This post was published on Wednesday the 16th of April in 2014  /  Permalink

Now This, This is Wesleyan’s Saving Grace

"Why did you come all the way from Los Angeles to Wesleyan for college? Why would you want to go so far away from home?" 

This is a question I get on every single tour of Wesleyan’s campus that I give. Almost always, some parent will think it’s incredulous that I would ever want to give up that Southern California weather into this messy New England winter. Almost always, some student will ask me how I managed to bear through the cold winters. Almost always, I answer, “Seasons. I wanted to experience winter—no also fall and spring—because in LA, it’s always summer.” 

Almost always, laughs travel across the crowd and the tour continues. But every single time this happens, I always wish I had the time to elaborate on not only why I chose Wesleyan, but more importantly, why I’m still here. 

There is not a week that goes by that I don’t wish that I could transfer somewhere else, somewhere where not only is the weather warmer, but the people too.

But I could never leave Wesleyan. 

Growing up, I never learned how to speak. Words came out of my mouth just fine, conversation was easy, but everything I said always felt foreign to me. I laughed along with these peers of mine when I was bullied by them, no matter how painful or scarring the words were.

They were just words, right? Nothing worse. Remember, I was told, so many others face situations much more difficult than you. Words were meaningless and just filled with childish ignorance, they can’t do anything to you. 

Growing up, I never learned how to speak. The words that I begun to use to define myself in my own mind were the ones these bullies threw onto me every day. I laughed along with them, scoffing at my weakness, and took in all the words they used on me. 

Be quiet, so many others face situations much more difficult than you.

Silence will get you through the day. 

I needed to get out. 

My only thoughts were to succeed in school, to get the best grades possible, to open as many doors available and pick the one that takes me furthest away from here. 

And I did. 

From the moment I stepped foot onto Wesleyan, I felt like I had a stake in this place around me, and I felt like I finally had the chance to not let the people around me define who I am but let me define myself.  

I started to realize that when I opened my mouth to talk, people were actually listening. I realized that I actually felt like I was finally speaking for myself, and that the words coming out of my mouth were finally my own, and not anyone else’s. 

Wesleyan gave me back my voice. 

Wesleyan allowed me to be who I am in my entirety, and gave me the opportunity to grow in ways I had never before imagined. The people I was surrounded with consisted of some of the most supportive people I have ever encountered in my life, and they taught me more than I could’ve imagined. 

The remaining fragment from my past that I have not been able to shed is how easily the words of others affect what I think of myself. 

So yes, Wesleyan is a place like any other where horrible things happen. And yes, Wesleyan is a place like any other where we work together to make this school a better place. 

But Wesleyan has given me back my voice, and no matter how hard the fuck you want to try, you’re not taking it away from me this time around.

And for me, that’s Wesleyan’s saving grace. 

I have a decade’s worth of words at my arsenal, don’t you dare try and stop me from using it.

This post was published on Saturday the 5th of April in 2014  /  Permalink

Divided We Fall

Intra-POC racism has been increasingly a topic of discussion—especially on mediums like Twitter—in the last few months through issues such as California’s SCA5. Furthermore, Suey Park’s #CancelColbert movement also displayed a disgusting sexist backlash against her, and who I saw in support of her strong stance reminded me that POC solidarity has always been necessary—just as much back during the Civil Rights Movement as today. 

I have previously written about my discontent and confusion (of sorts) with the (inherently problematic, yes) label “student of color,” as well as who constitutes as a SOC. While looking back at what I was frustrated about really reminds me how naïve I was and how much I’ve grown, the root of the issue remains. What separates Asians from other people of color? 

Acknowledging his misogynistic and homophobic tendencies, Frank Chin in “Racist Love” illustrates a point that serves as a good start for this issue: 

The privileged foreigner is the assimilable alien. The assimilable alien is posed as an exemplary minoirty against the back example of the blacks. Thus the privileged foreigner is trained to respond to the black not the white majority as the single most potent threat to his status. The handicapped native is neither black nor white in a black and white world…. His pride is derived form the degree of his acceptance by the race of his choice at being consciously one thing and not the other… The races absorb and accept the stereotypes of each other invented and pushed by whites, and, in doing so, authenticate these stereotypes and serve white supremacy by breeding interracial contempt.

While this excerpt I’ve chosen here does not specifically get at Chin’s discussion of racist hate (what Latinos and blacks experience) versus racist love (what Asians experience), it does speak to something that begins explain the rift that exists in the POC community. 

