure, Jet Li for a time took up the martial arts mantle, and so did Jackie Chan. But Li’s talent never transcended his action roles, and Chan’s brand in Hollywood is as a comedic lightweight even though he can act in dramatic parts. Plus, once niched into martial arts, you’re always a martial artist. Even Bruce Lee might not have overcome that hurdle, had he lived.

There are some potential future contenders, though: John Cho can hopefully rise above the youth market appeal of the “Harold and Kumar” films and build on his butt-kicking role as Sulu in the new “Star Trek” movies, and it’s possible to imagine Tim Kang (TV’s “The Mentalist”) and Sung Kang (the “Fast and Furious” movies) cast as big-budget leads someday.

But I can’t monku (complain) too much about the lack of Asian men in star positions. The fact is, we’re doing so much better than just a few years ago in Hollywood, that we should be celebrating.

Less than a decade ago, I was giving speeches on the lack of Asian faces on TV and in movies.
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Project Renew: Hip hop meets Asian traditional performances to benefit Lao Buddhist Temple rebuilding

Project Renew was a night of cross-cultural splendor, with hip-hop dance groups alternating with traditional Asian cultural groups, including adorable little girls from the Lao Buddhist Temple; Denver Taiko’s thundering Japanese drums; a troupe that showed the Spirit of Cambodia; and Mudra Dance Studio, the energetic and dynamic group that mixes classical Indian dance with the flash and pop instincts of Bollywood choreography.

The event, organized by a pair of young Asian Americans, Joie Ha and Leo Tsuo, was a fundraiser for the Lao Buddhist Temple of Colorado, which burned to the ground in December.

The concert was a success, filling the Davis Auditorium on the University of Denver campus and raising over $4,300 for the Laotian community.

The fundraiser was a testament to the sense of community unity between young people who identity as Asian Americans as well as by their ethnic heritage. The two event organizers are Chinese American, not Laotian. The amiable and effective emcee, Ellis Min, is a b-boy who is Korean American. And the presence of Japanese, Indian and Cambodian traditional performers in addition to the Laotian community’s traditional dance group, plus the mix of ethnicity among the hip-hop groups, is a reflection of the diversity of Asian America today.

Project Renew was a powerful statement. I expect more powerful statements will come from the area’s next generation of AAPI leaders.

You can still donate to the Lao Buddhist Temple of Colorado’s rebuilding fund on their website.

Here’s the full performance by Hype 303, who I think are ready to audition for “America’s Best Dance Crew.” They closed out Project Renew with their rousing choreography:

Iron Man, Marvel-ous superheroes and Asian Americans

I wanted to grow up to be a Marvel comics artist

Once upon a time, I went to art school. And although I graduated with a completely useless (career-wise, anyway) BFA in Painting, I chose art school because once upon a time, I wanted to work for Marvel Comics. Real bad. See above.

When I was a kid, I loved Marvel’s lineup of superheroes because they had all-too-human frailties when they weren’t busting up crime in their empowered alter-egos. Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, The Mighty Thor, The Avengers, The X-Men… I collected ’em all. I also had a few issues of Superman and Batman and other DC comics lying around, but I wasn’t a DC fanatic. I was, however, card-carrying member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, the fan club started in 1964. I had posters (Thor against a psychedelic rainbow in black light in my room looked very cool), stickers, notepads and lots and lots of comics. I had a comic-fan penpal in Australia that I still think about now and then. And, I wrote letters to Marvel about every other month in the hopes of having one of my missives published. Alas, none of them ever ran.

I also drew comics. I wish I’d kept some of them, with dialogue, panels and all. They sucked of course, but they were drawn with the complete self-absorption of of a pre-teen, and that passion eventually turned into some bit of talent, enough to get me into Pratt Institute in New York… a few steps closer to Marvel than high school in Denver. The rest, as they say, is history.

Punk rock, college radio, guitar, big ol’ canvases, The Village and New York’s many distractions distracted me away from my commercial art career, and I eventually ended up a writer — go figger — much to my tuition-paying parents’ chagrin. Besides, my too-Japanese mom decided to eliminate my brother and my clutter when we went off to college, and threw out anything of consequence from our childhoods… including my remaining boxes of comics.

But I still have a soft spot for superheroes, especially ones of the Marvel variety.

So it’s been great over the past decade to watch the Merry Marvel Marching parade of comic-bound characters spring to glorious computer-animated life on the movie screen, with each new movie taking advantage of ever cooler, ever newer technology to create the best special effects ever. Of all of these, I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the smart, funny spectacularly entertaining Iron Man movies best. Continue reading

A last-minute Census reminder for Asian Americans

I’ve been meaning to post a reminder for everyone (non-Asians too!) to fill out your U.S. Census forms, or if you don’t get it done and postmarked by the end of March, to be sure respond to census workers when they come to your door in the months to come.

It’s especially important for ethnic minority communities to be counted because an accurate accounting means every community will receive the federal services and funding it deserves. And remember, this has nothing to do with citizenship, or whether you’re a student, visitor, legal, illegal, whatever. It’s just counting people across the U-S of A.

Here’s an article from the JACL about the Census and why it’s important:

JACL Says “Get Everyone Counted in the 2010 Census”

By Phillip Ozaki and Carla Pineda

Another decade has gone by, so that means its Census time! The JACL is making extraordinary efforts to make sure everybody in our community gets counted. Over $400 billion in federal funding is at stake. One person left out is equal to a loss of $1,300 over the next 10 years to his neighborhood. Everyone deserves a piece of the pie so make sure to get your forms in at the beginning of April. Historically, racial minorities have been undercounted including Asian Pacific Americans, and the JACL hopes to prevent that in 2010. Continue reading