Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications. She is a senior contributing editor and writer for Hyphen.

Kai-lan Everywhere

kai_lan.jpgI had my doubts about this kid's show early on, but I am liking it more now every day. In case you don't hang around preschoolers often, or watch the Nick Jr. channels, Ni Hao, Kai-lan is a TV show akin to Dora the Explorer. Kai-lan is a Chinese American girl who speaks English and once in a while, Mandarin.

Her friends are a bunch of animals like Rintoo the tiger and Tolee the koala. At first, I wasn't sure the show was going to succeed, but it's kind of exploded. I started noticing this around last fall when we went to Target and saw that Kai-lan had her own small section of products in the toy aisle, next to Dora. I mean, Dora is huge, but Kai-lan is gaining speed on her. There are plush dolls, plastic toys, DVDs, coloring books... basically everything you can imagine that's marketable to a 2-5 year old.

Mani-Pedis Go Green

Health problems linked to nail salons — many of which employ Asian Americans — foster a movement toward eco-friendly shops.

WALKING INTO the Isabella Nail Bar in Oakland, CA, on a rainy spring morning, I notice a remarkable difference between this salon and others I've visited.

No bad nail salon smell.

Uyen Nguyen opened her shop in 2008, and it's one of a number of eco-friendly nail salons popping up around the country. There's no national data on how many green salons exist - in large part because there's no green certification for this type of business. Selfidentified green salons such as Nguyen's might include bamboo floors, less-toxic nail polish and a living wage for employees.

News Round Up: Felicia Lee and More

felicia-lee-felicia-tang.jpg+ This news is not new news, but I have been thinking a lot about Felicia Lee. I first read about her on Disgrasian, where they break down the disparity in coverage between Annie Le and Felicia Lee. A few weeks later, a former high school classmate of mine posted about her on Facebook. That's when I realized that Felicia was a classmate of mine, someone I barely knew and probably only talked to a few times. I am deeply saddened to hear about her violent death, and feel so sad for her friends and family members. Feels like I've been hearing about so many cases of abuse and violence against women, some perpetrated by strangers, and other ones, as this one is alleged, by her own boyfriend. This violence -- domestic, stranger violence, any kind -- against women MUST STOP. Especially in light of the recent Richmond High rape case.

+ Just heard a good segment on KPFA's Hard Knock Radio with Weyland Southon about the horrific Richmond rape case and rape culture. The guests are all men who share their perspectives. Please listen to it here, and also on their show this Friday.

Reconsider Columbus Day -- and Then Some

Since today is October 12, 2009, and this Reconsider Columbus Day video has been posted on about half of my Facebook friends' pages, I'm going to re-post it here. (I love when one of the guys says, "It's not your fault."). And for educators, a resource/curriculum guide from Rethinking Schools.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, keep reading for some other news items of note as of late:

Stuff to Read and Watch

Here are some good pieces on the web by fellow Asian American writers, in case you missed it:

  • Ky-Phong Tran, one of Hyphen's/Asian American Writers' Workshops' short fiction finalists this year, writes a very personal and compelling piece about the health care and the public option at Nguoi Viet and republished at New America Media. (By the way, Tran's short story, "A Thing Called Exodus," is printed in issue #19, out on news stands now).
  • Journalist/historian William Wong blogs about Oakland Asian Cultural Center's Oakland Chinatown oral history project and their very cool, new and interactive website.
  • My friend Bao Phi writes a post at the Star-Tribune about an upcoming (this Saturday, October 3) fundraiser for the family of Fong Lee, who was killed by police. He interweaves personal stories about growing up in the midwest and his feelings and interactions with police, which I think will resonate with many folks of color all over.
  • Finally, this isn't a thing to read, but to watch. If you're in the DC area, check out the 10th annual DC APA Film festival! Opening night is tonight and it goes until Saturday, October 10. The list of films looks great. I haven't seen 'em all, but definitely check out the narrative Children of Invention, if you haven't seen it, and documentary A Village Called Versailles. There are, of course, other great films in there. You really can't go wrong.

Nail Salons in Oakland

Recently learned that the city of Oakland is trying to make it a lot harder for people to open nail salons and laundromats, via an emergency ordinance. What is that, you ask? The gist of it is that if you want to operate a new nail salon or laundromat, you'd have to apply for a major conditional use permit, which costs around $3,000, which means that many mom and pop owners will think twice about opening a nail shop in Oakland.


polished feet.jpg

Photo by *cedro*'s flickr account (feet for thoughts) under Creative Commons.

