8Books Review: “American Sutra” by Duncan Ryuken Williams

American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War by Duncan Ryuken Williams revisits Japanese American internment through the lens of Buddhism.

Williams begins as World War II breaks out and Japan becomes an enemy of the United States. He examines the Japanese Buddhist communities in Hawaii and the mainland, how Buddhism’s role in the community impacted the decision making around who was interred and in what sequence, how Japanese Christians fared in comparison, how internees found ways to adapt Buddhism for strength and survival, how Japanese Americans fighting in the war petitioned for their own priests and proper death rites, and countless individual stories.

This is an academic book, so it’s not for the faint of heart, nor is it what I would suggest as an introduction to the history of Japanese American internment (if you’re here, reading this, I can only assume that you don’t need such an intro), but what it does offer is a detailed, thoroughly researched, and thought-provoking new angle. Religion offers an important lens, understudied and under acknowledged. Williams offers multiple views on its role, from Buddhism being another way in which Japanese were identified as alien, to its ability to offer solace to a Japanese American soldier being tortured in the Philippines.

And though covering a dark chapter in American history, Williams pitches this as a hopeful saga about American multiplicity, religious freedom, and offers a timely call for inclusion over exclusion.

Bay Area Asian American Immigrant Women more likely to get Breast Cancer

We have written how some doctors would not believe that Asian American women could get breast cancer, but in the past few years, I know a number of Asian American women who were diagnosed with the disease.   Previous studies of women in Asia show a lower occurrence of breast cancer outside of the United States and higher incidence in US born Asian Americans.  In contrast, a recently released study of Asian American women in the San Francisco Bay Area suggests what I have seen anecdotally – immigrant Asian Americans are more likely to get breast cancer than native born Asian Americans.

Of the Asian American women that I know personally that have had breast cancer, all were immigrants and most were in the Bay Area.  The Wife knows even more women who had breast cancer – all are Asian American immigrants too.  Tim’s mother also died of breast cancer,  The only Asian American woman who had breast cancer who was born in the US that I can think of is Ken Jeong’s wife. Is this some acculturation factor, like with South Asian Heart disease?  The authors tried to control for that, looking at BMI and length of time in the US, but controlling those factors left the same result.

Then again, the majority of the Asian American women that The Wife and I know are immigrants in the Bay Area, so my anecdotal sample is biased.  Similarly, the study’s authors mention that one possible shortcoming of the study is that it was limited to the Bay Area population.  One risk factor for breast cancer is higher socioeconomic (measured by income and education) status – this is borne out in studies of populations all over the world and is seen in the rise of breast cancer in parts of Asia and with Asian American women in the Bay Area.   Given the large numbers of affluent Asian immigrants in the Bay area and in certain cases, where the native born children of immigrants earn less than parents, this study might simply be showing the socioeconomic risk factor.

So what to take away from this study?   Given the limits on sample size, the authors suggestion that further cross national studies be done to confirm the results and to narrow down the particular risk factors that generate this result.  If the discrepancy is caused by mainly be income/education differentials, then some of the known breast cancer risk factors that come with affluence, such as a sedentary lifestyle, should be publicized in the affected communities and should be avoided.  The authors suggest that from a public health perspective, doctors should recognize immigrant status as a breast cancer risk factor with Asian American women and increase screenings, which have been low in the past.

(h/t:  John)

Asian American Medical Hazard: South Asian Heart Disease

Silicon Valley resident Mahendra Agrawal exercised regularly, maintained a health weight, and followed a vegetarian diet.  When he went to the hospital with shortness of breath, doctors found that the 63 year old had obstructed coronary arteries.  His reaction:

“I’m a pretty active guy and I eat very healthy, my wife makes sure of that.  It makes me wonder why this happened to me.”

Agrawal’s predicament is detailed in this New York Times article (also here if you ran out of free articles) that talks about another Asian American Medical Hazard – South Asian Heart Disease.  It also describes one potential benefit of being Asian American – how adopting a blend of Asian and American practices can lead to better health than either alone.

Continue reading “Asian American Medical Hazard: South Asian Heart Disease”

Asian American Medical Hazard: Somatic Symptom Disorder

When she was 14, Diana Chao began experiencing severe pain in her eyes.  The pressure buildup in her eyes was diagnosed as uveitis, an inflammatory eye disease that caused her to go temporarily blind.  For the next four years, she repeatedly visited doctors to find the cause of her uveitis, which would recur every few months.   When an ophthamologist mentioned that she had seen the same symptoms in patients with mental illness, it dawned on Chao, who had been experienced depression as a child and was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder as teenager, that her mind might be affecting her body.  This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about Diana Chao and how somatic symptom disorder, a form of mental illness that manifests itself as bodily symptoms, is actually common in Asians and Asian Americans.

