Birth Traditions | College Admissions | Chopsticks | Iconic Activists | â€™90s Filipino R&B
Ada Wong in
Issue 23 | SPRING.11 | $4.95
A new variety talk show bringing you fresh insight and inspiring perspectives on everything Queer and Asian American! Featuring D’Lo, Kit Yan, Philip Huang, SKIM, Jai Arun Ravine, Mia Nakano and more.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 7:30pm Buriel Clay Theater 762 Fulton Street San Francisco, CA 94102 www.MsTangTang.com
A ChoyOh! Production co-presented by the API Cultural Center’s 14th Annual United States of Asian America Arts Festival and the Queer Cultural Center’s 14th Annual National Queer Arts Festival
Asian and Pacific Islander American moms embrace ancient post-birth traditions (p.30)
04 Editorâ€™s Note 05 From the Board 06 HYPHEN ONLINE 08 Events 09 Contributors
TAKEOUT | Stuff to Take Home 10 Curated retail: Taking stock of the Japanese American National Museum Store. By Gloria Kim
Chopsticks warrior Nobuko Miyamoto (p.24)
20 Mr. Hyphen 2010: Media activist and gender warrior Kyle Chu. By Cathlin Goulding 22 Vijay Iyer: The jazz phenom on his unstoppable career. By Angela Pang
Food 24 Knock on wood: The campaign to stick it to disposable chopsticks. By Alison Minami 27
F.O.B. | Front of the Book 13 RECIPE: How to be a Tiger Mom. By Annette Lee 14
ADA WONG: The Biggest Loser favorite weighs in on life after reality TV. By Sylvie Kim
Mississippi Bok Choy: Tracing the history of Chinese American groceries in the South. By Nina Kahori Fallenbaum
28 Better Living Through Bitter Melon: A manifesto. By The National Bitter Melon Council
Popped: Speaking truth to slam poetry. By Dino-Ray Ramos
FEATURES 30 Motherhood rooted: Asian and Pacific Islander American moms embrace ancient post-birth traditions. By Momo Chang
COVER CREDITS: model Ada Wong | photographer Andria Lo | art direction Andria Lo, Erica Loh JOnes | assistants JJ Casas, Lawrence Guzman , Myleen Hollero, Damien Maloney | wardrobe stylist Adrea Cabrera | make-up and hair Jasmine Chan with M.A.C. Cosmetics | dress and tiara provided by Decades of Fashion, San Francisco | photographed at Orange Photography, San Francisco
02 HYPHEN Spring.11
You can grow your own way (p.11)
Artist Samanta Batra Mehtaâ€™s body of work (p.50)
The hard part is getting in: Asian American students are navigating the college admissions process amidst racially charged politics. By Lin Yang
Purely peggy: The pains of being indie pop darling Peggy Wang. By Ashley Schleeper
botany of the body: The art of Samanta Batra Mehta. By Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik
Indie pop musician Peggy Wang (p.46)
Suturing self: a portrait of the idealist as a young doctor (p.74)
MUSIc 64 do you miss me?: Revisiting Filipino American R&B music of the 1990s. By Dino-Ray Ramos
reviews 68 CDS: The Smith Westerns, Caroline, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai and Jane Lui 69 DVDs: Red Dust, Hollywood Chinese, Someone Else's War and The People I've Slept With.
Exposure | Photography
70 the big one: Love in a time of earthquakes. By Evelyn Manangan-Price
54 facing history: A portfolio of five iconic Asian American activists. By An Rong Xu and Judy Lei
First Person | Essay
74 Suturing self: A portrait of the idealist as a young doctor. By Dharushana Muthulingam
60 Double crossings: Two would-be rival Vietnamese American graphic artists join forces. By Thi Bui and GB Tran 62
Top Three: SaĂŻd Sayrafiezadeh on bittersweet books.
Book reviews: Hiroshima in the Morning, Diwata and Adamantine.
Comic 77 BITTERSWEET By Louie Chin
Read the Hyphen blog, back issues and more at hyphenmagazine.com HYPHEN SPRING.11 03
We’re Not Bitter, Just a Bit Tardy Better late than never. The Bittersweet Issue was published a month later than planned due to unforeseen circumstances that even our overachieving staff of volunteers couldn’t overcome. This issue was definitely worth the wait — some of the great stories we have include: • Ada Wong of The Biggest Loser is on the cover. Her run on the reality TV show revealed heart-wrenching details about her family history. We catch up with her in a profile and find out about her experience on the show and its aftermath. • Not showering, eating only “hot” foods and barring visitors for a month are ways some new Asian American moms are holding on to sacred traditions. Our feature delves into how mothers of newborns are embracing post-birth traditions. • We explore the landscape of race and college admissions, from
Cover Shoot: a sneak peek behind the scenes
04 HYPHEN Spring.11
the stereotyping of and secret criteria for Asian American applicants to changes in University of California eligibility rules that could lead to fewer Asian Americans in the country’s most prestigious public college system. • Wooden chopsticks are ubiquitous at Asian restaurants everywhere. Billions of pairs are used and tossed out every year. That’s a lot of trees. The B.Y.O. Chopstix campaign is part of an environmental movement to stop this wasteful practice. We highlight the public outreach effort by the campaign. • Our new photo essay feature, Exposure, premieres with portraits of five iconic Asian American activists: photographer Corky Lee, musicians Nobuko Miyamoto (who’s also featured in the chopsticks story) and Charlie Chin, civil rights crusader Yuri Kochiyama and author-journalist Helen Zia. • Louie Chin’s illustrations have graced our Comic page three times now, including this issue. We like him so much, we’ve named him Hyphen’s regular Comic artist. After this issue, Hyphen will be moving to a twice-a-year publication schedule (see Hyphen board chair Bernice Yeung’s explanation on the facing page) while expanding our website offerings. Whatever the format, Hyphen is committed producing the smartest and most visually interesting Asian American publication. Our next print edition is now scheduled for mid-November. While you’re waiting for it, go to hyphenmagazine.com for news from around Asian America and many of the features you’ve enjoyed in print on a regular basis. As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you online and back in this space in November.
Harry Mok Editor in chief
Photos by JJ Casas, Andria Lo, Damien Maloney
Photo by jessica lum
Photo by Andria Lo
From the Board
Big Changes at Hyphen You’re going to start to see some changes at Hyphen in the next year — in both the pages of the magazine and at our website. These are changes that I, as co-founder of Hyphen, am excited and proud to undertake. It’s a reflection of Hyphen’s commitment to innovation and adaptability. It’s also an effort to provide more timely and in-depth coverage in the formats that best support them. To accomplish these goals, Hyphen will roll out a new website featuring expanded content. We’ll enhance the already-excellent blog and culture coverage with more news and multimedia storytelling. The site will also keep readers in mind by making it easier to engage with the content and with each other; it’ll create opportunities for you, our readers, to take action on issues that you’re reading about on our site. We’ll also reduce the number of print issues we publish each year to two. This will allow our staff to create content more frequently for the Web while producing under-the-radar and investigative stories about Asian America that no one else is covering. In 2012, the magazine, though already gorgeous, will undergo a redesign to showcase augmented text, photos and graphics. In the end, Hyphen’s print magazine is one that you’ll have to wait longer for, but it will continue to be something you’ll want to take time to
read and proudly display on your coffee table. I hope you’re as excited as I am about the narrative and community-building potential in these new developments. Please be patient with us as we make the transition, but also know that we value your feedback. If you see something you like — or don’t like — or if you have an idea that you’d care to share, we’d love to hear from you. Email your comments to editorial@hyphenmagazine. com. Thanks for reading Hyphen and joining us on this journey to remake Asian American journalism. Sincerely,
Bernice Yeung Hyphen co-founder and board of directors chair
HYPHEN SPRING.11 05
HIGHLIGHTS FROM HYPHEN'S WEBSITE
Catherine Traywick Most of the designers author Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu interviewed (including notables like Phillip Lim, Derek Lam and Doo-Ri Chung) were the children of garment producers. From an early age, the designers had assisted their parents with piecework, learning to cut, sew and assemble. Guided by their intimate connections to garment workers and familial expectations about the nature of acceptable work, they are more inclined to view fashion design as chiefly a business rather than an art and tend to emphasize their close relationships with producers rather than eschew them. — Excerpt from “The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion”
Saif Ansari Limbaugh actually believes that he knows Chinese and that his rendering of Hu’s speech constituted a “service.” … Makes sense, actually, given Limbaugh’s bigoted history. In 2007, Limbaugh purported to speak “Negro” by imitating Al Sharpton in a similarly racist segment on his show. In 2006, Limbaugh did a shameful impression of Michael J. Fox mocking the latter’s Parkinson’s. Limbaugh knows so many languages he should just become an official translator for the State Department. — Excerpt from “Limbaugh’s Racist Rendition of Chinese President Speech Leads to Death Threats against California Senator” Ask a Model Minority Suicide Not so many years ago, I spent a few long
06 HYPHEN Spring.11
seconds on a railing of the Golden Gate Bridge, then a few long days in mandatory hold at the county hospital. Unless you yourself were living the same puzzle, I doubt you’d have been able to tell. As a daughter of hardworking, upstanding Asian immigrants, I kept my nails clean and my shoes shined. Summa cum laude? Check. Top-ranked graduate program? Check. Fiscally responsible? Check. Smile and banter? Check. This is not the profile of a suicide. Unless, that is, you are Asian American. Psychologists are finding that — unlike every other racial demographic — Asian American college students suffering from severe depression and suicidal ideation don’t necessarily “present” with falling grades or sub-par performance. Instead, if there’s a correlation, it may be in the opposite direction: high-achievers, low resilience. — Excerpt from “Hello” Dianne Choie “Let down” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about Manila Luzon’s performance on RuPaul’s Drag Race this week. The girls had to create morning news shows, and Manila was the entertainment reporter, interviewing The Hills’ Kristin Cavallari — or should I say, “Klistin Cavarrari.” Yeah. She went there. It’s ignorant elementary school mockery at best, and at worst it’s an extremely dated and lazy means of comedy along the lines of 19th century minstrel shows. As fellow competitor Delta Work put it, “[Manila] was like Middle America’s interpretation of Asian people, but when they call them ‘Oriental.’ ” — Excerpt from “Hyphen TV: Are You Playing Angry Birds?” Sylvie Kim This project is taking a comprehensive look at Asian American body image issues, both dismantling the persistent preconceived notions of Asian Americans and examining the cultural dynamics that stem from within Asian Read American communities. To outsiders, we were all born
the same. We are who we are because of biology, whether it’s as possessors of preternatural mathematic ability, tireless work ethic or frames so petite they might as well as be Lilliputian. From the inner circles of our families, ethnic communities, peers and friends, the value of our appearance may be overinflated to a point where it becomes synonymous with success, and the bar for which we gauge attractiveness is set at an impossible standard. From one direction the message reads: “If you are Asian, you are thin.” From the other direction: “If you are Asian, you better be thin.” — Excerpt from “Lisa Lee and Lynn Chen Launch Body-Image Blog ‘Thick Dumpling Skin’ ” Dexter Lee Thomas You will otherwise be a paragon of citizenry, however — you will never spit out your gum, skateboard on public property or jaywalk. And your car? Perfectly maintained, lest you attract attention to yourself with a dim headlight. This law is going to make you resent and be suspicious of other ethnicities who don’t seem to be getting harassed as much as “your people”; this law is going to make you feel victimized, and this law is going to make you feel scared. And that’s really what this law is about — keeping us divided, keeping us in our places and keeping us afraid. — Excerpt from “What It’s Going to Be Like Under AZ’s SB 1070” Victoria Yue Jeremy Lin: Yeah, it’s like two cheeseburger patties on a foot-long sub with lettuce, tomatoes and, you know, everything. I love getting them at Pinocchio’s at Harvard Square. It’s the best. Victoria Yue: That sounds like a tasty heart attack. — NBA point guard Jeremy Lin on his favorite foods, excerpt from “Meet Jeremy Lin, Golden State Warrior”
more at hyphenmagazine.com
Issue 23 Spring 2011 Printed in the USA
Publisher Lisa Lee
Hyphen 17 Walter U. Lum Place San Francisco, CA 94108 hyphenmagazine.com
Associate Publisher Irene Kao Editor in Chief Harry Mok Managing Editor Lisa Wong Macabasco Creative Director Erica Jennifer Loh Jones Web Director Sean Aquino Editorial Editors Sita Bhaumik (Artwell), Momo Chang (features, DVDs), Nina Kahori Fallenbaum (Food), Cathlin Goulding (Books), Gloria Kim (Takeout), Caroline Kim-Brown (Fiction), Abigail Licad (Books), Kimberly Lien (Front of the Book), Margot Seeto (Music), Akito Yoshikane (Redux) Contributing Editors Jericho Saria, Catherine Traywick, Nicole Wong Contributing Writers Annette Lee, Angela Pang, Dino-Ray Ramos Copy Chief Kimberly Lien Copy Editors Akiko Ichikawa, Pauline Moc, Leanna Yip Editorial Assistant Jimmy La Creative Director of Photography Andria Lo Photo Editors JJ Casas, Jessica Lum, Damien Maloney, Patrick Rafanan Designers Dalen Gilbrech, Lawrence Guzman, Jennifer Kim Van Nguyen Design Assistant Jennifer Kim Van Nguyen Article Ender Billy Hong Comic Contributor Louie Chin Design Contributor Katie Kawaoka Business Legal Counsel Hung Chang Finance Operations Manager Christopher Toshiro Jocson Accountant Jay Chi Circulation Manager Amy Lee Subscriptions Manager Dian Pan Secret Agent Annette Lee Publisher’s Assistant Stephanie Chan Marketing Events Director Christina Dou Interim Advertising Director Christopher Toshiro Jocson Advertising Manager Mark Power Advertising Coordinator Anthony Cheng Community Outreach Manager Willa Hu Community Outreach Coordinator Kevin Lu HR & Recruiting Coordinator Lorraine de Guzman Speaking Engagement Coordinator Bena Li Business Copy Editor Jackie Huang
WEB Designers and Developers Sena Heydari, Nina Reyes, Christine Vilar Tech Consultant My Nguyen SEO Consultant William Wong Techie Andy Kuo Blog Editors Sylvie Kim, erin Khue Ninh Bloggers Saif Ansari, Cynthia Brothers, Momo Chang, Dianne Choie, Winston Chou, Ken Choy, Theresa Celebran Jones, Kirti Kamboj, E. Tammy Kim, Claire Light, Alvin Lin, Dot Lin, Priyanka Mantha, Mic Nguyen, Catherine Shu, Joy Tang, Catherine A. Traywick, Victoria Yue Board of Directors Samara Azam, Melissa Hung, Gilbert Lee, Janice Lee, Erik Manuevo, Wil Wong, Bernice Yeung Founding Editor Melissa Hung SPECIAL THANKS Seng Fong, Tina Kim, R.J. Lozada, Siwaraya Rochanahusdin, Sopheak Tek Subscriptions email@example.com
feed ours too!
