92 posts categorized "asian american"

February 24, 2008

Reading with Ed Lin & Lisa Chen

Hey Yay Area peeps, there's a reading tomorrow night at EastWind Books of Berkeley (right near the Cal campus on University) co-sponsored by Hyphen mag. I'll be there and hope to see some of you out there too.

Ed Lin & Lisa Chen
Ed Lin will be reading from his latest novel about New York Chinatown: This Is A Bust.  Lisa Chen will be reading from her new poetry book:  Mouth. These two New Yorkers will be at our store in Berkeley on Monday, February 25th at 7:30pm. Join us to celebrate the conclusion of the Lunar New Year! Sponsored by Hyphen Magazine and Eastwind.

December 21, 2007

Top Ten Novels

Inspired, or expired, or despired, by all the year-end top ten lists, plus something I saw somewhere about writers' top ten novels lists, I've decided to do my own top ten novels list.

But, of course, there has to be a caveat. This is not necessarily the top ten best novels I've ever read. That would be too difficult, given my moodiness. These are, rather, the novels that created my understanding of what novels are, broke that understanding and remade it, added to it substantially, or, in at least one case, helped define a whole area of things that novels shouldn't be. This is a litany of idiosyncratic reading experiences; not everyone--or even most ones--would have the same eye-opening experience upon reading these books, although I can heartily recommend all of them, and, in fact, do. This is really just a reading memoir, really. And I hate memoir. And redundancy.

Also, there are more than ten, as you will have immediately noticed. But Top Ten just rolls off the tonguish.

  1. The Dark is Rising: I wrote about it recently so I don't have to repeat, but this is a peculiar and beautiful little jewel of a book: not logical, nor perfectly structured--as YA and fantasy and YA fantasy must usually be--but intuitive and grand and cold and mysterious and ritually layered and smart and adult and complex all at once. I never found an age-specific book to match it because there is none, and it didn't so much confirm my childhood reading as point away from it, into the possibilities beyond.
  2. Pride & Prejudice: is so popular right now it hardly needs more elegy (or more accurately, rhapsody) added to its account. But beyond the "romance", which I started finding suspect at a fairly young age, P&P remains a favorite because it is so damned perfectly structured. I've read it twenty times (no exaggeration) and the structure never fails to usher me through the same emotional experience. You can become so accustomed to something that you sicken of it; you can build a tolerance to drugs; but a perfect narrative arc somehow never fails to raise your blood pressure at the right moment, even when you know what's coming better than you know the feeling of your own birthday.
  3. Jane Eyre: people pass over the weirdness of JE, I think because it's weird and that makes people uncomfortable. But weird is what happens when you take the sketchiness of a fairy tale and inhabit it with complex characters. I don't mean what Gregory Maguire does. Wicked and ilk is just a more complex formula. I mean, when you play out fairy dust in the real world, to its logical conclusion. When wives go mad and husbands are half-wild and damagingly entitled, and a half-benevolent, half-malicious universe intervenes to allow women of spirit to both escape, and be enslaved, in equal measure. JE is an anomaly among Victorian novels not because every single aspect of it wasn't a rampant trend of its era, but because Bronte committed absolutely to every device, and every line, took all of it absolutely seriously, rather than allowing herself genre and ironic distance like all the mens did. The result is Emily Dickenson weird, like focusing on flies' buzzing, or how to paint a billow, or the expression on a dog's face at twilight, when the universe shrugs to startle the master's horse.
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude: hardly needs commentary either. Again, this was an issue of structure for me, a lesson in how Pride & Prejudice five-act fiction wasn't the only way to go about it. My first spiral structure, and induction into the pleasures of varying velocity. I didn't see it until the end, but the final sentence of Solitude tells you all you need to know about the book ... but only if you've already read the book. So it was also my first experience with that successful paradox of show vs. tell. And the book, also paradoxically, while falling me in love with lush lyricism (just like everyone else), was actually what put me on the road towards a more stripped down prose ... because once Garcia-Marquez has rained petals from the sky to mourn the death of a patriarch, what more can I or anyone do? Plus, an experience of pure, extended beauty. Truly. I was in a daze for a week. One of my few moments with the ecstasy of writing, felt while reading.
  5. The Dispossessed: Rather a dry experience, compared with all of the preceding, but a book that set me intellectually on fire because it was the first political novel I ever read. I mean, sure, I had to read Upton Sinclair and Orwell and Steinbeck and Uncle Tom in high school, but when the politics of the book is over--and come to think of it, all of those were books about political situations that had been largely resolved, although they left a mean residue--so is the book's impact. The Dispossessed was something of a complicated utopian novel, the first one I ever read after all the dystopias I read in high school (1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451). I'd never experienced a political world that I so wanted to inhabit, nor felt the representation of a political reality better than the one I already inhabited. I'm no revolutionary, and I wouldn't go so far as to say the book created an activist of me. But what I have been able to do since then is at least partly enabled by the awakening of my political imagination ... something very different from political consciousness and much more essential to the workings of true democracy.
  6. The Joy Luck Club/The Woman Warrior: I'd be the first to scream if someone else glommed these two together, but I have to put them together because in my mind, they are the good and bad sides of the same coin, and the one didn't take effect on me until the other one had been thoroughly assimilated (used advisedly). I read Woman Warrior in high school, after picking it out of a used books bin in--where else?--SF Chinatown as a tween. It kinda fascinated me and kinda turned me off, partly because I was looking for some reading experience I could finally identify with, and, although I recognized the universal Chinese mother, Kingston--like any good writer--took care to make her mom an individual rather than a universal, and a Chinatown girlhood isn't the same as a hapa midwestern suburban girlhood. The other turnoff was her careful and fabulist deconstruction of novel, memoir, and superhero/hero's journey narrative. I was not at an age to appreciate that.

    Then in college I was home for the summer and helped my mom out with a cocktail party she threw without being asked and she was very impressed with my sudden maturity--I had always previously bellyached about having to greet and serve guests. When I finished the dishes I retired to my room and that night she left her new hardcopy of Joy Luck Club outside my door with a note thanking me for my help and telling me I was a good daughter (underscore hers). That's my mom all over: half serious, half self-reflectively ironic. I still have the book, and the note, and, although my bitchy mind started deconstructing the book almost immediately, I recognized in Joy Luck the orthodox version of the unsatisfying meta-memoir in Woman Warrior. At the time, I uneasily thought of Joy Luck as the better book. I now recognize Woman Warrior as the ur-text, the brilliant, unique one, which had to be tamed before it could be codified as the arc of the assimilating immigrant. I've written about this in Hyphen magazine and won't bore anyone with it here, but this was my beginning as an Asian American writer.

  7. Howard's End: Modernism wouldn't have made much sense to anyone without Forster to bridge the gap and I'm no exception. And just as everyone takes what they want from Modernism and leaves the rest, I went forward in my reading only to eventually go a step or two backwards to Forster. He introduced me to the deconstruction of the third and fourth dimensions ... but gently. Howard's End, with its timeless mansions and perpetually updating railways, is the novel of space/time compression fighting it out with imperialist expansion. I didn't experience any of that my last two years of college, but I did feel the way Forster messed with the reader's experience of time, so that important moments pass in a sentence, and untangling their implications is the quotidian work of the rest of the novel. With a little hindsight I can see that Howard's End--all of Forster, really, since I gobbled his entire oeuvre in a year--slammed the door on the following classics: Jane Austen and her manners insulated from the source of their wealth (see Tisa Bryant on Mansfield Park), and Charlotte Bronte and her Indies-plantation-owning-African-mission-going romantic males. Forster's literary heir is really Orwell.
  8. Middlemarch: Speaking of steps backward, my big discovery during my grand tour of Europe after college was Eliot. I went and read more and more and more Victorian-era novels: all of the Brontes that I had missed, all of Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tostoi, maybe a little Georges Sand ... and of course, all all all of Eliot. And--not to diss the intellect of all of the preceding, especially Forster, but Eliot's oeuvre--Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and especially Middlemarch--were my first encounter with fiction written by an intellectual writer and critic with a broad understanding of her time and a clear and expressive (rather than emotional and expressionistic) prose style. It's hard to rhapsodize about effectively, but emotional intelligence, breadth of vision, passion for people, and the ability to inhabit every stage of perspective, is my definition of genius thanks to George Eliot. She influences me more than I ever know when I'm in the midst of writing, and if I had to choose only one writer to emulate, Eliot would be the one.
  9. Cosmicomics: Not a novel, of course, but close enough to make a difference. Beautiful, weird and whimsical, funny, and with a simultaneously light and heavy touch ... everything I have written since I started reading Cosmicomics has been an attempt--in its way--to reproduce the effect of that book. It's that (to me) horrifying construction, a book of linked short stories, that remakes the novel, and indeed the short story for me. Not because of any structural or space/time funkiness--once you get past the sci-fi-y surface, these stories are very traditional--but because the ideas are so lovely Calvino just sort of ... doubled them back on each other, for the fuck of it. My most purely loved book on this list.
  10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius please don't try to tell me this isn't a novel. And no, I'm not interested anymore in that discussion about the memoir/novel or the novelistic memoir, or the true novel or the fictional autobiography. Suffice it to say the lines have been blurred, who cares by whom? It's all the--by now--GenX clichés Eggers wielded with excellence (yes, excellence) that make this book for me. Maybe I'm slow but it blew my little mind in 1999 and made a permanent dent. Eggers remains the only writer of my generation who has successfully blown my mind. (Lethem has also blown my mind, but not with a single book. Not that that's less valuable than the single-book-mind-blow, but that doesn't play as well on top ten lists.) Eggers is a negative influence. All due respect, but I have to fight hard not to write like him. He set up some rhythms and phrasing tricks that are so. damn. easy. to imitate.
  11. Parable of the Sower: My introduction to Octavia Butler. I've written about her here and here and don't feel like getting into it again. She found me a way to write science fiction, something I had always wanted to write but couldn't find a way to do while incorporating all my Asian American issues. 'Nuff said.
  12. Mumbo Jumbo: And finally, the book that answered my lingering questions about how I want to--and can--write what it is I have to write. Or put another way: what do I actually have to write. Reed gave me the structure of a process for using the code-switchy language of my actual life and not the prettified standard language Asian Americans are supposed to learn to get a dialogue with the power butlers. Reed teaches that surface and depth can be completely connected, so your linguistic polyrhythms can show and tell about what mainstream American wants to dismiss as schizophrenia simultaneously. Complex and challenging, but not white noise; a wall of word noise textured with different weights of meaning. A language that cites its sources moment by moment. Aleluja!

November 14, 2007

A Serving of Love

Decorative_letters_here's a brief clip from Robynn Takayama's RJ Lozada's newly released documentary, A Serving of Love, about the recently passed community leader Bill Sorro. My friend Robynn Takayama was intrinsic to the project as well. Check out the website for more clips and information about Bill.

(cross-posted at atlas(t): Galleon Trade.)

October 13, 2007

In Other News: Race Activists Now Have Superpowers

I got into it with Angry Black Woman guest blogger Nora a couple of months ago in comments on a post she wrote where I accused her of avoiding the racist issues that exist between African and Asian Americans. I won't get into that whole thing right now, but I write this to offer a caveat: there might be some little bit of unresolved tension motivating me, and you might want to keep your salt shaker handy.

(I intend to write a series of long posts about the tension between Asians and blacks eventually, but it seemed at best graceless, not mention divisive, to post those during the Jena 6 controversy, especially when there has been near-silence from the Asian American community--and me--about it.)

*****

So today I read Nora's post from Friday in which she wonders if racism has suddenly surged:

Because it really does seem like there’s been a significant increase in blatant, obvious racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry these days. Is it just me? I’m not talking about the institutionalized stuff; that never seems to fade. But suddenly we’ve got nooses all over the place, racially-motivated rape/torture, and miscarriages of justice so incontestable that even the national media (eventually) comments on it.

Then she gives us a history lesson:

It’s been almost fifty years now since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. I count that time as the start of real, substantive US national dialogue about racial equality. For a brief few painful moments, the whole country talked about how to get along with each other: what not to say if you don’t want to piss people off, what not to do if you don’t want to get arrested or sued. During that time, blatant racism became societally frowned-upon. There was one immediate good result of this change: blatant racism diminished. There was also one very bad result: namely that a lot of people — not just white people — convinced themselves that racism had gone away.

That’s when things got weird. For one thing, the national dialogue all but stopped. With so many people declaring that racism was dead, it seemed strange to keep talking about it, so a lot of people went silent. For those who kept talking, a strange thing occurred: they became societally frowned-upon too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends, particularly friends of other races, apologize to me for mentioning race. Not for making racist remarks — for mentioning race. I bet it’s happened to you, too. WTF? Somehow, somewhere along the way, talking about race has become conflated with promoting racism.

The illogic between these two statements is boggling. First she says that we're talking about racism, nationally, all the time these days, then she says that we're not allowed to talk about racism. Why all this?:

of course, reports of racism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. And lately, I’ve felt it getting worse.

I have no empirical evidence to back up this feeling — just my instincts, that sense of “race-dar” that most PoC develop somewhere in adolescence. My Spidey Senses are tingling more than usual.

Oh, I see. It's not because racist incidents are all over the news right now, it's because Nora's POC "race-dar" is going off. Because her "Spidey Senses" are tingling---those senses that only blacks have in full, but Indians and Latinos in part, Arabs and Asians a little bit, and white people not at all---she "knows" that there's more racism goin' on right now.

With this level of historical understanding, with this level of racial discourse, coming from someone who is promoted to us as a thought leader, is it any wonder that the racial discourse Nora engages in goes nowhere?

*****

First of all: Nora's understanding of the history of racial struggle in the United States (as presented here) is laughably simplistic. Since the mid-nineteenth century--and even before--there have been successive waves of liberation ideology, followed by the enlightenment of a few whites, the uplift of a few blacks, and then a serious backlash.

Anyone who has ever read the Emancipation Amendments to the US Constitution (13th, 14th and 15th), could have no doubt that full citizenship rights for African Americans was on the national table as early as 1865. This period, between 1865-1870 (the passage of the three amendments) and 1877 (the Hayes administration's withdrawal of troops from the South), saw unprecendented freedom in both northern and southern states for blacks, with the election of the country's first black politicians, and even interracial marriages.

The US wasn't ready, and our current stereotypical understanding of what "racism" is---Jim Crow laws, KKK, lynchings, voter restrictions, etc.---arose during the backlash that followed in the next quarter century (until the turn of the century.) A campaign of racial terrorism against blacks--not just in the south but in northern states as well--put a lid on black liberation for nearly thirty years.

Not coincidentally, this period also saw the passing of racist laws excluding the immigration, and restricting the citizenship, ownership, and labor opportunities of Asians, particularly in the west. During the latter half of the century, Mexican Americans in western states were lynched at rate of 473 per 100,000 of the population; gender was no protection. And Native Americans were, in this period, also finally defeated in the Indian Wars, restricted to reservations, and saw their children stolen and placed in Indian Boarding Schools, thus largely destroying their traditional cultures.

Of course that eased up again and in the first decade of the 20th century, a group of African American intellectuals, among them W.E.B. DuBois, started the Niagara Movement, which culminated in the foundation of the NAACP in 1909. The following thirty years saw a slow, steady (with many setbacks) development of black institutions in both the south and the north, as the Great Migration of southern rural blacks to northern cities spurred the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's, creating a second, larger generation of black intellectuals who not only articulated the race problem, but set the terms for a debate that still rages along the same lines today.

The 1920s and 30s also saw Asian and Mexican Americans joining the labor movement and gaining for themselves a measure of respect and power through that association. Native Americans won American citizenship. This period also saw many POC leaders first making the connection among the struggles of their various "races." Although no broad-based POC coalitions happened as a result, in the labor movement meaningful alliances were formed, for example in California between Mexican and Filipino field workers.

It's tempting to dismiss this period as a dark one, since the picture for most African Americans, not to mention other races, was one of poverty, limitation, and the constant potential for racial targeting. But racial issues hit the national discourse periodically, and the slow, upward creep of national racial consciousness never ceased between the turn of the century and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Movement was a breaking point, a climax in a tension that had been rising pretty much steadily until WWII, and then had been rising much more quickly throughout the fifties. Naturally, as after Reconstruction, this period of rapid acquistion of civil rights was followed by a serious backlash. Only this backlash was different, and much less successful. For one thing, much of the Movement had radicalized, and focused its energy on building up black instituations within the black communities.

For another, a lot of white liberal energy, as well as white conservative energy, was drawn off of Civil Rights into the antiwar movement. And, just as in WWII when black soldiers gained respect for their entire community, during Vietnam, white and black soldiers serving together did a great deal to change working class attitudes toward the black community.

Also, black civil rights inspired Asian Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans to form their own pan-ethnic, racial liberation movements. The seventies, far from a conservative backlash, saw the success of the antiwar movement, and the establishment of national Asian American, Latino, and American Indian institutions, which solidified that national understanding of these groups as racial blocs, creating the basis for political power bases. A number of institutional battles for entitlements began during this decade that were ultimately won here or in the eighties: fights for affirmative action in the granting of government contracts, hiring practices, college acceptance, busing, nutrition and health entitlements for children, etc.

