Tag Archives: Asian Americans

Allying as Means of Resistance

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

-Lila Watson and friends

Asian Pacific Islander is a compound label rarely critically questioned by the general population.  However, this label flattens many differences and invisiblizes distinct experiences, histories, and conceptual frameworks of the group members it encompasses.  The identity “Asian American” was constructed intentionally and politically in resistance to racism and oppression facing separate and distinct ethnic groups in the 1960’s.  The ethnic landscape encompassed in Asian American has absorbed more recent waves of immigrants, including Indians, Hmong, Vietnamese, Laos, Thai, Tibetan, Cambodian, and Nepalese just to name a few.

There is something to be said for building movements and people power by unifying many different groups around a cause.  But if not handled respectfully and sensitively, such grouping can replicate the same dynamics of silencing and invisiblizing these groups are working to overcome.  It also brushes over the nuances each specific community has to offer from their cultures, histories, and values.

In broad, general strokes, Pacific Islanders have a very unique way of constructing their identity around centers and place, and so are capable of holding a sense of identity that is not confined to just one ethnic box.  This kind of identity construction and conceptual framework is increasingly relevant in the U.S., a country where the number of multiracial individuals grows every day.

The stories of life in the Pacific Islands also demonstrates the self destructive and inhumane economic global frameworks we as superpowers have locked nations into.  Many islands’ economies have to rely on remittances, rather than forging their own destinies in self sustaining ways of life, because they are locked into economic systems that do not allow them to be autonomous and independent.  This stems from the values framework that informs and shapes the actions of superpowers, in which mankind’s existence is plotted on a linear progression, and islanders’ sustainable lifestyles are degraded and “backwards”.

Pacific Islanders are only one group among us with stories and solutions that we don’t hear.  Among those we as Americans recognize as Pacific Islanders, there are even more identities and stories invisiblized under that label.  Racism tells us it is not possible to make time to listen to those stories.   We live in structures of power that are not held accountable to the most marginalized and exploited communities.  We have not learned how to bring those marginalized voices to the forefront, so that we can make decisions that are just for everyone who is impacted by the outcome.  We are still learning to negotiate, to exchange, to grow, to learn from what those with fewer voices and less “power” have to teach us.  We are absorbed in a myth of linear progression, believing that the way the world works today is the sum of natural evolution.  That any deviance from this hyper competitive pathway is a fall back into savagery and subpar living.

But there is more to life than this message we are forced to consume.  There are other values to hold, other rules to guide our lives, through which we can find fulfillment, peace, and happiness.  It is through being allies we can learn those, and liberate ourselves.  Before I conceptualized the ally identity as being reserved specifically for white people, or straight people.  But every person can be an ally in a space which they share with someone whose story and experiences they don’t know or live firsthand.  There are always minorities within minorities, and we must learn to engage with each other to defy the invisiblization and marginalization racism forces on us.  In taking time to learn the stories of those more silenced than us, we reclaim our own humanity.

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Bao Phi and spoken resistance

Bao Phi, a Vietnamese American spoken word artist, released a great video for his piece “No Question.”  The animated video was produced by Ash Hsie, and is really powerful.

The piece deserves recognition in how it sheds light on issues of how the historical racism and oppression of Southeast Asians transfer to contemporary society and API’s.  Boa Phi’s poetry sits at the crossroads of Asian American identity, politics, cultural education and expression.  To read more about this inspirational artist and activist, visit his website, http://www.baophi.com/, and think about picking up your pre-ordered copy of his first published book of poems, Song I Sing.

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Jillian Toda is an Oregonian from the Columbia River Gorge, where her great grandparents farmed upon arriving to America from Japan.   She is currently a student at Willamette University earning a B.A. in Rhetoric and Media Studies, with a minor in American Ethnic Studies, while also working toward an M.B.A. at Atkinson Graduate School of Management in Salem, OR.   New to blogging, Jillian’s personal blog can be found at http://reality-plus-me.blogspot.com/

What is being APIA?

A post in Angry Asian Man yesterday touched on issues previously and currently affecting the APIA community.  While Phil Yu is on vacation, he enlisted California Assemblymember, Warren Furutani, to write a guest post.

Furutani’s article nicely synthesizes and summarizes the emergence of the APIA identity, and how we should move toward the future having had those past experiences.  He also proposes that APIA’s should look for ways to include other/all groups in our solidarity.  The piece is empowering and can be summed up by its great last lines:

How do we define Asian and Pacific Islander America? It is dynamic and ever changing based upon our collective changing American experience. We can define it any way we want.

