HBO’s Silicon Valley’s VC-Bro ‘Ed Chen’ – Breaking the Stereotype

Recently, I had blogged about HBO’s Silicon Valley portrayal of Asian stereotypes, specifically about how I was not a fan of the character Jian-Yang.

One character I did forget to mention, was the venture capitalist (VC) Ed Chen, who is portrayed by actor Tim Chiou. Ed Chen comes across as any other douche bag, venture capitalist “Silicon Valley bro.” Chen could be of any race – but he’s not a stereotypical geeky Asian American, and in fact, in a recent episode, you see Chen take off his shirt to play basketball, and he’s pretty good looking if you ask me:

I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have a broad range of Asian American men to be portrayed – just like Caucasian men.

Wired: It’s Time For ‘Silicon Valley’ to Disrupt Its Toxic Asian Stereotypes

Note: this discusses a little bit of the current season – so possible spoilers if you haven’t been watching.

When I saw this headline on Facebook, I wondered why no one had written about this yet. I’m a fan of HBO’s Silicon Valley, but not a fan of the character Jian-Yang. I find Jian-Yang’s accent a bit extreme and his behavior a bit too bizarre and weird. He kind of makes me feel the same way whenever I see Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, just a little bit disgusted. I mean, at times, Jian-Yang does make me laugh, especially more recently with his “hot dog, not hot dog” app, and I think Jimmy O. Yang does a great job of handling the writing, but as the Wired article expresses:

“Meanwhile, Pakistani immigrant Dinesh spectacularly screwed up both a CEO position and a relationship—the entire point of his character is that he’ll never be as smart or as savvy as Gilfoyle. (For proof of this, look no further than their tiff on last night’s episode, which Gilfoyle won simply by maintaining that he did.) Chinese immigrant Jian-Yang is written as even less smart—his big pitch this season was a collection of eight octopus recipes—and the developer’s greatest achievement thus far has been cheating Erlich out of a year’s rent by taking advantage of a loophole meant to help the unfortunate. Dinesh and Jian-Yang might be just as brilliant as their counterparts, but Silicon Valley never shows it.

Not every white character on Silicon Valley is a genius, of course. And that’s the point. White characters can be dreamers like Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) or dumdums like Big Head (Josh Brener). But its Asian characters, who represent the quarter of Valley workers who are Asian or Asian American, are shuttled into the same little boxes society has kept for Asians for centuries. For a show that’s constantly questioning what keeps innovation and progress from happening, it should ask the same of itself.”

I’ve been living and working in Silicon Valley since August 1999, and I have never met someone who acted like Jian-Yang. And I’ve also worked for Chinese companies and worked with a lot of Asian and Asian Americans. I must admit, I don’t think I’ve met anyone like Erlich or Gilfoyle, but at least those characters are not, I believe, based on any racial stereotypes.

After writing this post, I did a comment regarding the Wired article from a Facebook friend of mine who said:

“My boyfriend is friends with Jimmy O. Yang and Jimmy O. Yang came up with the Jian Yang character on his own. His character reminds me of my former roommate who was straight up from China. She used to smoke in her room, make stinky Chinese dishes with dried octopus and rarely washed her dishes.. it’s a stereotype that, at least to me, hits close to home and is pretty accurate to my life experience.”

So it’s interesting to hear that Yang came up with the character. Yang came over to the U.S. from Hong Kong when he was 13. Maybe he’s not as familiar or as offended to a Long Duk Dong character (well, Jian-Yang isn’t that bad). Still, not a big fan of the character and hope Jian-Yang evolves as the show progresses.

For the most part, I think Dinesh’s character has been treated fairly, except for the fact that Gilfoyle often antagonizes Dinesh for not having a girlfriend or friends (except that he does in Season 3 for part of the season). However, I was really disappointed to see that Dinesh wasn’t CEO of Pied Piper for more than an episode – I really liked seeing the cocky, arrogant, self-assured – should I say, white-washed Dinesh being portrayed.

I don’t know how many more seasons Silicon Valley can go for (it’s been renewed for it’s fourth season already), but I really do hope that the show can develop Jian-Yang into a more realistic, but also still funny character.

The Most Asian American Congressional District: California’s 17th

California_US_Congressional_District_17_(since_2013).tifThis article from the Daily Kos talks about the  most Asian American congressional district in the United States – California’s 17th District.  I would have thought that a district in Hawaii would be more Asian American, but the Honolulu district closely trails this Silicon Valley area.  Some highlights:

  • The district is 52% Asian American
  • Indian Americans make up 18% of the population
  • I live in this district! (actually, although true, that’s not in the article).

The article also talks about the current representative, Mike Honda, who beat another Asian American Ro Khanna in the last district election but might be vulnerable in the next election after an ethics report was made public in September.

You can see more details about the district in the article.

Asian American Medical Hazard: Working in Silicon Valley

employeesampleWhile mobile health units are used in impoverished places like the slums of Mumbai to deliver health care to Asians there, they are also used to deliver health care to Asians in not so impoverished places – the companies of Silicon Valley. This article from Fortune points out that working in Silicon Valley can be bad for workers’ health as being poor can be in other places. Author Jeffrey O’Brien also stresses that while the Silicon Valley work lifestyle can be bad for everyone, it seems to be worse for Asian Americans, particularly if those Asian Americans are of South Asian descent. Exaggeration? Not to me, as many of the problems described have affected me as a Silicon Valley worker.

