April 20, 2014

The politics of pilgrimage: Vietnam Veterans War Memorial

VVWM

(Photo from Fischer Art History)

The lines of people angle in, respectfully, along the powerful obsidian walls. Some are here on a pilgrimage and have come armed with light paper and crayons for tracing the names of their loved ones, to bear away some of the memory. Some are tourists from inside and without the homeland, checking off stops on a planned itinerary of historic places. This does not detract from the sacred nature of the place.

I breathe in the smell of earth and listen to the birds chirping brightly on this windy day. Time stops and the field of vision freezes. All there is, is in front of me.

The V of the wall rises like a gash in the earth, and the ground dips slowly like a curtsey, mimicking the descent into the underworld. And all the people follow the trail, with a sharp line dividing the black stone from the green grass and wildflowers that line the top edge. In contrast, families and friends have left bouquets that have withered in the sun, cut off from any source of sustaining nourishment.

In seventh grade, my class took a trip to Washington, D.C. and I brushed my hands along the cold marble wall. The wall transmitted such sadness and I felt the etched names like a mantra. I watched as families clustered in tight blossoms of sorrow around the name of a loved one who had died defending his or her country. At the age of twelve, I was transfixed by the flat shininess and the ghostlike reflections of the visitors in the face of so many names. As if we were the mirrored ghosts, paying our respects to those who had come before.

In the midst of my twelve year old reverie, a lady scolded me, saying “It’s disrespectful to touch the names.” My hand had been tracing etched letters on the wall, feeling the differential between my hot little hand and the somber, polished stone. It had never occurred to me that the memorial was meant for anything but touching.

I take in a deep inhale and exhale, now in my thirty-two year old self. Finding out later, in college, that Maya Lin was twenty when she submitted her design for the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial blind competition, a complete unknown student at Yale, gave me the context of her courage. What she endured was only magnified when you understand that her design was chosen out of 1,421 submissions, including entries by internationally recognized architects.

Lin faced a great deal of controversy, including detractors who thought that it was wrong for a young Chinese American woman to design a memorial for fallen American soldiers of the Vietnam War, that she looked too much like the people who had helped kill our veterans. She wound up having to defend herself and her vision to Congressional inquiry and soldiers who had returned from war. The former Secretary of the Interior even held up the building’s permits in an attempt to get her to change her design. It has since become one of the most cherished and significant memorials. More than a physical replica of soldiers in battle, walking the long wall and watching the names of the fallen rise to a height beyond humanity, and then walking away from the apex, and seeing the names taper is a heart-wrenching journey of finality and closure.
If it cleaves the earth, it is because it is a memorial to one of the most divisive wars of the modern American century. The memorial is magnificent because it is simultaneously the cut, the scar, and the healing. It has taken me twenty years to pin down what resonates about the memorial, and yet, I am always glad to put a name to a visceral feeling.

–Caroline

AAA Fund Endorses Shari Song for King County Council

November 2, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Asian American Action Fund Proudly Endorses Shari Song for King County City Council
Rising Star and Business Leader Seeks to Continue History of Community and Public Service

The Asian American Action Fund, a national Democratic Asian American political action committee, is pleased to endorse Seattle realtor Shari Song for King County City Council. Song is a first time candidate but a longtime community leader with business experience. She has served on the boards of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce and the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), chaired the Diversity Commission of the City of Federal Way, and most recently was a Member of the Seattle Police Korean Community Advisory Council. Song was awarded the King County Recognition Award for Community Service, and serves as a Director for the Mission Church Learning Center in Federal Way.

Executive Director Gautam Dutta stated, “Shari Song will prioritize improved transportation, promote job creation policies, and focus on public safety. She has a strong track record of leadership in the Asian Pacific American community in King County.”

AAA Fund Endorsements Chair Caroline Fan enthused, “Shari is exactly the kind of candidate who we seek – she is deeply engaged in her community and will work hard for her constituents. She’s built an amazing and broad coalition of support from working families to environmentalists. ”
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Living vs dead Chinatowns, gentrification & elections

AALDEF, the NYC based Asian American civil rights organization, has a new report out about the rate of gentrification in Chinatowns in NYC, Boston, and Philadelphia. (I guess DC was just a lost cause.) In conjunction with the discussion of this article, I want to propose the idea of “living” (these three cities, Chicago, San Francisco) versus “dead” Chinatowns (DC.) In my mind, when I walk the streets of a given Chinatown, “living” connotes active engagement and residency by the Chinese American community versus the slick, big box retail feel of Washington, DC Chinatown, which most Chinese Americans fled decades ago for Montgomery County, MD, and Fairfax, VA. The shops in DC Chinatown are adorned in bright signs with Chinese characters, but have very little daily relevance to Chinese or Chinese American culture, such as the skateboard shop, the Ann Taylor, and the Legal Seafood.