What do we know about nail salons? A lot, and also not a lot. In the latest issue of Hyphen, I wrote about the trend of green nail salons. For years now we've known and suspected that the chemicals used in nail salons are not good for the workers, or for consumers. We also know that upwards of 80 percent of nail shops in California are owned and run by Asian immigrants, mostly Vietnamese. It is a popular field for new refugees/immigrants because you don't need good English skills and there is whole existing community to help new people get into the field (cosmetology tests in Vietnamese, Vietnamese cosmetology schools, Asian-owned shops, etc.).

Bao Phi, William Wong, and more

Is it just me, or are more Asian Americans blogging these days (or is it just more people blogging in general)? A few of note in recent days/weeks.

We have our friend and spoken word artist Bao Phi blogging for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. His first thought-provoking post was in August, and recent entries have been re-posted on Racialicious. We look forward to reading more of his insightful pieces.
We also have former Oakland Tribune columnist (also my former workplace) William Wong now blogging for City Brights, a part of the San Francisco Chronicle's website. Check out his musings here.
Also, for those of you who've been following the John Liu garment factory ad story, we've got Michelle Chen at Racewire, ColorLines' blog, breaking it down from a progressive API perspective. Since I personally have never talked to Liu, his family, or the NY Daily News reporter about this controversy, I really can't say what's going on -- there seems to be a lot of missing information and questions. But Chen's response to the Daily News pieces gives a good analysis of the situation.

Fun Summer Songs and Videos

Here's to good music, good people and nice weather! To commemorate the last month(s) of summer, please enjoy these tunes and visuals by API artists:

Download "Summertime" now, for free, here with Magnetic North, Taiyo Na and featuring Conchita Campos.
Watch and listen to the HOT new Blue Scholars track, HI-808. I guess it's on rotation at MTVU! Anyway, I wish I was Sabzi eating shave ice in like every scene of the video:

Short Films to Watch

Check out this just released short film by UCLA student Chuck Diep, co-produced by Robert Nakamura, Gena Hamamoto and Tad Nakamura. The title is A Salon Story and Diep's main subject is a nail salon owner. It's a good short film from the perspective of an Asian American.

The synopsis: "The mention of nail salons often evokes images of acrylic nails and heating lamps, neon signs and nail polish. The Vietnamese salon worker has become a recognized image within the industry. Who are these salon workers and what is their story?"


Michael Jackson, Vietnamese flags and Indian Kitsch

Here are just a few links to some interesting pieces:

+ Jeff Chang's thoughtful take on Michael Jackson. Say what you will about MJ, but he had talent. For our generation, he was a part of our childhood.

+ More protests at a Vietnamese language newspaper. A year after the paper ran a controversial photo, people are still protesting. (It's unclear what the photo included -- the OC Register reported that it was a photo of a foot spa with the colors and stripes of the South Vietnamese flag; the New America Media story reports it was a photo that included a foot on the South Vietnamese flag. Perhaps both are true. I can't seem to find the original photo that was printed). Some new things to note according to this New America Media story -- people have been red-baiting each other for decades, but now the people being called Communists are fighting back through legal avenues -- and winning. 

+ A piece in ColorLines by Sandip Roy about how Indian kitsch has become cool to mainstream America. Orientalism, anyone? You can apply this to a lot of Asian cultures. Trends come and go. Remember the popular Buddha beads? Gwen Stefani? Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters? This is a centuries-old tale, though with a new group. 

Raising a Multilingual Child (Part 2)

You know the old saying: You don't learn to appreciate your parents until you become a parent yourself. I think that's somewhat true. In reflecting on/writing about raising a multilingual child, I've been thinking a lot about being raised bilingual. My parents never made it a big point to force us to speak Chinese; it just was what it was. We never really questioned it. Mandarin was my first language and it connected me to my immediate family members. We were very privileged because my sister and I got to spend a lot of time in Taiwan, where my grandparents lived. We spent summers there and thus gained a lot of fluency through immersion in a Chinese environment.

I wonder how my my parents and other first generation parents pondered over their children's language acquisition; how much they thought about issues of assimilation or retaining their cultural heritage. I also think for second and third generation Americans, it may be a more conscious decisions in most cases to raise their child knowing a language outside of English.

One of the drawbacks I didn't mention in being a bilingual child, where my first language was not English, is that when I started school, I became really quiet. At home, I would talk, but at school, I rarely said anything unless the teacher asked me something or unless another kid engaged me in a real way (not just talking at me). I'm sure a big part is my personality, but this silence thing reverberated throughout my schooling years. Even in college, I always felt like by the time I could formulate words to participate in a discussion, the discussion had already moved on.

Raising a Multilingual Child

See the title of the post? Very simple and to the point! If only raising a multilingual child were that simple and straightforward.