How does mental illness manifest physically in Asian Americans?  The article mentions that how chest pain, headaches, and stomach problems with no known physical causes are common in Cambodian refugees, many of whom are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It also talks about a Filipina American who experienced daily stomach pains which an organic cause could not be found.  This Filipina traced back the source of her problems to being sexually abused as a child.  These kind of stories are very familiar to me.  I have a relative who had persistent stomach pains for which no physical source could be found.  Alleviating anxiety and depression were key to making her pain go away.  One explanation for why somatic symptom disorder occurs in Asians and Asian Americans is that many Asian cultures stigmatize mental illness and tend to repress talk about feelings, causing mental problems and issues to manifest themselves in other ways.

As for Diana Chao, she attributes fewer episodes of uveitis to better mental health treatments.  Her own story is remarkable.  Despite suffering from uveitis symptoms and dealing with bi-polar disorder, she is a photographer who has placed work in prominent places and is currently a sophomore  at Princeton University.   She advocates for mental health treatment, giving a TedxTeen talk on the subject and founding a nonprofit called Letters to Strangers, which aims to destigmatize mental illness and to increase access to mental health care for people aged 13 through 24.   I had previously written about Wendell Tang, who suffered from mental illness but did not receive treatment.  Diana Chao shows that students with mental illness can thrive, even at intense Ivy league institutions, when they receive treatment.

(h/t:  akj)

8Questions with Barney Cheng, Director of “Baby Steps”

Back in September 2018, I did a review of a movie Baby Steps on 8Asians. The movie was written, directed and starred Barney Cheng. I was still so intrigued with the movie, that I got in contact with Barney and asked him to do this 8Questions segment for 8Asians.

Before we get to the questions, a little bit about Barney from his wikipedia page

Barney Cheng is a Taiwanese-American actor, director, writer and producer. Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old and he grew up in Brea, California. He speaks Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien fluently.

and from his own official site:

Barney Cheng landed on the Hollywood map as an actor in 2002 with his acclaimed performance in Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending.  The New York Times described Barney’s comedic timing as “surgically precise.” The Orange County Register raved that Barney “steals every scene he’s in.” Barney accompanied Woody Allen to promote the film and to open the 55th Cannes Film Festival. 

On to the questions:

1. How did you get the idea for the movie Baby Steps?

I came across a story about a gay couple from Israel. They wanted to have a baby, but since it was illegal for gay couples to hire surrogates in Israel, they flew to the U.S. to work with an American egg donor. They flew to India to transfer the embryos to an Indian surrogate. Nine months later, they traveled across the globe to pick up their baby. I was intrigued by the couple’s emotional and physical journey, and I could see that as a movie. Then I thought, “What if it were my life? What if I had a partner, and we decided to have kids?” Baby Steps was conceived.

2. You wrote, directed and starred in Baby Steps, how similar are you to the main character Danny?

Very different. The movie is fictional. I’m single and don’t have kids. However, the film is inspired by the relationship between my mother and me. She definitely evolved throughout the years. The more than 20 years of her evolution — coming to terms with my coming out to full acceptance — was captured in the 90-minute film!

3. What advice would you give a gay Asian American who wants to be a parent?

To be visible, open and out. It’s important to be proud of who you are and be a role model for your child. Being in the closet conveys a message of shame, and that would be detrimental to the child’s development.

4. I read that you showed Baby Steps in mainland China. What was that like?

The State Department under the Obama Administration hosted U.S. embassy screenings of the film in six cities in China. At the screenings, the staff at the American consulates handed out study guides to highlight American culture and LGBT marriage equality. After the screenings, I was surprised to learn that many Chinese audiences didn’t think that the story was plausible. It seemed like a fairy tale to many Chinese audiences. Many of them just couldn’t imagine coming out to their parents and getting the kind of acceptance that Danny received. They also couldn’t imagine living openly as gay people and having children as gay parents.

5. Who are your role models and influences on your work?

I don’t have specific role models for my work, but as a storyteller, I always aim to be authentic, real and truthful.

