High APA abortion rates | asian kids on youtube | new food section
ASIAN AMERICA UNABRIDGED
Issue 20 | SPRING.10 | $4.95
Artifacts or fiction? The Museum of Chinese in America in New York (p.28)
04 Editor’s Note 05 Contributors 09 Events
| Front of the Book
InterrogAsian: Hyphen’s sensei of sensibility answers your questions about Asian culture.
Q&A: One for the kids. By Angela Pang
lazy susan: Rice Rockettes, Las Vegas’ Chinatown and hoop star Jeremy Lin.
RECIPE: Faux show. By Annette Lee
20 Game on: Three young artists let people walk in their shoes in an intimate, irreverent video game — from their bedroom to yours. By Ben Chow
Restaurant workers’ rights, the science of the wok and a recipe for Afro-Asian jung.
FEATURES 28 Open for Interpretation: Museums that chronicle ethnic groups portray history that is often up for debate. By Vanessa Hua 32
| Stuff to Take Home
Choice made: Many Asian American women accept abortion as a practical way out of an unwanted situation. By Lisa Wong Macabasco
| Another Look at Media
Cuteness overload: Asian babies take over the Internet. By Luke Tsai
COVER CREDITS: Photographer ANDRIA LO | Photo Assistant Jessica Lum | Model Pahole Sookkasikon, MR. HYPHEN 2009 | Illustrator Cryssy Cheung | BODY PAINT ARTIST ALISON KENYON | HAIR/Makeup Artist Jasmine Chan with M.A.C. Cosmetics | Find out more about Mr. Hyphen at hyphenmagazine.com
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Aly Morita, on her father, Pat. (p.61)
Knock it off. (p.17)
Interrogasian: questions that demand answers (p.11)
Cut in/Cut out: The work of Gina Osterloh. By Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik
GIFTED & TALENTED
Passing strange (p.44)
| The Arts
44 FILM: Facing a tough industry, some Asian Americans in Hollywood leverage their ethnic ambiguity. By Gloria Kim 46 BOOKS: For some Asian American writers, ethnicity issues ease into the backdrop. By Neelanjana Banerjee 49
TOP THREE: Nami Mun’s favorite outsiders
MUSIC: Christy of Christy & Emily finds inspiration where art meets history. By Margot Seeto
54 Abducted By Aliens By Claire Light
First Person 61 Pat Morita’s daughter on the waxing and waning of her father’s life. By Aly Morita
Comic 65 To Shed a Tear By Mike Manomivibul
52 REVIEWS: Albums and DVDs
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Point and Shoot In this issue, we cover many fascinating people. This means we got to photograph many fascinating people, for whom the average “grip ‘n’ grin” wouldn’t suffice. For each portrait we publish with a given article, we’ve riffled through hundreds from a shoot to find the most captivating. It’s difficult to say what makes a portrait stand out in the editing process. Sometimes the teensiest expression change — a near-imperceptible eyeball shift or extra tension buried in a dimple — speaks volumes. What’s certain is that the most compelling portraits afford a glimpse into the person’s spirit. That spark of inner authenticity
is challenging to impart in a split-second frame, but it’s what makes a photo powerful. So the photographer’s job, beyond portraying the subject’s outward appearance, is to coax out and capture that inner spark. Issue 20: The Inside/Out Issue, in addressing its various subjects, certainly peels back the layers. We examine the inside, the outside and the gray areas in between. Yes, we discuss looks — see our Lazy Susan piece on Asian American drag queens; see our Film feature on Asian American actors cast as non-Asians — and we also explore spatial, cultural and emotional boundaries. We’re thrilled to debut our food section, which was long overdue considering how obsessed Hyphenites (and most Asians) are with all things eating-related. In this new section, we not only explore tasty things but also uncover the stories and people behind them. And in case you haven’t visited us online recently, we’ve unveiled a kick-ass new site that features web-exclusive goodies and frequently updated blog musings. We’re saving some of the best stuff for the web. See you there,
Andria Lo Director of Photography
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes
Cover model, 2009 Mr. Hyphen man-pangeant winner Pahole Sookkasikon, worked out and manscaped accordingly knowing he would be showing some skin for this cover shoot. Indeed, he’s got the brawn but he’s also got the heart — an excellent representative for The Inside/Out issue. He is dedicated to bringing awareness to two great charities who received prize money for his Mr. Hyphen efforts. Find out more about the Asian American Donor Program and Thai Scholarship Fund online: aadp.org asianpacificfund.org/awards/fordonors.shtml
Go to hyphenmagazine.com for more behind-the-scenes coverage and before and after photos!
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Photo: Jessica lum
By Lisa Wong Macabasco
Claire Light calls her short story in this issue “an example of promiscuous literary theft”: the protagonist was inspired by Italo Calvino’s science fiction short story “The Distance of the Moon,” and the internment camp setting was based on numerous Japanese American internment narratives. But she left the order of the story’s “episodes” to chance, writing each on a card and then shuffling them. Ultimately, Light crafted, in her words, “a big psychotic episode or fugue state” that creates a parallel between internment and abduction. Last year, the Oakland, CA-based writer (and Hyphen co-founder) published Slightly Behind and to the Left, a collection of short stories. One of the best parts of writing on the trend of cute Asian kids in YouTube videos, Luke Tsai says, was “that I could surf the web and call it ‘work.’ But I think that’s one of the best parts of being a freelance writer generally.” The hardest part for Oaklandbased Tsai, a former editor at Taiwan’s The China Post, was refraining from overintellectualizing the issue: “In the end, they are just babies doing cute things.” One thing people would not guess just by looking at him? “That I listen to hip-hop.” But not all appearances are deceiving: “I was a big nerd in high school.” During her reporting on how museums are portraying Asian Americans, Vanessa Hua was surprised by the pace at which cultural institutions have adjusted to criticisms from the community in recent years: “I thought there might be more current controversies, but museums in general have become savvier about reflecting the community, compared [with] even just five years ago,” says the Southern California-based Hua, a former staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. She considers herself an insider of San Francisco’s Mission District and an outsider to the literary world, “but hoping to find my way in!” While depicting YouTube’s Asian American child stars for this issue’s Redux section, Jehan Choo realized that these videos represent a new twist on a familiar Asian American rite of passage: “From personal experience, and from what I hear from Asian friends, learning to play an instrument as a child was usually a forced thing. These kids seem to actually be having fun.” And how! “I could do 10 pieces just on the ukulele kid’s facial expressions.” The San Francisco-based artist’s work is featured in the Visceral Games/Electronic Arts video game “Dante’s Inferno.”
As a Boston-born and Bangkok, Thailand-raised Asian American, Michael Manomivibul knows well this issue’s theme: “Insider/outsider has been my whole life. My American friends do not understand that I am essentially foreign to this country. To Thais, I am also a foreigner. I understand deeply how it is to be both American and Thai, but some of the finer points of both are lost on me.” This issue’s comic is an expression of “inside wants out,” the Oakland-based artist says. “Everyone has an inside that we either keep hidden or starve or are unaware of. What if this Inner You started to break free?” Los Angeles-based Derek Lieu was tasked with writing about Jeremy Lin without having direct access to the reticent Harvard basketball star. But finding effusive sources who knew Lin was easy: “Jeremy was very popular growing up, and I suspect he still is now.” Lieu discovered that Lin is still just a regular guy: “We make a big fuss over our basketball stars, and then they start to make a big fuss over themselves. Jeremy’s at that phase where he’s still very much the normal kid he always has been.” Lieu, also a photographer, contributed photos to the feature on abortions in this issue and shot the Disgrasian girls for the cover of Issue 19. Oakland-based community organizer Jidan Koon and chef/author Bryant Terry offered a recipe for their Afro-Asian jung and a peek into their dynamic, multiracial kitchen for this issue’s inaugural food section. “I love collaborating with Jidan, and I hope that this article inspires other couples to make art together and share it,” Terry said. Koon added: “It’s a chance for us to document and share some of the co-creation that we do on a daily basis in our lab (the kitchen). I look at all these joint projects as paving the road for our ultimate co-creation‑-starting a family!” Creative powerhouse (artist/writer/performer/producer/consultant) Han Pham has helmed our Takeout section since 2008, overseeing a drastic redesign toward highlighting innovative products and the people behind them. “Good design can leave you speechless, make your life better and enrich your understanding of why something has a place in your life,” says San Franciscobased Pham, who hands off her editing duties with this issue. Reflecting on the magazine’s role in the community, she says: “Hyphen isn’t the first word or the last word on things, which I celebrate — because Hyphen knows how to jump into the conversation and stir it up, subtly, stylishly and smartly.”
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Issue 20 Spring 2010 Printed in the USA.
Publisher Lisa Lee
Hyphen 17 Walter U. Lum Place San Francisco, CA 94108 hyphenmagazine.com
Editor in Chief Harry Mok Managing Editor Lisa Wong Macabasco Creative Director Erica Jennifer Loh Jones Editorial Editors Neelanjana Banerjee (Books, Literature), Sita Bhaumik (Artwell), Momo Chang (DVDs), Nina Kahori Fallenbaum (Food), Sylvie Kim (Film), Kimberly Lien (Front of the Book), Han Pham (Takeout), Pia Sarkar (Features), Margot Seeto (Music), Maveric Vu (Front of the Book), Yumi Wilson (First Person) Contributing Editors Todd Inoue, Annette Lee, Angela Pang Copy Chief Kimberly Lien Copy Editors Kony Kim, Elizabeth L. Smith Editorial Assistant Jimmy La
Tech Web Director Sean Aquino Designer and Developer Christine Vilar Tech Consultant My Nguyen SEO Consultant William Wong Techie Andy Kuo Blog Editors Sylvie Kim, erin Khue Ninh Bloggers Neelanjana Banerjee, Cynthia Brothers, Momo Chang, Joyce Chen, Winston Chou, Ken Choy, Melissa Hung, Lisa Ko, Claire Light, Alvin Lin, Dot Lin, Jessica Lum, Mic Nguyen, Jennifer Thúy Vi Nguyen, Barbara Jane Reyes, Joy Tang, Catherine Traywick Board of Directors Samara Azam, Janice Lee, Chia-Chi A. Li, Wil Wong, Bernice Yeung Founding Editor Melissa Hung Subscriptions firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions cost $18 for four issues.
Creative Director of Photography Andria Lo Photo Editor Jessica Lum Editorial Designers Cheryl Chang, Dalen Gilbrech, Lawrence Guzman, Jennifer Kim Van Nguyen Advertising Design Katie Kawaoka Design Assistant Jennifer Kim Van Nguyen Article Ender Corey Jones Business Personnel Manager Lanlian Szeto Legal Counsel Hung Chang Accountant Jay Chi Secret Agent Annette Lee Publisher’s Assistant Stephanie Chan Marketing Events Director Lanlian Szeto Advertising Manager Lorenzo Mah Circulation Manager Arthur Chiu Subscriptions Manager Kevin Ruan Community Outreach Manager Willa Hu Community Outreach Coordinators Christina Dou, Andrew Pai, Dian Pan Marketing Associates Ianna Huang, Huang Pan, Mark Power, Sammy Yu Production Director Mike Lee Business Copy Editor Jackie Huang
Hyphen is published three times a year. Why so few times? Because we are volunteer-run and we all have day jobs, OK? Please note that subscription payments are not refundable. Please also note that Hyphen cannot replace issues lost due to unreported address changes. Please update your mailing address to ensure uninterrupted delivery of your magazines by emailing email@example.com. Ad Sales firstname.lastname@example.org Letters and Story Queries email@example.com Other Stuff firstname.lastname@example.org
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it k c REDESIGNED FOR A cheout! RED NEW STATE OF MIND
A Night Out On the scene with the hottest Asian American events.
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival 2010 launch party on Feb. 11 1. Festival Director Chi-hui Yang, middle 2. Luis Mamayson, Beverly Quintana and Frances Pomperada 3. Brandon Bigelow and Golda Supernova of Golda + The Guns 4. Chandra Bandril and R.J. Lozada Matcha at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on Feb. 18 5. Performances by Shaolin Temple USA monks 6. Hyphen staffers Mike Lee, Lanlian Szeto and Lisa Wong Macabasco with Paul Cruz
PhotoS John Chunhan Liau (johnliau.com): 1-4 and 10 Deborah Clearwaters (clearwatersphoto.com): 5 Derek Lieu (dereklieu.com): 8 Andria Lo (andrialo.com): 7 Jessica Lum (jessicalum.com): 9 Damien Maloney (damienmaloney.com): 11-13 Jennifer Yin (thebittermelon.org): 6
Hyphenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Issue 19 Release Party in San Francisco on Feb. 26 7. DJ Malicious Lee 8. Musician Jack Tung 9. Lawrence Yang adds a splash of color to his artwork 10. David Okawa, Mike Nguyen and Nikki Macaraeg Kollaboration LA, an annual multi-city API event and movement, in Los Angeles on Mar. 6 11. Actor Dante Basco (Rufio!) 12. Dance crew ANBU Black Ops 13. Dance crew Bhangra Empire takes second place
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INTERROGASIAN Hyphen’s sensei of sensibility answers your questions about Asian culture.
ILLUSTRATION, top: Jonathan hill | illustration, small: philip cho
Dear InterrogAsian, Why do Koreans always change into their pajamas right when they get home from work? — Business Casual Advocate Koreans are a hearty people — hardworking, hard-playing, hard-drinking, hard-sleeping. They’ve earned the right to slip into something more comfortable upon returning from a long day of threshing rice in the fields. But why do so many Koreans crave the feeling of flannel, microfiber and bunny slippers against their Tiger Balmed skin? Walking through the door and changing straight into pajamas appeals to a Korean’s innate sense of time management. With no commitments for the rest of the night, you can jump into those sweats and curl up with a Boys Over Flowers marathon. Makes me jealous. Now, the real question should be, why aren’t you working as hard as Koreans? Dear InterrogAsian, Why do Asians wrap their remotes in plas-
tic? I’ve seen it at many homes and I still don’t understand exactly what kind of protection it offers. — Curious Houseguest There is no simple answer, but it does involve Asian soap operas. Some of those actors are so hot that plastic wrap keeps the fun clean and safe. But people: Knock that shit off. It looks stupid. It makes changing channels awkward. And it’s probably not any cleaner since germs and bacteria get caught in the folds of the plastic (God help the ones who wrap it in foil). And being a complete germophobe isn’t a nice message to send when you have people over. If you came to this country to live the dream and want to be treated equally, start by taking the plastic wrap off the remote — and the couch and the lampshade while you’re at it. Your guests will thank you for it. A follow-up to an earlier question: Why do Asians drink water without ice? Since this question was first posed to
me, I’ve learned there are two different theories behind this aversion to ice. One theory is that ice water affects the chi, one’s inner balance. Chinese folks historically became known as pillars of health because for centuries they boiled their water to make tea. And who doesn’t enjoy a nice cup of tea after dim sum? Yet on the same Lazy Susan sits tea’s arch-nemesis: ice water. Ice water jars the innards, paving the way for sloth, indigestion, bad test scores and interracial dating. Bad ice water. The second theory is that consuming ice water during a typically greasy meal allows oils to solidify, which slows digestion. The oil then gets absorbed by the large intestine, turns into fat and then — the inevitable heart attack. I know which theory I’m standing by and which was submitted by a panicked mother who read something on the Internet. Don’t know Kim Yu-Na from Summoner Yuna? Send your questions about Asian culture to email@example.com.
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â&#x20AC;&#x153;Belonging, abandonment, sibling rivalry, adjusting to loss. These are timeless themes that every culture and age bracket grapples with.â&#x20AC;?
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one for the kids Designer Kathryn Otoshi turns her hopes, fears and dreams into children’s literature. Writer Angela Pang Photographer Andria Lo KATHRYN OTOSHI’S WORLD is one of complete imagination. She has crafted numerous pieces of Star Wars paraphernalia for George Lucas. Last winter, she had a hand in designing storefronts seen in Disney’s A Christmas Carol. And at her day job, she creates graphics for ImageMovers Digital, Robert Zemeckis’ award-winning film company. So it’s no surprise that in her spare time, the San Francisco Bay Area-based Japanese American graphic designer writes and illustrates fantastic worlds for young readers. She’s written and illustrated four books of her own and illustrated three for other authors. Her first book, What Emily Saw, featuring an Asian American protagonist, was named Best Children’s Book of the Year by the Bay Area Independent Publisher’s Association in 2003. Her second book, Simon and the Sock Monster, received top accolades from Writer’s Digest and USA Book News. Her latest, Zero, will hit shelves this fall. Otoshi recently discussed with us her youthful inspiration, her childhood fears and her views on the state of Asian Americans in publishing.
story, all packed within 32 pages. Amazing! And Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
What Emily Saw encourages children to embrace their imagination. What was your inspiration? I wrote What Emily Saw as a reaction to what was happening in my own life during that time. I was working insane hours at my job and feeling stressed all the time. I started thinking about my own childhood. I remembered I could watch an ant for hours and follow it to see where it would go. I think we as adults can use more serious play on a daily basis.
Is there a need for more Asian American children’s books? There does seem to be a need. [In order] to have more Asian American books out there, we need to support publishers who do just that. The market will bear what the reader demands. If we support these smaller, specialized indie publishers, as well as the indie bookstores [that] take a chance and put these books on their shelves, then the chains will deem these “successful” and there will be a better chance [that] we can see these books in more mass market venues for people to pick up.
