I am not the Pandora’s Box of hate speech that some afraid I’ve turned into.
I am an anti-racist, social justice activist who has been battling in the trenches. My weapon is a bass guitar, not a bullet. I believe in creating meaningful conversation, not shutting down people, especially those with opposing views.
I started an Asian American band called The Slants. These days, we’re probably more known for fighting the government than for fighting stereotypes. But in either case, we’re challenging systemic racism.
In what seemed like a century ago, we filed a simple application for a trademark registration but it turned into an unimaginable legal debacle that has spanned six years, thousands of pages of argument, when the Trademark Office decided that the band name was a racial slur. They said that my intention didn’t matter: my ethnicity provided the context for the common, everyday word to become a racial slur. The logic used by the Trademark Office is troubling: anyone may register a trademark for “Slant” except Asians. We are too Asian. But we aren’t afraid to fire back.
Our justice work has been called empowering, racist, important, shameful. I’ve received death threats from white supremacists and encouragement from activists of all stripes. I’ve thrown into the media spotlight to have my intentions scrutinized under a microscope. I’ve heard more false stories, assumptions, and misquotes about me than I can count.
Most recently, and what has stung the most, was that I received accusations from several Asian American legal groups. There’s a guest blog on Angry Asian Man, which explains the ethical problems that I have with their approach here.
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), the South Asian Bar Association of DC (SABA-DC), and Korematsu Center of Seattle University filed a legal brief in full support of the Trademark Office’s action.They believed that it was important to do so because our case “may affect the power of the government to deny or cancel trademarks that contain disparaging content,” which could give a “federal stamp of approval” for said behavior or content.
In other words, it came from a position of fear. It was an ends-justify-the-means, broadly sweeping process that meant some people along the way had to get hurt. In this case, those targets included my band, as well as all activists, artists, nonprofits, and businesses that engage in reapproriation as a method for creating social change. They believe that my case may open the floodgate of hate speech.
However, is it worth suppressing the voices of the oppressed in fear of losing one avenue for protecting against disparaging trademark registrations? Is the solution for hate speech censorship? No, the solution is more speech. Better speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union writes, “Free speech rights are indivisible. Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence you. Conversely, laws that defend free speech for bigots can be used to defend the rights of civil rights workers, anti-war protesters, lesbian and gay activists and others fighting for justice.”
By upholding the law the Trademark Office is using to oppose The Slants (and all trademarks that on their surface look to be disparaging), it further equips hate groups to dismantle the work of groups like the NAACP, since “colored people” can be considered a disparaging term. It also puts the sole power of determining what is and isn’t offensive in the hands of trademark attorneys who aren’t trained in cultural competency, equitable practices, or the nuances of poetry, irony, reappropriation, or linguistic changes.
Those same attorneys demand, “prove to be that you are not offensive” but are allowed to dismiss any evidence that they disagree with. In my case, that meant dismissing over 2,000 pages of evidence, including national surveys and linguistics experts testifying. It meant that they took the words of racist wiki-websites over those of internment camp survivors, activists, and community leaders.
This law is subjectively and disproportionately applied.
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The Fushimi Inari shrine is meant for grain, wine, rice, and general prosperity. It’s most recognizable for its thousands of torii of all sizes, purchased by individuals, organizations, or companies for luck. The amazing result of such a tradition is a breathtaking 4K mountain hike covered in these bright red torii gates.
We spent about half a day here, and I would say the hike can range from easy to moderate to kind of hard depending on how far, how fast, and how high you want to go. I think next time I’m there, I’d like to spend a day there just enjoying the atmosphere of the place, probably bring a bento (ekiben anyone?) along.
When you first get there, you’re greeted by a large gate tori that you can actually see from the train station, so the place is not hard to find.
Back in January, I had blogged about the co-founders of the mobile dating app company Coffee Meets Bagel, Korean American sisters Arum, Dawoon, and Soo Kang. They appeared on the popular reality TV show Shark Tank trying to convince the Sharks to make a $500,000 investment for 5% of the company. Mark Cuban theoreitcally asked if the sisters would be willing to take a $30 million offer to buy the company. Without any hesitation, the sisters turned the offer down.
So the other night, I was watching ABC’s Nightline and saw that they were going to do a profile on them and the company. From the story, Coffee Meets Bagel has doubled its user base. On the Shark Tank show, I recall the sisters said they had between 500,000 to 1 million users. The online / mobile dating market is very competitive, so it’ll be interesting to see if the sisters can really grow their business to capture a good portion of the $2 billion a year annual industry.
