8 Asians

228In one of my earliest 8Asian blog postings, I asked Taiwanese Americans if they knew the significance February 28th; to raise awareness of 2/28 in a very web 2.0 way, the Formosan Association for Public Affairs Young Professional Group (FAPA-YPG), San Francisco chapter (full disclosure: which I am technically a member of), is sponsoring a Facebook 2/28 awareness campaign.

What FAPA-YPG SF is encouraging for all those who are interested in raising awareness about 2/28 is to do the following on Facebook:

1) Change your profile picture to feature the 228 logo, this Facebook event’s pic

2) Change your status message to the suggested one-liner: (Your Name) is commemorating the Taiwanese massacre of 1947: http://www.uta.edu/accounting/faculty/tsay/feb28hd.htm.

3) Post on your wall a brief summary description of the massacre.

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mamackchendvdOur internal e-mail lists have us discussing all kinds of stuff: Asian American identity, representation in the media, the experiences of activism in an academia setting and its progression as we transition to the working, adult world. And sometimes, we talk about Taiwanese presidential gay sex scandals involving a guy named DJ Chocolate who has syphilis. I swear to God we’re not making this up.

Ernie: Inside Taiwan’s Brewing Presidential Gay Sex Scandal. From Brian: “Seems more of a gossip item or for a gay site like queerty, but I just wanted to give a heads up in case anyone was interested.”
Joz: Oh, Taiwan. Not just legislative fistfights!
Efren: Well, considering they came very close to being the first Asian country to allow domestic partnerships, it’s very curious…
Moye: now it’s all about gay fistfights!!!
Ernie: Wow. I don’t care how much of a fallacy this is; I’m going to blog this for the reference to “Taiwanese presidential gay sex scandals involving a guy named DJ Chocolate who has syphilis” alone. Fuck, I might may t-shirts out of it because we’ll never get an opportunity to ever say those words in combination with each other again.

Caption This!

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captionthis

Or just ask yourself “WTF?”

Either way, enjoy.

h/t: buzzfeed

Photo Zen: New Years Greeting, Chinatown 1912

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(Flickr photo credit: The Library of Congress)

If you have been following the latest season of The Amazing Race, you’ve noticed the Asian American brother-sister team, Tammy & Victor Jih. The last time I recall The Amazing Race having an Asian American team was when father-daughter team Ronald & Christina made it to the finale, but ultimately didn’t win in the end, coming in second. This past Sunday in the second episode, Tammy & Victor came in first in the latest leg of The Amazing Race. In a sneak peak, the third episode shows some sibling rivalry and friction between Tammy & Victor.

But when reality television shows cast Asian Americans, are they now trying to typecast and perpetuate the “Model Minority” myth? The previous season of The Amazing Race had Christina going to Duke and Princeton and working for the State Department. Survivor’s Yul Kwon went to Stanford and Yale Law and had worked at McKinsey & Google prior to going on the show. And now, Tammy & Victor, they both went to Stanford undergrad and Harvard Law School (a decade apart – HLS ’06 and HLS’96 respectively). Victor is a 35-year-old partner at the Los Angeles-based law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP. Tammy is an associate at the law firm Quinn Emanuel.

Is this better than how typically Asian Americans are portrayed in television and film, like Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles?

I do think that it is great that Yul Kwon and Victor Jih have come across as totally down-to-earth and photogenic, giving Asian Amerian males a much needed image boost to the steroetypical “geek” image that has been portrayed in the past. And yes, I *totally* have a crush on Tammy; she’s super cute and maybe I’ll be lucky and get to meet her in person one of these days like I have with Yul.

Tonga Room in San Francisco Possibly Closing?

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SFGate.com just announced that the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco could possibly be closing soon as the hotel considers converting much of its space into condos (which in this economy doesn’t make much sense, but I digress).

While on the surface this may not have much to do with Asian Americans, the Tonga Room is one of the last vestiges of an era gone by for Asian American nightclub performers in San Francisco.  From the 1930s to the 70s, Chinatown in San Francisco was known as having nightly entertainment featuring “exotic” performers from the Orient, even though the vast majority of them were actually 2nd generation Chinese and Japanese American singers and dancers born in both the mainland and Hawaii.  This is probably best personified in the movie Flower Drum Song, which featured performers from Forbidden City, the best well known nightclub in Chinatown SF at the time. Arthur Dong did a critically acclaimed documentary on this nightclub called Forbidden City, USA and should definitely be watched if you’re truly interested in seeing how the stuff that Asian American performers dealt with back then hasn’t changed for those trying to make it into showbiz today.  A woman who performed during that era tries to bring that time back with her group of performers from those days called Grant Avenue Follies.

