A Short Review: Bao

Accompanying the Pixar movie The Incredibles 2 is a short called Bao.  It starts, as you can see from the trailer above, when a woman who has just cooked some bao is shocked when one of them comes to life.  While we have talked about Russell from Up being Asian American, this short was striking in that in deals directly with issues that Asian Americans and Asian Canadians face.

Bao was created by Domee Shi, who moved from China to Canada when she was two.  She joined Pixar as an intern, and eventually pitched the Bao concept and got it made.  The mom in Bao was inspired by her own mom and other Chinese women in her life.

I really liked Bao.  While I am not of Chinese origin, it spoke to me of my own experiences with food and family.   A bao becomes more than just a bun – it becomes a metaphor for many things.   I am also around the same age as the mom, making her not just Asian American/Canadian but universal concerns very meaningful to me.  So if you go to see The Incredibles 2 (also recommended) and are thinking about getting popcorn when you see Bao come up on the screen, don’t.  It will be worth your time, whether you are Asian American, American Canadian, or not.

8Books Review: “Bury What We Cannot Take” by Kirstin Chen

Bury What We Cannot Take, the latest novel from author Kirstin Chen set in Mao’s China, is a doozy. After 12-year-old Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the Communist Party, the family must flee their little island off the mainland. His mother applies for temporary exit visas to go to Hong Kong where his father lives. But she is told that she can either take Ah Liam or her daughter San San, leaving one behind as proof that they will return.

The impossible decision shakes the family and its members to their core. The novel spins it’s way around this single moment. I had thought this might be the kind of book that spans decades, traversing all the way into some distant future. Instead, it stays rather compact, unraveling in minute details each character’s thoughts, decisions, actions, and internal conflicts. Mother, father, grandmother, son, daughter. One displaced family grappling with this harsh reality and the truth–often ugly, sometimes beautiful–that it reveals in all of them.

At the novel’s heart are questions about the meaning of family–what is real, what is artificial, is family fragile or unbreakable. Bury What We Cannot Take is compellingly written, a fast and entrancing read, but also definitely an emotional doozy.

8Books Review: “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a delightful graphic novel about friendship and secrets and identity and love. Prince Sebastian is supposed to be looking for a bride. But at night, he secretly dons fashion forward dresses and emerges as the mysterious Lady Crystallia with the help of his friend and dressmaker, Frances.

Set in Paris, Jen Wang has created an extraordinary array of imaginative and beautifully drawn dresses and costumes that pepper a story full of heart and growth. What lengths will Frances go to to protect her friend’s secret? And at what cost to her own dreams? As Sebastian and Frances’ friendship evolves, so do the complexities of their choices. Though set in another time, in another place, the two are eminently relatable and lovable for their flaws and successes. Who do they want to be? Who will they be? Neither is perfect. Each encounters obstacles–the weight of expectations, the burdens of secrets, the freedoms of self-expression, the limitations of what looked like success. Together, and individually, they find a way through and the journey is truly charming.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a book to get lost in for an afternoon. A curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and go from one cover to the other. One huge, satisfying whirlwind ride.

Asian American Commercial Watch: Panda Express’ “Breaking the Ice”

I just saw this new Panda Express TV commercial, “Introducing Peking Pork – Breaking the Ice“:

“New Peking Pork from Panda Express is peking your appetite with crispy pork chop bites, hand- cut peppers and white onion, wok-tossed in a sweet and sour glaze. It’s American Chinese comfort food that’s made to satisfy in any situation.”

It surprisingly stars Wong Fu Productions’ Philip Wang. I think this is the first time I’ve seen Wang star in a TV commercial. Also, I think this is the first Asian Male / Hispanic Female pairing in a commercial ever. Additionally, I wonder if we’ll start to see more of Wang in TV commercials, then television and then movies (like how Randall Park’s career progressed).