Read the whole entry here.

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Jillian Toda is an Oregonian from the Columbia River Gorge, where her great grandparents farmed upon arriving to America from Japan.   She is currently a student at Willamette University earning a B.A. in Rhetoric and Media Studies, with a minor in American Ethnic Studies, while also working toward an M.B.A. at Atkinson Graduate School of Management in Salem, OR.   New to blogging, Jillian’s personal blog can be found at http://reality-plus-me.blogspot.com/

Should We Vote on Someone Based on Their Ethnicity?

An interesting story was released in today’s issue of SF Gate about the Democratic leadership refusing to endorse any Asian Americans for mayor, even though over half of the candidates from Asian. Many local Chinese Americans protested the decision and questioned the decision. To me, the issue brings up a bigger issue of how/why we back candidates of color and why it is important that we do.

To me, it seems that people generally support candidates who they believe can relate to their own personal experiences, values, and experiences. You’d like to see a person of color a part of the decision making process when it comes to issues affecting communities of color. It lends to the idea of authenticity and credibility. Perhaps was not too great of a surprise when President Obama won 96% of the black vote, even though historically Republicans have a greater foundational history in supporting civil rights than Democrats do. For example, in the 26 major civil rights votes after 1933, Republican majority supported civil rights in over 96% of the votes. By contrast, Democratic majority opposed civil rights votes over 80% of the time (and also here). However, with broad brushing by the media and both parties, we’re often left with stereotypes of each side: Republicans being redneck, racists, and greedy; Democrats are elitists, corrupt, and support terrorism. History doesn’t louder than the characterizations we receive of those who we disagree with. We as voters want to trust our gut feelings and we hope that the person we’re supporting understands the plight of our communities because they have gone through the very same experience themselves. Even if sometimes the solution might not be what we expect.

There are countless examples of politicians misleading their base: immorality despite a platform of religious righteousness, economic scandal in the face of campaign of corruption, betraying their wedding vows or oath of office. To be fair, these exceptions should not be the standard in which we judge future candidates. We should continue to have faith in individuals that we support and relate to in hopes that they can bring progress to our communities. We should support the positive exchange of ideas not the demonizing by overzealous naysayers. Furthermore, I personally believe that we should support individuals irregardless of their party affiliation: if their ideas, their values, their experiences, and their history show them to be the best fit then may the best candidate win.

I would like to see more Asian American candidates enter the field and winning seats because despite several decade of “talk” from candidates, progress in the way of addressing the major disparities in health, education, income, access, and rights still remain rather bleak. The only group that has ever address the “Model Minority Myth” with precision, accuracy, and delicacy has been Asian Americans, the very group referred to by the Model Minority. Shouldn’t it make sense that we are included in the conversation when it comes to issues pertaining to our community because we know that very community the best?

So in answer to the question that I posed earlier: should we vote on someone based on their ethnicity? Maybe. I believe it should be one of several factors: do they have a history of addressing the needs of the community at large? Do you share similar values and a philosophy on how to solve issues?

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Simon Tam is a Chinese/Taiwanese American, an activist, and musician. He is the founder and bassist for The Slants, the first and only all Asian American dance rock band in the world. Presenting a bold, unapologetic view of the API experience through their music, Simon delivers workshops and talks on Asian American culture throughout the continent. He is an enthusiastic supporter of API advocacy organizations, adopting dogs, and fighting cancer.
An avid fan of music, reading, and diversity, Simon is a regular contributor to API Crossroads and You Offend Me You Offend My Family. His writing can be found at http://aslantedview.tumblr.com 

HIV and APIA women

Some really interesting research has been conducted by Dr. Hyeouk Chris Hahm, a professor at Boston University.  She is the lead investigator of the API Women’s Sexual Health Initiative Project and has found that API women are four times more likely than API men to contract HIV.

While there are various reasons for this figure–such as the fact that API women generally tend to become sexually active later in life than other women and some choose not to use condoms–one main concern is the “model minority” myth.  Hahm sees API women thinking that they’re “invincible” because of this idea of being the model minority in society, and this thinking can also be taken on by doctors.  API women, according to Hahm’s research in Massachusetts, are the least likely to get tested for HIV than women of all other races.  This may in part be due to the lack of encouragement from doctors and other healthcare workers.  More can be read here.

