Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If you like the Asian-girl fantasy, you are in for a surprise

NO SOONER did I mention Nancy Kwan and this vlog popped up. As a quick follow-up to my earlier writings about sexual stereotypes, James Shigeta, the aforementioned actress Nancy Kwan, etc., Let me introduce you to vlogger Anna Akana, she gives Yellow Fever a new meaning from a contemporary point of view and explains better than I can, the attraction Asian women possess for a lot of guys.

Katy Perry
Anybody who has spent serious time with an Asian woman know that they are anything but quiet and submissive. Most of the Asian women I know are strong individuals, smart, defiantly outspoken and definitely do not fit the stereotype. Some are sexy, some are not. Most fall somewhere in-between. 
Katy Perry's performance during the American Music Awards, dressed as a geisha, did nothing to dispell the stereotype. Her angry response show's she just didn't get it. She's probably never had the "ching-chong" insult hurled her way either.

It's heartening to see that a new generation of Asians - like Akana and a host of other bloggers, vloggers and social and educational activists - is continuing the fight against old prejudices and confronting the same issues that I had while growing up as in America. But at the same time, despite all the examples  counteracting the demeaning image in almost our all our institutions, it's kind of sad after all these years, to see the staying power of this particular stereotype and how it still dominates the view of Asian women.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Breakthrough" actor James Shigeta passes away

James Shigeta and Flower Drum co-star Myoshi Umeki.
ONE OF the few Asian American actors in the last half-century who could play leading-man roles passed away today (July 29) at the age of 81. Here's the article about James Shigeta from the Daily Variety 

Shigeta played a lot of movie roles throughout the years - hero, villain, spear-carrier, etc. - and to his credit, he never had to resort to portraying a stereotype.

The role that he is best known for and the one that had the most impact on me was the musical "Flower Drum Song." Originally a Broadway musical, it was released as a motion picture in 1961, The musical and movie were not what we would call "politically correct." It had so many things wrong with it from a 21st century perspective. However, as a young boy, it was a revelation to see an all-Asian cast up on the silver screen singing and dancing and being (so anti-Asian stereotype) - gasp - sexy!

Having Nancy Kwan perceived as sexy is a no-brainer. Who can forget her brash, aggressive performance of "I Enjoy Being A Girl?" American culture has always linked Asian women to sex as in a provocative and sometimes demeaning way-- either as the Dragon Lady or as the exotic creature that will willingly do anything to satisfy men's needs.

But along came Shigeta, a handsome leading man with his deep, sexy voice and presence. He made women swoon. He went against the grain of our society's image of Asian males -- unsexy, geeky and unattractive. With our unfortunate pop-culture tendency to turn screen heroes into role models, Shigeta was the only male role model who looked a little bit like me and a whole generation of Asian boys.

Yeah, "Flower Drum Song," written by two white guys, Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers, was a bit cheesy but it was also groundbreaking in its use of an Asian cast instead of having white actors play the roles in yellow-face and taped-back eyes. Credit the producers for insisting on Asian actors, singers and dancers play the roles.

What was amazing was that the rest of the populace, no matter what race, was also drawn to the musical and its story of culture clash, mistaken identity and love-overcoming-all. Somehow, along the way, despite its financial success, Hollywood never attempted anything like it again.

Thank you Mr. Shigeta for being a bright light as I came of age. He was a reminder that we can aspire to be more than the "acceptable professions" of doctors, engineers or businessmen (or, in my case, an architect). We can take risks. We can be actors, artists, poets, writers, singers, dancers or whatever else we want to be.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Asian/American social networkers make their presence felt


The graphic above, from pollster Nielsen suggests that the typical social media user is a mid-20s Asian woman who graduated from college, has a pretty good income and most likely, is a Red Sox fan. (I think if the same poll was taken today, it would show that she is a fan of the Giants or Golden State Warriors.)

In June 2012, the PEW Research Center issued a report on the use of social media among ethnic groups. "Their" ethnic groups were Whites, Latinos and Blacks.

This caused an uproar among Asian/Americans who felt they were slighted. "What about us?" they asked. PEW explained that Asian/Americans were difficult to poll because of our great diversity and languages and beside, Asian/Americans -- all 17.3 million of us -- didn't make up a big enough ethnic group to be significant.

Not significant? Reduced to insignificance again! Well, that riled up the AAPI community again.