The eighties was when idiots like Ronald Reagan declared racism over, but that doesn't mean that racial discourse fell off the table: far from it. National identity-based institutions continued fighting for--and winning--entitlements based on race and ethnicity. This was the decade of "identity politics" and the "culture wars," which revolved not merely around whether or not Congress gets to decide what art is, but whether or not our national culture--both high and low--included the "subcultures" of women, queers, people of color, and immigrants. White artists like to say that we lost the culture wars, but POC and women resoundingly won the culture wars, as evidenced by the periodic grumblings of white men that there are too many unworthy women and blacks (and black queer women!) on reading lists, in magazine articles, in our fiction, nonfiction, national discourse, etc. etc.

The nineties was when Generation X, the first generation raised since the Civil Rights Movement, came of age and seized control of the national dialogue. This is part of the reason why racial discourse was driven, to a certain extent, underground. White GenXers both did and didn't believe Reagan when he said racism was over. They wanted to believe, but knew better than to trust politicians and media. Also, all the institutional entitlements won in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although constantly embattled, had been so bound up with class, rather than race, entitlements, that--as Nora points out--the Clinton Administration was able to make racial entitlements a question of socialism vs. democracy.

(By the way, today, Bushies have taken advantage of this to shame race activists. It's really hard to argue that blacks, for example, should get more entitlements, when poor whites are losing theirs, too. And yet racial institutions are so used to calling the white man the devil--and I'm talking about all the racial institutions--that they're really hard pressed to form pan-racial coalitions of impoverished and working class. This is particularly hard when conservative working class whites insist on believing that the entitlements they're losing are "socialist.")

The nineties, however, particularly the late nineties, saw a coming of age of GenX POC, who have leveraged new media and the culture/media discussion of the eighties to create a media-savvy, national voice for themselves and each of their groups. Much of the discussion of the nineties was around representation in the media. Anyone who says that discussion of race went entirely underground just. wasn't. paying. attention.

The early "aughts" or "00s" of the 21st Century gave us two things: another racist war, and Katrina. Katrina brought race back into the national consciousness, and also consolidated a new way of leveraging opinions, funds, and action: the internet. And let's not forget moveon.org's move from the internet into face to face activism during the 2006 election, which resulted in a Democratic win. We talked a lot without doing much about race in the nineties because we didn't know how to close the gap between virtual and real communities. But we've learned how to do that recently.

Which brings us to today, black bloggers like ABW and Nora, and the thousands of others who made Jena a household word of shame, and to my second point.

*****

Secondly: it's loooong been a question whether the rape and child molestation rates have really risen over the few decades that they've been collected, or whether recent acquisitions of civil rights for women and children have allowed these crimes to be reported at levels more closely approximating their actual occurrence. This same question dogs every societal malaise and malady that becomes a trend: scientists are currently wondering if we're really having an autism epidemic, or if we've become so sensitized to autism spectrum conditions that people who never would have been diagnosed before are now being diagnosed.

Did it ever occur to Nora to wonder if racist incidents are all over the news right now not because suddenly racism is happening everywhere (it boggles my mind that Nora seems to think that this shit hasn't been happening quietly everywhere all along), but because suddenly race is on the national agenda again for a variety of reasons?

But you have to know history to understand--or even to see--these reasons:


  1. The 21st century is seeing an unprecedented "wiring" of American POC to the internet, and an unprecendented ability to leverage new communications to organize.

  2. The POC rehearsal of the nineties, in which internet-savvy POC practiced outrage by quibbling endlessly with media race portrayals has resulted in broad-based, loose national coalitions of opinion-creating POCs who can activate quickly.

  3. The current antiwar movement, the mobilization of funds and volunteers for Katrina through a blog-led racial outrage machine, and the realization, through moveon.org's successful 2006 election campaign, that online mobilization actually works, has finally culminated in racial groups actually using the internet to mobilize

  4. It's time, historically, for race to come back to the table, as it always does, sooner or later.

Far from it being a bad thing that Nora's supersenses are tingling, it's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing.

Black voices of our and the next (Gen Y? Echo Boomers? Millennials?) generations are being unleashed on questions of socio-economic equity, and not just on media portrayals. This is why everyone is suddenly so angry and suddenly news of racist incidents is hitting us from everywhere. We have a new generation of POC discovering that racism isn't over. And they're, understandably, pissed. But that's when things get better, Nora, not worse, when people who should get angry, do, and start organizing mass demonstrations.

This is good for everybody, and especially for racial bloggers like Nora, who will suddenly become information portals for mobilized POC, exhilarated by their last---and looking for their next---battle. This is good for the bloggers who are prepared to look at both class and race, to sacrifice their egos and cherished points of view for the sake of a vitally important developing dialogue. Maybe not so good for bloggers who aren't capable of difficult change.

It's up to the bloggers themselves to make sure that they keep their audience ... if they can.

August 10, 2007

A Word Lesson On "Miscegenation"

Regarding this brouhaha:

First of all, some terms, since I've found that most people are really, really sloppy about them:

  1. Monoracial refers to individuals or groups that are considered to have only one race. This refers both to the person's self-acknowledged identity, and the identity assigned to them by society.
    My father is monoracial: white.

  2. Interracial means a relationship between two people who identify monoracially and whose races are different. It doesn't just mean sexual or romantic relationships, either. commerce between two racial groups would be interracial as well. There are also interracial friendships, mentorships, etc. The term suggests bilateralness. It does not refer to individuals of more than one ancestry!
    My white father and Chinese mother have an interracial relationship.

  3. Biracial, when referring to a person means that that person is of mixed descent, the mix being two races. Although this term could be used in a number of ways, it is commonly only used to refer to individuals of two racial ancestries.
    I am therefore biracial.

  4. Multiracial has many current uses. When referring to a person, it means that the person is of mixed descent, the mix being two or more races. A biracial person is also multiracial. There is also a slight political preference towards using "multiracial" because "biracial" excludes people of more than two ancestries.

    When referring to a group, it means either that the group is composed of multiracial individuals, or that the group is composed of monoracial individuals of two or more races. Which meaning will only be clear in context. "Multiracial" is often used to refer to groups which contain only two races. Usually, "multiracial" is used to refer to group situations and "interracial" is used to refer to one-on-one situations, but this isn't always the case.
    I am also multiracial. I have many individual friends who are multiracial: Chinese and white, Korean and Mexican, Japanese and black. My group of friends is very multiracial, including Mexicans, Indians, Filipinos, whites, blacks, Japanese, Iranians, etc.

  5. While I'm on the subject: Multicultural does not mean "multiracial". "Multicultural" literally means of more than one culture and can be used that way, but is commonly used to refer to a society or group composed of people of more than one race/ethnicity/culture. Its connotation is of balanced diversity within a group.
    I live in a society that strives to be multicultural.

  6. Mixed Race when referring to an individual means the same thing as "multiracial", a person of more than one racial descent. "Mixed race" can also be used to refer to groups of more than one monoracial identity, groups of multiracial individuals, bi- and multi-racial relations of all sorts. It's most commonly used, however, to refer to multiracial individuals.
    I am mixed race.

  7. Miscegenation is a noun, unlike all of the words above, which are adjectives, adjective phrases or adjective complements. It is a noun that refers to an action: the action of mixing races, either through interracial marriage or through interracial sexual relationships. The literal meaning of the term, which was coined fairly recently is "mixing origins", which can refer to childless relationships, but the strong connotation is that miscegenation is the production of mixed race children. After all, the dilution of monoracial purity only comes through producing multiracial children, and this is the result that causes the hysteria in antimiscegenation laws.

    The term originated in a hoax pamphlet intended to create anti-miscegenation hysteria (it succeeded) and has been used in an exclusively negative manner. To use it to refer to purely recreative interracial sex is to use the term falsely, unless of course, the kink is for unsafe interracial sex that leads to pregnancy.
    Many people would think my family is an example of miscegenation.


My point is this: the term "miscegenation" serves a very specific purpose. It has not been turned into an adjective or verb, or even an adverb. It has remained a noun for nearly 150 years. It describes a process, an action with consequences, not a simple fact or state of being.

Aside from any questions of offensiveness, using "miscegenation" to refer to interracial sex fetishes is simply incorrect.

There are interracial relationships, there is interracial sex, and then there are people who get off on the perceived taboo of crossing races for sex. What you call that is "Interracial Sex Fetish", not "Miscegenation".

Get it right.

August 07, 2007

International Blog Against Racism Week 07

Yay!

Oyceter over at LJ is again hosting International Blog Against Racism Week.

Da rulez:


  1. Announce the week in your blog.

  2. Switch your default icon to either an official IBAR week icon, or one which you feel is appropriate. To get an official IBAR week icon, you may modify one of yours yourself or ask someone to do so. Here's a round up of IBARW icons.

  3. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of a race that isn't yours, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc. (Linking back here is highly appreciated!)

You KNOW ima participate. Howzabout you?

Here's Oyce's links roundup so far.

(Cross-posted on Other Magazine blog.)

August 05, 2007

How Do Editors Reach Out to Writers of Color?

Damn.

I wasn't gonna get drawn into this debate, because Tempy and Tobias were already doing such a good job and saying what I wanted to say, but then I went and read the comments in Tobias's post and now I'm annoyed.

People were--well, one person was--calling out ABW for placing the lion's share of blame on the editors' shoulders for needing to go and reach out to writers of color if they really wanted to diversify the stories in their rags. This someone asked when they were supposed to have the time to do all this outreach.

Are you fucking kidding me?

First of all, arguing that editors don't have time to do their jobs doesn't really excuse anything. It's an editor's job not merely to present the best writing that's sent to her, not merely to make a real, good faith effort to find the best writing that's out there, but to actually encourage writers to produce more and differently--to shape the kind of writing that gets made in the first place. Anyone who doesn't know this isn't really a professional in the field.

And the best editors of the most respected magazines do exactly that. They don't sit on their asses and wait for the transom to emit. They run around like madpeople to conferences and workshops and readings, they collect zines and spend time on the internet and ask their trusted writer/editor friends for recommendations. They talk to agents. They do rain dances, naked.

They also turn to writers and agents and proactively ask them if they have a story on X, or a story written like Y. They do this knowing that word will go around that Editor Z wants X and Y! And tons of hungry writers will step up.

So it's funny that X and Y are so rarely "stuff by writers of color" and "stuff about people of color." All an editor has to do is ask.

2) Given that editors have to do this and also that their time is limited, why don't we poc make things easier for them? I mean, let's start a list of places an editor should go to outreach to those ever-elusive good poc writers. I'll start and maybe members of other communities can pick this up. I'd be happy to host a mini-carnival on this topic, or simply to collect the responses and post them all together at some later date. Please feel free to add resources in the comments, especially if you have a blog that you know poc writers read.

These tips should include:


  1. list servs, forums, bulletin boards, etc. where poc writers are likely to be found

  2. blogs poc writers are likely to read

  3. print and online magazines and newspapers poc are likely to read

  4. real world organizations poc writers are likely to hang out in

  5. poc writers conferences, conferences, festivals (esp. literary festivals)

  6. reading series where poc are likely to participate

  7. undergraduate writing classes at poc-heavy campuses and poc student orgs (yes, they really should be thinking ahead. Someone will be much more likely to START writing if they know they'll be welcome there when they've FINISHED writing something.)

What follows here is a list of all the poc real world and online spaces I can think of to use to outreach to writers of color. NOTE: this goes for literary writing AND for SF/F:

General POC


  1. The Carl Brandon Society (poc speculative fiction writers) discussion list-serv and blog

  2. VONA Voices poc writers workshop, and their email.

  3. Mosaic, an African American and Latino literary magazine, whose lit editor is Sheree Renee Thomas


Asian American
  1. Kearny Street Workshop (Bay Area Asian American arts) opportunities list-serv

  2. Kearny Street Workshop's links page to other Asian American arts and literary orgs.

  3. Asian American Writers Workshop

  4. Hyphen Magazine (national Asian American magazine) blog

  5. Angry Asian Man blog

  6. dis*Orient Journalzine

  7. This listing of South Asian American (Indian subcontinent) journals also includes general As Am markets, some of which might be defunct.

  8. DesiPundit blog, Indian diaspora.

  9. Tiffinbox blog, Indian diaspora.

  10. Resources on South Asian lit.


Chicano/Latino
  1. Galeria de la Raza (Bay Area Latino multidisciplinary arts organization.)

  2. PALABRA A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art

  3. La Bloga, a Chicano/Latino literary blog

  4. Other Latino literary resources


African/Caribbean American
  1. African American bookstores in the USA.

  2. Black magazines and journals with open submissions.

  3. Publishers with a particular interest in Af/Af Am writers.


Arab American
  1. Links list of Arab writers writing in English.

  2. Mizna, Arab American Journal

  3. Al-Rawi, association of Arab American writers.

  4. Resources and links to Arab American writers.

  5. Angry Arab blog


Native American/American Indian
  1. Native American writers directory

  2. Native Blog, native American/American Indian blog.

  3. Native American/American Indian literary resources.


Academic

  1. Here's a links directory of all the accredited Asian American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have As Am-specific creative writing courses.

  2. Here's a links directory of African American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have Af Am-specific creative writing courses.

  3. Here's an incomplete links directory of Latin American/Caribbean studies departments and institution in the USA. Some weeding will need to be done.

  4. The University of Michigan's Arab American Studies Center. A bulletin board, newspage, and resources page are all under construction, but you can email them your call for submissions here.

  5. List of Native American Studies programs

July 22, 2007

On Galleon Trade

Hey everybody!

I'm writing this from a beautiful, mahogany-floored, art deco apartment with a view of Manila Bay. Yes! I'm in Manila!

I'm here for two weeks on the first leg of the 2-3-year Galleon Trade international artists exchange. Conceived and organized by the Bay Area's own Jennifer Wofford, the project is an exchange of artists and artwork organized into three series of exhibitions: the first in Manila, right now; the second in the Bay Area in 2008, and the third, close behind that, in Mexico.

Those of you paying attention will notice that the exhibitions follow (roughly) the route of the old Spanish Manila galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco. That's da theme.

I, of course, have lots more to say about all of this, but I'm going to say it in a new blog. Yes, that's right, folks! I've started a blog specifically for this project, upon which all the project-related musings 'n' stuff will be posted.

Because the thematic is so close--or belongs so well--to the topic area of my mapping and taxonomy blog, atlast(t), the new galleon trade blog is a child of atlast(t) called atlast(t): The Galleon Trade Edition.

Check it out. I'll be blogging there for the next two weeks. See ya on the flip side, so to speak!

May 02, 2007

Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Munff

It's a mouff-ful so we just call it "API Heritage Munff" which makes us sound extra "in" as in "in the know".

It's May, by the way, although some people I can mention, who work in an API nonprofit I could mention, seem to think it's April.

That's shameful.

Anyway, down Yay Area Way artsy things tend to center around SomArts Cultural Center (look it up yourdamnself, I just got home from work) where APICC (the "CC" stands for "cultural center") holds it annual munff-long festival. The kickoff's Thursday night, i.e. tomorrow, and I will be there, with silk on.

Sigh. I feel like some sort of effort is in order, a la Angry Black Woman's Black History Month thang, but I'm sodamntired right now. I even walked to lunch yesterday in the middle of a huge downtown Oakland MayDay immigration reform rally and couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why they were having such a rally on that day. I might need to post about this latah.

I was about to make all sorts of rash promises, but I'm going to go take a walk instead which, if it doesn't wake me up, will be followed by a nap that just might segue into tomorrow's breakfast.

April 17, 2007

Oh God

... the shooter was Asian, and a foreign national. I really don't wanna see the fallout from this one.

****update*****

Even worse: He's a 1.5. Here we go ...

****update 2*****

"1.5" is between first and second generation. Among European Americans, there's the immigrant generation, and then "first generation" means the first generation to be born in the U.S. Among Asians and Latinos, it's counted differently. First generation is the immigrants. Second generation is the first generation born in the States.

So 1.5's are kids born abroad, but raised mostly or partly in the U.S. I.e., not foreigners, but not born in the U.S.A., either.

This guy is gonna get the "foreigner" treatment for sure, even though he's culturally American--at least to great extent.

****update 3*****

Rebecca at Hyphen magazine rounds up the Asian American freak-out.

April 03, 2007

White Ethnicity Redux

O-tay.

I realized, while I was writing the preceding post about white ethnic blogging, that I've been unconsciously supporting the whole white ethnic blogging as default blogging thing. You see, I have "asian american" as a topic category on my blog, but not "white". And guess what? I'm both Asian American and white.

But because white is default, my only "ethnicity" is Asian, right?

Well, not anymore. I've added a "white" topic category to my blog and will be tagging posts that deal specifically with my white issues or my white ethnic perspective from now on.

