Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | asian american
47
archive,paged,tag,tag-asian-american,tag-47,paged-6,tag-paged-6,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

It's been a couple of weeks, but congratulations are in order for Amanda Igaki, the winner of the "Miss Asian American Colorado" pageant held in Denver May 31. Now, before you recoil at the thought of a beauty pageant, rest assured that this pageant, organized by a crew of young people led by the energetic and entrepreneurial Annie Guo, whose family publishes Asian Avenue Magazine, was not a traditional beauty pageant. The most obvious proof that this wasn't a typical pageant was the lack of a swimsuit competition. In fact, although Igaki was crowned "Miss Asian American Colorado" at the end of the four-hour event (which felt much shorter because it was so interesting), it didn't feel like a competition between the 26 contestants at all. These women had become close friends, like a small, tight sorority.

Stereotypes sometimes are based on a kernel of truth, but they're twisted and blown out of proportion and used out of context. Sometimes, stereotypes can even be "good" in that they're not negative images. But trust me, a stereotype is still a stereotype. It's a generalization that's not universally true, and even the good ones are impossible to live up to. Asian Americans are very familiar with the stereotype of the "model minority." It goes like this: Asian Americans are smart, quiet, dependable, hard-working and never complain. Asian American kids are smart, quiet, straight-A students, play classical music on instruments like piano, cello and violin, and never complain. It's all hogwash, of course... but it's based on that kernel of truth. Asian Americans were known for a hundred years for successfully assimilating into mainstream American society. It never completely worked because we could never be accepted racially into the mainstream like European Americans could, but Asian immigrants and their families worked hard to become economically successful in America. But a brand-new report published by New York University, the College Board and Asian American educators and community leaders found that the idea of "model minority" is a myth, and that the APA (Asian Pacific American) population is as diverse and no more homogeneous than the rest of America.
“Certainly there’s a lot of Asians doing well, at the top of the curve, and that’s a point of pride, but there are just as many struggling at the bottom of the curve, and we wanted to draw attention to that,” said Robert T. Teranishi, the N.Y.U. education professor who wrote the report, “Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight.”

Clint and Spike are having a spat. (from Gawker.com) File this under "you're too sensitive" if you want, but I think people of color notice these types of media mistakes because they reflect, deep-down, America's lack of evolution on the diversity front. From Gawker a few days ago: an MSNBC reporter described Spike Lee as "uppity" because of his back-and-forth spat with Clint Eastwood over the lack of African American soldiers represented on his two films about the World War II battle for Iwo Jima, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima." When Lee's criticism, which he made when he was at the Cannes Film Festival in May, was published, Eastwood responded that Lee should "shut his face." I linked to the Gawker story in my Facebook page, and this morning I got an IM from a friend in New York, Peter V, who said he didn't get what the fuss was about. "Forgive my ignorance - but is 'uppity' a racial slur? I missed that one," he said. I thought about it, because I had immediately linked to the Gawker piece, but upon reflection, he was right "uppity" in itself is not an offensive word. It's the historical context that I was responding to. "In itself, no," I replied. "But someone in the national media should know the loaded nature of using the word when referring to a black man.... She may not have meant anything by it, but shame on her. It has hundreds of years of hate and hangings behind it..." As I explained in a follow-up email, the parallel, for me, is that I grew up hearing the phrase "sneaky Japs" -- all my life, from other kids in school, on the playground, at work (back in the day, when workplaces were less enlightened) and elsewhere, from all ages.

