Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | asian american
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Judith_Hill-72dpi I was lucky enough to see Judith Hill perform during the 2010 convention in Los Angeles of the Asian American Journalists Association, when she played a set for opening night. Hill had a unique story as a performer: The daughter of an African American father and Japanese mother who are both professional musicians, she earned a degree in music composition. She woodshedded in France in 2007. Hill's professional breakthrough was supposed to be as Michael Jackson's duet partner for the "This Is It" tour. Yes, that's the tour that never happened because of Jackson's sudden death in June 2009. Although she was unknown at the time, Hill caught the attention of the world when she sang the lead on "Heal the World" during Jackson's televised memorial service. Her remarkable talent as a singer was also showcased in the October, 2009 release of the film "This Is It" documenting the rehearsals for the tour. Then she went largely off the grid.

sushi-istockphoto-72dpi Recently a Seattle sushi restaurant, Mashiko, posted an open letter on its website saying that people who criticize the restaurant for having non-Japanese employees sushi are bigots. “Stop being an ignorant racist,” the letter said, after noting that the restaurant is Japanese-owned and there are Japanese as well as non-Japanese staff. The letter also defends one of the restaurant’s most popular chefs, a Caucasian woman, who’s worked there for 12 years and has a loyal and devoted following. “Should you refuse her fare based on her gender or race, you are an absolute fool,” the letter states. I feel for the staff and owners of Mashiko, and I’m surprised that diners in such a great foodie town as Seattle would be so unsophisticated that they’d make decisions on food quality just on a racial basis. Still, I think this is a much more complicated discussion than just bigotry (though that's part of it, for sure).

mara-measor-72dpi Mara Measor's eponymous debut album is a late summer treat, a collection of songs colored by a diverse palette that span roots in folk, jazz and alt-rock, with a splash of arty chamber pop thrown in. Her stylistic range merges into a studied sound that's both memorable and intellectually satisfying. (Kudos to album producer Jamie Lawrence for his light touch and diverse approach to framing Measor's music.) Her bio compares her to a mashup of Jason Mraz and Regina Spektor, but Measor's artistic scope also reminds me of a Jane Siberry, an idiosyncratic Canadian singer-songwriter who's less known because she's marched to a different drum all her career. Measor's music has a broad appeal so I hope that she won't have to work the margins of the mainstream and can break through to a wider audience. mara-cover"Mara" deserves to be heard. It opens with insistent acoustic strumming that punctuates the desperation of "Desperate for You," and the track introduces Measor's supple, sultry voice, which can soar from a whisper to a full-throated roar, matched by an arrangement that builds when it needs to and then returns to a plaintive piano and Measor's solo strumming to let the listener back down. The tracks that follow showcase her sensibility with mostly downbeat ballads and mellow swing and her wordsmithing -- the only cover on the album is Coldplay's "The Scientist."

asiangirlz Los Angeles-based rock band Day Above Ground made a big deal of its July 27 debut video release of "Asian Girlz," but it's backfired and led to intense condemnation from Asian and Asian American groups and individuals. Add me to the list, please. This song and accompanying video is offensive on so many levels I'm practically speechless. It traffics in lowbrow racial stereotypes and low-bro sexual braggadocio about its subject line, Asian women. The combined IQ of the group must be abut 10, given their pre-teen horniness and neanderthal attitudes. It's hard to imagine any other intent -- social satire commentary, a criticism of sexual objectification of Asian women, clumsy attempt at post-racial parody -- than a bunch of dudes who fantasize about Asian women and their "creamy yellow thighs... slanty eyes" and other body parts. I hate the ching-chong wonton font that's used for the title credits. I hate the ching-chongy intro melody that evokes Asia Hollywood-style which crops up at various points in the song. It's an aural code as immediately identifiable as buck teeth and squinty eyes. I hate the smug white privilege that oozes from the singers' faces as they croak "You're my Asian girl." And I hate the creepy strip tease participation of model Levy Tran as she goes from enjoying these pint-sized pinheads' attention as they sing to her from a birdcage to letting them jump into the bathtub with her and swim between her legs. Yuck. I mean, really yuck.

asianarecisttweets I shouldn't be surprised or disappointed anymore, and accept the fact that there will always be idiotic people in the United States who probably function perfectly normally most of the time, and then turn into stupid racist haters the moment there's some sort of tragedy in the world that involves people of color. Two years ago, I was dumbfounded that Americans would rant and rave about the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan and claim it was somehow "god's revenge" for Pearl Harbor. What? But the glibness and ease with which such racist drivel finds its way from pea-brained individuals to the social webs is still shocking. Here I've been following the crash of the Asiana jetliner at SFO (an airport I often fly to and from) as a human tragedy, but a miracle with only two casualties. I've felt empathy for the families of the two schoolgirls who were killed, and the many survivors who were injured. But the fact that most of those onboard survived -- and that 123 survivors were able to walk away without being hospitalized -- is nothing short of amazing. But of course, the human stories of the crash don't matter to the racists who immediately feel the need to respond with jokes about Asian stereotypes (we're lousy drivers, har har) and hateful cracks about North Korea (hellooo, Seoul is in South Korea, and this was not an attack by Kim Jong Un on the US). That such a lowbrow, juvenile mentality switches on so quickly shows that racism and prejudice are still alive and well just beneath the veneer of political correctness that the haters always complain about. Scratch the veneer just a bit with a news event like this tragedy, and you'll see nothing but ugliness ooze out. That's why I write about these issues over and over.