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Few Asian American Basketball Players at the NCAA D1 Level – Does it Really Matter?

jeremy_linAfter almost 10 years of playing in community, NJB, AAU, and school leagues, Number Two Son dropped out of organized basketball for good this year.  When I saw this article asking why there are very few Asian American division I college basketball players, my experiences with Number Two Son have given me insights why I think that’s the case.  The article says that basketball seems to have “relatively few obvious barriers to entry” and hints at racism being a cause.  While I have little doubt that racism is a factor (e.g. Jeremy Lin’s recruitment), other large and nonobvious barriers do exist.   There are also other important questions to ask – is it really that important to have Asian American players Division I college basketball players?  Is it in fact better that Asian Americans avoid that whole system? Continue reading “Few Asian American Basketball Players at the NCAA D1 Level – Does it Really Matter?”

Asian American High Schools in Top 25 List for SAT/ACT Scores

8a-testWhen Number One Son took an SAT prep course in Fremont last summer, I looked at the kids coming out of the class and saw nothing but Asian kids.  Curious, I asked him some questions:

“Do any white kids go there?
“Yes.  David.”
“Where do most of these kids go to school?”
“Mission San Jose.”

It turns out that Mission San Jose, a majority Asian high school in Fremont, California, made it on a list of the top 25 US high schools by SAT and ACT scores.    Nine high schools with large Asian American student populations, some of which we have talked about,  are in that top 25.

The number one high school for standardized tests is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, which has an Asian American plurality.  A number of these schools are in Silicon Valley, such as  the Harker School (#2), Lynbrook, (#7), Henry M. Gunn  (#12), Monta Vista (#15), Mission San Jose (#18), and Leland (#20).    Some of these like Monte Vista, Lynbrook, and Mission San Jose have Asian American majorities, while the others have very large Asian American student populations.  Stuyvesant (#4) in New York and the Illinois Math and Science Academy (#11) both have Asian American majorities.  8asians has talked about Mission San Jose and Cupertino (where Monta Vista is) schools on a number of occasions.

Does performance on standardized tests mean that those schools are doing a good job?

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Where White means Mediocre: High-Skilled Asian Immigrant Enclaves


“Are you taking AP [Advanced Placement] courses?”
“Oh no, I’m white.”
– Conversation overhead by a teacher in Cupertino.

Stanford sociologist Tomás Jiménez has been studying immigrants and the communities they live in, and he recently published what he found in Cupertino – the home of Apple Computer, good schools, and Asian American students that scare white families out of that city.  Rather than doing studies of immigrant assimilation, he decided to study the opposite – how immigrants affect the attitudes of the community that they move into.  One of the findings in Cupertino was this:  that rather than being the standard of high achievement, white has become “just alright”, associated with mediocrity.

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Asian Americans Now a Majority of Silicon Valley Tech Workers

You won’t be able to tell from Bravo’s Silicon Valley show, but Asian Americans now make up the majority of Tech workers in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.  2010 Census data reveals that the Asian American share gain of 11.4% from 2000 came mostly at the expense of white workers, whose share dropped 10.2%.  Hispanic and African American share of tech workers also dropped.  Not sure if these increases will change either the percentages of Asians in Management or people’s perceptions of who management should be.

Whitewashing On Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley

When Bravo put out a preview of their upcoming series, Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, one comment about it on Gizmodo said that Asians apparently don’t exist in the Hollywood version of Silicon Valley.  As a Silicon Valley resident who watched the preview, I was left thinking “whitewashed!”  But after more thought, I realized that in a sad way, the show actually did portray a certain harsh reality.

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Vivek Wadhwa On Race, Gender, and Meritocracy in Silicon Valley

When Vivek Wadhwa founded a tech company, he was advised by fellow Indian Americans to have a white “front man” to pitch company to venture capitalists. Moving to academia in an attempt to slow down from the hectic tech business world,  one of his studies found that in 2005, 52.4% of Silicon Valley startups were founded by immigrants from all over the world. Is Silicon Valley a place of pure meritocracy, where people from anywhere can make it big? Before moving there, he thought so, but after attending some local events he changed his mind. When he pointed out issues with race and gender in Silicon Valley, he was shocked at the backlash.

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The College Admissions Game, Part 5: The Admissions Consultant

When you hear news about “College Admissions Consultants,” it’s often sensationalized and over the top. Take this article about a consultant who will guarantee a kid’s college acceptance or your money back or this article about Michele Hernandez, who is said to charge as much as $40,000. We did hire a “college planning consultant,” but not for an insanely large amount like $40,000 and not for the reason you might expect that an Asian American parent in Silicon Valley would have.

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The College Admissions Game, Part 3: An Admissions Officer Speaks

College admissions officers have been criticized about things like caps on Asians Americans and decisions about who gets in and who does not. But what do they really think?  The Daughter’s high school held a session where a college admissions officer talked about admissions from the his perspective and gave us parents a chance to ask him questions. This segment presents a view of the admissions game from the other side. The admissions officer,  the Dean of Admissions from a small  San Francisco Bay Area private university, talked about trends, tricks, and test scores in today’s world of college admissions.

Continue reading “The College Admissions Game, Part 3: An Admissions Officer Speaks”