The premise of the TV commercial is that Wang plays the Asian American boyfriend who is bringing Panda Express takeout to his Hispanic girlfriend’s home. The woman’s father is not exactly that friendly – until Wang offers (or is “breaking the ice”) some Peking Pork for the father to try. After that, the father lets down his protective guard.

8Books Review: Secrets We Kept by Krystal Sital

Krystal Sital’s debut memoir, Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad, is an intimate and powerful memoir about three generations of her family — their stories, their traumas, their secrets, and their relationship to the author’s grandfather. Eloquently written and deeply personal, Sital dives deep into her own history, the contradictions, and the troublesome relationships between men and women that powerfully shaped her grandmother and then her mother’s lives on the island they were all born on.

Trinidad is our fears and our loves. There we discovered our beings, we dug deep and planted our roots assuming we would never leave, sucking on the armored cascara with its silver-plaited shell, devouring the sweet flesh beneath, the only fish the legend says ties you to the land forevermore, smacking our lips when we were done. We never thought we would have to leave this place . . . But in the end we chose to flee.

A story of diaspora and migration, it is also about family and obligations and culture and tradition. Their flaws and freedoms. Shiva Singh, the author’s grandfather and a wealthy Hindu landowner, is the circle around which much of the book revolves. As he lies in a hospital in New Jersey, Sital watches her mother and grandmother cope with the decisions of his care. It leads to a slow unraveling of her mother’s story, of her childhood, her relationship with the man lying prone in a hospital bed undergoing weeks of surgery. A brutal past full of trauma, beatings, and terror.

Continue reading “8Books Review: Secrets We Kept by Krystal Sital”

Asian American Medical Hazard: Stroke

My doctor has always considered my high blood pressure to be a significant concern, and she makes sure I am managing it effectively.  After thinking about the Asian Americans that I know who have had a stroke and this recent report and video, I should really be thankful.  Preliminary results from an analysis of 1.7 million stroke cases between 2004 and 2016 reveal that Asian Americans are more likely to have more severe ischemic strokes and worse outcomes than whites.   In addition, Asian Americans studied were less likely to receive clot busting stroke treatment, although this difference seems to diminish during the studied time period. Study lead author Dr. Sarah Song, who revealed the initial results at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference, said:

“Asian Americans may have a distinctive pathophysiologic profile of ischemic stroke than whites.   Regardless, this study highlights the need for more focused research, improved stroke prevention and possibly different treatment strategies for Asian Americans.”

Continue reading “Asian American Medical Hazard: Stroke”

Asian Squat Update: Why it’s good for you and why it’s going away

“A guru once told me that the problem with the West is they don’t squat.” – Rosie Spinks

One of 8Asians’ most popular articles continues to be Koji Sakai’s article on the “Asian” Squat

We recently got a comment from one of our readers on how the Asian Squat seems to be a way to help with a particular health problem but that the reader could not readily achieve the position.  Shortly after that, I saw this piece by Rosie Spinks about how the “Asian Squat” can be good for people’s health, but sadly, is going away with certain people in Asia.

Continue reading “Asian Squat Update: Why it’s good for you and why it’s going away”

Comparing Chinese Death Beliefs with Disney/Pixar’s ‘Coco’

During opening weekend, I took my daughter to see the new Disney/Pixar movie, Coco.  It’s a movie she’s been looking forward to seeing for almost a year, since the trailers for the new movie came out quite some time ago.  I didn’t have much expectations for the movie, as I figured it would be similar to a previous animated film, Book of Lifeanother film centered around Día de los Muertosor the Day of the Dead.  But the movie is completely different, and definitely worth a viewing.  As I watched the film Coco with my 12 year old, I began to realize that many of the practices and beliefs that were being practiced by the Mexican families were similar if not identical to many practices that we performed for my deceased ancestors as a Chinese/Taiwanese immigrant family in the United States.

Before I make the comparisons, I’ll remind readers that discussing the dead, or customs and practices around death is generally considered taboo in Chinese culture.  But I have previously broken this taboo by writing about Chinese funerary customs, so I’ll wander again into dangerous waters.  If you’re from a Chinese family, you might want to refrain from talking about this topic with the elders in your family.  In fact ghosts and the supernatural are generally still considered forbidden topics in mainland China, and it was a surprise that Coco made it past Chinese censors without any edits.