What motivated you to write and illustrate children’s books and launch your own publishing company, KO Kids Books? My mom was a part-time librarian and both of my parents encouraged me to read and draw when I was little. I loved hearing the sound of their voices when they read to me at bedtime. Since I write, illustrate and do graphic design professionally, publishing my own stories seemed like a natural progression. What are some of your all-time favorite children’s books? The Gardener, created by a husband-and-wife team, David Small and Sarah Stewart. The story takes place during the Depression, a daunting subject and setting to tackle. It’s a wonderful, emotional
Your 2008 book, One, focuses on anti-bullying. Were you ever bullied as a kid? I don’t believe I was really bullied any more than any other kid. I was one of the few minorities and the only Japanese American kid in my class. I can’t tell you for how long I wished that I had blonde hair and blue eyes. When another little Asian girl in my elementary school arrived, she could not speak English well and was bullied mercilessly. Every now and then I think of this little girl and how I wished I had said something. Simon and the Sock Monster is about a boy who fears that a mysterious creature has abducted his lucky sock. What were you afraid of as a child? Elevators — because the open door looked like a gaping mouth to me. There was also a painting of a little girl in my room. It took me years to tell my parents I was afraid of it. They finally took it down and put it in the garage. Then I was afraid of going into the garage.
Do you think children’s books have become too mature for young readers? [Children’s] picture books almost always have bigger issues at their center if you look closely — themes of belonging, abandonment, sibling rivalry, adjusting to loss. These are timeless themes that every culture and age bracket grapples with. For more on Kathryn Otoshi and KO Kids Books, visit kokidsbooks.com. Angela Pang is a Hyphen contributing editor. This is her first article for the magazine.
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I Enjoy Being a Girl Kick up your heels with the allAsian drag queen troupe the Rice Rockettes. Writer Lynn La Photographer Myleen Hollero CHI-CHI KAGO’S FAKE EYELASHES are refusing to cooperate. A few blinks render them undone, but another line of glue risks ruining them. It’s a delicate balance and she’s getting annoyed. Marijoy Tabatsoy lip-sychs to Jenn Cuneta’s “Come Rain Come Shine”. Kago is preparing to perform with the Rice Rockettes, an all-Asian drag queen troupe in the San Francisco Bay Area. also vulnerability; these girls remain underAs I watch the troupe prepare for a gala dogs even in a universe of their own creevent, I wonder: Why the big production — ation. Blaming lack of confidence rather the big hair, the three-inch heels, the adorthan lack of talent, Kago describes her pering crowd? Are these glitzy men, in fact, trysona as “always a chorus girl, never a leading to be women? ing lady.” Doncha Vishyuwuzme, whose “No, I love being a boy,” says Saigon essential aesthetic is that of a hot mess, Dione, preparing to apply red glitter to her recalls being rejected from a successful feFeroshe BeyonSoy lips. male pop ensemble. Estée Longah, founding member of While the girls’ drag personas serve as the Rice Rockettes, says, “Believe me, we alternate identities, their two realities aren’t BeyonSoy notes more generally that are not trying to pass [as women].” She entirely insulated from each other. The mo- drag is a way to raise funds and give back explains that mislabeling drag queens as cha-skinned BeyonSoy jokingly calls her- to the queer community. cross-dressers or transsexuals disserves self the “dirty family secret” — but her male But first and foremost, of course, she those in the LGBT community who do idencounterpart Anthony also mentions, without and the girls are here to entertain. tify as such. elaborating on specifics, that his father is Accordingly, BeyonSoy coyly refocuses Rather, dressing up in girls’ clothing not allowed to come to shows. the conversation: “You didn’t even ask us came as an afterthought to the performance Meanwhile, when it comes to MamaSoy, where we put it.” aspect, at least for some. Marijoy Tabatsoy, BeyonSoy glows. “She is my biggest fan,” for instance, admits that before meeting the she says. Later she shows off chandelier Lynn La is a staff editor for Macworld. This is her first piece for Hyphen. Rice Rockettes she believed that drag was earrings that her mother recently gave her. only for gay men who were overflamboyant and ultra-feminine — traits that Tabatsoy’s male persona did not identify with. Still, not every male can pull off lipstick and sashay his way through “Grant Avenue” choreography with the requisite pizzazz. Tonight’s gala performance is all comedic irony: music from Flower Drum Song, an audience of mainly gay Asian men, a venue on the same street as the song title. It’s a hit with the crowd. Offstage, these girls are sharp and sassy. Asked what would happen if another Asian drag troupe were to pop up, Feroshe BeyonSoy jokes that she’d “cut them,” while Dione would “judge them for the freaks that they are.” Rice Rockettes pre-performance. But where there’s humor, there’s
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He’s Got Game Dubbed superhuman and savior, Jeremy Lin is actually just like the rest of us. Writer and photographer Derek Lieu JEREMY LIN IS HOME for the holidays. It’s a laughably warm December in Palo Alto, CA — perfect basketball weather. On days like this, you’d expect to find the undeniably talented 21-year-old Harvard guard — the most hyped Asian American college basketball player in recent memory — out on the court playing a pickup game. Instead, he’s taking on a five-on-five of a different sort. Tactical offense, towered defense, axe-wielding orcs — we’re talking about Warcraft III, the ultimate in early2000s geekdom. “No one would think he plays [Defense of the Ancients],” says Alex Shau, a friend of Lin’s since kindergarten. But, Shau notes, he’s got game. “He’s good. Actually, there weren’t many things he wasn’t good at.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Lin, already an inspiration for Asian American ballers everywhere, shines in competitions of many kinds. He has endured the most anticipated, watched and dissected season of his life and if all goes to plan, he will have a fighting chance in this year’s NBA draft, a prospect that less than a handful of Asian American players have achieved. Friends and colleagues say this is just a natural progression of Lin’s mythic origin story. “He wasn’t tall until high school,” Shau says of the now 6-foot-3 athlete. But even on the elementary school playground, “[he] was going in and dominating everyone.” Picture Peter Parker squaring up against your common thug. “The other guy always seemed like he was in a slowed-down time warp,” Shau says. Now finishing his fourth year on a decidedly meaner playground, Lin has been praised for his all-around capabilities, with notable digits in assists and steals. Fans like Harvard alum Vivek Viswanathan revel in Lin’s seemingly superhuman performance, as in the final seconds of a recent
game: The score was tight, man-toman defense, Lin with the ball at the top of the arc with no open teammates. “He just stepped up into his defender’s face and launched a three-pointer right over him,” Viswanathan says. The shot swished in. “It was pandemonium in the best kind of way.” It’s a performance that his burgeoning fan base has come to expect — but not necessarily why they come. Peel away the superpowers and the high-flying dunks Jeremy Lin drives past an opponent at a January 4 game against the Santa Clara Broncos. and you’ll find an upbringing similar to that of many Asian seminary as an alternative and giving back Americans. For many, Lin’s appeal is preto the Chinese church in Mountain View he cisely this commonality — a kid who grew grew up in (he’s a devout Christian). While up chatting online, taking piano lessons the buzz around Lin is palpable, no one and falling asleep first at sleepovers. can decisively say whether he will reach “[He] comes from a similar background the big time. Aran Smith, president of NBA to all of us,” says Shou Chang, a San Frandraft projection site nbadraft.net, says cisco Bay Area resident who remembers “NBA scouts project him to go un-draftwatching Lin lead Palo Alto High School ed,” but he’s sure to get a shot to compete to the state title in 2006, an upset win for a roster spot in the Las Vegas Summer against national powerhouse Mater Dei League, which allows prospects to pracHigh School. “[He] played high school tice against other newly drafted players. sports like we did, went to college like we Along with the heightened level of atdid, shared the college experience like we tention comes a bevy of stereotypes; Lin did — and he showed that you can make told NPR in February that he hears slurs something happen if you work hard.” on the court, mainly from heckling fans. This every-Asian-American-man qualSupporters like Lee say it’s unacceptable: ity is inspirational proof against Asian “If you [say a racial comment] against a American players’ nagging fears that they player who is black, you wouldn’t get away are ill-equipped to play competitively, says with it. Why do you get away with it with an Donald Lee, a referee in a Bay Area Asian Asian player?” American basketball league. “Here’s a guy It’s a tough question, and Lin seems to who’s not Yao Ming, not 7-feet tall,” Lee have little inclination to seek an answer. says. “But he’s playing against other peo“I don’t think he’s trying to change the ple. It shows that Asians can play against world,” Shau says. “He just likes to play other races.” basketball.” Lin may be demonstrating this for years to come, if not in the NBA then at least Derek Lieu is a freelance writer and photographer working out of Los Angeles. This is his first article on a professional team in Europe — if he for Hyphen. choses to go pro. He’s hinted at attending
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Our Town Las Vegas’ Chinatown is more than just its name. Writer and photographer Kimberly Lien When Vanessa Nguyen was trying to learn her mother’s recipes for her own restaurant, she discovered that “a bit of this” and “a handful of that” were her mother’s favorite units of measurement. “I had to find a way to streamline the process,” Nguyen says. That amalgamation of new and old produced the delicious dishes that Nguyen now serves at Bosa 1, which is quickly becoming what many say is the best Vietnamese restaurant in Las Vegas’ increasingly diverse Chinatown. A few years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a place like Bosa 1 in Las Vegas. “Having roast duck or live fish was a novelty,” says Duncan Lee, a Las Vegas resident of 19 years, since pre-Chinatown days. “Now we have five or six markets serving all the ethnic groups: Korean, Thai, Filipino.” Located in a strip mall that is an offshoot of Chinatown’s original hub, Bosa 1 resides alongside an Ethiopian grocery, a Chinese seafood restaurant, a Korean karaoke bar and a Filipino restaurant. It’s all part of the Asian population boom that occurred after James Chen laid the groundwork with Chinatown Plaza in 1995, believing that if he built it, they would come. “James’ vision was for [Chinatown] to continue to grow and grow,” says Vida Chan Lin, president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce. Although this Chinatown came about through nurture rather than nature, it’s slowly beginning to settle into a community. A program started by the Asian Chamber of Commerce offers bilingual assistance for those seeking home loan modifications in order to prevent the loss of their houses. (Nevada has led the country in foreclosure rates for the past three years.) Lee, a prominent local figure, has been attempting to establish a kind of support group for Chinatown parents. “Las Vegas being a very transient town, a lot of the parents might not know how the school sys-
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tem works,” Lee says. In a city of nomads, the imperative to establish a strong central neighborhood structure is even greater. But although the area along Spring Mountain Road has shown growth — it now extends about four miles from the Strip to include a new mini-Koreatown — a long road lies ahead to develop a neighborhood that, like other Chinatowns, provides local Asian residents with a backbone of community and social resources. “That has been a big negative as far as our community concerns, because we don’t have a community center,” says Rozita Lee, who works out of her home to connect those seeking social services to the government agencies that provide them. “It’s OK to operate from home, but it would be better if we had an office — a building, a place to play sports, to engage with one another in an environment that is safe.”
According to Lin, the lack of physical community spaces and community-specific associations can be attributed to one thing: lack of funding. “We almost got [a community center] two years ago, but the economy went kaput. Investors pulled out because the economy went down,” Lee says. Even with the setbacks in its push for community growth, the economic and social progress of Las Vegas’ Chinatown is already apparent; the future of Chinatown is looking up. It has “turned a run-down part of town into a beautiful commercial industry,” Lin says. As Nguyen would say: If the product is good, the price is right and the people are there to consume it, why wouldn’t it work? It’s a gamble Las Vegas’ Chinatown is willing to take. Kimberly Lien is a Hyphen editor. Her last piece was about foosball champion Sergie Aragones.
faux show How to buy knockoffs in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Writer Annette Lee Illustrator Christopher Lee WHAT YOU NEED • Cash — preferably a couple $20s wrapped in one-dollar bills. • Really, all you need is cash. 1. Pick any storefront that features merchandise resembling the item you want. These will be the “obvious fake” items, no doubt, since America’s gone all “anti-counterfeiting” on Chinatown. Jerks. 2. Glance around for undercover cops. Step 1
3. No one around? Good. In a hushed voice, ask the salesperson for the item you want. 4. The salesperson will pull out the worst fake you’ve ever seen — a Gacci wallet, maybe a Looey Vitton bag — and assure you it’s the best available. It is not. 5. Look at the seams. Are there gaping holes? Perhaps the pattern doesn’t quite line up? Does it smell like plastic? Is the glue holding the handles together still wet? 6. Ask if there’s anything in the back. If you’ve come this far, you deserve the best that a shady import operation has to offer.
7. You’ll be led on a trek — à la Billy from The Family Circus — out of the shop, around the corner, down a flight of stairs, through the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant and, finally, to a secret closet. 8. The closet will contain heaps of quality AAA fakes. The absolute best fake will be practically indistinguishable from the authentic — a layperson would need a microscope to spot the differences. (It’s best to avoid hanging out with experts, who will only kill the joy of your triumphant discovery.) 9. You may feel pressure because you are in a secluded, converted refrigerator locker. Do not let this feeling stop you.
10. Pick your item. Ask for a price. 11. The salesperson will name an absurd price. 12. Counter-offer with half that amount. 13. Continue to haggle. 14. When offered something close to your target price, start to walk away. 15. You’ll be grabbed by the arm and told you are crazy. Do not freak out. This is the lead-up to locking in your price. 16. Pay cash. Flee.
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cuteness overload Asian babies take over the Internet. Writer Luke Tsai Illustrator Jehan Choo My teenage sister likes to send me links to her favorite YouTube videos. And, God bless her Asian Pride-filled heart, she gravitates toward ones featuring Asian children performing incredible feats of musicality, coordination and overall adorableness. The latest clip was of a 2-year-old virtuoso drummer in footed pajamas with an impeccable sense of rhythm. You can’t tell from the video if he can even talk in complete sentences yet, but there
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he is, rocking out — even teasing the crowd (Mom and Dad) with cymbal flourishes like a bonafide jazz soloist. It’s one of the most uncanny (and yes, cutest) things I’ve seen in a while. That video got me wondering why a seemingly disproportionate number of these “viral” videos — clips that spread like wildfire via media-sharing sites like YouTube — star Asian children. There’s the 5-year-old Japanese ukulele player crooning Jason Mraz, the earnest “kid coach” Noah Chang with his basketball
“Maybe Asian presence on YouTube seems so remarkable because their absence on TV and in Hollywood movies is so conspicuous.”
instructional video and at least a halfdozen others. Not to mention innumerable clips from Korean and Taiwanese variety shows, where child prodigies are a recurring feature. Are Asian kids just cuter and more awesome than other kids? Are Asian American parents more computer or Internet savvy? Or is there a weird exotification going on — a sense in which, as with William Hung, America is laughing at us rather than with us? When Libby Kim first posted videos of her son Christian, the drummer boy extraordinaire, she wasn’t expecting him to become an Internet sensation. Christian had been experimenting on the drums — drawing inspiration from blink182’s Travis Barker — since before his second birthday, and she wanted friends and relatives to see him in action. Kim also wasn’t expecting that, amid mostly glowing praise, the videos’ comment sections would be smattered with racist remarks — your typical “Asians pronounce Ls like Rs” jokes, and worse: “hes asian, his parents probably beat him if he doesnt play good” or “shoot that f***ing child in the head, along with every other asain in the world” [sic]. Kim, who has been a US citizen for over 35 years, was stunned that so many people still harbor such prejudices — and that they would direct their vitriol at an innocent child. Such remarks point to a dark side of these videos’ popularity. The model minority myth they reflect and reinforce — that Asian kids are all musical prodigies as well as math geniuses — can
be just as pernicious as the blatantly hateful stuff. Such remarks also demonstrate that derogatory sentiment toward Asians and Asian Americans still persists in mainstream America. “[YouTube is] more of an exchange and can be more participatory than previous media,” says Margaret Rhee, a doctoral student in comparative ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Shared videos are open to immediate viewer feedback, whereas “we don’t get to see comments written on television or film.” Rhee speculates that the popularity of these Asian-child prodigy videos, at least among non-Asians, might be linked to society’s perception of Asian children as “cute” and “savable” — a perception reinforced by the mass adoption of Asian babies. A truism of the Internet age is that when you post something for the world to see, you risk attracting the lowest common denominator — i.e., anonymous “trolls” looking to stir up trouble — especially since sites like YouTube aren’t heavily moderated. But the Internet’s interactive aspect has an upside as well, says Nicol U, also a doctoral candidate in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley. “You see plenty of other viewers ‘talking back’ and calling out these racist slurs and remarks,” U says. “Unfortunately, I think there’s still that stereotype that the Asian and Asian American community won’t do or say anything if racism is being directed at them.” U argues that, ultimately, it’s good that Asian kids are getting this media exposure. She points out that maybe Asian presence on YouTube seems so remarkable because their absence on TV and in Hollywood movies is so conspicuous. “Media spaces like YouTube are a great balance to what one would normally see of Asian American representation in mainstream media,” she says. “Anyone can put up a video of him [or] herself, and it’s up to the viewers to decide whether or not they’ll watch.” In the end, the last thing these budding YouTube stars need is for us to over-intellectualize their popularity. So, as I reload that clip for the fifth time, I conclude that it would take a real cynic to find something bad to say about little Christian working his drum magic, having the time of his life. As my dear sister put it, “The world would be a better place if more people were exposed to this cuteness.” Luke Tsai is a freelance writer living in Oakland, CA. This is his first piece for Hyphen.
Watch the viral videos mentioned in this story at hyphenmagazine.com.
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Game On Three young artists let people walk in their shoes in an intimate, irreverent video game. Writer Ben Chow Photographer Myleen Hollero
In 2009, three creative entrepreneurs in their 20s — Derek Yu, Hellen Jo and Calvin Wong — unleashed upon the San Francisco store-cum-art gallery Giant Robot a new breed of game that isn’t really a game. Part interactive media art and part humor, it’s a strangely personal peek into the relationships of its creators, as well as a bellwether of the new kinds of games being created outside of the gaming industry. When asked by ArtXGame (artxgmae.com), which curates and presents original video games created jointly by artists and independent game makers, to participate in a project exploring the idea of art as games, indie gaming darling Derek Yu immediately thought of his longtime friends from the ’zine scene, illustrators Hellen Jo and Calvin Wong. For two weeks — and from Yu’s bed — Jo and Wong illustrated with watercolors whatever random characters came to mind. Drawing from Jo’s passion for Asian horror comics and Wong’s interest in weird monsters, they populated their strange world with mythical goddesses, postapocalyptic monsters, sea creatures and Asian ghosts. Then Yu, co-founder of independent gaming news site The Independent Gaming Source, would cut up and animate the characters on the spot. The result, one of four original games that debuted in Calvin Wong, Derek Yu, Hellen Jo
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Takeout connects you with creative and visionary products, services and ideas by independent Asian American designers and businesses — because the story behind what we buy matters. In this issue, Takeout brings you inside the brave new gaming world of ’zine artists and game designers Hellen Jo, Calvin Wong and Derek Yu.
March 2009 at artxgame’s “Game Over/Continue?” gallery show at Giant Robot, features cartoon avatars of the two artists (a real-life couple) and uses classic “beat ’em up” game mechanics from the popular late-1980s video game Double Dragon to animate the duo cooperatively punching, throwing and kicking their way through an endless stream of naked mohawked men against a surreal landscape. Despite the fantastical scenarios, Calvin and Hellen’s Bogus Journey is incredibly personal, according to Jo. The couple holds hands throughout the game, for example. And when they decided to include a baby as a key character, they wondered if life would soon imitate art. Jo thought at one point, the game might even be too revealing: “Is this safe to show to other people?” The trio sought to rethink the gaming experience as set in an art gallery or in a more social environment than alone in one’s living room or bedroom. “You can’t win, you can’t die,” Jo said. “The levels don’t change, and it just loops forever. It’s kind of an incomplete game, but we like it that way.” “People told us that this is more like an art project than a game,” Wong said. “But it’s still fun.” Yu believes that’s precisely why the game works. “You’re in a social environment that is conducive to just
Calvin and Hellen’s Bogus Journey Take on your own naked, masked nemeses in this Windows game. Free from calwong.org/game.html
Manual and gamE images courtesy of calvin wong and hellen jo.
Calvin and Hellen’s Bogus Journey fake instruction manual Get all the art from the game in this clever ’zine. $4 from etsy.com/shop/helllllen
playing and having a good time without needing a goal.” As risk-averse gaming companies throw more money at a handful of proven game franchises, independent game makers like Yu, Jo and Wong are proving that gaming — and art — doesn’t have to follow business as usual. Their work, along with that of the other artists in artxgame’s ongoing collaborative project, both poses and answers the challenge to expand beyond traditional gaming genres — a gamble that could inspire cross-industry success in both the art and media entertainment worlds. The trio is staying true to their independent roots by making the game available as a free download through their website (see sidebar). However, they haven’t given up paper for the screen: For sale is an illustrated, fake user’s manual — printed, folded and stapled by the artists themselves. Although gaining a Grand Theft Auto-sized following might not be part of their business plan, the game attracted enthusiastic interest recently, when the art duo took their game to the Alternative Press Expo and Comic-Con. “Usually people at Comic-Con just flip through your ’zine, put it down and move on,” Jo said. This year, however, “they were like, ‘Oh my God, I’m you and I’m beating up him and it’s so awesome.’ ” Ben Chow is a social gaming entrepreneur. This is his first article for Hyphen.
Check out a Q&A with the artists about their video game at hyphenmagazine.com.
Attract Mode Find indie art and Pac-Man oven mitts on this video game culture shop that “elevates game culture beyond the cheap merchandise.” attractmo.de/shop
TIGSource Explore more gaming news, including intriguing topics like “Dwarf Fortress.” tigsource.com
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Welcome to our new Food section. Writer Nina Kahori Fallenbaum
Asian American food can be tricky territory to write about. The go-to imagery of Martin Yan slicing and dicing (with gongs ushering in the next course) is enough to induce a case of stereotype salmonella. We like pizza and burgers as much as grandma’s kimchi. And we’re hungry for the story behind the food. Americans have begun to consider how farming, food and politics are thoroughly intertwined. Books like Michael Pollan’s bestselling The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) sparked national debates about what constitutes “good food.” Popular interest in food and farming has swelled with the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, which attracted more controversy than any farm bill in recent memory. What the foodie press has neglected, however, is that Asian Americans care about hunger, pesticides, farm policy and trade agreements. We need to be included in the organic movement, slow-food fairs and farmers-market lineups. Food is a real link to our heritage, so we should be the ones to craft the storyline about how Asian food became hybridized in the United States. We won’t just write about eating in restaurants, because food involves much more than that (and who can afford to eat out all the time in this economy?). Instead, we’ll focus on all aspects of the “food system”: the cultivating, harvesting, distributing, preparing, enjoying and disposing of food and its by-products. Along the way, we’ll introduce fascinating players in the Asian American food scene. Besides chefs, eaters and cookbook authors, we’ll profile gardeners, foragers, activists, academics, fishermen and dim sum cart operators. We hope to broaden your perspective of food to encompass places and tastes you’ve never imagined. Your ideas are welcome. We hope you’ll write in about the small businesses, creative cooks and hardworking entrepreneurs that define Asian American food for you: contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s make something delicious.
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Science of the wok Writer Fumei Lam and Jamie Bresson Illustrator Dalen Gilbrech Jamie Bresson is a chemical engineer at Calera Corporation. Fumei Lam is a postdoctoral researcher in mathematics at the University of California.
When you think of a wok, chances are you picture the curve of the wok, with its rounded bottom and sloping sides. What distinguishes it in design also distinguishes it in function. Both the concave shape and material of the wok allow heat to distribute evenly and prevent the formation of “hot spots,” which cause food to stick and burn.
The most common materials for woks are carbon steel and cast iron. While cast-iron skillets are poorer heat conductors than aluminum or copper skillets, they have the advantage of being able to hold more heat and distribute it more uniformly. Cast-iron skillets also accumulate a natural nonstick coating from the fats and oils of cooking. This “seasoning” is the result of oils breaking down and reacting to form a carbon-containing residue. Carbon is an element that takes many forms (ranging from coal to diamonds), but in this case, the carbonized layer protects the metal from corrosion and reduces sticking that would otherwise result from food hitting a bare, hot metal surface.
When nestled in the flames of a fire, the sloping sides distribute heat evenly among the food being cooked. The technique of pushing food away from the center and up the sloping edges regulates heat distribution and allows cooking to alternate between higher and lower temperatures, which ultimately gives the chef more control.
Read Thy Tran’s notes on woks at hyphenmagazine.com.
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Afro-Asian Jung A couple creates a more perfect union Writer Bryant Terry and Jidan Koon
Jung Yield: 20 servings Cooking soundtrack: “Chinese New Year” by Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics from Inspiration Information 3 Jung (also called “zongzi”) is a simple, balanced and complete meal of rice, protein and vegetables wrapped in bamboo leaves. For centuries, jung has provided working people in China and southeast Asia with inexpensive portable food that holds well without refrigeration. Like tamale-making in Mexico, jung-wrapping is a skill passed down through generations. We learned to make jung from a friend’s mom two years ago and since then have remixed the recipe in endless variations. For our engagement party, we created Afro-Asian jung to symbolize our union: healthy, scrumptious, and made in the spirit of unifying our two cultures. We both came to the table deeply rooted in our cultural food ways and excited to create something new together. Our tastiest meals are microcosms of our histories, remembered through our grandmothers’ kitchens. When making Afro-Asian Jung, we set out to illuminate the shared past of Asians and African Americans who fought side by side in the social justice movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and to honor our great-grandfathers who toiled as agricultural laborers to build this country’s wealth. While glutinous or sweet rice is traditionally used to give jung its trademark stickiness, we used three kinds of rice to add color, texture and depth of flavor. For additional filling, we used peanuts (a staple of African and African American cooking as well as a symbol of long life for Chinese), black-eyed peas (a symbol of good luck for African Americans), and shiitake mushrooms (a symbol of longevity in Japan and China).
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night in water over overnight rice, soaked aked in water so e, 1 cup black ric t) ee w (s s ernight ou ov in er ut wat n gl e, soaked in 2 cups brow s (sweet) ric ou in ut gl te hi 2 cups w salt Coarse sea olive oil ght s extra-virgin water overni 5 tablespoon as, soaked in pe ed ey kght ac ni bl er ps ov cu er 2 at 1/ 1 aked in w ushrooms, so aps) 10 shiitake m tras for mish ex ith (w es leav o bo m ba 40 diced 1 large onion, strands w peanuts 27-inch-long ra ps cu 2 1/ 1 t into sixteen cu g rin st n tural cotto 1 spool of na
Dipping Sauce 1/2 cup cilantro, minced 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced 1/2 cup green onion, sliced thinly 1/2 cup tamari 2 tablespoons white vin egar 1 1/2 teaspoons raw organic cane sugar 1/2 cup water
In a large pot over high heat, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. In batches of 4 or 5, boil the bamboo leaves until soft, about 2 minutes. After all the leaves are boiled, rinse well and transfer to a container, and cover with fresh water. With scissors, cut the leaves widthwise, about 1/4-inch below the stem. Discard stems (Step 1).
corner (Step 9). Take the section of folded leaf that overextends the jung and fold it over to one side of the jung (Step 11). This is the last fold to close up the corner. It is important that enough of the leaf overextends the jung in order to make these last folds.
Drain all the rice and combine in a large bowl. Add one teaspoon salt and three tablespoons oil and set aside. Drain the black-eyed peas and set aside. Drain the shiitake mushrooms and cut into halves.
During this phase of wrapping, parts of leaves may crack open. If the crack is small (one inch or less), use another leaf to cover the crack. After making the three-sided pyramid shape, layer the extra leaf upon the crack and wrap the rest of the leaf around the pyramid.
In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion with two tablespoons oil until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the peanuts and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the peanuts start browning, about five minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Tightly wrap a strand of string around the jung, leaving four to five inches loose to make the last knot. Start wrapping to secure the last corner fold; this helps the whole jung stay together as you wrap the rest of it (Step 12). Make a tight double knot (Step 13).
Arrange all the ingredients on a worktable.
Cooking In a large pot over high heat, bring four quarts fresh water to a boil. Drop the jung into the boiling water, cover, and cook for two hours. Extra jung can be frozen and re-boiled later. While the jung are boiling, combine all dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
To make jung Line up two bamboo leaves lengthwise, vein-side down, placing the right leaf’s left edge flush against the left leaf’s vein. Fold the pointed end up, one third of the length of the leaves (Step 2). Then fold the leaves in half lengthwise (Step 3). Create a pocket for the filling by opening up the fold of the last two leaves on the right (Steps 4 and 5). Holding the pocket at its deepest corner (Step 6), add ingredients in the following order: two tablespoons rice, one tablespoon onion-peanut mixture, one tablespoon black eyed peas, one mushroom half, and one more tablespoon rice (Step 7).
Remove the jung from the water and let cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Guests can cut the string with scissors and unwrap the jung onto their plates, or you can unwrap and serve one jung per person. Discard the string and leaves. Spoon dipping sauce onto the jung to taste. Bryant Terry is an eco chef, food justice activist, and author of Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine and Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. Jidan Koon is an artist, community
Fold the leaves over the pocket (Step 8) and extend the leaves’ ends beyond the pocket’s edge by one to three inches. The jung should be tightly wrapped, resembling a three-sided pyramid.
organizer, and senior fellow at the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland, California.
Fold down the leaves’ sides in order to make the pyramid’s last
step 10 step 8
See a video of how to make Afro-Asian Jung at hyphenmagazine.com.
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law school started to change my view of the world from gender to class analysis. It’s about access to income — and access to income is directly tied to access to food. Tell us about the work that you do. There are over 13.1 million food service workers in the US, making it cumulatively the largest private sector employer in the country. But there is practically no research on workers. ROC does worker-led, participatory surveys. For example, we recently surveyed undocumented workers and found many were
“Food is so powerful. When you break bread with someone, you’re less likely to do them wrong.” paid just $1,500 a month to work 10- to 12-hour days, seven days a week. We’ve been able to show in New York that the restaurants with the most labor violations also have the most difficulty complying with health and safety codes, because people are rushed and laws are being disrespected.
Bonnie Kwon ain’t tolerating worker abuse.
Labor of Love
The implications of food go far beyond nourishment. Writer Nina Kahori Fallenbaum Photographer Stacey Vaeth Gonzalez Bonnie Kwon is prepared to cook and defend. In 2009, she co-founded the District of Columbia branch of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a national organization that advocates for better conditions for restaurant workers. She’s also a labor organizer, a lawyer and a host of legendary home-cooked Sunday dinners. She recently spoke with Hyphen about the facts behind the food. How did you become interested in restaurant organizing? My mom grew up in a family that treasured food and food customs. But it wasn’t until I got into women’s studies in college that I started to understand that food was one way my mother and grandmother expressed their power in a patriarchal family. Later,
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The vision is to organize a food workers’ alliance to bridge the entire food system, from farming all the way to distributing, manufacturing, packaging and restaurant service work. We would like to create a seal showing that each hand that has interacted with your food was justly treated. Finally, we’re sponsoring a bill that would increase the federal tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of regular minimum wage. That would more than double what restaurant workers receive before tips, from $2.13 to $5.08 an hour. How has the rise of celebrity chefs impacted restaurant labor rights? When we talk about local foods and wonderful restaurants, most people don’t think about the conditions of the workers. I know I didn’t before I began this work. In New York, we had campaigns against Daniel Boulud, a five-star chef who was discriminating against workers. A lot of these celebrity chefs on the Food Network have really bad working conditions for their employees. (Editor’s Note: Boulud settled a lawsuit filed by eight workers and backed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that accused him of discrimination. He denied that he discriminated but agreed to pay the workers $80,000 and have his promotion policy monitored by the EEOC and the state of New York.) Has your work changed the way you go out to eat? When I step into a restaurant, I immediately look at the waitstaff to see if it’s diverse. I look in terms of race, gender and age. Then, I try to think about the complexity of the place, remembering that it’s not just one person who is serving you. All these different components are working together.
This work makes me more aware as a consumer, personally. It’s also made me have a lot of debates about whether I should continue eating meat. But that’s a whole other area of food policy. It’s hard because I really love meat [laughs]. Talk about discrimination in restaurant labor. ROC just published a report called “The Great Service Divide.” About 20 percent of restaurant jobs pay a living wage, but these jobs are mostly front of the house: bartenders and servers. In some very high-end restaurants, those people can make over $100,000 a year. So we lead classes to teach low-income workers, women and people of color to upgrade their skills and transition to front-of-the-house jobs. Our research in New York found that a white worker has twice the chance of a person of color to obtain one of those positions, even with the exact same — and often even fewer — qualifications. We sent out people with similar qualifications to apply for the same jobs. Many Latino workers tell us employers will only consider them for dishwasher or busser jobs, which is pretty brazen. We see that a lot in Asian-owned restaurants. Many Asian restaurant owners have a preference for Asians or Asian Americans at the front of the house. What does Asian American food mean to you? It is a political construct, but there is a kinship between Asian cuisines. Even though you and I don’t share the same country of origin, there are a lot of shared experiences and similarities in the ways this country has interacted with our families. When we hold these Sunday meals at our house, it’s a good feeling. So when I think about Asian America, I don’t necessarily think about my family. I think about the family we have here in DC, the community we are making now. Food is so powerful. When you break bread with someone, you’re less likely to do them wrong. On a really basic level, when I host a meal and provide food for someone to nourish their body, they’re trusting me. If we could bump that up just a little bit more and start thinking about our decisions as political beings when we choose to eat somewhere, it could be that much more powerful.
For more information, visit rocunited.org
Open for Interpretation Museums that chronicle ethnic groups portray history that is often up for debate. Writer Vanessa Hua Illustrator Cielo Oreste One autumn afternoon, Lisa Kwon and her elderly father Yui Woon find themselves among crowds of visitors at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York (MOCA). It is Thursday, a day when the museum is free to the public. The museum, which recently reopened after an $8.1 million transformation, charts Chinese presence in the United States — from its earliest days in the 1700s, to tribulations following the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, to present-day successes as embodied by Jerry Yang of Yahoo!, Steve Chen of YouTube and Jennifer 8. Lee of The New York Times. The museum’s exhibition “resonates with me and makes me realize that Chinese have roots that go back and are a strong part of American history,” says Kwon, 42, an attorney born in Hong Kong and raised in Brooklyn, NY. “Yet we know so little about
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[these roots].” A century ago, Kwon’s great-grandfather sojourned in San Francisco before moving back to China. Two generations later, his descendants returned to the United States. “I am an immigrant, too,” Yui Woon, 73, says proudly in Cantonese with a smile. Backed by powerful institutions, museums in general — and ethnic museums in particular — help validate otherwise-overlooked collective histories, such as the one Kwon and her father identify with. “Museums are important venues in which a society can define itself and present itself publicly,” Steven Dubin writes in his book, Displays of Power: Controversy in the American Museum from the Enola Gay to Sensation, which analyzes exhibits that have drawn
“[The museum] resonates with me and makes me realize that Chinese have roots that go back and are a strong part of American history.” — Lisa Kwon, visitor at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York
public ire. “Museums solidify culture, endow it with tangibility, in a way few other things do.” But museums and their exhibits are subject to controversy. Quite often, history and its interpretation are the focus of intense debate. “People butt heads over representations and portrayals,” Dubin writes. “They struggle for their interpretation of some historical moment to win out. They crusade to control what others know and feel about certain issues.” The Smithsonian Institution, for example, canceled a 1995 exhibit about the Hiroshima bombing when US veterans complained that the exhibit portrayed them as aggressors and the Japanese as victims. Museum officials struggle simultaneously to address competing needs and interests, to stay relevant and timely, to maintain a curatorial perspective and to minimize embroilment in controversy. For museums serving traditionally underrepresented communities, the stakes are even higher. “There’s a sense of ownership that can be powerful,” Dubin says in an interview. “But it’s a special challenge. People can get nasty, and museums closely attached to a community are in dan-
ger of alienating funders. To tackle a controversial topic, [museums] need to [approach] it more delicately, with a lot of preparatory work.” Despite its outreach efforts, the Oakland Museum of California encountered trouble in 2004 over an exhibit about California and the Vietnam War. The exhibit’s 500 historical artifacts, photographs and documents were interwoven with film clips, music and oral histories — many from veterans and refugees. The material was arranged in 11 chronological sections covering topics from pre-war grass-roots activism in California to Hollywood portrayals of the conflict. The exhibit encountered criticisms that it failed to incorporate the Southeast Asian perspective and that officials did not seriously consider community suggestions. A further outcry arose when the only Vietnamese American on the exhibit’s staff was dismissed days after protesting that the exhibit was not sufficiently inclusive. In response, the museum created a temporary Southeast Asian advisory board and, at the board’s suggestion, added material about Vietnam and Southeast Asian history and included a wider range of stories in the exhibit. The museum also renamed the exhibit: The original title was Next Stop Vietnam: California and the Nation Transformed, misleadingly suggesting a focus on the war itself rather than on concurrent events in California. The exhibit was re-dubbed: What’s Going On? — California and the Vietnam Era. In addition, another Vietnamese American staff member was hired — only to resign within months out of protest that changes to the exhibit were only cosmetic. Bich Ngoc Nguyen, who served on the project’s advisory committee, recalls her frustration during that time. The committee had met several times with museum officials and offered suggestions, but only when staff members left did they realize that their input would not necessarily be implemented or even taken seriously. Indeed, Nguyen says, the modified exhibit still did not seem “authentic.” “It was a huge education for us,” says Indra Mungal, a community programs manager at the Oakland Museum. She describes how museum staff spent hundreds of hours reading emails and talking to people by phone. “There were still a lot of wounds around the stories.” The museum has tasked three long-term advisory committees — Asian American, African American and Latino — with connecting curators to community members, finding artifacts and raising issues, Mungal says. In addition, the museum provides programs that endeavor to provide content that space- and budget-limited exhibits cannot. In an effort to include as many voices as possible, the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle takes a community approach to nearly all exhibits. Committees staffed mostly by community
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Valley and further [beyond]. It’s our biggest challenge to show that this is a place for them, too, even though newer immigrants may not know or feel connected to this history.” To that end, the museum held focus groups among Mandarin speakers living east of downtown, and found many interested in aspects of Chinese culture such as tea and calligraphy. “We have to find a Chinese American, a Los Angeles spin to these topics,” Wong says. The museum’s current exhibit, Hollywood Chinese, which runs through May 30, reveals this community’s changing role in the film industry. Much material is drawn from the collection of Arthur Dong, a San Francisco native whose 2007 documentary of the same name was critically The Sun Wing Wo General Store and Herb Shop is a recreation of a store that was on the site of CAM in the 1890’s. acclaimed. The exhibit fills two galleries of the mumembers decide on storylines, exhibit designs and related ma- seum and addresses geopolitics in movies, major characters such terials. as Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan, and films such as Flower Drum Although the museum was originally dedicated to Chinese Song. Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the board decided two It also includes stills from the first Chinese American movie, decades ago, to expand the museum’s scope to reflect demoa 1916 silent film shot in San Francisco, and a collection of lurid graphic changes in the surrounding community. In 2008, the mumovie posters (“Gold lust was the lure … a gold-skinned beauty seum welcomed 50,000 visitors when it reopened in its larger, was the trap!” screams the tagline for Rider on a Dead Horse). 7,200-square-foot space. Display cases contain a pair of Fu Manchu “Oriental specs,” a Fu “We facilitate a process where the community develops stronManchu board game and other memorabilia. ger ownership for the stories being told,” says Beth Takekawa, the On the first floor, a permanent exhibit features a re-creation museum’s executive director. of a general store and an herbal medicine counter. Information is The Asian adoptee exhibit in 1995 was particularly complex presented in Spanish, English and Chinese. The museum is loto facilitate. Its committee included first-wave adoptees who are cated near bustling Olvera Street, a popular historical attraction now adults, adoptive parents with younger children and adoption of Mexican shops and restaurants, and visitors often arrive by acagencies. cident. “There are tense moments, but you have to allow all opinions Visitors can pull out drawers in the general store to see, side by expressed. It’s all part of the story. You can’t only present one side, Eastern herbal treatments in contrast to Western medicine: a thing,” Takekawa says. “We’re [presenting] oral history based on root for treating aches and pains versus a tube of Bengay. It also [each] person’s point of view and not a sociological generality.” displays the dragonhead used in parades. In Los Angeles, the Chinese American Museum tries to stay The Museum of Chinese in America in New York — designed relevant by planning shows only a year in advance, in contrast to by architect Maya Lin — also features a re-created general store the multiyear efforts at large institutions. “We have to be able to act quickly to capture the issue and offer the historical point of view,” says Pauline Wong, executive director of the museum, which opened at the end of 2003. “We want to stay flexible and close to the community.” But defining the community is difficult when the “who” and the “where” are constantly evolving. The Chinese American Museum is located in the last remaining building in the original Los Angeles Chinatown, much of which was razed to make way for a freeway and Union Station. The brick building, formerly an unofficial town hall that housed Chinese businesses, community associations, schools and apartments, serves about 20,000 visitors annually. “We are in historic Chinatown. This is our homethis [is] where the Chinese gate is,” Wong says. “But From the With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America exhibit at MOCA. there are new Chinese communities in the San Gabriel
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Photo Credits: (Top, Left) Chinese American Museum | (Bottom, right) Courtesy of Maya Lin Studio / Museum of Chinese in America
“We facilitate a process where the community develops stronger ownership for the stories being told.” — Beth Takekawa, executive director of Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle according to a study commissioned by the American Association of Museums). Positive change may hinge on the influence of daughters like Lisa A recreation of the American Express Heritage Chinatown Shop, Kwon, whose father housed in New York’s MOCA. shopped daily in New York’s Chinatown but would have never visited the museum if not for Kwon’s insistence that afternoon. Many museums have reached out with children’s programs to draw in otherwise-hesitant parents, while others are broadening their offerings to engage wider audiences. In the last decade, the Oakland Museum has twice renamed its “Chinese New Year Celebration” — first as “Lunar New Year Celebration” and then as “Lunar New Year Celebration and other Asian Traditions” — to express greater inclusiveness in a program that now features performances by Thai, Cambodian and other cultural groups. “The [San Francisco] Bay Area has so many Asian cultures,” says Snowy Tung, family programs coordinator for the Oakland Museum. “We want to everyone to hear the voices and know the differences.” Vanessa Hua is a writer based in Southern California. This is her first article for Hyphen.
both photos on this pageCourtesy of Maya Lin Studio / Museum of Chinese in America
and dragonhead, reflecting the shared history and culture of Chinese Americans across the country. From its 1980 inception, MOCA reached into the community seeking the oral histories of garment, laundry and restaurant workers. Museum staff taught schoolchildren interview techniques “empowering them to ask questions at the dinner table,” says Cynthia Lee, MOCA’s curator and director of exhibitions. But of the workers interviewed, Lee says, “How many came through the doors for the exhibitions? Not as many we wanted.” Part of the problem was logistical: In the past, exhibits were on the second floor with no elevator, making them hard to find. MOCA also reassessed its target audiences. This meant “looking at who tends to think about museum-going, what are they looking for and how are they introduced,” Lee says. One resulting strategy works through family ties: “We work with kids in the neighborhood, and hope the kids tell their families.” All museums must contend with changing demographics if they hope to attract and retain visitors. Figures suggest that today’s museums are struggling to do so. The median attendance for all museums is 26,500, according to the American Association of Museums triennial survey. Art museums fare better with a median attendance of 44,878, while specialized museums — including ethnic institutions — logged in at 22,000. In addition, museums oriented to ethnicity and identity may struggle to attract an audience that doesn’t habitually visit museums (only 9 percent of core museum visitors are minorities,
With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America traces Chinese American history and the immigrant experience in the US.
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Kuping Pan had two abortions, one in Taiwan and one in the United States.
Many Asian American women accept abortion as a practical way out of an unwanted situation.
Writer Lisa Wong Macabasco Priscilla Hwang portraits by Hatnim Lee Kuping Pan portraits by Derek Lieu
One day five years ago, Kuping Pan’s 28-year-old daughter, Christine, came home wearing a quizzical expression. Christine had just visited a Vietnamese fortune teller who looked deep into her face and proclaimed: Your mother has five children. Christine was puzzled. She knew her mother had been pregnant four times: with her older sister, her younger brother, herself, and a subsequent pregnancy that ended in an abortion. “So I told her the story,” Pan says. Pan had two abortions. The one her daughter knew about happened around 1979. The other one happened nine years earlier, in Pan’s hometown of Taipei, Taiwan, when Pan was 23. Her thenboyfriend (later husband) had just left for graduate school in Kansas, and she had recently graduated from college. Abortions are generally accepted in Taiwan (where the procedure became legal in 1985), due in part to the stigma associated with unwed motherhood. “In Taiwan, if you’re unmarried with a baby, you cannot have your head up,” Pan says, observing a fact that has persisted even in recent years. “It’s a big issue to us. It’s better to have an abortion than to be an unmarried mother.” Pan’s parents, both medical doctors and devout Christians,
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were disappointed but not enraged and swiftly arranged the abortion procedure. “In Taiwan, in church, we don’t talk about abortion [being] wrong,” Pan says. “I never had the impression that abortion is some big thing and you’re not supposed to do it. It’s not a touchy topic. ... People say ‘just go and do it.’ ” Pan, now 62 and living in Thousand Oaks, CA, never secondguessed her decision. “It was not an appropriate time for me to be a mother,” she says matter-of-factly. “I never feel ashamed or [regretful] or anything.” It was such a minor footnote in her life, from a different era and country, that she didn’t think to tell her children about it. Pan’s confident and almost nonchalant attitude about abortion resonates in the Asian American community, whose abortion rate rose 11 percent in the 1990s while rates fell for all other racial and ethnic groups. While the decision to abort still involves emotional wrangling and not all who have made it are eager to discuss it, many Asian American women accept that the procedure may be necessary and prudent. Amid barbed national debates about abortion access — and despite religious ties, intergenerational communica-
tion gaps and taboos regarding sex (particularly premarital sex) — Asian American women are standing assertively behind their choices, and behind other women’s right to make that choice.
Women have had abortions for as long as they have had children. In fact, the oldest known medical text containing abortion techniques appeared in China over 4,700 years ago. Today, support for abortion is strong among Asian American women, even as it has recently waned in the American population at large. The National Asian Women’s Health Organization found that nearly 70 percent of Asian American women back the decision to abort; 90 percent support it in cases of rape or incest. As support for abortion has risen, so has the rate at which Asian American women undergo the procedure. In 2000, about 35 percent of Asian American pregnancies ended in abortion, the second highest rate for all racial and ethnic groups behind blacks,
“In Taiwan, if you’re unmarried with a baby, you cannot have your head up ... It’s better to have an abortion than to be an unmarried mother.” — Kuping Pan, mother of three who had two abortions
and almost double the 18 percent rate for whites. In 2007, the most recent year statistics were available, 13,488 Asian Americans went to Planned Parenthood for abortions nationwide, and 5,494 did so in California alone. Asian Americans are at risk for unintended pregnancies in part because their knowledge about sex remains pitifully low (which is curious, considering that Asian American teens start having sex later than other American teens). Clifford Yee, youth program coordinator at Asian Health Services in Oakland, CA, has been asked whether douching with Mountain Dew prevents pregnancy. Some women who participated in the California Young Women’s Collaborative, a sexual health program for college-aged Asian American women, were so enthused to finally learn about the subject that they hung speculums, a medical examination tool, on their dorm walls. A few were so inexperienced that they didn’t know what the withdrawal method was the program’s former research director Amy Lam says. Unawareness about sexual health combines with risky contraception practices. The withdrawal method has been popular among Asian American women, who tend to eschew both hormonal birth control and consistent condom use. “Lack of information for both parents and youth, paired up with lack of knowledge about local clinical resources, leads to unintended pregnancy” among Asian American women, Yee says. “They think they can have unprotected sex and not get pregnant. They don’t know that much about birth control and don’t know where to go to get it. It’s very typical.” And pregnancy is just one possible outcome: Among women of all racial and ethnic groups,
Asian American women have experienced the highest rate of increase for certain sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia. The problem begins at home, according to Lam, who has researched sexual behavior in the Asian American community. “When you come from a culture where your family doesn’t talk about sex, how can you talk to your partner about safe sex when you don’t have that role model?” Linked to this point is that old chestnut, the model minority myth: Asian parents refuse to think their well-mannered, studious children are having sex. Yee remembers one angry mother who found her 15-year-old’s birth control pills and still claimed her daughter was too young to be sexually active. “There’s a little bit of stubbornness there,” Yee says. “Some parents truly don’t want to believe their child can be out there having sex.” The children, too, internalize the parental expectations underlying that belief and go to great lengths — including abortion — to propagate the falsehood. Lam says, “In many Asian American cultures, it’s not the abortion that’s taboo; that’s a white thing. Having sex is [what’s] taboo. Abortions are the strategies used to cover up that you’re having sex. At all costs, you’re not supposed to have sex.”
Pan recalls little about her abortion procedure, except that it was night, she heard metal tools, she was anesthetized and felt no pain. In Taiwan, estimates of the yearly abortion rate approach or even exceed the birthrate, which was 191,000 last year. Between 30 and 50 percent of Taiwanese women have had an abortion. Legalization of abortion has not been as controversial in Asia as in the West. Most countries from which Asian Americans commonly emigrate from have either legalized abortion (China and India, among others) or only leniently enforce bans (Japan and South Korea, for example). Some like Dr. Olivia Hsia would trace Asian Americans’ liberal views of abortion back to Asia. “One-fifth of the [Asian American] population is Chinese, and China is all for abortions,” says Hsia, a family physician in Fremont, CA, referring to China’s one-child policy and its other population control efforts. Hsia recalls a recent trip to Sichuan, China, where she was shocked that panda fetuses received round-the-clock nursing care. “To protect pandas more than human beings and encourage people to kill babies …,” she says. On that trip, Hsia was later impelled to print out scripture verses and distribute them at churches in order to discourage abortion. A Hong Kong-born Christian who can quote the Bible prolifically, Hsia claims she was the near-victim of an abortion 57 years ago, when her parents doubted they could afford to raise a fourth child. “A missionary told my father that children are gifts from God,” she says. The same principle now grounds her refusal to provide abortion services. Hsia sees herself as one of few advocates for unborn children. “There is a heartbeat and brain waves. All these things are features of an embryo. They have a life. Size should not determine whether they live or die. Should a toddler [be more entitled to live] than a 4-month-old fetus?” She believes pregnancies should not be terminated even in cases of birth defect: “I’ve heard stories that people pray over
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their unborn child and end cause Lucy is hypoglyceup delivering a healthy mic — meaning she has “I needed an ironclad plan of action to baby — the Lord heals,” unusually low blood sugar Hsia says; or rape, “The — she must eat regularly ensure that my parents would never find child [should not be] or risk fainting. She told out — ever.” doomed to die because of this friend she was hungry the sin of [the] father.” Acand had to get dinner first, — “Lucy,” explaining her decision to hide knowledging pro-choice and he agreed. The next her pregnancy by having an abortion arguments, Hsia says she thing she remembers is too is in favor of choice: waking up hung over in his “The woman can choose bed with a sore groin. the husband, where to live. But if you choose to kill another inAs it turned out, “I got really drunk after he gave me one drink, dividual … you don’t have that choice. What about the choice of promising me food after,” Lucy says. At the time, she was just the unborn?” beginning to understand alcohol’s effects on her hypoglycemia. “I Pan, on the other hand, is puzzled by and even dismissive of had that weird feeling that something really bad happened to me.” conservative attitudes toward abortion. While the US debate often She demanded answers, and her friend apologetically admitfixates on abortion as “killing a life,” Pan says, “In Taiwan, they ted they’d had sex. Furious, Lucy extracted more details: He used have more concern for the mother. Maybe she’s not married [and] a condom but it broke. They went through the trash so she could she’s not supposed to have a baby. That would be a shame to her inspect the tear. A few days later, a pregnancy test came up posifamily and to herself. So abortion is a very natural option.” tive. Pan’s second abortion took place after she moved to the UnitWhen Lucy told him about the pregnancy, he brushed her ed States. It was the consequence of an unintended pregnancy aside. Lucy’s other best friend, a Catholic, pledged to accompany following the birth of her two daughters, prior to her son’s birth. Lucy to a clinic, but never showed. This second abortion was an open secret among her children. After that, Lucy was afraid to tell anyone. The majority of her For Pan’s youngest child, Wesley, learning later about her first friends were Christian (she is Buddhist), and she didn’t want to be abortion changed his perception of his mother. In general, he says judged or to make them choose between her and their religion. In “it is hard to imagine your parents as once being your age and go- fact, initially she dismissed the idea of an abortion, as she too felt ing through similar situations that you are going through.” But dis- that she had a life inside her, and she had always dreamed of havcovering this information “made me realize even more that she too ing a large family (though not under these circumstances). is human and was once young and made mistakes,” says Wesley, She mentally constructed various scenarios that might enwho calls himself “very pro-choice.” able her to keep the baby without her parents finding out. She Pan feels positive about her decisions, though she concedes considered having a quick wedding with an ex-boyfriend who had that things may be different for younger women. “When you get to extended a marriage offer, and raising the child with a “pretend this age, over 60, you should be pretty confident about your life. husband.” She dwelled extensively on what she deemed the best Don’t feel guilty for your own choice. You should be in control of solution: moving away and giving up the child for adoption. your own body.” But Lucy’s eventual decision to have an abortion hinged on one factor: “I needed an ironclad plan of action to ensure that my parents would never find out — ever,” she says. “I ultimately chose the path of least destruction and [least] shame for my parents.” She went to Planned Parenthood, but was told it was too early “Lucy” has developed a talent for crying discreetly. In 2004, to terminate the pregnancy. The day before the next appointment, when she found out she was pregnant, the 27-year-old Taiwanese she had a miscarriage in the middle of a family dinner. American became adept at hiding her crying from co-workers on “I had to put on a smile and act like nothing was wrong and just a daily basis. More recently, when we talk by phone, she begins run to the bathroom every hour,” she recalls. “It felt like a knife was to cry silently before I ask the first question. Fifteen seconds of slicing through my stomach. I remember keeping a straight, soft silence pass, and I begin to wonder whether our phone line has face and shoving rice down my throat.” been disconnected before I finally hear her speak again. The physical pain mirrored the emotional trauma she had enLucy (not her real name) has a strong, clear voice and is up- dured during prior weeks when she was contemplating abortion. beat, almost chipper, even when she cries. Once she has stopped She had been “utterly lonely,” crying every day — “bawling, sobcrying, she tells me of her “incredibly happy” upper-middle-class bing uncontrollably. I cried at work softly, staring intently at my childhood in Texas, with supportive parents, a flurry of extracur- monitor with tears dripping onto the keyboard, hoping that none of ricular activities (band, dance, tennis) and tons of friends who kept my co-workers would find out.” She had been tortured by the idea her glued to the phone. Her college résumé included leadership of “getting rid of a child in my stomach.” roles in Asian American organizations and every internship she Today, Lucy has come to terms with what happened to her, pursued. “I was on top of the world,” she says. yet she still shies away from discussing the experience and from But Lucy was naïve. “I always wanted to help people, to be nice to talking about herself in general. But it’s neither shame nor regret people,” she says. “I didn’t have a backbone. I didn’t like saying no.” that holds her back. “I only like getting feedback from people who She thinks her naïveté contributed to a bad situation that un- know what they’re talking about and won’t give me the sympafolded one October evening in 2004. She made plans for drinks thetic look and have nothing constructive to say. I don’t like the with her best friend, a man she had known since junior high. Be- ‘I’m sorry’ response.”