It'll be interesting to see if I ever use this tag. I've been thinking of myself as a person of color for so long--and been treated as such for so long--that I don't know if I can think of my perspective as white. But for years I've been saying that I'm not a new category--a multiracial--but rather both Asian and white, whole and complete in both.

That turns out to not actually be true. I'm not whole and complete in being white, and don't know if I can be. We'll see. Experiment begins ... now!

March 20, 2007

Checklist for Originality in Ethnic Writing

A moving portrait (check) of three generations (check) of the Chan(check) family (check) living (check) in Vancouver’s Chinatown (check)

Sammy (check) Chan was sure she’d escaped her family obligations(check) when she fled Vancouver(check) six years ago, but with her sister’s upcoming marriage(check) , her turn has come to care for their aging mother(check) (check) (check) . Abandoned by all four of her older sisters(check) , jobless (check) and stuck in a city she resents(check) , Sammy finds herself cobbling together a makeshift family history(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) and delving (check) into stories (check) that began in 1913(check) (check) , when her grandfather(check) (check) (check) , Seid Quan(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) , then eighteen years old, first stepped on Canadian soil.(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check)

The End of East (check) weaves in and out of the past (check) (check) and the present(check) , picking up the threads (check) f the Chan family’s stories(check) (check) : Seid Quan, whose loneliness (check) in this foreign country(check) is profound (check) (check) even as he joins the Chinatown(check) community(check) ; Shew Lin, whose hopes(check) for (check) her (check) family (check) (check) are threatened by her own misguided actions(check) ; Pon Man, who struggles with obligation and desire(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) ; and Siu Sang, who tries to be the caregiver (check) everyone expects(check) (check) , even as she feels herself unravelling(check) (check) . And in the background, five little girls (check) (check) grow up (check) (check) (check) under the weight of family expectations(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) . As the past unfolds around her(check) , Sammy finds herself embroiled(check) in a volatile (check) mixture (check) of a dangerous love affair(check) , a difficult and duty-filled relationship with her mother(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) , and the still-fresh memories of her father’s (check) long illness.(check) (check) (check)

An exquisite (check) and evocative(check) debut (check) from one of Canada’s bright (check) new(check) literary (check) stars(check) The End (check) of East (check) sets family (check) conflicts (check) against (check) the backdrop (check) of Vancouver’s Chinatown(check) – a city(check) within a city(check) where dreams are shattered a(check) s quickly as t(check) hey’r(check) e bu(check) ilt(check) , (check) an(check) d wher(check) history repeats itself(check) (check) (check) through(check) the generations(check) (check) (check) .

No, I did NOT make this up.

March 10, 2007

The Land of Justified Racism Because the Dragons Say So

Kristina Wong has some fun at Kenneth Eng's expense.

March 01, 2007

Black History Month Over

Black History Month ended five minutes ago by my clock and I didn't do what I said I was gonna do. So much for "it's our Black History Month, too!"

I have lots of excuses: exhaustion, being in the middle of a life-transition (no, not menopause, asshats), fighting off viruseses. But during May, API Heritage Month, I'd go out sick and blog something at least every other day, something cranky, no doubt. Bottom line: it's not our Black History Month. Not yet. All rhetoric aside, I still clearly think that it's their Black History Month, not mine, and not my responsibility.

And therein lies the conundrum.

I hinted at it here, when I posted that:

east asians are famous for being afraid of black people, but i steel myself when i see a black man headed my way because that purposeful walk means only one thing: he’s gonna get up into my shit for being asian. 99% of the time, i’m right, too. not all, not most, not even that many black men. just the ones who actually walk towards me that way.

do you know how long it’s been since i’ve taken shit from anyone but a black man for being asian? and yet, every single one of those black men who give me shit are wearing the aura of homelessness or some similar economic desperation on them, and they give me shit while i’m on my way to my fancy nonprofit, bleeding-heart job, or on my way to my mfa creative writing class, stinking of perfumed soap.

in response to Angry Black Woman's question about whether or not blacks can be "racist".

The tension between Asians and Blacks--and indeed between Blacks and all other minorities--exists, is constant, and just never gets talked about.

So how amazing is it that an extremely editorially ill-considered, blatantly racist "column" in an ethnic mag actually gets people talking about this very hidden tension? I'm talking (again) about the Kenneth Eng piece in AsianWeek, which I first saw in Hyphen's blog.

Go back to the article and read down into the comments. There's a lotta stupidity going on there, but it's also the most amazing discussion I've ever seen in Hyphen's comments. Almost every comment so far has said something new. The level of articulateness in these comments is well above par. Why does it take racist assholes to get people talking like this?

Some of the obvious things to say:


  1. Blacks are lowest on the racial totem pole, yet have the strongest racially-based social justice institutions; blacks have more cultural power to defy stereotyped images than all other ethnic minorities combined, yet are probably more judged and worked upon by those stereotypes in real life than all other minorities. This is complicated and difficult to comprehend, and no one who is angry about their lack of privilege will try to understand it.

  2. Fear of blacks nowadays is both the traditional fear of the rampaging negro savage, and the more postmodern fear of the incomprehensibly angry black tongue-lashing. The latter fear has become "racist" because it is so bound up with the former fear, but it is not, in itself, racist. It is the result of racism, where someone holds racist ideas and cannot free herself of them, and is therefore afraid to speak because every time she does, she is taken to task for her racist ideas. I want to separate these two fears because the latter fear is, in part, a fear of giving offense, and it is exactly that fear of giving offense that prevents many people from venturing a racist idea and then being corrected.

  3. I do not know to whom Black History Month belongs. I do not know what to do about it.

  4. Asians and blacks. Oh my gods. I can't even begin to touch that subject until you've listened to Ishle Park's amazing piece "Sa I Gu" on this CD. That's my cop out. There are so many individual crossovers, and so many individual clashes. What there has almost never been, except during the Rodney King riots, or "Sa I Gu", is groups of Asians and Blacks beating on each other, or, actually, talking to each other. I can't say anything.

  5. Except this: the Chinese are very, very racist against blacks, yes, it's true. It's culture-wide, and it's very different from how whites do it. The justifications are different, even here in the States. There's an imbibing of white cultural valus, certainly, but there's also a special Chinese brand of racism all its own, where "ghost/demons" are generally white, but there's a black version as well. Where everyone who isn't Chinese is a monkey, and not in a good way.

  6. And this: Chinese Americans led some of the early Asian American Movement groups and they modeled their protest consciously on the Civil Rights Movement ... for reasons that are obvious now--because they did it--but were not obvious then, when Chinese were considered foreigners, and not somehow "native" lessers, like blacks. It was the consciously taken lessons of the Civil Rights Movement, taken by the Asian American Movement, that enables discussions of parallels and differences, compare and contrast, between As Ams and Af Ams today. We chose to make blacks our model of activism and not whites. As Ams chose to model our Movement after Civil Rights and not the equally accessible and equally powerful white anti-war movement. Everybody needs to stop and think about that.

And here's the Black History Month conundrum:

Blacks don't get the spotlight often, so I should stay out of theirs in February.

But that doesn't mean that I should ignore Black History Month. That would be just as bad.

But it's weird to play an explicitly supportive role, for a whole month. Isn't that weird? And patronizing?

And I have all of this unresolved anger against blacks which is genuine, if vague. And did I mention unresolved?

And I'm angry at this specific black pundit for a stupid comment about Asians and I don't know where to put it to get it out of the way for February.

Plus: Black History Month: not really my deal, is it?

Ohmygod, if I say anything at all during Black History Month everyone will be looking at me and judging me and what if I say/do the wrong thing? It's not like anyone else who's not black is doing anything to take the heat off of me.

Am I really just an insufferable goody-goody?

Plus, now the month is over.

Yes, I'm being partly silly but I'm also deadly serious. I have not given up on My Black History Month. I just don't think it'll happen in February.

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 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.

Arrrrrrggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

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.)

November 20, 2006

Takei Joins "Heroes" Cast!

Squeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hyphen mag tells us that George Takei, a.k.a. Mr. Sulu from the original "Star Trek" series, is joining the cast of "Heroes" as Hiro's father.

Yay!

Takei is a bit of a hero of mine, one of the best-known Asian American faces, an actor who has never sold out, or (that I know of) taken any roles that denigrate Asian Americans, and who has remained true to the Asian American community throughout his career, acting in community independent films, sitting on nonprofit boards, and turning out appearances at community fundraisers over and over.

He raised this to another level last year when he came out as gay, uninspired by any Perez Hilton-style outing shenanigans, and then connected that experience with his childhood experience in the Japanese American internment camps. He's also long been active in LGBT organizations. He followed this up with a Human Rights Campaign-sponsored "Equality Trek," a speaking engagements tour around the country.

The campaign to get Captain Sulu his own "Star Trek" series failed, but honoring not just the stature of the Sulu character, but also the stature of the actor who plays him, should be a priority down "Star Trek" way. If they ever do another series ...

Meanwhile, we get to see him on "Heroes." How appropriate!

(Cross-posted at Other Magazine Blog.)

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 5037
Total wordcount: 7861

November 16, 2006

National Stupid Book Award

Bummer. Gene Yang didn't win. Sigh. I guess that would've been too much to ask.

October 23, 2006

Help Sita Turn 25

Sita Bhaumik is turning 25 in a few days and she has a free ticket to fly anywhere in the continental US. She wants some good ideas about how to do this weirdly, impactfully, and ritualistically. There are some rules. Go to her blog page and suggest those things that you really want to do and get them done vicariously.

September 19, 2006

AsianBack

I'm bringing Asian back ... yeah ...

I'm back in San Francisco as of about an hour ago, and have immediately plopped myself and my laptop down in my favorite coffee shop with my favorite salad and a rendevous with my favorite internet. Hi there!

Tonight, for those of you in the Bay Areas, I will be going to the APAture kickoff party/exhibition opening. Come join me!

For those of you out the know, APAture is an annual arts festival I helped found at Kearny Street Workshop eight years ago (can you believe that shit? Eight years!) It was originally a festival for Bay Area Asian Pacific American artists of all disciplines who were between the ages of 18 and 35 and were just starting out in their artistic careers. APAture has been the first (but not the last) public exhibition, performance or reading for a number of Bay Area APA artistes and writeurs. Yay APAture!

APAture was also a (ragingly successful) way KSW had to bring the next generation (at that time, Generation X) into a rapidly aging organization (KSW was founded by baby boomers in 1972) and have some, ya know, generational transfer. APAture was (and still is) organized by a committee of young volunteers who learned a number of nonprofit organizational skills thereby and took those out into the community, benefiting everybody and looking really good on grant proposals.

Well, now the transfer is complete, KSW is run entirely by GenXers and younger, and somebody decided that the young don't need a special space anymore. So APAture is now a festival for emerging artists of all ages. There are good and bad things to this, and I don't know whether this will be, in the aggregate, a good change or a bad one. It will be hard to tell until a few years go by.

But whatever ... it's still a community event and it's still fun and interesting and a great way to experience what's going on in Asian America (Wesside), so come on down! Call me on my phony-phone if you want to meet up, or just come down.

And welcome me back!

September 03, 2006

Almond Eyes

I would have put this in Strunk & Light, but this is a peeve of another color. Observe:

This is an almond.

Almond

These are all possible almond eyes.

Almondpossibilities

See? Look Asian to you? Okay ...

These are the real, actual eyes of an East Asian person (Lucy Liu).

Lucy_liu

And these (Anna May Wong).

Anna_may_wong

And these (Jet Li).

Jet_li

And these (Mr. Miyagi ... I mean Pat Morita).

Pat_morita

Look "almond shaped" to you? Wanna have a look at the almonds again? Here you go:

Almondpossibilities_1

So ... whaddaya think? Were those Asian eyes "almond eyes" or "almond-shaped eyes"? Not so much?

How about these?

Angelina_jolie

Or these?

Kate_moss

Or these?

Benaffleck

Or these?

Brad_pitt

Those were, in order, Angelina Jolie, Kate Moss, Ben Affleck, and Brad Pitt. In other words, Whitey. (Yeah, I don't think Brad was such a great example, either. But you have to have him if you have Angelina.)

Still not getting it?

How about now?

Angelinaalmond

... now? ...

Benalmond

No? ... now maybe?

LucyalmondPatlamond

Jesus H., people, do I have to spell it out for you? East Asians don't have almond shaped eyes. White people do.

Yeah, that's right. So the next time you're looking for a cheap way to say that your Fu-Manchu-Dragon-Lady-love-you-long-time character is fucking Asian, know that if you write that s/he has "almond (shaped) eyes" we are all gonna know you for the fraud you are.

Look at what you're looking at!

ETA: Further reading:
Borg Eyes
Why Are Interracial Relationships Important to Society?
Vin Diesel Breakdancing

July 23, 2006

An Asian American and Multiracial Reading List

I didn't get my understanding of the world and my knowledge of the racial/ethnic landscape of the US entirely by osmosis, but it often feels that way. I chose to enter into and live in activist poc spaces, and from this vantage point, it's sometimes hard to remember how I learned what I learned.

Most of it I got from being there in those spaces: having those discussions (ad nauseum) either in person or online, or seeing the discussion played out in writing (essays, stories, poems), art, performance, film. A lot of it I got just from watching dynamics and interpreting them from my vantage point.

Also, creating a voice for yourself necessitates having something to say. Writing articles for my friends' zines, creating online fora for discussion (which I've done many times), creating in-person fora for discussion (which I've also done a great deal of), and especially, starting a magazine, all meant that I had to go scrambling for content. That also forces you to open up your eyes, ears, and mind, and see what's going on. It forces you to go digging, to do research.

All of these are sources of my knowledge and understanding, sources of my vocabulary. But, of course, I've done some study and reading as well, and I should be able to share some print sources with you. And because it's amazing how difficult it is for a google search to occur to the ignorant (I'm complaining about myself as well; I'll go halfway around the world to ask a friend a question before I'll sit down and do a google search about something I'm ignorant of) here's a non-threatening reading list of things that might help you share the current common understandings that shape the activist Asian American and Hapa spaces in the US today. Basically, I'm providing this (as my last post for IBAR) so as to give no one who reads this an excuse for not knowing. These are my reading recommendations. You can start here and let the reading itself guide you on.

This is not any sort of definitive reading list. It's not even the list of books you should read for the best information. It is, instead, the books I've read that have helped me shape ideas. I've deliberately chosen things that are narrative and interesting to people who read novels and stories, and not heavy on the theory and dry academic language. So, of course, most of this is fiction or memoir. Some of this stuff is "radical" though, and holds its fists high, so you'll need to swallow your pride and sense of personal injury before partaking.

ASIAN AMERICAN

Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers
by Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, Shawn Wong
This was the first Asian American literature anthology, published in 1974, and phenomenally important to the development of Asian American identity and thinking. The introductory essays will ground you quickly and brutally in the politics of the 60's and 70's Asian American Movement better than pretty much anything else can. The excerpts included in the anthology will give you an impression of how new the current monolithic As Am lit establishment really is. A warning: the editors' stance is pretty macho, and their attitude toward some of the influences that have shaped subsequent As Am lit (including Maxine Hong Kingston, David Henry Hwang, and Amy Tan) are at times positively sexist. Keep in mind while you read this that they're drawing their understanding of As Am history from the "bachelor" society that prevailed in American Asian enclaves since the gold rush, and that were intensified after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented men from bringing their wives and families over. These guys are the children of people who came over in that atmosphere; subsequent generations of writers are the children of post-Exclusion Act immigrants.

Bulletproof Buddhists
by Frank Chin
Chin is one of the "Aiiieeeee! boys" and most definitely the most controversial. He has no problem attacking people in print (his public feud with Maxine Hong Kingston is legendary; she wrote Tripmaster Monkey about him) and burns bridges right and left. His critque of Kingston and other As Am writers of her generation is unjust and blind at best. On the other hand, he's one damned smart cookie, and the essay "Pidgin Contest on the I-5" is the best defense of politically correct speech I've ever read ... and also an interesting take on the Rodney King riots.

No-no Boy
John Okada
One of the novels excerpted in Aiiieeeee!, this tells the story of a "no-no boy" (Japanese American man who answered "no" to the two most important questions in a loyalty questionnaire administered to JAs in the internment camps--which meant he refused to be drafted) and his rejection by his JA community after returning home from prison (for refusing the draft) after the war.

Eat a Bowl of Tea
Louis Chu
Another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. A funny and weird portrait of 50's New York City Chinatown tells the story of a young Chinese immigrant who begins to have problems with impotence when his father arranges a marriage for him and all of bachelor Chinatown begins watching his wife for signs of pregnancy.

America is in the Heart: A Personal History
Carlos Bulosan
Yet another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. This one is more of a memoir of a Filipino American migrant laborer. Also a portrait of a life we only know a little bit of through Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, part of an oeuvre that whitewashed California labor dynamics.

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Maxine Hong Kingston
Read what Frank Chin fulminates about. This book is groundbreaking in a number of ways: Kingston introduces and simultaneously remakes Chinese legend in a fantasy sequence that expands the meaning of memoir. She also created the context and set the scene for the Asian American lit genre popularized by Amy Tan in The Joy Luck Club.