The characters Harold and Kumar, played by APA actors John Cho and Kal Penn, are like embarassing uncles who fart in public and cuss and tell stupid jokes. In fact, in lots of ways, Harold and Kumar are stupid jokes. But like those uncles, you have to embrace them when you see them, even though you wince every time they walk in the room. That's because in their 2004 debut, Cho and Penn's characters smashed Asian American stereotypes about being the model minority. Cho played Harold, an earnest numbers-cruncher by day who has the hots for a hot neighbor and has the internalized heart of a slacker; Penn's Kumar is the slacker externalized. He's a pot-hound and horndog and crude as he can be, always trying to drag Harold into his slackdom. Kumar is supposed to become a doctor, and it turns out he's quite capable, except he's pathologically incapable of following his ethnically preordained career path. The two go on a marijuana binge and seek out a White Castle burger, or more accurately, a whole bunch of 'em, to assuage their munchies. (It helps to understand the plot if you've enjoyed the strange pleasures of a tiny White Castle "slider.")


Dance MTV User =About Me= Video - video powered by Metacafe
We happened upon a two-hour special tonight for the final auditions before the second season debut of "America's Best Dance Crew," and got entranced by the amazing moves by the groups from all over the country that tried out for the series. These crews compete with incredible, acrobatic break-dancing and hip-hop popping, spins, leaps and tumbles. (The video above is from MTV.com, on its page of bonus videos from the auditions.) This is the show that ended its first season by crowning JabbaWockeeZ, a mostly APA group from San Francisco, as the champions. One of the other first-season finalists, Kaba Modern was also APA.

As members of the Asian American Journalists Association, Erin and I will be attending the quadrennial UNITY conference in Chicago in July. I attended the last UNITY conference, which was held in 2004, and it was inspirational. It's a combined convention of four national organizations that represent journalists of color: AAJA, the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association. Because it's held every four years, and it happens to be an election year, UNITY attendees will be treated to a forum with Barack Obama and John McCain. It's a powerful, electrifying sight: The candidates for the most powerful position on Earth coming to speak to a roomful of 10,000+ journalists who look like me, as well as other minorities -- who are definitely the majority during UNITY. The conference planners just announced that the Presidential Forum will be held during primetime and broadcast live on CNN.

Internet technology is such a great, rapidly evolving field, that we're constantly being presented with new ways to tell stories -- to do journalism. Who woulda thunk even just 10 years ago that the Internet would be many people's main source of news and information? Who woulda predicted services such as Facebook, or Twitter, not to mention blogs? How about live streaming video? All these elements were part of a cool historic moment tonight, when all three Presidential candidates took some time to connect with Asian American voters for a first-ever Town Hall sponsored by an organization called APIA Vote. The event was held in an auditorium at the University of California at Irvine, an LA suburb, and included the expected speeches and some cool entertainment. JA actor Tamlyn Tomita kicked butt as an engaging, entertaining emcee. Hillary Clinton spoke first to the group via satellite, followed by Barack Obama over the phone, and then a surrogate stand-in for John McCain in person. The whole event was broadcast live over the Internet. A small -- too small -- group of us in Denver met in a meeting room at the Daniels Fund to watch the live feed.

We just snuck out after a couple of hours of Denver's annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, an event sponsored by Colorado's APA umbrella organization, Asian Roundtable. This free event has been going on for over a decade, and it's held every May in a community auditorium at the Well Fargo Bank building in downtown Denver. The Asian Roundtable represents two dozen APA organizations and for-profit companies as well as some individuals. Its member organizations sponsor the event, which runs from 11 am-4pm on a Saturday, kicking off with a buffet and then featuring several hours of performances. I was involved with this event when I was the president of the Mile-Hi chapter of the JACL, almost 10 years ago. Back then, I appreciated the event because it brought Asian communities together to learn from each other. I was surprised at the time that Asians knew so little about each other's cultures. One year the JACL brought some basic sushi for people to taste, and people kept asking me, "What is that?" (Sushi, or wasabi.) "What's the soy sauce for?" (The sushi.) "What does this taste like?" (Try it and see, lady.) Then it struck me -- Asians are so tribal and insulated from each other, that they don't know anything about the other Asian cultures. I admit, I didn't exactly grow up eating Filipino or Thai or Vietnamese food. But I've embraced all those cuisines, and more, every chance I get. Many Asians (especially older Asians) don't do this.