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February 22, 2013

Real Vietnamese American Housewives of Orange County

The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience and Real Vietnamese American Housewives of Orange County

The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience
By Kao Kalia Yang, October 22, 2012

Hmong writer and activist Kao Kalia Yang took to Hyphen to respond to Radiolab’s interview with her and her uncle Eng Yang regarding the use of chemical warfare (“Yellow Rain”) during the secret war in Laos in the 1970s. The interview sparked an outcry, with many finding radio host Robert Krulwich to have been dismissive toward the Hmong people’s knowledge of their own environment and experiences during and after the war.

Yang wrote to Radiolab producer Pat Walters after the segment was recorded:

There is a great imbalance of power at play....During the course of the interview, my uncle spent a long time explaining Hmong knowledge of bees in the mountains of Laos, not the hills of Thailand, but the mountains of Laos. You all edited it out. Robert Krulwich has the gall to say that I “monopolize” — he who gets to ask the questions, has control over editing, and in the end: the final word. Only an imperialist white man can say that to a woman of color and call it objectivity or science. I am not lost on the fact that I am the only female voice in that story, and in the end, that it is my uncle and I who cry…as you all laugh on.

Yang’s response received 124 comments on Hyphen’s blog, was re-Tweeted 1230 times and was shared over 12,600 times on Facebook. Krulwich issued an apology on Radiolab’s blog, but many found it to be insincere. Asian American organization 18 Million Rising began an online campaign to tell NPR (which broadcasts Radiolab) that culturally insensitive programming is unacceptable.

Real Vietnamese American Housewives of Orange County: a.k.a. My Mom and Her Friends
Vy Ta, March 30, 2012

University of California, Santa Barbara, student Vy Ta repped her Orange County roots to the tune of 764 likes and 451 recommendations on Facebook for her ode to the glitzy lifestyle of her Vietnamese mother and her pals. Beneath the veneer of all-night partying, gossip and heavy eye makeup, Ta still sees the doting mother she’s always known.

These ladies mostly came to the United States as firstwave refugees when they were in their teens. They all went to universities here, all eventually married first-generation Vietnamese physicians, dentists, engineers, businessmen. And now, they all live in Orange County, where they mingle and meet at LA Fitness, drug rep dinners and physicians’ annual balls, and parties.... Despite engaging in the questionable antics I suspect are brought on by her late 40s, my mom’s absolute support and love have yet to falter. Her ability to embrace aspects of both lifestyles, or the comfort and happiness she exhibits while inhabiting the liminal space between the two, deserves more admiration than consternation from me.

Commenter “Fabulous Fake Female” responded: “Look at these women, they all have boob job, nose job...I know most of the women in the pictures…and let me tell you this: They’re NOT as wealthy or ‘wellto- do’ as they want to show you!…They want to be called ‘Nouveau Riche’ but really…they're Nouveau Shame!”

An anonymous commenter rebutted with: “I’m the son of one the mothers in these photos.... Yes, I agree it can get a little pretentious at times and I myself would prefer for them to practice a little more modesty.... These people came from the pits of Vietnam and have built wonderful lives for their families despite their circumstances. So yea, maybe they want to be a little flashy but don’t you think they have every right to be? And if you can’t handle that type of behavior, you don’t have to associate yourself with them. Simple as that.”

Comments have been edited for grammar and clarity.

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Sylvie Kim

contributing editor & blogger

Sylvie Kim is a contributing editor at Hyphen. She previously served as Hyphen's blog coeditor with erin Khue Ninh, film editor, and blog columnist.

She writes about gender, race, class and privilege in pop culture and media (fun fun fun!) at and at SF Weekly's The Exhibitionist blog. Her work has also appeared on Racialicious and Salon.