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8 posts from February 2007

February 27, 2007

Embarassed 2 B Azn

I posted this over on Other Magazine's blog but I got quoted in the Chron today and there's new stuff out there and I have more to say on it here so I'm going to repost it so it's all together in one place.

There are times, yes, times when I'm embarrassed to be Asian.

Like, for example, whenever I see an AsianWeek distribution stand. This weekly tabloid---long brought to us by the same Fang family (even Asians pronounce "Fang" like tooth) that embarrassed the entire Bay Area with their transparently whorish version of the Examiner---is the adult equivalent of a midwestern suburban teenager's identity-angst zine, only without the freshness and honesty.

The writing is horrifyingly bad, their stories are six months behind the times---Hyphen, a tri-annual magazine, consistently scoops them---and their occasional shameful shows of community support---fobbed off on 18-year-old interns, or at least reading as if they were---do nothing to counteract their constant flow of vitriol toward Asian American writers, journalists, and cultural workers more savvy and successful than they.

When we started the self-same Hyphen magazine that kicks their ass every morning for breakfast (and twice on Sunday, for brunch) before it even prints a word, AsianWeek's first, and pretty much only, response was to sic on us Emil Guillermo (the only nominally competent staff writer, and that I say only because he manages to stick to the rules of grammar). In his column "Emil Amok", Guillermo, after admitting that he hadn't yet seen the magazine, proceeded to attempt to tear us a new asshole because our editor in chief, Melissa Hung, had said in an interview that Hyphen wasn't going to do Asian American Studies 101. Guillermo, naturally, didn't bother to call Hung and clarify, 'cause he's not really a journalist, and Hyphen remains of the single-asshole persuasion.

The middle-aged Guillermo took exception to that statement, presumably, because he works for a publication that phones it in, week after week, on that very syllabus. He hadn't moved past it, so why should we? That's when I stopped even attempting to read AsianWeek. Because either Guillermo's editors had read his column and supported his low journalistic standards and ignorant opinion, or because they didn't support it but were too lazy or chickenshit to say so, or because they hadn't bothered to read it in the first place. Whatever. None of those are publications I actually want to read.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that AsianWeek is now publishing some of the most blatantly racist, not to mention poorly executed, dingleberries passing for writing on the internet today. And that's saying a lot.

As Hyphen's staff blog reports today, they've acquired a new columnist recently named Kenneth Eng. He's been producing extremely short columns with titles such as "Why I Hate Asians," "Proof that Whites Inherently Hate Us," and, most recently, a savvy piece of marketing entitled "Why I Hate Blacks." Being an irony-steeped Gen-Xer, I hear titles like this and think, "What a great opportunity for Swiftian satire!" But alas, we're talking about AsianWeek, and if these buttcrusts were intended as satire, Eng is too shitty a writer to get that across.

I'd link to some examples of his excrescences, but I'm too damn lazy or something. Follow the links in the Hyphen article if you want it. There's also a petition, which is only a good idea because somebody needs to let teh blacks and teh whites know that most Asian Americans have never even heard of AsianWeek, much less agree with its "editorial" "decisionmaking". As for me, I can't even be bothered to sign it. Let AsianWeek sink into its own mire. It has proven again and again unworthy of Asian American support. Let it die. I'd rather have no As Am newspaper at all than this piece of shit.

February 26, 2007

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

Hey all! I know you're all sick or fighting it off, and it's cold outside and raining, and it's still February.

Me too.

So come shake it off and get inspired this Sunday with a terrific reading event supporting a great cause! I'm co-organizing this with Charlie Anders and it's gonna be a great time. Check it out.

The Carl Brandon Society presents an

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

with readings by

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

February 19, 2007

Blog Anniversary One!

To celebrate the first anniversary of my bloggy blog blog, I just updated my comment rules. I also had to close off comments to the "Strunk and Light" posts and to the "Almond Eyes" post to keep my misanthropic side from rearing its head again (and just when I'd finally gotten it to go to sleep!)

People, if you don't like what I write, don't read my blog! Seriously! Don't comment! I'm going to start getting really stringent about deleting stupid comments.


Okay, anniversaries. My blog has been in the world for a year today! Happy Birthday, Blog! We love you, Blog!

Bloggy Blog is averaging about a hundred hits a day, lately because of the "Almond Eyes" post, which has been bouncing around the internet.

Bloggy Blog is a good blog. Goooood Blog. Niiiiice Blog.

I gots nothing more to say.

February 08, 2007

Reading Update

Currently Reading Mark W. Tiedmann's Remains, which is up for a Nebula, if you're a voter (which I'm not, unfortunately.) I've been wanting to read this one since Mark and I sat on a panel together at Wiscon last year called "Mars Needs Women!"