Subscriptions cost $18 for four issues. Hyphen is published two times a year. Why so few times? Because we’re an all-volunteer organization and it took sixteen emails to come up with this line. Try doing a whole magazine. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Ad Sales email@example.com Letters and Story Queries firstname.lastname@example.org Other Stuff email@example.com Hyphen is fiscally sponsored by Independent Arts & Media Hyphen is distributed by Armadillo (# 310.693.6061) and Ubiquity (# 718.875.5491) ©2011 Hyphen. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the publisher’s permission, except for review purposes. So there.
Are you looking for a safer investment without feeling like it may be gone tomorrow? We have the answer for you! Turnkey Investment Property $24,995 total purchase price!! All of our Investment Properties: Are Already Rented Include a Rental Income Protection Plan Include an In-House Home Warranty Plan In-House Financing Available! Guaranteed to net 15% or greater Return on Investment! Give us a call at: (408) 369-9244 or visit us at: www.bayareaequitygroup.com
Hyphen on the scene Out and about across Asian America.
Hyphen Year-End Mixer | Karaoke & Games, co-hosted by Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and South Bay First Thursdays (SBFT) 01 Hyphen Publisher Lisa Lee and Editor in Chief Harry Mok sang karaoke at The Mint Karaoke Lounge in San Francisco on December 15, 2010.
Jay Jao (mochamonkey.com): 1, 9 JJ Casas (jjcasas.me): 3, 7 Myleen Hollero (myleenhollero.com): 6, 8 Patrick Rafanan (soybaby.com): 2, 4 Andria Lo (andrialo.com): 5
08 HYPHEN Spring.11
A Sensory Feast: Art, Food, and Asian American Identity, organized by Kearny Street Workshop and SOMArts Cultural Center 02 Curious visitors interacted with the curry installation by exhibition curator (and Hyphen editor) Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik at the February 4 exhibition opening at SOMArts in San Francisco. 03 Brad Nemer and Kim Kerme hold scented mustaches by artist Yosh Han and 04 artist Imin Yeh poses in one of the food-themed costume pieces by artist Amy M. Ho. 29th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival 05 Ann Yu of Silver Swans performed at the Directions in Sound concert on March 11 at 111 Minna Gallery. 06 The outdoor screening of Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) at the March 12 Festival Forum in Japantown Peace. 07 La Femme Deadly Venoms performed at the festivalâ€™s 9 (Outsourced), stand-up comic Ali Wong, and and Thu Social Club on March 12 at Madrone Studios. 08 Anisha Nagarajan Tran (Food Party) discussed their careers as women in comedy on March 12 at Viz Cinema. 09 Festival director Masashi Niwano (left) with musician Goh Nakamura and Center for Asian American Media Executive Director Stephen Gong at the launch party on February 10 at 111 Minna Gallery
By Lisa Wong Macabasco
In April 2010, Akito Yoshikane was invited to edit Redux, Hyphen’s section about the perennially hot-button topic of Asian Americans and the media. Yoshikane, a New York reporter for Japan’s Kyodo News wire service, brought a refreshing vision: “I feel like responding to the latest misrepresentation stuff is reactive, so I thought it’d be nice to focus on Asian Americans’ interaction with various media to highlight our agency.” On the occasion of his final issue as editor, he said a highlight of his tenure was interviewing Ben Sun, founder of the early social networking website Asian Avenue, who told him one now-famous social network founder joined Asian Avenue because he had an Asian fetish. Bitter or sweet? “Bitter. I hold grudges.” Favorite bitter: yerba maté. Favorite sweet: peanut butter manju from Benkyodo in San Francisco’s Japantown. Photographer Hatnim Lee kept the idea of bittersweet at the forefront while orchestrating this issue’s whimsical fashion spread featuring indie songstress Peggy Wang. “When I think of bittersweet, I immediately think of lost love — whether it be romantic love for a specific person or something as abstract as an idea,” said Lee, who sought to create a mood that was “quirky and sad but celebratory.” Lee’s work has appeared in New York Magazine, National Geographic and Nylon, and she was an intern for the iconic photographer David LaChapelle. Bitter or sweet? “I’m a closeted idealist, so, of course, sweet.” In this issue, Lin Yang tells the complex story of the disadvantages Asian Americans face when applying to top universities. Yang, who has written for Taiwan’s Central News Agency and Singapore’s The Straits Times, acknowledged the challenges of reporting on such a politically charged and often misunderstood topic — in particular, the difficulties in finding hard evidence that Asian Americans are accepted at lower rates than other groups. “No university wants to release admissions rates by race and risk negative press,” Yang said. “If we knew which schools treated Asian Americans most unfairly, we could target advocacy efforts.” Favorite bitter: going for a long hike with tons of elevation gain. Favorite sweet: mint chocolate chip ice cream topped with Baileys Irish Cream. Evelyn Manangan-Price said the original title of this issue’s short story, about two 20-somethings in the midst of an earthquake, was “Geological Consent.” “I wanted that title to tie in how human nature and the natural world can be seen as part of one single, yet powerful, uncontrollable being.” It’s an idea that perhaps others are grappling with in the wake of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in March. The San Francisco-based author has
been published in The Big Ugly Review and writes a food blog at fromtheseed.blogspot.com. Bitter or sweet? “Pure, pleasing, beloved and freeing sweetness.” Favorite bitter: bourbon dark chocolate truffles. Favorite sweet: a moment that gives your whole being a rush without warning. Here at Hyphen, we place a premium on hands-on education and self-improvement. So hearing illustrator Rosa Chou proclaim, “I learned how to draw a placenta,” brought proud tears to our eyes. Her adorable rendering of the edible organ accompanies a sidebar on post-birth rituals in this issue’s Features section. Berkeley, CA-based Chou previously illustrated another comestible, tofu, for Issue 21. Favorite bitter: coffee and 90 percent cocoa chocolate. Favorite sweet: chocolate, “preferably something not too sweet because I’m already sweet enough!” Photographer Baii Nguyen shot artist and activist Nobuko Miyamoto for this month’s story on Miyamoto’s campaign to reduce waste from disposable chopsticks. “I’m very inspired by Irving Penn,” Nguyen said. “I wanted to keep the photos simple so the focus stayed on Nobuko. She’s an amazing person to photograph.” In Issue 21, Nguyen photographed Asian adoptees who have subsequently adopted children from their birth countries. Favorite bitter: mornings. Favorite sweet: tres leches cake. Dharushana Muthulingam wrote about her experiences as a medical student in this issue’s First Person, an experience both cathartic and fraught. “I am always clutching my pearls and reflecting on my daily work, but trying to represent the range of experiences — the toil, the triumphs, the satisfaction, the boring routines — in a singular, deliberate way to an audience felt overwhelming,” she said. Bitter or sweet? “Oh, the inextricable bitterest, sweetest together with Tapatio and hypertension-inducing tablespoons of salt. “ Illustrator Alija Craycroft created the artwork for this issue’s feature on Asian American post-birth traditions. “I really loved the feeling I got from the article relating to the warmth and support of their communities,” she said. “I envisioned the final image circled around and nurturing the mother and newborn, and I wanted them to be the center visually and emotionally.” Craycroft experienced a touch of bittersweetness herself recently after moving from San Francisco to Brooklyn, NY: “It’s been exciting but I’m also sad to leave where I had been for some of the most significant years of my life.” Favorite bitter: listening to really sad songs — “Billie Holiday is someone to listen to for that bitterness with a little sweet.”
HYPHEN SPRING.11 09
The Japanese American National Museum store in downtown Los Angeles focuses on Japanese American products—not Japanese products.
How the Japanese American National Museum Store stocks its shelves. Writer Gloria Kim Photographer Ellsworth Ramclam Like dessert, few things satisfy the end of a museum visit like wandering into the museum store. It allows the visitor to linger in the experience a while longer and, perhaps, find a souvenir to take home. At the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in downtown Los Angeles, the experience is perfectly rounded out by the store — a circular space where, like a garden maze, you spiral in from the outer edges. In place of hedges are walls of thoughtfully chosen merchandise: shiso leaf seeds from Oakland, CA, and modern takes on traditional items, like a crocheted version of a kokeshi doll. No Monet mugs here. This is all the more impressive given the added challenge that the Little Tokyo community posed when the current location opened in 1999. There was neighborhood concern that a museum store would compete with already existing stores in the community. “One of the agreements between the museum and the community was we wouldn’t sell a lot of ‘Japanese things,’ ” says Maria Kwong, director of retail and visitor services at the museum. She laughs. “So OK, can’t sell Japanese things, I can only sell Japanese American things. What are those things?” In the store’s previous location, the stock was basic: books and videos about Japanese American history, logo merchandise. When Kwong joined the staff, she decided on a new approach. “I tried to look at the mission statement in a different way. I wanted to sell things that reflected the influence of the Japanese American community.” For example, she reasons that without Japanese Americans, the rest of the country wouldn’t be eating sushi. So, in the store you will find sushi-print ties and erasers shaped like uni or maguro. There are also items indirectly reflective of their history, like kits for assembling a ukelele alongside kimono sewing patterns.