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment
by Jeanne Houston, James D. Houston
A memoir. The title pretty much says it all, but this is the classic memoir of internment.

Darkness
Bharati Mukherjee
A collection of stories that opened my eyes to some of the dynamics happening right under my nose in middle-class immigrant communities, both in Canada and the US. Just plain good writing.

The City in Which I Love You
Li-Young Lee
Poetry, but reads something like a narrative. An excellent introduction to the issues and experiences of the "one point five" or the "1.5" generation immigrant, who was born abroad but raised partly in the United States, a very common demographic in postwar Asian American immigrants. Also, Lee's family is just interesting in itself and he spends his first two books obsessing on it.

Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The first such fiction anthology, came at just the right time to collect exemplars from writers of both the pre-Aiiieeeee!, the Aiiieeeee!, and the Amy Tan generation as well as those shut out of the mainstream acceptance offered to the Amy Tan generation (like R. Zamora Linmark.)

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The sequel, published a decade later, that demonstrates loudly and viscerally how much As Am lit, and the As Am self-conception, has changed.

Dust and Conscience
Truong Tran
Also poetry, this is an idiosyncratic, as well as archetypal take on the experiences of a Vietnamese American who fled as a refugee at the end of the war and returned to his "home country" as an adult. This was inspired by an actual trip Tran took. Don't expect your common identity/finding yourself narrative here. Among other things, the narrator falls in love with his traveling companion (another Vietnamese American man), and embodies his ideas in the shape of the creatures of fable, which then verbally entice and abuse him.

Hyphen magazine
The only current national Asian American news and culture magazine. This one is expressly progressive and represents the prevailing progressive pan-Asian American viewpoint. Yes, I co-founded it. That doesn't mean what I said about it is incorrect.

HAPA

The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders As the New Frontier
edited by Maria P. P. Root
Root is the preeminent scholar of multiraciality. Yeah, it's academic stuff, but her introductory essay, including the Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People, rocked my world when I first read it.

My Year of Meats
Ruth Ozeki
First of all, a terrific novel about a Japanese/American hapa tv producer traveling the United States producing a show to promote beef consumption in Japan. Secondly, this book tackles so many turn-of-the-millenium demographic issues, I can't even list them all: 1.5, multiraciality, internationalism, transracial adoption, queer adoption, bilingual/bicultural, third culture kids, etc. etc.

Mavin Magazine
The multiracial magazine, based out of Seattle. Publishes irregularly and is of uneven quality, but is completely earnest, heartfelt, and open to a variety of understandings of race (as a multiracial magazine should be.) (By the way, whatever you read, do not take "Interracial Voice" seriously.)

That's all for now. I might update as things occur to me.

***
update for the hapa list:

Paper Bullets
Kip Fulbeck
I was wracking my brain trying to come up with hapa narratives that are representative, or that offer ideas and "philosophies" ... but I guess that's part of the point of hapa narratives is that they are all necessarily idiosyncratic, since The Mix is always particular, if not peculiar. Kip Fulbeck's book is probably the closest I can come to "representative", and that because Fulbeck's entire oeuvre (of videos, artwork, performance, etc.) is geared toward examining the East Asian/white hapa male experience. It's a "fictional autobiography" that uses Fulbeck's life experiences as object lessons in understanding the intersection of racial and gender issues. It's deliberately, slyly, (and probably also less than deliberately) self-indulgent, as well as underhand macho (acknowledging feminism as a way of making yourself seem more of a man.) An eye-opening read.

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In
Paisley Rekdal
A collection of personal essays that will give you an excellent view of the contortions hapas of my generation went through to find an identity that would stick internally and make sense externally. And yes, her mother really does meet Bruce Lee.

July 20, 2006

Hybridity vs. Colorblindness and Cultural Appropriation

See? For my main International Blog Against Racism Week (IBARW) post I'm bringing aaaaalllllll the catchphrases into my title.

First, some definitions (caveat: these terms have been used in many different ways in many different contexts. I'm just defining these for me, and for this blog post. You may disagree and use them otherwise.):

Race: 1) biologically based group status denoted by phenotype; i.e. the idea that people who all bear the same or similar phenotype markers (physical size and shape, skin and hair color and texture, shape and size of facial features) all belong to a particular group (and the phenotype markers, such as skin color, can be so faint or conceptually-based as to be nearly imaginary). 2) the idea that people from the same region (usually a continent or half-continental region) bear the same phenotypical markers. 3) this is different from "ethnicity" since race bases itself on biological realities (yes, people from sub-Saharan Africa do tend to have darker skin), although in practice these realities are stretched so thin as to become transparent. 4) this also differentiates from "ethnicity" in that a taxonomy is created where race is a more general grouping and ethnicity more specific. E.g.: "Asian" is the race and "Chinese" is the ethnicity; "African" or "black" is the race and "Bantu" the ethnicity; "Latino" is the race and "Colombian" the ethnicity.

Ethnicity: 1) culturally based group status denoted by common cultural markers and often by racial characteristics; i.e. the idea that people from the same region or culture will behave distinctively, including language, dress, gesture, values and uses. 2) ethnicity tends to be more specific than race (although not always) and gets much nitty-grittier about specific cultural uses and how these differentiate one group from another, even in the same region. 3) usually used to refer to cultural groups who are in the minority in a certain culture; i.e. the idea that a non-dominant culture is "ethnic", or has a special cultural quality that the dominant or mainstream culture or ethnicity does not; the idea that dominant or mainstream ethnicities are not "ethnic" at all.

Nationality: although usually used interchangeably with race or ethnicity (many people think it's a nicer or more pc term than race or ethnicity), I actually use it only to refer to a person's national status, i.e. what country you are a citizen of. This has more cultural and ethnic relevance than Americans like to think.

EXAMPLE: In terms of race I am multiracial Asian and white; In terms of ethnicity I am multiethnic Chinese and white; my nationality is American.

Melting Pot: This is an American concept from the first half of the century that has all racial/ethnic identities melting together like a metallic alloy, each losing its distinctive characteristics and becoming a new whole that everyone shares from equally. This is debunked and continues to become more problematic with each passing year. Why? The melting pot ignores the integrity of culture as well as how cultures actually mix. It ignores the importance of identity to "minorities" and ignores the impossibility of equally mixing privileged and non-privileged identities (because privilege would have to be given up to achieve this.) Ignores the human fear of losing one's identity. The Borg are the ultimate melting pot type. 'Nuff said.

Multiculturalism: This is a concept from the 70s and 80s that has races and ethnicities mixing not like a soup in the melting pot, under heat and pressure, but like a salad, cold and easy, where each identity maintains its cultural integrity but exists, piece by piece, side by side with all the others. A patchwork quilt. A mosaic. This concept ignores that to maintain absolute cultural integrity, cultures must be isolated from one another, because cultures inevitably syncretize when they come into contact. Multiculti assumes that "respect", "understanding" and "celebration" of other cultures will result in the integrity of each and the happy forward motion of all. It doesn't take into account that the inequality of cultures will result in the dominant culture raiding and exploiting the minority cultures, which then lose integrity without gaining validity in the process. It ignores that minority cultures will either adopt aspects of the dominant culture for the sake of the privileges it offers, or harden their borders with the dominant culture to express their displeasure at the lack of privilege. The display of integral cultures on the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the perfect example of what multiculit looks like. But have you ever seen this in real life?

EXAMPLE: Under the melting pot regime, I am to ignore particularities of both of my heritages and assimilate to American mainstream culture. Also, I am a salutary step toward the full melding of all cultures (and races). I am to be viewed as an undifferentiated "American", and not to claim any ethnic identity at all. Under multiculti I'm a bit problematic. I am simultaneously evidence that multiculti works (my parents living harmoniously side by side) and a threat to cultural cohesion. Under multiculti I'm either a third category, multiracial, or two things simultaneously (at all times) Asian and white.

Colorblindness: Refusal to acknowledge racial (and by extension, ethnic) difference. Runs against both melting pot and multiculti. It is a fear of noticing color/racial/ethnic-based differences because in noticing them you might notice 1) that things are not as they should be and 2) that you are occupying a privileged position. Colorblindness is in itself a privilege. You never hear people of color claiming color blindness unless they have been raised in mostly white communities or now inhabit and wish to continue to inhabit mostly white spaces.

Cultural Appropriation: The unhealthy aspect of multiculti, where a more powerful culture raids a less powerful neighboring culture (neighboring in the salad sense), and appropriates aspects of that culture without proper acknowledgment of the "home culture" or understanding the cultural context from which these aspects spring. Examples: yoga, Buddhism, hip hop and ebonics-derived slang, graffiti art, etc.

***

All of which brings us, finally, to "hybridity". It's not yet a term being used with any sort of common consciousness, with any consciousness of it's being a term for a new idea about race or ethnicity. So it's still free, still amorphous, still ambiguous in meaning and value. Which is exactly what it means to me and exactly the way I like it.

I present "hybridity" as an anodyne, an antidote, and antithesis and synthesis and thesis, against and after all of the previous ones. Hybridity is none of the above and partakes of none of the above. It is about neither melting together and losing all sense of original differences, nor existing side-by-side without cultural "bleed".

It is, instead, a way of proceeding in knowledge, thoughtfulness, and awareness. It is a combination of knowing the history of all of your cultural sources, understanding the dynamics among different groups, accepting and honoring both your disadvantages and privileges, and -- and here's the most important part -- allowing cultural mixing and progress then to happen the way it happens, without prescription, and with understanding of the mechanics, aesthetics and feel of it.

Hybridity is about fascination with culture, about studying people and how they become themselves, and how this becoming changes when they come into contact with other people. It's about the joy of being human and how we express this in our various ways, and how we take joy in others' expressions and let those influence us. It's about being open to others and also letting yourself flow outwards to them.

Hybridity requires flexibility in the observer. It requires, more than anything, comfort with ambiguity. You must be able to recognize that human identity is ultimately mysterious and that you can only grasp a small corner of anyone's identity at any given moment. You have to let go of your need for hard-lined categories.

You also have to recognize the ambiguity in yourself. This is more difficult for whites than for anyone else. Whites like to try to understand hybridity in ethnic terms ("Well, I'm Swedish, Dutch, and French, so I'm hybrid, too!"), which is false and misleading. White America was a hybrid identity before mid-century. Now it's monolithic in its self-conception. Also, if you're white, your ethnic integrity is not affected by the minor appropriation of small cultural objects from "other" identities, becuase "white" is a culturally absorptive identity, not an orthodox one.

If you're white, your hybridity can be best understood in terms of gender, sexuality, familial roles and social/professional roles. You are both daughter and lover, mother and employee. You are both volunteer and boss, annoyance and hero, father and brother. To different people at different times and in different situations, of course.

There are times when your love for your best friend takes on the intensity of romance. There are times when you choose to walk like a man, or listen like a woman, and secretly enjoy it. There are times you masturbate to the thought that you are of the opposite sex, receiving from someone like yourself. Every time you get bored with life, you do something that surprises you about yourself, and usually it is something that scares you. You didn't know you could drink that much. You didn't know you could behave that recklessly around the kids. You didn't know you were such an asshole. You didn't know you thought that way. You didn't know you'd leap so quickly into action. You didn't know it would be so easy to say no. You didn't know it would be so hard to be happy.

That's what it's like.

EXAMPLE: Hybridity simply acknowledges that I am what I am when I am it. It's the simplest concept for identity because it has no problem with complexity and does not try to organize complexity into something simpler and easier to grasp. It just lets things be and become. If one week I talk about being multiracial, another week I can emphasize being biracial, and the next day I can speak for all Asians, and later that day be specifically Chinese, and then wake up the next morning white and privileged --- and all these things are consistent and coherent with who I am and require no accounting or schema.

I just made this all up, but we need a new way to think about race, so here's mine.

July 09, 2006

How To Welcome Outsiders

Since I posted all those links to discussions on how the privileged should behave when entering "minority spaces", I think it's important to address the other side of things: how we should behave when the privileged enter our spaces.

It may not seem like a problem, but it is. Those white men (and it's almost always white men) who have entered my minority spaces were usually invited in ... and to their credit, they clearly would not have come in without invitation.

The problem, then, in the cases of "guests" behaving well, is that those of us at home in the space feel:

• unprepared to deal with the privileged in a place and time where we were not expecting to have to deal with them;
• just plain annoyed that even this space, created and maintained with such effort and sacrifice, can also be coopted by a privilege that doesn't (usually) offer a worthwhile recompense;
• threatened, especially if we've experienced the hard end of white privilege personally;
• empowered by our obvious, first-time, absolute belonging in the space, to turn around and show the hard end of our hard-won privilege right back.

All of these feelings are understandable, and the first two are even legitimate. But even the first two often lead to unworthy behavior. If this doesn't sound like such a huge problem, let me illustrate:

Seven years ago I started an annual Asian Pacific American arts festival with a group of other young APAs. As we were all amateurs in event production, we had trouble managing the technical side of things: lights, sound, stage management, etc. By the second year of the festival, we had expanded so much that we needed people to take shifts in handling tech and I had trouble finding enough volunteers.

A very close friend of mine (a white woman) had been a professional theater tech and I asked her to volunteer a shift. She was very supportive of what I was doing at this organization and very willingly took on a shift. At the event, after her shift, she mistook a young woman she saw only from behind for one of the organizers. (Understand: this was not an "all Asians look alike" moment. She only saw the young woman from behind, and realized her mistake the moment the young woman turned around.) She apologized and, as she was walking away, heard someone from their all-Asian group say "Stupid white girl." Let me add that my friend was, at this time, wearing a brightly-colored t-shirt that marked her as a volunteer for the event.

A few years (and one further incident) later, I threw a birthday party for myself at the apartment I shared with this same woman friend, and invited all the staff from an Asian American magazine that I'd co-founded a few years before. These folks spread the word and brought friends, and quite a few young Asians showed up whom I didn't know. This same friend/roommate told me later that she had overheard a conversation among a small group of young Asians who clearly thought that this party belonged to the magazine's crowd. They had been looking around them in disgust and wondering aloud who all the white people were and why they were there.

Now understand that these are extreme cases, and that the misbehavior in both cases was committed by people I didn't know, didn't work with, and who were not responsible for creating and maintaining the minority spaces they (sort of) happened in (that is, the festival and the magazine.) However, that such things were able to happen in spaces that I helped to create, or, in the latter case, in my own house and in the house of the person so insulted clearly confers responsibility for these incidents upon me. I was, and still am, ashamed that such things happened, and to one of my closest friends, under my watch. I'm doubly ashamed that it happened to someone who came into that space out of love for me.

I am not monoracial and I do not live a monoracial life. I also do not restrict my social life to people who share my sexual orientation, age, religion, etc. The circle of my life intersects many, many more or less enclosed circles---in fact, I'd venture to say that I intersect more circles than most people (not my friends, though; they're just as culturally slutty as I am). My friends, family, colleagues, models, and other loved and respected ones come from all communities. All are welcome in my life, and all are welcome to follow me into circles I belong to that are not their own. But it is up to me to make sure that anyone I invite into my life, into any room of my life, is safe there.

So if you are tired of being restricted to your enclave, or if there are important people being shut out of important aspect of your life, here are some rules to make this happen:

• Know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior.

Alot of this bullshit continues because it's not recognized as such. Using a "minority space" to talk about group privilege, or even about individual instances of it, is not only acceptable, but necessary. However, using a "minority space" to make a privileged individual feel uncomfortable about themselves or to feel unwelcome is not acceptable.

Here's a rule of thumb: if the person being made uncomfortable had risked his/her life to save yours the day before, would you let him/her be treated this way? If not, don't let anyone, no matter what race or state of belonging, be treated this way.

• Think before you invite.

This is unfortunate, but necessary. Since these incidents with my friend, she's been wary, in any case, of coming to my Asian American functions, where she worries that she'll be unwelcome, (and can I just add here that white men are more welcomed into APA spaces than white women?), and I'm much more wary of inviting her.

Think about whether the event or circumstance will offer your guest at least safety from feeling awkward or conspicuous or on-the-spot. If the event or circumstance will not offer this, think about what you can do to offer this safety yourself. If it is absolutely impossible, don't invite them, or let them know why you're reluctant to encourage them to come.

• Don't sigh over bad situations, change them!

Thinking about your guest's safety, and the recognition that they might not be safe, does not let you off the hook. If there's no safety in the situation, but if you might be able to create safety, then you have no excuse not to do it.

In the cases I've mentioned above, I was one of the organizers of the events and circumstances. If this is the case and you've invited someone to a party, event, list-serv, or what have you that you're involved with organizing, there's absolutely nothing (but cowardice) stopping you from saying directly to your compatriots that you're bringing a guest and that you expect everyone to treat your guests with courtesy. Remind them that the honor of the organization is at stake, because frankly, it is.

If you are not a leader or organizer, but "merely" a member/participant, there's still nothing wrong with raising your voice (although if you're observing Asian America, you'd never know that.) Occasional strangers (active, intelligent strangers) have emailed me before an event or party to ask if their white friends would be welcome. This, in turn, reminded me to put the question to the organizers at large, to remind them to be thinking about this issue. It never hurts and usually helps a great deal.

