Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | pop culture
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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...

Yuki Kokubo, a talented filmmaker and photojournalist whom I met at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in Detroit last year, certainly has been busy. She's been working on a documentary about her hometown of Kasama, Japan, which is not far south of Fukushima, in the part of Japan devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011....

Lynn Chen, one of our favorite actress/food bloggers, is working on a film and reaching out for supporters to donate towards the production. This is an indie project feature film (not a documentary), called "The Man's Guide to Love," written and directed by Chen's cousins, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, based on a website of the same name launched by...

Pekin Chinks -- the high school school mascot name of Pekin, Ohio until 1980 In the midst of the media hullabaloo over ESPN's "Chink in the armor" headline about Jeremy Lin, I had a conversation with a journalism professor at the University of Colorado, where I work as staff adviser to the CU Independent, the student-run news website for the Boulder campus. What the media need, we decided, is remedial lessons in racist imagery and epithets. Both the editor and anchor who were disciplined by "the Worldwide leader in sports" claimed they didn't mean anything racial by the use of the phrase with the "c-word." OK, granted, the phrase is an old one used to describe a weakness in armor, but who would use the word today and NOT feel a twinge of conscience, a mental red flag, about its century of use as a racist slur? Why wouldn't you use any number of other words? Apparently, some people -- especially young people -- today don't know or don't remember that the "c-word" is the equivalent of the "n-word" to Asian Americans. That's a good thing, because it means the word is seldom used as a slur these days. But that doesn't mean we can start using it willy-nilly again. I grew up having the word hurled in my direction as kids yelled at me to "go home." I've been called every one of those words: "Jap," "Nip," "Gook," "Slope," "Chinaman," "Ching-Chong," Slant-Eye"... an entire dictionary of racist words. Some of them as you can see, have non-racial meanings, like slope or nip. But call me over-sensitive, when I see the words "chink in the armor" or "nip in the air" in print my stomach clenches. And the same goes for an awful lot of other Asian Americans, although yes, not every Asian American agrees (you can call Michelle Malkin anything you want, I guess and it won't bother her). The Asian American Journalists Association released a Media Advsiory on covering Jeremy Lin last week, and hopefully that will help curb some of the national media's dumber inclinations and make writers and editors think at least a moment before they blurt out something they'll regret later. But what can you do if some journalists (and people in general) don't know that certain words or phrases have a racial connotation, perhaps a forgotten one from the past? I've met a few people who honestly didn't know that "chink" is an offensive reference to Asians. The fact is, words and their meanings evolve. The Pekin, Illinois high school team for many decades was called the "Chinks" even though their mascot was a dragon (see the graphic above). In 1980, after years of controversy and over the objection of the students, the team was changed to the Dragons. I'm sure they didn't think the word was so bad because they didn't mean it as a racial epithet. Even the seemingly benign word "Oriental" has evolved. It originally referred to the Orient, or the Far East. Some Asians today still use the term to describe their grocery stores, and it's still commonly used to describe rugs (from the Middle East). But it was used so often as a word to refer to negative stereotypes that today, the acceptable word in common usage is "Asian." "Oriental" is for rugs, "Asian" is for people. The Asian American civil rights organization JACL has a series of pamphlets including this one, "Word can kill the spirit... 'Jap' is a derogatory term!" that lists some of the slurs that target Asians. The JACL's various pamphlets are available digitally on their website but they're hard to find. The AAJA also is revising its APA Handbook for covering Asian Americans, with this addendum currently available (they'll be combined in the new revised edition being published this summer). Other than these, there aren't a resource that I know of besides a few websites including this Wikipedia entry on ethnic slurs where people can go and learn about or check whether certain words are slurs or not. Maybe I should write a quick ebook. But here's one more example just this week of an innocent use of a word that made me feel uncomfortable, and I'm glad I acted on my instincts to reach out and educate a friend:

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...

OK, so you might think writing about sunglasses is not nearly as important as writing about racism or Asian American role models or earthquakes in Japan. But I submit that the search for glasses that fit on Asian faces without sliding down our noses and smearing on our cheeks, or smashing our eyelashes (those of us who have long lashes, real or fake) can be pretty darned important, and for one Japanese American entrepreneur, downright critical. I've worn glasses since third grade, except for a few years after 2000 when I got lasiked and experienced the miracle of not having to wear glasses. Today, my eyes have gotten worse so I need to wear glasses again but I take them off when I'm sitting at the computer and don't need them for watching TV. And the glasses I do wear have much -- much -- thinner lenses than I've worn in the past. But one frustrating part of being Asian and wearing glasses is that I couldn't wear plastic frame or horn-rimmed style glasses or sunglasses without having them slip down my nose and stick against my cheeks. My low bridge and high cheekbones never quite fit with the small protruding attached nose pieces those kinds of frames had. Instead, I had to order wire-framed glasses because they had the adjustable nose-pieces that I could pull out (I broke them off a couple of times) to make the glasses sit better on my nose. There have been times when wireframes have been hip, so I accepted my fate. But I wasn't able to wear timeless cool sunglasses like the original Ray-Ban Wayfarer, without pushing them up very few minutes. But one entrepreneurial Japanese American, Megumi Hosogai, is bringing fashion flash to Asian faces with her MEGUMI-O sunglasses, Jackie Onassis-style big round sunglasses that scream retro-chic on any face. Hosogai created a frame that Jackie-O might have worn, but with an extended bridge designed specially for Asian faces (or for people who have extra-long eyelashes). So far she has them available in a handful of LA boutiques, but she's started a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise money to mass-produce her glasses.

I've been adding updates to the bottom of my previous post on Jeremy Lin, but there's simply too much still flying across the Internet radar, and that post is already too long. So I thought I'd comment separately about the issue of Asian American identity and our embrace of the Jeremy Lin phenomenon. As I write this, the New York Knicks...