Chinese American Author Wakes Up Chinese Girl Power

8A-2013-02-JoyChen-DoNotMarryBeforeAge30I sat down with Joy Chen, a Los Angeles based author, weeks ago for a story I am working on, which is about Chinese “leftover women,” a Chinese social phenomenon stigmatizing educated, urban and single women over age 27.

Chen is a super star in China nowadays, she was named Women Of The Year by All-China Women Federation last year. It all started with her book Do Not Marry Before Age 30, (for an alternative viewpoint, see Johnny C’s previous review) a soul searching guide for Chinese women about the changing women’s role, women’s empowerment and gender equality in today’s Chinese society, and it has become the best seller in China.

There is a reason why this book is so popular in China.

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Higo Pocket Knife

They don’t make things like they used to… or do they?

The Higo Knife ($60) by Miyamoto Manufacturing Co. has a story dating back to 1920. Originally developed by Tasaburo Murakami in 1894, this all purpose tool is still made with old-world craftsmanship and the longevity to prove its worth.

The blade is forged white steel finished with a tsuchime (hand-hammered) technique. It’s roughly 4.25” when closed and 7.75” open. The length and sleek profile is ideal for an everyday pocket knife or a collectable keepsake for a knife enthusiast.

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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Mirai Nagasu Joins the U.S. 2010 Olympic Women Figure Skating Team

Over the weekend, Arcadia, California native and sixteen year old Mirai Nagasu came in second place in the 2010 US Figure Skating Championship to secure a spot on the U.S. women’s figure skating team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Earlier in the week, Nagasu came in first during the short-program competition (see video). Ever since I was a kid and watched Dorothy Hamill skate, I’ve always enjoyed watching the sport. I’ll never forget when I got to see Michelle Kwan skate live in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics short program. She came in first at this event, later capturing the bronze overall.

Also over the weekend, The New York Times did an interesting story on the propensity of Asian American and Asian women to dominate the sport of figure skating:

“Eight of the 23 women scheduled to compete Saturday in the long program at the United States championships were Asian-Americans, who also excelled here among younger skaters… Without compulsory figures, skating became more like gymnastics. Jumping assumed a new urgency. Younger skaters could excel. The key to jumping is to leap high and spin quickly and tightly through two, three or four revolutions before returning to the ice. Asian skaters are often small and willowy, which can be an asset when jumping… Other cultural factors are also at play, coaches said. Discipline at home often transfers to discipline at the rink, Carroll said. Audrey Weisiger, a prominent Chinese-American coach, said: “A lot of Asian families really drive their kids, and I don’t mean in the car. They’re not allowed to be marginal.””

The article also mentions that former Olympians such as Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan have a lot to do with inspiring, especially Asian American women, to take up the sport. I’m sure that is the case and why I believe that Asian American role models outside of traditionally accepted passions, careers and vocations are important. Of course, the drive and expectations can have a negative effect as well – where Asian Americans (especially women), might feel put an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves.

Kim Jong Il Loves Women, Doesn’t “Violence Women Domestically (or internationally)”

If you’ve been on Facebook in the last couple of months, then you might have been inundated with requests to vote in Chase’s Community Giving Facebook Campaign. With financial resources drying up for many organizations, this campaign has been a rare opportunity for non-profit orgs to come by cold, hard cash by simply leveraging their social media muscles.

I have been supporting the Center for the Pacific Asian Family (CPAF) in this campaign, since I feel that their “big idea” has the greatest potential for immediate impact on those who are living in Los Angeles, right now. CPAF was founded to help address domestic violence and sexual assault in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Up to 60% of Asian and Pacific American women experience domestic or sexual abuse in their lifetime, and are the least likely to report the abuse. Since the economic downturn in 2008, domestic violence has been on the rise. With cutbacks in state funding, non-profits like CPAF are forced to turn away more callers trying to flee a violent home.

CPAF proposes to fund a multilingual call center (beyond Asian languages) to support emergency shelters and rape crisis centers to stretch their resources to serve more survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. Currently, each of the 20 domestic violence shelters and 6 rape crisis centers in Los Angeles County run their own 24 hour hotlines. One joint hotline would benefit everyone, but the resources to plan for and develop a sustainable joint hotline do not exist. If CPAF receives the Chase dollars, it will invest in developing the technological and programmatic infrastructure to handle crisis calls for all partnering agencies, in over 30 languages, at CPAF’s Multi-Lingual Call Center. CPAF will also extend the hotline services to include ONLINE CHAT to make services more accessible to survivors. CPAF will also establish VIDEO CONFERENCING capacity at partnering agencies, which will allow bilingual staff based in CPAF’s Call Center to provide multi-lingual services throughout Los Angeles County. Materials, including multi-media productions in various languages, will be collected and developed to be shared with partnering agencies and larger community through an ONLINE LIBRARY.