Yes, it takes place on Mars. That's all I'm saying, except that I'm enjoying his take on Mars so far, until I've finished the book.

Go read!

February 07, 2007

Ching Chong, Mutherfrakker!

It's a poignant story, many times told. Immigrant family arrives in America, begins lifelong tug of war between assimilation and cultural identity, struggles to find a foothold on the economic ladder, establishes a flow of information, cash and visa sponsorships (and/or arranged marriages) between those left behind in the old country and those busily becoming citizens of the new.

Kids come home from school speaking English; parents answer in Spanish or Farsi or Cantonese. Parents eat menudo or lavash or jook for breakfast; kids slurp milk pinkened by Fruity Pebbles. Kids grow taller and more cynical than their parents, refuse to attend church or mosque or temple, leave home, marry or intermarry, serve as translators between their parents and their own kids during bilingual holiday dinners, and cobble together a patchwork culture, an often-uneasy union of their customs of origin with new, Americanized traditions of their own.


Is there a book in the world I want to read less than this one that Salon.com describes above? Maybe the Newark, NJ phonebook? Naw, that'd have good names.

Sad thing is that this might actually be a good book ... no, wait, what am I saying? Even if it's well written, there's no possible way it could actually be good. How could you possibly retell a cliché to make it fresh?

So let's just amuse ourselves at the reviewer's expense:

In "The Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother," William Poy Lee lends his family's coming-to-America story a fresh twist by structuring the book in an unusual way. In alternating chapters, Lee lets his mother's story come through in her own voice; her memories, and perspectives, taped by the author during a series of interviews, are juxtaposed with his, rendering lush and surprising what might otherwise be a somewhat predictable tale. In the tradition of the blockbuster multigenerational epic -- "Roots," "'Tis" and "Cane River" come to mind -- "The Eighth Promise" describes William Poy Lee's upbringing in, rebellion against, and ultimate return to the bosom of his family, community and culture.

Does somebody else wanna say it? No? Okay, then, I'll say it again: read the mutherfuckin' Joy Luck Club, you philistine! Holy Mother of Quan Yin. Since when does alternating the "voices" of two different generations of Chinese Americans represent "a fresh twist"?

But maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. It is Salon.com, after all, the Soy Cluck Club. They don't phone it in, they email it in. They probably have an online intranet for contributors with vast files of review templates: cross-reference "Chinese immigrant" with "memoir" with "mother" and it'll come up with bookreview_unchallenging_diversity. Alternate phrasings will be listed at the bottom of the document where pullquotes would ordinarily be: "rendering lush and surprising," "richly drawn and evocative," "paints a picture of young green rice shoots waving in the PLACENAME breeze," "her pride in her heritage is palpable," etc.

Sadly for the author the book only seems to pick up on the second page of the review ... or maybe it's just that the reviewer, desperate and grabbing for straws, picked the only part of the book that interested her and ran with it ... for a whole page. Why not lead with the interesting stuff about the author's brother convicted for a Chinatown gangland murder? This is the meat! We've never read this stuff before!

This is how we do, this is how we are racist in our post-identity age: we refuse to call ethnic crap out, and we rehash the same tired, old tropes until the groove has worn through the floorboards. The reviewer herself says it early on, "a somewhat predictable tale." Only if "somewhat" synonymizes "screamingly" en Salonspeak. I bet this will be the only Asian American book reviewed between now and API Heritage Month --- that's in May, Salon, so you'd better start pitching those Jerry Yang and Yo Yo Ma profiles now. Hey, I heard that Maya Lin is giving interviews again! Better get on it before she changes her mind! And did you know that a buncha Japanese Americans fought in World War II? That would make an interesting, and potentially controversial, story!

(Cross-posted at Other Magazine Blog.)

February 05, 2007

Wherein I Am Again Appalled

Okay, I'm happily, merrily, writing this on my brand spankin' neue wireless internet service. Yes.

However, I'm ever so slightly disturbed by the fact that the nice, entirely American young man who helped me set up over the phone, called me "Mrs. Light", and then, when I said, "That's 'Ms.'!" came back with "Miss?"

I had to repeat it three times and spell it for him. He'd never heard of it. What the fuck?

Then I called back later with another question and got another nice young man who called me "Miss Light". I let it go.

But seriously, what the fuck?

I got into a shouting match last summer with an Arab immigrant motel manager who insisted on calling me "Miss" and then thought that I was correcting his English when I told him to use "Ms." He'd never heard of it. What. The. Fuck.

At Safeway, where I use my club card, I am invariably thanked as "Miss Light" by everyone, furriner and Amerkin. What the hell is going on? Did I get off at the wrong dimension the last time I woke up from a dream? Has "Ms." not been standard for all business practice for, like, twenty-five years? When did we start rolling back?