Part 3 – Emily’s Story: Finding Hope in Support Groups
By Emily Wu Truong
In honor of July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Guest Blogger Emily Wu Truong, who received a fellowship from the Entertainment Industries Council’s Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, created this three-part series on Asian American mental health. This is the third article of the three-part series about perfectionism and mental health.
While seeking affordable means to help myself, I was privileged to meet Dr. Eliza Noh, Cal State Fullerton Associate Professor specializing in Asian American suicidology. She reported that having a strong support network was a common theme among her interviews with Asian American women who had attempted suicide. After I opened up to her about my depression, she encouraged I work on building my support network, and I took her advice to heart.
For myself, I found hope when I learned about the world of support groups. The groups I attended were from Recovery International, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Asian Coalition, and Kaiser Permanente’s Depression and Anxiety group therapy.
As I attended these groups, I found myself feeling relieved and far from isolation because I saw that I was not alone. These groups were safe places where I could openly share my experiences of depression without shame. Group members commended me for having the courage to share. We learned techniques to become more cognizant of our own thoughts, feelings, and bodily reactions in response to circumstances that were out of my control. I became more self-aware of my daily thought patterns and began to develop more attitudes of gratitude. To top it all off, fees to attend these meetings were free or nominal! Overall, the more I attended these meetings, the quality of my life improved. They reinforced the messages of hope where helplessness is not hopelessness, and emotional healing is possible.
Two time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir had lost four matches in row, and his career clearly needed help. Inspiration for his resurgence would come from the unlikeliest of places, 125 pound boxing champion turned MMA fighter, Ana Julaton. How did a woman more than 100 pounds lighter than Mir help the heavyweight, a 262 pound man famous for breaking his opponents’ arms?
Part 2 – Emily’s Story: Seeking Help in an Imperfect Mental Health System
By Emily Wu Truong
In honor of July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Guest Blogger Emily Wu Truong, who received a fellowship from the Entertainment Industries Council’s Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, created this three-part series on Asian American mental health. This is the second article of the three-part series about perfectionism and mental health.
Growing up, I had no idea how to define myself or love myself. I had no concept of understanding my true worth as an individual because I was so critical of myself. I realized that I hardly ever complimented myself and always needed that external validation from others. However, it was not until my breakdowns in July 2013, that I had breakthrough moments of epiphany, like a spiritual awakening of my true identity.
This awakening began two years ago after dealing with many frustrating circumstances. I came to a place in my life where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I set myself on a mission to learn how to deactivate my emotional triggers. Once I made that decision, a mixture of painful repressed memories came rushing into my conscientiousness. Emotionally, it was rather overwhelming that I would leave my brain feeling completely mentally exhausted. These breakdowns then prompted me to seek initial help from the mental health system.
Without anyone to provide me with an orientation to the mental health system, trying to navigate the mental health system was extremely frustrating.
I met Aihui Ong, Founder & CEO of Love with Food (“Snack Smart. Do Good.”), a subscription box snack business at some Silicon Valley networking event probably back in 2011 when she was first starting her business. I’ve always had a fascination with Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew, so I’m always interested in meeting Singaporeans, and have kept in touch with Ong by bumping into her at various Silicon Valley events or seeing her on Facebook.
The other day, I saw Ong post on Facebook that while in New York City for a food show, she was on The Today Show being interviewed about her experience being an entrepreneur, telling her journey:
“In the second in a series of segments revealing the secrets of successful women, TODAY contributing correspondent Jenna Bush Hager spotlights entrepreneur Aihui Ong, who discovered a passion for food as she traveled the world following her divorce, and turned that love into a successful monthly subscription snack service.”
I recently saw Ong a few months ago when she had an office party and got to sample a few snacks. When you get a chance, check out https://lovewithfood.com and see if Love with Food is something for you – they offer “Home Box” subscriptions plans starting at $7.99/month and “Office Box” subscriptions starting at $249/month.
Seeing Ong start from nothing, to raising $2 million in funding and growing her business to over $5 million in revenue is great to see, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.
Part 1 – Emily’s Story: Living with Perfectionism & Depression
By Emily Wu Truong
In honor of July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Guest Blogger Emily Wu Truong, who received a fellowship from the Entertainment Industries Council’s Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, created this three-part series on Asian American mental health. This is the first article of the three-part series about perfectionism and mental health.