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Kuping Pan holds up a picture of herself as a young woman.
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Research shows that Asian American families rarely discuss sex — certainly less often than families of other ethnic groups do. According to a 1997 survey, one-third of Asian Americans in California never discussed pregnancy, STDs, birth control or sexuality in their households. More than half felt uncomfortable discussing reproductive health with their mothers and even more so with fathers and brothers. One study found that while 60 percent of Asian American women learned from their parents about abstinence, few gleaned any details about sexual health. Researcher Lam says the discussion of sex among family members is just one aspect of the ideal multi-pronged approach to promoting sexual health awareness in the community. “One thing you do isn’t going to solve things — it has to happen on the cultural level, the policy level, the family level and the individual
Priscilla Hwang of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum never told her family about her abortion.
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level. Culturally, how do we de-stigmatize [communication about sex]? Parents want to talk to children about sex but don’t know how.” Often the discussion goes no further than “Don’t do it,” Lam says. But, “that isn’t going to help your kids when they become sexually active. [It’s] going to take a long time to break those barriers.” That change may not come soon enough: Teen pregnancy is much higher among American-born Asians than among Asian Americans born abroad. American-born Indian teens, for example, were 16 times more likely to have children than emigrants from India. Experts say more sexual freedom for second-generation Asian American youth may lead to higher future rates of abortion, unless effective contraceptive education takes place. Lam stresses the importance of discussing sex in frank but age-appropriate ways to children early on. “In Asian cultures, even neutral sexual terms like body parts are taboo,” she says. For purposes of normalizing sex, then, the earlier you start the easier it is later on. “Otherwise, when they’re age 13, how are you going to explain what safe sex is? The learning curve is too high.” Lam is well acquainted with the power of taboos: She got pregnant at age 18 but did not tell anyone for the first six months. “I was so ashamed,” Lam says. She had the child, although her staunchly Christian family encouraged her to have an abortion. The sense that sex is forbidden remains deep-rooted today, Lam says, even among American-born Asians like herself and even despite the hypersexual tenor of American society. “It’s surprising to see how strongly our cultural notions around sexuality have held on,” she says, noting that cultural beliefs about sexuality can last for generations. “That’s how tight and ingrained in culture it is.”
Priscilla Hwang first learned about sex in third grade. Her mother plopped onto her desk a slim, four-volume reproductive health encyclopedia purchased at a garage sale. “She says, ‘Read this,’ ” Hwang says. The books contained no photos — only scientific anatomical drawings — and large print intended for young readers. Hwang and her mother never discussed the books. Hwang, now 31, has thought a lot about the lack of Asian mother-daughter dialogue about sex and sexual health, and about whether that rift complicates efforts to address those issues as adults. “It definitely made it complicated for me,” she says. Hwang recently joined the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum in Washington, D.C., as its associate director of policy. Before that she held a similar position at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, also in Washington, and has worked on reproductive rights for the past six years. She regularly addresses college students, sharing the details of her abortion. “But I still haven’t told my own family,” she says with an embarrassed chuckle. “It still makes me feel ashamed of myself because this is what I do.” Hwang became pregnant by accident in 2003, at age 24, while living in San Francisco. She was not ready for a child. In addition to lacking money (she was an entry-level social worker) she had applied to law school and was set on going. She was also intent on hiding her sexual activity from her strict and
Priscilla Hwang has been working on reproductive rights for the past six years.
conservative parents, both immigrants from Taiwan, who had raised her with the understanding that premarital sex was out of the question. Although Hwang is confident that her parents would have supported her decision to terminate the pregnancy, she thinks they would have been dismayed that she was having sex — unprotected sex, to boot. Hwang had been with her partner, Alex Phan, only a few months, but he supported her fully, from showing concern for her physical and emotional health to helping foot the Planned Parenthood bill to bringing her water after the procedure. Phan, now a 35-year-old systems engineer, says the decision to have an abortion was “instantaneous” for them both and that his primary worry was Hwang’s health. “Even an early-term abortion can be a very stressful, anxious and mind-altering experience for the male partner,” Phan says. “It’s also easy to shield yourself if you’re a man, simply because it’s physically happening to someone else.” Both say the experience brought them closer. Today, they live together in a house they own in Takoma Park, MD, and hope to have kids someday. Hwang remembers the procedure — she elected to have a medical abortion involving pills at home — as uneventful. “Basically laid in bed and watched movies all day,” she says flatly. Afterward, she wondered how she, a smart and informed person who tries to do the right thing, had gotten into such
a predicament — how she had let herself go for so long without using birth control or condoms regularly. “I was shocked with myself,” she says. “Because I knew [about] that stuff.” She also reflected on her discomfort with discussing her own sexual health. Even in her early 20s, her face would turn red when her doctor asked about her sexual history (studies show Asian American teens are less likely to discuss sexual activity with their doctors than teens of other ethnic and racial groups). That disappointment with herself galvanized her to advocate for reproductive rights and health education. Today, Hwang uses her experience to encourage Asian Americans to speak up. “I try to de-stigmatize and humanize the issue because sex and sexuality [are] taboo in a lot of Asian communities and Asian immigrant families, as they were in mine.” As for talking to her own family, she says with a small laugh, “We’ll see”. Lisa Wong Macabasco is Hyphen’s managing editor. She last wrote about parents’ reactions to website MyMomIsAFob.com.
Read more stories of Asian American women who have had abortions at hyphenmagazine.com.
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The Work of Gina Osterloh
Writer Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik What are the boundaries of the body? Look closely at Gina Osterloh’s images for the telltale signs of a body in search of connection. Legs sink into the floor and bodies emerge out of the wall. Combining sculpture and performance, Osterloh constructs rooms of cut paper for her figures to inhabit. Her current work emerged out of what she describes as “a frustration with photography’s desire to classify or quantify whoever was sitting in the photograph.” Osterloh says, “It all goes back to assimiliation. To the ‘What are you?’ you want to offer a blank.” For Osterloh, this “blank” is a point of disruption, a momentary gap or slippage in a basic act of communication and the territory of her work. Osterloh, born in Texas, raised in Ohio and currently based in Los Angeles, spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Manila, Philippines, where she frequented supply stores that carried office paper in four — and only four — colors. Sheets of that pale pink, yellow, blue and green paper became Cut Room and Rash Room (influenced by a case of heat rash). Simultaneously becoming their environments and creating them, the bodies in Osterloh’s images mimic their surroundings in otherworldly camouflage. A group show featuring Osterloh’s work opens April 17 at Kate Werble Gallery in New York; a solo exhibition will open in October at SLab (Silverlens Lab) in Manila. For details, visit ginaosterloh.com.
Learn more about Gina Osterloh at hyphenmagazine.com.
Images courtesy of the artist, Silverlens Gallery (Manila) and François Ghebaly Gallery (Los Angeles)
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Untitled (Turquoise Room #1-#4) from the series Blank Athleticism Lightjet on Dibond 48” x 60” | 2007
from the series Shooting Blanks Lambda photograph 30” x 38” | 2008
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Untitled (Turquoise Room #5) from the series Blank Athleticism Lightjet on Dibond 48” x 60” | 2007
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from the series Somewhere Tropical Lightjet photograph 36” x 40” | 2006
Press and Erase #1 (left) from the series Blank Athleticism CPrint Mounted on aluminum 24” x 20” | 2007
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Janina Gavankar on the set of a music video shoot.
Passing Strange Facing a tough industry, some Asian Americans in Hollywood leverage their ethnic ambiguity. Writer Gloria Kim Photographer Ejen Chuang FOR MOST ACTORS, it all begins on a high school stage. The sky’s the limit: Productions like Grease, The Sound of Music and A Streetcar Named Desire aren’t cast with the same limited palette as they are in Hollywood. Instead, it’s about acting chops. The teenager onstage playing Stella, Stanley or even Blanche may well be a person of color. However, the range of available roles shrinks considerably after the transition to Hollywood, especially for Asian American actors. In 2008, according to the Screen Actors Guild, 72.5 percent of all theatrical and television roles were white, while Asian/Pacific Islander roles amounted to 3.8 percent. But an exception holds certain for some Asian American actors — those with mutable features who can “pass” for a variety of ethnic roles. Keanu Reeves, whose roots include Hawaiian and Chinese on his father’s side, has played mostly white characters outside of his surprising role as Siddhartha in Little Buddha. Alternatively, Lou Diamond Phillips, whose background includes Filipino, Scottish Irish and Native American, has played an ethnically diverse range of characters. His most famed roles have been Latino — Ritchie Valens in La Bamba and Angel in Stand and Deliver — but he has also played Inuit, Thai and white. With résumés of roles that reflect a cultural hodgepodge, these actors’ careers make us wonder what it’s like to be an ethnically ambiguous performer in Hollywood. For actress Janina Gavankar, of Indian Dutch descent, her part as Maria in a high school production of West Side Story was what encouraged her to pursue acting. “I had been training as a classical pianist, percussionist and vocalist, but when it came to becoming a different person, that was the thing that changed it all for me,” she says. In her acting career, where it’s easier for her to list races and
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ethnicities she hasn’t played, ethnicity has never been an issue for her. “I was born with a freakish face and I can change my face into different people. I went to theater school and learned how to use makeup. Not a lot of people can do that; I am definitely aware of how lucky I am.” Still, competition is fierce. Gavankar explains the typical character breakdown of a television casting call: “Let’s say it’s a show with five girls on it. The first one is Caucasian, 21 to 25, hot, witty. Second one, 21 to 25, African American. Third one, 21 to 25, [Latina]. Then [for the other two characters], it’s ‘submit all ethnicities,’ which is a term that means all three of those and everyone else. That’s where I fit, though sometimes they’ll let me get into the [Latina] game. So not only are you beating out every single one of those three [races], you’re also beating out everyone else in the ‘other’ category to get that role.” Filipino actor Brian Rivera, whose career has largely been in theater, has played every ethnicity from Ecuadorian to Tibetan. But as he focuses on landing more film and television roles, he often gets called in for Latino roles. “I have a Spanish surname so I guess that’s the way they market me,” he says. In an upcoming episode of the NBC medical show Trauma, Rivera delivers all his lines in Spanish. “They were mainly calling for older Latino actors; so when I got called in, I was a little bit surprised, but I was down for it.” And what of the criticism that these roles should go to actors who share the characters’ ethnic backgrounds? “I totally understand that because if there were a Filipino role out there, which is a rarity, I would really want someone Filipino going for it,” Rivera says. “If that weren’t possible, I would hope that person proves enough integrity for the character. That’s something I strive for playing all these different ethnicities.”
“Anyone who’s criticized me for playing a [Latina] role should also be criticizing me for playing someone who’s gay, or someone who’s from L.A. instead of Chicago or the million other things about her that are different than I am.”
PHOTO CREDIT: (Left) Amir sharafeh | (right) Courtesy of showtime
— Janina Gavankar, an actress of Indian Dutch descent
Gavankar, whose most recognizable Hollywood role has been Latina lothario Papi on The L Word, also understands the criticism. However, she says, “anyone who’s criticized me Ethnically ambiguous: Brian Rivera and Janina Gavankar. for playing a [Latina] role should also be criticizing me for playing someone who’s gay, or someone who’s from L.A. instead of Chicago or the million other things about her that are different than I am.” For both actors, ethnicity is just one facet of their characters. “When I think about building a human, if you will, I don’t necessarily think about their ethnicity,” Gavankar says. “I don’t think the characters I’ve been hired for are obsessed with their ethnicity. … I build them based on what they’re going through in their life and someone who’s [Latina] isn’t going to have the same universal themes in their life than someone who’s East Asian, African American or Irish.” Having a versatile look has drawbacks, too. Gavankar lost a show post-L Word because network heads couldn’t see beyond Papi. “The casting directors and creator of the show fought for me. It was a perfect fit, but the head of the network decided that I was too urban,” Gavankar says. While neither actor has played stereotypical roles onscreen, it’s not off the table either. “I think I’d have to, as far as the game goes,”
Rivera says. Gavankar adds, “I’d like to be working 20 years from now on material I want to work on. To be able to do that, I need to gain the respect and earn the right to play these roles.” For Gavankar, she says, “I would definitely turn down something that I think is a gross generalization of any human, but it’s not like we’re so in demand yet that we can be the one that chooses.” The tide does seem to be changing, albeit in small increments, toward more open casting. Cable channel ABC Family maintains an open casting policy in which roles are available to actors of all ethnicities (excluding roles that require a specific ethnicity), and Rivera is particularly heartened by the recent success of Ken Jeong, who has appeared in comedy hits both in theaters (Knocked Up, The Hangover) and on primetime (NBC’s Community). Ethnically ambiguous actors need only look to the career of Ben Kingsley, who is of Indian and English descent, for encouragement. Kingsley has received four Oscar nominations for roles of varying ethnicities (Jewish, Iranian, English and Indian), winning Best Actor for his role in Gandhi. And Gavankar, once thought to be “too urban” by network execs, has joined the cast of The Gates, ABC’s new drama about a gated community with supernatural residents. It airs this summer. “I think people in this industry are realizing there are some really good actors in this community,” Gavankar says. “Good work begets more work. I think we’re just creating it for ourselves by being consistently good.” Gloria Kim is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and designer. This is her first piece for Hyphen.