When I went to the Tonga Room a few years ago to celebrate a friend’s birthday, it featured a predominantly Asian American band playing covers of cheesy pop songs from the 50s to the 80s and portrayed a romanticized American version of the “Tropics” featuring supposedly  Asian fusion cuisine (which ended up being more like lots of deep fried wontons filled with cheese and crab and other deep fried monstrosities), strong and enormous cocktails, and decor from random Pacific Islands, which would horrify most people who have a basic sense of fashion design.  Think of Trader Vic’s on steroids.  What did strike me about the place (aside from the cocktails that gave me a nasty hangover the next day) was the fact that almost everyone working there was Asian American and that all of the performers knew that this was totally inauthentic cheese, but had fun with it and played it to the hilt.

Given that the opportunities for most Asian American performers during that time was virtually nil outside of doing these clubs, I did come away with a sense of appreciation that despite their exoticizing Asian and Pacific Island cultures, it allowed Asian American performers back in the day to practice their trade, so it is sad that with the Tonga Room closing, this era will come to an end.

Slumdog Millionaire swept the Academy Awards

I was happy that a film like Slumdog Millionaire swept the Academy Awards last Sunday night with 8 Oscars, including Best Picture which is probably the highest award any filmmaker could achieve in his/her career (except for James Cameron because I absolutely hated Titanic). Even more endearing was to see the entire cast from India walking down the famous red carpet, enjoying the glitz and glamor that any hard working actor should experience.

We also saw the backlash against the film, where Indians and Indian Americans claimed offense to the depiction of their culture and country in such a gritty story, and even more so when reporters discovered that the child actors cast in the leading roles were still living in squalor with their families.

Fortunately, today it was announced that Danny Boyle had promised the two youngest actors, Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail would be moving out of the slums and into new apartments with their families. Better yet, the producers have promised to pay a rickshaw driver to chauffeur the two children to school every day for the next 8 years to make sure they don’t drop out. (I’m sorry, but something about that is so hilariously wrong.)

So this is where you enjoy that warm and fuzzy feeling in your belly because the two cutest Indian child actors will be given a new life.

Except for some reason, I can’t feel happy about this. There’s this gut feeling where I keep asking myself, what about the rest of them? You know, the thousands of children living in slums across Bombay–or even India itself? How much money can you throw at two families and what’s going to happen when the fickle Hollywood spotlight gets tired of them?

I won’t say that Slumdog Millionaire is a bad film. I enjoyed it and I’m glad that a popular director like Danny Boyle has highlighted the harsh living conditions of such a city, as well as extending his own personal wealth to help his young cast–but I can’t NOT raise my eyebrows at this news. Just as Jeff questioned the “authenticity” of the film because it was written and directed by non-Indians (doesn’t this ring a bell when Memoirs of a Geisha came out?), I have to question how much good this film has done for the Asian community.

I got the same feeling while watching the Slumdog filmmakers gather each of their 8 Oscars; the film celebrated India’s Bollywood culture, but almost every person (except for A.R. Rahman, who picked up the Best Song award for Jai Ho) who went on stage was white. Yay for an Indian movie, but who is really benefitting from these wins and box office numbers? Clearly, the slumdogs of India aren’t.

There’s just something so ironic about the whole story: a British director films a movie in a former colony, takes it to Hollywood where it becomes an award-winning box office hit, makes millions, finds backlash when people discover that the actors are still technically slumdogs and now, tries to help out those who he left behind (including a trip to Disneyland).

But I’m going to stay positive. As the LA Times wrote, it’s always a time to celebrate when a country like India is being nationally recognized in Hollywood.

President Barack Obama has had a hell of a time trying to fill in the Secretary of Commerce seat, with his first two nominees, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Republican Senator Judd Gregg, withdrawing their names prior to confirmation hearings. According to the Washington Post, this opens up the nomination to former Governor of Washington, Gary Locke:

“Locke, a Democrat, spent eight years as the governor of Washington State — from 1996 until 2004 — and before that served stints as the chief executive in King County (Seattle) and in the Washington state House. When he was elected in 1995 Locke became the first — and to date the only — Chinese American to serve as the governor of a state. Locke’s appeal to the White House was threefold, according to those briefed on the decision. First, he built a solid record as governor — including overseeing the rapid growth of the Washington economy. Second, he is well known as a strait-laced politician who has never been weighed down with ethical baggage. Third, he furthers Obama’s commitment to diversity as the third Asian American in the Cabinet.”

If Governor Locke is nominated and confirmed as Secretary of Commerce, he will indeed be the third Asian American in Obama’s cabinent level administration, after General Shinseki of Veteran Affairs and Secretary of Eneergy Steve Chu – which I believe would be a record number of Asian Americans for any presidential cabinet; I’m sure The Daily Show’s news correspondent Aasif Mandvi is disappointed that an Indian wasn’t nominated.

(Flickr photo credit: SCGators7)

Jane Lui’s “Firefly”

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So a couple of us are back from this weekend’s Kollaboration event in Los Angeles. And despite some snags, grumblings and awkward ponies — a girl behind Moye in hysterics when the VIP ticket she pre-purchased was given away, an after party described on twitter as a bad high school dance, a white boy winning the freestyle dance competition — the event was a success, primarily because of the artists and performers.

