Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | race
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UnityI’m disappointed that the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is pulling out of Unity, a partnership of journalists of color with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA — full disclosure: I’m the president of the Denver chapter of AAJA). It’ll diminish the power of next year’s Unity convention, which is slated for Las Vegas. The four Unity orgs have gotten together every four years for a combined confab since 1994. My introduction to both AAJA and Unity was an inspiring convention in 2004 in Washington DC, when both then-President Bush and presidential hopeful John Kerry spoke to the gathered attendees. Kerry got a noticeably more robust welcome from the assembled journalists of color, which was noted in the mainstream media. I also attended the 2008 Unity convention in Chicago, where candidate Barack Obama spoke. Both conventions were great learning experiences, and emotionally powerful experiences as well, for just being part of a large group of people of color.

The Sacramento Bee newspaper reported yesterday that Alexandra Wallace, the now-infamous UCLA poli-sci co-ed who posted a racist rant about Asians at her school, intended to start a blog about Asians in the library. The paper quoted her dad's Facebook account proudly stating that she was looking that morning for a URL addressing "Asians in the Library." I gave her the benefit of doubt and thought she posted "Asians in the Library" on YouTube in a fit of pique after a crappy week of mid-terms (she says "finals" in the video), but I guess I was naive. She was aiming for her 15 minutes of fame. Still, she probably didn't count on the tsunami of infamy (both puns intended, thank you) that greeted her stunt, which is why she deleted it. But it was too late, of course. The social Web doesn't allow for do-overs, and a bunch of copies of the video had already been made and re-posted. Now she's been covered by everyone from the Daily Bruin, her school paper, to the New York Times (which oddly did not get any interviews from Asian Americans in its short coverage of the flap.) I can only hope the shame and embarrassment of this incident will prevent her from coming up with any more ridiculous entrepreneurial ideas. But the disturbing part of the aftermath of the flap over her video is the level of violent commentary aimed back at her. Anger I get -- I'm pissed off every time I watch it too. Hate I get too, though I feel more disdain than hate. But she's getting death threats, which are alarming if if they're not meant seriously. This kind of response doesn't help fight her ignorance and racism.

OK, here's the first lesson of the Internet era, and especially social media: You can't it back if you say or do something stupid online. When I first saw UCLA co-ed Alexandra Wallace's hastily posted video on YouTube, I was appalled and planned to pounce on it. But after a little thought, I decided to wait. I was torn about giving her more attention than she's worth, because she could be hoping for exactly the flurry of response that would help her go viral with her video. Well, it's gone viral all right, but not in the way she intended.

the Campus Press is now the CU Independent Today is the third anniversary of the "War Against Asians" controversy, which was sparked by an ill-advised and poorly executed satire in the Campus Press, the student-run news website of the University of Colorado in Boulder. I remember the date because it ran on Feb. 18 -- one day before the annual Japanese American observance of Day of Remembrance, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 110,000 people of Japanese Ancestry, half born in the US and therefore American citizens. So here was this commentary by a young student journalist, who thought it would be appropriate to make fun of Asians on the CU campus in a piece titled "If it's war the Asians want... it's war they'll get." In my initial reaction to the article, I quoted this passage:
I'm such a fool for not realizing it sooner. I can't tell you how many times the Asians have treated me like a retarded weasel and I've forgiven them. But now I know that Asians are not just "a product of their environment," and their rudeness is not a "cultural misunderstanding." They hate us all. And I say it's time we started hating them back. That's right-no more "tolerance." No more "cultural sensitivity." No more "Mr. Pretend-I'm-Not-Racist." It's time for war. But we won't attack their bodies or minds. We will attack their souls."
Some people might say that we're being too sensitive, but every Asian I know was outraged and offended. The article spread like wildfire, passed along via email and word-of-mouth. It didn't just make an impression with readers on the CU campus -- especially Asian and Asian American students, who felt unsafe. It provoked passionate angry reactions within the Asian community in Denver, and with Asian student groups in Denver. I wrote my response (and a bunch of follow-up blog posts), and others did too. There were community meetings to discuss what steps to take to protest the column. A group of the area's Asian and Asian American leaders met with CU administrators, including the dean of the journalism school and the university's chancellor. Meetings were held. A public protest on campus drew the attention of the local media. Nobody thought it was funny. The repercussions from this column have echoed ever since -- and in good ways.

Site of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming Maria Hinojosa, a very respected journalist for NPR and PBS who's currently working on a Frontline documentary about the detention camps holding Latin Americans suspected of being illegal immigrants, visited the University of Colorado this week. She gave a speech Tuesday night but that day she had a casual free lunch discussion with students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She described the film she's working on, and some of the heartbreaking stories of families torn apart and the shame and embarrassment the detainees face. Her description conjured up for me how Japanese American families must have felt in 1942 as they were being rounded up and sent to internment camps in desolate parts of the Western United States during World War II, including Heart Mountain in Wyoming, shown above with a still-standing tarpaper-covered barrack. I asked her, since February 19 is the annual Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans, if she found it especially ironic that she's working on this documentary and giving a speech this week. Hinojosa looked at me, stunned. She clearly knew about Japanese American internment. But she had no idea there was such as thing as Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans.