BANANA, the first Asian American bloggers’ conference, to convene in LA

The Banana conference of Asian American bloggers will be held Nov. 21, 2009 in Los Angeles.

When I first started the Nikkei View as a weekly column in 1998 that ran in a Denver Japanese community newspaper (now gone), I posted the columns on my website. I wrote as a way of telling the world how I saw pop culture and politics through my Japanese American experience. In the decade since then, I’ve become involved in the larger Asian American Pacific Islander community, and converted the old website to this here blog.

At the time, I don’t think there were a lot of Asian Americans writing stuff on the web like I was. There may have been, but I didn’t reach out to find them. There were columnists who’d paved the way in traditional media (newspapers), like the late Bill Hosokawa, whose footsteps I followed early on, and Emil Guillermo of AsianWeek. The cool magazine Giant Robot launched back in 1994. The terrific Pacific Citizen newspaper had been publishing for decades, but didn’t have a website until a few years ago.

But there weren’t a lot of columns being posted online back in the day.

Now, the blogosphere allows for many voices from the AAPI community — the long list in my blogroll on the right of this page is always growing as I find new blogs to add — and a couple of them have risen to national prominence.

So Erin and I are planning to participate in a first-ever gathering of Asian American Pacific Islander bloggers called BANANA, Nov. 21 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (it’s a link to a Facebook page). It’s being organized by Lac Su, the author of the terrific memoir “I Love Yous Are for White People,” who ironically is not a blogger. (We’ll be interviewing Lac Su on Nov. 17 for

BANANA will hopefully establish once and for all that there’s an emerging chorus of voices that’s distinctly Asian American, that’s rooted in many Asian ethnic heritages, but is all tied together by shared experiences and values from living in, being born in and growing up in, these United States of America.

Not all of the bloggers I mention below will be at the BANANA event (see Joz’s comment below), but a couple of these voices have even developed a national audience outside the AAPI population: Continue reading

Asian Americans have a place in the Obama administration

The Asian American blogosphere is all abuzz, and with good reason. The White House has more AAPIs in high places (the Cabinet) than ever in history. And yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order restoring the President’s Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who is Chinese American, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will serve as co-chairs.

The the commission was originally created during the Clinton administration, but it expired during George W. Bush’s presidency and was not reauthorized. That alone says a lot about Bush’s view of AAPIs as a force in this country, I think. It also says a lot about Obama’s empathy for and understanding of AAPIs as a people who are woven throughout the fabric of American society.

As part of the ceremony, Obama also paid tribute to the South Asian celebration of Diwali, the end of the harvest season in India and Nepal.

The video of the ceremony is above; here’s the full text of President Obama’s speech: Continue reading

PostMimi: send a postcard with your Asian American secret

Psst… listen… do you want to know a secret? Fans of the ongoing art project “PostSecret” will be happy to see that an Asian American version of the idea has just launched.

Like the original, PostMimi is a site that invites Asian Americans to send in postcards expressing a secret (“mimi” means “secret” in Chinese). Well, I think the point is to have postcards but it looks like the site’s already getting just emails with text.

Here’s what Karen, the founder of PostMimi, has to say in her introductory blog post:

“MiMi” is the Chinese word for “secret.” What’s yours? Share your inner happiness, joys, sorrows, triumphs, and frustrations in being an Asian-American today. Sometimes, other people just don’t “get it,” but we can help each other.

NOTE(s): Do not think that your MiMi’s HAVE to be culturally related. Just make what comes organically. Your background and culture already colors how you perceive everything. Also, if you are not Asian-American, but have something to contribute, submissions from ALL people are welcome.

I would also like to encourage people to create response PostMiMi’s (aka Holler Back MiMi’s) to any that are posted on the blog. The goal is to get a dialogue going through pictures and words.

E-mail your lovely, thought-provoking, Asian-American creations to:

or, they can be mailed to:

Apt. 206
3215 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218

All postcards will be kept anonymous.

I’ll have to think a bit about what secret I want to share… how about you? a new site that celebrates Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Secretary Norman Mineta Erin and I are launching a new site this week,, that will celebrate the accomplishments of Asian American Pacific Islanders with live audio interviews conducted over a conference phone line that will also be streamed live on a webcast, and then will be playable online afterwards.