• Remember that if you claim that "minority space" as your own, then you are a host to whomever enters it.

Ownership is a privilege that confers a great deal of responsibility. This doesn't just mean be polite to everyone. This means it's your duty to go out of your way to make sure that everyone there is comfortable.

You share this responsibility with all the other "hosts", but if you can't count on them to share the work with you, you still have to do it yourself. And if you're an organizer, don't be shy about reminding the other organizers of their responsibilities as hosts.

If you're at an event and you see someone standing by themselves (whether they "belong" or not) it's up to you to go up to them and draw them into conversation, draw them into a group. This is something you would imagine everyone would do for the friends they invite into the space, but that's not always the case. Make sure you introduce the guest to at least three new people. Take a few seconds to think of people who will actually talk to your guest, and, in fact, give them things to talk about. "My friend Eric is a photographer, too!" "Steve also started his own magazine. You might have seen it." etc.

• Don't let anyone of your group, even strangers, get away with bullshit.

This is more difficult, because the type of incident that I mentioned above, doesn't happen in front of me. You can't prevent all silly buggers from playing in your space, but you can go a long way towards creating an atmosphere that discourages such attitudes. And if your fellow members see you talking animatedly with "outsider" guests, they'll feel less certain about openly insulting outsiders.

But if you should happen to hear someone say something questionable, by no means let it pass! You don't need to be angry or hostile, but you do need to nip it in the bud, straight away. Often, a simple "It's funny you should feel that way, because I don't at all," will do the trick, but if you need to be more explicit, get explicit. And don't hesitate to call on someone you trust to back you up. It is a group effort, and a group atmosphere that you are striving for. You don't need to---and in fact, can't---create it alone.

• There's a difference between guests and invaders. You don't have to permit invasion.

All of the above having been said, you are not a gatekeeper, but you are a host, and as such, part of your responsibility to guests is to neutralize outsiderss who would impinge on the comfort of both guests and members.

Let me give some examples from real life (all of these invaders were white): a man who attended the above-mentioned arts festival only to buttonhole several organizers and tell them how it would have been done in their families' countries of origin; a middle-aged man who attended an open mic for South Asian young adults and took the mic for longer than his allotted time to read poems about North and South Korea and harangue the audience on this topic; a man who attended the launch party for an independently published book about Japanese American internment which had the term "concentration camps" in the title, who harangued the publisher's representatives about the Holocaust and prevented them from selling books, a man who stood at the back of a poetry reading by a Chicana poet and yelled things like "Viva la Raza!"; the father of multiracial children who hung around a multiracial list-serv, attacking everything the members wrote about their feelings as "racist", etc.

Permitting intrusiveness from "invaders: (i.e. not "guests", people not invited into the space) is not only not necessary, it's wrong. The space was created for a reason, and the strength and power everyone draws from the space must not be made genuinely vulnerable to vulgar attack. At the same time, permitting aggressive attacks by invaders only makes members of the space more resentful toward the more polite and vulnerable guests. Effectively neutralizing invaders makes it easier for everyone to welcome guests.

This means that you have to call for group assistance and be prepared to offer assistance to others in this task. You need to stand together and support one another (and not just walk away and leave the unpleasantness to your stronger, more outspoken colleague to deal with.) You need to be polite and firm, and politely and firmly repudiate the attack. You need to not permit the attack to absorb more of your time and attention than is absolutely called for by your own sense of justice to everyone. Usually the invader is just looking for attention and the best way to shut him/her down is to withdraw attention. If the invader is offering insult or danger to others, you need to call on an organizer, or if you are an organizer, to escort the invader out and not let them back in.

One final note: there are always borderline cases, cases of "guests" who step forward to take on a more active role in the community, a role which should really belong to a community member if your community is to remain self-defining. Yet these guests remain respectful, and offer intelligent contributions to the group effort. I have encountered three such cases directly (and no, I'm not going to talk about them.) I don't have any easy answers. All I can say is that respectful, contributing guests deserve a great deal of thought and care in their handling.

• And, a special last rule for organizers: don't fall into cliqueishness within the "minority space" itself.

There are hip activists and there are dweeb activists. There are people of your race/class/gender/sexual orientation/etc. who believe what you believe, but whose faces are ugly and whose clothes are offensive to you. Who cares? If your space is an activist space (and most "minority spaces" are, by their very nature, activist) then you have no business with exclusiveness. Activist minority spaces are developed specifically to combat exclusive practices in the mainstream. You must be always putting your behavior where your politics are.

If you are an organizer, you are doubly a host of the space and doubly responsible for everyone's comfort. A fellow _______ (whatever your "minority" space addresses) who comes to you offering time, money, effort, skills, or merely attention, deserves your time and attention back; deserves to be a full member and not excluded. Although having a community, a social life, is a powerful motive for joining such activist groups, it is not, and cannot, be the primary mission of the group. Please to remember that, and act accordingly.

One last observation: those who feel the most hostile toward outsiders are the ones who feel the least confidence in themselves or in the stability of their space. Those who are the least threatened by outsiders are those who feel themselves most stable and confident in their space. For the sake of the space, and of your place in it, be welcoming to the respectful outsiders who cross your path.

July 07, 2006

Privilege and Its Discontents

Andrea Rubenstein blogs intelligently and readably about how a privileged person should interact with (for lack of a better term, since I refuse to use the word "oppressed") a person who does not share that privilege.

I strongly urge everyone to read the entire article (it's not painful, unless you're on the defensive, and there's good advice here.) From my years working in the Bay Area Asian American community (which is what Andrea calls "a minority space") I have met many "invaders", all of whom, at some time or another, have broken Andrea's rules. If you have ever entered, do currently enter, or have any intention in the future of entering a "minority space", you really, really need to read this.

Actually, before you read this, you might want to read the articles below. Andrea mentions in her post above the problem the privileged have with recognizing their privilege (that's the core of privilege: the privilege not to recognize itself.) I found these from surfing through a number of links (It all started at Other Magazine's blog with Liz's last post):
• a checklist of invisible items of male privilege
• a checklist of items of white privilege

• also, here in a way, is a checklist of class privilege.

Cross posted on Other Magazine blog.

June 12, 2006

The Long Overdue Cultural Approprittymatationing Post

Pam, who was at Wiscon but I dint get to (finally!) meet, says almost everything about cultural approap that I would want to say, but better, as usual.

Therefore I will neglect to control myself and add a few items:

1. One thing no one wants to say, so let me be the first: yes, having been marginalized does give me privileges in this question. So there!

No I'm not gonna play duelling discomforts. Any white American man with a stutter or an empty bank account probably had a worse childhood than I, granted easily. But any white American man growing up on American soil got to see himself reflected a million-fold in the forms of family, language, and uses around him, in media, in school, and most especially in precious, precious fiction. And I, quite simply, did not. The first media creature that anyone in my neighborhood ever compared me to was the bleached blonde Chinese girlfriend in George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" video (I was fifteen). I always felt a great yearning toward David Carradine's character in "Kung Fu", because, until the last ten years or so, he was the only Eurasian media character I ever saw. They wouldn't even let me have him, though: I was too foreign, and waaay too uncool.

Some of the best storybooks I read as a child -- Mulan and bandit stories, bilingual comic book versions of "Journey to the West" -- were things I couldn't share with friends. They wouldn't have been interested in an immortal monkey when there's a superman around. Plus, I didn't need to be distinguishing myself even more. I was too busy perfecting my ability to memorize song lyrics after three hearings, an ability I developed to make up for my inability to pick out slang and idioms from the rock-star-slurred lyrics, a skill that is pretty much the last thing you pick up when learning a second language. I was too busy consciously regulating the rhythms of my speech, something my friends did without thinking; too busy covering my embarrassment when I blurted out the wrong expression and everyone, once again, laughed at me; too busy scrabbling at the gates my friends didn't even know they were keeping.

So no, you don't get to have Mulan now. Don't even try it with Monkey King. Don't show me your tai chi moves, mofo. I don't care how many semesters of Mandarin you took in college, or how many years you taught English in a little village a hundred li west of Guangzhou. I don't care that your Chinese is better than mine, or that my "familiarity" with the muddercountry is less recent than the building of skyscrapers in Shanghai. And go scrub that stupid tattoo off your arm, here's some steel wool. Yes, I am the fucking arbiter of all things Chinese, as far as you're concerned, and if I don't give you a pass, you're a fraud.

You don't get to have the whole world and my little piece of it, too.

2. Pam says:

To me, writing is three things:

Empathy
Research
Effort

and to that I'd have to add: talent

In our relentlessly middle-class way, we want everything to seem egalitarian. But everything is not equal. The one thing the Art-screamers (those who celebrate Art with great passion and ignore Responsibility) love to avoid is the thing that sheparates most of 'em from the goats. People can try, with great willingness and honesty, to be respectful of another culture in their writing, and simply fail because they don't have the talent.

Geoff Ryman creates a fictional, third-world, "other" country in Air, which succeeds because it's so damned alive, because we can almost hear the characters breathing in the next room. Someone of lesser talent could try almost the same thing and offend nearly everybody simply because their world-building and characterizations fall flat through choplessness. (And no, I ain't gonna name names.)

The POC (people of color) in this current debate are busy trying to reassure the Majority Types (lessay, "MT's"?) that no one is trying to bar anyone from the field permanently. So let me take an utterly sober moment to say that people who suck at writing should be barred from the field permanently. If you've got your little elven-sword-Bombaday formula down and you're serving the 13-year-olds and no one's getting hurt, then stick to it. If your planet-hopera has no people of tint, but you're also straight-to-mass-market and not getting reviewed, be my guest. No one cares. Find your level.

Writing the Other takes skill, sensitivity, perfect pitch, oh, and talent, and -- just as I would not entrust my tumor-riddled brain to a mediocre surgeon to learn on -- I will not entrust my precious few reading hours to a lesser talent to mangle an "other" culture. I want Geoff Ryman, Maureen McHugh, Ursula Ursula Ursula, and oG help me, before all others, I want my Octavia, Nalo and Chip.

Yes yes, everyone should have to take a Writing the Other class early on in their writing development so that they learn early that it's okay and yes there are ways to do it. Then the ones with the inner tuning forks should be petted and kicked by turns, and the ones with the tin ears ruthlessly culled. Licenses should be issued ... and denied.

3. All hair-splitting triumphalism aside, those who write without Responsibility are just plain bad writers. The best writers -- both the ones who really turn me out, and the ones consistently rewarded with Appropriate Prizes -- spend a great deal of time and skill in their works cultivating and developing their audience. They use their books to teach you how to read their books, to teach you the language they wish to use, and to bone you up on the terms of their discourse. Their books end, leaving you, not sated, but full of intelligent, knowledgeable questions, full of Things To Talk About. The best writers do not write to please -- either themselves or their audience. The best writers serve their audience -- and themselves.

Such writers can certainly be, and often are, huge, squirming assholes in person: arrogant, faithless, vindictive. On the page, though, they hold to their duty like it's sacred. Truly good writers may in interviews spout arrant hooey about the Muse and Sacred Art, but they are workhorses, yolked and patient and, between the lines, even humble for the exigencies of making their work what it needs to be. Good writers will not, just now, because of the shrieking of bloggers recently returned from Wiscon, be waking up to the problems of cultural appropriation. Because of their acknowledged and already engaged responsibility toward their work and towards their readers, they will have spent a great deal of time already working through these questions.

And it'll come out in the work, quietly, loudly ... somehow. And I will read their work with quiet satisfaction, feel my intelligence shuffle forward immeasurably ... and then turn screaming back to the cult approap debate, leaving them out of it.

June 08, 2006

Wiscon/Trip WrapUp, Second Try

Fortunately, the virus has scrambled my brains, and memories would be fading anyway, if the virus had not scrambled my brains, so I don't really have to ...?

Sigh.

Okay, here's what I did:

1. Flew to Los Angeles for a one-day meeting of a committee to plan an Asian American book festival in L.A. next year, and also for a subsequent one-day Asian American writing conference. Fun. Lotsa talkin'.

2. Stayed in Los Angeles for the next week with friends Jose and Ana and Pato. Fun. Lotsa talkin'.

3. Went back up to San Francisco for three days for friend Kristina's show, and for friend Jaime's graduation from Berkeley and his MFA show at the Berkeley Art Museum. (I missed the graduation because of traffic.)

4. Stayed an extra day in San Francisco sleeping from exhaustion.

5. Drove back down to L.A. with Kristina and stayed with her for an additional four days, which included a STAR MAPS! tour of Beverly Hills. (We didn't see anyone famous.)

6. Flew out to Chicago, then drove up to Madison, Wisconsin for Wiscon, where I spent the next five days.

7. Drove back to Michigan (where I be now), and promptly fell ill.

Wrap-up stats:
• 10 furious, hours-long conversations with friends I haven't seen since I don't know when
• 300 furious, half-hour-to-hour-long conversations with Wiscon friends
• 4: number of times brain exploded
• 1 movie seen (X-Men 3. yuck.)
• 141 boingboing posts unread (actually, more, but I deleted a bunch without reading. Will I be a worm in my next life?)
• 33 days AWOL (counting the illness)
• 33 days' worth of novel revising undone
• 100,000 spots (I didn't count them, I was too busy being sick, but they covered my entire body)
• four cities visited
• not nearly enough alcohol imbibed
• two diseases tended, two overcome
• social life seen to, for the rest of the year

I've genuinely forgotten/lost details of what happened at Wiscon panels and such so I'll just dovetail onto other, older discussions in the succeeding post/s and chime in that way.

I'm sooo back.

May 19, 2006

More on Map of Spec Fic

Okay, before I get into this, can I just complain for a sentence or two? Can't you all use trackbacks or comments? I mean, I have to go to my stat counter and troll through the "came from" urls to find out y'all are talking about my genre diagram behind my blogack? Geez.

Okay, that and itchy ears out of the way, you guys are great. You'd be the perfect students for my spec fic class if you didn't already know more about spec fic than I do. I love that there's a leetle discussion on this, and agree with most of the criticisms of the diagram. I did realize, however, that I didn't make my explanation perfectly clear, so I wanted to clarify (claireify):

1. Lemme just reiterate that this diagram was created for a specific pedagogical purpose. That purpose was to introduce people who were largely ignorant of speculative genres to the general thinking about them. This was both from an insider and from an outsider perspective. The insider perspective, which took for granted that spec genres are valuable and interesting, was simplified by the outsider perspective (which tends to categorize oversimply) so as not to overwhelm newbies with the endless details of the insider arguments about the fluid borders of genre.

The choice of basing my definition of speculative vs. mimetic (itself an oversimplification) on the (oversimplified) notion of the novum came from the fact that the novum offers an easy (and I would argue, extremely useful) way to understand the generic differences without offering judgement on the quality of writing in each genre. Saying that only one element (albeit a very important one) seperates the two areas of fiction levels the playing field between them -- and renders either both, or neither, genre. Also, using the novum, rather than laying out traditional genre tropes, as a definition is an easy way of including spec fic that deliberately subverts or ignores genre tropes.

That having been said, any categorization begins to break down the moment you understand it. As fluid a thing as literature can't be contained, even for a second, within a diagram. The purpose of this map was to create, quickly, a common understanding of the general areas of spec fic, so that everyone in the class could immediately begin arguing about them. It's no surprise that people who have a much more sophisticated understanding of the field than I do would have a lot of just criticisms about this map.

2. Nick Mamatas sez:

Two things immediately jump out at me. Metafiction is ridiculously placed — there should be a little gray dot within every other circle, at the very least. And horror should be much larger, indeed finally bleeding off the page. It's a tonal genre and thus need not be fantastic or have any particular setting or even particular content, as was proven in practice by David Searcy's Ordinary Horror. There's plenty of horrific SF, horrific realist fiction, and horrific non-fiction (e.g., the narrative journalism in "true crime" books that ape the form and content of the horror novel).

Nick's right, I do have to rethink metafiction for this diagram. I disagree that it should be a dot in each circle, though, since the purpose of the diagram is to break down received notions of genre divisions and reorganize them according to a different principle. So, to feed the idea that all genres can be aligned or not according to a few simple principles, I'd reform the diagram so that all the small circles line up on one side of the larger circle. Then I'd make the "metafiction" gray not a circle but a rod that starts outside the fiction circle and penetrates each genre in turn, all the way to the center.

Regarding horror, this is horror fiction not horror in general, just as all the other genres are fiction, not nonfiction, which is why nonfiction finds itself nowhere on the diagram. So to talk about nonfiction whose intent is to horrify doesn't have a direct place in the discussion of this diagram. I agree that horror overlaps all the genres, though, since it is less about novum or no-novum than it is about the effect on the reader that it's going for. Again, if I realigned all the genre circles on one side, then I could have lozenge-shaped horror thing that intersected all of them but did not breach the skin of fiction.