010 HYPHEN Spring.11
The store also develops its own products. When Kwong went through JANM’s collection for inspiration, she was drawn to a 55-gallon drum of Heart Mountain mystery rocks. The rocks, named after the Japanese American internment camp in Wyoming where they were discovered, are flat stones painted with the kanji characters for words like “strength,” “love,” and “together.” Buried in the camp’s cemetery, the rocks were used to form sutras, or Buddhist scriptures used in Japanese funerals. Kwong found artisans to reproduce the rocks for retail, though staffers were skeptical. “Everybody thought, well who’s going to pay $9 for a rock? But we have sold thousands of them now. You sell not just the object, but also the story.” A new product is a collection of museum teas blended by Chado Tea Room. After unsuccessfully trying to custom package its own tea for 10 years, the museum was approached by Chado, which had opened its third location at JANM. The partnership has worked out well. “Chado came up with the idea of using the Japanese tea as a base and then blending it,” Kwong says. “Then, it becomes more of a Japanese American hybrid product.” Called the “Generation Teas,” the five blends range from Issei to Gosei. The most requested product? The 1976 made-for-TV production of Farewell to Manzanar, a memoir of a Japanese American family’s internment experience. “Everyone has wanted to see it and now it’s a really historical piece of film,” Kwong says. “It was the first prime-time TV depiction of the whole story of incarceration.” It took over a decade to find out why NBC Universal would not release it for redistribution: music rights. Now that they’ve finally received an answer, the museum is making efforts to re-edit the film with new music. Along with the possible video project, the store has other products in development. Higashi Glaser Design, who created ZoLO, the successful line of visually modern children’s toys, is creating a custom frog character toy for the store. Why a frog? They’re an important part of Japanese culture and are even popular good luck charms for Las Vegas-bound Japanese Americans. And promisingly for the museum, the Japanese word for frog, kaeru, also means “to return.” Gloria Kim is Hyphen’s Takeout editor.
Souvenirs to Take Home
Four products from the Japanese American National Museum Store 1
1. HomieWear4Dogs Vest
2. Krokeshi Doll
Make your dog carry his own treats. Sewn with Japanese print textiles,
Originally created for JANMâ€™s kokeshi exhibition in 2009, Emi Motokawaâ€™s
these adjustable vests have a tiny backpack on top.
hand-crocheted dolls are much softer than the traditional wooden ones.
3. Museum Blend Tea
4. Kitazawa Seeds
From a collection of teas specially blended for JANM by Chado, the Mu-
Grow your own azuki beans and shiso leaves. The packets come with
seum Blend is a mix of Chado special house black tea infused with jas-
helpful tips on how to cultivate and cook your Asian produce of choice.
mine, vanilla and mandarin orange flavoring.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 011
Some unisex things
are not that great like leggings, bandana ascots and bathrooms. But sometimes unisex things are awesome – like the Hyphen t-shirt.
Be awesome. Get your shirt today at hyphenmagazine.com/store.
yourself from nerd to geek. Commemorate this with our transformer t-shirt.
Buy our stuff. Get your shirt today at hyphenmagazine.com/store.
Were you raised “Western” style by your uncaring, unloving parents? Were you forced to attend school dances AND sleepovers? Did you suffer through the humiliation of getting A’s in gym and drama? If so, it’s not too late to reclaim the superior upbringing your parents denied you. Following the easy steps below, you can start your recovery and become your very own Tiger Mom.
WHAT YOU NEED Musical instrument Complicated sheet music Bottle of water Salt Adult diapers
Choose your instrument wisely, like the piano, violin or cello. No triangle player has ever gotten his or her own show at Carnegie Hall.
Pick an overly complicated piece of music for your skill level. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 would be a great piece to mangle daily for hours — especially if anyone is within earshot.
Set your practice schedule. How much sleep do you really need? Take that number and divide it by half. You should be practicing upward of 20 hours per day if you plan on playing Lincoln Center by next Christmas.
Prepare your practice space. Only one bottle of water and a bowl of salt should be close by. The water in case your coddled adult self gets thirsty and the salt to help stave off bathroom breaks. The adult diaper serves as a backup in case the salt fails.
Begin your practice and do not stop for at least five hours. Feel like you need a break? WELL, YOU CAN’T TAKE ONE because your rendition of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes still sounds like crap. You are bringing shame upon the family, you filthy piece of garbage! (Feel free to record youself saying this and play it back when you need some motivation.) After five more hours of practice, you can take one five-minute break — to complete multiplication tables. However, this break cannot involve a visit to the bathroom. (What do you think this is? Disneyland?)
Repeat steps 4 through 6 on a daily basis until you have either performed before the president at the Kennedy Center or entered therapy. Your inner Tiger Mom will then be satisfied and ready to inflict, I mean, instill these methods upon the next generation.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 013
Speaking in Tongues Pulling the plug on amateur slam poetry. Writer Dino-Ray Ramos Illustrator Stephanie Kubo Fresh out of college, I used to put “spoken word poet” on my cent white). My performances received such great feedback that I was convinced I was a brilliant spoken word poet. I even thought resume. I know — this is the equivalent of adding something like “mime” or “bucket drummer” to your work experience — but did I I was as proficient as the Tongues — when really my poems were mention I was an angsty Asian college kid in Texas with something derivative of theirs. I was a biter, but then again, original content is highly overrated. to prove? Now in my 30s, I have calmed down a bit. The angriest I get The road to my cringe-worthy resume title began in 2000 when is when my DVR fails to record the latest episode of Community. I was invited to attend a performance by I Was Born with Two Don’t get me wrong, I still care about Asian American issues; I just Tongues. The event flyer featured a close-up on an Asian eye, a finger pulling on the corner to make it even more slanted. I was learned how to control my anger and convert it into a polarizing sense of humor. intrigued. I do feel that there is a reI had no knowledge of who My knowledge of the spoken word/slam poetry surgence of spoken word/slam they were. This was long before world didn’t extend beyond pioneering “angry poetry. On HBO, I caught an epiGoogle answered all of life’s black man” Kevin from The Real World: New sode of Russell Simmons Def Pomysteries, so I had to rely on my etry Slam, where talented teens imagination. Were they a singing York and neo-beatnik wannabes spouting off from all over the country perform group? A group of avant-garde antiestablishment words at an open mic night. their original works. They were performance artists? A circus act? Motivational speakers? It turns out they were E: all of the far better than I was or ever could be. It was refreshing to see above. a new generation of minds who were connected with the written Emily Chang, Dennis Kim and Marlon and Anida Yoeu Esguerra word and their cultures rather than tweeting their thoughts about compose the pan-Asian spoken word poetry troupe I Was Born the latest episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Even so, with Two Tongues. To have them come to Texas was quite excitthese are young, changeable minds and they may not continue ing. My knowledge of the spoken word/slam poetry world didn’t their paths in spoken word. When they reach a certain age, they extend beyond pioneering “angry black man” Kevin from The Real will either follow the path of a witty journalist (wink) or evolve their World: New York and neo-beatnik wannabes spouting off antiestalents into the elevated consciousness of Beau Sia (watch Slamtablishment words at an open mic night. Nation for the full effect). Either way, they are using words in a I Was Born with Two Tongues’ performance was awe inspirsmart way — so it’s a win-win. ing. With their words, they “slammed” hefty Asian American isI don’t have anything against people in the spoken word/slam sues like Asian stereotypes and female fetishization. Their words, poetry world. It takes a lot of guts for someone to get in front of a where they spoke of yellow power and isangmahal, could promote crowd of people and get crunk with their feelings about pressing, change and challenge thoughts. Spoken word was an outlet for cultural issues. In fact, I urge everyone to try it at least once in his anger and frustration — and cue my dive into its realm. or her lifetime. Afterward, do some soul searching — a lot of soul I thought I could be at the level of these poets. As a Filipino searching — and nine times out of 10, you will discover that you American journalism major at Texas A&M University I thought I are not a budding spoken word poet. You are just angry like everyhad the skills, so I started performing at various “diversity” events one else in the world. Handle it the logical way: with lots of binge around my school (where, at the time, the population was 83 pereating and two-faced trash talking.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 015
016 HYPHEN Spring.11
Run, Ada, Run
Photo courtesy of NBCUniversaL
Ada Wong of The Biggest Loser adjusts to life after reality TV, takes winning and losing in stride. Writer Sylvie Kim Photographer Andria Lo Tracking the trajectory of Hyphen cover model Ada Wong from average citizen to reality show personality reveals a series of impressive wins and emotional setbacks in a span of about nine months. Since last fall, the 28-year-old third-place finalist on season 10 of NBC's popular weight-loss competition series, The Biggest Loser, has developed from a 259-pound project coordinator to an athlete in training, a People magazine health columnist and a public figure in the health and fitness realm. Growing up in Gilroy, CA, early childhood trauma and intergenerational conflict with her Chinese-born parents contributed to Wong’s struggle with self-esteem, weight gain and unsuccessful attempts at weight loss. After months of procrastination, Wong mailed an eleventh-hour Biggest Loser application and got the fated phone call from producers just three days later. During her time on the show, she put an Asian American face to the growing obesity epidemic, which, according to the US Office of Minority Health, affects 9 percent of the Asian American and Pacific Islander adult population, an increase from 8.1 percent in 2006. Wong shed an astonishing 99 pounds and, through her particularly heartbreaking backstory involving the untimely death of her brother, showed a national audience how complex Asian American family dynamics can be. Memorable moments throughout the season — such as when Wong gave up her considerable lead during a challenge so her unemployed castmate could win a new car for his family — endeared her to Biggest Loser fans and spurred attention from a number of TV, health, lifestyle and Asian American blogs. Yet in person, Wong appears to be the consummate realist, grounded and modest about this new phase of her life. “I'm training
for a triathlon now and doing a marathon. Just overall, my confidence level has gone up,” Wong says. “But other than that, nothing's really changed that much.” Those who followed her on the show saw change aplenty. Wong was initially just a blip on the producers' radar as a quiet powerhouse in the gym, choosing to stay low profile and avoid the risk of being voted off for doing too well. But she was also crippled with self-doubt about her ability to succeed in the game — demonstrated by her extreme discomfort with fielding compliments about her progress — despite consistently dropping more weight than her female competitors, which piqued the interest of the show's staff. “I
Ada Wong finished third in The Biggest Loser.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 017
Chloe blouse provided by Black and Brown
018 HYPHEN Spring.11
“I always felt like I never belonged in our community because I was a larger person in a community of really petite, skinny Asians. But maybe we can get to a point where you can still be considered healthy if you're a 4, 6 or 8.”
blouse provided by Ambiance, San Francisco
— Ada Wong
didn’t say much because I was emotionally shut down and I wasn’t open to talking about feelings,” Wong says. “But the producers kept probing because they wanted to get to the bottom of why I felt like I could never be good enough.” The story that emerged, stemming from past tragedy and unresolved issues between Wong and her parents, unfolded before America’s eyes as the once soft-spoken and insecure contestant forayed where many grown Asian American children fear to tread: the public airing of family dysfunction. Wong’s account of being blamed by her parents for the death of her younger brother — who drowned as a toddler while the two played in a kiddie pool — and its connection to her low self-esteem and weight gain made for bold television. Not only did we see the raw emotion of the Wong family, but we also saw a near-miracle: Ada Wong got her immigrant parents to show up on camera and admit that they had been wrong. Before her stunning coup with her parents, Wong was apprehensive about going home to prepare for the show’s live finale. “I was actually terrified,” she says. “I knew that the whole camera crew would be following me back to my hometown. And I told them, ‘Hey, just be prepared. You might get thrown out of the house.’ ” Wong says she was surprised by how receptive her parents were, which she credits largely to a highlight reel sent to them by the show’s producers that documented her journey. “I guess when they saw that, they realized that I was more unhappy than I was happy. And because of that, I think they were more open to discussing my issues and why I felt the way that I did.” That’s not to say it was an easy road to family harmony. Wong’s candidness inadvertently sparked what she deems as an unfair public reaction to her parents. “I’m not saying what you saw on TV wasn’t accurate, but the show only shows a snippet of what really happened,” Wong says. “It’s easy for people to jump to conclusions and think they were awful parents, but they weren’t.” When episodes began airing, Wong’s mother would receive tear-inducing anonymous phone calls harshly criticizing her parenting skills, making it a difficult adjustment for the whole family who had been thrust into the pop cultural sphere. Now Wong says her relationship with her parents is “a hundred times better than it was before. We communicate a lot more and there’s open dialogue.” As she plans future ventures, she’s keeping Asian American youth in her sights. “I had a lot of self-esteem issues growing up because of everything that I went through. And if I could help kids overcome that before they get to adulthood, that would be ideal because it’s an awful feeling to feel like you are not worthy or nothing that you do is good enough.” The delicate balance that many Asian American youths must maintain while receiving an Asian upbringing in a Western society is something Wong recognizes. “I think a lot of us are dealing with living in this bicultural society. My parents raised me differently than what I saw from my non-Asian friends. So, that was hard for me
because what was happening at home wasn't matching up to what I saw out of the home.” Wong also comments on a need to increase nutrition awareness in the Asian American community and expand notions of a healthy Asian American body beyond a size 0. “I always felt like I never belonged in our community because I was a larger person in a community of really petite, skinny Asians,” she says. “But maybe we can get to a point where you can still be considered healthy if you're a 4, 6 or 8.” Kelly Nguyen, a San Francisco-based therapist who specializes in helping women create healthy relationships and reconciling intergenerational and cultural conflicts, agrees that body expectations in Asian American communities can be problematic. “It’s a stigma. You’re Asian, you’re skinny. … If you’re larger than that ‘typical Asian,’ it becomes another challenge,” Nguyen says. “Ada is really admirable. She’s portraying how this ‘positive’ stigma of thinness in Asians is actually very harmful for individuals who do not identify with that type of physique.” Conversations about this stigma and other body issues are deservedly gaining a larger platform. Actress Lynn Chen (Saving Face, The People I’ve Slept With) has recently launched Asian American body image blog Thick Dumpling Skin (with Hyphen’s publisher Lisa Lee) and advocates for discussions on weight, body, and eating issues in Asian American communities. “It can feel very isolating to confront issues with food — almost like admitting you are a failure,” says Chen. “We have seen that body image and eating disorders definitely affect our community. Seeing others struggle, hearing that you’re not alone, is important in breaking the silence and the root of this myth.” Though Wong is still plotting her next moves, health is definitely on the agenda. Fans keep up with her writing, fitness tips and event appearances through her Facebook page, website and People column. “I don't know what’s next, but I want to be able to use this platform to make an impact on people’s lives,” Wong says. “I wasn’t expecting as many people to reach out to me and say that I was an inspiration. I didn’t think that I could be that person.” Sylvie Kim is a Hyphen blog editor.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 019
020 HYPHEN Spring.11
“We’re all dressing in drag — all of these traits and all of these appearances are learned. Who is ludicrous in the end: you or me?”
The Education of Kyle Chu
event photo by Andre Nguyen
Mr. Hyphen 2010 is a savvy scholar of media, sexuality and glam rock. Writer Cathlin Goulding Photographer Patrick Rafanan For Kyle Chu, Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” was the music of choice. In November’s fifth annual Mr. Hyphen contest, Chu strutted triumphantly on stage, the gold fringes on his short black dress whirling with each spry turn and bounce to Freddie Mercury’s exhalant lyrics. Chu halted his routine only twice to adjust a black bobbed wig and after the tennis balls that had served as breasts bounded across the stage. Energized by the audience’s uproarious cheering, Chu finished his act with a solo saxophone performance and a broad, toothy smile, his gold-legginged backup dancers sprawling on the floor behind him. The performance propelled Chu past four other contestants to win the 2010 Mr. Hyphen contest, Hyphen magazine’s faux beauty pageant that hopes to counter stereotypes of Asian American men and honors contestants for their community work. The decision to make drag a central part of Chu’s Mr. Hyphen bid was pointed. Chu, 22, had grown up in San Francisco “wearing his mother’s dresses and singing Evita” and later delved into an academic study of drag during his time at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. He studied how gendered ways of dressing — for example, men wearing pants or women wearing skirts — are learned, and not natural or instinctive characteristics. “[Drag] is supposed to draw attention to the fact that it’s not me who is ridiculous as a drag performer,” Chu says. “It’s more a matter that we’re all dressing in drag and that all of these traits and appearances are learned. Who is ludicrous in the end: you or me?” Chu selected the Center for Asian American Media in San Francisco to receive the contest’s $1,000 prize for nonprofit groups. He began as an intern there after graduating from college last year and has continued to help develop programming for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, organized annually by the center. His work with the group stems from a keen interest in deleterious images of Asians and Asian Americans in film and media. “What most resonates with me is the effeminization of Asian American men,” Chu says. “In a lot of ‘bro’ movies, I find that Asian characters are often used as an object of context in order to make the protagonist seem more manly or normal or rational.” Chu references Ken Jeong’s character, an Asian gangster with an Engrish accent from the 2009 movie The Hangover, as a potent example of the ways
in which Asian men bolster the masculinity and rationality of white male characters. Because of the appearance of such stereotypes in current Hollywood blockbusters, Chu believes that there should be a more robust interrogation of gender, race and sexuality by media makers. He cites Margaret Cho, A $1,000 prize for charity comes with winning Mr. Hyphen. Wong Kar Wai and Alice Wu (a judge for the 2010 Mr. Hyphen contest) as artists whose provocative work exposes the often dark and idiosyncratic arenas within Asian and Asian American identity. The appropriate response to such harmful stereotypes, according to Chu, lies in what he calls an “educated retaliation”: arming oneself with a sophisticated understanding of history, ethnic struggle and race relations. Such a response was what Chu wished for during an incident in college when he was called “chink” during an intimate moment with a partner, who was white. “When he called me that name,” Chu says, “I just felt like I wanted to know the entire history of that word. I wanted to know my entire family history. I wanted to know everything about everything, about American history, about race in America, about civil rights. I wanted to memorize the Constitution.” Chu wanted to know these things “so I could turn it back around and call him an idiot and tell him why.” Chu believes that the pursuit of understanding his history, self and community supplies a forceful reservoir of informed responses to stereotypes — should he ever have to face a situation like that again. “I don’t have to fight back, but I can if I want to,” he says. Cathlin Goulding is a books editor for Hyphen. She last wrote for Hyphen on ’60s film actress Nancy Kwan.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 021
all that jazz Vijay Iyer left a career in physics and math to become a jazz phenomenon. Writer Angela Pang Photographer Jason (Woei-Ping) Chen Physicist, mathematician, composer and one of today’s most acclaimed jazz artists — pianist Vijay Iyer is a modern-day renaissance man. Whether he’s performing solo or with one of his two trios — the Vijay Iyer Trio or the newly formed Tirtha — critics adore him. The last year saw an avalanche of accolades for Iyer, including a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for the Vijay Iyer Trio’s highly acclaimed Historicity. The Jazz Journalists Association named Iyer, 40, the 2010 Musician of the Year and his debut album, Solo, was named one of the Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2010 by numerous critics and publications including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. He was also selected as one of the 50 most influential global Indians by GQ India in 2010. He has collaborated
022 HYPHEN Spring.11
with artists as diverse as Amiri Baraka, Dead Prez, Miya Masaoka, Karsh Kale, DJ Spooky and Bill Morrison, among many others. The native of Albany, NY, recently discussed from his home in New York City how playing the piano helps him express himself, how he sold his parents on the idea of switching careers from mathematics and physics to music and whether all this praise has given him an inflated ego. How do you feel about all these accolades? Has it gotten to your head? [Laughs] I don’t think it has. These titles, more than anything, have created more opportunities for me to perform in front of people. That is what every artist strives for and I’ve been privileged to be
able to perform in concerts year round. They don’t translate to record sales, but they do put you on the map for industry people. When I first started, presenters were worried that I could not fill an auditorium. Now, they don’t say no immediately to giving me a gig. Where does your passion for jazz and piano come from? My parents are not musicians nor did they have any knowledge of or connection to jazz. But growing up, I played Western classical violin and my sister played piano. I started playing piano for fun since it was around. With classical violin, you’re playing someone else’s music and you always feel like you’re a small part of a large machine in an orchestra. But with the piano, it’s organic, spontaneous and expressive — the complete opposite. Violin was controlled, regimented with lessons; with piano, it was always about improvising and creating music on my own terms. Over the years, piano became very important to me and a way for me to express myself. I became exposed to jazz in high school. We had a jazz ensemble and they allowed me to play piano. That gave me the opportunity to get started. How did your parents, emigrants from southern India, react when you went into music after you studied mathematics and physics as an undergraduate at Yale and then got a Ph.D. in technology and the arts at University of California, Berkeley? I made the decision when I was 23 years old to make a career out of music. This was not easy for my parents to accept initially. They would always ask when I was going to get a real job. But it is something they have come to understand and embrace. What’s made it easy for them is the fact that I’ve been successful, receiving recognition from newspapers and critics and winning awards — giving them tangible proof that I could do this, this is who I am and that I wasn’t delusional. Who are some of your favorite pianists or composers? Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Randy Weston and Andrew Hill. They all have an orchestral and constructive approach to piano, employing the full range of the instrument. There are pianists who dwell in the middle, but these guys think about the sound, density and space. If you could work with any Asian musician, who would it be and why? M.I.A. — who wouldn’t! Also the guys of Das Racist. I did a track
with them on their Sit Down, Man mixtape and would like to do more with them. They’re great. Any up-and-coming Asian American musicians to look out for? Rafiq Bhatia. This young guitarist and composer is very gifted and ambitious with a lot of interesting ideas. And Jon Irabagon, who won the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. You perform solo and in trios and groups. Which do you prefer? I like both for many reasons. I have an inherently collaborative nature and enjoy the shared experience of making music together. Performing and touring solo is like being on a retreat and it makes you very focused and disciplined on what you’re creating. The debut album of your new band Tirtha features Indian musicians like guitarist-composer Prasanna and tabla player Nitin Mitta. What was it like working with them? Though I grew up in the US and they grew up in India, performing together felt very natural. We all have shared rhythmic sensibilities and the soul of our band comes from us improvising together. You’ll hear a clear connection to both Indian music and jazz, and something that’s also neither of those things. Interview condensed by Hyphen editors.