I've been thinking and reading a lot about this topic. I think about how I was raised bilingual and how empowering being bilingual has been for me. Sure, there have been some setbacks, such as feeling really behind in college literature classes and not really learning proper grammar until my 20s. And getting words mixed up and such, and accidentally speaking to an English speaker in Mandarin.

I've been reflecting on why being bilingual experience has been so positive and rewarding. I think first and foremost, I was able to and am still able to connect to a different generation. As a child, it was mostly my immediate family, like my grandparents. Nowadays, it's anyone who is first generation. I've used Mandarin to translate things for random strangers. I've used Mandarin, more than one would think, in my journalism work. Because I have had such a powerful experience, I want to pass this along to my own child.

But saying it (here, in the post) is a lot easier than actually practicing it.

'Illegals,' 2007 babies and more

There have been several news stories that I thought Hyphen readers might find interesting.

* First, a breakdown of the use of the phrase "illegal immigrants" in mainstream media. I have long wanted to write a post about this, but I thought this post from Read Media Ethnics is a good jumping off point for a discussion around language and power. It's not the first time people have brought it up -- the National Association of Hispanic Journalists issued a statement against this term in 2006. The Rockridge Institute also has a good piece by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson about it entitled "The Framing of Immigration." Yet time and time again, the term "illegal immigrant" is used in mainstream papers and elsewhere. Whenever I brought this up to editors, they would point to their "style guide" which dictated that this term was okay in describing a person. Just about every mainstream news outlet uses "illegal" to describe a person or people. Lakoff and Ferguson point out that this very common phrase is not neutral:

These are NOT neutral terms. Imagine calling businessmen who once cheated on their taxes "illegal businessmen." Imagine calling people who have driven over the speed limit "illegal drivers." Is Tom Delay an "illegal Republican?"

Richard Aoki Remembered


Richard Aoki speaking at an Asian American Political Alliance reunion in 2008. Photo courtesy of Andre Nguyen.

Here is an obituary on activist and former Black Panther Richard Aoki, who passed away last Sunday at his home in Berkeley, CA. I learned a lot about Richard Aoki from writing this obituary though honestly it was very difficult, especially talking to his friends and colleagues who were grieving and still in shock.  

There is little out there in the public sphere about Aoki, and perhaps that is why he is mostly known in activist circles. There are several articles, some excerpts from books, a radio interview, and video footage. The most popular image we have of him is of the stern Richard wearing a beret and shades. He was that -- the staunch revolutionary -- but so much more.

I was astonished to learn the many facets of Aoki. I knew he was fiercely loyal to his friends and to social justice causes. You could tell he loved his friends. For example, he spoke so highly of -- and defended -- Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. He was also wary of the media for the same reason, because of the way his friend was described in his later years before and after his death. Even though Aoki played a major role in many events, his most proud, according to close friends, was his role in the Black Panther Party.  

Richard Aoki, 1938-2009

I just heard the news that Richard Aoki passed away Sunday at age 70*. Richard Aoki was one of the first members of the Black Panther Party and a field marshal of the revolutionary group.

Aoki was born in San Leandro, CA. He and his family were interned during WWII, and afterwards, resettled in West Oakland. Aoki befriended Black Panther Party founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale at Merritt College in Oakland, where they all went to school. Richard was also a student leader in the Third World Student Strike at UC Berkeley in 1968 and a member of the Asian American Political Alliance.

I'm sure Richard will be missed by many friends and people in the community. Feel free to post a message here. I am writing a full obituary on him for the local paper, which I will link to later.

Here's an article I wrote about him on the 40th* anniversary of the Black Panther Party. Here's an article that Neela Banerjee, also a Hyphen editor, wrote about him in AsianWeek in 2001.

*corrected from original version.

SFIAAFF Shorts to Watch

Ahh, short films. What can I say? Not much, besides some are great, some are eh, and some are just beyond me. I had a chance to view a few sets of short programs from this year's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and these are the highlights:

From Is It Worth It? Lemme Work It, look for The Humberville Poetry Slam, Take 3, A Stranger in His Own Country, Excuse My Gangsta Ways and Yellow Sticky Notes.

This was the best set of short films that I watched.

Humberville is a mockumentary by Emily Chang (formerly of I Was Born With Two Tongues) and Dan De Lorenzo and is really, really funny (full disclosure: Giles Li, who plays Liberty Fu, is a friend). I like that people who are poets themselves can make fun of it. It centers around small town poets getting ready for a national competition, and you see the contestants prepare for their performance.

