Sunisa Lee’s Journey to win the Gymnastics All-Around Gold Medal at the Tokyo Olympics

In case you missed it, Sunisa Lee, a Hmong American from Minnesota, won the Gymnastics All Round medal at the Tokyo Olympics.  After Simone Biles withdrew, the pressure was intense on the 18 year old to continue the United States streak of gold medals in the all around competition.  Lee edged out second place Brazillian Rebeca Andrade by .135 points.

Pressure is not unknown to Lee, as you can see from the video above.  While there have been other Olympic level Asian American gymnasts such as Amy Chow, Lee doesn’t come from a well off family.  At left, you can see her practicing on the home made balance beam in her backyard that her father made. Tragedy has touched her family – her father was paralyzed in an accident, she lost an aunt and an uncle to COVID-19.  Like other Asian American Olympians, she and her community is dealing with anti-Asian hate.

I think her victory is incredibly timely.  It serves as a reminder that Asian Americans are truly Americans and can represent the United States with competence, grace, and perservence.

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Asian American Olympians Talk about their Anti-Asian hate Experiences

It’s been great to see Asian American athletes representing the US in the Tokyo Olympics.  I saw Nikhil Kumar playing table tennis and found out he is an 18 year from my city of San Jose.  Seeing athletes like Nikhil made this story from NBC News Asian America about the anti-Asian hate experiences Asian American athletes very meaningful, especially in the current atmosphere where Asian American allegiences are often questions.

A man harassed Sakura Kokumai, a karate competitor, saying things like”Chinese disgusting.”   While he seemingly picked the wrong person to harass, the worst part, according to Sakura, was that only one person bothered to check on her.  I found the experience of Yul Moldauer to be sad.  Adopted from Korea and raised by American parents, he recounts the story of how a driver cut him off and started yelling “Go back to China!” at him.  So wrong on so many levels.

Other Asian American Olympians have recently opened up about their experiences.  Champion snowboarder Chloe Kim revealed in April that she first got anti-Asian messages when she was thirteen after winning a Silver at the 2014 X Games.  The messages said that she should stop taking away medals from white American girls.   After those messages, she would not speak Korean in public with her parents.  She also revealed being spit on in public.

Despite these incidents, in an embedded video segment, reporter Vicky Nguyen concludes that elite level athletes like Kokumai and Moldauer are very resilient and can use experiences like these to motivate themselves.  There are other Asian American athletes profiled too that I haven’t mentioned – suggest you take a look at the article and the accompanying video.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: “Share Something Real on Portal: Tattoo”

This ad for Facebook’s Portal was an  pleasant surprise.  I loved how it showed three generations of an Asian Americans.  Showing that Asian Americans is a good way to slowly chip away at the perpetual foreigner stereotype.  I also liked how they were doing something “Asian,” making what looks like dumplings.   The tattoo surprise was funny and unexpected.

A minor downside was that it did seem that the Mom/Daughter was stereotypically uptight. While many Asians and some Asian Americans might think tattoos are in poor taste, I do see Asian Americans of different ages with tattoos, plus tattoos are an ancient Pacific Islander tradition.  I didn’t get a sense that the tattoo meant anything – would like to hear about it if one of you knows otherwise.

The ad was put together by ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day for Facebook’s #sharesomethingreal campaign advertising their Portal video calling device.

 

 

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A Sesame Street Song: Proud of Your Eyes

In the context of the attacks and bullying of Asian Americans that has gone on during the pandemic, Sesame Street has recently released this video of a song they created.  Proud of Your Eyes talks about one of the most common things that bullies and haters use to pick on Asian Americans.  Analyn talks to Alan (long time owner of Hooper’s Store, played by Alan Muraoka) and Wes about an incident that happened to her.

I have read some commentary that while this song is heartwarming, it won’t stop anti-Asian attacks.  I would say that this song is aimed less at potential bullies and more at encouraging the victims of those attackers not to hate themselves.  Eyelid surgery among Asians is common in the US and Asia – some women like Julie Chen say that they have been pressured into it in order to help their careers.