The following three paragraphs is what I imagined happened within PEW's office -- and keep in mind I'm making this up:
The response from the Asian/American community hit a nerve and in order to compensate that particularly vocal minority -- from academicians to ordinary Tweeters and Vimeo users -- PEW staff decided to do another study of the Asian American community. That report, titled "The Rise of Asian Americans," which conjures up an "invasion", came out later in 2012 covering the usual categories of where we live, family income, out-of-race marriage, etc.
PEW researchers were probably surprised at the response. Here they thought they were doing something good to appease its Asian/American critics and all they got in response was ... more criticism! 
Now they were being criticized for portraying the the Asian/Americans as well-educated, better than average income, loyal Americans, strong family ties -- in other words, the data presented reinforced the stereotype of the "model minority," an image that I and millions of other "average" Asians have had a hell of a time correcting.
The criticism apparently hit a chord (again) and in 2013, PEW updated the report to include data from other Asian groups and emphasized the poverty and lower test scores for some of the Asian groups.

I don't think PEW will put "insignificant numbers" and "Asian Americans" in the same sentence again, especially in regards to use of the Internet and social media. Therefore, it would seem, Asian/Americans should be included in any study regarding the Internet or social media.

Other polls have come out indicating Asians' use of social media goes beyond their numbers in the United States. If you go to to some social media sites such as Yelp, Twitter, etc. simply judging by the photos of the users, you will see the preponderance of Asian participants.
RELATED: Asian/Americans love the Internet, social media
When the TV show "How I Met Your Mother," recently aired an episode where its white actors donned yellow-face, the social media response was swift and heavy as Asian Americans flexed their new-found virtual muscles. It wasn't long before the show's producers issued an apology.

The online outcry that occurred when Asians were made the butt of offensive jokes at the 2016 Oscar telecast rallied people in the entertainment industry to express their disappointment which eventually led to an apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts.
RELATED: Chris Rock went one joke too many during the Oscars
Despite its apparent flaws, I found the PEW report interesting for the important information that they presented. It may be the closest thing we have of a researcher's acknowledgement that Asians are part of this American stew and although small in numbers, the influence of Asian/ Americans goes beyond their numbers. Business, political consultants, marketers and policy makers need to keep this in mind when viewing the data.

PEW's response indicates that a lesson was learned. America is not just a black-and-white world and the country's perception -- and the world's perception, for that matter -- of what an American looks like needs to be broadened beyond the broad brushstrokes used by traditional mainstream media,
For more news about Asian/American & Pacific Islanders, read AsAm News.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dreaming with the American dreamers

Just a reminder: While most of the media focus is on Mexicans crossing the border, the attraction to the United States is still strong among Filipinos. Immigration reform and issues are still major issues for Filipinos.

(The question that raises up in my mind is why isn't there any media concern about all the Canadians crossing over the border with America and taking American jobs and American dollars? People like -- Justin Beiber, Ryan Gosling, Michael Cera, to name a few?)

As the video illustrates, you may know some undocumented Americans but don't know it. They are just like you and I and impossible to identify as undocumented unless they have the courage to come and admit it.

Undocumented Filipinos have along been an issue with the Filipino American communitiy that they've come up with a term for it. If you are here without the proper paperwork, you are called TNT. Tago ng tago basically means "hiding" or maintaining such a low profile that one has disappeared. 

Many young people who were brought here at an early age had no idea that their parents were TNT and that they, themselves, were not citizens of this country until they sought financial aid for college or tried to sign up with the military.

Other tidbits:
  • The waiting period for someone from the Philippines to the United States can be as long as 23 years.
  • According to the latest Census of 2010, there are more first-generation Filipino immigrants than there are Filipino Americans (those born and raised in the U.S.).
  • As a result, Filipinos make up the 2nd biggest Asian ethnic group in the U.S. (Chinese are first). According to a recent survey by PEW, Filipinos from the Philippines like the United States more than Americans do. (More on this in an upcoming post.)
As for the most recent border boondoggle where thousands of Central American kids have been caught trying to enter the U.S., many critics are quick to shout "Send them home." The law requiring that we give them hearings is a law that was signed by the last President Bush -- a Republican. 

The U.S. has given refugee status to people from dictator-run countries, from the old communist bloc and other countries we don't like. But what if the country they are fleeing doesn't have a government and it is run by a bunch of gangsters and if you don't join their gang, they kill you? The second video explains the situation under two minutes and worth watching then ask yourself, "do you still want to send them home to almost certain death?" That's a tougher question now, right?