But for me, the stand-out performer of the night wasn’t BoA, but Jane Lui, a singer-songwriter from San Diego who was the runner-up of the competition, despite having a sound that was more mature than the high schoolers in the crowd. (What? I’m 32; I was feeling fucking old in that auditorium.) While the performance that won her a $1,000 check is already on YouTube and her cover of George Michael’s Faith is equal parts funny and charming, I posted a clip of her song Firefly because while there are tons of people that sing with their guitars in front of video cameras, this is the one of the few YouTube clips I keep coming back to and clicking on the play button, time and time again.

A Lack of Asian Surrogates

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Indian surrogatesSurrogacy, is when a woman agrees to carry a baby for another person or couple. When surrogacy first started, it was common for the surrogate to also be the egg donor. Recently though it’s much more common to use a biologically separate egg donor. There’s less legal issues with this method, and less risk the surrogate will want to keep the baby after birth. I was surprised to find out there’s a lack of Asian surrogates in the U.S. (although no lack of them in India or the Philippines apparently).

This issue came to light since John Griffin posted a comment on my article about creating a surrogate family. His comment was essentially an advertisement looking for an Asian woman willing to act as a surrogate for a Vietnamese couple. It surprised me because it should make no difference what race the surrogate happens to be; since biologically, the baby will be the race of the biological contributors.

I’m no stranger to surrogacy since my partner and I decided to go with surrogacy to bring our daughter into this world. It didn’t even occur to us to ask for a Caucasian or an Asian surrogate. Yes, our daughter is mixed, half Asian and half Caucasian. But, she was carried by a Latino surrogate, who we were matched with through an agency. We had no preferences stated, only that the surrogate was willing to carry for a gay couple. Our surrogate was a wonderful woman, full of life and love, and she immediately found a place in our family. We still send her pictures of our daughter and keep in touch with her and her family.

I was also recently surprised that a Caucasian woman acting as a surrogate for an Asian couple would make the news. To me this shouldn’t be shocking or newsworthy. It just reflects again, how far our society has to go before race and color isn’t an issue.

leahs-prod13Recently my friend took me to a performance by the National Asian American Theater Company. The group puts on shows that are “not for or about Asian Americans, but realized with an all Asian American cast”. We went to see Leah’s Train, which is about three generations of Russian Jewish women dealing with intergenerational family issues. Needless to say, there were no other 24 year old males in the audience.

Because this isn’t a review, I won’t go into details about the quality of acting (somewhat mixed) or the plot (except to say that there’s kind of a twist halfway through the show that has enormous metaphysical implications and creates a number of weird time paradoxes, but the author is sadly uninterested in exploring those issues.) What I am concerned with, and what I kept thinking about during the show, is the question of why. Why put on a show about Russian Jews and cast Asian people? What value is there, either artistically or or otherwise, in doing this?

Artistically, if there was some purpose in using Asians to tell the story of Leah’s Train, I missed it. Having never seen a NAATCO performance before, I came with the expectation that the director would use the juxtaposition of “non Asian play/Asian cast” to make some sort of statement. There was a bit of that, when I caught myself thinking that one of the characters really resembled a lot of yuppie Asian people that I know, and realized that the qualities I associate with yuppie Asians are actually true of all yuppies. But somehow I don’t think that was the intended message of the show. In fact, after looking through some of their other performances (Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Our Town, Othello – one wonders how they put that one on) I don’t think they intended for this juxtaposition to send any message at all.

Even without any artistic benefit, I think there’s some social value in what NAATCO does; we always hear about how there aren’t enough Asian Americans in the media, and judging from the fact that the theater is located on the third floor of an obscure building, I’m not naive to think that an obscure and not particularly well funded theater group is going to change that. But I do think that NAATCO, by its very existence, encourages Asian people to participate in the arts. At one level I mean this literally, in that NAATCO gives Asian actors another stage to perform on.

But I’m also saying something bigger than that; when I was growing up, all the Asian adults I ever met were doctors, or scientists, or engineers. This created a belief in my head that only those career paths were open to me, and things like theater and the arts were for other people. Then I stumbled upon the Stanford Asian American Theater Project, a theater group on campus founded by David Henry Hwang that, like NAATCO, put on shows with mostly Asian cast members. It was a revelation to me because it made me realize that art is created by and for Asian Americans, and that it’s vital to the health of the Asian American community. This is a message that I think gets lost, or underappreciated, and NAATCO’s doing its part to put it back on the forefront.

asian_pacific_fundEvery year, the Asian Pacific Fund sponsors a “Growing Up Asian in American” arts & essay contest for San Francisco Bay Area’s K-12 students. This year’s theme — which is not surprising when you think about it — is change:

“Change: If you could change one thing to make the world a better place, what would that be?”

Students compete in three grade categories: kindergarten through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade and ninth through twelfth grade. The first place winners in each category will receive savings bond awards in the amount of $2,000, with second and third places receiving $1,500 and $1,000, respectively. Numerous honorable mention honors are also awarded gift merchandise. Check out the website for more details or download the contest guidelines and entry form here (.pdf). But hurry fast since the deadline for submission is March 5th.