One of the major Chinese holidays is also known as 盂蘭節 or Ghost Festival.  The holiday is sometimes called Chinese Halloween, and is very similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead.  I remember when I was growing up, that my mom would set up an altar on major Chinese holidays, like the Ghost Festival, and the center of the altar would have the photographs of the deceased ancestors.  We would burn incense, and joss paper and lay out food offerings, typically oranges and cooked rice with other dishes for the deceased, so they would have food and money in the afterlife.  We would eat the food it had been left out for a long time, long enough for the deceased to partake their portion of the food.  It’s common for Chinese to burn paper replicas of cars, boats, houses, etc. for the deceased to have these things in the afterlife.

Similarly on the Day of the Dead, in Coco, there’s a strong importance to having the photograph of the family ancestor placed in the family ofrenda.  The belief in Coco, is that if your photograph is not in the family ofrenda, you won’t be able to pass over on the Day of the Dead to visit your relatives.  You’re essentially forgotten.  In Coco, if you’re forgotten, your spirit will disappear from the afterlife and cease to exist when the last person who remembers you dies in the real world.

Similar to Chinese culture, the Mexicans lay out food for the deceased, so they’ll have food in the afterlife.  The amount of food the deceased have in the afterlife varies by how much they were remembered and offered food in the real world.  So a popular singer, like the character Ernesto de la Cruz in the movie Coco, had an abundance of food in the afterlife from all his devoted living fans, while Hector, who was forgotten had none.

By the end of the movie, these similarities between the two cultures got me wondering if they arose from the same source.  My guess is yes, since at the end of the movie Coco, there was a disclaimer saying the beliefs around the Day of the Dead, had roots in Mexican and indigenous peoples. And with the knowledge that indigenous peoples traveled from Asia to settle in the Americas, I think we’re fairly safe in assuming these beliefs have a common beginning.

In case you haven’t seen Coco yet, won’t spoil any more of the movie for you, but I will say it’s one of the best kids movies I’ve seen in a while, and well worth the price of admission.

 

 

 

8Asians Exclusive: Interview with Dr. Ravi Chandra, author of ‘Facebuddha’

Recently, I interviewed my friend Dr. Ravi Chandra, who recently published his book, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks:

Facebuddha is a rich memoir of relationships, online and off, and an exploration of the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens.

In the brief interview, Dr. Chandra discusses his observations, thoughts and experiences regarding the use of social media. I also asked him about his thoughts on President Trump and his use of social media, primarily Twitter.

Specific to Dr. Chandra‘s professional background, he’s a San Francisco-based psychiatrist and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and blogs regularly for Psychology Today (The Pacific Heart).

Dr. Chandra also discusses his book and thoughts in front of the “thumbs up” sign at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California:

“On 10/31/17, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door, psychiatrist Ravi Chandra “nailed” his new book about the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens to the door of our social media church at Facebook HQ, to protest what social media is doing to our minds and hearts, and calling for a return to relationship, community and compassion.”

You can learn more about the book also from the book trailer (which I noticed recently, is a thing now …)

If you’re interest in the book,  you cab buy Facebuddha here:

Amazon Kindle ebook and Hardcover
iBooks
Nook
Kobo
Barnes and Noble Hardcover
IndieBound

Also available at your local independent bookstore.

8Books Review: “Pashmina” by Nidhi Chanani

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani is a delightful graphic novel about a young girl looking for herself, navigating two worlds and two cultures. Priyanka is your average Indian American teenager until she finds a magic pashmina in her mother’s closet. Her mother won’t ask questions about the India she left behind or about Priyanka’s father, but the pashmina opens a new window.