All that said, the Asian American community has been banding together in this campaign to get folks online and to! This is significant in terms of community organizing because it is probably the largest and most effective grassroots online effort done by the Asian American community– one which has gotten big names from different fields together behind one cause. A series of PSAs have been released on YouTube, and I’ll be unleashing them on 8Asians, until the voting ends 3 days from now. You’ve been warned.

I hope that you’ll not only give CPAF your vote, but also ask your friends and families to vote, too. This is really the first campaign of this type on Facebook and if Asian Americans can show their strength online, then the win won’t just be for CPAF, but it will be a huge win for us all.

This video features Danny Cho as Kim Jong Il folllowing up on his “eHarmony” video and tells us how much he loves women– asking us not to “violence women domestically or internationally.” It’s a funny video with a a serious message.

There are only 3 days left to vote in this campaign, so definitely check and send this video far & wide!

And as an added bonus, OUTTAKES! (WARNING: For mature audiences only)

My Time in Cambodia: Cleanin’ Like My Momma

Broom-byJudeNow that I’m living in an actual “third world” country — instead of just studying about one — I find it important to be aware of what I’m seeing and how it connects to the ideas and “truths” I learned in college about countries like Cambodia. The country’s unemployment rate as of 2007 was at 3.5% and the poverty rate as of 2004 was at 35%. In talking about poverty reduction and economic growth, measurable figures — like employment levels and individual economic activity — is always part of the picture and influences how development policy is made. But looking at countries through such a lens obscures significant social conditions and fosters a certain kind of discourse on how those of us living in Western countries tend to talk about those in the “third world.”

Since moving to Phnom Penh in August, I’ve taken up a flat of my own. Most foreigners rent houses or flats which have someone coming to clean them, and if not, they hire someone to do housework. Khmer women, of course, are the usual domestic workers hired for this. My flat didn’t come with a cleaner and I didn’t really want to go looking for one. I figured cleaning my own flat myself wouldn’t be too hard.

Once I week, I move around furniture and attempt to sweep all the dust that’s collected the past six days. I have this short broom to use for sweeping before I mop the floor and then scrub down the bathroom. I know, sounds like a really easy thing, and yeah, it isn’t too hard. But I’ve realized that it takes about a good chunk of time to really clean everything. And bending halfway down because the broom handle is a bit short gets my back kind of disjointed after a while.

When I sweep my flat, I think of my mom and the fact that she’s cleaned a lot in her lifetime. As a teenager, I vacuumed while she would clean the kitchen, often wiping the floor on her knees. I used to wonder why she spent so much time cleaning the house. Similarly, a lot of people, particularly those who make economic development policy, do not see the importance of domestic and reproductive labor.

Cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, going shopping, and other household tasks take up the vast majority of most women’s time, but because such labor is unpaid, women are considered as economically unproductive and “unoccupied.” Figures from 1999 show that unpaid workers constituted the largest category of employment in Cambodia. 65.3% of Khmer women were unpaid workers compared to 29.1% of Khmer men. In Cambodia, the poorest households rely on unpaid labor, in which women are the majority of unpaid family workers. Because unpaid work is, well, unpaid, the labor of the majority of Khmer women is accorded no value. Such devaluation of unpaid work is a main contributor to the higher rates poverty of Khmer women and women elsewhere in the world.

In talking about women house cleaners with a couple other volunteers while flat searching, one made the point that those of us with money are doing a good service to hire someone who otherwise wouldn’t get work. We would be helping someone keep their job or give someone else an opportunity to work and get paid. Another volunteer replied that hiring a woman to do housework only maintains a gendered hierarchy that defines housework as women’s work (and thus not important and something to ignore in economic analysis). Considering this makes the issue of women’s domestic labor much more complex: women can get paid to clean someone else’s house but not their own.

I don’t think this post can handle the question of how to negotiate the market economy and social hierarchies, but it doesn’t take much reflection for us in the United States to know that a lot of our moms leave the house each day to go work in a grocery shop, the local post office, an elementary school, or a nail salon only to return to take up a second shift in raising and caring for us, their kids. That’s work too — and it’s hard. The fact is that women’s work is rarely counted, but it is work we count on in order to survive every day of our lives.

Photo is taken in Jude’s Phnom Penh flat and is the very broom he writes about in this post.

Depression, Suicide and Asian American Women: My Story

By June

Some questions were raised in a recent interview in NPR about why there is a high percentage of suicide among Asian-American women. There are allusions to the high pressures of Asian parents and the usual stereotypes of submissive or sexualized women.