We’re pleased to announce the debut interview will be with Norman Mineta, the former Secretary of Transportation and a longtime public servant.

This interview is particularly perfect because we’re doing it on May 21, while it’s still Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Not only is Mineta the first Asian American to be appointed to a Cabinet position (Secretary of Commerce under Bill Clinton) and the longest-serving Secretary of Transportation in U.S. history (under George Bush), he was also a co-sponsor, along with Congressman Frank Horton (R-NY) of both the 1978 House Resolution establishing Pacific/Asian Heritage Week and the 1992 bill that expanded the week into “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”

His years in political office came in contrast to his childhood experience, imprisoned during World War II in a Japanese American internment camp.

Mineta was born in San Jose, California, to Japanese immigrant parents who were not allowed to become U.S. citizens at that time. During WWII the Mineta family was interned in the Heart Mountain internment camp near Cody, Wyoming, along with thousands of other Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans.

Here’s how the interviews will work: notable AAPIs will be interviewed via a conference call and streamed live online — it’s like the new evolution of talk radio — and the calls will be archived online. You can submit questions to the interviewee before and during the interview, through a form on the website. You’ll need to register for the calls to listen, submit questions or replay, and if you dial in, long distance charges may apply (the interview’s completely free on the webcast, of course).

We’re excited about these interviews, which we’re calling the Asian American Empowerment Series.’s goal is to feature free interviews with leading Asian American Pacific Islanders from politics, pop culture, business and more, as a way to inspire and empower other AAPIs to follow in their footsteps. The next interview’s already scheduled for June 2 with author and activist Phoebe Eng, and future interviews will include actor and activist Tamlyn Tomita, “Survivor: Cook Islands” winner Yul Kwon and journalist/activist Helen Zia.

We decided to start because we’re still largely invisible within the American mainstream. We’re doing much better in entertainment — we’re on a lot more TV shows, for instance, and though not the lead character, we’re playing more and more strong support characters. We’re visible in the news media to an extent, and now we’re much more visible in the highest levels of government. But there aren’t enough of us in politics, or in the media, to where decision-makers know about the AAPI community on a consistent basis. We have the highest percentage of college degrees of all minority groups, but represent only a tiny fraction of executive-level management in coprorate America.

What’s with that? We think that by promoting and celebrating those of us who accomplish great things in their lives, others of us will become inspired and empowered to follow in their footsteps. Erin often paraphrases a quote from Phoebe Eng from her terrific (and inspiring book, “Warrior Lessons:” “Growing up Asian in America is like looking in the mirror and not seeing any reflection.”

It’s time to shine a light on ourselves so we can finally see how great we are.

If you can think of other notable AAPIs, let us know, and we’ll try to track them down for future interviews!

Asian American artists’ hidden history (and my claim to almost-fame)

Asian Americans are finally showing up in American pop culture at large, but Asian American fine artists are still mostly invisible. Only a few have had notable — or rather, noted — careers in the art world.

When I was an art student, I didn’t think much of my heritage. You might say it was my “Banana Period.” As an artist, I didn’t appreciate my ethnicity, even when I was included in a group show of Japanese artists and my painting was bought by a famous playwright (keep reading below).

I simply didn’t identify myself as an Asian American artist. I was simply an artist, and the art I made was informed by my 8th grade art teacher, Julie Maiolo, my high school art teacher, Jay Filson, and all my professors (especially color theorist Mary Buckley), as well as the art history teachers and books I soaked up. Which meant my awareness of art was all Euro-centric.

In all of that art history and theory, what I knew of Asia in art was that calligraphy was beautiful, ink painting was hard but similar in process to watercolor, and that Japanese woodblocks inspired the French Impressionists that I loved so much.

So it’s understandable that I assumed any artist with an Asian name was Asian, not Asian American. For instance, for years I thought the sculptor Isamu Noguchi was Japanese, even though he was born in Los Angeles.

But now, the hidden history of Asian American artists is finally getting a jump start, thanks to two projects.

First is the first extensive exhibition of Asian American artists, “Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900–1970,” curated by the de Young Museum, part of the San Francisco Fine Art Museum (there’s a companion book available). The exhibit opened in October, and runs through late January. Then the work moves to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City near New York.

Second is the publication of “Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970,” by Stanford University Press.
Continue reading