It’s a very read-worthy report, and I’ve gone on the walking tour of Boston Chinatown where you can see how highway I-93 literally cuts through the enclave, with a half-sheared building standing mute but providing powerful testimony to interesting municipal planning. The report illuminated that the AAPI population in Boston Chinatown went from 70% in 1990 to 46% in 2010. Philadelphia Chinatown has been encroached upon by developers, and was under threat from a proposed casino for a significant period. NYC Chinatown was at one point overtaking Little Italy, but now with the New Museum and the gentrification of the Bowery, is being pressed upon by towering luxury apartment buildings. Not to mention, Park Row, a residential community adjacent to South Chinatown, and nearby commercial buildings (shops and restaurants) have been under the shadow of 9/11 for 12 years, with limited access for a substantial period of time (9/11 cleanup), depressing retail sales. To this day, there are armed police stations that guard the entrance path to Park Row.

San Francisco Chinatown has managed to thrive due to a high intra-ethnicity turnover rate, and Chicago Chinatown (of which, really, there are 3 – historic Chinatown, “new” Argyle (largely Vietnamese-Chinese American) Chinatown, and “new new” Chinatown, which is across the street from historic Chinatown, and includes a number of residential properties that have lured second and third generation Chinese Americans back to the city center. (There is some small degree of this happening in other cities as well, but in my mind, Chicago has done a better job than most.)

The reason that I keep rotating back to this issue of whether Chinese Americans who have “made it” come back is because it is also a large part of why “living” Chinatowns become essentially “dead” Chinatowns. Moving out of Chinatown and to the suburbs is intrinsically seen as one of the markers of success for first, second, and third generation Chinese Americans. This is antithetical to keeping Chinatowns vibrant. This is separate from biased and discriminatory urban planning decisions hatched in concert with the stereotypically greedy developers. And it absolutely doesn’t discount folks who want to stay but get pushed out – I’m just bringing this up because it’s also a real thing.

Don’t get me wrong – DC Chinatown/Verizon Center is more bustling and lively than a decade ago, and is now an economic engine and one of the hearts of the city, but the business owners by and large do not live there. Although the DC AAPI population has risen 60% since 2000, according to the 2010 Census.

In NYC, the press of developers on the boundaries of Chinatown has caused friends who have lived, breathed, and worked in Chinatown for decades to move to Harlem, where elected officials like City Councilor Melissa Mark-Vivitero have noticed the increase of AAPIs. This follows on a previous out-migration to Queens (Flushing, Woodside, etc.), Brooklyn (where there is another Chinatown), New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester, and Connecticut.

So how do we keep the living nature of Chinatowns across the country? The report proposes several solutions: reinforcing and constructing more low-income housing, subsidizing local small businesses, prioritizing green spaces, strengthening the links between satellite Asian Am enclaves in the suburbs to the Chinatown cores, and engaging in dialogue with traditional community land owners like the family associations. All of these are great, and I’m going to a step further.

What I’m fundamentally saying is that keeping Chinatown affordable and full of vitality is partially dependent upon the people in elected office. They hold hearings and have influence over city planning to varying degrees. Former At-Large Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon came out of the fight to keep one Boston Chinatown. Michelle Wu and Suzanne Lee are running for city council in Boston (different seats.) Philadelphia has yet to elect a progressive AAPI city councilmember, whereas SF has a plethora of AAPI electeds (and folks in the pipelines to run when the inevitable term limits hit.) AAAF Greater Chicago helped get Alderman Ameya Pawar, the first AAPI alderman ever in Chicago, elected in 2011. Progress is slow, but steady.

Not that AAPI candidates are necessarily going to be informed about the community’s issues, or even live in the Chinatown district. It is incumbent upon the community and those who work to keep living, breathing Chinatowns to educate candidates and elected officials, regardless of their ethnicity. Because we all need allies and champions in this effort, and sometimes people surprise you.

–Caroline

President Obama Nominates Theo Chuang to District Judge

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 25, 2013

President Obama Nominates Two to Serve on the United States District Courts

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama nominated Theodore David Chuang and George Jarrod Hazel for District Court judgeships.

“Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity,” said President Obama. “Their records of public service are distinguished and impressive and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench. I am honored to nominate them today.”

Theodore David Chuang: Nominee for the United States District Court for the District of Maryland

Theodore David Chuang currently serves as Deputy General Counsel of the United States Department of Homeland Security, where he has worked since 2009. Previously, Chuang was the Chief Investigative Counsel for the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2009 and Deputy Chief Investigative Counsel for the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from 2007 to 2009. He spent three years in private practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP from 2004 to 2007. From 1998 to 2004, Chuang served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Massachusetts, and from 1995 to 1998, Chuang served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. He began his legal career as a law clerk for Judge Dorothy W. Nelson on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 1994 to 1995. Chuang received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1994 from Harvard Law School and his B.A. summa cum laude in 1991 from Harvard University.

George Jarrod Hazel: Nominee for the United States District Court for the District of Maryland

George Jarrod Hazel currently serves as the Chief Deputy State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, a position he has held since 2011. Before joining the Office of the State’s Attorney, Hazel served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Maryland from 2008 to 2010 and as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia from 2005 to 2008. He began his legal career in private practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Washington, D.C. from 1999 to 2004. Hazel received his J.D. in 1999 from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. cum laude in 1996 from Morehouse College.

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AAPIs running today, 9/10/13 edition

Quick rundown of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who are on the ballots today (Sept 10.) Please note, these are not endorsements from AAA Fund or myself.

New York City (Polls open until 9pm)

Pollsite locator: http://nyc.pollsitelocator.com/Search.aspx

John Liu – running for NYC Mayor.
The current NYC Comptroller, Liu has been careful to point out that he was never a career politician. After serving 2 terms as the first AAPI NYC Councilmember, and head of the Transportation Committee, he ran for and won a citywide election for Comptroller in 2009. He’s running against a wide field of candidates including current frontrunner NYC Public Advocate Bill Di Blasio, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Notable endorsements include AFSCME DC 37, Sierra Club

Reshma Saujani – running for NYC Public Advocate.
Saujani first ran for office in 2010 against incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a liberal lion. At that time, she was a Wall Street lawyer, and since then, Saujani served as Deputy Public Advocate under Bill Di Blasio and founded the nonprofit Girls Who Code. She’s running in the only citywide election that hasn’t gotten that much press (lacking a Weiner or Spitzer), against State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Councilmember Tish James, educator Cathy Guerriero, and NYPD community liaison Siddique Wai. Notable endorsements: Queens Democratic machine, Brooklyn-Queens NOW, a ton of celeb endorsements.

NYC City Council
Margaret Chin v Jenifer Rajkumar (District 1 – Chinatown/ Financial District)
One-term Councilmember Margaret Chin faces a primary challenge from Democratic District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar in an AAPI v AAPI showdown. Chin, a former tenant rights organizer and nonprofit exec, represents the AAPI-heavy district, but has come under fire for being too closely aligned with the developers that she began her career by fighting. Rajkumar, a civil rights attorney, is trying to capitalize on some of that disenchantment. Here’s a closer look.

Connecticut:

William Tong – running for Stanford Mayor
Tong, a former State Rep, was the first AAPI elected to the Connecticut legislature. And he picked up a seat against an entrenched Republican incumbent. After running in the CT US Senate primary last year, he hopes to repeat his previous campaign victories by winning a Democratic primary for Stamford mayor. As a state rep, Tong passed anti-gun legislation and was an ardent and vocal supporter of immigrant rights. He recently scored a coup in getting Gov. Dan Malloy’s endorsement, but the local Dems are with a primary opponent. Here’s a recent interview with Tong.

Will update more later as election returns come in.

Update (9/11/13)
Primary day was not the greatest for most of these candidates, as only incumbent CM Margaret Chin won her race, with 58%.

-Caroline

Cool Asian American music videos

I wrote something about the Asian Girlz music video and I just don’t know if I have the time/energy/heart to post it. I don’t want to give more page views to a low talent band that trades on sexism and Orientalism to gain notoriety and exposure. It hurt my eyes and ears so instead, I decided to share some of my favorite Asian American music videos and artists. Because there is a lot of awesome talent in the world, I would prefer to focus on that.


Black Eyed Peas & Apl de Ap – Bebot
All about Filipino veterans equity. History and good music.