The story follows Priyanka’s eventual journey to India and back again, all along insightfully considering questions about the choices we make, about family and growth, about when to hold on and when to let go. Priyanka is imperfect in the way all teenagers are, but I was charmed throughout by her audacity and spunk and her journey of self-discovery. Beautifully illustrated, Pashmina is a quick and enjoyable read.

Can an Asian American Dress Up as a Geisha for Halloween?

With Halloween less than a month away, I knew what I wanted to write about this month: Racist Halloween costumes. Even though I don’t dress up and haven’t since I was a kid, I understand that Halloween is really important to a lot of people. There have been a lot of articles about racist Asian costumes already, including this evergreen one by my esteemed 8Asians editor Moye, Top 8 most offensive Asian Halloween costumes.

Of course, racist Halloween costumes are not just limited to dressing up like a slutty geisha or in yellowface. Every year people seem to make the bad… err racist… choice of dressing up like a Native American princess or in black face. Here is a good rule of thumb, if you’re going as a person from another race then you’re either close to the line or went over it. For some do’s and don’ts on Halloween costumes, here’s a great article on GQ.

that helps break it down.  Some of my favorite rules they listed are:

  • Don’t Change Your Skin Color to Any Shade Found in Humans
  • Choose a Subject Identifiable by Name

But what if you’re a person of that race? Is it okay to dress up for Halloween as a member of your own group? In other words, as an Asian American, can I go as a geisha? Or a ninja? One part of me thinks it’s okay. Similar to the old adage that I can make fun of my own family but no one else can. But a bigger part of me thinks that it’s not a good idea. It would just reinforce stereotypes.

I imagine some of this debate has to do with what the costume is. I mean there is a big difference between going to a party as a geisha than as a ninja. Or is there? And also, if I’m going as a specific person, that’s probably okay, right? I mean, I could be Bruce Lee, Genghis Kahn, or some other Asian/Asian American.

I decided to ask my friends on Facebook what their thoughts were. Some of the answers surprised me and others were enlightening.

First, I was surprised that not everyone agreed with me about non-Asians dressing up as Asian.

  • I do not find it ‘racist’ for anyone dress up as a geisha, ninja or whatever stereotypical ‘asian’ as long as your intention is to celebrate the spirit of Halloween.
  • Mickey Rooney portraying Mr. Yunioshi was racist. But non-Japanese adults and children trying to dress up in Japanese clothing, or what’s imagined to be Japanese clothing, for Halloween, it’s not the same thing. The skimpy geisha costume is silly, frivolous, funny, tasteless, just like the Queen Nefertiti and other costumes in the same ad. But someone who actual sees a cultural or racial insult in these must have an inferiority complex deeper than the Grand Canyon. It’s Halloween, no need to take any of this seriously, nobody else in the world is doing so.
  • Personally, I don’t really care if people dress up in outfits that are of other nationalities, probably because I’m old, and everything wasn’t so PC when I was growing up. I think if it’s in the spirit of being a “character” and not just “being Asian”, it should be okay. For instance, a samurai or ninja, I think is fine. I guess geisha is okay too. I think I went to a party once in kimono but with a gigantic Japanese doll bobble head on. As a little kid, I dressed up as Mary Poppins, who is white, so was I being racist?
  • Once in a dating relationship with an African American woman, we both wanted someday to show up at a Halloween party dressed as Genghis Khan and Chaka Khan, but we couldn’t agree on who would be GK and who CK. Halloween is not supposed to be historical accuracy, where did anyone get that stupid idea? People want to dress up as ersatz Asians, I got no particular problem with that. I can tell between when someone is trying to be insulting from when someone is just having fun.

Some people schooled me that it was all about intention and really up to the viewer.