This issue is very prevalent today, especially in Oregon where healthcare that can cater to APIs is very few and far between.  Cultural sensitivity within healthcare facilities in Oregon is something APANO has advocated for, and is extremely important for the API community to stand behind.

For further information on HIV and API women, go to http://www.bu.edu/ssw/2011/02/16/faculty-study-works-to-identify-hiv-risk-behaviors-in-asian-american-women/ 

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Jillian Toda is an Oregonian from the Columbia River Gorge, where her great grandparents farmed upon arriving to America from Japan.   She is currently a student at Willamette University earning a B.A. in Rhetoric and Media Studies, with a minor in American Ethnic Studies, while also working toward an M.B.A. at Atkinson Graduate School of Management in Salem, OR.   New to blogging, Jillian’s personal blog can be found at http://reality-plus-me.blogspot.com/

Asian American Justice Center presents Youth Empowerment Fund

Calling all APIA youth who are active in projects focused on serving the APIA community!  The Asian American Justice Center’s Youth Advisory Council is offering grants up to $500 through their Youth Empowerment Fund.

If you’re interested, you can download the application here: http://www.divshare.com/download/15456826-cd7  For more information on the Youth Advisory Council, visit their facebook page.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and should be submitted at least two months before the funding is needed so that there will be enough time to review your submission.   It sounds like a great opportunity–time to start thinking up some great projects and programs!

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Jillian Toda is a native Oregonian from the Columbia River Gorge, where her great grandparents farmed upon arriving to America from Japan.   She is currently a student at Willamette University earning a B.A. in Rhetoric and Media Studies, with a minor in American Ethnic Studies.  She is also working toward an M.B.A. at Atkinson Graduate School of Management in Salem, OR.   New to blogging, Jillian’s personal blog can be found at http://reality-plus-me.blogspot.com/

Marching to Our Own Drums

What would taiko infused hip hop sound like?  What would a Japanese American hip hop artist have to say about his or her experiences living here?  These are just two questions that filtered through my mind as I enjoyed “Drums @ Work, Drums @Play”, a short and sweet concert performed by Portland Taiko’s artistic staff.  Brief exposure to taiko imparts a sense of powerful beats, but in the course of an hour I realized how much range and versatility is possible with a drum and two sticks.  The program was kept interesting by changes in formation, movement, and props.  A folded sheet of paper made just as much audio impact as strong hits of sticks.  The layers of rhythms were mesmerizing.

Even more important than the art of taiko drumming is the story behind taiko drummers.  The art of taiko started in Japan, and since Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. the art has evolved and changed.  It is not a static, imported art form, it is written and shaped by the lived experiences of drummers.  People may call into question the authenticity of taiko drumming that strays from its original roots in Japan, but who has the authority to even define authenticity?
It’s very important for Asian Americans to have power and agency over their own stories, rather than catering to what others think their story should be, like what taiko is supposed to sound like or how it’s supposed to be performed.

This is connected to the way racism perpetuates singular images of Asians constructed by those in power to push forward a certain agenda.  It happened when Filipino men came to the west coast to work.  Whites disseminated stories that Filipinos were stealing their jobs and their women, neither of which were true, and both of which play on racial fears and contruct clear boundaries between self, those in power, and the other, those without.  Although this racism does not always play out in the same overt ways, it is still subtly manifested in the daily experiences of Asian Americans.

I think that the racism that leads to outrageous bills such as HB 87 in Georgia, that has consistently defeated racial equity bills like Senate Bill 742 in Oregon, is an arm of the same system of racism that causes people to ask where I’m from when they see my brown skin, never able to accept from the start that I am American and I am from here.

Art is a way to tell our stories, and the variations and nuances of taiko drum rhythms are like the variations and nuances in the stories of Asian Americans.  We are warriors, we are playful, we are light hearted, intense, wise, we are subtle and layered.  One Asian American cannot be used as the representative or model for the entire socially constructed Asian American race, whether you would use that Asian American to reinforce something positive or negative.  It’s still racist to lump entire populations together to an extent European Americans have not been.  However each of us came here, and however each of us live, we are here now.  This society should weave our experiences, knowledge systems, and histories into this country’s fabric, instead of perpetuating the message that white Americans are the only ones who are from here, and the rest of us are the foreigners.