The non-profit behind Sesame Street, the Sesame Street Workshop, has a specific focus on racial justice.  They have prepared other videos designed to be watched by the whole family.  “Meet the Lee Family” talks about a Asian American family whose parents are the children of immigrants and whose entire family has been born in the US.  I liked that focus, working to debunk the perpetual foreigner notion.

Before we leave the subject of eyes, I would suggest watching the short film Beautiful Sisters by one of our former 8Asians writers.  The racist camera is another take on Asian eyes.

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Andrew Yang Concedes NYC Mayoral Democratic Primary

Earlier this week, the New York City Democratic and Republican mayoral primaries occurred, and candidate Andrew Yang did not perform well:

“Andrew Yang, a former 2020 presidential candidate whose name recognition once made him an early front-runner in the New York mayor’s race, conceded on Tuesday night after trailing badly in early vote tallies.

Mr. Yang was joined by his wife, Evelyn, and other supporters, and spoke in a somber tone that contrasted with the enthusiasm and energy that marked his campaign. He reflected on his rise from relative obscurity to public prominence in just three years, a transformation that helped galvanize a group of loyal supporters, often via social media, and gave him a platform in the city. … “I am not going to be mayor of New York City based on the numbers that have come in tonight,” he said. “I am conceding this race, though we’re not sure ultimately who the next mayor is going to be. Whoever that person is, I will be very happy to work with them to help improve the lives of the 8.3 million people who live in our great city, and I encourage other people to do the same.””

Yang came in fouth out of a very crowded field of candidates. Although I haven’t been following the primary race too closely, I was still surprised by Yang’s poor showing . Yang’s name recognition and early lead polling led me to believe that he might have done better than he did.

It’ll be interesting to see where Yang goes from here – if he continues to look at elected office opportunities or other public service roles or go back to the non-profit or private sector. I don’t think this will be the last we hear of Yang, and I hope it isn’t. Although Yang was far from a perfect presidential or mayoral candidate, he really did help elevate the visbility of Asian Americans in the United States as well as New York City.

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Volunteers, Data, and Trauma: Behind the scenes of Stop AAPI Hate


The organization recording hate anti-Asian crimes, Stop AAPI Hate, has had a large profile during the surge in hate toward Asian Americans during the pandemic.  Because of this high profile, two articles that talk about the people working behind the scenes of this organization caught my attention.   The first one from Calmatters, among other subjects, talks about the volunteers who help make the group work.  These include grad student Richard Lim, who was harrassed and called “Coronavirus” while walking near UC Berkeley, and decided to try and do something about it.

Stop AAPI Hate has published reports about how Asian American mental health is suffering during the pandemic.  But what about the mental health of those tracking and recording the almost 7000 reported incidents?   This article from the Mercury News talks about the toll that this work has taken.  Co-founder Russell Jeung has started therapy for the first time and also turned to prayer.   For others, like Angie Yellow Horse, processing these stories, while painful, can provide some benefit:

Having done it for some time now, I do realize there’s some value in reading those stories.I do think that I feel less alone or isolated with my own experience.

While Jeung and the other people at Stop AAPI Hate struggle to cope, the work of counting and recording racist incidents goes on.  Over 2800 new reports came in during March 2021 alone.

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Last Week Tonight host John Oliver talks about Asian Americans

This Last Week Tonight segment on Asian Americans hosted by John Olliver gives an overview of Asian American history and the current issues facing Asian Americans, done in his usually satirical style.  I was pleasantly surprised by how thorough it was in its breadth, given, as Olliver mentions, the poor history of white men describing Asian Americans.  I think it is a good summary, although it is not very deep (Larry Itliong gets like a second).  Still, it is half hour overview lesson in Asian American history that would be good for someone who knows very little about the subject, such as the 42% of Americans who cannot name a single prominent Asian American.

Last Week Tonight is available on HBO and previous episodes like this one are available on the HBOMAX streaming service.

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NBA Player Jordan Clarkson Assists Owners of Food Truck Vandalized with Anti-Asian Graffiti

Filipino American NBA Player and 2021 NBA sixth man of the year Jordan Clarkson assisted the victims of anti-Asian hate, this time a Filipino food truck owner vandalized with racist graffiti, with getting their truck restored.  Clarkson paid for interior cleanup and detailing and offered financial assistance for the owners of World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck to get back in business.  Vehicle wrap company Identity Graphx designed and provided a new look at no cost to the owners.