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The Content of One’s Characters For some Asian American writers, ethnicity issues ease into the backdrop. Writer Neelanjana Banerjee Illustrator Tony Huynh FIRST-TIME NOVELIST Sang Pak says much of the inspiration for his Southern Gothic-esque Wait Until Twilight came to him in his sleep. “Sometimes you have a dream and you wake up and forget about it, but some of them just stick with you,” Pak says. “Well, I was having a lot of those.” Pak translates this otherworldly quality into his writing. Samuel, the protagonist, is a bright 16-year-old whose obsession with a set of deformed baby triplets leads him down a perilous path. The nightmarish scenes where Samuel goes head-to-head with the triplets’ frightening brother are tempered with the daily rhythms of high school life, which Pak captures at a realistic pitch. Though Pak sets the narrative in a locale much like the small Georgia town where he grew up, he leaves the protagonist’s appearance mostly unspecified. “When you have a dream, it’s usually this first-person thing,” Pak says. “In the book, I never describe [Samuel’s] race or anything. That’s also the reason I used present tense — I wanted to keep these subtle surreal elements.” Some three decades since Asian American writing first gained wide popularity, more writers like Pak are venturing away from the ethnicity-focused approach that was once thought to be the key to getting published. The trend away from identity-based stories may be spurred by master of fine arts programs that tend to stay neutral on race in literature, says Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis, a doctoral candidate in Asian American literature at the University of Maryland and co-editor of the recently-launched Asian American Literary Review. “The training one receives in many MFA programs doesn’t necessarily discourage identifying oneself as a writer of color, but it doesn’t necessarily encourage it either,” Davis says. “Workshops overwhelmingly focus on craft as opposed to politics or social critique.” An illustration of the dilemma faced by
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writers of color, Davis says, is found in the opening story in Nam Le’s The Boat — set in an MFA program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — where a writer (also named Nam) refuses to write the expected cultural narrative, despite a visiting literary agent’s exhortation that “ethnic literature’s hot.” “In Le’s story, writing ‘Asian American’ becomes at once a means to publishing success and an act of selling out,” Davis says. “[It’s] a no-win situation for the Asian American writer.” Le’s story collection sets forth narratives about non-Asian American characters (among them, an American woman visiting Tehran, and an Australian teenager) as well as tales about the Vietnamese refugee experience. But, Davis says, although Le’s collection has received critical praise, it hasn’t achieved commensurate sales figures. Perhaps the public hasn’t lost its penchant for the traditional ethnic narrative. Davis also believes the shift is partly a generational one. Early Asian American writers felt pressure to explain their cultures because Asians were absent from the public imagination. For example, Maxine Hong Kingston’s novel China Men (1980) details the stories of Chinese men in America from the 1840s to the Vietnam War in order to provide “a Chinese American history lesson” that textbooks weren’t providing. But as such Asian American novels proliferated through the 1990s, such “ethnographic writing” was increasingly derided as pandering to the mainstream, Davis says. Second- and third-generation Asian Americans were no longer interested in narratives highlighting customs and food; they craved something new. But the standard immigrant stories, typically marked by family recipes and arranged marriages, met consistent success that kept fueling their publication. For Asian American writers, Davis says, “the landscape had changed — just as many black writers, earlier in the 20th century, went from championing African American literature to wanting to be known simply as writers, not [as] black writers.” Pak certainly faced the prototypical writer’s experience on his road to publication, enduring his share of unpublished novels and rejection letters. But unlike many other
Asian American writers who preceded him, he was never told by agents or publishers that his writing wasn’t “Asian enough” to position his books as ethnic literature. In fact, according to Jeanette Perez, Pak’s editor at HarperCollins, ethnicity had nothing to do with the decision to publish Wait Until Twilight. The novel simply had the perfect combination of literary atmosphere and commercial appeal, Perez says, as well as an engaging protagonist. “When it comes down to it, a good writer is always an actor on the page,” she says. Are readers really ready for post-racial fiction — narratives untethered from the author’s race, populated by racially unspecified characters? HarperCollins seems to think not, if Pak’s book cover is any indication. While Pak stands by Samuel’s “everyman” identity, the market-driven cover design depicts the hero as a conspicuously white-skinned, freckle-faced boy. “When I first saw the book cover, I was like: ‘No, please!’ ” Pak says, laughing. “But [the publisher’s] whole purpose was: What can we put on this cover to get people to open it up? And as a marketing ploy, I can appreciate that. I would definitely like something a little more understated and artistic but they just want to sell the damn thing, so I can understand that.” The book’s cover aside, readers might infer that Samuel is white because of the unremarkable ease in which he moves through the small-town, southern-US setting — and because race is otherwise present in the story. Race is salient, for example, in descriptions of the poor residential neighborhood where the babies live, in characterizations of Samuel’s friend Melody (“the tall coffeeskinned black girl”), in the acts of a Japanese student who defends himself against a black assailant and in scenes involving a Korean American student whose Asian identity attracts threats in a bar. But ultimately, Pak wants his Asian American characters to be three-dimensional humans rather than tokens of “the immigrant experience.” “They’re just regular people,” he says. Neelanjana Banerjee is Hyphen’s Books and Fiction editor.
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Cross-Cultural Literature Writer Neelanjana Banerjee Everyone knows the adage “write what you know,” but writers have been taking leaps of imagination into other races and ethnicities since the time of Shakespeare (remember Othello?). We take a look at the Asian American characters brought to life — with varying degrees of success — by writers who fictionalize outside their own boxes.
Asian American Characters Written by Non-Asians: Character: Claudia Kishi, the Japanese American vice-president of The Baby-Sitters Club. Writer: Ann M. Martin Book: The Baby-sitters Club books Believability: Claudia was into art, junk food and fashion, but also dealt with her nerdy older sister and culturally traditional (and cool) grandmother. One of the first — and better — Asian American characters to show up in young adult literature. Character: Reena Shah Writer: Daniel Alarcon Book: The short story “Third Avenue Suicide” from Alarcon’s collection War By Candlelight Believability: The story is told from the point of view of David — the Peruvian boyfriend of Indian American Reena Shah — who has to leave the apartment each time Reena’s mother comes over. Alarcon details the struggle of interracial dating sublimely, hitting all the right notes with Reena. Characters: Juan, a Dominican Chinese restaurant owner; Oscar’s nerdy friend Al (“real name Alok”); and Laxmi, an Indo-Guyanese freshman whom the narrator cheats on his girlfriend with. Writer: Junot Diaz Book: Juan and Al are some of the multi-ethnic characters who inhabit the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Laxmi is from a short story published in The New Yorker called “Alma.” Believability: Diaz’s diasporic Asian characters may only be passing references in his writing, but he brings them fully into existence in just one to two lines, and — in turn — is one of the only writers truly writing about the immigrant experience with all of its ethnic depth. Character: Hatsue Miyamoto Writer: David Guterson Book: Snow Falling on Cedars (Vintage) Believability: Hatsue, the wife of the accused murderer and fisherman Kabuo, is a little too stereotypically “tranquil.” Guterson’s interest in Asian philosophy made one of the central characters of this book more of a cipher than a living and breathing Asian American.
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Role Reversal Although Asian Americans are beginning to write outside of their own experiences, many non-Asian characters conceived by Asian American authors tend to be a bit flat — serving a rhetorical function rather than being three-dimensional. Asian American narratives often need to see discrimination and racism embodied, so white characters stand in for various historical injustices the Asian American community has faced from mainstream culture. But according to Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis, co-editor of the Asian American Literary Review, there are a few exceptions. Here are his choices for the best non-Asian characters written by Asian Americans.
Jerry Battle, the Italian American narrator of Chang-rae Lee’s Aloft
Jamie, the Australian protagonist of Nam Le’s short story “Halfhead Bay” from The Boat
Michael, the American GI of Lan Cao’s novel Monkey Bridge
Priscilla Hart, the 24-year-old American student who is murdered outside of New Delhi in Shashi Tharoor’s Riot: A Love Story
New and noteworthy Snakes Can’t Run By Ed Lin (Minotaur Books) Ed Lin’s third novel catches up with New York City Chinatown policeman Robert Chow six months after the end of This Is a Bust, Lin’s 2007 book that introduced us to the smart-mouthed antihero. This time around, Chow is sober and has been promoted to squad detective, but it’s 1976, and he still doesn’t get much respect. After the bodies of two undocumented immigrants are discovered under a bridge, Chow goes on a personal vendetta to find the kingpin of human trafficking known as the Snakehead. This leads him through the crooked streets of Chinatown, where he encounters lots of greasy food, community in-fighting and even some femme fatales. The noir-esque intricacies of Chinese American politics are offset by Chow’s familial interactions with his best friends: an all-knowing midget who graduated from playing chess in the park to owning a local toy store and Vandyne, Chow’s black partner and a fellow Vietnam War vet. Lin invigorates the mystery genre with an unflinching investigation into the contradictions of being Asian American before that concept was fully understood. — Neelanjana Banerjee
Sky Train By Canyon Sam (University of Washington Press) Imagine that the country you fell in love with during your youthful year abroad had been destroyed when you came back. This is what happened to performer, writer and Tibet activist Canyon Sam between her halcyon visit to Lhasa in 1986 and her return aboard the Beijing-Lhasa “Sky Train” — the world’s highest railway — in 2007. Her chronicle of this experience tries to be two things at once: a memoir of an American abroad and a perspective on China’s brutal occupation of Tibet from four Tibetan women who experienced it firsthand. These testimonies are of the utmost historical — and moral — importance, and the book snaps into focus when it stays inside these women’s lives. Yet editors pushed the author to include ever more of her own perspectives, despite the fact that Sam speaks neither Tibetan nor Mandarin, and has only visited Tibet twice — for a few weeks each time — in 21 years. The book’s organic structure can’t hide the profound difference in authority between Sam’s testimony and that of the women she interviewed. The result is poorly conceptualized and uneven, often burying the book’s true interest in tourist detail. But, despite its flaws, Sky Train maintains its heart of gold, and remains worth a read. — Claire Light
Long For This World By Sonya Chung (Scribner) In Sonya Chung’s debut novel, life is an irrational war against shadowy enemies you cannot defeat, and the ironic militaristic titles of her chapters make this comparison explicit. Her protagonist Ah-jin (Jane) is a war photographer, fleeing not only the trauma of a bomb explosion in Baghdad, but also a dead relationship, a stillborn child and an obsessive drive that has lost its rationale. She follows her father, himself escaping a soul-sapping marriage, from New York to his brother’s home in the South Korean countryside. But here, too, even amongst welcoming Korean relatives, life continues to be a battlefield: Love and death intrude. Chung writes with great empathy and clarity. Her characters are lovingly fleshed out in direct, yet often haunting prose. For the novel’s ambitious scope — spanning multiple decades, continents, generations, cultures and wars — this is really an intimate work, best when the author functions like a scientist waxing lyrical at a microscope. Closely observed and detailed, the characters become real, and their search for the tailwinds that will let them carry on urgent and satisfying. — Nawaaz Ahmed
top three We asked Nami Mun, author of the novel Miles from Nowhere (Riverhead) — a story about a young Korean American runaway in New York City during the 1980s — “Who are your favorite outsider characters in literature?” Georgette from Last Exit to Brooklyn By Hubert Selby Jr. (Grove Press) Georgette is hunger personified. As a “hip queer” transvestite drug addict in unforgiving 1950s Brooklyn, NY, she spends her nights soaking up jazz, popping a trillion bennies and fantasizing about what everyone fantasizes about in the dark: being loved. She wants to be loved by Vinnie, a barfly thug who laughs while his friend “accidentally” stabs Georgette in the leg; by her mother, who doesn’t see her for who she is; and by her brother, who calls her disgusting, filthy, fairy freak, degenerate. In the end, you can’t help but love Georgette, if only because you may be the only one who will. Jack Isidore from Confessions of a Crap Artist By Philip K. Dick (Vintage) Jack is a collector of crap and crackpot ideas. By crap, I mean tinfoil, string and small rocks, which he hand washes. His crackpot ideas might run anywhere from a plan to irrigate the Sahara Desert to a belief that the Earth is hollow, that sunlight has weight, that chocolate-covered ants are real ants suspended in mid-motion and that the world will end on April 23, 1959. Jack is definitely off, but as the book progresses, you’ll realize that he’s far saner than the “normal” suburbanites of 1950s California. Jean Genet from The Thief’s Journal By Jean Genet (Grove Press) Genet is not a fictional character, but he lived like one. His mother was a sex worker who gave him up for adoption when he was an infant. Later he ventured into the world of vagabonds, thievery, prostitution and penal colonies all across Europe, and then wrote about his sordid, grimy, heartwrenching, beautiful days in the highly autobiographical novel The Thief’s Journal.
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“We’re not necessarily easy listening. I think we’re really pop, but have a lot of avant-garde influences that would seem weird.” — Christy Edwards
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A Little Bit of Country Christy of Christy & Emily finds inspiration where art meets history. Writer Margot Seeto Photographer Joshua Simpson
CHRISTY & EMILY may be a plain Jane name for a band, but the music from the unlikely pair is anything but. “We’re kind of musician’s music,” said Christy Edwards, the half-Taiwanese, selftaught punk guitarist who plays foil to classically trained pianist Emily Manzo. “We’re not necessarily easy listening. I think we’re really pop, but have a lot of avant-garde influences that would seem weird.” Quietly intense, and at times beautiful or frightening, the music of Christy & Emily dictates that the listening experience be No. 1 on one’s sensory radar to fully appreciate the Brooklyn, NY, duo’s twists and turns, haunting crescendos or deceivingly sparse arrangements. Strong-but-restrained single guitar notes complement equally disciplined high-pitched keyboard chord plunks on “Lover’s Talk.” The intense, slow tempos yield long instrumental introductions before vocals enter the song unpretentiously, naked, raw and sometimes folk-like. Even with multiple instruments in a tune such as “Island Song,” sounds are not jumbled: Each element is carefully composed, and the listener wants to hear everything. Edwards’ initial forays into music were also mostly for fun. She played trumpet in middle school, then guitar in high school, inspired by heavy metal. “I have taken guitar lessons here and there,” Edwards said. “I’m not a conservatory person, but I kind
of wish I had been. In some ways, I never thought I would be putting so much into music. It’s always a struggle.” Edwards’ self-taught background first combined with Manzo’s classical training in the folky, Neil Young-influenced indie rock band Lil’ Fighters, but their side project allows them to explore a new sound: melodic restrain. “It’s all heartfelt songs with Christy & Emily. It’s serious. We want to make it something, take it somewhere,” Edwards said. In “Superstition,” the duo sings about the darkness of the woods and the wonders of the cosmos, followed by a string solo. Even mere slices of their songs indicate a pensive creative process. Edwards isn’t serious all the time, though. She still plays in punk band The Totallys, which she described as “a silly project,” with the band asserting that it sounds like “sugar cereal” and listing the adult band members’ ages as 11, 12 and 13 on its MySpace page. Edwards also occasionally draws comics, including one about the band touring with The Nightingales in Europe in the summer of 2009. There the two met Hans Joachim Irmler (part of krautrock pioneers Faust), who produced the band’s third and most recent album, No Rest, released in April 2010 on the German label Klangbad. The new album is a throwback to their first record, Gueen’s Head (2007), which
was laid down within a weekend. “We recorded it in five or six days in Germany — basically the two of us,” Edwards said of the new release. Gone were the strings, vibraphones and guest musicians of their 2009 album, Superstition, which took months to record. “It was a stripped-down version of us again.” Edwards’ art graces the cover of Superstition as well as the simple but intense video for that album’s “105 & Rising,” which features images of the fall of Saigon. The song takes its title from the phrase broadcast over American Forces Vietnam Network Radio to cue for an evacuation, a fact Edwards discovered while researching the Vietnam War. “Like every filmmaker in the world, I was making a documentary about my family,” she said. Her parents met while her father, a Navy soldier who served in Vietnam, was stationed in Asia, but she knew little about the war. While Edwards is hesitant to talk about her family history, she admits the video is “an abstraction” of it. “Maybe someday this will become a coherent film about how my mother and father met.” Christy & Emily’s music — serious, subtle, heartfelt and sometimes difficult — would provide the perfect soundtrack. Margot Seeto is Hyphen’s music editor. She plays the keyboard. Or rather, types on one.
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The Jump Offs
Toro Y Moi
Kick Double Negative Records myspace.com/thesplintersband
Tapestry of Webs Suicide Squeeze pastliveslife.com
The Jump Offs Contrast Records thejumpoffs.com
Causers of This Carpark Records toroymoi.blogspot.com
The Splinters, whose music has been described as tinged with ’60s garage rock and riot grrrl leanings, played the SXSW music festival last year — before they had even released an album. They now debut with Kick, a 12-song album clocking in at 26 minutes. Short but sweet, each track features lead singer/guitarist Ashley Thomas’ cool, soothing, echoey vocals; psychedelic touches of Lauren Stern’s strong tambourine; guitarist Caroline Partamian’s surfy riffs; and drummer Courtney Gray’s creative and sometimes epic beats. From the opening track, “Mysterious,” it’s easy to start clapping to the rhythms or singing with the “whoa-ohh-ohhs” present in several songs. With calming vocal harmonizing, the happy song structures at times encase tongue-in-cheek lyrics, such as in “Sorry,” where Thomas sings, “He suggested I quit smoking/I asked him if he was joking/So I broke your heart instead/And I’m sorry if that offends you.” Pop-friendly to the ears, each song is tightly structured. The quartet met at the University of California, Berkeley, but, now faced with post-grad life, they may not be around much longer. Catch the ladies while you can. — Margot Seeto
Tapestry of Webs, the full-length debut from Seattle band Past Lives, is a rollercoaster ride of reverb, jangle, snobby cheerleading and off-beat snare hits. Imagine being chased through Candy Land by the Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow, and the Gingerbread Man is like, “Oh snap!” Past Lives, composed of three-fifths of the spastic post-hardcore act The Blood Brothers, retains the spirit of the former group while venturing into a groovier lo-fi space. The beat on “Don’t Let the Ashes Fill Your Eyes” is a droney zombie head nod with a flickering melody, while the guitars on “K Hole” emit the paranoia of 10,000 wasps awaiting orders to destroy. The track “Hex Takes Hold” is highly reminiscent of The Blood Brothers, sans the signature shrill dueling vocal attack. Lone vocalist Jordan Blilie is finally able to showcase his ability to sustain notes in a lower register. While many of the signature attributes that made the previous band so popular are evident, Past Lives surprisingly has found itself at the forefront of new territory. — Lyle Matsuura
To classify The Jump Offs as a “dance-punk” band is an understatement. To file them under a single genre would be a disservice to the band’s consummate musical gestalt of technical precision and raucous rock ’n’ roll. The coordinated rhythmic assault of bassist Luke Aguinaldo and drummer Bob Deeter provides continual swagger and tension throughout the band’s self-titled debut. “After Party Conversations” pits Oliver Boe’s guitar licks against Chris Gima’s keyboard leads; having their individual parts collapse, clash, and then combine to form melodies reminiscent of boss-level anthems. In contrast, “Machine Parts” has the pair resonating together in harmonious clarity. Singer/guitarist Landon Tom’s lyrics lie outside the usual lover’s lane, and instead foray into party fouls and bittersweet hookups. “All Nighter” is a chromatically adventurous number whose bridge includes a nod to “Have Love Will Travel” by garage-rock staples The Sonics. If someone were to ask what type of band The Jump Offs are, the response would be an arm quickly shooting upward, fingers stretched toward the heavens — a pause, then a slow fingercurl to a closed fist. Yeah, that sounds about right. — Ryan I. Miyashiro
The romance-languageinfluenced name of 23-year-old Chaz Bundick of Columbia, SC, may lead some to assume his music leans toward a Latin party sound. While the mixedrace (Filipino and black) artist does hint at Latin beats in a song or two, Toro Y Moi creates something that hip-hop heads, electronic dance music fans and indie rockers alike will enjoy. The dominant feel of the album is brightly mellow. Whether through R&B-tinged falsetto vocals, ’80s-synth-beat intros, hip-hop scratches or playful indie pop-ish glitches (often in the same song), a light, atmospheric, electronic fuzz sets the tone for this debut full-length album. Bundick, who started Toro Y Moi as a bedroom project in his teens, often switches tempos and instrumentation within the last 20 seconds of a song, but the transition is never jarring. On the contrary, the songs flow together, practically creating a 32-minute track. Catchy without being mindnumbingly repetitive, and interesting enough to catch your ear without being too difficult to parse each element, you might be inspired to craft some fusion sounds of your own. — M.S.
