Asian Ethnoburb, Malls, and Self-Segregation

Much has been written about how San Francisco is in a doom loop, with the emptying San Francisco Centre Mall in downtown as a sad example.  Yet at the same time, another mall in San Francisco, Stonestown Galleria, is thriving in stark contrast, seemingly by transitioning to catering to Asian Americans.  One interesting take on this situation:  seeing the that most of the people there at the mall were Asian American, one writer concluded that the large Asian Americans presence in Stonestown Galleria is because of self-segregation. This article led me to think about other questions. If I am shopping in my neighborhood H-Mart or Ranch 99 or living in an Asian ethnoburb, and I am also indulging in self-segregation?  Are Asian Americans deliberately self segregating themselves or our non-Asians leaving the areas of large Asian American populations (aka “white flight”)?  I found a data-driven study by Samuel Kye that looks at these kinds of questions.

One obvious reason that Stonestown Galleria has so many Asian American shoppers is that it is in surrounded by heavily Asian American neighborhoods and schools.  Schools full of Asian Americans are close by, such as Lowell High School, San Francisco State, and the Chinese American International School.  For years, I never thought of Stonestown Galleria is being an Asian American mall, but rather as regarded it as a convenient place to stop and use the bathroom (lots of parking – unusual for San Francisco) if I was had to go and was in the area or passing through.

The nearby Asian American population doesn’t necessarily explain the near absence of non-Asian people at Stonestown.  I remember one time when I was there, I saw a white family, probably tourists, looking somewhat stunned, perhaps by the sheer “Asian-ness” of the place.  So are non-Asians scared off by this?  That’s where Samuel Kye’s paper, “The Rise of Asian Ethnoburbs: A Case of Self-Segregation?” is particularly relevant.  He found that Asian ethnoburbs in the US spring up not because Asians are seeking to move to be around other Asians – growth happens the most in white majority areas.  But once Asians become the majority in an area, then white flight starts kicking in. This analysis matches some of the previous articles on white flight that we have published, best summarized by the statement that  “Asians are only the model minority when they are a minority.”

This doesn’t mean that Asian Americans don’t self segregate?  This happens to an extent, as a student from the Silicon Valley suburb of Saratoga wrote about quite elegantly. Still, I agree with Kye’s study that most Asian Americans don’t move to an Asian Ethnoburb simply to be around other Asians.  I live in an Asian ethnoburb, and a desire to be around other Asian Americans was not on my list of motivations for moving there.

While many malls in the US are having problems, Asian American themed malls tend to be doing very well. That’s a lot better than the fate of San Francisco Centre  – my family and I used to shop there occasionally before the pandemic, it is sad to see it in its current state.   There are some signs that non-Asians are frequenting Asian American stores more often.  I have noticed this myself when going to my local H Mart.

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The Bachelorette with Jenn Tran, its First Asian American Woman, Premieres Monday July 8

This Monday, July 8th, is the premiere of the new season of The Bachelorette (on ABC), starring Jenn Tran, the first ever Asian American woman to lead the franchise. Just a week before the premiere, Jenn is already calling out the producers of the show:

“Jenn Tran, the first Asian woman to star on “The Bachelorette,” said she’s disappointed at the lack of men who share her culture and background during her season.

“I can’t really speak to the casting process and the decisions that were made, but it is unfortunate that there weren’t a lot of Asian men this season,” Tran said in an interview with Glamour, which was published on July 1.

“Asian men haven’t always seen themselves in this position, and I am hoping that me being and [contestant] Thomas N. being there, that the both of us can inspire other Asian men to realize that they can do this too if they want.”

During the interview, Tran said she connected with an Asian man who competed for her heart on Season 21.

“It’s not every day that you get to bond with somebody on your immigrant parents and you get to connect with somebody on that level, because not everybody can understand that,” she continued. “That was a really special conversation for me because he really understood where I was coming from, and my family means everything to me.””

The Bachelor and The Bachelorette has always had issues with race, or the lack thereof, especially of Asian American men. So when the show has an Asian American woman for the first time, there is only one Asian American man among the 25 contestants. There are more African American men (six!) represented than the lone Asian male, “Thomas N.