Upcoming performances Thursday, June 23 New York City Vijay Iyer New Quintet at Castle Clinton Tuesday, June 28 Toronto, CANADA Solo piano concert at Glenn Gould Theatre Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16 NEW YORK CITY Armitage Gone Dance with new music by Vijay Iyer at Central Park Summerstage Saturday, August 6 KENT, CONNECTICUT Vijay Iyer Trio at Litchfield Jazz Festival For a complete list of Iyer’s upcoming performances, visit vijay-iyer.com.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 023
KnocK on Wood The campaign to stick it to disposable chopsticks. Writer Alison Minami Photographer Baii Nguyen
From underneath a mountainous pile of disposable wooden chopsticks, the face of a pale and sprightly woman pops up, a lone pair of sticks gripped between her teeth, and, through her bun of gray and white hair, chopsticks jabbed in all directions. So begins the music video for “B.Y.O. Chopstix,” the first in a series of songs written and performed by Nobuko Miyamoto to address environmental issues and greener living. The Ghost of Dead Chopsticks, the video’s central character played by Miyamoto, haunts the patrons of a Japanese restaurant. Draped in wooden chopsticks, the ghost playfully steals pairs of chopsticks or slices of sashimi from the lips of unwitting customers. Rapper Aidger of Aesthetics Crew plays the sushi chef, wielding knives, peddling portable chopsticks from inside his chef’s coat. His
024 HYPHEN Spring.11
rhymes form the song’s main message: “Hundreds of years of history chopped down/Into these billions of sticks that just get tossed to the ground.” With a catchy beat, campy sense of humor and inventive special effects, the video sheds light on the ways in which disposable chopsticks contribute to deforestation and air pollution and offers practical suggestions to reduce their use — all without negating the joy of eating our favorite foods with our utensil of choice. Miyamoto, 66, first started toting her own portable pair of chopsticks to Asian restaurants near her home in Los Angeles back in 2000. The chopsticks — found at Snow Peak, an outdoor camping equipment company — have wooden tips made from recycled baseball bat material and stainless steel ends. They unscrew at the center, making them small enough to fit in your pocket. Some-
Our Own Song Nobuko Miyamoto and the first Asian American band. Writer Margot Seeto Before Nobuko Miyamoto became a chopstick activist, she was probably best known for her role in what is commonly dubbed as the first Asian American band, Yellow Pearl. The 1970s group was the first time that many ears were treated to a fusion of folk with Asian American political content, American jazz elements and English and Spanish lyrics. Miyamoto’s ethereal voice carried many songs in the seminal 1973 album A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggle by Asians in America along with bandmates Chris Kando Iijima and Charlie Chin. Songs such as “Imperialism Is Another Word for Hunger” and “Warriors of the Rainbow” advocated for social justice not just for Asian Americans but for all people of color. The Spanish-titled “Somos Asiaticos” spoke to the group’s close ties with the New York City Latino community, and they also played many gigs for Black activist audiences (where Miyamoto struck up a friendship with fellow activist Yuri Kochiyama). Miyamoto’s artistic career was borne from the challenges she faced breaking into mainstream performing arts. As a dancer and singer, Miyamoto landed roles in Broadway’s The King and I and Flower Drum Song, but she longed to, in her words, “break the color line,” and thus landed a non-Asian-specific role in West Side Story. Next she focused on singing, where she felt less inhibcontinued on page 26
photo courtesy of Bob Hsiang
Charlie Chin (left), Nobuko Miyamoto and Chris Iijima performing in New York City in 1971.
times Miyamoto’s chopsticks attracted strange looks from staff and neighboring patrons, but they also sparked curiosity and conversation about the environment and waste reduction. Pretty soon, Miyamoto began gifting portable chopsticks to friends, making colorful fabric carrying cases to accompany them. Great Leap, the cross-cultural arts organization that Miyamoto founded in 1978 where she also serves as artistic director, offers reusable chopsticks for sale. The B.Y.O. Chopstix campaign, which encourages people to carry their own portable chopsticks, was born when longtime friend and artistic collaborator the Rev. Masao Kodani of Los Angeles’ Senshin Buddhist Temple shared with Miyamoto that 30 million trees are cut down every year to make disposable wooden chopsticks, or waribashi in Japanese. In the music video Miyamoto stars in, she states that an estimated 100 billion waribashi are thrown away annually worldwide. For his own congregation’s social gatherings, Kodani made the switch to bamboo chopsticks, which, although disposable, are considered a more eco-friendly choice since bamboo is more plentiful and grows faster than the poplar and birch trees usually used for waribashi. According to myhashi.org, the website of a Canadian campaign for portable chopsticks, nearly 90 percent of the industry’s disposable chopsticks are produced from clear-cut forests in China. These chopsticks are consumed at a greater rate than their production — trees just don’t grow that fast — and in 2006, China imposed a tax specifically on disposable chopstick exports to address the problem. While disposable chopsticks can be composted, and a few enterprising souls make and sell products like lamps and baskets made from sanitized disposable chopsticks, the vast majority of sticks end up in the trash. Miyamoto wasn’t the first to take notice of the problem, but after
participating in the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne in 2009, where discussions emphasized the urgency of the environmental crisis, she began to seriously consider how she could help. She was also moved by listening to Australian aboriginals: “Indigenous people realize that they have been caretakers of this Earth. It is time for this voice to return.” Drawing on the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, Miyamoto emphasizes the interdependence of all living beings. “This little hashi is just an entryway to see how all things are connected,” she said. “It’s not just a piece of wood anymore. It’s the future; it’s the air you breathe.” While her call to action is addressed to everyone, Miyamoto feels that the issue resonates for Asian Americans in particular, giving them a concrete way to be involved in the environmental conversation. Miyamoto cites the enormous influence Asian culture has had on American food culture. “We have made an impact that people don’t even realize, and it’s a groovy thing,” she said. Miyamoto hopes to extend that impact to restaurant owners by getting them to consider switching over to bamboo chopsticks or, better yet, reusable ones. The latter is less likely: customers are used to the aesthetic look as well as perception that waribashi are more hygienic, and some view plastic chopsticks as cheap or dirty. To spread her message, Miyamoto is collaborating with young members of the Japanese American Citizens League in L.A. to hold discussions at local restaurants to educate patrons on the issue. They want these newly minted activists to present sustainable waribashi or plastic chopstick alternatives to the owners of restaurants that they frequent. This is exactly what she did at Azuma, the Gardena, CA, restaurant where “B.Y.O. Chopstix” was filmed. For owner Hideki Obayas-
HYPHEN SPRING.11 025
hi, helping the environment sounded like a describes mottainai as “an idea of returning nice idea but in trying economic times, cost to a way of living that puts some limits on us effectiveness was the bottom line. Obayashi — ‘Yes I could have this, but do I need it?’ ” had been using both wooden and bamboo Mottainai is the guilt-inducing scolding chopsticks, alternating between lunch and from your mother when you haven’t finished dinner. Bamboo chopsticks were approxithe food on your plate. It’s the nagging feelmately 5 percent more expensive than the ing you have when you want to buy a new wooden ones, but he bargained the price gadget but know you have a decently workdown with his distributor in exchange for a ing one at home. When I hear it, I picture doubling of his order. He pointed out that my Japanese mother shaking her head in the bamboo chopsticks, although darker disappointment, sighing with resignation at in color, have the added benefit of being a spoiled generation, and truly, makes me smoother and rounder and have received no feel bad. Nobuko describes Mottainai as “an complaints from customers. You don’t have idea of returning to a way of living that puts to pull them apart and rub them together as some limits on us—‘Yes I could have this, though you are about to start a fire because but do I need it?’” Nobuko Miyamoto with “B.Y.O. Chopstix” video they don’t carry the splintery hangnails that So what’s the connection between Miyadirector Dan Kwong. the wooden sticks often do. moto’s chopstick activism and her art? For Miyamoto’s campaign is, however, about more than just the her, it’s simply a matter of applying her boundary-pushing artistic number of restaurants and consumers using chopsticks made from sensibilities to another realm of activism. “Artists can shift people’s more sustainable materials; she wants to change our entire mindset consciousness,” she said. “To me, that’s the beginning of creating around consumption and waste. The day we met, Miyamoto had change.” just come from the recording studio working on a second song, “Mottainai,” also the title of the song series. It’s a Japanese word The “B.Y.O. Chopstix” and “Mottainai” videos will be screened alongside an that translates literally to “wasteful,” but colloquially and culturally original choreographed Mottainai dance for World Environment Day on June 5 at the Japanese American National Museum, as well as at 15 L.A.-area Obon it conveys much more. festivals this summer. To find out more information on your area Obon festival, Mottainai is the guilt-inducing scolding from a Japanese mother please contact the Rev. William Briones of the L.A. Honpa-Hongwanji Buddhist when you haven’t finished the food on your plate. It’s the nagging Temple at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 213-680-9130. feeling you have when you want to buy a new gadget but know you have a decently working one at home. When I hear it, I picture my mother shaking her head in disappointment, sighing with resignation Alison Minami is a writer and teacher in Los Angeles. She is also a member of at a spoiled generation, and, it truly makes me feel bad. Nobuko the David Henry Hwang Writers’ Institute and is working on a play.
Our Own Song
continued from page 25
ited by race to express herself artistically: “I could sing any kind of song I wanted to sing,” she says. Through artistic and activist circles, she met Iijima. After the first time the two sang together, Miyamoto says, “We threw together a song the next day, for the Japanese American Citizens League. It was the first time I sang for an Asian American audience. For the first time, everybody realized we have our own song.” The group stopped performing together after 1973, but the legacy of the groundbreaking band exists to this day. Tadashi Nakamura’s 2009 documentary on Iijima, A Song for Ourselves, has played at film festivals across the United States and won a Special Jury Award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. A companion mixtape by DJ Phatrick splices Yellow Pearl classics with more recent works by young Asian American acts like Blue Scholars and Native Guns. Miyamoto, however, is far from settling into a quiet retirement. She released a solo album in the 1980s, and another in 1997 titled To All Relations, which incorporated more of a world beat sound into her music, broadening from strictly folk. “I guess I put out an album every 10 years,” Miyamoto says half-jokingly, adding that another album is somewhere on the horizon. Recently, she has begun using her music to address what she feels is the most pressing issue of the day: environmental preservation. Just as in the early 1970s, her voice is plaintive and insistent, carrying ideas that may be unpopular but must be said — and even sung. Read more about Miyamoto’s activist legacy and see original portraits on page 56 of this issue. Find more information on the film A Song for Ourselves and download DJ Phatrick’s companion mixtape at asongforourselves.blogspot.com.
026 HYPHEN Spring.11
Mississippi Bok Choy Telling the stories of Chinese American groceries in the South. Writer Nina Kahori Fallenbaum Photographer Jung Min “Kevin” Kim
The meat aisle at Wong's Foodland.
Wong’s Foodland in Clarksdale, MS, was built in the 1950s.
When Jung Min “Kevin” Kim tells people he grew up in Arkansas, he often gets looks of incredulity. Confusion ensues as he describes his research project: collecting oral histories of Chinese American grocery store owners in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta. “They say, ‘Wow, aren’t there like two Chinese people in the Delta?’” he says with a laugh. In fact, Chinese people have been coming to the area since 1869, when Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas cotton planters met during Reconstruction to figure out who would work their fields in a post-enslavement era. Their solution? Recruit workers from southern China and San Francisco’s Chinatown. Most of those farm-laboring Chinese left the Delta after their contracts expired, but a few stayed on, opening small grocery stores that served Black clientele who wanted an alternative to commissaries run by former plantation owners. Kim is a Swarthmore undergraduate who published the oral histories of this pioneering generation of Deep South Chinese Americans in collaboration with the Southern Foodways Alliance, a group of Southern food lovers and researchers based in Oxford, MS. The group’s members are enthusiastic keepers of Southern food lore and history. Their mission statement acknowledges the painful past of the region and sees shared food customs as a path to cultural redemption: “We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.” For the first time, thanks to Kim, the stories of Chinese Americans are included on the group’s online archive of oral histories. One of the stories Kim recorded is of Luck Wing (“They named me right because I really felt lucky all my life”), whose family owned Wings Cash Store in small-town Jonestown, MS. Wing was born in 1929, grew up in his family’s store and graduated from the University of Mississippi before going on to become a pharmacist and, eventually, mayor of the tiny town of Sledge (population 437, according to the 2009 census). In a thick Mississippi drawl, he waxes nostalgic about the small but tight-knit Chinese community he grew
Hong Kong immigrants Tony and Monica Li have run Wong’s Foodland since 1995.
up in, sharing mailed noodles and backyard bok choy and swapping recipes with African American customers. The Southern Foodways Alliance’s website also includes audio slideshows, transcripts and more interviews with Chinese American grocery store owners, old and new. Kim was drawn to the project after his Korean immigrant family moved from Los Angeles’ Koreatown to Little Rock, AK, when he was 14. Outside of history texts like James Loewen’s Mississippi Chinese, he could find little to explain his experiences in an area that is still heavily racially polarized and visibly unequal. So he started interviewing. “There’s a very vibrant history with a story to be told, and oral history is a great way to tell it,” Kim says. One way to measure whether Asian Americans have become part of the fabric of the Delta after living there for more than 150 years is to look at real estate. In his research, Kim found areas in the South where Asians were permitted to live with whites. However, he says, “The attitude was clear: ‘You are fine to move into our neighborhood, as long as you don’t meddle in politics.’ They felt apart from Delta society and from the caste system that pervades it.” Food is another gauge of social change. Wing remembers with
HYPHEN SPRING.11 027
Better Living through Bitter Melon Yee’s Food Land in Lake Village, AR, family-run since the 1950s. Twice a day, the family eats a hot, home-cooked Chinese meal together in the back of the store.