3. Nick Mamatas also sez:

Implicit in the chart is a literary version of the "blood quantum" racial theories so beloved by Americans. If you write plausible SF, including even the possibility of a ghost or some sort of cosmic awe and dread at infinity in your little book, puts you into the fantasy camp.

First of all, the tack Nick takes, that of the outraged person of color smacking down an ignorant racist with fancy racial theory is what in a race discussion would be called "playing the race card". This is something I've, in fact, done in the past, often with justice, and just as often not. (It's something I'm going to do in the next paragraphs, albeit somewhat subtly.) Nick is playing the genre card. The problem with playing the race card on a person of color is that they can play it right back. Same problem with playing the genre card on another (albeit less experienced and knowledgeable) genre writer. I've created this diagram artificially seperating out the various genres to make the field more clear to people almost entirely ignorant of it. I've done so knowing that this diagram makes no place whatsoever for my science fiction/fantasy/alternate history/"literary"/ethnic novel. And I don't care.

Likewise, I have very often artificially categorized the racial landscape of America, and the ethnic landscape of Asian America in particular, to an unacceptable degree, for the purpose of making the outlines of those landscapes perceptible to people almost entirely ignorant of them. And I have done so knowing that I myself do not fit into the verbal diagram I'm creating. Doesn't matter. What matters is that people start to understand. I leave the sophisticated discussions to my colleagues over at Hyphen magazine, who know what goes on already.

Secondly (and I can't believe that I have to say this, but here we are), comparing genre to race is both obvious and offensive. Comparing blood quantum to a diagram on genre that speculativizes any writing with a teeny bit of novum is specious. Blood quantum is problematic because the consequences of a person being aligned with a racial group which they share only biological heritage with (i.e. not culture or community) are dire -- dire economically, politically, socially, psychologically, professionally, sexually, and personally. Aligning a mostly mimetic fiction with speculation because it might have a ghost or something might stigmatize it in some readers' minds. In an extreme case, it might affect sales if someone takes the recategorization too seriously and mis-shelves it in the bookstore. But mostly, all it does is cause some hot arguments on the blogosphere. It just doesn't matter that much. It's just words on paper, and how we shape them in our minds. It's not about projecting our faulty abstract ideas onto people's bodies and lives.

4. And:

The chart, and Light acknowledges this, also "set[s] up an artificial distinction that grouped the 'realism' of literary fiction with the exaggerated, but nevertheless 'realistic' (because they do not deal with nova) genre tropes of romance, mystery, thriller, western, etc. This in itself is pretty cool, because it forces literary fiction into bed with dirty genre (as if all characters thinking and speaking in poetic, revelatory, Joycean diction were 'realistic' rather than generic.)"

Yes, it may be cool (I don't really think so), but what's clever and what's true are two different things. It may also be cool to set up a disctinction that groups fictions into those stories that contain characters being swallowed and potentially consumed (because we find such a thing sexually exciting) and those that don't, but we end up with The Bible and Anaconda-Davida in one group and The Recognitions, The Naked Sword, and Kiss My Fist! in the other. We don't learn anything, except that some people jerk off to the thought of being swallowed.

I won't argue the coolness factor because that's entirely subjective, but I would refer Nick back to my pedagogic purpose above (which I admit was not fully explained in the original post.) What I find cool is that the novum definition very neatly, and I think plausibly, aligns what my students would seperate out as "literary fiction" (and consider "high art") with a number of genres they openly denigrate, even in the context of my class. This is not something that happens just in my class. It happens pretty much all the time in mainstream literature discussions that occur when the literary "establishment" is forced to pay attention to genre for a second. Like Malcolm Gladwell's dismissal of the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal on the basis that Opal Mehta is genre and all genre is more or less plagiarized.

I can't repeat enough that "literary fiction" is itself a genre and needs to be treated as such if fiction and literature in general are not to remain in the stagnant pond they've been algaeing since Eggers first published and people started lining up to write like him. Novum/no-novum places Opal Mehta in the same generic camp with Updike and Cheever, as well as the somewhat more intuitive Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, as well as the obvious Jennifer Wiener and Kim Wong Keltner. And it does so, in my opinion, with plausibility. I think that's cool and worth discussion. I also think it's a much larger and more important distinction than fiction depicting people being swallowed. It was a funny comparison, but not a just or illuminating one.

(Nick's slicing of ever finer bits of "novum", however, is smart and funny and definitely worth a read. And go through the comments to his post, too.)

4. Andrew Wheeler sez:

I do think any flat map will somewhat misinterpret the territory, and I have some mild complaints about this one. Putting Spec Fic in the middle is a nice trick for pedagogical purposes, but I don't think a bull's-eye is the right shape to begin with. (On a more minor point, I'll add that Alternate History can be Fantasy as easily as it can be SF -- and, as practiced under the name "counterfactual" by historians, can also be even more like non-fiction.)

I generally prefer to pull out two or three axes (not binary choices, but continua along which a work can fall) at a time -- there are probably at least a dozen that could interestingly sub-divide the world of literature -- and use those to present any particular case, while being clear that any such interpretation is a very simplified view.

He goes on to list a few of the axes he would use. I have very little to say about this because, frankly, I agree with pretty much everything Andrew says. (And no, it's not a coincidence that his post is mostly complimentary to me :) ) I find the idea of a 3-D map of genres thrilling and hope that someone more savvy with the 3-D image-generating stuff will undertake this, just to keep us arguing.

In fact, I seem to remember Scott McCloud creating a (2-D) diagram with more than one axis to address abstraction and realism in comics. Lemme see ... here it is. I think I oughter blog about this over at atlas(t). I'll cross-post if I do.
Okay, that was long, let the counter arguments begin!

May 15, 2006

Mr. Asian America

Beauty pageants have a long history of contention, but what about non-beauty pageants? Is it possible to have a "person pageant", modeled on the beauty pageant format, in which people are judged for their commitment, or their effectiveness, or even their overall community cool? Or will such an attempt inevitably devolve into an ogle-fest?

Next weekend, all folks in the Yay Area will have a chance to find out (and -- let's be frank -- ogle, if that's your preference.) This Friday the 19th, Hyphen magazine (disclosure: I'm an advisory board member) will be holding its first ever Mr. Hyphen Contest, celebrating the style, talent, and most of all, community commitment of Asian American men.

It's both a strange and a perfect choice for Hyphen, a Gen X founded, and now partly "Gen Y" run news and culture magazine focusing on Americans of Asian heritage. Hyphen, organized as a collective by a predominantly female staff and concerned with offering a "stealth progressive" viewpoint (progressive politics sugared with pop culture and snarkiness), would and does have a lot of sharp things to say about classic beauty pageants, especially those involving women, ballgowns, and the word "Miss". On the other hand, subverting questionable cultural outgrowths is Hyphen's bread and butter.

Add to this the continuing discussion in Asian American about the feminization of Asian masculinity in the West -- the silencing of the Asian American male -- and you end up with a potentially progressive pageant of pride. (Yes, I had to go for the alliteration.) On the other hand, it could just be a bunch of Asian American women (and men), giggling and whistling.

Whatever the case may be, Hyphen magazine itself, as an independent non-profit print mag, is worth your support -- as are the men, who are competing for a $500 donation to the nonprofit they work with. And the event will be fun. So please turn out and support this Friday. Hyphen's text and info below!

Note: If you prepay online you save $5!

You've heard of Miss Chinatown, but have you heard of Mr. Hyphen? That's right. Hyphen, the Asian American magazine dubbed "the oracle of Asian American culture" by the San Francisco Chronicle, thinks Asian American men should be celebrated as much as Asian American women. To that end, the magazine will present the inaugural Mr. Hyphen contest honoring the men of the Asian American community. In partnership with the Oakland Asian Cultural Center

On May 19, activists, organizers and leaders of various Asian American nonprofit organizations will compete to earn the crown of the first-ever Mr. Hyphen. The event, held at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, will feature participants competing in several rounds including talent, fashion and Q&A. Contestants will be judged on style, attitude, talent and dedication to the Asian American community. The winner will take home a cash donation of $500 from Hyphen for the nonprofit he represents.

EVENT: Mr. Hyphen
WHEN: Friday, May 19, 7:00-10 pm
WHERE: Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 510.637.0455, 388 9th Street, Suite 290, Oakland, CA 94607 (Pacific Renaissance Plaza, second floor) COST: $15 presale, $20 at the door, all ages welcome. 21+ for alcohol.

Pre-pay $15 (Please make sure you bring your id during the event)

May 12, 2006

In L.A.

Hey ever'body! I'm in L.A.! Yay!

I'm here for a meeting and a writers event (meeting is today, event is tomorrow) centered around starting an annual Asian Pacific American book festival. I've been asked to be on the advisory committee, which should be fun, advising. Much more fun than doing actual work.

The writers event is called the Asian American Writers Congress (first ever!), however I attended a writers congress here in L.A. at UCLA in 2000. So there. Anyway, I've pasted the press release below, so if you're in the area tomorrow, come check it out! It's FREE!

PRESS RELEASE April 26, 2006

Contact: Audrey Lee-Sung Asian Pacific American Legal Center (213) 977-7500 ext. 229

Asian American Writers Congress to Set Groundwork for the 2007 Asian Pacific American Book Festival

Writers and Emerging Writers Are Encouraged to Attend Free Event at UCLA on May 13, 2006

Los Angeles - Noted Asian and Pacific American (APA) authors, publishers and community leaders will gather to commence the first ever Asian American Writers Congress. The purpose of the Congress is to promote networks among APA writers, both emerging and published, and to set the groundwork for the 2007 Asian Pacific American Book Festival in Los Angeles. The dialogue is open to the public and will take place at UCLA’s James West Alumni Center on Saturday, May 13, 2006 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is a project of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center.

The Asian American Writers Congress will serve to gather these creative artists and also emerging writers who may not know how to effectively reach their readers. This free event will include speakers, a publishing panel, and a discussion with all attendees about their writing journeys. Input will also be solicited on how the 2007 festival can best promote literature either written by or about Asian Pacific Americans. Door prizes include books produced by the festival’s advisory council members. Various writing organizations, publishers, and booksellers will have resource materials on display.

“APALC is committed to help Asian Pacific Americans participate in the democratic process, and that often begins with literacy,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “Writers chronicle our experiences. We must encourage the telling of our stories–and that may take the form of memoir, poetry, literary fiction, genres like mystery and science fiction, and even cookbooks. APALC is excited to partner with the creative artists in our communities to reach our audience in new and fresh ways.”

The schedule is as follows: 9:30 a.m. Registration 10 a.m. Welcome and introduction 10:30 a.m. Keynote Speaker Shawn Wong, professor, University of Washington professor and author of American Knees 11 a.m. Gate Keepers: Publishers, Editors, and Agents Tell You How to Get Inside the Door

April 26, 2006

More Bullshit About Hapas

They just won't leave off, will they? Via Mixed Media Watch I got to this article from Psychology Today, annoyingly titled "Mixed Race, Pretty Face?" The article rehashes the experiment from last fall that "found" that hapas were (scientifically) more attractive than whites or Asians. However, this article gives a detail about the study that the articles I read last fall did not:

The experiment by Gillian Rhodes, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia, found that when Caucasian and Japanese volunteers looked at photos of Caucasian, Japanese and Eurasian faces, both groups rated the Eurasian faces as most attractive. These visages were created by first digitally blending a series of faces from each race into "composites" to create average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race. Past studies show that "average" features are consistently rated as more attractive than exaggerated features—such as an unusually wide forehead or a small chin.

Okay, I'm just gonna give you guys a quick chance to consider the proposition above and see if you can find the 800-pound gorilla in the room. (Don't feel bad if you don't. Not even the perennially annoyed Mixed Media Watch gals caught this one.)

Yep, that's right, they based the study not on real photographs of real people, but on digitally "morphed" photos created to present "average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race."

Why is this problematic? Let me count the ways:

1. There are no "typical" "Caucasian" features. Duh! "Caucasian" refers to everything from Icelandic, to Serbian, to Greek. In fact, if you showed photos of "typical" Greeks, southern Italians, or Portuguese, nowadays your respondant might be just as likely to peg them as "Arabs". Many Spaniards and Frenchpersons would be pegged as "Latino". And many Icelanders, Lapplanders and the like would be pegged as ... "hapa". What is considered "average" or "typical" "Caucasian" is basically Anglo and/or Nordic/Germanic, and/or Slavic. That is to say, what is "Caucasian" in America is entirely socially determined -- and not at all biologically determined -- by which Caucasians dominate the public image. Presumably, what is "Caucasian" in Australia is even more limited by Australia's immigration history. So the big question is, when choosing faces to morph, which "Caucasian" ethnicities did they choose? Hmmmm?

2. Given the above fact, by digitally creating faces, the experimenters were not merely smoothing out those annoying flaws reality provides, but actually creating a new, completely nonexistent race, called "Caucasian". Groundwork had already been done for them by magazines, which do not morph features, but do remove "blemishes" and control features. So the test subjects were prepared to "read" these faces as something approaching reality. They are not. They are nothing approaching reality.

3. This is just as problematic when you consider the morphed "typical" Japanese faces. Who decided what "typical" Japanese features are? Who chose which faces to morph? What race, upbringing, class, immigration status were they?

4. The "Eurasian" faces were morphed, too, from composite Japanese and Caucasian faces. Okay, first of all, my parents, both attractive, do not look like morphed photos. Guess what, neither do your parents. I, of course, just like you, am a certain combination of my parents' features (and attitudes). However, I, just like you, am not a perfect morph, a perfect 50/50 compromise, between the two. And I, just like you, do not look like a morphed photo. I'm assymetrical, I'm idiosyncratic.

Rhodes, the "scientist" who conducted the study, has found in previous studies that people find "average" faces more attractive than idiosyncratic faces (she attributes the preference for symmetry and average to the desire for health in a partner, and the aversion to idiosyncracies an aversion to potential disease.) This may all be true, however real "Eurasians" are not any more "average" or "symmetrical" than real "Caucasians" or real "Japanese". Saying a morph of a morph is considered more attractive than just the morph may well be true and provable ... but it says nothing about how attractive real Eurasians are.

In addition to these hard problems, the way the article was reported raises additional questions: Who were the test subjects? The article just says that they were "Caucasian and Japanese volunteers". What the fuck does that mean? Were they Australian Caucasians or Europeans or Americans? Were they Japanese Australians, Japanese immigrants to Australia, Japanese in Japan? Maybe even Japanese Americans? Was there any controlling for socialization in this study at all? Well? Was there? How old were they? What was their exposure to media? To Japanese media (which currently fetishizes hapas)? To Australian media? To American media? Who have they been dating? Who are they married to? Do they have mixed kids?

Obviously, the journalists reporting on this study have no interest in its scientific legitimacy (of which there can be little.) It's just another juicy episode of Halfbreeds-will-save-the-world. Frankly, I'm perfectly happy to be of average attractiveness. I don't need to be told that I'm more beautiful than everyone because I'm mixed. Being told on the one hand that I'm supposed to be more beautiful, and then being treated as an other, a foreigner, by everyone, every day on the other hand, really doesn't create the happy rainbow future. I prefer mixed race, not mixed messages.

(Cross-posted on Other Magazine's blog.)

April 11, 2006

Immigration Irritation

(Hey all. I posted this over on Other Magazine's staff blog in Mid-February. It's becoming more and more relevant so I wanted to repost it over here. With an addendum.)

Argh.

Bookslut's Blog pointed me toward a WBUR (NPR Boston affiliate) segment from yesterday where, in response to Bush's State of the Union call for stronger immigration enforcement, they talked with lit critic Steve Almond about "Literary Border Crossings". Almond, it seems, produced a list of books that "illuminate the immigrant experience". So far so good; that's an immediate mouse click for me.

But when I listened to the nine minute segment, I found that the books Almond discussed were:

1. an admittedly romanticized novel about Italian American immigrants in the 1950s;
2. a novel about early twentieth century Italian immigration by an Italian novelist (not Italian American);
3. Henry Roth's Call It Sleep; and
4. a fifteen-year-old book of essays by journalist Debbie Nathan about living on the US/Mexico border.

Added to this list by the host, but not mentioned or discussed by Almond in the main segment was the classic novel Chicano by Richard Vasquez.

Okay now, I'm really, really not looking for any sort of affirmative action on this list ... really I'm not. But if you're responding to Bush's new policies controlling immigration by trying to illuminate the immigrant experience, shouldn't you be seeking out narratives that illuminate the immigrant experience today? Our contemporary understanding of The Immigrant Experience was largely formed by the late nineteenth, early twentieth century models of central and southern European immigrant groups (especially Ashkenazi Jews and Italians.) But the political, economic and social circumstances that formed that immigrant experience no longer obtain.

Then, most European immigration was legal. Today, the largest immigrant groups are heavily undocumented. Then, immigration was primarily from Europe. Today, "immigrant" means Chicano/Latino first, then Asian and Eastern European and Middle Eastern -- and then everyone else. That is to say, today's immigrant comes from different cultural spheres and traditions than yesterday's immigrant. The traditional "immigrant" was ethnic European, a lower-class -- or alternate ethnicity -- form of Indo-European language-speaking descendents of the Graeco-Roman ideosphere. Today's immigrant is ... not.