We blogged about this over a decade ago, asking, Where Are The Asians In The Bachelor/The Bachelorette? It’s as if the producers are still clueless. As noted at the time of Jenn’s announcement as The Bachelorette back in March:

“After 28 seasons of “The Bachelor” and 20 seasons of its spinoff “The Bachelorette,” ABC’s dating show franchise has cast its first Asian American lead.

Jenn Tran, a 26-year-old studying to become a physician assistant in Miami, will date a group of suitors on a season that will air this summer, according to ABC. Her casting was announced on Monday during the season finale of “The Bachelor,” on which she was a contestant.

“I feel so, so grateful and so honored to be the first Asian ‘Bachelorette’ in this franchise,” Ms. Tran, who is Vietnamese American, said during the episode. She hopes to find a partner and to provide viewers the kind of visibility she had found painfully lacking on TV when she was growing up, she added.

“Anytime Asians were in the media, it was to fill a supporting character role, to fulfill some sort of stereotype,” Ms. Tran said. “I always felt boxed in by that, because I was like, I don’t see myself onscreen. I don’t see myself as a main character.””

Hopefully the male contestants aren’t a bunch of men with “yellow fever“. The Bachelorette  premiers on ABC this coming Monday July 8, at 8 pm/7 pm Central. It will also be available to stream on Hulu.

 

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Asian Americans Gymnasts in the Paris 2024 Olympics: Sunisa Lee, Asher Hong, Leanne Wong, and Tiana Sumanansekera

A number of Asian Americans are representing the US in Gymnastics at the 2024 Paris Olympics.  2020 Olympic all-around Champion Sunisa Lee is returning.  Stanford Gymnast Asher Hong is on the men’s Squad.  Leanne Wong is a travelling alternate while 16 year old Tiana Sumanasekera is a non-travelling alternate.

There are some interesting backstories to these Asian American athletes.  Sunisa Lee is back after a serious kidney problem that had her doctors thinking she might never compete again.  This is Asher Hong first Olympics, and he was on Stanford’s NCAA championship team.  We have already talked about Leanne Wong’s story, book, and side business in another post.  This is her second time as a travelling alternate to an Olympic team.  Tiana Sumanasekera is the only person of Sri Lankan descent to represent the US in gymnastics in international competitions.

You can find brief descriptions of the backgrounds of these gymnasts and others in this article from Time.

(photo credit:  Mypurplelightsaber licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

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Have Asian Americans Gotten Richer or Poorer?


Asian Americans have often been lauded for their high financial and educational achievements, despite being second-class citizens when they first arrived in America. They have some of the highest average incomes, educational attainment, and standards of living in the US, even compared to White Americans. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in inflation, many Americans have had to juggle between rising costs and stagnant wages, leading to an increase in homelessness and a shrinking middle class. Have Asian Americans, long touted as the “model minority”, fared better or worse since then compared to the rest of American society?

According to data from the Pew Research Center, the answer is pretty simple: Asian Americans are doing far better than their counterparts. Though American society as a whole had a shrinking middle class and a slightly larger working class, Asian Americans have had the opposite – not only is their working class shrinking and middle class growing, but the percentage of Asian Americans in the upper income bracket has increased far more than their middle class. Around half of Asian Americans are middle class, while almost a third are in the upper income bracket, both of which outnumber the 1/5th of Asian Americans in the working class. Without a doubt, Asian Americans are faring better than the rest of American society.

However, that is only the general bigger picture, and the details are not all rosy. When examining the overall growth in income among Asian Americans, they tend to be largely concentrated in the upper-income bracket, which grew by a quarter. Middle and working-class Asian American communities have seen a much slower growth rate in income at 16% and 11% respectively from 2009 – 2022. We can see the impacts of this reflected in the share of overall household incomes in Asian American communities; since 2009, the share of the middle and working class has actually decreased, while only the upper income has increased – a reflection of the rising intra-demographic class inequality.

The inequality becomes more stark when we begin to break down the demographic of Asian Americans into their respective country of origin; at the top of the income hierarchy are Indians, Chinese, and Japanese Americans, while Burmese, Hmong, and Laotians remain at the bottom. Over 50% of Burmese Americans are considered to be working class, while only 15% of Indian Americans are working class. These demographic trends reflect the economic inequality between the countries of origin – following the rise of China, India, and Japan, emigrants from those countries have become increasingly wealthier as their country’s economy grew wealthier, giving them a significant advantage over the Southeast Asian counterparts in the US.