When I heard about this, I wasn’t surprised, because this has happened in my own family. But I can’t say I relate to the women stereotypes, because I was still just a kid when I first became depressed. Maybe I relate to some of the stereotypical parental pressures, but there were other problems.

I was born in Taiwan but raised in the U.S. from babyhood. I started out as a happy kid, but I became very depressed at the age of eleven. I felt helpless about finding help for this, because I didn’t feel I could relate to or communicate well with my own family, even my older brothers, who were essentially raised in a different culture. I felt I couldn’t talk to my American friends or teachers about it because I felt that they wouldn’t understand the kind of difficulty I was experiencing. Also having been raised in an affluent background, I sometimes questioned the validity of my own depression.

All this on top of the fact that seeking therapy or admitting to mental disorder seemed completely taboo (I’m sure this is true for many non-immigrant Americans as well), and one of my brothers probably had Asperger’s Syndrome when we had no idea what it was. I started to resent my own family for not addressing my brother’s Aspergian issues. It was a dysfunctional family without a lot of hope.

Like Ms. Wang experienced in her therapy, I was also skeptical of finding an American therapist or teacher who understood what I was going through. There were other Asian-American kids at school, but somehow they all seemed much more assimilated into American society and didn’t outwardly reflect the problems I was feeling. (My Chinese piano teacher seemed horrified that I was unfamiliar with all the standard Christmas songs, for example. Was I supposed to be mad at my teacher or my parents?)

But I was incredibly fortunate that I had a very functional and inspirational older brother who detected signs of my depression, and even though he had moved thousands of miles away to college, he recognized my feelings and my pain and kept reminding me that eventually there would be a way out. He helped me focus on what I could do later in life, when I could escape the confines of a dysfunctional family. I am not sure I would be here if he didn’t reach out to me that way.

When I was in my teens, my mother died, suddenly. I was told that she died of a heart attack. I was so stunned and numbed by this news, that I didn’t even have the impulse to hug my father like I wish I could have. It wasn’t until my father died many years later of cancer that I learned that my mother had actually committed suicide. But I wasn’t surprised. I knew she was depressed. But I didn’t know that she had also suffered from delusions.

I’m sure my whole family felt the guilt of not reaching out to her… and probably still do feel that guilt. Aside from the stereotypes of Asian culture, we had communication problems, we had cultural misunderstandings, and conflicts of values having grown up in differing cultures. I couldn’t comfortably express my feelings or thoughts at home, or if I did, I didn’t believe that anyone would listen or do anything about it. There was a huge sense of betrayal and isolation that grew from all of that. I also felt that my father was domineering and verbally abusive.

But looking back on it, my father likely had Asperger’s Syndrome as well. I believe my mother felt trapped (like I did) and tried to survive long enough to take care of us. When she became depressed and delusional, my family hid her mental illness from me (being the youngest) and anyone else. I understand that they wanted to protect us, but it ended up being very damaging, as my mother didn’t get the help that she needed.

There is a lack of education and awareness about mental disease in general, and any time there are unknowns, people become very afraid of it. I am still learning about it and dealing with it. I think there needs to be a heightened awareness especially for immigrant families, who fear mental illness and don’t know how to address it.

My parents also were very socially isolated, so that only diminished any hope of healthy-minded friends who could have reached out to them. As a result, I’ve made a point of broadening my social circle as a kind of extended family and support group. And even though my parents are gone, I have grown closer to my cousins and visit my extended family during the holidays to maintain a sense of family.

People who know me now recognize me as one of the happiest people they know. I’ve even been asked if I am ever sad, which is a little ridiculous. I am not a happy robot. I survived a very dark time, and so everyday I feel very fortunate to live a functional life now. I feel that I owe it to my parents to do what I can to be happy, because they weren’t as lucky to enjoy that. I had a lot of fears growing up, and along the way I’ve assured myself that I am capable and have found people who will support me. So now when times are difficult, I believe there is a way out of it, and I just need to be patient in finding it. And while I still try to be a very independent adult, I know that I can ask for help if I need it.

I should also point out that therapy is often not covered by insurance, so I am sure the financial burden of seeking therapy is a huge part of the problem. My father was self-employed, so I grew up without health coverage. My parents ultimately sacrificed their lives for us, and probably didn’t know any other way to deal with it, under the circumstances. I hope that any health reform that happens will address the complications of mental illness.

I hope that by sharing my story, it might help others understand the issues that lead to such tragedies and might prevent it from happening in your family.

ABOUT JUNE: June Shieh is a freelance Toy and Web Designer and a Californian transplant, now living in New York (soon to reside in Greenwich Village).

(Flickr photo credit: Paul J Everett)