SFIAAFF Films to Watch

This year, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival has another great group of films lined up. I had the opportunity to review some of them, and for some reason, they all seemed to center on the theme of individual and community resilience:

Whatever It Takes

whatever it takes still.jpg

This film focuses on first-year principal Edward Tom of the South Bronx Center for Science and Math. The film follows Tom and his school for a year, and zooms in on one 9th grade girl in particular, Sharifea. I was really amazed at how much access first-time filmmaker Christopher Wong had to the school, Tom and Sharifea's family. All in all, it's a great documentary about the dramas of being a principal in a small urban school. There are a lot of ups and downs and a few unexpected turns. I recommend this film for everyone. It's not the only urban school documentary out there, but possibly the first that focuses on an Asian American principal. The school community and Sharifea's life eventually overshadow Tom's story, but I think that's the point: it's not one person, but a whole community that makes a school what it is.

Wong Fu, FMTM, A Song For Ourselves

Here are some links to some cool -- and free -- Asian American media:

* If you haven't seen some Wong Fu films yet, check them out. They are pretty funny. I've seen some of their earlier stuff and they keep getting better. Up in Da Club is a four part short film that they released over the span of four weeks (I think), like a serial novel except a short video. First three parts are on YouTube and the last one, released a few days ago, is on their own site. I like how they make acting and filmmaking seem like so much damn fun. It's good to see indie productions out there, and I hope they go on to do bigger things. They also have a funny and very very short film, You've Got Male, which won the 2007 72 hour film shootout (correction: Wong Fu didn't make this short film -- it's by Ryan Kim and Christopher Nguyen. But both star the same actor, Christopher Dinh).

* In music news, you can download some new From Monument to Masses tracks (for free) from their newest album here. On Little Known Frequencies is available on February 24 from iTunes and other sites, and will be in stores March 10. For San Francisco Bay Area folks, they are also performing as part of the Noise Pop Festival so be sure to check them out on February 26 at the Bottom of the Hill.

M.I.A. and Salma Hayek

So, it's been over a week since rapper/singer M.I.A. sang at the Grammy's on her due date. A few days later, she gave birth (I admit, I obsessively checked Google news the following days to see if she had her baby). It seems that though there are lots of bloggers and entertainment writers out there obsessed with the news of her baby, her polka dot/lady bug outfit, and her bravery, some in the news establishment quickly shifted to her politics.

M.I.A. is the daughter of a leader of the Tamil independence movement in Sri Lanka, and has referenced it in her songs and videos. The New York Times did a piece about how she's viewed in Sri Lanka (where Tamils are a minority), which according to the piece, is not very highly. This isn't the first time people have confused her with promoting terrorism and we all know she had some visa issues (to the U.S.) a few years back (though she now lives in NY). It's all whack. Here's a good post from the Village Voice in response to the New York Timespiece.

But since we are obsessed with M.I.A., the new topic is whether she will perform at the Oscars (she's nominated for the song "O Saya" from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack). I don't know -- performing big bellied is cool, but rolling her out onto a bed or performing via hologram? Honestly, I hope she just takes it easy.

I have always liked M.I.A. though I don't enjoy all of her music. She is clearly talented and I like what she's said about art and politics. How many times have I listened to songs with a good beat, only to realized how f-ed up the lyrics are? All the lyrics that demean women, especially in the radio rap hits. Even M.I.A.'s co-conspirator in the Grammy performance, Kanye West, has some awful sexist lyrics (though ironically, he spoke out against domestic violence a la Chris Brown/Rihanna). His music sounds great but he needs a good writer! Anyway, I'm saying this because M.I.A. is the opposite -- a lot of her music is fun has good beats and her lyrics are good (think "Pull up the people/pull up the poor"). Congrats to the new mama. Her Grammy performance was a big WOW but I think giving birth is a much bigger accomplishment. 

T's YouTube Videos of the Week

Here are some of T's (T is my almost two-year-old tot) favorite videos these days:

A video with a nice message -- the ending always makes me teary-eyed.

Jay Chou. Nuff said. But is it just me or are Jay's videos getting less emo and more hip-hop these days (and by the way, I have no idea what emo is but I just used it in a sentence!)? By the way, the title means "Listen to your mama."

My son thinks this is hilarious. Sneezing panda baby.

'Owl and the Sparrow' in Theaters


Stephane Gauger's feature film, Owl and the Sparrow is now playing in Southern California and will soon open in Northern California and Texas theaters.

I caught this film, about a vagabond orphan, an elephant-whisperer (okay, a guy who works at the zoo) and flight attendant, nearly two years ago when it showed at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

I totally fell in love with it.