When we consider the amount of each Asian American sub demographic, it becomes clear why the Asian American demographic as a whole is considerably wealthy: Chinese, Indian, and Filipino American populations combined constitute over half of all American American populations. Chinese and Indian Americans have the largest upper-income populations, while Filipinos have the largest middle-class population, illustrating how the Asian American demographic is heavily skewed towards the middle and top income brackets due to the large populations from the aforementioned countries. Although Asian Americans as a whole may be doing better than before, this cannot be said for every Asian American sub demographic group who has not experienced rapid economic growth in their home country.

(Photo Credit: Dorothea Lange licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

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Exploitasian: The Story of Chinese Workers in Gold-Rush America

China’s rise to economic dominance in the late 1900s largely came from its massive population and the cheap labor that it provided to foreign corporations, with “companies like Nike, Apple and Walmart relying on Chinese workers to manufacture their products”. This wasn’t the first time that American interests took advantage of the cheap and profitable Chinese laborers – this had been happening for centuries since the arrival of the first Chinese immigrant during the California Gold Rush. According to Li Qiang, the executive director of China Labor Watch, Chinese workers today are expected to work long hours, for little pay, and practically no benefits amidst a hazardous working environment – conditions strikingly similar to those faced by Chinese workers during the Gold Rush. For the greater part of their presence in America, Chinese immigrant laborers have had to face exploitation by their American employers, constantly submit to their authority, and were subjected to racial stereotypes in American media that justified numerous expulsions and massacres.

In this article, I will be analyzing the history of Chinese labor in America during the Gold Rush through the lens of Marx, Weber, and Collins. First, I will be applying Marx’s theories of capitalism and labor exploitation to the exploitation of Chinese workers, then utilize Weber to analyze the systems of dominance and the relationship between the Chinese working class and their oppressors, and finally focus on the negative stereotyping and portrayal of these immigrant laborers through Collin’s concepts of controlling images.

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Calls for Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao to Resign After Mass shooting and FBI Raid

I recently went to a funeral and met someone with a bandage on his forehead.  When we asked what happened, he said he was taking a nap in his car in Oakland when someone broken in, pistol-whipped him, and then took his phone and his money.  Two days later, 15 people were shot at a Juneteenth Celebration in Oakland.  If these crimes weren’t enough for Oakland Major Sheng Thao to deal with, the next day after the shootings, her house was raided by the FBI just days after the shooting. Already the target of a recall effort, some Oakland residents are calling for her to resign.

Even before her story book path to becoming mayor, she was accused of ethical violations.  Thao’s former chief of staff is now claiming that her office had a “pay-to-play” scheme orchestrated by her boyfriend.  The FBI also raided three properties tied to the Duong Family, who own California Waste Solutions, which handles Oakland’s recycling.

After an awkward silence, Thao’s lawyer says that she has not been charged with anything  and is fully cooperating. While she is entitled to the presumption of innocence, it doesn’t look good for her, particularly with a recall election coming up in November. The proponents of the recall seem to have a strong case, citing a huge missed grant to help with retail theft among other issues. The whole situation makes me sad – I have been going to Oakland since I was a child and still have friends and family there.

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Measuring Inclusive Casting: Hulu tops for AAPI with a 32.2% share of Cast

Credit: James Dittiger/SYFY

Media representation has long been an issue for Asian Americans, to the point where  8Asians has a series dedicated toward representation in commercials.  So exactly how are Asian Americans doing?  Nielson’s Gracenote division has announced that they have released a new report on inclusion looking at 2024 TV programming.  A high note for representation:  the streamer Hulu leads with AAPI representation at an impressive 32.2% share of cast. A low note: ad spending is inequitable and not as inclusive.

You might wonder how Gracenote calculated these statistics.  Could Hulu being skewing the numbers by including extras and non-leading roles?  Only the top-10 leading characters were counted on 124 shows on streaming and traditional TV.  To me, Hulu’s numbers makes sense.  The Wife and I recently watched Shogun, which has an almost all Asian leading cast.  Hulu streams some shows featuring Asian Americans that I haven’t even had a chance to get watch, like Reginald the Vampire starring Jacob Batalon (shown above).

The full report highlights that some of the most popular TV programming from last year had diversity at higher levels than the general US population. It also includes focused statistics on specific ethnic groups. You can download full report Gracenote’s full report here.

