In 2000, Norman Mineta became the first Asian American appointed to a presidential Cabinet when Bill Clinton named him Secretary of Commerce. I cried when I heard — not tears of sadness or even joy, though it was happy news. It was an outpouring of relief and respite from the gnawing feeling that Asian Americans are left out of the country’s political and social fabric.
Mineta’s appointment showed that Asian Americans have “finally reached a point where we have a foot in mainstream America,” said John Tateishi, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, at the time.
That foot opened the door for even more Asian Americans to serve in top White House positions. President Barack Obama has three Asian Americans in his Cabinet, the most ever, and a record number serving in his administration, as Priya Ganapati writes in her feature story for The Trailblazing Issue of Hyphen.
Having a presence in the White House doesn’t wash away that ever-present notion that Asians can’t be American, that we don’t belong. Hate crimes abound, movies and TV are rife with stereotypes, and the Internet has enabled just about anyone to spew racist rants anonymously.
The Internet is a platform for the offensive, but it is also a way to counter the absurdity. One of the most inventive and entertaining Asian American-focused blogs (along with Hyphen’s, of course) is Disgrasian.com, and we found Disgrasian creators Diana Nguyen and Jen Wang well-suited to be our Trailblazing cover models. Hyphen photo assistant Jessica Lum interviewed the pair and writes about how the blog is a cheeky conversation between them about disgrace, race and anything else that can be mocked.
We also have in this issue a few other Asian Americans who have blazed trails: Sierra Club President Allison Chin (the first person of color to lead the environmental group), car designer Seung-il Sean Lo, life coach Cathy Akiyama and winemakers Kenny Likitprakong and Vanessa Wong are rare Asian Americans in their fields.
It’s an impressive group. Pass the Kleenex.