The National Bitter Melon Council cultivates Asian vegetable subversion. Writer Hiroko Kikuchi, Jeremy Liu, Misa Saburi and Andi Sutton of The National Bitter Melon Council Editor’s note: The National Bitter Melon Council was established by a group of performance artists and Asian American activists based in Boston. The council exists to “celebrate the health, social, culinary and creative possibilities of this underappreciated vegetable.”
How Joy in Greenville, MS, one of the first Chinese restaurants to open in the Mississippi Delta in 1968.
“The attitude was clear: ‘You are fine to move into our neighborhood, as long as you don’t meddle in politics.’” — Jung Min Kim, oral historian amazement when he first saw soy sauce in a Kroger store aisle in Mississippi. His friend Hoover Lee (also a rural Southern Chinese American mayor, of tiny Louise, MS) created a hybrid hoisinbarbecue secret sauce that has a cult following in the region and gives people a little taste of history as well. “If they’re Southern, then some of them know about and remember the Delta Chinese,” thanks to the sauce, Kim says. “If they’re not from the South, they’ll discover this little piece of American history that is not known very well.” For more about the Delta’s Chinese Americans, past and present, visit: southernfoodways.org/documentary/oh/chinese_grocers.
028 HYPHEN Spring.11
Across the country, all kinds of people have joined the Movement for Better Living through Bitter Melon. Farmers in New England are growing bitter melon for Community Supported Agriculture collectives; residents are healing bitter feelings by throwing bitter melon “seed bombs” (balls of soil implanted with seeds) anywhere they feel bitter, including vacant lots, private streets and exes’ front lawns; research
scientists are studying the efficacy of bitter melon in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and breast cancer; and award-winning chefs such as Gordon Hamersley and Barbara Lynch of Boston are creating bitter melon tasting menus (bitter melon and raspberry sorbet, anyone?). This unanimous declaration of the National Bitter Melon Council calls attention to this movement for Better Living through Bitter Melon. In recognition of our right to feel bitter, as individuals and nations, we affirm our inextricable humanity and the interdependence of that humanity on the taste and experience of bitterness. Herein are our theses on bitter melonism: 1. This world cannot be understood through sweetness alone, i.e., embracing only what is pleasing and easy on the (mental, emotional, physical) palate. 2. This does not mean the embracing of bitterness only; we liken it to the use of “bitters” in a mixed drink to give a hint of complexity at the start and the finish on the tongue. 3. Bitter melon cannot create instant community in its own right; however, in its very form (ugly, warty, bitter, “ethnic,” medicinal, “other”) it has proven itself to be a most effective communitybuilding tool. In fact, we find that diverse communities can best be created with a spirit of wonder about foreign-ness. Foreign fruits on local soil build communities based on appreciation of differences. 4. This valuing of bitterness is one of the tastes that we cultivate through our performance research-cum-community development practices.
(bitter melon). It is a commodity of great value but questionable taste. We realize that its value depends upon the process of coming to terms with its shape and off-putting morphology, as well as its bitter taste. CULTIVATION Growing bitter melon is an adventure. It means risking stares, whispers and frowns, as “ugly” and “bitter” are ostracized in favor of “pretty” and “sweet.” The National Bitter Melon Council seeks to eliminate these discriminatory aesthetic judgments. Bitter melon needs to be cultivated on every continent, in every country and by all people. Cultivation is a metaphor for care. Cultivation is art-making. CREATIVITY Creativity is the collective effort of ideas. The National Bitter Melon Council is a peddler of collective effort and generator of ideas in an ongoing creative process. Local chapters will form wherever young shoots of bitter melon spring up (they’re tasty sauteed and good for you, too!). Join us.
GET YOUR OWN
R MELON SEE E T DS BIT
5. To most, bitterness is valued as a negative, repellent flavor and emotion. However, fear and avoidance of bitterness lead to blandness and flatness in flavor and experience. Therefore, we assert that bitterness should be valued, period. The National Bitter Melon Council is founded on these persistent values, which we call “the four C’s”: COMMUNITY We claim all of humanity as part of our Bitter Melon community. Bitter compounds in plants evolved as a defense against consumption by animals; in fact, amongst mammals, Homo sapiens are the only ones to have developed an appreciation of bitterness, e.g., coffee, tea and chocolate. Therefore, the appreciation of bitterness, the development of a palate for bitterness, is the very thing that defines us as humans!
Send a self-addressed stamped envelope with 81 cents of postage (for U.S. addresses) to 820 19th Street, Oakland, CA 94607 before May 8, 2012, and The National Bitter Melon Council will send you three seeds with growing instructions. Happy growing!
COMMODITY The National Bitter Melon Council promotes the commercial, retail, culinary, health, nutritional and social uses of Momordica charantia
HYPHEN SPRING.11 SPring.11 029
030 HYPHEN Spring.11
Motherhood Rooted Asian and Pacific Islander moms in the US embrace ancient post-birth traditions. Writer Momo Chang Photographer Damien Maloney Illustrator Alija Craycroft It was time, Lisa Juachon thought. Under a full moon, she walked with a friend to the Japanese maple sapling tree in her Berkeley, CA, backyard. She took out the plastic container that she had kept in her freezer for more than a year after the grueling birth of her son. While pregnant, she had read that in the southern Philippines, the placenta is seen as the twin soul of the baby, something that was once a living being that kept the fetus alive as well. Tradition dictated that it should be kept close to the home, not disposed of as medical waste. The idea spoke to her, a Filipino American who had been craving a closer connection to her heritage. So, on that night five years ago, she knew it was time to bury the placenta in her yard. “I had my own little moment and prayer with it,” Juachon, 34, says. Juachon’s act might seem unusual. But she is one of many Asian and Pacific Islander women in the United States practicing age-old post-birth traditions in order to connect to their cultural heritage. While post-birth care for mothers is not mainstream practice in Western medicine, many Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin, indigenous and other cultures view the month or so following birth as a sacred and crucial time for new moms to recover. Traditions vary by ethnicity, region and religion, but there are common themes: femaleoriented, family-centric support networks; a focus on fortifying the new mother’s health; and rites of passage and celebrations marking new beginnings. Many Asian American women abide by or adapt traditions out of respect for the older generation, and some second-generation Asian American women are following the traditions even more closely than their foremothers. These practices stand in stark contrast to the Western view of maternal care. In the United States, the focus is on prenatal care. Once a baby is delivered, the new mother typically stays in the hospital for two to five days and is then released. A doctor doesn’t see her until six weeks later. But many Asian post-birth traditions adhere to the belief that a mother’s health is intimately connected to that of her newborn. For thousands of years, Asian and Pacific Islander families have viewed the initial month after birth as a vital period of growth and recovery for both, requiring the pair to be shielded from the “hostile” world. Therefore, new mothers are typically pampered by their own mothers and relatives — in short, the mothers get mothered. New mothers also abide by restrictions such as not bathing or washing their hair, eating only warm, low-sodium foods and staying homebound for the month. Often, visitors are not allowed. Also off limits: television, reading, computers and anything that may
HYPHEN SPRING.11 031
Lisa Juachon with her children, Basilio Alon Mendoza Juachon (on sofa) and Anais Diwa Mendoza Juachon, at home in Berkeley, CA. After Basilio was born, she kept his placenta in her freezer for over a year before burying it in her backyard, an adaptation of a Filipino tradition.
strain the eyes. The Chinese tradition of zuo yue zi, which translates into “doing the month,” dates back at least 2,600 years, says Wendy Chen, president of the California Alliance of Acupuncture Medicine. The belief is that during this period, one’s pores are “extra open” and that during this susceptible period, illness or infection could easily
result from becoming chilled or exposed to wind. Even washing hands in cold water is avoided. Many Southeast Asian cultures subscribe to this idea, practicing “mother roasting”, or nam lua in Vietnamese, where a fire keeps the mother warm for a month. The practice involving an actual fire has largely disappeared in the United States, where indoor heaters now do the job. Among
Many cultures worldwide have postpartum practices for a month or longer, from Asian and Pacific Islanders to Latin Americans (their cuarentena period is 40 days). Though there are many common practices held by Asian and Pacific Islanders — such as remaining indoors, eating brothy soups and warm foods only, and staying swaddled in toasty clothes and blankets — post-birth traditions vary by country, ethnic group and region. Seaweed Soup Koreans have their famous nutritional
032 HYPHEN Spring.11
seaweed soup, miyuk gook (also known as “birthday soup”), which is given to new moms daily for a month. Typically made with oxtail broth, the soup is high in iodine and calcium to help the uterus recover and to aid with milk production. Rice Wine and Herbs According to some Chinese, eating a thick, brown herb concoction helps a woman heal after giving birth. Other foods recommended during this period are: rice wine and sweet rice soup, pigs feet and papaya soup, fish broth soup, sesame oil chicken and dishes or drinks made with ginger. It is believed that foods have inherent “hot/cold”
properties. For example, sesame oil and ginger are hot, which is good for healing moms. The dishes must be eaten on specific days and weeks after birth to heal the uterus, to restore blood and to enhance milk production. (For example, sesame oil chicken is given after the second week post-birth because it’s said to be too rich for the new mom’s weak digestive system to absorb.) Also, even certain “nutritious” foods such as broccoli must be avoided because it can cause gas, which can be passed on to the baby if nursing. Mother Roasting Vietnamese, Thai and Filipino cultures ad-
illustrations: rosa chou
Which Tradition is Right for You?
Indians, post-birth care is based on ancient Ayurvedic traditions, a health system dating back nearly 5,000 years that involves warm oil massages for both mother and child and eating heated foods like clear broths. To some extent, Western medicine acknowledges the idea of a post-birth transitional period for mothers. The homebound period, which is practiced among many cultures and varies from 28 to 40 days, matches the Western view of six weeks as the time when a mom’s health should be restored (hence the six-week postpartum doctor’s visit). A woman’s physiological systems are under heavy stress during pregnancy and delivery, making the post-birth recovery period particularly critical, according to Michael Lu, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center. Lu emphasizes that building the mother’s health is paramount. “Trying to help mom restore her health as quickly as possible by giving her good nutrition, by making sure she’s getting plenty of rest and by having a strong network of social support around her — those are all tremendously useful for new moms and For nearly a month after Leilani Ly-Huong Nguyen gave birth to her daughter Van Lang she stayed indoors, avoided visitors and abstained from using the computer, TV and reading. their health,” Lu says. “It actually has a lot of impact on her long-term health.” Not to mention short-term menwith alcohol (rice wine is a common ingredient in postpartum tal health: Lack of support after birth is one key factor leading to dishes) or Chinese herbs. While there’s not much research on any postpartum depression, Lu says. beneficial effects, the various chemicals would likely be passed on While some of Lu’s patients—25 percent of whom are Asian— to the nursing baby, he said. High-protein foods such as chicken embrace the practices, others ask whether these traditions are soup, however, are essential during the post-birth period, because worthwhile. He urges them to view the traditions in terms of their the mother needs to heal and restore her blood loss. historical and cultural contexts. “There may have been really good Furthermore, both Lu and Chen say that mothers no longer reasons for these practices, although some may have less releneed to avoid bathing. The task can now be performed safely, vance in today’s world,” Lu says. thanks to modern, chill-warding conveniences such as heaters For example, Lu cautions against consuming anything made and hairdryers. Still, waiting at least a few days after giving birth to ^
here to the tradition of keeping a fire close to the new, resting mother. In the United States, heaters have replaced this practice, but staying warm with multiple layers as well as head coverings, such as hats and hoodies, is still common. This practice is also found in Native American and other indigenous cultures. Hot Rocks A heavy, heated rock is placed on the belly after Cambodian moms give birth. Its purpose is to help get the abdomen back to normal by pushing
out the air. It’s used as frequently as possible and weighs 15 pounds or more. The rock is heated in the oven, wrapped in a sarong or towel and placed on the mother’s stomach. Oil Massages Postpartum practices in India are derived from Ayurveda, an ancient health system that sees the human body as composed of earth, fire, wind, space and ether. New moms are treated to oil massages to help recover and detoxify the body.