I used to believe that perfectionism was real. Because straight A’s were expected of me, I thought perfection was supposed to be the norm. Growing up, my parents would talk about how they attended National Taiwan University, which was considered the Harvard of Taiwan. They were always at the top of their classes, and indirectly, that led me to believe that “I need to make them proud by doing the same.” I thought I was living in a world where adults were to be perfect, and if I couldn’t measure up, I would have nothing to contribute to society. However, it was not until much later in life that I realized that I was shooting myself in the foot by setting up unrealistic expectations for myself.
While doing some research on perfectionism and its relation to mental health, I found a UCLA research study by Jaimin Yoon and Anna S. Lau on the topic of Maladaptive Perfectionism and Depressive Symptoms Among Asian American College Students: Contributions of Interdependence and Parental Relations. Yoon & Lau stated that “Perfectionism is commonly thought of as a trait that motivates individuals to strive toward important goals and foster excellence. However, a growing literature highlights aspects of perfectionism are linked to negative psychological outcomes, including low self-esteem, depression, and suicidality.” Being able to find research that could validate my personal experiences was eye-opening.
I’m writing this on the day of my 30th High School Reunion. No, I’m not traveling the 3000 miles it would take to go there and be at the party tonight. So let me start by saying this isn’t going to be some happy ending story where the main character (loser, gay, nerd) goes to his high school reunion and finds out he’s the successful, happy, and well-liked person he never was in high school. Hollywood happy endings like that don’t happen in real life. Well, there is a happy ending, but you’ll have to get to the end of the story to hear what it is.
First let’s go back 30 years and see who I was in high school and what being at my high school in the early 80s was like. My high school was similar to the ones in Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink, (all 80s high school films) but only even more so if you can imagine it. Stereotypes on steroids. I say that because I attended at the time, the largest suburban high school in the United States (at least according to U.S. News and World Report). When you have almost 1500 students in your graduating class all under one roof, there’s going to be hyper-segregation. The jocks really only hung out with the jocks, the populars with the populars, etc.
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I’ve got no patience for food preparation. For me, when it comes to cooking, the simpler, the better. I’m not a picky eater either, and though I enjoy delicious food, I wouldn’t really call myself a foodie. So when I read about Kyoto’s kaiseki specialities, I was not really interested. That is, until I tried some.
Kaiseki is a multi-course traditional Japanese meal supposedly derived from the tea ceremony and buddhist tradition. There’s an emphasis on detail in food preparation, presentation, and overall dining experience. Elements of the ephemeral and imperfect nature of the world are incorporated, and local and seasonal ingredients set the parameters of the meal.
Not all the meals that I considered “kaiseki” are really pure kaiseki, and they weren’t all in Kyoto specifically, but although I’ve had Japanese food my entire life, it really just struck me on this trip and my culinary experiences this time that made me realize there was a certain tradition of attention to detail found in a lot of Japanese food preparation, from expensive high class cuisine to the most detailed and artistic bento creations made for kids to take to school. As I’ve read up a bit on kaiseki, I began to understand the elements of kaiseki that seem to appeal to me.
I’ve blogged about the “bamboo ceiling” before, so it’s interesting to see that recently, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders had a panel discussion for their AAPI Youth Forum with the topic of: “Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling”
The panel featured:
Given the recent highlighting of the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley (which often practices “mirrortocracy” rather than meritocracy), the bamboo ceiling is especially topical. Although Asian Americans and Asians make comprises of approximately 50% of the workforce in Silicon Valley, how many are in senior management roles, either in a business or technical capacity? I’m pretty certain not representative of the population.
The panelists discussed their career paths, and the discussion seemed to be more about not following the “model minority” career path of being a doctor, lawyer, engineer or some other “traditional” career and instead going into public service. But then, the panelists did start addressing questions as well as providing advice as to how to break the bamboo ceiling, like speaking up more, etc.
Recently a friend of mine recommended Serial Podcast to me. The first season of Serial aired last fall 2014 and ended up one of the most popular podcasts in America. The series investigates a murder of a young teenage girl back in 1999 Baltimore, Maryland, and her ex-boyfriend was charged and found guilty of her murder, sentenced to life.
I knew the premise of the story when I started listening to it, but it wasn’t until I completely finished the first episode that I realized that in this wildly popular real-life murder mystery series, the murdered teenage girl and her convicted ex-boyfriend were actually both Americans of Asian descent.
Hae Min Lee was a popular senior girl at Woodlawn High School, part of the lacrosse team, manager of the wrestling team, and a top student at the school’s magnet program. As you can probably guess from her name, she is of Korean descent, likely second generation as her mother speaks little to no English. When she didn’t show up to pick up her little cousin from school one Friday afternoon, the search was on for her as a missing person, and sadly, her body was found six weeks later at a park in a shallow grave.