White supremacy’s success story is the assimilation of Asians (specifically Chinese Americans) into the fold of white racism, Chin argues, and by feeding the material necessities to successfully assimilate, the white majority has “created” an assimilated minority whose members are typically economically viable and politically silent. 

There are evidently issues with this argument, and one thing a friend of mine, Lynna Zhong, iterates eloquently that sums up a lot of the issue is that “the thing that’s completely false about the model minority myth is that it rests on the assumption that Asian-Americans have indeed picked themselves up from the bootstraps of oppression.”

Now, just quickly, something that has to be said. Stereotypes, including the ones that pervade Frank Chin’s “Racist Love,” are problematic, usually wrong, and never all-inclusive. The diversity of the Asian diaspora and the realities of hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asian immigrants in the United States bring into question the nature of the model minority myth entirely.

However, the diversity of Asian America is not what I’m questioning here or exploring through these words I’ve written. I sincerely was disappointed and concerned with the backlash Chinese Americans produced surrounding SCA5, a piece of legislation that I strongly believed would allow higher education in California to begin to tackle the restraints of institutional racism head on for many black and Latino youth. 

And the effects of this are beginning to ripple. Representative Ted Lieu recently lost six Democratic endorsements over the Affirmative Action debate, and as Reappropriate writes,

An Asian American politician who takes a stand against affirmative action is taking a standing against diversity; and, if he chooses to take that stance, the least he can do is offer an explanation for his position. To date, neither he nor Liu or Yee — nor Congresswoman Judy Chu, for that matter — have offered an in-depth explanation to their constituents reconciling their core Democratic values of diversity and inclusion with their stance against affirmative action.

The white dominated reality of 21st century America requires people of color, including Asian Americans, to stand up for each other. I have been heartened by the many conversations and activists across the country that I’ve met over Twitter on these divisive issues, and the strength they show to stand in solidarity with one another. 

Now, this solidarity needs to expand. Asian America can no longer afford to be quiet, and as recent developments have shown, we do have the force to invoke change when we stand up. We just need to stand up for the right reasons now to be on the right side of history. 

The model minority myth is 1) damaging, 2) not positive or post racial, and 3) simply untrue. Whenever I see Asian Americans embracing this myth, I worry that the white supremacy has indeed won. But they haven’t so long as we are able to recognize our oppressions, especially these microaggressions AAPI face today, and push back. 

There are numerous Asian American organizations and activists doing this good work and standing up for not only themselves, but in solidarity with other people of color, and I encourage the currently dormant parts of Asian America do to the same. 

A few weeks ago, in conversation with my father arguing over SCA5, I realized also that these are the conversations we need to have over issues of race as well as racism that does exist within the AAPI community. Blacks and Latinos are not the “ghosts” (鬼) the Chinese language sometimes uses to demonize other people (a la The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston), but are other minorities that are oppressed, as we are, just in different ways. 

We all deserve to be fully American, and not just “Asian-American,” “African-American,” or “Hispanic/Latino American.” We have the right to be unquestioningly “American.” And we must do this together, or else progress will not come.

This post was published on Thursday the 6th of March in 2014  /  Permalink

SCA5: Bring Affirmative Action Back to California

Refined my thoughts on this and educated myself a bit before jumping to the conclusions many others have. 

What SCA5‬ would do, essentially, is restore Affirmative Action (AA) in the Californian public education system, including the University of California system. As we have seen in recent years, the diversity of the UC system in particular has fallen and grown disappointingly undiverse. Asian Americans make up 38% of the entire UC system, with 53% Asian Americans at UC Irvine and 49% at San Diego. 

Depending on the campus, only 3% to 7% of students on UC campuses are African American, and only 17% Latino Universitywide (compared to almost 45% of the CA population that are Latino or black, not even accounting for undocumented individuals). This is ridiculous—absolutely unrepresentative to the realities of the Californian population.

It’s disappointing to compare the groups supporting and against SCA5—well done America, you’ve managed to pit people of color against each other. Most of the identity groups supporting SCA5 are black/Latino groups, while the identity groups against are mainly Chinese American groups.

Racial diversity is necessary in higher education to create a healthy educational environment for ALL students. Affirmative Action IS NOT a quota system, and it will NOT let in more “underqualified” students. That’s crap. No school will admit any student that is not qualified for that specific school.