It was great to see Clarkson, who holds dual Philippine and American citizenship, use his visibility to help people and remind people that anti-Asian hate is real and ongoing.  It was also great to see the local community, including the mayor and city council of Layton, Utah and local businesses like Identity Graphx, rally around the victims.

World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck will debut their new look as they reopen on June 12, which is also Philippine Independence Day.   Layton police are offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the racist vandals.

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Anti-Asian Hate analyzed by a Threat Intelligence Company

Graphic credit: Recorded Future

The most surprising things that came through my work inbox last week was this report on threats to Asian communities outside of Asia from Threat Intelligence Company Recorded Future.    It talks about anti-Asian hate happening from the United States to the UK to Australia and discussed it in the dry analytical language of threats and TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) that I usually see only in the context of security.  In my opinion, it’s worth reading all the way through, but I will summarize their findings:

  • Asian communities across the world are being affected by anti-Asian hate.
  • Nation states from China, Russia, and Iran seek to inflame the situation and use it for their own purposes.
  • Forces are trying to equate all Chinese scientists and students with espionage, while this happens, it is typically forgotten that these same groups are also the most spied upon.
  • Scammers are using anti-Asian hate victims as a way to make money through fraudulent fund raising pages.

Actionable intelligence is the most useful kind, and from this report, I would say that the last point is the most actionable.  It’s great when we want to help out someone attacked, but it is critical that we avoid suspicious GoFundMe pages.

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Vote for J.J. for ‘Beachbody Challenge’ – First Asian Male Finalist!

My friend JJ asked me to help spread the word on voting for him for the “Beachbody Challenge”:

“Hi! I’m JJ. I’m the first Asian guy to ever make it to the Finals of the Beachbody Challenge, from the company behind some famous work-out programs like P90X and Insanity. Throughout this past year, Asian Americans have been subject to numerous hate crimes and blamed for the COVID pandemic. At the same time, we’ve celebrated Asian representation in film and media. I’m taking this opportunity to contribute to our community and pledging to donate $25,000 to Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) (https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/) if I win this challenge. The Final round is based on public voting between 6/1 and 6/8 at BeachbodyChallenge.com. During this 8 day period, you get to cast a vote for each gender once a day. Whether you vote all 8 days or just once, I hope you can vote for me (JJ Lee) and spread the word! Thanks for your time!”

It has been pretty amazing to see JJ transform himself from someone who wasn’t exactly that fit … to a lean mean fitness machine:

Personally, if I was going to win $25,000, I’m not sure that I’d donate it all to a non-profit, but given all the Asian hate out there, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) is definitely a worthy recepient.

You can vote for him here – once a day until Tuesday, June 8th, at 12pm Pacific Time. Good luck JJ!

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8 reasons to move ‘In The Heights’ to the top of your movie list

In the Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of his broadway musical, hits the big screen this June.

Here are 8 reasons to move it to the top of your movie list:

  1. Music 

In The Heights is jam-packed with musical numbers that will make you want to get up and dance! Every scene in this film includes elements of different beats, transitioning into full-fledged dance numbers before you know it. Bopping your head, tapping your toes, or snapping your fingers—this film will get your body moving, as Lin drew inspiration from Latin music and his love for 90s hip hop. It’s an incredible experience that you don’t want to miss!

  1. Attention to detail!

This film is truly a work of art. The attention to detail makes this movie come alive. Whether it’s the sweat dripping off of the characters faces, or the sound of the subway train passing through the city, In The Heights is filled with many details making us feel like we’re home.

  1. Lighting

The impact lighting has on this film is quintessential. It’s such a huge component and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Every scene in this film plays with lighting in so many ways and there is no repetition. Despite some scenes sett in the dark, the lighting illuminates the screen.

  1. Cast & Crew

The cast list alone should sway you to watch this film: Anthony Ramos, Cory Hawkins, Jimmy Smitts, Dascha Polanco, Olga Merediz, and the list goes on. The coveted Lin Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton also makes several appearances in the film! Jon M. Chu, known for directing Crazy Rich Asians, also takes this film to new heights.