Look, I'm for control of our borders and yes, most countries wouldn't give a second thought to sending the kids home -- but this is America, and we're supposed to be better than other countries. We're supposed to be exceptional.

Lest we forget ... greeting all ships in New York harbor is the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The significance of the Great Port Chicago Explosion

A little bit of important history took place almost next door 70 years ago. Historians are starting to recognize that the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces began in a small unknown base in Port Chicago, just a few miles from where I live.

The deadliest home front disaster occurred in 1944 and took the lives of 322 sailors, 220 of them African American. The Port Chicago Weapons Magazine, later to be known as the Concord Naval Weapons Station, was the main munitions supply depot for the war in the Pacific Theater during WWII and during the Korean War.

The black sailors who volunteered to fight the enemy were instead assigned the unglamorous job of loading ammunition aboard ships. It was dangerous work and the sailors - without any proper training -- were encouraged to speed up their already unsafe work. When the sailors refused to work under dangerous conditions, they were threatened with court martial. Most of them returned to work but 50 remained steadfast in their refusal. Those 50 were placed in the brig and eventually court martialed, 

Years later, 49 of the 50 sailors were pardoned (but, not exonerated.) The one holdout maintained that what they did was not treasonous and refused the pardon.

The blast leveled the surrounding area in a mile radius and could be heard as far away as Vallejo, a distance of about 25 miles. (Unsubstantiated rumors say there was a nuclear device involved because that was about the time the U.S. began testing the nuclear bomb drop out in the Pacific.)

The explosion and the aftermath fought to the forefront the segregation that existed in the U.S. military through World War II. (That's why we had the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed 442nd Regiment made up of second-generation Japanese American,  and the 1st Filipino Regiment.

The Navy was the first branch of the U.S. military to desegregate which led to President Truman's order to desegregate all the Armed Forces. Many of the black soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought for our country came back home to a country that deprived them of the rights they fought for. They  came to realize the gap between the military opportunities and the way they were treated in civilian life. As part of the Greatest Generation, they helped fuel the Civil Rights Movement.

Here's a great column about the Port Chicago explosion by Tom Barnidge of the Contra Costa Times:


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jose Antonio Vargas: An undocumented American

Jose Antonio Vargas
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, a Filipino immigrant, may be the poster child for the thousands of undocumented people awaiting action from President Obama that may legalize their status.

And, oh yeah, he won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize as a member of team of Washington Post journalists covering the Virginia Tech shootings. In 2011, in a moving essay published in the New York Times, he revealed his status as an "undocumented American." Note the terminology. Those are his words Vargas prefers to use.

Since that essay he has become an activist in support of the undocumented Americans. He has formed an organization Define American, challenging the legal concept of American. Are Americans defined by a set of papers, birth, or is an American someone who thinks, believes and lives as Americans, like
Vargas has done since he was 12 years old when he was sent to live with his grandparents in the San Francisco Bay Area. It wasn't until he was 16 that he learned that he was in this country without papers. He attended local elementary and high schools and graduated from San Francisco State.

Since he is over the age of 30, he doesn't qualify for the Dream Act that legalized the status of the children who brought here at an early age by their undocumented parents. Their being in this country illegally, the act says, was not their fault or their intention. Vargas is speaking up for people like himself who were raised to be Americans; who believe they are Americans and who, by their values and mores, are American,

Vargas got himself in a pickle last week when -- as a freelancer -- went into the border town of McAllen, Texas to lend support and record the plight of the thousands of Central American young people who tried to cross the border fleeing the gangs and violence that have taken over their countries.

In a prepared statement, he said: "As an unaccompanied child migrant myself, I came to McAllen, Texas, to shed a light on children who, in parts of America and many in the news media are actively turning their backs on."

Never having been in that part of the country, he was surprised at the level of militarization of the Texas border. There are checkpoints on all the roads leaving Allen as if it was in the Gaza strip. While they were glad to see him, one woman was prompted to ask him, "How will you get out?"

As expected, when he tried to board a flight out of town, he was asked for his ID. All he had was a Philippines passport, which apparently wasn't good enough. He was detained. Fortunately, a few hours later he was released with orders to appear before an immigration judge at a future date.

Homeland Security, taking note of his well-known status, was quick to issue a statement that he was not arrested or charged with anything. In essence, they said they had other priorities that demanded their attention and the status of one individual who was deemed non-violent and who did not have a criminal record, can be dealt with later.