Affirmative Action will bring opportunity to the many that are just as qualified to have a rightful place in the UC system. Under-representation is the cold truth of the UC system right now, for blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and yes, even for South Asians and Southeast Asians. 

To all the AAPI against SCA5: The nature of the discourse is disappointing. SCA5 will NOT limit the success of Asian Americans in higher education, and it will NOT set a “quota” on AAPI admissions. Equal opportunity for all races in higher education is just and fair. 

Before you jump to conclusions many have on SCA5, read up on what the reality is. 


For a good read on the realities of AA:

And how Asian Americans do benefit from AA:

This post was published on Sunday the 23rd of February in 2014  /  Permalink

It’s Time to Close the Curtain

In writing this, my point is concise, so I’m just going to give it to you straightaway. We need to stop putting on culture shows. Now. 

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend two culture shows, the first being the Lunar New Year (LNY) Celebration put on by a few Asian identity groups and houses, and the second being Jubilee, put on by Ujamaa during Black History Month. Both productions were well done (although being an organizer in the LNY Celebration does make be a bit biased), and you could tell the amount of time, planning, and practice went into each of those shows. 

For what? 

What’s the point of putting on a culture show? As I stood backstage at the LNY Celebration, all I kept thinking the entire time was that I spent all my time putting work into a production with the goal of putting my culture on the stage, or to “teach” my culture to the audience. 

And as I looked out on the audience, I was even more disappointed. Why were we putting on this culture show (essentially a Chinese culture show) to a sea of yellow faces? Why were we putting on this teaching moment for people who are not necessarily the ones that need to be taught?

To be fair, the audience was not only Asians. There did exist a limited and almost hesitant diversity in the crowd. 

From a piece they wrote on Wesleying, Christian Hosam and Maurice Hill write,

Black History Month, as it stands on campus, is a performative activity.

And while the purpose of their writing doesn’t address exactly what I’m saying here, that point they made should resonate, as the word choice in that sentence speaks volumes. And for me, you could replace “Black History Month” to apply this idea to our LNY Celebration as well.

It’s a performance activity, a showcase. It’s a display on the stage condensing our cultural experiences and cultural diversity into a series of performances that limit the imagination and threaten our identities.

But what, you say, what about culture shows being for the community that puts on the show themselves, for them to celebrate their own talent and culture? 

It doesn’t take a culture show to do that. I see the hesitation in calling the Lunar New Year event a “culture show,” although it is exactly that. We call it a “celebration” instead—this is precisely why on the promotional flyers I designed for the event, I called it a “culture show and dinner.” 

I don’t think it’s a celebration. 

I think culture shows are an intense disservice to the communities and groups putting them on. Hours, weeks, and sometimes months of planning and coordination are put into a two hour event, and still someone covering the LNY event has the audacity to write,

The disappointment of the night, however, was the food. I’m willing to bet that the prospect of food, especially good food, was why most people came. Despite a job well done by our student chefs on the first three classic Chinese dishes, the main course of the night was Chinese take out. Not that there’s something wrong with getting a caterer, but the event had falsely advertised “home-cooked food” to attract guests. I’m sure General Tso’s chicken deserves its popularity, but for the occassion, I’m not sure that’s the best we can do.

The first three dishes the author somewhat praised already took three program houses dedicating an inordinate amount of time to cook up. It’s not possible for us students to put on such a production because, after all, we are just that—we’re students.

The anxiety and stress I experienced in anticipation for the LNY Celebration was ridiculous. A couple weeks before the event, I was even intent on getting away that weekend, to make up some excuse about needing to go see family in NYC or something and just hop on a train out of here. Students shouldn’t be experiencing such stress over these “teaching moments” to the wider community that doesn’t even show up. 

The same author criticizing the food writes,

An even more important progress is that the Asian community itself is opening up, integrating and accepting American culture gradually instead of rigidly following the ways things are done back home.

I don’t really know what ze means with this. On the surface, I understand, but I don’t see how with the LNY Celebration, our community is “opening up” to American culture. And what bothers me even more is that this “celebration” was not just a product of international students breaking the “ways things are done back home,” but a collection of students that include many Asian Americans that are just as invested and apart of both Chinese/Asian cultures and American culture. 