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A Village Called Versailles Directed by S. Leo Chiang avillagecalledversailles.com Director S. Leo Chiang documents the struggle of Vietnamese Americans living in Versailles, a small village in eastern New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Six weeks after the storm hits, Vietnamese families trek back to their houses, businesses and streets, robbed of everything but their spirits. Deeply tied to the land, they are unwilling to let go of home a second time — or, for older generations, even a third time. Led by Father Vien Nguyen and other volunteers, the citizens of Versailles slowly piece their village back together. However, more struggles are in store. Mayor Ray Nagin orders a toxic landfill to open two miles from Versailles, holding onethird of the Katrina debris. When this news hits the community, Nagin is confronted with a sea of fists pumping in the air. For the first time, Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans banded together across generations to create a forceful voice. Drawing on compelling interviews, Chiang chronicles this inspiring story of building and rebuilding home. DVD extras include a theatrical version with Vietnamese subtitles, an educational version, and a 15-minute version. The film broadcasts nationally on PBS on May 25 as part of the Independent Lens series. — Viet-Ly Nguyen
The Real Shaolin
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Directed by Alexander Sebastien Lee realshaolin.com
Directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath thebetrayalmovie.com
Directed by Mike Cheng and Ben Wang aokifilm.com
This debut documentary, which artfully removes the Hollywood veneer from the ancient art of kung fu, highlights the lives of four students — Yuan Peng, a 9-year-old orphan; Zhu, a son of farmers; Orion, an American teenager; and Eric, a Frenchman — training at the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China. The storyline diverges, with one track following the Chinese students and another following the Western students: Peng and Zhu see kung fu as a path out of poverty, while Orion and Eric wrestle with feelings of inferiority as they compete with Chinese students who have superior skills and more opportunities to train. There are cheeky moments — such as when students cheer “Foreigner!” during Orion’s forms exam — but the narrative stays focused on each student’s dreams and personal struggles. The physical rigors of training, the unrelenting instruction of teachers and the desolate surroundings of the schools are juxtaposed with picturesque images (such as Shaolin Temple), revealing the disparity between what it actually means to master kung fu and what we see on the silver screen. The diversity of the subjects and the classic underdog story will appeal to a wide audience, kung fu aficionados or not. — Sylvie Kim
This epic Oscar-nominated documentary, filmed over the course of 23 years, chronicles a family’s post-Vietnam War escape from Laos and its subsequent resettlement in Brooklyn, NY. The film follows Thavisouk Pravasath, who assumes familial responsibilities after his father (a Royal Lao soldier who helps the CIA but is forgotten when the Americans leave Southeast Asia) is sent to a re-education camp and presumed dead. Initially, as the film gives a historical account of Laos during and after the war, it exhibits a somewhat overwrought and ethereal style, heavy on landscapes and dramatic narration. But the film really ignites when the directors ditch their gauzy lens and shift to visceral images of 1980s Brooklyn — concrete, tenements and big hair — and we finally get to know the Pravasath family and see how their harrowing experience has shaped them. Special features include commentary and a Q-and-A with Pravasath and co-director Ellen Kuras — a seasoned cinematographer (4 Little Girls, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) — as well as archival and montage footage from Laos and deleted scenes. — S.K.
First-time filmmakers Mike Cheng and Ben Wang, University of California, Davis, undergraduates at the time, met political activist Richard Aoki in 2002. The two went on to shoot over 75 hours of footage during the last five years of Aoki’s life (he passed away in 2009). Not a glossy film, but what’s lacking in production value is more than made up for in powerful interviews with Aoki and other activists such as Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale. Aoki reveals that his political consciousness was informed by his early life — his family was interned at Topaz internment camp when he was 3, and he grew up in a predominantly black West Oakland neighborhood. Aoki ultimately played a prominent role in the Black Panther Party and also in the Third World Liberation Front Strike at the University of California, Berkeley, which helped establish ethnic studies on that campus. Though the film could be trimmed down, it offers indispensable insights into the role Aoki, and the presence of Asian Americans generally, held in the revolutionary politics of the 1960s. But the real joy of the film comes from Aoki’s speeches and stories, which are at once politically rousing and entertaining. — Neelanjana Banerjee HYPHEN SPRING.10 053
Aliens! Writer Claire Light Illustrator Jon Stich
My brother was only 21 when he returned and began telling my family these stories. My father was extremely disturbed and wouldn’t permit me near my brother at first, as I was a newborn at the end of the war, and my father had some vague idea that insanity might be contagious, especially in females. But my infantine company seemed to soothe his almost constant excitement and, although he never fully regained the use of his legs, he used the stories as a springboard into the life of the mind that he thereafter inhabited, and raised me to inhabit. As far as I am aware, neither my brother nor anyone else ever wrote his stories down. This was, again, the influence of my father, who felt that transcription equaled substantiation and had thus stopped my mother from writing poetry, prevented my sisters from learning to read or write until they were in their late teens (and my sister Yuki never really learned properly), and sinicized, then anglicized our family name, as if to cover our tracks. Consequently, I am the only surviving family member who remembers all the stories, since our nieces and nephews were directed by their parents not to listen to their uncle, and obeyed. Now, with my memory wandering and my brother dead for 20 years, I have no idea anymore what I am leaving out and what I am putting in of my own. His voice fills my head and has always directed my perceptions, so that I see something now only to hear it told back to me as a story by my brother in his high voice, almost like a girl’s, stiff and full of pronouncement. If I had been his brother and not his sister, perhaps I would have been a partner and not an assistant. Perhaps I am weak-minded or just a woman. Or perhaps one must truly be raised to develop one’s own voice, to be able to escape the insistent tones of another. Or perhaps it is I who control this shared voice and always have, and ever since he came back to us in my babyhood, drawn back by my infant cries, he has permitted the sound of my voice to alter and temper his, so that I would have a voice to step into when I was grown, an authoritative male voice that could command me and that I could use to command him in turn, turning his own voice against him. “See this pen,” he says to me now, turning his desk chair and knocking over a pile of comic books to steal my pen. “This pen has a second life, or a soul, what’s called a ghoti on the Planet pos*on. There it writes not in red ink but in the tears of the virginal flighted, a precious substance. Thus, Imouto, you use an ensouled being dipped in liquid gems to write down your thoughts.” Who knows? This may be entirely my own invention. Here is what I remember: My alien abductors were gelatinous, translucent, and slightly fluorescent. When I awoke for the first time several were approaching me. I was terribly afraid, and reached into my chest pocket HYPHEN SPRING.10 055
for something to throw. All I had there was pennies. The pennies struck the nearest creature in several places and were absorbed into his mass. As time went by, I watched the pennies work their slow, coppery way into the center of his body. I asked him what would happen when they reached his nervous system. Maybe I will die, he thought. But I have no nervous system per se.
At Heal@ port we were met by sparkling blue-skinned agents. They pointed small blue devices at us enticingly. “Would you like to sell your health?” the first one asked me. “What will you give me for it?” I asked. “This,” the sec-
The future wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. Smaller maybe.
Since they could travel time, as well as space, my abductors made a journey into the future. The future wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. Smaller, maybe. Since we were out in space, all I could see was stars, which was all I had seen before. My abductors were excited, though. There it is! There it is! one thought-shouted at me, running past. I looked but saw nothing of interest. Perhaps, in due time, something will happen and the significance of the meaningless things I saw will leap toward me like a lover at a train station. The alien flashing copper pennies from his body became my interlocutor. I called him “Ufluuuk” — though they communicated through telepathy and didn’t have names, only conceptual markers. Ufluuuk’s marker among his people was the idea of infinity, halved. This was a very popular marker. There were several ideas of infinity halved on board. They had no senses and didn’t actually perceive anything at all, but rather communicated among themselves continuously in closed circuit. They interacted with objects through an evolved instinct for the lucky move. Indeed, the captain’s marker was the idea of luck occurring repeatedly within a small space. We were within sight of The Nasty Nebula when I explained Zeno’s paradox to them. They had never heard of it. The ship came to a full stop, then hyperjumped halfway to the nebula. Then we jumped again halfway. This continued for some time but the nebula never seemed to get closer. Plus, they forgot to feed me. “Eventually,” I said irritably, “our distance from the nebula will be smaller than the size of the ship.” No, Ufluuuk replied, this ship has an infinite capacity to shrink. I was incensed. “Stop it!” I shouted. “That’s not part of the paradox!”
Why did they wander? What were they seeking? No one could understand the question when I asked. What is “to seek”? one asked me. (I couldn’t tell them apart, except for Ufluuuk and the captain, into whom I stuck a strawberry stem at one point. In truth, I didn’t know if it was the captain, but I called it that and it didn’t object.) “ ‘To seek’ is to look for something that is missing,” I said. What is “to look”? the abductor asked. Since we were communicating telepathically, in concepts, I found this question relentlessly obtuse, and refused to answer.
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ond agent said, pouring out a bag of glittering blue coins. “Off-planet this currency is matte and valueless,” I said. We scintillated through the marketplace under the planet’s multifaceted sun. All the species we encountered there were dull-skinned and looked to be in poor health. “Everyone seems to be selling health, but no one buying,” I said to Ufluuuk. When they were done experimenting on me they gave me a choice: settle on the first planet we came to, or continue traveling with the ship for an indefinite time until it had rounded our galaxy and come back to the edge where Earth lay. The surface of the first planet we saw was composed entirely of cooked white rice. “Drop me off!” I cried ecstatically. But when I reached the surface, I saw that the rice had been washed before it was cooked. There was no stickiness left. “No, take me with you!” I cried despairingly, and they did. The miners on the asteroid were limbed and muscled, but radically furred. One swung a large pickaxe. It made a deep, almost hollow sound as it struck. The miner loosened his hold on the hammer the moment before impact to avoid taking the blow into his many joints. Two others stood back, watching and waiting. I was surprised that other species also had male miners, but I don’t know how I knew they were male. Perhaps something in how he locked and unlocked in perpetual force and defense. Perhaps how the others — practiced — lounged in the face of a strike. My own wanderlust was no key to that of my abductors. I sensed no desire in them. In a man, their curiosity would feel cold, because to lack warmth, a man must commit warmth’s opposite. My wanderlust had no curiosity, only a boy’s voluptuousness: the desire to move my body in the act of swinging arms; the feeling of moist soil, not yet mud, in my toes; the smell of strawberries, almond blossoms, road dust, prickly pear fruits, and, faintly, the sea that declared my exact location — mid-stride — relative to the beach, the house, the next house, and the road. When we encountered a planet made entirely of cats, we
released a drill probe shaped like a cylindrical arrow. A tabby spun off the head of the probe, then a Persian, then a Siamese. Soon, centrifugal force was spinning cats off like a Catherine wheel until the probe disappeared into the catty mass. Our sensors recorded the constant purring of uncountable throats. At the planet’s core was a one-catsized white hole, emitting steadily. The probe was too big to enter the white hole and we had run out of time. We took away a sample cat for fondling and study. During our visit to the stellar nursery, the captain and another abductor floated side by side, watching the baby stars hatching. The cries of the newborn, their burps of hydrogen and the energetic waving of their tiny flares awakened a parenting instinct in all the creatures on board. Even I said, “Awwww!” I asked Ufluuuk if I could have one. Ufluuuk said no, it would disrupt the energy of the ship, and they were all too big anyway. The captain extended a limb of gel from its mass and touched the other abductor on what would have been its shoulder. I wanted to brew beer. It became an obsession with me, but one all the more difficult since there were no materials on board. The ship, in fact, was made entirely of energy that coalesced into matter under your feet and hands as they required support or touch. I could see all of my shipmates nearby, and could have touched them, only a wall would coalesce every time I tried to do so. What interested me about the beer was its bitterness and tangibility. My sustenance entered my body and fed energy to my cells directly. I was always hungry. Ufluuuk sensed my sadness. Come, he thought. The air before him glowed golden, and I put my head into it. Suddenly, I was looking into my mother’s face. She placed a spoon into my mouth as my sister Emiko walked past holding a schoolbook. Behind her, gaps in the unfinished planks showed stripes of blue daylight. A hasty job. Two blankets hanging from a clothesline made a wall. A bitter, dry wind crossed my teeth, and the grit of sand. My eyes focused, my mother’s eyes widened, but then I found myself asking my question to Ufluuuk’s mid-region: “Mother, where are we?” Was there a purpose to their wanderings? What were they seeking? There was no such thing as a pure explorer, was there? Every sailor and seadog who discovered a “new world” had at least a secret hope of discovering value, something to sell or use or see: gold, eternal youth, women, trees, things, wings, or gorges of lapis lazuli. But then my abductors were not human. Perhaps, as the building of small sand hills is the life purpose of ants, to wander endlessly was the life purpose of my abductors. Perhaps they were as unreflective in their curiosity as cats. Though my abductors had already been, Ufluuuk thought I should visit AskAStar™. A very manageable-sized black
hole sat in the center of a compound for pilgrims. When you approached, you had just enough time to ask one question and receive one answer before you were sucked in and ejected out its rear into a negative universe. Fortunately, there was a negative black hole on that end that you could use to get back to your ship. I asked, “When will I get home?” It replied, “Yes … no.” I thought it had misunderstood me, but there wasn’t time to correct it. I dreamed I was bathing with my grandfather. He stood on the concrete bathhouse floor in his socks. “Take off your socks, Grandpa!” I said and pulled him rudely onto the wooden slats. I dumped a ladleful of water on his shoulder. The skin steamed, then caught fire. “Why did you do that?” Grandpa asked me impassively between flames, in English. I woke up and Ufluuuk was nearby. Why did you do that? he asked again. I couldn’t speak for a moment. “You don’t … you don’t …,” I cried, “you don’t look in people’s dreams!” Why not? Ufluuuk asked. Eternally falling through space is a planet of pure gold. At its southern pole the planet has collected a schist of flattened spaceships that didn’t get out of its way in time. The deeper layers of ships have been melded by the pressure of eons, and have formed crystals of unknown substances. We stood in space and watched it falling heavily past, the light of the stars behind us slithering over its golden surface, scratching out the suggestion of golden seas and continents. It scintillated until it disappeared among the structures below, the radioed cries of trapped crewmen eternally receding. To GGGGGGgggggReNaDuhInes, any physical movement at all is a deadly insult. Yet they do not take kindly to the liquid, or the amorphous beings. My abductors prepared me for weeks before making me their envoy. They placed me in a room, standing, then offered progressively enticing temptations to move: heavenly or hooky music, Tooll=Elay=kkian fire-insects, a gradually heating floor beneath my bare feet, thirst. I progressed rapidly. The day of our meeting, the GGGGGGgggggReNaDuhInes envoy greeted me with a smile and an outheld hand. I took the hand and smiled back, in relief. Not much is known about the GGGGGGgggggReNaDuhInes. My abductors had told me to take only what I could carry. As I wore nothing but dungarees, I bent and took two handfuls of strawberries and put them in my hip pockets. I first thought to ask for them back two years later. The strawberries were still warm from the ground. The top front thighs of my jeans were lightly spotted from the inside with fresh stains, too plum to be blood. My pockets were lined with sand. I placed some in the outside corners of each eye, between my toes, in my armpit creases, and in my hair. The sign read “Fly in the Solar Wind Here!” Ufluuuk said it
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was a tourist trap. I had to sign something saying that I understood that my genes might be altered by the radiation, and that it was in no way the fault of anyone but myself. The sun fried your optic nerve first. Then gusts of radiation blew your skin off you, then your muscles and bones. Collectors sat behind the platform at optimal distance for you to feel yourself blown, particle by particle, across space. Afterward, all I could say was, “Whoooooooo!” Ufluuuk wouldn’t buy me a souvenir. In fact, my desire was for place, not movement; place, not novelty; place, not placement. Which is not to say that the spectacle of journeying — unfamiliar feels, shocks, pleas, and unexpected moral quandaries — was entirely lost on me. I was a middle child: between two sisters, born dead but then revived on a ship mid-ocean, my father’s image and my mother’s son, tea-drunk and dungareed, massively minded and light-limbed. On the small planet taupasczß the low gravity gave my stride lift; each step could take a day or more, and then I was mid-stride more often than arriving. Thus, I. “Good Morning, Old Chap!” a cheerful voice said to me. Turning, I saw it was a HahrTmonTinnian, one of the most mysterious of species at the galactic assembly. I was astonished that it was speaking English to me. “Good Morning!” I replied, my voice harsh from not being used. The HahrTmonTinnian walked away without another word. “That was a close call,” a stranger said into my translator. “She could have killed you for that insult.” It seems the HahrTmonTinnians communicate entirely through body language, which few other species can understand. Their vocal noises are completely random and have no meaning. There came a time when their circuit of the galaxy closed. We were near Earth, Captain Small Space said. Ufluuuk asked if I wanted to go home. The captain was surprised that he would ask. I didn’t know what to say. I’d been gone three years. My muscles had atrophied. I’d learned a great deal, but nothing of practical use. Sometimes I felt as if my nerve-endings had died; sometimes I thought I could no longer bear to be touched, I had become so sensitive. I felt a desperation, but I didn’t know what for: to stay or to go? But as I transcribe I grow more confused, for I have just caught myself, twice — no, five times now — not remembering a detail and so inventing one to bridge the gaps between ideas. I myself am the bridging of a gap, conceived before my family returned from the camps but born only after the return, bridging the time before and the time after. When I try to understand the lost time I am only told, with the aged stubbornness of those who’ve lost everything, but do still have something on you, that I cannot understand. There is a whole vocabulary of abduction that is missing here. Even my brother, who told me these stories, omitted many words. All that is left now are the children, and grandchildren, who