  1. Universal Themes 

While the film has its humor, In The Heights grapples with heavy themes that will hit home to many marginalized communities. This film discusses immigration, feelings of where home is, feelings of “am I letting down my family?,” finding community, and having big dreams, all of which audience members can relate to.

  1. The Matriarch 

Abuela Claudia is the matriarchal figure in the film. Everyone will be able to relate to this character because they either have an abuela or grandma, or know of someone in their community who’s just like abuela Claudia. She’s the one you go to for advice, for consolement or support. She’s the heart and soul of the community and you really see this throughout the film.

  1. Representation Matters 

Run, do not walk to your nearest theatre on June 11! The film really shines bright in the fact that everyone who took part in this project was a person of color. When I sat down with the cast, they all were vocal about their pride in how diverse the cast and crew are.

“Finally here is this movie that is going to be so important for this new generation and the old generation too. They are going to be able to see themselves and have pride in who they are that we are part of the American fabric and we are here. It’s a perfect movie for representation.” – Olga Merediz

  1. It’s a REAL story

There are so many characters in the film that you, the audience member, can relate to. It isn’t some far-fetched story—it’s all real.

 

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H.A.G.S. (Have A Good Summer), a short documentary by Sean Wang

I stumbled upon Sean Wang’s short documentary ‘H.A.G.S.’ an opinion piece in the New York Times (with support from the Sundance Institute) and although it was supposed to be about “adulthood,” it turned out to be much more meaningful and nuanced.

 

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A post shared by sean s. wang | 王湘聖 (@seanswang)

In this 9 minute piece primarily using pictures from his middle school yearbook and the audio of phone calls with his friends from that era, the now-26-year-old filmmaker touches on many subjects including friendship, memories, self-reflection, hopes, fears, and dreams. The filmmaker and the subjects of the film are from Fremont, California, an area with a large community of immigrants (and, ahem, Asian Americans) so this is reflected in the subjects who are featured.

But what hit me as a fellow Taiwanese American and child of immigrants were the nods to their parents, and how their parents’ sacrifices made their American Dreams possible.

In fact, Sean says in the New York Times op-ed about his parents:

Maybe that’s the single greatest privilege of my life — because of my parents’ sacrifice, my biggest challenges lie in navigating my sense of identity, fulfillment and the pursuit of my own dream of being a filmmaker, the sort of dream they never had the luxury of having.

This (along with Facebook’s lovely “Hey! Look How Old You’ve Gotten!” reminder that I’d shared this 12 years ago) reminded me of the “100 Passionate People” project by TaiwaneseAmerican.org in 2009 (the year after Sean and his friends were in middle school). In it, I’d said:

My parents and grandparents are the greatest influences of my life. Their love and passion for Taiwan is instilled deeply within me, even though I was born and raised in America. As a 2nd generation Taiwanese American, I feel greatly indebted to my parents and grandparents for all the sacrifices they made so that we could grow up in a land of opportunity and freedom that did not exist in Taiwan.

Sacrifice is a common theme for many immigrants and it’s indelibly part of the survival mechanism for people struggling for “security, survival, and assimilation” in a country that isn’t necessarily welcoming of those from abroad.

In the film, the filmmaker says that the yearbook is a time capsule and his friends marvel at how quickly time passes and wonder what the 40-year-old versions of themselves will think about their mid-20s selves. As someone who can look back at my mid-20s with more than a decade having passed, all I can say is that the time passes in the blink of an eye and it moves even faster, the older you get.

I’m glad that Sean and his friends shared their personal stories and that Sean made this (video) time capsule of this moment in their young adulthoods. I hope that he does an update for us in another 15 years because I’m rooting for them all: Danial, Way, Fahad, Sohrab, Karina, Terilyn, and Sean. I look forward to following Sean’s career, and I’m eager to see his star rising with more films and creative works, but also I hope he is able to pursue “purpose, equality, and belonging,” while creating a wonderful life for himself.

Posted in 8mm Film Review, Movies, San Francisco Bay Area, The Arts | 2 Comments