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Opinions on Asian and Asian Men Representation in American Movies and TV

When Crazy Rich Asians came out, some people declared that there was a new narrative on the attractiveness of Asian and Asian American men.  But did Henry Golding and this movie make make a difference? Has it affected your life in any particular way, and if so, how? The New York Times is seeking people’s opinion on this subject.

I haven’t dated any one other than The Wife for a few decades now, but I do have an opinion.  I think that there are definitely more opportunities in media to show an Asian Man White Female couple. Crazy Rich Asians showed that an Asian man can be viable Romantic Lead. This lead to other movies like Always be My Maybe and others. Still, I think that entrenched stereotypes persist.  AI image generation tools that build on online and other published material have had trouble creating of Asian Male White Female couples. Our story on an Asian Male White Female relationship in the Walking Dead continues to be a popular story for our site.

The New York Times is looking for for people to submit answers to their questions by June 14.

(h/t: John)

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CAAMFest 2024: And So It Begins – Review and Q&A with Maria Ressa and Filmmakers

If you’ve been following me on 8Asians, you will know that I follow politics worldwide and not just in the United States. So when I came across this CAAMFest closing night film, the documentary And So It Begins, I had to see it:

“Amidst the traditional pomp and circumstance of Filipino elections, a quirky people’s movement rises to defend the nation against deepening threats to truth and democracy. In a collective act of joy as a form of resistance, hope flickers against the backdrop of increasing autocracy. In a decades-long nonfiction saga of the Philippines, director Ramona Diaz presents the latest chapter on her homeland as the despotic reign of President Rodrigo Duterte is coming to an end. In the months leading up to the country’s 2022 presidential election, And So It Begins proffers unbridled access to all the key players including former Vice President of the Philippines and current presidential candidate Leni Robredo and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. With her keen observational eye and deep knowledge of the socio-political history and landscape, Diaz continues to find her own forms of storytelling as political disruption. This film was made with support from CAAM.”

Thoughts & Review

As director Ramona Diaz said, the elections in the Philippines are rarely about policy. It was really interesting to see the spectacle, especially the political campaign rallies (that run up to election day – up to almost a million people).  Since I follow politics and read the news religiously, the results of the 2022 presidential election was not a cliffhanger for me – and I imagine for most of the audience.

I did learn that Filipino presidential terms are for six years and you can only serve for one term and that the President and Vice President are elected separately. In the documentary, we see outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte from one party and Vice President Leni Robredo in opposition to each other publicly – where Vice President Leni Robredo is running for president to replace him while former corrupt dictator/President Ferdinand Marcos’ son Bongbong Marcos is somehow is the leading candidate.  The disgraced Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from the Philippines and was given asylum in Hawaii.

What was interesting was to see how deranged the outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte was – way more so than former President Trump. Thousands of extrajudicial killings and his attack on the free press have been very well documented. Bongbong Marcos avoided the press, did no debates, and no journalistic interviews – only coverage by his loyal followers. A common theme in the documentary was the war on the truth and the facts and the rise of disinformation – with the director directly foreshadowing concerns of the 2024 U.S. elections.

Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, an independent new. Her insights into the information landscape and attacks on the truth and the free press are very well articulated.

Overall, the documentary was very well produced, thought provoking and educational and I highly recommend.

Recorded Interview with Maria Ressa

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CAAMFest 2024: Smoking Tigers

I wasn’t able to see an in person screening of Smoking Tigers at CAAMFest but given the topic, I thought I would be interested in the film and thought I’d watch the screener:

“Hayoung, a Korean American teenager dealing with her parents’ separation, longs to belong somewhere. When her mother enrolls her in a competitive summer school, she begins lying to fit in with her wealthy classmates, including a handsome boy named Joon. Soon Hayoung finds herself in a pressure-cooker of her own creation, hiding her upbringing from her new friends and the growing pains in her family life. As summer fades to fall, she learns what it truly means to grow up. Set in early 2000s Los Angeles, Smoking Tigers made its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival and marks writer-director So Young Shelley Yo’s intimate debut feature.”

I enjoyed the film, but be warned that it is a slow burn. It reminded me of the Asian American film Ms. Purple in terms of pacing, tone, and being set in Angeles). I could identify with Hayoung’s adolosccent angst and I thought actress Ji-young Yoo portraying Hayoung did a terrific job, as well as the rest of the cast – including Abin Andrews who portays the mother, and Jeong Jun-ho who portrays the personable, but unreliable father.