And dude, let me remind you, I'm in San Francisco.

What the hell is going on?

BSG Sux Redux

'Nuff said.

February 03, 2007

Black History Month Support

Angry Black Woman is proposing a different kind of project for Black History Month:

I thought that instead of posting the same old and tedious BHM posts or even the anti-BHM posts, let’s make Black History Month useful again. What black folk do we hardly ever talk about yet deserve to be remembered if not celebrated? What recent history is worth exploring? And what is your personal black history? I would love to hear stories about people’s families. Either stuff you remember or stuff you were told. How did your people contribute to history? How were they affected by it?

So seriously, this is the Black History I want to explore this month. Post this on your blog, pass it around, email your grannies and cousins for material. Recommend some books, dig up some history, have fun!

Then come back here and tell me about it. Oh, and tag your posts “Our Black History Month”

I love that she's doing this, and love the idea of the project. I really hope people will participate.

This strikes home for me because I worked for so many years in the Asian American ethnic community and for all these orgs, programming tends to center around May (API Heritage Month, for those of you who don't know). Every year around May there's someone who makes the obligatory speech about how we shouldn't encourage the idea that people are Asian only one month a year--We Are Asian All Year Long! blah blah blah. Yeah, whatever.

What bugs me more about API Heritage Month is the same thing that ABW complains about: all you ever hear about is the 442nd and Amy Tan. Dragon Boat Races and martial arts demonstrations. You know, comfortably exotic stuff with a little outraged history so far in the past that no one needs to feel bad about it anymore.

Our job at the APA orgs was to diversify the stories. (The Center for Asian American Media does a kickass job of this. With all the thousands of documentary shorts they have access to and their great relationship with local PBS affiliates, May is basically a tv Asian lovefest.) And I really enjoyed doing this, even though it was a bit much to watch all of my colleagues going nuts over one month in the year, jostling and competing with each other to get their best programming out and then lapsing, exhausted, at the end of that time, to be essentially ignored for the rest of the year.

Also, people participate (or not) in API Heritage Month activities out of some vague sense of "diversity" duty, and not out of any real understanding that Asians have a real role in the history of the United States. And this would be my same complaint about Black History Month: there's a vague feeling that it's about being fair to the poor blacks, and not that it's about focusing on how Af Ams' history is woven into the whole cloth of American history. Or how your life has been shaped by the roles Af Ams have played in American, and your, history.

Another complaint I have about both February and May is that everybody who is not black and Asian, respectively, sits back passively (albeit often receptively) and waits to have the History and Heritage brought to them. It's not their history after all.

Wrong. It's all of our history. I'm American and my daily life is shaped by America's history of slavery, coolie labor, industrial wage slavery, immigration restriction, Jim Crow, westward expansion, Indian genocide, women's suffrage, militarism, imperialism, etc, etc. I don't get to pick and choose the parts of history that affect me directly and the parts of history that don't. It's not a timeline, history, it's a biosphere. Have a butterfly get on a boat in Hong Kong and soon you'll have a typhoon of immigrants drowning off the coast of New York. Whip a slave in Georgia and soon you'll have to cut the thumbs off of weavers in India.

So while ABW's call to words is for African Americans specifically--because Black History Month may be for all of us, but it needs to be driven by teh Af Ams--I propose a support project to complement hers. Let's all blog this month on "How have Americans of African descent--both those you know personally and those didn't--affected your life?" You can address one or more of the following, and I suggest that you address them all in more than one post:

  1. You've learned about black history in school or through cultural events. But what was the thing, the incident or the moment you first got a gut reaction, a visceral understanding of the impact of black history on the position of African Americans in our country?

  2. Tell us about the African American/s who came into contact with you and/or your family in the near or distant past and had an impact, either positive or negative. (Be honest. Especially if you're white, a lot of you will have black servants or employees in your family's past. If your family is from the south, there may even be a history with slavery. It maybe embarrassing to you, but this is real history that you shouldn't obfuscate.)

  3. Do a little thought experiment. Pick one of your daily or weekly habits--brushing your teeth, putting too much salt on your food, surfing the internet (a-hem), dancing in your car on the way to work--and find the connection to African American history. For a crude example, look at what you wear, the history of your Levi's, for example, and the "jean" cotton canvas material that Levi Strauss copied from the French, but was able to make in mass quantities because of the extensive American cotton production, built up and fueled first by slaves, then by tenant farmers and share croppers.

  4. Use this opportunity to do a little research. Pick a field of endeavor that's important to you: your career, your avocation, your favorite sport or hobby. Then go and find an African American you'd never heard of before who excelled in this field or contributed to it profoundly in history. Then tell us all about them.

I'm gonna do this too, and I'm gonna check in with ABW about it. If you decide to participate, do check in here and over there and let us know about it!

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