Whenever I see an Asian on TV, either in a program or on a commercial, who's the brunt of some comedic joke, my first reaction is to clench my stomach in anticipation of some personal embarrassment, as if the Asian on screen could easily be me.
But here's a TV commercial that makes fun of an Asian guy, that manages to be funny and doesn't bother me (although the first time I saw it I did clench up, expecting that slap in the face), and respectful of the Asian dude's dancing ability -- that is, until, he screws up.
The commercial, for Southwest Airlines, makes me chuckle every damned time, and I've seen the thing a lot. What makes me feel good about the video is that the African Americans in the scene start out skeptical of the Asian guy's ability to impress the woman (that's Ellen Cleghorne from SNL, isn't it?, but then everyone in the club, includig the DJ, give the guy his props and start urging him on. That's when he knocks over the turntables.. and the tagline for Southwest comes in: "Want to get away?"
I missed this NPR report a couple of weeks ago, about the impact of the character Long Duk Dong from the 1980s hit movie, "16 Candles." I had heard a promo for the report while driving but got home before it came on.
I finally went back to check it out and it's worth hearing.
The link to the report is at the top of the page; the text on the page is the report's transcript. Be sure to check out the extra interview clip with Gedde Watanabe, the Japanese American actor who played "the Donger" -- he doesn't really have a clue, unfortunately. And check out the comic that's included, "Donger and Me."
I've never seen Denver's Asian American community rally so quickly around an issue like they have around the botched satire, "If it's war the Asians want... It's war they'll get", that ran on the website of The Campus Press, the University of Colorado's venue for budding journalists.
There's been a blizzard of emails flying around town from groups and individuals, outraged postings (including mine as well as Joe Nguyen's commentary on AsiaXpress), and TV and print media news reports.
A collective of APA students who've organized a Facebook group called Colorado Asian American Organizations organized a meeting yesterday at Denver University, where about 40 people showed up. Erin attended, and also sent out notices to some of the local media, so there were TV crews from several stations on hand to cover the discussion. Attendees included not just students, but community activists, older APAs and also African Americans and Latinos.
I'm always amazed at how young "journalists" can write really stupid stuff and then hide behind the cloak of "satire" to defend themselves. That's what happened this week, when the University of Colorado's amateur student news site, CampusPress.com, ran a commentary by Max Karson titled "If it's war the Asians want... it's war they'll get."
It's not very well written. It's self indulgent in an immature, self-possessed manner. It's confusingly filled with hate language and alarming statements for much of the column, then it veers into surrealism, and suddenly, if you weren't sure whether it's supposed to be a joke (I wasn't), you start to realize it's not serious. The problem is, so much of it sounds serious, and feels serious, and perpetuates racist stereotypes and statements about Asians that I've heard all my life. So why wouldn't I take it seriously?
Two news items worth noting, although one is kinda old already:
First Burger King has announced that in Hawaii, they're selling a new item, a Spam Platter -- two slices of Spam nestled between white rice and scrambled eggs. BK, which is based in Miami, also serves its Croissanwich or Biscuit Sandwich with Spam for the Hawaiian market.
There's a fascinating discussion going around in the e-mail list for New York chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association. It began the day that news of the Virginia Tech shootings broke, when the media first reported that the shooter may be Asian. Since then, various perspectives have been shared about whether it was journalistically important to identify the race of the shooter (I kinda think it was, considering the tragic scope of the incidents), whether there will be a racial backlash against Asians, and whether Asian Americans share sense of guilt and shame about the murders.
One great thing about living in the New York area is the simple fact of its diverse population. I've been shopping regularly at various Asian markets in the area -- a Japanese grocery store in Manhattan; the huge Japanese supermarket, Mitsuwa, in northern Jersey; the Korean Han Ah Reum (better known as H-Mart) -- and buying everything from eggs and orange juice to Asian staples like rice, packaged ramen and a variety of unique Asian snacks and junk food.
Here in Jersey City's Journal Square area, there's a concentration of Indians and Pakistanis and a two-block stretch of nothing but Indian groceries and restaurants along Newark Avenue. Today, I explored the neighborhood around Journal Square and discovered to my delight that on another stretch of Newark Avenue, there are a number of Filipino businesses.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, the annual Asian community event that I've been involved in since its debut in 2001, is the mix of traditional Asian and Pacific Islander culture on display along with the new, Asian American values and ideas. That mix is most evident not in the festival athletic competition or the marketplace, where 90+ vendors sell their wares, but on the Performing Arts Stage.
In recent years, some of my favorite performances have been by APIA artists playing contemporary music: Chinese-Filipino Wendy Woo, a popular Colorado singer-songwriter and guitarist, with her Woo Crew rock band; Dwight Mark, a Chinese American multi-instrumentalist mining everything from blues to bluegrass for his original music; and this year for the first time, Korean American singer-sonwgriter Phyllis Heitjan from Philadelphia.
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