Vargas' documentary "Documented" aired on CNN earlier this summer and will probably be aired in other time slots. Watch for it.

If his purposed was to bring attention to the plight of the Central American children, Vargas has certainly done that. Their hope is that they will be granted refugee status so they can remain in the U.S.A.

Ironically, the fact that thousands of these children were apprehended at the border is a strong sign that the efforts put forth to prevent illegal immigration is working.

The president has asked Congress for another $3.5 billion to make sure the children are afforded their due process (that, too, is the American way) and if necessary, send them back where they must choose to be gang members or get killed.

A tip of the hat to Derek Jeter

IT IS ALL about respect, isn't it? Whether or not you are a baseball fan, respect is earned and Derek Jeter has earned that accolade for his remarkable 20-year career. To be in the public eye for that long and not be smeared by a single scandal is quite a feat in this day and age of celebrity-worship where paparazzi lurk behind every corner and TMZ is ready to jump on any social blunder.

We should give a nod to Jeter for entering the Hapa Hall of Fame (I just made that up!) as the product of an African-American father and a mother of Irish-German descent. He has been so good, his bi-racial roots have never been an issue. He is cheered by sports fans everywhere, including the racists and bigots among them, for his athletic ability.

("Hapa" is a Hawaiian term describing people of mixed ethnicity. I'm not sure the of the linguistic  roots of the term but I like to define it as - and excuse my pidgin - "Hapa dis and hapa dat.) 

Well done, No. 2
Now that his playing days are drawing to an end, I'd like to see him address that aspect of his heritage - "come out", if you will. As African Americans like to point out the many Blacks who have contributed to our culture and society, and the LBGT advocates single out the many gays (closeted or open) in our society, the strategy advances their causes and increases the acceptance of those groups by increasing their visibility. Perhaps, if Jeter owns up to his roots, it will help the biracial folks - as their numbers increase in our country and the world - to accept their own hapa selves instead of having to choose one over the other.

In the meantime, the moving tribute commercial done by Nike, will air tonight (July 15) at the All-Star game. Nice job. It should be an emotional moment. Let's take the tribute for what it is and tip our hats to one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Imelda Marcos' story is made for theater

When the Marcoses were in power in the Philippines, they banned the musical "Evita" because the parallels to the dual dictatorship was too obvious. It was perhaps inevitable that Imelda's rags-to-riches story - with her penchant for memorable quotes, infamous shoe collection, a reputed affair with actor George Hamilton and a love for the glamor and spotlight - end up on the Broadway stage.

"Here Lies Love" returned to Broadway July 9 for an open-ended run after garnering rave reviews last year.

Even with the uncertain future of George Takei's "Allegiance" and the too-short-of-a-run of the Bruce Lee musical, which starred Filipino-American martial artist/dancer Cole Horibe, Asian dancers and singers will have more than their normally limited number of opportunities to portray Asians in revivals of Miss Saigon and The King and I. Slowly, in little baby steps, producers are starting to cast Asians in roles that don't specifically call for an Asian actor.

Plans are afoot to put up productions of the Marcos musical in London and San Francisco. I can't wait when it comes to San Francisco, which was the center of anti-Marcos activities in the U.S. during the 21 year reign of the dictator.

Deep in the middle of the anti-Marcos movement in the U.S. was the Philippine News, where I honed my journalistic chops as a layout artist, proofreader, columnist, reporter and editor. Led by fiery editor and publisher Alex Esclamado, some of the stories that we printed about the despots'  regime seemed so fantastical that mainstream media couldn't believe it and as a result, the PhilNews suffered a credibility problem it could never overcome.

However, when the dictatorship fell, and the horrors of that rule were fully exposed, and western reporters began reporting on the Philippines dictatorship, especially by Phil Bronstein with the San Francisco Examiner -- only then did the U.S. media realize that things were even worst than what was reported by PhilNews. Reporting by US media, usually using Esclamdo's contacts and sources, eventually put pressure on the Marcoses.

Many of the people who walked in picket lines, wrote letters, made films, wrote scathing commentaries and risked their businesses, reputations and lives working against the dictator still live in the Bay Area. It will be interesting to see if they join the audience to sing along or dance with Imelda and Ferdinand in the highly  interactive production where the audience become part of the story. At various times during the show they are fellow nightclub dancers, Filipino voters and finally they become the masses that became the "People Power" that dethroned the dual dictators.