6. Compared with Danny, how supportive have your parents been in your career, life, and movies?

I remember when we were filming Baby Steps in Taipei, my mother would make me breakfast each morning to make sure that I was well-prepared for the long, hectic day ahead. We would have early 5 o’clock calls, and my mom would get up at 3:00 a.m. to make me breakfast. She didn’t have to say anything, but I felt that she cared. Taiwanese parents rarely say explicitly “I love you” or “I care about you.” They show through actions.

The movie was released theatrically in Taiwan. When we were promoting for the release, it was very important to me to be an openly out filmmaker and actor. One of the important themes of Baby Steps is being open and authentic, and our promotion campaign had to be consistent with that vision. My mom joined me on a TV talk show to promote the film. My mother openly shared her struggles of coming to terms with having a gay son. She invited all of her friends to see the film in theater. And my mother enrolled friends and relatives to join her at marriage equality rallies in Taiwan. Through Baby Steps, she “came out.”

7. Do you have any new projects in the works you can tell us about?

I’m developing a TV series called “Curated Lies,” and it centers around an Asian-American family in a wine country. I’ve recently finished filming a transgender love and acceptance video for the Asian-American LGBTQ community. It’s called A Love LetterPlease check it out: https://youtu.be/irjUBWxgSPY

8. Where can someone watch “Baby Steps” now?

All digital platforms. We recommend Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yawje8ry

Asian American Family Sues Harvard, but not for what you might think

Lawsuits against Harvard and well-known selective universities contending discrimination against Asian Americans have happened over the years, with the lawsuit sponsored by Edward Blum still in play and actively opposed by Harvard.  In late 2018, another kind of lawsuit against Harvard was filed. The family of Luke Tang filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Harvard contending that the University was negligent in caring in for Luke, who committed suicide in 2015.

After a suicide attempt his freshman year, Luke Tang was hospitalized.  While he was there, he signed a contract with Harvard saying he could return if he received mental health counseling.  He was able to return for his sophomore year even though, the lawsuit alleges, Harvard personnel knew that he had not received the required mental health counseling.

Since his death, his parents have set up a foundation in his name to raise awareness of signs of depression and other mental health issues, especially as it affects Asian Americans.  In addition, a short documentary called Looking for Luke was produced by the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds to educate and to destigmatize seeking help for mental health problems.  In the trailer above, the fact that Luke committed suicide is hidden for a long time and only told to one of his friends six months after his death.   My personal experience with the issue of mental health in Asian American families is that any problems are hushed up, considered a shame on the family that is not to be discussed openly, and likely not to be dealt with directly.  In particular, this article on Filipino Americans and mental health really resonated with me and other family members.  Our family, like many others in Silicon Valley, have known Asian American students who have committed suicide.

Harvard was required to respond to the lawsuit by January 9.  I haven’t been able to find the actual lawsuit text or any response since then (if someone has link to any of those, please include it in the comments). At the same time, the Luke Tang foundation is granting scholarships to students who have overcome psychiatric problems and welcomes donations.

WBUR: Shirley Wang: ‘My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley’

Image courtesy of Shirley Wang, vis-a-vis WBUR.

If you haven’t listened (download the MP3 here) to or read this story, ‘My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley,’ you must – it’s such a heart warming story and made me cry, about a friendship between two people from completely two different worlds – NBA basketball star Charles Barkley and Chinese American Ph.D. immigrant Lin Wang (told by his daughter Shirley Wang) who randomly met at a hotel when both were traveling for work and became close friends:

“”I was on a business trip,” my dad said, “and stayed in one of the hotels and was walking in the lobby, and I saw Charles Barkley.”

“I was in Sacramento speaking at a charity event,” Barkley said.

“So, I just went to say hi and take a picture with him,” my dad said.

“I was just sitting at the bar,” Barkley said. “And me and your dad were the only two people in there. And we just sit down and started talking.”

“He’s a super nice guy,” my dad said.

“And, before we know it, we looked at each other, like, ‘Yo, man, I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner,’ ” Barkley said. “It turned into a two-hour dinner. And then we actually went back to the bar and just sit there and talked for another couple of hours. And the rest is history.”

My dad and Barkley saw each other again in the bar the next night. And the night after that. At the end of the third night:

“Certainly, I told him I had a good time talking with him, hanging out with him,” my dad said. “He said the same thing to me, and he left the phone number. He said, ‘Whenever you’re in Atlanta, New York City or Phoenix, check out with me. If I’m in town, we’ll hang out and have a good time.’ “”

The story goes on to cover how their friendship grew, how Wang attended Barkley’s mother’s funeral and later, how Barkley attended Wang’s funeral.