Rachel Yamagata – Be Be Your Love
Smoky voice, great lyrics, and tender notes about heartbreak.


Das Racist – Who’s That? Brooown
Two Little Ivy kids get their post-modern, hyper-literate rhymes on with a racial analysis.


Awkwafina – My V@g
Chinese-Korean American female rapper lays down a fiery line on her unique superiority.


Jane Lui & Felicia Day – Payphone & Someday My Prince Will Come (mashup)
Just some seamless sweetness and fun to cleanse the brain.


The Slants – Kokoro (I Fall to Pieces)
Electronica love song on the dance floor. Chinatown dance rock.

–Caroline

Rep Duckworth Shames Faux Veteran For Receiving Benefits

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), the former Assistant Secretary of the federal VA and head of the Illinois VA, has a lot of experience with serving in our nation’s military, and in taking care of the soldiers who return. It’s no small wonder that she ripped into Braulio Castillo, a federal contractor, for his egregious abuse of the veterans’ preference system – he claimed a veterans’ injury that he sustained while playing football at a military high school. His company claimed $500 million of government contracts, and his application lists his “sacrifices to this country.”

Duckworth, on the other hand, lost both her legs and part of her right arm as a helicopter pilot in Iraq.

“Does your foot hurt,” Duckworth asked Castillo. “My feet hurt too. In fact, the balls of my feet burn continuously, and I feel like there’s a nail being hammered into my heel right now. So I can understand pain and suffering, and how service connection can actually cause long-term, unremitting, unyielding, unstoppable pain.”

“So I’m sorry that twisting your ankle in high school has now come back to hurt you in such a painful, if also opportune, way for you to gain this status for your business as you were trying to compete for contracts.”

Duckworth’s public shaming of Castillo is one of the most thorough and justified takedowns that I have seen during Congressional testimony.

–Caroline

(Full disclosure: AAA Fund and AAA Fund Greater Chicago endorsed Rep. Duckworth in her first Congressional campaign and in 2012.)

Rep. Takano slams GOP Congressmembers’ Faulty Logic, in Red Ink

Takano edits to GOP immig

Like the veteran high school teacher that he is, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), decided to take out his red pen and apply it to a letter on immigration that fellow Congressmembers from the other party were circulating. Politico gave him some ink for exposing the shoddy reasoning.

He dishes out kindly but exacting critique, pointing out where the letter has logical and factual flaws. For example, the Republican letter claims that the Senate-passed bill is over 1,000 pages, so Rep. Takano circles this and points out that it’s exactly 286 pages. (Note to Congressmembers and staff: please do your research.)

Rep. Takano repeatedly points out “tawdry accusations” and Republican claims that are lacking in evidence. No, seriously, he points it out no more than four times in the short letter. What assertions does he specifically call out?

-”reportedly not all the Senators have read [the bill]”
-”We are disturbed by the secret and under-handed way that the immigration bill moved through the Senate…”
-”To attempt to do everything at once ensures that little will be done right”
-”will prevent the last minute secret deal-making and vote-buying”

One of Rep. Takano’s best closing lines is, “If you don’t understand the bill, come by my office and I’ll explain it. Weak draft, re-do.”

That’s called taking your colleagues to the toolshed. and why I love teachers as elected officials! (Full disclosure, AAA Fund enthusiastically endorsed Rep. Takano early in his campaign.)

-Caroline

A dialogue on n+1′s “White Indians” piece

Editor’s note: In reading n+1′s “White Indians,” I had my own thoughts and solicited the opinions of two Indian American friends, who agreed to have our dialogue published as long as they were anonymized. Let’s call them J and T. This is by no means meant to symbolize what all Indian Americans or all Asian Americans think; what follows is real talk about race, hip hop, arts and culture, and politics amongst friends.:

“White Indians” argues that South Asian Americans are a “safe” minority to have on-screen, that “no color is safer than South Asian brown. No minority presence in the US is more reassuring, or less likely to get angry or acknowledge your antiblack racism.”

C: My initial take was that as well written as the article is, I have mixed feelings because the editors (including editor Nikil Saval) don’t talk about the current mainstream or the conflation of South Asian American with the scary terrorist. Conflicted about a lot of it, but the handling of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley is spot on. Have noticed and cheered rise of desis on tv.