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are so ignorant as to not even know that there is something they don’t know. There was once a farm; now there is not. There was once a language; now it isn’t spoken. My brother taught me how to make a camera obscura and use it to expose photosensitive plates, also homemade. This is something I show my sisters’ grandchildren before they are old enough to be told that I am insane like my brother. We take pictures of the sun — when developed they show mere exposures of plates to centers of light — and I watch their small, black eyes understanding how things are seen and what happens to things when there is no one there to see them. As they get older, they derealize this and go back to a state of recognizing signs and symbols directly, as if there is one all-time true story. I tell them, as soon as they are old enough to understand, that their great-uncle was stolen from us for a time. I have a great many grandnieces and nephews who have stopped believing me, their stopping at different points being a sign of their growth, like notches on a post. “We contain a cosmos,” my brother told me, “I more than you, because I have seen things no other human has seen. You less so, because you have heard about things no other human will listen to. Even if you are wrong, you will always have more than the others.” All I know about this is that my father, from his hospital bed, only wanted to listen to my crazy brother tell his stories, couldn’t get enough, as if he hadn’t listened before and only had a few hours left, which he had. My mother, into senility, would sit and knit and ask for this story or that. “Tell me the one about being trapped in a crystal planet and discovering that it is a doorknob!” she would say in English, as if it were finally decided that the language of storytelling were to be a foreign one for all time—the language of abductors, stolen by abductees. These are the stories I am unsure about: As the war began and I waited for manhood, I grew too restless to sleep at night. I patrolled our farm’s borders barefoot, without a flashlight, smelling the almonds from the Seitos’ grove a mile away. One night as I stood in the sand of our strawberry beds, a blinding light came in over the fields. The light picked out the minerals and crystals in the sand until the albedo overwhelmed me, and I was held in a white glow, without taste or sensation. Strangely, the smell of spring almond blossoms remained with me the whole time I was suspended. I told Ufluuuk that human young stand before shop windows, crying for what they see and can’t have. Ufluuuk told me the young of DdzzjJherhoam are large and still and refuse all sustenance and entertainment. They must be force-fed by their parents until the parents die. When the DdzzjJherhoamese have starved themselves into atrophied maturity, they become animated by dire need. The adult DdzzjJherhoamese lives a short, insatiable, frenzied life devouring food, starlight, color, sex, incontinence, waste, and water, which ends in a death of frustration at the feet of its unresponsive young. Ufluuuk’s people find this species quite sublime. In the core of Planet Min33d9ka is a hollow where hy-
I’d been gone three years. My muscles had atrophied. I’d learned a great deal, but nothing of practical use. drogen and oxygen come together and fall over a precipice. Ufluuuk stood with me under the spray and droplets of him were carried away by the liquid. He looked like he was melting. Soon all I could see of him were the pennies, suspended in the midst of the fall. I was embarrassed for him. “Ufluuuk!” I called, “Where are you?” I’m right here, he said. “But haven’t you dissolved? Where’s your substance?” I have no substance, he said. Only a location. The pennies shifted slightly, as if in discomfort. I felt well. I walked weakly out of the barracks. Outside it was cold, but I went barefoot anyway. A little girl passed me and I said, “Good morning!” She looked at me, concerned. I walked along the inside of the cyclone fencing, touching the cold metal now and again with my fingertip, until I reached the mess hall. They had burned the rice again; ugh, the smell! In that moment I awakened, naked, suspended in space. From this time on my dreams of home grew less frequent, and my skin, when I awoke from them, more luminescent and rough. I stood in the galactic assembly (such as it was; many cultures had refused to ratify) and listened. A group of my abductors wobbled by. There you are! one thought. Look at the Man’s-Anariers! I looked at a group of warty green spikes, shooting out unnecessarily large and blue tongues at varying intervals. Tasting our secrets! my abductor huffed. So rude! I was also dismayed at the thought. I had long had a desire to slurp a small part of an abductor through my teeth like Jell-O. The Man’s-Anariers didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps everyone felt that way about my abductors. We left the universe to examine matterless space outside. It was very boring. There was nothing to examine, which we examined. Ufluuuk caught me playing with my lips. He was perturbed. I had placed something tangible where nothing had been, thus changing what we were observing from nothing to something. “Then we shouldn’t have come here!” I cried. Ufluuuk stretched toward my lips, passing his temporary limb through them. I felt nothing, for he had reverted to formless energy. We can be not here even when we are, he explained. You can not be not here, even when you aren’t. We had shore leave on a planet that had no gravity. You had to be careful not to bump into anything because it would cause a chain reaction, filling the space around you with crazily pinballing buildings, trees, vehicles, pets, baby carriages, and
wigs. Then the black-suited inertiates would come and survey the scene and find the one object or person who was the key to settling the disturbance and pluck it out and toss it into space. Immediately, everything would return to inertia. There was no possible appeal to the inertiates’ culling decisions. Thus, my shore leave ended early. There came a time when I fell in love, but I don’t wish to speak of it. Instead, I’ll tell you about the Kifu tuberpants in wer roh. Worms of blue or pink light, the tuberpants swarm every night during their thousand-year lifespans to mate. The blue worms approach in their orderly herds, as do the pink worms in theirs. When they meet, the herds’ patterns of movement become complex as they meld and interfere with those of the other herds. We stood off the Masografl and watched, the only two who had ever seen such a beautiful thing. I cried out in pain. I reached out to Ufluuuk, but my hand passed through his body. I touched myself to feel skin and weight, but I both felt my hand and didn’t feel my hand. My touch was intended by me, so that the touch, anticipated, could not be foreign. It was an echo touch. To comfort me Ufluuuk twitched and suddenly filled the room with me’s. I owned a hundred hands, and I surrounded myself and tried to tickle, to surprise myself in a hundred ways, but I was too prepared for each touch to start at it. You see, the problem with space is that it’s curved, but not in a geometrical curve, such as can be plotted or indicated on a graph. It’s an organic curve, turning at the slightest sound, twisting unexpectedly so that you catch your breath at the shapes it makes. Standing on the ship — an experience like standing naked and unsupported in space, only breathing and moving rapidly — I came to realize that the ship only followed the rolls and swells of space as she threw them up to meet us, perhaps delighting in this. Perhaps winking stars are grimaces: devil’s loops. Studying certain stars I saw that they were arranged into lines stroking out the characters of a poem my mother wrote in my childhood. I had memorized it, then kept it silent from my father. I asked Ufluuuk if this could be a coincidence. He thought it could. As we moved on and the stars faded, I found I couldn’t remember the poem itself, although the instance of there being a poem remained a permanent mar on the face of transience, as if at any moment my abductors would
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change their minds, deconstruct the sky, and take me back home. Upon reaching the plague planet I immediately contracted the plague. Pustules, phlegm, diarrhea, sweating, and blackheads occurred. The inhabitants responded with great kindness and expertise, the females gathering around my deathbed to wail and gnash their orbs, the gemales sponging my fevered brow, the hemales hunching in the street nonchalantly, now and again looking up suddenly, trying to catch the spirals of death before they reached my door. Once I had died, they permitted me, with great emotion, to leave. I regretted not selling my health earlier, since it had availed me nothing and you can’t take it with you. In the instant that you think it, your thought has already been performed by a silverion. Silverions surround and fill you with illusion: reshape themselves into ice cream to push out your stomach and then wait patiently until you shit them out again in a rain of intolerance, darken your vision, and give you a sponge bath, or form colors which you’ve never seen or imagined, to interest you when you’re drunk with ennui. Do they anticipate your thoughts, or do they plant the thought and also the desire? Does your delight in them have anything to do with satisfaction?
space like a blue-green jewel on a dark horse’s flank. We flew straight for it. The nose of the ship vanished upon impact with the unsupported ocean. Behind me, I saw space outside the drop receding. The tail end of the ship was still moving quickly into the drop and disappearing as it went like a log into a chipper. Appearing on this side of the drop’s surface were the bodies of my shipmates, desperately hurled, then slowing, as if awakened from a fury. Their bodies came in like horizontally falling leaves. Ufluuuk wanted to understand weeping. You do it to express sadness, he thought after I explained. “Yes, and to express strong emotion,” I replied. Any strong emotion? “Well, usually sadness, or frustration… sometimes anger.” Anger? “Sometimes.” When? I thought. “I don’t know. Sometimes.” But not positive emotions. “Well…not always, but sometimes.” When? “When they’re strong.” Always when they’re strong? “No.” Then when? “I don’t know.” Does one always weep? “No.” Are you weeping now? I touched my face and it was wet. “Yes.” Why? Are you feeling strong emotions? I thought for a moment. “No,” I said wonderingly. As we entered the Zone of Manifestation, where every immaterial thing materializes, the ship grew solid. Its interior walls were made of unpainted wood planks and full of gaps, and the floors were covered with sand that blew so that Ufluuuk came to me a grit-hulled bag of gel. My ghost self appeared — the pure one I lost after I started school and had to learn English — occupying almost exactly the same space, only slightly behind and to the left of me. This monkey I could only see out of the corners of my eyes, disappearing when I turned to look at him.
When after four years they returned me to Earth, I woke up in a strange, small sitting room of a city I didn’t recognize through the window. I couldn’t stand up. There was the wailing of an infant somewhere nearby, then a familiar brisk walking. My sister Yuki entered the room, carrying a cup of tea, adult now and quite astonishingly beautiful. “I’m back!” I cried. “You’re the beauty now! I thought it would be Emiko!” She stared at me. “I was abducted by aliens.” I explained. She put the cup down carefully before me. “So were we,” she said.
Claire Light is a Hyphen founder and a freelancer in the San Francisco Bay
I saw an enormous water drop, hanging pendent in
Behind and to the Left, a collection published in 2009 by Aqueduct Press.
Area. “Abducted by Aliens!” can be found with more of her fiction in Slightly
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Photos courtesy of Aly Morita
Pat Morita’s daughter on the waxing and waning of her father’s life. Writer Aly Morita To know my dad, you would have to be a night owl, a boozehound, a culture junkie, an inventor, a perfectionist, a creative soul, a kid from the School of Hard Knocks, a survivor, a hard worker, a giver, a bawdy chap, a loner, a misfit, a sentimental fool or a lover of tawdry tales. Pull up a chair, order a drink and we’ll tell you a little bit about this old guy — old fart, as he would say. You sit down, and Daddy comments on your drink order. “There was this bartender in Detroit that I met, a little Filipino guy. What’s a little Filipino guy doing in Detroit? What’s a little Jap doing sitting here with you?” He sips chardonnay, the days of vodka in his cofOff to the Oscars, 1985. The Morita family, from left: Mother Yuki, Sisters Aly and Tia and Pat. fee in the morning “to get him going” long gone. I welcome you with a wary but gracious smile, slightly antogether?” More often than not, I would have to welcome you noyed because I‘m concerned about his alcohol consumption. and only hope you might go away. There were so many times These were the only times I had my dad to myself. Someone when you did not, lingering, standing there gawking at him always accompanied him: During the ’80s and ’90s, there while we tried to resume our dinner, trying to edge into our concould be an assistant, publicist, bodyguard, family member, versation or just sitting there, being a voyeur. My father would fan, leech, struggling writer, actor, director, floozy, community probably send you off with a “wax on, wax off” gesture or a leader, politician or just someone who wanted my dad to do or crane stance if he was really in a self-indulgent mood. be something he was not. Before you interrupted, Daddy was talking about making it If Dad was attuned to me, he might say, “This is the only in the biz. Our conversations usually involved the struggle of time I get with my daughter. Do you mind if we have some time the artist — more the process than “making it”. “Daddy, I don’t know what to do with this piece,” I say, shaking my head, covering my face with my hands. “What do I do?” “Ah. You’re not asking the magic word. It’s not the whys, whats, whens or wheres. It’s the hows! How do you do it? It’s the how you will do it that is the magic. You do what you need to do.” I needed more than that. Although I hate to think that he talked like Mr. Miyagi, he kind of did. When he wasn’t going off on one of his longwinded, self-absorbed soliloquies, my father spoke — without the thick Japanese accent — in ambiguous certainties. Then I would stumble, always faltering for words when I needed to speak to my parents or to people in authority. Authority: Such a strange term for assumed positions, especially for those who have failed and maybe survived, but are really just human. Dad spent his childhood in a body cast after contracting Aly gets some quality time with her father, Pat.
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Photos courtesy of Aly Morita
“Then, a little after his 50th birthday, Karate Kid happened — a quirk. A moment. A winning card in a faulty deck.” spinal tuberculosis and lived in a charitable infirmary for poor, immigrant children at San Francisco’s Shriners Hospital. He learned to walk when he was 9. At 11, he was escorted by an FBI agent directly from the hospital into a Japanese American internment camp. In his teens and 20s, he was a loner and a misfit within the confines of an immigrant family whose language and customs were foreign and restricting to him. At 21, he married a woman six years older and became father to his first daughter. In his early 30s, overweight and balding, he entered 1960s show business, jabbing and jiving with lone Jewish and African American comedians, whom he felt inspired by and at home with. In his late 30s, he married my mother, his equal in conspicuously quirky Japanese Americanness; they held their wedding reception at the Playboy Club. My sister and I were born shortly after. In his early 40s, he landed the role of Arnold on Happy Days and spent a fulfilling season playing the eccentric character with the trademark “bahaha!” laugh. He loved the role, but left in the 1970s to star in the first Asian American network sitcom. Unfortunately, Mr. T and Tina failed to connect with viewers, and my father was shamed into a period of struggle, both personal (due to his own exact professional standards) and public (from the notoriety he shouldered as one of the few Asian American actors out there at the time). He retreated to Hawaii, a place he had known during his hobo days, when the islands were just a gorgeous, Podunk land for a hodgepodge of Asian Americans. At 46, he was once again an out-of-work actor. He spent several years taking odd jobs — car commercials, nightclub gigs, anything that would pay the bills. Then, a little after his 50th birthday, Karate Kid happened. A quirk. A moment. A winning card in a faulty deck. Daddy sank his heart and soul into a role he knew would never come again. The first Karate Kid film was both his most rewarding and most damning experience in show business: It gave him validation for his talent and catapulted him onto the map of celebrity, but also ruined his sense of self and purpose. He would forever be branded “Mr. Miyagi,” never allowed a chance to prove
his mettle in Hollywood due to the lack of roles for ethnic Do you have a story to tell actors. The weight and lonein 800 words or less? If liness of fame ultimately deso, submit your First Perstroyed him. son story to firstperson@ At 52, he was nominated hyphenmagazine.com for an Academy Award. The ensuing years, the late ’80s and early ’90s, saw him gain accolades from peers and the media — showered with A-list perks and gifts from the studios, inundated with the recognition of people who had cared nothing about him before then. He made millions off the sequels, starred in another, thankfully short-lived network show, was flown in jets, housed in pied-a-terres and five-star hotels and chauffeured in limos or town cars, thinking that he had arrived and would never have to go back to where he came from. Yet like many other ethnic actors nominated for that ultimate testimony of their work, he ended up exactly where he began: at the bottom. At the time of his passing in 2005 at age 73, my father was a forgotten star. He lived in Las Vegas, separated from his third wife, unable to land any jobs because he was too old and still riding on the coattails of his Karate Kid heyday. His fans remembered him; the Asian American community remembered him. But he was of no value to Hollywood. After enjoying the bounty of success for a good 10 years after the first Karate Kid film, he was just another washed-up movie star. Yet, despite the failures, shame, struggles, mockery and brief moments of celebration, my father earned a little place in history. “Don’t knock it ’til you try it,” he says, setting his glass on the bar. “You are who you are and I am who I am. Don’t worry about me. You just do what you need to do.” And he winks at me, winks at you, pays his tab and, offering me his arm, walks me to my car. Aly Morita is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is at work on her first novel and a collection of short stories.
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The Oakland Asian Cultural Center presents
Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival
Literary Night featuring Aimee Suzara May 27, 7pm Jazz performances by: VidyA and Rina Mehta May 29, 8pm Anthony Brown and the Asian American Orchestra May 30, 2pm Culinary Workshops throughout the month of May featuring seasonal dishes from Tibet, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines (for details, visit www.oacc.cc)
The Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival 2010 is made possible with donations and grants from community members, businesses, organizations including*: The National Endowment for the Arts, City of Oakland Cultural Arts & Marketing Division, the City of Oakland, California Arts Council, U.S. Bank, and NCB Capital Impact. *Partial list, as of February 18, 2010
388 Ninth St. Suite 290 (2nd floor) Oakland, CA 94607 (510) 637-0455 www.oacc.cc