What was interesting to hear from Barkley was that he didn’t have that many friends that he he’d want to spend time with:

“Your dad is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Barkley said. “I’m not just saying that — I mean, think about it: It’s fun to be with your friends, you know? ‘Cause, I don’t have that many friends that I want to be around, to be honest with you. I mean, you know a lot of people. But when you go spend time with your friends, it’s a whole different animal.”

“It gives me great memories and great joy to know that I was a friend of his,” Barkley said. “Just hearing about him at the funeral — what he had accomplished and what he was trying to help other people accomplish, just made me even — I wished he bragged more about himself.””

I imagine being famous, it must be pretty difficult to be true friends with someone, always concerned about alternative motives, etc.

Charles Barkley’s Eulogy at Lin Wang’s Funeral

It’s an incredibly heartwarming human story, and could see many of the attributes of Lin Wang in my father’s immigrant story and life.

“Baby Steps” Review: A film about two gay dads, surrogacy and a tiger mom

Baby Steps” is a film released in 2015, written, directed and staring Barney Cheng.  He plays the lead character, Danny Lee, a Taiwanese-American living in Los Angeles with a Caucasian boyfriend, Tate.  They’ve decided to have a child, through surrogacy, although Tate is a little less invested in the idea than Danny.  Added to the mix is Danny’s mother, who’s convinced she’s never going to have a grandchild, while all her friends are celebrating the births of their “Sūnzi 孫子”(grandchildren).

I hadn’t heard of this movie prior to last week, when my sister sent me a link to it, thinking I’d be interested in watching it.  I have to admit that my first thought when reading the description was, “why did it take so long for a movie to come out about a gay mixed-race couple going on a surrogacy journey?”  You have to understand, my husband and I started our surrogacy journey back in late 2003, more than a decade earlier than the release of this film, and our daughter from surrogacy just turned 13.

It was fascinating to watch the various events around surrogacy unfold for Danny, as I had some similar experiences with surrogacy and with my own parents.  There was a large difference though, I was lucky by comparison in that I was older when I reached the point in my life when I was able to, and ready to, have a child.  In “Baby Steps,” when Danny’s mother finally finds out her son is planning to have a child via surrogacy, she inserts herself into the process in unexpected ways, producing funny and memorable scenes, ones that are crazy, yet believable if you have an Asian mom.

Given my experience with the surrogacy progress, some scenes did seem completely unbelievable (usually the egg donor is anonymous, so I was surprised to see them meeting various egg donors), and I was left wondering how they negotiated all the legal issues of having the birth in Taiwan.  But leaving the practical issues aside, the movie had funny, serious, and sad scenes, and many brought out plenty of empathy for Danny’s (and Tate’s) situation.  Perhaps even more believable was Danny’s Ma’s stance on her gay son, keeping his sexuality hidden from her friends, and eventually her determination to do everything possible to find the right surrogate to carry her grandchild.

One other side note, the movie did remind me a bit of “The Wedding Banquet“, the 1993 movie directed by Ang Lee.  It was the first movie I ever saw to feature a Asian-Caucasian mixed race gay couple.  While the films were created a generation apart, there’s definitely a similarity to them in style and content.  Both should be on your viewing list if you’re a gay Asian American and should probably make your list even if you’re not.

Wong Fu Productions First Season of Yappie (Young Asian Professional)

I first learned about Wong Fu’s ‘Yappie’ scripted web series on this NBC Asian America article about Wong Fu Productions & Yappie:

“With more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube now, and 500 million-plus views, Wong Fu Productions — created by college friends Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu — has ambitious credits to their name that includes multiple web series (including a YouTube Red series starring “Glee” alum Harry Shum, Jr.), music videos, and two feature-length films (their most recent one hit Netflix in 2016).”

Wong Fu became a viral YouTube sensation back in 2006 with their first original waaaay back in 2006 with ‘Yellow Fever.’ I think my favorite Wong Fu video though has to be the VERY well produced and HILARIOUS (at least to me) ‘Asian Bachelorette.’

Yappie is self described as:

“”Yappie” is a single-camera comedy that explores the social and racial issues related to the contemporary Asian American experience from the perspective of Andrew and his bubble of friends who are all “yappies”[a slang word to describe a “young Asian professional who acts like a yuppie.”].