So what do we choose to illuminate a United States so choked by labor "equity" that it has to rely on undocumented labor to provide the profit margins that keep American companies from outsourcing? How do we represent the rabid control of middle-class non-white immigrants through restricted visas and Patriot Act provisions? And how do we portray racism in the technological age? Do we choose books by immigrants who have experienced this? Nope. Instead we have two books about a romantic Italian American past, one from and about a romantic Jewish American past, and one rapidly aging nonfiction about the US/Mexican border by a white woman -- an American insider, not an immigrant across that border. Mm hmm. And what have we illuminated? Well, simply, that America still isn't ready to let go of its romantic, three generation, hard-work-plus-assimilation-equals-a-rich-and-hearty-America vision and look hard at the enclosed containment loop that is undocumented, controlled, non-European immigration today. And when we are willing to let go and look, we want to be led by one of us, an insider, not hear the point of view of one of these ... aliens.

So, to remedy, I'm starting a new list: books (and I've added performance groups as well) by actual immigrants and second generation children of immigrants that illuminate the contemporary immigrant experience in a way that might actually illuminate, rather than reify, something. I'll start things off with a few suggestions. Please add to the list in the comments section. In no particular order:

COLLECTIONS
• Junot Diaz Drown
• Bharati Mukherjee Darkness
• Guillermo Gomez-Peña The New World Border : Prophecies, Poems, and Loqueras for the End of the Century

NOVELS
• Carlos Bulosan America Is In The Heart
• Ruth Ozeki My Year of Meats
• Paul Flores Along the Border Lies

COMICS
• Lalo Alcaraz Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration
• Jaime Hernandez Locas
• Gilbert Hernandez Palomar
• Jaime Cortez Sexile

POETRY
• Elmaz Abinader In the Country of My Dreams
• Truong Tran Dust and Conscience
• Myung-Mi Kim Under Flag

PERFORMANCE
• Shailja Patel "Migritude"
• Pretty much anything by La Pocha Nostra

April 10, 2006

Asian American Short Story Contest!

Hey folks, check out this competition I'm pasting below. Please forward to your Asian American friends! And Azns: please send them GENRE STUFF. Dunno how they'll feel about it, but we need to represent! (oh, and please don't ask me anything about this competition. All I know is below.)

Hyphen & The Asian American Writers’ Workshop announce

2007 Short Story Competition

$1,000 prize and publication in Hyphen

Judges:
Brian Leung and Monique Truong

Writers of short fiction are encouraged to enter the 2006-07 Short Story Competition jointly sponsored by Hyphen and The Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW). The winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize, publication in Hyphen magazine, a one-year subscription to Hyphen and a one-year membership to AAWW.

The competition is open to all writers of Asian descent living in the United States and Canada. To be eligible, manuscripts must be previously unpublished and in English. No email submissions allowed. Previously unpublished authors are eligible. The competition is limited to short works of fiction, including short stories, novellas and excerpts from novels; the latter must stand alone as a separate work. There is no required theme or page limit.

Submissions must be postmarked by Monday, July 10, 2006 and accompanied by a $10 entry fee per story. Please send 4 copies of your story using paper clips. Manuscripts will not be returned and will be acknowledged only if an SASE is provided. Include a cover letter with name, address, email, daytime telephone number and a 3-sentence bio. The story title and page number should be clearly labeled on each page of the submission. Your name must not appear anywhere on the manuscript, except on the cover letter. Manuscripts should be typewritten and double-spaced on 8 ½ X 11 plain white paper.

Manuscripts may be under consideration elsewhere, but please notify us immediately if your story is accepted for publication. Hyphen retains first publication rights and the right to publish a portion of the story on its website. All rights revert to the author upon publication.

To enter the short story competition, please send submission to:

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
2007 Short Story Competition
16 West 32nd Street, Suite 10A
New York, NY 10001-3808

Make checks payable to “Asian American Writers’ Workshop.”

Hyphen is offering a discounted one-year subscription (4 issues) to all entrants. To receive a discounted subscription, please write a separate check payable to "Hyphen" for $15, and include it with your manuscripts and fees. Please include the memo "2007 Short Story Competition."

Entrants will be notified by or on Monday, October 2, 2006.

For more details visit: www.hyphenmagazine.com or www.aaww.org.

April 09, 2006

Mike Arcega on tv!

An update to my recent SPAM/MAPS post on atlas(t), my mapping blog:

Manila folder and SPAM artist Mike Arcega will be on local (Bay Area) television on April 12. His manila folder work will be featured on the KQED arts show "Spark". Check it out!

Memoirs of a Swiss Guard

The fabulous Shailja Patel proposes a novel:

The time has come to reveal to the world the novel I've been writing in secret. I don't want to boast, but I suspect it will be a runaway bestseller, a literary sensation. It presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of the Vatican's most celebrated Swiss Guards.

Teaser - Synopsis:

Chapter 1: Wherein we meet our hero, in the 1930s, child of a poor Alpine goatherd. Possessed of ethereal blond beauty, his most striking feature is (pay attention, this is important) a pair of flashing coal-black eyes.

Umm - reality check? you say. I've never seen someone blond and Swiss with coal-black....look, it's a novel. Fiction. Geddit? Who's the one getting calls from Oprah here?

March 26, 2006

Multiraciality 101

This is cross-posted at Other magazine's staff blog.

Other magazine staffer Gregory Dicum linked to this article on his website in the Other magazine blog last week. It's an overview of the situation of multiraciality in the United States today, general attitudes, and multiracials' response to general attitudes. Check it out.

It's a solid overview, but, once you've read it, I want to add some arguments/complications. The article was written in 2003 and, in the short space between then and now, some things may have changed. (I also realize that he may not have addressed some of my concerns simply because they fell outside the scope of his article.)

Dicum identifies a number of responses to multiraciality:
1. multiraciality will end race and racial divisions -- an approach typified by Interracial Voice
2. multiracials create a solid, fixed "multiracial" identity that is other than the monoracial identities from which they derive -- an approach typified, according to Dicum, by "The Hapa Movement".
3. the mobile paradox/code switching at will -- an approach impossible to codify in an organization

Firstly, I'd like to add some critical distance in the discussion of each of these approaches.

As I noted in my othermag/blog post on interracial families, the "multiraciality will end race" approach is extremely problematic. The Interracial Voice community that typifies this approach supports the politics of Ward Connerly, who helped end affirmative action at a number of universities all over the country, and tried to outlaw the collection of racial data in California -- including data on the race of people drawn into the justice system, and data on the race of people treated for certain diseases. (He failed, thank gods.) The idea of using multiraciality to end racial divisions is compelling. But because, according to the Interracial Voice community, multiracials will inevitably end race, they declare racial abolition a fait accompli. Often these advocates claim that the vestiges of racism we still find in our country are caused by identity politics, rather than identity politics being a response to lingering racism. I think these attitudes need to be noted in any discussion of this approach.

Regarding "hapa nation": the idea that a discrete "third" or other multiracial identity can, or should be created (and I dispute that that's what the "hapa movement" is about below) needs to be critically examined. Dicum touches on the absurdity of creating an ethnic identity out of ethnic diversity. He doesn't, however, discuss how creating yet another racial or ethnic identity for multiracials actually reifies multiracial outsider status, as well as the racial taxonomy that gave rise to it. A new "multiracial" or (especially) "hapa" racial category would let a lot of racists off the hook, offering them a new group of "people of color" to interact with; a group they might find to be more comfortable than monoracial people of color. This would create yet another model minority to buffer the privileged from the underprivileged. In this discussion, therefore, it would be not just be useful, but crucial to measure the amount of energy and resources that would be expended creating and acquiring recognition for a new racial category against the energy and resources used to combat racism and ignorance from the vantage point of multiple identities.

Regarding the "mobile paradox" approach, where multiracials take on whatever identity is most convenient in a given situation (also known as "code switching", which you might have heard used by African Americans to refer to changing their idiom depending upon their context), Dicum gives as examples a person inventing identities, or falsely agreeing with the wrong identities attributed to her by strangers. While lying about your identity can be fun for some and makes for amusing stories (always amusing at the ignorant stranger's expense) I'd really like to hear more discussion about why no one should be forced into a false position apropos his identity.

To be direct: I don't want to lie about who or what I am. I've had to fight so hard, for so long, to have my self-definition recognized and validated -- even by friends and sometimes even by family -- that I am not eager to give up that hard-won identity to my own whims, much less those of strangers. The mobile paradox is not always (and for some of us, not ever) the "playground of identities" that Dicum makes it out to be. It is often absolutely necessary for social survival to be able to take on a particular fixed identity that makes converse between you and those around you possible, and then to switch that identity for the next context. It may be empowering for some to view this situation as a playground, but beyond the playful level of sociable small talk, if you want to make friends, be lovers, get a job, or become politically effective, you can't build your house on sand.

Recognizing and performing the reality of an ambiguous racial identity will always, at some point, become deadly serious. It is in the shallow interactions with boorish, questioning strangers that multiracials practice their responses and rehearse identities. Some, like Dicum apparently, use these situations to relieve tension. This is perfectly legitimate, if condescending to strangers (who risk being condescended to by intruding on others.) Others (like me) don't, because the underlying seriousness is always present, and because we (or at least I) believe that it is better, or more instructive, or more honest, or more just, to simply refuse to allow myself to be engaged by strangers about my race. Rather than being forced into some position -- true or false -- by a stranger, I force that stranger to deal with me and my racial ambiguity without my cooperation. This is, in fact, a fourth distinct approach, but one which, by its very nature, is impossible to codify as a trend, or even to discuss with those who use it, unless they choose on their own (like I have here) to address it.

(Note: the term "mobile paradox" itself encodes a problematic atttitude: discomfort with ambiguity. If racial categories really were unmixable, then code switching would be a paradox. But racial categories are not unmixable, and code switching is not a paradox. You can be two things at once, or three, or four.)

Secondly, what Dicum calls "the Hapa Movement" or "Hapa Nation" (with a capitalized "hapa") may not actually exist. I was closely involved with Hapa Issues Forum between 1999 and 2002. At that time, and I think, still, Hapa Issues Forum (HIF) was the only national organization created around the Asian/Pacific Islander part of multiracial identities. (There has been, starting in the mid-nineties, an increasing number of API or hapa-based multiracial groups on campuses. Some are started by HIF, some start themselves and join HIF as a chapter, and some maintain their independence. There have also been a few community-based hapa orgs. As far as I know, all of these are now fallow.)

The need for "hapa", as opposed to general, non-API-specific multiraciality, arose from the fact that mixed race Asians/Pacific Islanders in the US (mainland, of course) were only a small proportion of the overall multiracial population. Many of those hapas who joined multiracial organizations found their voices and concerns overwhelmed by the majority, who were black/white. Black/white multiraciality is fraught with the history of slavery, the "one drop rule" and the severe stigma of being of African descent in our society. API multiraciality doesn't always contend with these issues, and furthermore, has to deal with immigrant, colonization, and foreign language/culture issues. Not falling into the black/white dichotomy meant hapas had little to contribute to the largest discussions, and that few had anything to contribute to hapa discussions. So creating a space around not just multiraciality but primarily around API multiraciality privileged the API aspect for the first time. It also gave hapas a power base from which to negotiate entrée and membership into Asian and Asian American groups who often dismissed them -- a very important consideration.

All of this is to say that the promotion of the term "hapa" wasn't necessarily a group effort to create a "third" or other identity separate from the monoracial identities from which hapas derive. It was rather a term that needed to be invented: 1) to distinguish the issues around API multiraciality from general multiracial, or black/white multiracial issues, and 2) to honor and distinguish API multiracials within their monoracial API communities.

The "hapa" in "hapa community" is not capitalized because "hapa" is a noun, adjective, or complement, and not a proper noun, nationality, or ethnic designation; "hapa" is grammatically like "white" or "black", and not like "African" or "Asian". The "hapa movement" is not called such by most of those involved, because of our awareness that there was no common mission among all hapas, and that the word "hapa" needs to be protected as something that anyone can use without declaring a political stance. (Naturally, this means that some hapas do capitalize it, and use it as an ethnic designation.) Rather, those involved called it the "hapa community", recognizing that a community shares certain things while tolerating a great deal of difference.

That is what the organization of Hapa Issues Forum was about: not a new, monolithic "hapa" identity, but rather creating a space for discussion around issues of multiraciality. At the time that I was involved, the very idea of the organization was to protect every participant from being coerced into a particular stance by someone else's racial agenda. Wei Ming Dariotis, whom Dicum quotes in the "hapa nation" segment of his article, has dedicated her career to examining this issue, and her ideas should be listened to. But her "new hapa identity" approach is different from mine, and when I helped her run the San Francisco chapter of Hapa Issues Forum, there was plenty of room for both of our approaches therein.

Additionally, in the past three years or so, the community (adults and families) chapters of HIF seem to have collapsed or gone fallow, while the energy and emphasis has returned to the student chapters. When adults and parents do take an interest in multiracial organizing, it seems more often to be with general multiracial organizations, which (with the coming of age of post-1965 Immigration Act hapas) are much more diverse now than they were 15 years ago. This would seem to argue for the failure of the idea of a discrete hapa identity, if that was ever a ruling idea.

March 22, 2006

Tonight's FiLm FeSt offerings


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Tonight at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival I'm gonna see American Fusion (with Esai Morales!) at 6:45 and Linda Linda Linda at 9 ish.

American Fusion is about ... well, here's the blurb:

Winner of the Audience Award at the Hawaii International Film Festival, AMERICAN FUSION delicately blends the sweetness of a middle-aged love story with the irreverent, envelope-pushing comedy of a Farrelly Brothers movie. In his first feature, director Frank Lin manages to challenge ethnic stereotypes and examine the burdens of cultural and familial expectations, all while grounding the film with a whole lot of heart.

Sylvia Chang (20:30:40, SFIAAFF ‘05) plays Yvonne, a divorcee in her forties who thinks she’s missed her chance at finding true happiness. Though she earns a paycheck as a writer, Yvonne’s real job is to keep watch over her crazy family, which includes her “twixster” hip-hopped son (co-writer Randall Park), a hot-headed brother (Collin Chou, THE MATRIX trilogy) who can’t get his wife pregnant, and a feisty, disapproving mother (scene-stealing Lang Yun) who’s about to undergo back surgery.

When a writing assignment brings Yvonne in close contact with Jose (NYPD BLUE’s Esai Morales), a handsome Mexican American dentist, Yvonne wonders how she can juggle her duty to her misfit family with the desire to let go and fall in love. Featuring a stellar cast that includes the last appearance by the late Pat Morita and cameos by James Hong, Eddie Shin and Fabio, AMERICAN FUSION is just like your family. Only funnier.

Okay, now Linda Linda Linda:

They say all-girl-rock-band movies are a specialist taste, but Nobuhiro Yamashita is here to prove them wrong. Yamashita (director of RAMBLERS and NO ONE’S ARK (SFIAAFF '03), both small classics of deadpan slacker comedy) starts from a plausible situation—a band in Shibazaki High School breaks up over “musical differences”—and gives it a wonderfully improbable twist. The band’s co-founder Kei decides to cobble together a scratch band of her own (she calls it “Paran Maum”) to compete in an inter-school music ompetition, and recruits Korean exchange student Son (the incomparable Bae Du-Na, from SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) as her new vocalist, unfazed by the fact that Son doesn’t yet speak Japanese, let alone sing it. They have just three days to master a set of songs by the Blue Hearts, Japan’s best-loved punk band of the 1980s (“Linda Linda” was their greatest hit) and everything that can go wrong does.

Armed with a score by ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and a guest appearance by The Ramones (really?), Yamashita crosses the molehills of high-school rivalries with the mountains of punk belligerence to produce a joyously entertaining movie. It’s also, by the way, the smartest response by far to the wave of enthusiasm for all things Korean that is currently gripping Japanese pop culture.

Okay, who's in? There might be tickets left, and if not, there are still rush tickets (but you have to get there early.) Strongly encourage everybody to get out there tonight and see some moobies! Tomorrow's closing night!

March 20, 2006

FILM FESTIVAL!




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Hey all, I'm a little late with this but it's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival time! Yee haw!

On Saturday I saw two films:

Sentenced Home, a documentary about Cambodian American refugees who had been convicted of felonies, had served their time, and as a result of a 1996 law, are now being deported. A very affecting story. Strongly recommend it. If you get the chance to see it in theaters, definitely jump on it!

Later, I saw Conventioneers, an outspokenly political feature film which threatened to be simplistic but actually failed to do so! Here's the blurb: "A red-state/blue-state romance dramatizing the shifting allegiances of fictional characters against the backdrop of the actual 2004 Republican National Convention. Audacious filmmaking and unpredictable, even unsettling, performances capture the excitement of an event that gripped New York City. 2006 Independent Spirit Award winner." It's true! The piece is filmed documentary-style (but not structured like a documentary) and incorporates a lot of real footage from the 2004 Repub convention. It doesn't apologize for being liberal, or attempt some sort of silly Hollywood-style "balance". And people get to be truly evil in this flick, which I always love.