Imelda Marcos being crowned on her 85th birthday on July 2.
The production wanted to move into a mainstream theater but the physical requirements of the show, ie. no seats in the orchestra section, precluded any of the traditional venues. And that's a problem the show will have when it moves to London in October. Unfortunately, there are not many venues in SF that can accommodate the production. (How about the vacant Palace of Fine Arts? Imelda would love the irony of finally winding up in a palace again.)

The musical is NOT an ode to the dictatorship. It is NOT a history lesson. It is a musical that offers an unapologetic look back at an era in the Philippines that is still having repercussions on the political  scene. We may not have brought down the final curtain on the Marcos story, both Imelda and her son, Bong Bong, have seats in the Philippines' Congress and the rumor-loving electorate and media have them plotting for a return to Malacanang Palace. But that's another story.

Here's a review from the Washington Post:

Here's more about the cast and musical, which has an excellent production pedigree with Tony award-winning David Byrne and Fatboy Slim on the creative team:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Random thoughts on July 4, 2014

This Independence Day I'm worried about the future of America. Watch the video above and watch the pain and awkwardness of the Republican's holding hands with Democrats and singing the anthem of the civil rights movement. What an awkward moment for an event that was supposed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2 it symbolizes much of what's wrong with out country today.

One of the most significant pieces of legislation, the law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It ended discrimination in schools, at work and at public facilities. The Civil Rights Act barred placing barriers to voting that would impact certain groups of people.

Sadly, if introduced today, the landmark legislation might not even pass. The split between lawmakers and the Republican radicals' unwillingness to meet the opposition half-way, the traditional definition of politics, has made Congress ineffective. Rachel Maddow wrote about this interesting premise at

Then there's the Hobby Lobby decision by five members of the U.S. Supreme Court. I thought the court couldn't make a worst decision to undermine our democracy than Citizens United but this decision issued last week comes in pretty close.
Take away all the noise and alarm over the birth control issue, what makes the decision by five male members of the court is it opens the doors to business owners imposing their religious beliefs on their employees. Even though the majority tried to narrow its ruling, the court expanded its Citizens United decision that corporations are people and money is a form of free speech, by saying corporations can hold religious beliefs and they can ignore laws that might impinge on those beliefs.

The Washington Post had a pretty good analysis:

At a recent meeting, the facilitator opened up with an ice-breaker, She wanted all of to introduce ourselves and answer the question, "What do you look forward to tho summer." I had the misfortune to be sitting right next to her and then she turned to me. With no time to think, I blurted out, "The seventh inning stretch."

The guy sitting on the other side asked, "Is that it?" I think he was stalling for time trying to think up an answer. At any rate, I said, "Yes. Its one of the few times you can get 40,000 people - all races, creeds. Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers and Libertarians and fans ob both opposing teams - to stand up and sing that sappy song, 'Take Me Out To Ballgame." and for a brief moment in time, we are united, That's America."

I was saying that tongue in cheek but around the table I saw a bunch of people nodding in agreement.

I do enjoy baseball (Go Giants! Go A's) and its relaxing pace on a languid summer day, hot dogs, cold beer and the 7th inning stretch. Well, that's good enough for me ... considering all the other craziness going on.

Trying to end on a positive note, here's the Coke commercial that debuted during last year's Super Bowl. The singing of "America, the Beautiful" raised a storm of controversy from xenophobes who thought that it was unAmerican.

The Filipinos in it are from the Basco family who used to live next to us when I was growing up on Carolyn Drive.

Below is the Tagalog version. The comments of the little girl who sings it demonstrates more wisdom than most of our Congress members. Her words express the hope of a youngster who hasn't been made cynical with all the crazy unAmerican stuff going on. Ahh ... she is the hope I've been looking for today, July 4, 2014.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Getting swept up in the World Cup

I'm not a huge soccer fan (except for every four years) but several of our family and extended family are, having played soccer in high school and other youth leagues. Believe it or not, we have a lots of athletes out there.

But the wonderful image of Team USA's fans' diversity and the team's diversity speaks volumes about what America is about.

All of a sudden, and for 90 minutes or so, "We" takes on new meaning expanding beyond sports!

Enjoy this video produced by fans and allow yourself to get swept up - however, briefly.

ADDENDUM: Belgium 2, USA 1. Why do soccer players wait unit the final five minutes to generate any scoring? Belgium was clearly the more aggressive team. Wait until 2018!