Asian Americans are an often overlooked minority in the US for a variety of reasons, and we’re creating a show to examine and share these causes and their effects on an entire generation.”

I watched all five episodes as the episodes were released and really enjoyed the series. I think Yappie does try to explore, often in a humorous way, the typical arguments around the whole Asian American dating dynamics and inter-racial issues around that have been around since the beginnings of the Internet (if you remember USENET news and soc.culture.asian.american, then you know what I am talking about …)

Also, the first season does dig into the awkward social stratus of where Asian Americans are found among our multi-cultural society within the United States. We’re definitely not treated like whites, but not like African Americans, Hispanics or Native Americans.

As someone who is way more politically involved than my fellow Asian Americans, I feel as though Yappie also exposes how apathetic Asian Americans can be in living in their own bubble – especially as portrayed in Yappie, which takes place in LA / Southern California. I think Asian Americans have a different kind of experience elsewhere in the U.S., especially in states with not a lot of Asians or other minorities.

Below, after the break, are all five episodes of the first season of Yappie.

Continue reading “Wong Fu Productions First Season of Yappie (Young Asian Professional)”

Some People Just Don’t get Pixar’s Bao

I wrote a review about how I really liked the Pixar Short Bao that appears with The Incredibles 2, but apparently not everyone one likes as much as I did or even gets it.  A number of articles (some spoilers) like this one, this one, and this one, mention how some non-Asian Americans just don’t get it.  Some were confused or even laughed.  Leaving in the Asian American bubble where I live, I initially thought “WTF!” but on further thought, I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised.

One niece of mine said she was bawling at the end, and the Daughter said she was about to cry.  I think if you have never faced the tension of having to deal with conflicting cultures in your household tearing at you in different directions, its much easier to not understand.  I first saw Bao at Pixar, and I don’t recall any one really laughing at the points mentioned in the articles.  Then again, there were a lot of Asians Americans there and also a lot of people who knew about Bao since many of them helped make it.  When I saw it with The Wife in a commercial theatre with a mostly non-Asian audience, there definitely were some annoying laughs.

I still think Bao has some universal themes such as the tension between generations, but other parts resonate strongly with many Asian Americans.   I did find it sad that many people just didn’t get it, but again, as I mentioned, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

(h/t:  Mike)

Filipino Kinship Terms and their Confusing Translation into English

Number One Son has a “nephew” who is also a college student in Boston. When I mentioned this to my brother, he couldn’t understand how Number One Son could be the “uncle” of someone who is the same age and who is neither his son nor the son of The Wife’s siblings.  I told him “uncle” is the English translation of a Filipino term for a male who is one less generation away from a common ancestor than the other person being referenced.  My explanation, while totally correct, totally failed to make him understand.   If you are curious how my son can be an “uncle” or are wondering why Filipinos sometimes call each other by weird names like “kuya,” “manong,” or “ading” instead of their regular names, this article by Myles Garcia can explain.

Continue reading “Filipino Kinship Terms and their Confusing Translation into English”

Asian American Youth and E-Cigarette products

by Chris Sedayao

While a little less than 1 in 7 of all Americans smoke, around 1 in 4 Vietnamese American men smoke, according to the Center for Disease Control.  The use of cigarettes has decreased significantly in the United States since the days of the Marlboro Man, with young adults smoking 18-24 less than the average.  Still, cigarette companies have found ways to sell into this younger demographic.

Asian American youth have found an alternative to cigarettes, but like their predecessors, use highly addictive products such as vapes, Juuls, Suorins, and countless other e-cigarettes products. According to a study posted by the US National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, use of these products was high among Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Chinese Americans in that order. Filipino American use was higher than the overall US average.  Being a young adult and growing in an Asian American community, I have been exposed to all these products. I have seen the effects vary from person to person, but in general, most people who use these products become addicted. These companies have become successful in targeting the youth with their products over the last few years.

Despite that, there is still hope in changing the way kids look at e-cigarette products as the government did with cigarettes throughout many years of stigmatizing advertising. Starting with FlavorsHookKids.org, one can share the downsides of using these products and help limit the use of e-cigarettes for current users and future generations of youth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Chris Sedayao grew up in Northern California and is currently a student at Northeastern University.

(Disclaimerflavorshookkids.org is an advertiser on this site.)