Herbal Baths The Iu Mien ethnic group from Laos bathes a new mother in an herbal bath that includes lemongrass and is supposed to help new moms heal. Burying the Placenta For Hmong, the placenta is seen as the baby’s first “jacket.” It is buried after a birth, and when a person dies, their spirit is said to return to the placental jacket before going to the afterlife. In some regions of the Philippines, the placenta is seen as the baby’s twin soul and is buried under the home to keep it close by. — Momo Chang
HYPHEN SPRING.11 033
Many cultures also have rituals celebrating a new baby. Thai Shaving the baby’s hair at one month and one day old. This “fire hair shaving” is a part of a Buddhist ritual where, first, a monk cuts off the hair and someone in the family shaves it clean later that day. The shaved hair is called “fire hair,” a reference to the month that the mother had “laid in by the fire” (see “mother roasting” in Varying Traditions sidebar). In its first month, the infant is seen as “belonging to the spirits,” because in ancient times, it was not yet clear whether the baby would survive this period. Chinese Red egg and ginger party, or man yue (full month) party. It’s a rite of passage and a celebration to introduce the new mom and baby to relatives and friends, since they have been homebound for a month or longer since the birth. Korean Hundred-day celebration, similar to the fullmonth celebration. In earlier eras, babies had a higher mortality rate; the 100-day celebration meant the baby had survived its most vulnerable period. — Momo Chang
take a shower is a good idea, as this gives the body time to rest, Lu says. Mommy Motel At a six-bedroom, Spanish-style house in the Los Angeles suburb of Rowland Heights, an older Chinese woman watches over three sleeping newborns swaddled in blankets, their beanie-covered heads all facing the same direction. Their mothers rest in the other rooms of this zuo yue zi zhong xing, or postpartum care house. During the final months of their pregnancies, the mothers flew in from Taiwan and China; dubbed as birthing tourism, their children’s American births grant them the rights to American citizenship. Such places, which primarily advertise in Chinese-language US newspapers and websites, use traditional practices to care for mothers immediately after birth. This growing cottage industry began in Asia, where waves of young people have, in recent years,
034 HYPHEN Spring.11
moved from rural areas to cities and away from their extended families, the traditional support group for new mothers. Spaces at the most upscale postpartum care houses in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China are coveted, fetching top dollar. At the Rowland Heights home, a cook prepares the new mothers’ meals, which include dishes like sesame oil chicken, brown rice, rice wine soup and bone broth soup. New mothers are given food six times a day — four full meals and two healthy desserts. Babies are delivered to the rooms when they need to be fed by the moms, but most of the time the babies sleep in a separate room watched over by a hired hand. Factoring in airline fare and hospital fees, it costs a minimum of $10,000 for these luxuries; room and board start at $4,000. Additional costs may include the husband’s flight, room and board (the husbands typically join the moms right before birth) and shopping for baby gear at nearby outlet malls, a common excursion organized by the homes. (At least one new mother found the lure of outlet mall shopping stronger than her will to observe the tradition of staying indoors for the month, according to a worker at the home.) Another option is to hire a live-in caregiver, which my friend Kathy Chow of San Marino, CA, did last year for the month after her son’s birth. Chow, 32, initially considered using a food delivery service, which would have freed her family from the hours of shopping, preparing and cooking involved in assembling traditional meals. Ultimately, Chow and her husband moved in with her parents, emigrants from Taiwan, for the month and hired someone from a Chinese nanny agency who cooked for them and cared for the baby at night. These full-time “night nannies” typically cost $2,800 per month. Chow says that having a live-in caregiver allowed her to focus on nursing and playing with her son. “It gave me time to just bond with the baby,” she says. “That was the nicest thing about it. I didn’t have to do anything except rest and bond with Joshua.” Chow noted that the caregiver taught her and her husband, both new parents, how to bathe and care for their baby. The month of rest, she feels, has restored and even enhanced her health. “I used to get cold a lot, and I don’t get cold anymore,” she says. “I used to have allergies, and my allergies aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be.” In fact, improvements to long-held ailments is an oft-rumored side effect of pregnancy; Chen says she has indeed seen some of her patients’ pre-existing disorders disappear during pregnancy and birth, with the right care. There are three times during a woman’s life, she explains, when her hormones shift dramatically, affording a woman the opportunity to “fix” her health: during the first year of menstruation; pregnancy and birth; and menopause. “The human body is powerful, like magic,” Chen says. “You can take this opportunity to help yourself.” A Growth Industry Leilani Ly-Huong Nguyen, 35 of Oakland, CA, followed northern Vietnamese traditions after birthing her daughter, now 3, at home. She stayed indoors for 28 days, leaving the house only three times: to bring her baby to a checkup, take a quick family photo and pick up her baby’s birth certificate. She didn’t read, watch TV or use the computer. She barred visitors, except close family members,
illustrations: rosa chou
Miyuk guk, a seaweed soup, is commonly eaten by Korean mothers for weeks after giving birth.
Chicken tinola is an example of a nutritious, high-protein post-birth meal for Filipino women.
Sesame oil chicken is a traditional postpartum dish served to Chinese women.
Lisa Juachon knew she wanted traditional, homemade Filipino foods that would provide good nutrition, so her husband cooked chicken tinola and rice as one of her first meals after giving birth.
Find recipes for these dishes at hyphenmagazine.com
HYPHEN SPRING.11 035
Tema Havea browses through family photos while her granddaughter looks on at their home in Oakland, CA. Havea, mother of 14 children, was pampered by a network of women after each of her children were born.
her midwife (a doula or trained professional who provides assistance before, during and after childbirth) and a chiropractor. Her mom moved in for the month and cooked all her meals while instructing her on the Vietnamese post-birth traditions, which she had performed herself decades earlier when she gave birth in Vietnam and was cared for by her own mother. Nguyen followed the traditions even more closely than some of her relatives. Her aunts were unable to perform post-birth traditions as recent refugees to the United States in the mid-1970s, lacking the support network of extended family; and even they thought Nguyen was taking things a bit far during and after her pregnancy. But Nguyen, a self-avowed feminist, says the experience brought her closer to her ancestors. “It’s a recognition of female relationships and also of the importance of women’s work.” In the United States, no federal legislation guarantees paid maternity leave, and domestic work such as childcare and housecleaning — things that usually fall on the mom’s shoulders — are among the lowest paid and unprotected by labor laws. Nguyen notes the irony that the only way to get paid for providing childcare is to work for someone else, like a nanny. And even some non-Asian societies seem to put more value on parenting than the United States does: Some European countries offer up to two years of paid parental leave, and in France, the government sends laundry assistants to the homes of new parents. The postpartum care industry is booming in the US, according to DONA International, a nonprofit organization of doulas and one of the largest that certifies them. Postpartum doulas, who are paid between $15 and $30 an hour on average and hired on an as-
036 HYPHEN Spring.11
needed basis, have been on the rise since DONA began certifying them in 2004. They have certified nearly 500 postpartum doulas, the vast majority in the US. It’s a sign that people are seeking support after birth but don’t necessarily find it within their family, due to factors such as geographic isolation and a generation of parents having children later in life, which means that their own parents, if still alive, may not be fit to do the traditional backbreaking support work of holding babies, cleaning, doing laundry and cooking. Strengthening Roots Juachon knew that having a baby would change her life forever, so, during her pregnancy, she looked to gain strength and guidance from a closer connection to her Filipino culture. Unlike some cultures, such as the Chinese, in which postpartum care is practically common knowledge — and even commoditized — Juachon had a difficult time finding information about Filipino postpartum traditions. Her mother, a nurse educated in Western medical practices, had little to offer. So Juachon was delighted when she came across a book about the Cebuano tradition of placenta burial. “The placenta is the life force of the baby,” she says. “It’s nice that it could be here in our home.” To prepare for the birth, Juachon created a female-dominated birth team, a network of people who cared for her during labor, delivery and after birth, harkening back to postpartum care traditionally found in Asian and other societies. She knew she wanted traditional, homemade Filipino foods that would provide good nutrition, so her husband cooked chicken tinola and rice as one of
1. Lisa Juachon with her newborn daughter Anais in 2009. 2. Leilani Ly-Huong Nguyen breastfeeds her newborn daughter while her daughter gets her first pediatric chiropractic adjustment. 3. A traditional offering of betel nut and areca leaves was part of a feast prepared by Nguyen’s family for the Goddess of Midwives on Day Thang, a celebration of the baby's first month and the end of the postpartum laying-in period. 4. Dishes of sticky rice and mochi were also part of the Day Thang celebration. 5. Nguyen with her husband Trung Nguyen and newborn daughter on one of the few times she went outside during the month after giving birth. 6. Juachon’s son Basilio examines Juachon’s placenta after her second child was born in 2009.
Photos on this page courtesy of Trung Nguyen and Lisa Juachon
her first meals after giving birth. Her mother and mother-in-law also took turns visiting each day for several weeks, cooking and helping with the newborn. For Juachon, the traditions also provided a way to cope: In the months following her son’s birth, she experienced postpartum depression. Burying the placenta was her way of attaining closure on that difficult period. “I had a little bit of a hard time after the birth,” she says. “It was also, for me, just letting go of that.” Tema Havea, a 53-year-old Tongan, says many Pacific Islanders follow similar traditions of staying indoors, eating healthy, warm foods and washing hands in boiled or warm water. If a new mother must go outside, she must cover her hair with a scarf. More importantly, a whole network of women cares for the new mother, especially after her first child. New mothers don’t work or lift anything heavy, and the focus is on nourishment as well as caring for the baby. “The treatment they give you is really, really good,” Havea says. “You wish you had that all time.” She experienced that pampering many times, almost after each of her 14 children were born. When her fourth child was born in Tonga, she chose to deviate from the traditions: She went outside, didn’t cover her head and didn’t keep warm. She got sick, and her full, long hair started falling out. (Tongan culture places a particular emphasis on maintaining long locks, so this symptom caused her family great concern.) There’s even a word for bucking tradition and suffering the consequences — kita. “After I got sick, I thought, I better go back to what I used to do,” Havea says. “No more messing up on this.”