J: Thank you for sending this provocative article. I completely agree with your assessment of it esp. about Muslim-Americans. I too have mixed feelings, particularly about the caustic writing style. It kind of put me in a funk reading it in the morning. It was kind of all over the place and written from a masculine perspective. Why didn’t he mention The Mindy Project? asked K. One error that I’d point out is that Vijay Prashad actually says that the folks who came through the highly skilled labor pool were from middle-class families in India, not wealthy elites. Prof. Pras(h)ad was referenced in a poorly edited documentary “Not a Feather But a Dot.”

T: I actually thought it was very well-written, though after a while it did come off as ranting. That’s the point where I think it lost an overall thesis to the whole piece. However, I do agree with a lot of the points brought up, it’s all stuff I’ve heard in various places since college, just collated.

I agree with his point about Desi actors, but at the same time, I’m conflicted b/c I know a lot of them. They struggle for roles, because diverse roles don’t often exist for south asian actors — the reason the Outsourced people were so excited was, even though they were stereotyped roles, they were LEAD roles, something a lot of those actors have strived for for a long, long time and rarely gotten a shot at. And in the arts, Desis gravitate towards being performers, but not as much towards directing and producing, i.e. decision-making that would open up more opportunities for non-white actors. So essentially, they take what they can get, and I don’t think you can fault them for it. Kind of similar to Hattie McDaniel…..people always gave her crap about taking stereotyped black “mammie” roles, but at the same time, she won an OSCAR as a black woman in the 1930′s. You have to give her credit for that.

There actually are a lot of indian americans (younger) that Identify more with hip-hop culture and not so much the whiteness — but these are the kids of working class families, not the ones that grew up in affluent, “whiter” suburbs. Also — there are a lot of younger Indians leaning to the right, the ones who grew up in more affluent suburbs and all want to open their own businesses, or who are culturally sheltered and think gay marriage is gross….

J: Yeah, one of my young 18 year old cousins is a mini-Republican in the making, all about entrepreneurship, and grew up in predominantly white affluent suburbs. hip-hop is no longer black, urban, or low-income in its roots anymore – it’s global, and there are plenty of people of all races who identify with it, both as listeners and producers.

T: My point about the hip hop was not so much about identifying with blacks (look at most of Irvine, CA as an illustration — hip hop oriented but still very, very Asian). A better way of saying it is that there’s a contingent of young Desis who are not white-identifying, usually from less affluent backgrounds.

C: I think there is a subset of any minority that is not white or mainstream identifying. 626 and Garden City CA is a good example too. How does this compare with the diaspora experience?

Actually, if you don’t mind, this is a pretty educational dialogue. Would it be ok to post this dialogue, with names stripped out if you prefer, to the aaa fund blog?

T: I’m fine if you post the comments, i’ll leave it up to J.

J: Sure, no names please.

–Caroline

Sen. Hirono pushes tuition aid for DREAMers

Editor’s note: a message from Senator Mazie Hirono, who will be honored at the AAA-Fund Gala in June. Hirono has voted for this amendment.

The Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill is a great start. But it’s not perfect — and I intend to do something about it.

Last week, I introduced several amendments to the bill, but as an immigrant who came to this country as a young student, one of these amendments is particularly close to my heart: It would make DREAM Act students eligible for federal financial aid.

Right now, students who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own (“DREAMers”) can’t get access to any federal aid. No work-study. No government-backed student loans. Nothing.

My amendment would fix this, and give these students the same options to pay for their education as every other studious young American.

We’re going to face stiff opposition from some of my Senate colleagues who want to make it harder for DREAM Act students to succeed.

Please click here to sign on as a citizen co-sponsor of my amendment, and give DREAM Act students access to the same federal assistance as every other student.

DREAM Act students have grown up in our schools, pledging allegiance to our flag everyday.

Now they want to earn college degrees here, to help them give back to their communities, start businesses, create jobs, and pay taxes. Federal aid will make higher education, before a distant hope, possible for so many of them.

To give these DREAMers access to a little bit more of the American Dream — a chance to pay for college education — I need your help.

Over the next few weeks, the Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss my amendment — along with 300 others. Help this one make it through.

Please click here to sign on as a citizen co-sponsor of my amendment to give DREAM Act students a better shot at college.

As someone who immigrated to Hawaii from Japan as a young child, I know firsthand the determination it takes to thrive in a new school, a new language, and a new country. I was able to succeed because of all the opportunities I had.

I want to ensure DREAMers have the same opportunities to succeed in the only country they call home as I did — and the same access to federal assistance as their American-born peers.

Please, help me make that happen.

Mahalo,

Mazie Hirono
U.S. Senator