Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | aapi
397
archive,paged,tag,tag-aapi,tag-397,paged-2,tag-paged-2,qode-quick-links-1.0,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-title-hidden,qode-theme-ver-11.0,qode-theme-bridge,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.1.1,vc_responsive

The Austin Asian American Film Festival. Alas, there is no Asian film festival in Denver. There used to be -- the Aurora Asian Film Festival was held in Denver's eastern suburb (people in Aurora hate for their city to be called a suburb). It was sponsored by the Denver Film Society, the folks who bring the annual Deniver International Film Festival to town. But it folded after a few years because the local AAPI community didn't support it (Japanese only went to Japanese films, Chinese went to Chinese films, Filipinos... well you get it. And, many of the communities tried to have too much of a say in what movie should or should not screen. If it was racy, or showed a negative side of the community, the Film Society would get push back to switch the film, or have to fight to show it. So ultimately, it was too much hassle for the trouble. As the Japanese would say, it was mendokusai (a pain in the ass). So I read with envy as the months go by about the San Diego Asian Film Festival, the San Francisco Asian Film Festival, and others. Because I can't go, I usually don't write about them. I tend to write about things that affect readers here in Debver, whether it's a national issue that affects all Asian Americans, or about a Denver Asian community event. But I want to say a few words about the Austin Asian American Film Festival, because 1) it's in one of my all-time favorite towns and 2) I beat up on Austin a little bit a couple of months ago when I wrote about an Asian festival down there that used the "wonton" font, which bugged me, and 3) because Eugenia Beh is doing the publicity for the festival and she's cool and works tirelessly for AAPI causes including Asian Americans for Obama. I traveled to Austin for many years during my music critic days, to spend a blissful week at the South By Southwest Music & Media Conference, and most of the time was spent enjoying Austin and the great food and the great people... and oh yeah, listening to a lot of music. I wish I could go to the AAAFF -- it sounds wonderful.

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:

Lane Nishikawa, writer, star and director of "Only the Brave," which comes out on DVD nationally on VeteranWow. Wow. Wow. It's a triple play. It's a hat trick. It's an Asian American trinity, sort of. Erin and I have booked three killer guests for our visualizAsian.com series of interviews in the AAPI Empowerment Series: Next Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 6 pm PT we'll speak to filmmaker Lane Nishikawa of "Only the Brave," an independent movie about the Japanese American soldiers who fought during World War II that will be released nationwide on Veteran's Day; On Tuesday, Nov. 10, we'll spend an hour getting to know Phil Yu, the man behind the must-read news site about Asian Americans, AngryAsianMan.com; And on Tuesday, Nov. 17, we'll meet Lac Su, the author of a powerful new memoir, "I Love Yous Are for White People."

Vincent Chin was murdered in 1982 by out-of-work auto workers in Detroit. His death marked the emergence of the pan-Asian community as a political force.Vincent Chin was beaten with a baseball bat 27 years ago today in a Detroit suburb, and died four days later. At the time, I was three years out of art school, managing a paint store, and was a budding young rock critic writing for Denver's alternative newspaper, Westword. I didn't follow any news coverage about the attack on Vincent Chin, and I was clueless about the importance of his tragic death. I was still a "banana" -- yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. Like the name of the 2008 documentary film about the impact of Chin's murder on the Asian American community, if you had asked me then about him, I would have said, "Vincent who?" Today, Vincent Chin is very much on my mind. I haven't seen director Tony Lam's "Vincent Who?" yet, but I definitely feel I'm a part of Chin's legacy. In the decades since, I've become aware and much more appreciative of my ethnic roots, culture and history as a Japanese American, which I used to take for granted. I've also become much more aware of my place in the much larger Asian American community.