It's a very charming tale and the acting is excellent. Gauger, who is Amerasian, shot the film in Vietnam. It's akin to Slumdog Millionaire except not exactly a rags to riches tale. It's about very ordinary people finding love and finding each other. And the cinematography is really beautiful.

Changing Little Saigon Through Art?

Just learned of F.O.B. II: Art Speaks [Nghe Thuat Len Tieng], an art exhibit in Southern California, that Claire mentioned in a previous post. The Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Assn created this provocative art exhibit in Santa Ana but this weekend, hundreds of anti-communists protested the exhibit, and one of the pieces was defaced with red paint.

The show only had a one-week run, until the building's owner bowed to the protestors' pressure and shut it down.

The Los Angeles Times had a nice preview story about the exhibit, including descriptions and photographs of some of the artwork. The curators are mostly 1.5 generation Vietnamese Americans -- many professors, it seems -- who wanted to spark discussion about politics and art within their community. Pieces included images of the flag of Vietnam and other symbols of Vietnam -- what anti-communists would label as symbols of communism -- but also included artwork that was banned in Vietnam. The piece of artwork that was most controversial, it seems, was one by Brian Doan, with a young woman wearing a red tank top with a yellow star, sitting next to a bust of Ho Chi Minh and a cell phone.

Oscar Grant


Poster by Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes.

It is approximately 10 pm Wednesday night, and I can still see and hear the helicopters outside my window. Earlier this afternoon, at least 1,000 people gathered peacefully in front of Oakland City Hall to protest the shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer early New Year's day. Grant, 22, was lying face down when one of the officers pulled out his gun and shot him in the back. The peaceful protest from earlier today turned violent when a reported few dozen people lingered around and smashed in some windows and cars.

When we left the march around 6 pm, we were hoping to pick up some dinner from our favorite Chinese restaurant, but it was closed. It seemed that about 70 percent of the businesses in Chinatown closed early due to the protests, because of its proximity to downtown. And most of the downtown businesses also closed early, with many boarding up their windows. 

Bambu's Gaza Track

MC Bambu (formerly of Native Guns), has a new track called "When Will the Time Come?" about the violence in Gaza. You can listen to it here. It's pretty powerful. Sometimes it takes artists/musicians to bring the point home, and this song is a good example. It's actually a track Bambu wrote for a mixtape for Tad Nakamura's latest documentary, A Song For Ourselves, about the life of Chris Iijima. The late Iijima was an activist and musician, a member in the Asian American band, A Grain of Sand. The documentary premieres next month in Los Angeles.

Bambu's song "When Will the Time Come?" samples from A Grain of Sand's "Jonathan Jackson." Pretty cool. The song is produced by Will Bracey. DJ Phatrick is arranging Iijima's music along with Blue Scholars, Bambu, Kiwi, and Native Guns songs interwoven with sound bites from the movie.

Speaking of Bambu, here's his latest video, "Crooks and Rooks," which premiered on last month. Zoneil Maharaj, our music editor, tells me that this is a pretty big deal. "Up until now, Bam received most love and press from the API community. I don't think it's a stretch to say he's moving from being 'a dope Asian American rapper' to just a dope emcee period without compromising who he is," according to Zoneil.  

T's YouTube Videos of the Week

So, as a parent of a toddler, we spend some, er, quality time in front of the computer watching YouTube videos -- in moderation, of course. My son learned to say "video" very quickly (in what I think is a Mandarin accent). We try to find culturally appropriate ones that we enjoy watching too. Check 'em out:

This one is from Ni Hao, Kai-lan, a bilingual Mandarin/English children's show. I like this one, since it's about making dumplings.

ICE, JetBlue and TSA

The New York Times recently did a follow-up story to Hiu Lui Ng, who died under custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last year. It sounds like they've stopped accepting more detainees where he was kept and are investigating his death. I blogged about it a while back, and if you haven't read about him, I warn you that you will probably be angry and appalled.

In other somewhat positive news, JetBlue and TSA workers settle for $240,000 with Raed Jarrar, who was harassed in 2006 for wearing a t-shirt with Arabic writing on it. The t-shirt read "We Will Not be Silent" in English and Arabic. He had to cover his shirt and was moved to the back of the plane. This is apparently a very, very large settlement, though JetBlue officials deny Jarrar's account. I like how they follow that with: "JetBlue believes diversity adds great strength to our company; diversity among our crewmembers as well as our customers," which I don't see being relevant at all. It's like saying, it's okay for me to be racist cause my best friend's black. Sigh.

