Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | asian american
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We don't have cable TV -- at least, not at the moment -- and don't have a TiVo or other digital video recorder. We also don't watch much broadcast TV. Instead, we catch up on TV series on DVD, thanks to Netflix. We've burned through entire seasons of "24," "Alias," "X-Files," "Smallville," "Sopranos," "Six Feet Under" and more in just a few evenings of crazed viewing. That's just the TV shows -- we also watch way too many movies, thanks again to Netflix. OK, so it's not healthy. But it means we control our movie and TV consumption. WE control the remote, not "The Outer Limits." Until now, all this controlled viewing still required a television. Now, there's another way: the PC. My laptop not only plays DVDs, it can also play a number of TV programs, because increasingly, television networks are streaming content on the Internet. I love all this access, because it extends my control, and allows me to watch TV when I want, or when I can. I'm currently catching up on "Heroes," because I've missed a few of the episodes.

The world lost a food pioneer on January 5. Momofuku Ando, 97, the self-professed "Noodle King," was the man who invented instant ramen -- the low budget dining delicacy of college students everywhere. Long before sushi, there was another and more profound Japanese food invasion in the United States. Since the mid-1970s, instant ramen has been bringing Asian culinary subtlety (OK, so it's not exactly subtle) to young American palates for mere pennies a bowl. Ramen may be an ubiquitous presence in US grocery stores today, but it was only introduced in America in 1972. It took several years and some marketing savvy -- the inexpensive packages of fried and dried, boil and serve noodles didn't catch on until they were sold in the soup aisle in the supermarket -- before ramen caught on as a dorm room staple. Although ramen is a relatively young food in America, it has a long and distinguished history in Asia.

A friend of mine just got some nice news to finish out the year. Daigo Fujiwara is a Japanese-born journalist, graphic artist, Web dude and baseball fanatic who now lives in Boston and works for the Boston Globe and Boston.com as a graphic artist. Yesterday, Boston.com announced that it had cut a content partnership with "an established Japanese baseball site" called Go-RedSox.com. It turns out the man behind that Japanese language Web site for the Sox is none other than Daigo Fujiwara.

Note: The blog I just posted got me to thinking about a column I wrote way back in the day, before blogs were a twinkle in some developer's eye, about Asians on TV. It's posted in the archives of my Nikkeiview site, but I thought I'd re-post it here. I wrote this after seeing the final "Seinfeld" episode. Like a zillion other people across the country, I tuned in to the final episode of "Seinfeld," and I gotta say, I was only mildly impressed. Oh, I liked the show whenever I caught it, but I was a casual viewer, so the nasty humor that the characters reveled in didn't connect with me the way they may have for diehard fans. What the show did, especially with its segments making fun of foreigners, was get me thinking about Asian faces on TV. As a Japanese-American kid enchanted by American popular culture of the 1960s, it never occurred to me growing up that there were very few people like me on the shows I watched for hours on end.

When “Survivor” announced its just-ended season, I was one of the many critics who thought splitting up the tribes along racial factors was a stupid and potentially harmful idea. After just two episodes, the series mixed the groups. On the season finale that just aired, an Asian American man, Yul Kwon, won. He is the Survivor. How cool is that? In the end, it wasn’t race at all, but his smarts and his determination that helped him outlast the others. It probably didn’t hurt that he’s remarkably hunky, but isn’t everyone on the show? He was quoted eloquently in the Contra Costa Times (and cited by Hyphen Blog): "’I wanted America to see Asian-American men as they truly are,’ he said while speaking about the under-representation of minorities on television. ...’I want to be a very visible spokesman for talking about how we can get more minorities on TV.’"

Erin and I attended a networking event tonight of a new organization forming in Denver, the Colorado Chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, and had a great time with a spirited group of Asian Americans. We saw some familiar faces, but Erin and I were delighted to find that we didn't know most of the attendees -- it's nice to see new (and young) Asians adding their voices to the APA community. During the meeting, which was held in a hip and popular Cherry Creek sushi bar named Hapa, one of the women asked Erin if she was Chinese, and didn't believe it when Erin replied she was Japanese American. Then the woman looked at me and asked if I was mixed, or hapa (a Hawaiian word for half-white which started out as a derogatory, but is now widely used and accepted). I explained I'm full Japanese -- my dad was born in Hawai'i but he was full Japanese, and my mom is from Japan.

I guess the upside is that some non-Asians have now learned (we hope) that saying "ching-chong, ching-chong" as a way of mocking Asian languages is offensive to Asian Americans. The downside is that many non-Asians are probably still left thinking that all Asian languages sound alike (they don't). And, Rosie O'Donnell probably skated from any further repercussions from this stupid gaffe by giving her on-camera "non-apology apology." It's just another typical example of someone brushing off responsibility by putting the blame of being offensive on the people who were offended ("I'm sorry you/they were offended"). I wish she'd just said, which she almost did when she admitted she didn't know about Asian Americans growing up hearing "ching-chong" as a racist taunt, that she was sorry she said it, period. Anyway, here's the video, care of YouTube:

Asians traditionally don't speak up about injustices -- it's the "don't bring attention to yourself," "don't complain, it'll cause trouble" syndrome. But more and more, Asian Americans are different. So when Rosie O'Donnell mocked the sound of the Chinese language a week ago on "The View," the Asian American Journalists Association's New York chapter e-mail list began a spirited conversation, with most members outraged and demanding an apology and some cautioning that O'Donnell hadn't gone on a racist "rant" like Michael Richards, and that it was a poor attempt at humor. I wasn't laughing. Like many Asian Americans, I was familiar with that "ching-chong, ching-chong" sound, from when I was taunted by European-American kids telling me to go back where I came from. That sound makes my gut clench as much as a punch. (Click here for the video on YouTube.)