I thought the depiction of Korean Americans over the summer at a “cram” SAT study camp to be interesting and certainly not something I experienced growing up in predominately white Western Massachusetts. Seeing teenage Korean Americans hanging out at house parties also was interesting to see. That was something probably pretty common in Koreatown, Los Angeles in the 2000s. There were a a few scenes in a Korean spa where my only reference is Conan O’Brien and Steve Yuen visiting one in a hilarious piece that went viral on YouTube back in 2015.

Since I wasn’t able to attend the Q&A, I am not sure what kind of distribution this film is getting or if it is still looking for distribution. I couldn’t find anything online either. Based on 7 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, Smoking Tigers is 100% Fresh.

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US Memorial Day: Remembering John Tomney, a Chinese American Soldier killed at Gettysburg

Casualty Report on John Tomney, from US National Archives

During an era when Asian Americans continue to be questioned for their loyalty and are still considered perpetual foreigners, it is worthwhile on US Memorial Day to note Asian Americans who fought and died for their country.  One such Asian American is John Tomney.  He joined the Union Army in 1861, apparently without being able to speak English, and died in 1863 at the battle of Gettysburg.

While having a short life, Tomney certainly had a colorful one.  He quickly learned English and became a camp favorite.  During the war, he was captured and Confederates were confused as to his ethnic origins.  When he was presented to a general who asked him what would take for him to join the Confederate Army, he was said to have replied, “Only if you make me a Brigadier General.” His response amused his captors greatly, and he was reportedly treated very kindly after that.

Tomney was freed during a prisoner exchange and returned to the battlefield.  He bled to death at Gettysburg after a shell hit his legs (his casualty report is shown above). To read more about Tomney and other Asian Americans in the Civil War, I suggest reading Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War, published by the National Park Service. To see our posts on AAPI who have given their lives in the service of their country, check our tag US Memorial Day.

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CAAMFest 2024: The Lyricist Wannabe – Mini-Review & Post-screening Q&A

Earlier this year, I attended a Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office – San Francisco (HKETO-SF) event in Silicon Valley and had met the director Norris Wong. I subsequently got invited to CAAMFest supported Hong Kong films, including The Lyricist Wannabe:

“Set in Hong Kong and Taiwan following the bittersweet journey of aspiring lyricist, Sze, this cinematic mix of light comedy and sobering cynicism reveals the emotional toll of dreaming big in the inhospitable Cantopop scene. As Sze’s determination clashes with the industry’s indifference, she grapples with the fear of failure and the elusive nature of success. With the delightful flourishes of a young girl’s diary, the film captures Sze’s inner world, where every lyric carries the weight of her aspirations.”

Review (non-spoiler)

I found the film entertaining. Be warned, however, that there is a lot of Cantonese-specific humor involving the homonyms specific to the Cantonese language and double entendres. I experienced literal “lost in translation” moments where the audience, which primarily understood Cantonese, was laughing whole heartedly at lines which did not translate into the English subtitles I was reading. I know zero Cantonese and my Mandarin is not great. The film is about writing lyrics specific to Cantonese, and the point of writing music lyrics in Mandarin for a larger potential audience was made I was pleasantly surprised that part of the film takes place in Taipei.

Given my Hong Kong friend and her friend’s reaction to the film, I can whole heartedly recommend the film, especially if you understand Cantonese. Having not been to Hong Kong since 1994 or 1995, I enjoyed seeing Hong Kong as part of the character of the film.

Post-screening Q&A

In the Q&A, the filmmakers discussed the semi-autobiographical nature of the film, as well as the role of lyricists in the Cantonese music industry, particularly using the 0243 method for writing songs. The discussion touches on the challenges faced by dreamers in pursuing their passions, with feedback indicating the film’s encouragement resonating with audiences.

They also mention the tight budget (the film was self-funded) and cameos by industry celebrity friends. They invited audiences to support the film’s release in Canada sometime in the near future and to express interest for distribution in the US. Given a large migration of Hong Kong Chinese before the transition to Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China back in 1997, it’s no surprise that there would be an audience in Canada. According to Wikipedia, the film was released internationally on March 15th & 22, 2024 in the United Kingdom and Taiwan, respectively.

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