Now for something a little more lighthearted. Our latest issue of Hyphen has a story about Asian American stand-up comedians. Here's a great little short film about the topic. Enter: Manoj. (I didn't get it the first time I watched it. But now I think it's very clever and subtle). The short film's been on YouTube for a while now, but I recently watched it again with a cousin who was visiting from out of town because he hadn't seen it. 


Thoughts on 'Princess of Nebraska'

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for princess_of_nebraska_ver2.jpgI just watched The Princess of Nebraska, directed by Wayne Wang, on YouTube a few nights ago. [Update: they seem to have taken the movie down.] I have to admit, my partner and I watch a lot of videos and DVDs on our computers these days when our son's asleep. So watching a full movie on the computer wasn't too foreign to us. Still, there were points when I wondered if it would've been a lot better on the big screen.

Asian American Educators: Michelle Rhee and 'Whatever it Takes'


Seems like Asian American educators are in the spotlight these days. From Washington, DC public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee on the cover of this week's Time to principal Edward Tom in Whatever It Takes, a new documentary about a struggling school in the Bronx and its fearless leader.

Rhee has apparently pissed off the teacher's union and others in the one and a half years she's been at the job, but her goals are admirable. Her basic tenet is that underperforming, underresourced schools need the best teachers and principals. She's already fired a bunch of teachers and principals, cut a bunch more administrative staff, and even closed schools. She also wants to pay teachers better, which I believe is an obvious and necessary step. She sounds hardcore and a little ruthless, at least the way the story portrays her. It seems she's going for results and not really caring about how it happens. If she succeeds, do the ends justify the means? And how would you measure success besides test scores, (something she really believes in)?

I Didn't Vote for Obama

I've been observing the hype around this election from afar. As someone who rarely watches TV, doesn't party much nor get too excited about electoral politics, I've been able to look at the election hoopla from a distance. I have to agree that the election is at once historical and something to be celebrated on a symbolic level -- I certainly don't want to diminish that -- and at the same time, I can't bring myself to attend any celebrations around the election.

I didn't vote for Obama. I feel like this fact is something I should whisper, or that I'm confessing something eternally sinful. I voted for that old white* dude instead. No, not that old white dude. Ralph Nader. Yes, I did. (And I know others did too). Of course, I have the so-called privilege of living in California, which is not a swing state. If I lived in Indiana or somewhere else, I probably would've cast my vote for Obama just to be safe. I voted for Nader because his politics and policies are much more aligned with mine. As a new mother, and as someone opposed to wars in general, I couldn't bring myself to vote for someone who is open to bombing other countries.

Ruby Veridiano-Ching's Miss Universe

Spoken word poet/VJ and all around star Ruby Veridiano-Ching celebrates the release of her first book, Miss Universe, this weekend.


About a month ago, Ruby sent me the manuscript of the book including all the poetry and other writings (mostly poetry) included in Miss Universe, along with a very nice note written in neat, cursive handwriting. I mention this fact because it seems people don't really take the time to write nice handwritten notes these days, and perhaps I am easily impressed by neat cursive handwriting. Anyway, I read through the whole thing in one sitting, though there's lots of food for thought and would be a good read many times.

Though I have only met her briefly, it's pretty clear that she is very motivated and passionate about her work. I particularly like her poems about being a young woman of color living in an urban area. She also has a (in?)famous poem about relations between her and a black man, which you can view for yourself on YouTube here.

Grand Theft Auto Coming to Chinatown

Or rather, Chinatown's coming to Grand Theft Auto. I guess there will be a new GTA game called Chinatown Wars that will be released by Rockstar this winter for the Nintendo DS.

Okay, first of all, I have to admit that I have only played Grand Theft Auto about once in my life, so I'm probably not the best person to comment on this. I am truly out of touch with what's new these days, have never played Wii or Guitar Hero or all the popular games that cool, nerdy kids (er, adults) play these days.

First Chinese American Film

The first known Chinese American film, "The Curse of Quon Gwon," (c. 1916) will be showing in Oakland this Saturday. The film was rediscovered by documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong while doing research for his film, "Hollywood Chinese," which includes a snippet of the original film. 


The film was made around 1916 by Marion Wong, a Chinese American woman who lived in Oakland. It features her family members, with sister-in-law Violet Wong as the lead. I interviewed Violet Wong's daughter earlier this year for an article, and she told me that her mother hardly mentioned this historic project to her children when they were growing up. Violet Wong later started a popular restaurant in El Cerrito, CA and became known more for that than her foray into silent film.

Singer Meiko's Name

I had never heard of singer Meiko until my partner came across her music on MySpace, but instantly recognized some of her songs. She's had several on Grey's Anatomy and another TV show. Songs on TV dramas are usually not that exciting, but we were surprised to discover some nice tracks -- and definitely a nice voice -- on her new album, which is available now on iTunes (her original album was self-released). The physical album will be out Sept. 9, and she'll be performing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien Sept. 11.