At the end of the day, I still am proud of what we were able to put on for Lunar New Year. I’m thankful for my fellow organizers who stepped up to get the ball rolling, as well as the performers that worked hard to put on an excellent performance. But I don’t think any of it is worth it. 

There is no need for me to teach my culture.

There is no need for me to squeeze my culture into a two hour time frame put on display. 

This post was published on Thursday the 13th of February in 2014  /  Permalink

Fresh Off The Boat: Not So Fresh

Just recently, ABC ordered a pilot for a new sitcom based on notable chef and restauranteur Eddie Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off The Boat. Part of me is super excited something like this is being picked up by a major network, but the other half of me is nervous and frankly, a bit scared. 

By the way, as I am just starting to write this, I’m already finding myself preparing and thinking of how to defend these thoughts to dissenters. That in and of itself makes me even more nervous. 

Earlier this week, I attended a film screening in Wesleyan’s Asian/Asian American Film Festival, which showed a film entitled Someone I Used to Know. They managed to invite actor and producer Brian Yang, who is most well-known for his role as Charlie Fong on Hawaii Five-0. After the film, there was a brief Q&A session with Yang, discussing the reasoning behind this independent film (which featured an Asian-American cast), amongst a few other things. 

What he said that stood out to me the most, however, is the state of AAPI in the media/film and television today. He mentioned the difficulty to bring the AAPI community together to support other AAPI (which is true—and mainly due to the immensity of the AAPI diaspora and diversity within that very diaspora), as well as the sheer lack of AAPI characters on screen that play non-racialized roles. 

Think about it. Most Asians/Asian-Americans you’ve seen on TV or film have played extremely racialized roles. As much as Jackie Chan has been a star figure in breaking into the US entertainment industry, for example, he’s all about martial arts in his films. While there’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s all we really see when Asians are represented on screen—racialized characters that rely on stereotypes to form the basis of their being. 

Lucy Liu in Elementary is one of those exceptions that exists—her role as Watson does not spend any time on her ethnic background. But we could probably count on one hand the number of characters like Liu’s Watson exists in popular culture.  

Back to Fresh Off The Boat. As I said, this upcoming sitcom makes me both nervous and excited. But right off the bat, I’m already disappointed that a new TV show mainly surrounding AAPI is going to be racialized. Hell, it’s based off of a memoir of an Asian-American—and there’s nothing wrong with that, but part of me wishes that for once, I can see AAPI playing major roles on screen that doesn’t constantly rely on their “Asian-ness”. 

Additionally, the few details available on this right now are slightly disturbing on another level. From Deadline

Based on Eddie Huang’s memoir, it is set in the 1990s and revolves around a Chinese family that moves to suburban Orlando. (Huang’s real-life family is Taiwanese.) It centers on hip-hop-loving Eddie, raised by an immigrant father who is obsessed with all things American and an immigrant mother who is often bewildered by white culture. With his father owning and operating an All-American Steakhouse chain, this loving family of FOB (“fresh off the boat”) Taiwanese Americans try to live the American dream while still maintaining their cultural identity and sense of family.

Wait. What? 

"…it is set in the 1990s and revolves around a Chinese family…Huang’s real-life family is Taiwanese." 

Alright, okay. I don’t know about you, but that’s a red flag for me already. Why couldn’t they just keep it based on a Taiwanese-American family? I don’t care if people don’t know what or where Taiwan is—this could’ve been such a good learning moment and could inject more discussion into the discourse around the China/Taiwan issue (which, at this point, is barely talked about in the US).

Additionally, Taiwanese/Taiwanese-American culture and Chinese/Chinese-American culture may share a huge number of similarities, but they’re still distinct and unique from each other. The history that shaped those two cultures have diverged significantly from each other in the last century, so it’ll also be interesting to see how this reconciles the two.

And don’t you dare say to me that “it’s great that there’s going to be an Asian family on TV already anyway.” No. America has done enough to try and erase the diverse nature of the AAPI diaspora. And you know what? It is insulting to someone who is culturally one ethnicity to ask or even joke if they are of another. Your ignorance or sense of humor is disparaging and unnecessary. 

Angry Asian Man writes:

I see much potential for hilarity and good stories. The trick will be striking the right balance of nostalgia, immigrant humor and Huang’s unmistakably original voice.

And I agree. But it’s a difficult course to navigate. I just hope they stay true to Huang’s memoir and not veer into the land of stereotypes and accents. 

I guess we’ll see.