It'll be playing again tonight (Monday) at the Kabuki in San Francisco at 9 PM. Highly recommended if you can make it. By the way, the only Asian American connection is the writer/director.

And check out the other offerings this week at the film festival. It's running in San Francisco through Thursday, and there will be further screenings in Berkeley and San Jose.

March 09, 2006

Ethnic Enclave dying? Who cares?

Hyphen magazine's blog reported recently that San Francisco's Japantown is up for sale. The commercial center of SF J-town is mostly owned by one company, Kintetsu of Japan. Their holdings comprise two malls and two hotels, and there's also an AMC movie theater nearby. The malls house around forty small, Japanese American-owned businesses. Kintetsu is offloading the malls and hotels and AMC is selling the theater ... and the Asian American community feels its center is threatened.

Okay, yawn, who cares, right? I mean we're at war, fer godssake. Plus, you didn't even know San Francisco had a Japantown. Obviously it was pretty much dead already if you didn't know about it. So really, why should you care?

Well, it's not a quick answer. To understand it, you have to know something of the history. You see, SF J-town is only ... already ... a hundred years old. After the earthquake and fire of 1906 leveled San Francisco's Western Addition, a 30-some-block Japantown sprang up like weeds in the cracks. The usually celebrated Federal Housing Act of 1934, an attempt to offer Depression-impoverished whites a new chance, also identified racial districts and made housing loans available to minorities only in their specific ethnic enclaves, encouraging geographical racial segregation. So in the first half of the century, the new influx of Japanese American immigrants found its locus in this district.

In 1942, the SF "Little Tokyo" community was cleared when Japanese Americans on the west coast were rounded up and sent to internment camps. Here's not the place to write about the cultural and personal devastation wrought by this chapter of history. Suffice it to say the JA community never fully recovered. The Western Addition's multicultural Fillmore District, which included Japantown in the north, received a huge influx of African Americans migrating from the South to industrial jobs on the West Coast during WWII; many of them took over areas vacated by interned Japanese. After the war, the Fillmore corridor was largely African American to the south (and thriving at that) and Japanese American to the north.

Thriving or not, the urban renewal projects of the 1950's began a systematic clearing of both the Af-Am and JA sections of the Fillmore, often using eminent domain, which left formerly thriving community members propertyless. Especially when Geary Street was widened into an 8-lane street right at its intersection with Fillmore Street, a huge geographical barrier was driven (literally) between the JAs and Af-Ams. Subsequent organizing in the 1960s slowed the "slum clearances" in J-town, and later investment by the Japanese government and Japanese businesses brought Japanese-American-centered commercial development to the area.

The Asian American Movement of the late 60s and early 70s (modeled after the Af Am civil rights movement) was the background for much of this community organizing. The children of interned JAs who grew up knowing nothing about internment were rediscovering this history and creating a treasury of information, documentation, and cultural expression about Asian American history and identity. In 1971 the city-sponsored Japanese American Community and Cultural Center of Northern California was founded, giving the community a cultural locus and putting the official seal of approval on Japanese American community continuity. By this time, however, most of the JAs had moved out of J-town. J-town became more of a cultural and commercial center than a residential one.

During this time of JA consolidation, the African American community was being displaced by wave after wave of clearings pushing them farther south, into the Bayview district, or containing them in smaller and smaller areas of the Tenderloin and the Fillmore. The still-thriving segment of the African American community moved to the suburbs, especially across the Bay, and the rest were contained in housing-project-heavy areas.

Have a looky here now:

Sfincomemap

This map shows income levels in San Francisco from the 2000 Census. The darker the green, the poorer the area. The two darkest green values form what is roughly a large "Y" shape on the right half of the map. The upper right tip of the right arm of the Y is Chinatown. Below that , on the diagonal, is the African American and Vietnamese immigrant-heavy Tenderloin (above Market St.) and the South of Market warehouse district (below Market). The trunk of the Y is the Latino-dominated Mission District. the square to the bottom right (off the Y) is the Potrero Hill Projects (Af Am heavy). And the left-hand arm of the Y is the Af Am dominated Fillmore District discussed above. (The poorest, darkest green areas aren't showing up on this map because they are to the south of here.)

Now go back to the tip of the left arm of the Y, where that big Fillmore rectangle of dark green is. It is bounded in the north by Geary Blvd., and just north of Geary is a medium green, medium-income strip, two blocks deep and about ten blocks long, pressured on three sides by the white and tan of upper-income communities, and on one side by the dark greens of the impoverished. Guess what that is. Right, that's Japantown.

What I'm trying to get at is that J-town is that thing, that geographical model minority buffer zone set up between more affluent white communities and impoverished black communities. When you look at Asian American enclaves all over the US, you'll see that they are geographically, literally, buffers between black and white, poor and rich. This was apparent from New Orleans' 30-year-old Vietnamese American community, which was destroyed in Katrina (Wendy Cheng writes about this in issue 8 of Hyphen magazine and you can access maps of racial concentrations here), and it is apparent in every major American city.

When you look at the destruction of traditional Asian American enclaves all over the US, you'll see that they are inevitably inner city or centrally located areas that are being pressured either by financial districts (as is San Francisco's Chinatown) or by wealthy residential areas (as is San Francisco's Japantown). The population of major ports of entry has reached a critical mass. At this point, people care less about their neighborhood being buffered from poor and dark people, and more about having a place to live in at all. Thus, the middle-income, middle class, middle race zone gets pushed out because they can afford (barely) to go elsewhere. Only the wealthy and the destitute (who will be out on the street otherwise, and often end up there anyway) can stay.

Now that we know where the money is, let's look at where the Asians are:

Sfasianmap

Remember while you look at this: the darker the green, the more Asians. The darkest greens are in the upper right and the lower left. The upper right is Chinatown, where impoverished new Chinese immigrants go, and below that the Tenderloin where impoverished Southeast Asian immigrants abound. The lower left is the outer Richmond, which is heavily middle-class East Asian immigrants, 1.5's and second generation. The dark olives are in the Tenderloin (poor, immigrant Vietnamese) and the heavily middle-class East Asian Richmond and Sunset (lower and upper left).

By the time you get to medium green, you're down below thirty percent Asian. Funny, isn't it? You can still see the little strip of J-town (the little strip of medium green in the center, right where it says "Geary Blvd.") but this time it's not because it's a buffer economic class between rich and poor, but rather because it's a strip of bridge connecting the working class immigrant Asian communities of downtown (right) with the middle class immigrant and second generation Asian communities of the Avenues (left).

(Note: the big divide between upper and lower on the left is Golden Gate Park. There are several arteries through the park, and if you were driving downtown you'd want to go north first, then take Geary through Japantown, into the financial district. It's quicker than going through the hills on the lower center.)

J-town has become a connective corridor.

Before doing this analysis that you see here, I didn't realize that J-town was geographically a bridge between poor, crammed ethnic enclave and wealthy, nominally ethnic suburb, but I was aware that it was exactly that culturally. For years, the pan-ethnic Asian Pacific American community of San Francisco has been using J-town as a center of organizing and meeting for a number of reasons. By virtue of its geographical centrality, it's easily accessible from all points of the city. It's pleasantly middle-class, not cramped and dirty and drearily poor like Chinatown. You can find parking there. Plus you can go there to be entertained. There are bars, restaurants, shops galore, a movie theater -- there even used to be a bowling alley.

But it's not just geographical. Because of the history -- the clearing of the Japanese Americans and their partial return; the city-approved cultural and commercial centers -- J-town has become a kind of cultural/commercial/organizing center for the entire Asian Pacific American community of San Francisco. The J-town merchants have close ties to Asian American organizers and will let us organize cultural events in their commercial spaces. There are several nonprofit cultural organizations with their own spaces in J-town, who produce their own events, activities and classes, and who will offer space to other non-profits for the same purpose. In J-town I've organized and participated in: creative writing classes, a low-income teen web design class, multiracial advocacy meetings, readings, film screenings, dance performances, language classes, bilingual newpaper redaction, zine workshops, panel discussions, angry community town hall meetings, 9/11 vigils, days of remembrance, and on and on. And that's not to mention the karaoke.

Being an in-between class/race, Asian American communities have been pushed hither and yon throughout the last century and a half, now serving as scapegoat, now serving as protection. We have adapted and adapted. Since the late 60s, one of our methods of adaptation has been to form nonprofits which turn the locus of the community culture from a geographical space into a virtual space -- located in the idea of the organization rather than in a particular storefront or building. The internet revolution took this one step further, by placing the idea of the organization online. Asian Americans took to online organizing like fish to water, mainly because we were already organized abstractly, virtually ... because our history in this country has not been a history of owning the ground beneath our feet.

But adapting to geographical containment in this manner is not enough. We stay alive by compromising with racist government policies, but we thrive when we can come together in the flesh. When we have a geographical space to go to, we have an actual connection to people not directly involved in online/virtual organizing, which is necessarily a province of the thriving middle-class, latter generations. Since Asian American organizers were driven out of Chinatown in the 70s by rising rents and evictions, we've lost touch with the poorest immigrants of our communities. But through J-town, which has big Asian grocery chains, big Asian language bookstores, and even Asian-style dollar stores, we can at least connect physically, if only passingly, with all of the Asians, of all classes and ethnicities, in San Francisco. And they, brought near the centers of cultural organizing, have the opportunity to connect with us.

J-town, pushed by the city to become a buffer zone between poor African American Fillmore, and rich, white American Western Addition/Marina, made of itself a bridge between classes. Now that real estate pressure in the city is such that buffer zones are no longer needed or wanted, the city will allow -- or even push -- J-town to die. The destruction of Japantown's commercial center, through a laissez faire policy from the city, would result in a loss of this opportunity for different classes and generations of Asian Americans to connect physically. Whites don't need J-town anymore, but J-town still needs J-town. Because J-town, for a century now, has offered much much more than merely a space for the people who actually live or conduct business there. It's become a center of pride and identity for a community that is still almost entirely ignored by mainstream America at its upper levels, still stereotyped and mocked at its middle levels, and still excluded and disadvantaged at its lowest levels. Asian America still needs to do its thing, and as long as that is the case, we need J-town.

(Check out all this data on American Factfinder, an extremely cool website with maps and data breakdowns of the US Census.)

March 02, 2006

Call for Submissions: Asian American Anthology

Peeps, please don't ask me questions about this in the comments section! All I know is what I posted below. I'm just passing the word on! Good luck!
 
Call for tangible, earthy, edgy poetry by Asian American female ethnic writers to include poets with Middle Eastern heritage and Pacific Islanders. Editor thrilled by vibrant, diverse voices and subjects, special surprises in approaching the page, and how you beat the drum of language.

Please use the following submission guidelines:
 
(1) Send up to three poems. The manuscript should total no more than seven pages. Each poem must be 20 lines or more.
(2) Poems should be typed in Times New Roman, 12-point font on white paper.
(3) All margins should be set at 1.25.
(4) Please include your name, address, phone number, and a working email address on EACH poem submitted. The email address is very important so that we can correspond if necessary.
(5) Include a biography of no more than 50 words on a separate page. (Biographies are subject to revision by editor for space considerations.)
(6) Include a short statement of your heritage as an Asian American poet.
(7) Be sure to include a stamped self-addressed envelope for response. Submissions without the required SASE cannot be considered. If you are living abroad, please be sure that your SASE has return U.S. postage.
(8) Submissions must be postmarked no later than December 31, 2006 (early submissions are very much appreciated and strongly urged). 
(9) Simultaneous submissions will not be accepted.
(10) All work must be original, written in English, and unpublished unless submitting previously published work by special invitation. Translations not acceptedfor this anthology.
(11) Decisions will be made and notifications sent by the end of June 2007. Please do not request status until after 15 July 2007.
(12) If you wish to be notified of receipt of your submission, include a stamped, self-addressed postcard (U.S. Postage only).
 
Please mail submissions to:
 
Asian American Anthology
c/o Anne Marie Fowler
P.O. Box 9543
Cheyenne, WY 82003
 
No email submissions will be accepted. However, questions about this project can be emailed to:annemariefowler@hotmail.com. Please indicate “anthology” in the subject line to avoid deletion of your email.

San Francisco Events I'm Going To

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area interested in expanding your horizons ;) I'll be at these events in the coming week. Hope to see some of you there ...

R. Zamora (Zack) Linmark made a big splash in the nineties with his novel Rolling the Rs, a coming-of-age-as-a-gay-Pinoy-in-Hawaii story told in pidgin. Very, very funny and much worth reading. Anyway, Zack's coming off a long period of residencies during which he developed his poetry-writing muscles. He's just produced a collection of poetry called Primetime Apparitions. Marianne Villanueva came out with her collection of short stories The Mayor of the Roses last year. I'm ashamed to say I've only read two of the stories (both excellent) -- the two she submitted to me at Hyphen magazine, one of which we published in Hyphen's Issue 7. (I also published a poem of Zack's in Hyphen's Issue 2, by way of full disclosure.) Marianne and Zack will be reading from their latest books in San Francisco on Saturday: at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts gallery space, on Saturday Mar. 4, 2- 4 PM in the Education Resource Room, which is just off the main gallery.

Those of you who know your Asian American history will know about the International Hotel, which was the locus of a fierce, decade-long fight to preserve a dying ethnic enclave in the heart of San Francisco. The fight was lost, but the encroaching financial district won only a pyrrhic victory, and nearly 30 years after the fall of the I-Hotel, a new building stands in its place, housing a community cultural center. Next week the Manilatown Center will host a reading for International Women's day featuring Michelle Bautista, Evelie Delfino Sáles Posch, Janet Stickmon, and Annabelle Udo (Editor of Rewind Magazine, a Bay Area club/music magazine published in the early 90s). 868 Kearny Street (at Jackson) in San Francisco.

Two more of my Wiscon/online friends will be doing a signing at science fiction/fantasy/horror bookstore Borderlands next week. Husband and wife matched-pair, Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld, both YA (young adult fiction) writers (Scott is also an adult SF writer and Justine also an academic who writes about SF) will be signing their latest books: Magic Lessons the second of Justine's trilogy that began with Magic or Madness, and Midnighters: Blue Noon, the final book in his Midnighters trilogy. Really fun reads, both of them (I have Blue Noon sitting on my desk, just begging to be read, ya know. Tuesday 7 March 2006, 7 PM at Borderland Books, 866 Valencia St in San Francisco

February 21, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions

How tall are you?

This tall. If you would like actual numbers, you can upgrade to an executive account for just $195.95 per month (limited time offer)! Minimum membership period one year. Standard nondisclosure agreements apply. Restrictions vary by region and mood. You may be eligible for a discount if you are: my doctor, my tailor, my mother, a very hot man who wants to buy me a pretty dress, the hangglider pilot on my tandem flight who has to make sure we both stay in the air.


I only ask because I [have a (friend/cousin/boyfriend's other woman/neighbor)] [met a (woman/girl/shemale/anthropomorphic object) the other day] who is [number here] feet [exaggerated number here] inches tall!

I have no response to that because I sincerely don't give a fuck.


How did you get so tall?

I grew.


Where are you from?

San Francisco.


Oh, you grew up here?

No.


Um ... I mean, what's your nationality?

American.


No, I mean what's your ethnic background?

I don't feel like telling you today. Now, examine why you are insulted.


You don't need to be ashamed of your height/your ethnicity. It's beautiful!

You don't need to be ashamed of your ears. Despite what everyone says, that shape and size is beautiful! Just ignore what everyone says! Oh, you don't know what everyone says? Well, just ignore it! You don't need to be ashamed! Your ears are exotic and striking and beautiful! Yay your ears!


And what do you do?

Field intrusive questions from strangers, passive aggression from women, and aggressive aggression from men. I also surf sometimes.


No, I meant what do you do for a living?

That's such a peculiar phrase "do for a living", don't you think? What I do to live is breathe, then drink water, then eat, then wear clothes ... but on a more metaphysical level, what I do to live is think about myself, other people, the world, and our place and position and structure relative to one another. Then I express my thoughts in various ways. Then I attempt to enact some sort of ethical performance (called "life") based upon these thoughts. And I sing karaoke sometimes.


What is/are your karaoke song/s?

"Smooth Operator", and "Dreams" (by Fleetwood Mac). Also, the art director at Hyphen magazine has arbitrarily assigned "Hopelessly Devoted to You" to me. I don't remember why.


What are your favorite books/authors?

If I paint my naked breasts with woad and do an hour-long shimmy over your head to the song stylings of David Hasselhof, will you promise never, ever to ask anyone that question ever again, ever?


What are your favorite movies?

"The Sum of All Fears", "Chronicles of Riddick", "Castaway", "The Net", "Brokedown Palace", "Escape from Witch Mountain", "The Man With the Golden Gun" ... that's all I can think of right now. Oh, and "Parenthood".


What are you like?

Bullshit! Nobody asks that! Nobody ever asks that!


I'm asking now: What are you like?

I'm a bitch.

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