KoreAm Campaign

By now, you may have heard about the Save KoreAm campaign. If you haven't, KoreAm is a Korean American magazine that's been around for 18 years, a lifetime in Asian Am magazine years. Staffers at the magazine recently launched this campaign to reach out to the wider community for support.

I talked to the President of KoreAm Journal, James Ryu, on the phone yesterday, to clarify some things about what's going on at KoreAm. If anything happens, we may be short of not one, but two Asian American publications, since KoreAm also publishes Audrey, an Asian American women's magazine.

Basically over the last year and a half, they've had a huge dip in advertising -- nearly 30 percent -- which makes up 70-75 percent of their revenue, according to Ryu. He said the staff met as a whole to see what to do -- cut 20 percent of the jobs, or cut everyone's pay by 20 percent. The staff decided they would all take the pay cuts to save their jobs. There are currently 11 staffers at KoreAm and Audrey, based in Los Angeles.

A Village Called Versailles

I've been meaning to write about this upcoming film called "New Orleans: A Village Called Versailles," a PBS FRONTLINE/World documentary by S. Leo Chiang. A 15-minute rough cut is now online.

I really look forward to seeing the film, which tells the story of a tight-knit Vietnamese American community in New Orleans East known as Versailles. The community of thousands of Vietnamese families, mostly Catholic, have largely resettled and rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. Though Dateline did an inspiring and emotional story on Versailles last year, it largely painted the folks of Versailles as a model minority community. And as I've complained about before, the Asian American experience was missing from "When the Levees Broke" -- as great and important a film as it is -- so I'm glad this film is being made.

Asian American Poetry and Writing

Interested in honing your creative writing skills and you live in L.A.? Asian American Poetry and Writing (AAPW), a newish group started by Ky-Phong Paul Tran, is hosting writing workshops at the Japanese American National Museum near downtown Los Angeles this fall. The classes sound pretty cool--introduction to fiction, introduction to poetry, memoir/personal writing, and screenwriting. The instructors are Noel Alumit, Neil Aitken, Naomi Hirahara and Koji Steven Sakai. Sounds like a nice line up. To see a full list of class descriptions, go here.

The group also has original articles. A couple of new ones include an interview with Kawita Kandpal, author of "Folding a River," by Hyphen contributor Ching-In Chen. Vanessa Hua, formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle, also has a piece on Berkeley-based indie publisher Kaya Press. Check out AAPW here!

This is, in Ky-Phong's words, a totally "DIY" (do-it-yourself) operation so spread the love to folks you know in the Los Angeles area who might be interested!

More on Hiu Lui Ng

Here's a piece from today's Democracy Now! about the case of Hiu Lui Ng, an immigrant from Hong Kong who died earlier this month after being detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a year.

According to an interview with Ng's (who also went by Jason Ng) lawyer Joshua Bardavid, Ng was a "healthy, robust" man before being jailed. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's talk about what happened when he went into the detention facility. Was he healthy, as far as he knew, when he went in?
JOSHUA BARDAVID: He was a healthy, robust man.
AMY GOODMAN: Thirty-four.
JOSHUA BARDAVID: Thirty-four. No history of medical problems.
AMY GOODMAN: Very tall?
JOSHUA BARDAVID: Average height, average height. And he was slowly deteriorated as he was through the various facilities.

RIP Hiu Lui Ng

I just read on Angry Asian Man about the death of Hiu Lui Ng, who recently died under custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Please read the entire story in the New York Times, and prepare to be enraged.

The man was dying of cancer in his lungs, liver and bones -- and had a spinal fracture. At the age of 34. It sounds like he was denied real care, over and over and over again because it was only right before he died that the cancer was detected.

He was continually harrassed by ICE staff the whole time he was suffering from all of this.Tortured. And they didn't believe him when he said he was in pain.

On top of that, it sounds like he was retaliated against by ICE. According to the article:

"In federal court affidavits, Mr. Ng's lawyers contend that when he complained of severe pain that did not respond to analgesics, and grew too weak to walk or even stand to call his family from a detention pay phone, officials accused him of faking his condition. They denied him a wheelchair and refused pleas for an independent medical evaluation.

Instead, the affidavits say, guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I., dragged him from his bed on July 30, carried him in shackles to a car, bruising his arms and legs, and drove him two hours to a federal lockup in Hartford, where an immigration officer pressured him to withdraw all pending appeals of his case and accept deportation."

Submit to SFIAAFF!