Author and activist Phoebe EngErin Yoshimura and I started visualizAsian.com to interview Asian American Pacific Islander leaders and tell their stories to empower other AAPIs to follow in their footsteps. So far, it's been an absolute blast. The website launched with a conversation with former Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta on May 21, and this week we spoke with Yul Kwon, the hunky winner of "Survivor: Cook Islands." Both men told powerful stories about the challenges they faced as Asian Americans, and the stereotypes that had to battle. The next guest on visualizAsian.com's AAPI Empowerment Series is social activist and author Phoebe Eng. The interview will be held Tuesday, June 23 at 6 pm PDT (9 pm EDT). I met Eng when that book came out, a decade ago, and she was in Denver for a book reading and signing. She was a great speaker, and as inspiring in person as she is in the prose of her book, which is in part an autobiography of her search for identity as an Asian American and as a woman, a double-whammy of identity-politics.

The Asakawa family circa 1960 in Hokkaido, Japan: (from left) George, Gary, Gil and Junko (stranger in front). I was born in Japan, so I can say this with a straight face: I'm becoming a born-again Japanese, and it's kinda fun. For years now, Erin and I have thought of ourselves as Asian American first, and Japanese American second. Mostly, it's because we're interested in and feel a kinship with other Asian Americans, whether their heritage is Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Hmong, Indian, Filipino, whatever. We certainly have immersed ourselves in the local Asian American Pacific Islander community, through being involved in events such as the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, the AAPI Heritage Month Community celebration, the (now defunct) Aurora Asian Film Festival, Miss Asian American Colorado Leadership Program, Asian American Journalists Association and others. Erin spent six months last year serving as editor of the feisty little local pan-Asian magazine, Asian Avenue. It's wonderful to feel a part of a larger community within which we share lots of cultural values and appreciate the various cuisines. We've become friends with and learned about Asians across many borders, and generations from immigrant gens to very Americanized. It's also partly because the Japanese community in Denver is small, and insular, and tribal, and ... well, small. It's not like LA or San Francisco or Seattle or New York, where there are lots and lots of JAs to hang with, as well as tons more AAPIs in general. We just felt too constricted sometimes by the local community. But lately, I've found myself being among Japanese, and enjoying it.

When I posted the video yesterday, of a 1970s Calgon commercial that showed Asian Americans in a stereotypical role as laundry shop owners who used an "ancient Chinese secret" to get clothes cleaner, it was an homage to an earlier era when such stereotypes in pop culture were commonplace. I didn't expect that one day after Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month ended, I'd be alerted to a new commercial that uses a fresher stereotype that still portrays us as foreigners. The TV commercial for KFC's new "Kentucky Grilled Chicken" shows a bunch of people paired up, arguing whether they like fried or grilled chicken better. You can now have both in the same bucket, KFC announces. The problem is, of the quick flashes of people, there are whites and blacks, young people and older, and... two Asian men dressed as sushi chefs, with their "hachimaki" headbands, hapi coats and aprons. At first glance, they look like they're wearing martial arts "gi" (the loose-fitting fighting clothes), which would have made it even worse. What's worse, is that these two dudes, who may or may not actually be Japanese, speak in Japanese accents.

Erika Tanaka won the crown as Miss Asian American Colorado 2009.Congratulations to Erika Tanaka, the young Japanese and Vietnamese American woman who won the second annual Miss Asian American Colorado Leadership Program's Finale Show last night. The tiara was there, along with the glitz and glamor. But there was no swimsuit competition, and no one mentioned "world peace." This is no ordinary beauty pageant. The program is all about leadership and community service -- the inner beauty that the 17 contestants all displayed on the stage (yes, it's a cliche, but these woman all have inner beauty, in spades). Erin and I were impressed with all of the contestants when they shared their community service projects, and also impressed with many of their talent segments. Our favorites included what might be expected performances for this kind of event: Abhinetri Ramaswani's singing on a lovely, hypnotic Indian classical song, accompanied by a musician on tablas; Lana Nguyen's performance of a melancholy Vietnamese folksong. But we also enjoyed the performances that showed the "American" side of these Asian American women: Giane Morris' self-penned rock song (complete with a full electric band backing her) about the death of her brother; several spoken word performances including Nguyen Nguyen's passionate poem about her identity, "Beautiful Things"; and several hip-hop dance routines, including a very cool, intricately choreographed duet by Laila Nguyen. There were several non-traditional talents displayed in an entertaining way, including cooking pad Thai, making lotus flowers out of colored napkins, and most notably, a demonstration of the sport of curling (really).