  • It’s all about your intention, in my opinion. If someone is going to wear a mostly authentic Japanese kimono to showcase the beauty of the Japanese culture, then that is totally fine with me. I probably wouldn’t be ok with the “slutty” version of that though… which seems to be the direction most Halloween costumes go.
  • I am guilty of wearing a kimono for Halloween in college before. I recently attended a party and a friend of a friend asked me if I was offended (bc I am half Japanese) that she was a geisha and wore a kimono-ish dress and hair up with chopsticks, I said no, but I know plenty of people who would be, it just depends on the person and how PC you are. I have also seen friends who dressed up as specific black rappers and used tanning stuff (like blackface) and that made me uncomfortable, but some black friends thought it was hysterical so it all depends on the people and the intent. As mentioned before by someone else, I think being a specific character or person is different than being an offensive race stereotype for Halloween.

Most people confirmed, it was about being someone specific from a race… as opposed to just being anyone from a race.

  • I feel like that’s different. She’s dressing up as a specific individual/character. If someone just put on Chinese clothes and said they’re dressing up as a Chinese person for Halloween, that’s kind of offensive. If they dress up as Bruce Lee or Genghis Khan, I don’t mind, because they’re paying tribute to a person/character rather than generalizing a whole group of people.

But as far as is it okay for Asian Americans to dress up as Asian for Halloween, it seems most people didn’t have a problem with it:

  • Every year I see a lot of adorable little Korean American girls wearing their hanbok and Chinese American girls wearing their qi pao that they presumably already had for new year’s — so at the elementary age it’s hard to fault ethnic pride and immigrant mom frugality (and a friend of my boy’s just carried around his big brother’s calculus book lol)

But there’s a warning. The same commentor added:

  • Although when my kids were little, they always dressed as specific people– Chang e (the moon lady) and Michelle Kwan and mulan and Sun Wu Kong the monkey King– but no one but they ever knew that, and even when people asked they never knew the reference and would say instead “oh you’re dressed as a little Chinese girl”

So what did I learn? Asians can wear Asians costumes. Great. I’m going to try to get my six-year-old to dress up as a ninja because I think they are pretty cool. But just to be safe, I’ll tell him he’s Fujibayashi Nagato, one of the most famous ninjas of all time or just that he’s Rain from Ninja Assassin.

Follow me on Twitter @Ksakai1

Filipino American Downward Mobility and other Asian American Data Points from Pew Research

Filipino American Data based on data compiled by the Pew Research Center

After he graduated from high school this year, Number Two Son mentioned to me that one conversation he has continually had with a close Filipino American friend regards how few of their Filipino American peers were ambitious with their college choices.  Their levels of achievement and college choices seemed much low, especially compared to other Asian American students at their Silicon Valley high school and despite that many of their parents were well educated.  While I personally could see some examples, without real data, it was hard to say whether the kids he saw were just cherry picked examples within a self-selected group in an area heavily obsessed with education.  A Pew Research Center compilation of Asian American data shows that Filipino Americans are indeed downward mobile from the initial immigrant generation (data shown above).  This compilation should be useful to people who want to make data driven conclusions about Asian Americans.

The Pew Research Center has conveniently disaggregated data nicely into specific facts sheets for specific Asian American groups.  A blog post looked at the aggregate data, and some of the findings surprised me – there are more than 20 million of us now and growing.   Other interesting facts – Asian Americans are 11.3% of illegal immigrants, with the top country of origin being India (not what I expected).  Asian Americans live in a multi-generational household more frequently than the general population (been there).

The data that shows that Filipino Americans are downward mobile doesn’t explain WHY that is the case.  I looked up some work in that area and found Susan S. Kim’s Ph.D thesis comparing Korean American and Filipino American youth.  The thesis concludes that Korean American communities have education institutions that encourage and support education much more heavily, and that the rapid acculturation that Filipino Americans experience, especially given the colonial history of the Philippines, doesn’t necessarily contribute to better performance.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  Also, I find that Filipinos, like many Americans, buy into the myth that academic performance in things like math is much more from innate abilities rather than hard work.  “Such bullshit!” is Number Two Son’s comment on that myth.

While I find disaggregated data to be very useful, others find the mandated collection of disaggregated data to be objectionable.     Other studies looking at Filipino American downward mobility are here and here (focusing on San Diego), and Susan Kim’s thesis contains many more references.