Hey filmmakers, here's your opportunity to show your labor of love at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (aka SFIAAFF or "sfee-aff") hosted by the Center for Asian American Media (formerly known as NAATA). Here's their call for entries for their 27th annual festival coming up March 2009 in the Bay Area. There's a bunch of categories, including short films.

According to CAAM, the festival is the largest showcase of Asian and Asian Am films, like, ever. Seriously, though, I've been going since 1996 and it's one of the highlights of the year, always showcasing some new talent as well as some veteran filmmakers, like Spencer Nakasako and Wayne Wang, among many, many others. It seems to get bigger and better each year.

In other film news, catch a screening of a new film: "Project Kashmir" is screening in NY and LA, a documentary by Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel, about Kashmir. Playing August 8 to 14 at the Village Cinema East in New York, at August 22 to 28 at the Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Lee v. Eastwood

Okay, I have only been sort of following the real-life drama between Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood. I'm sure we don't even know the whole lot of it, especially since the media is quick to jump on racial conflict like this.

I have to say that I have a lot of respect for Spike Lee and his work, and I am also a fan of some recent Eastwood flicks. I appreciate Spike Lee for the messages in his films, about African American male role models and families (think "Crooklyn," and even that not all that great made-for-TV movie "Sucker Free City"). I liked Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" because it humanizes, in my mind, not just Japanese soldiers but Asian people in general. I know that is a simplistic way of looking at it, but when I see an Asian person on screen, I identify with them, even if they are not Chinese like me. The whole cast was practically Asian, and that is unusual for a Hollywood film, by a white director, no less.

I haven't seen "Flags of our Fathers," the subject of the debate, so I won't comment much on that.

But I do know that if we're talking about historical accuracy, they've both got some more work to do.

Lucky 8's, Yo

So I knew that right about now we'd start seeing the stories about Chinese and Chinese Americans getting married on the magical date, 8/8/08, which is manana. If I were still at my old paper, I probably would've been compelled to write a similar story about local Chinese Americans headed down the aisle, or to the local courthouse.

Remember last year at 7/7/07? The same thing happened. I mean, damn, 777 is pretty lucky but 888? Never again shall we see such auspicious numbers. I can understand why people are drawn to this date. In Chinese culture, the number 8 is pronounced something like "ba" (in Mandarin) which sounds like "fa," which means fortune, or that you will get a crapload of money at some point down the road.

I'd grown up hearing this, of course. You might know Chinese people who pick their address or home based on some lucky numbers, or their license plates or phone numbers and what not.

Check out this story by my colleague about a local artist, who appears to be African American, who decided to schedule his art show's opening on the lucky day.

I'm only slightly poking fun at this phenomenon cause I believe it too. I mean, I'll take an 8 over a 4 any day (4 sounding a whole lot like "death," of course). And when I plan big events like baby showers and stuff, I also look up auspicious dates. I am not above all this Chinese numerology/superstitious hoopla.

And as we know, the Olympics start tomorrow on 8/8/08 at 8:08 p.m. (that's FIVE 8s, not four, thank goodness).

Do you know anyone who's getting married tomorrow? If you are a newlywed or are planning a wedding, did this date cross your mind?

Hiroshima Day

Today marks the 63rd year after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 and physically, mentally and psychologically harming many, many more.

The mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, is apparently trying to get the U.S. to sign a nuclear arms abolition treaty. So far, the U.S. is one of three countries that hasn't signed, while 170 other countries have. Akiba is also launching a study on the psychological damage done by the a-bombs dropped on August 6th, 2008.

It seems like there are some U.S. peace activities around this day, including in Manhasset, NY, where Japanese American children reportedly were to give out paper cranes, a sign of peace. Apparently this day is commemorated around the world with peace vigils and marches.

Life After 9/11

Seven years after 9/11, Asian Americans reflect on how their lives and communities have changed.

In the post-9/11 world, the war on terror has dominated the political landscape of the United States. The ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq-and the possible invasion of Iran-are key events of early 21st century history, and Asian Americans have played profound roles.

Some have helped shape Bush administration policies. Some have been catalysts for the anti-war effort. Others have been targets of xenophobia and racial attacks.

English-Only Graduation Speeches?

Here's some English-only b.s. coming out of the Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana:

Cousins Hue and Cindy Vo, co-valedictorians at Ellender High School, apparently gave a part of their graduation speeches in Vietnamese. Now the school district is considering whether all commencement speeches should be in English only.

Instead of being proud that their students know another language, they want to put a stop to this? Aren't there other things they should be worried about?

Here's what one school board member told the Associated Press: '''I don't like them addressing in a foreign language. They should be in English.'''