The Next Generation Lu, the UCLA obstetrician, teaches medical students and residents at UCLA to be more culturally sensitive and to find some wisdom in old traditions. “It’s easy to develop an attitude, because of your scientific knowledge, that our way is superior to cultural traditions and that we’re always right, that the patient is always wrong,” says Lu. “That kind of attitude isn’t very helpful and doesn’t make you a very good doctor.” Institutional hurdles remain as well: Some parents who want to uphold traditions such as saving the placenta may face challenges with hospital births because many hospitals consider it to be medical and hazardous waste. Juachon gave birth to her second child at home and now volunteers as a doula at a public hospital. She also wishes to document Filipino post-birth traditions, many of which have been erased by centuries of colonization. She laments that, today, traditions are looked down upon as backward or irrelevant. But Juachon has a different interpretation. To her, these ancient post-birth practices instill a sense of direction and meaning. “Birth (is) such a transformative experience, with all the unknowns about it,” she says. “For me, it was really important to ground myself in something. Going into these life-changing times, really, it helped me just ground myself and not be overwhelmed with it.” Momo Chang, Hyphen’s features editor, followed about 70 percent of the traditional Chinese postpartum practices after both of her children’s births,
HYPHEN SPRING.11 037
038 HYPHEN Spring.11
The Hard Part Is Getting In Asian Americans navigate the racially charged politics of the college admissions process. Writer Lin Yang Photo Illustrations Andria Lo By most measures, Harrison Kim is a successful high school student. Not only does he have stellar grades, the 18-year-old senior from Sammamish, WA, also plays guitar in a high school rock band and regularly performs volunteer work. Now, he faces one of the most daunting rites of passage into young adulthood: getting into a college of his dreams. Kim’s application contains several characteristics that will catch the eye of admissions officers: 3.81 GPA, six AP classes, a score of 2270 out of 2400 on the SAT, recent recipient of an Eagle Scout badge, the highest Boy Scout honor. (To earn the badge, he played a central role in revitalizing a local stormwater retention pond. Kim, along with a team of volunteers he assembled, spent two sweaty summer weeks pulling shrubs and trees that had rendered the pond completely useless.) But one attribute is out of his control. Kim is Korean American. Coupled with the fact that he wants to matriculate to such prestigious universities as Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Stanford, Kim fits the profile of a student who could very well be disadvantaged by the admissions process. The existence of obstacles to Asian Americans gaining admission to elite universities stems from the perception that, as a group, they have performed relatively well in higher education. From 1976 to 2007, the percentage of Asian American college students increased from 1.8 to 6.7 percent, according to the US Department of Education. Most Ivy League schools now have undergraduate Asian American student populations between 15 and 20 percent; Caltech and the University of California, Berkeley, regularly top 40 percent. Considering that Asian Americans make up only 4.5 percent of the US population, many elite universities see an overrepresented pool of Asian American applicants when they pick their freshman class. As the newest generation of Asian Americans like Kim seek college admission, the landscape they face shifts continuously. Some schools have historically held Asian Americans to a higher standard, whereas others have opened their doors and held out enticing offers to attract more Asian American applicants. Then there’s the University of California, whose new rules could sway its admissions toward more inclusion of historically underrepresented Asian ethnic groups — at the expense of some Asian American groups that have traditionally been admitted in high numbers. Caught in the middle are students focusing on the balancing act of matching their own attributes and career interests with the academic programs and student preferences of colleges. But Asian Americans also deal with the added challenges of meeting higher
academic standards, disproportionately applying to the most competitive majors, and picking a school that welcomes them and values diversity. Often, several factors limit admissions for Asian Americans at elite universities, making it harder for seemingly qualified applicants to get in. Dan Golden, the author of The Price of Admission, which documents the advantages given to white applicants at elite universities, believes subtle quotas for Asian Americans come from three primary factors. First, many seats at these schools are simply not available for Asian Americans because few are children of large donors, are athletes or are relatives of alumni, otherwise known as legacies. These groups receive preference in the admissions process and typically comprise about one-third of an entering class. Moreover, Asian Americans are not typically considered for affirmative action, unless the applicant hails from traditionally underrepresented groups, such as Southeast Asians. “For most elite schools, close to half the seats on average go to somebody with an admissions preference,” Golden said. This means that most Asian Americans, as well as working- and middleclass whites, compete on only their merit for about half the seats available in any freshman class. Second, Golden believes admissions officials consciously limit the number of Asian Americans for fear that they would become too large a part of the student body. Harvard, for example, has kept their Asian American enrollment under 20 percent over the last decade. “Why don’t they just cross 20 percent?” Golden said. “If it was based purely on merit, that mark would be crossed easily.” Universities flatly deny allegations of capping Asian American enrollment, yet they refuse to release information on what their applicant pool looks like. Finally, Golden thinks admissions officers sometimes stereotype applicants. In his book, he points to a 1990 civil rights inquiry into discrimination against Asian Americans at Harvard. From 1979 to 1988, Harvard accepted Asian Americans at a rate of 13.2 percent, compared with 17.4 percent for whites. During the inquiry, federal investigators found that Asian Americans had to score higher than white applicants on exams to get in and were consistently ranked lower than white applicants for “personal qualities.” In addition, Asian American applications consistently had more subjective comments made on them, such as being “quiet/shy,” “science/ math-oriented” and “hard workers.” Other comments noted that “scores and application seem so typical of other Asian applications
HYPHEN SPRING.11 039
I’ve read: extraordinarily gifted in math with the opposite extreme in English.” In another example, one admissions staffer wrote: “He’s quiet and, of course, wants to be a doctor.” (Harvard was eventually cleared of the charges. The university maintained that preferences for athletes and legacies — predominantly white applicants — are not racially discriminatory.) While writing his book, Golden spoke with many Asian American applicants who were denied Do Your Homework on Admissions admission to elite universities despite their stellar credentials. “A perception exists that Asians The landscape of Asian Ameriare focused only on math and can college admissions is comscience and do not contribute to plex. The disadvantage is real, class discussions,” he said. “In but only in the most brandmy interviews, I haven’t found named schools that rely heavily that to be true at all. My interon preferential admissions poliviewees all had a wide range of cies. More opportune colleges interests and were very qualified exist but may contain some individuals.” In his research, he challenges in their campus clifound applicants with incredibly mate. And when controversies high SAT scores and grades, and arise, the media often draws who were also accomplished conclusions prematurely and musicians, athletes, community portrays a singular Asian Ameriservice volunteers and authors; can viewpoint that is actually all were rejected from Ivy League divided. But embedded within schools. “The attitude of admisthese trends is critical advice sions is a monolithic view of that applicants and their parAsian culture.” ents can take: In 2009, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade offered Know yourself. By underquantitative evidence that Asian standing your own strengths, Americans are disadvantaged weaknesses and desires, you in the elite university applicacan make a more compelling tions process. He estimated that application for why you chose Asian Americans, on average, a particular course of study and must score 140 more SAT points college. than white applicants in order to be admitted to the eight elite Apply to a variety of schools. universities in his sample. (The Do not focus on just the elite University of California was not institutions, but also consider included.) public universities and liberal But there is little pressure arts colleges where no Asian on these universities to change disadvantage exists. their admissions biases. Mitchell Chang, a University of California, Be a critical consumer. Read Los Angeles, professor who does between the lines when the meresearch on Asian Americans in dia uses racial politics to sell a higher education, cannot think story. Judge policies by whether of an instance of collective legal they will improve the quality of or political action from the Asian higher education in the long run. American community on this issue in the last three decades.
040 HYPHEN Spring.11
Instead, parents have simply resorted to putting more academic pressure on their kids. “Parents on the ground are really concerned, and they think the strategy is to develop better applications,” Chang said. “They are pushing their kids to get better grades, score higher on exams and participate in all sorts of activities. It doesn't address the root causes, which is that discrimination against Asian Americans exists within admission offices.” Oiyan Poon, a former University of California, Davis, student affairs staff member, is a veteran of the college application review process. Now a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, studying higher education access issues, she thinks a disconnect exists between how Asian Americans approach college admissions and what admissions offices actually look for. “Many Asian immigrant families come from countries where cram schools to boost test scores are the answer to getting into a top university,” Poon said. “Parents also pick up on cues from universities and college rankings from US News and World Report that emphasize test scores and grades.” Although grades and test scores are important, they serve as merely gatekeepers to the intense scrutiny of an applicant’s character and talents. And Poon believes that critical thinking about one’s strengths, motivations and career goals is often weak amongst Asian American applicants. She also discovered that Asian Americans, as a whole, apply disproportionately to study the most competitive disciplines, namely science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Fifty-eight percent of Asian Americans chose such majors at UCLA, compared with 39 percent of white students. This likely reinforces the higher standards that Asian Americans must meet to gain admissions to top-tier institutions. Choose Schools Wisely Harrison Kim faces a higher standard because of his profile. He’s Korean American and lives in an upper middle-class community outside of Seattle, known for a golf course that regularly hosts PGA tournaments. Both of his parents immigrated to the United States as children and have college degrees. His father is a Boeing engineer and his mother is a homemaker. Kim hardly has the story of struggle that many admissions officers find touching when they look at minority applicants. He also wants to be a doctor — but only after some convincing from his parents. Kim originally wanted to follow his passion for music. He has played the piano since age 4 and counts bass guitar, acoustic guitar and drums in his repertoire. He plays in a church band and a school band and even pens his own songs. Indeed, Kim has the skills to pursue a more creative, non-stereotypical career. “But my parents suggested I be a doctor,” he said. “Three of my five uncles are also doctors. After doing some research and speaking with them, I think being a doctor is ideal for me. With Koreans, you want to make your parents proud.” Kim never considered applying to a school that was hoping to attract more Asian Americans, as many liberal arts colleges around
the nation do, actively seeking greater diversity. Students have to dig for these gems. When asked, Kim said applying to liberal arts schools “hadn’t really crossed my mind.” In 2002, Kavita Kode chose to attend Whitman College, a tiny liberal arts school in Walla Walla, WA. She originally wanted to go to Yale, but her parents heard recommendations from colleagues at work about Whitman, ranked 38th among liberal arts colleges in US News and World Report. And Whitman does not fall short on prestige, consistently garnering the highest average SAT scores of all colleges in Washington. “My parents wanted me close to home and tried to convince me that Whitman was equivalent to an Ivy League education in the Pacific Northwest,” Kode said. With only 1,450 students at Whitman, Kode was concerned about diversity. She had grown up in a predominantly white, middleclass suburb of Seattle and yearned for a college environment where she could become more closely connected with her Indian roots. At the time, Whitman had only a 7 percent Asian American student body, making a critical mass of Indian culture hard to come by. Still, colleges like Whitman have one key advantage: They are keen to attract more Asian Americans in order to diversify their student body. When Tony Cabasco, Whitman’s dean of admissions and financial aid, entered Whitman as a young Filipino American student in 1986, the school was predominantly white and it had only one multi-ethnic student organization, where blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and international students coalesced under one big tent. At the time, students of color made up only 6 percent of the student body. Since Cabasco became the director of admissions in 2001, he has led efforts to diversify Whitman’s student body, especially to reflect the demographics of a state that has a sizable Asian Pacific Islander population: 7.5 percent. Today, Whitman has increased its minority enrollment to 23 percent, with about 11 percent Asian American. But universities have more incentive to diversify their student populations than just to better reflect society’s demographics, Golden said. “I think lesser-known but great institutions like Washington University in St. Louis are eager to move up on rankings and would want a high-performing group like Asian Americans in their student body as well.” Boosting minority enrollment has not been easy, Cabasco said, partially because Whitman’s name doesn’t have as much recognition as other elite schools. So Whitman, like many liberal arts colleges, has turned to creative minority recruitment strategies. The school partners with many community-based organizations, especially those that mentor and provide college prep services to underprivileged high school students, and offers a diversity scholarship for students it really wants. Whitman even flies in up to 100 low-income students each year to see the campus, because Cabasco believes doing so provides a better opportunity to judge the university and Walla Walla on its merits. Golden noted that Oberlin College and Emory University host special weekends to bring in Asian American applicants. It is hard to imagine Berkeley or Harvard flying in non-athlete freshmen prospects. Whitman’s desire to attract students of color, including Asian Americans, has so far been successful. In 2010, Whitman admitted 46 percent of all applicants, but it accepted 53 percent of all Asian American applicants and 54 percent of all students of color. When Kode arrived on campus in fall 2002, she did not find the Indian American community she was looking for. The ethnic social events were a bit lacking, and her best friends were predominantly
white and lived in her dorm. In her first year, she became jealous that her Indian friends at the University of Washington, the bigger state school in Seattle, had Indian parties, festivals and events to attend — even its own bhangra team. Then, during her sophomore year, while walking to an event on racial diversity and tolerance, someone tried to run her over with a car. “I couldn’t recognize who it was, but they did roll down the window and yell ‘sandnigger’ at me,” she said. Other incidents followed, including one instance where campus security targeted minority students for security checks during a concert on campus. Kode and her friends started a student group soon after to address racial discrimination on campus, organizing forums on diversity, cultural and social events at Whitman’s Intercultural Center, dialogue sessions during classes, and petitions to the administration to consider diversity when hiring. And they saw results. A year later, when Whitman’s administration was searching for a new college president, diversity and racial tolerance was a top priority in the publicly released criteria for the search. Kode recently returned to Whitman for her sister’s graduation and noticed a significant difference only four years after she left. Besides an increase in students of color, there was a shiny new multicultural center on campus. To support the increase in minority students, 15 to 18 percent of faculty and staff are people of color, twice what it was 10 years ago. “It’s still a work in progress, but diversity has become a part of the fabric here,” Cabasco said. Espenshade, the Princeton sociologist, suggests that applicants would do well to look beyond big-name, elite universities that attract large numbers of Asian American applicants and focus on those that still treat them as a minority in admissions. “Sure, apply to Princeton,” he said. “But there are the Whitmans out there eager to attract more Asian students. Don’t just apply to the three top schools.” Insert the Politics Courtney Lee does not want to follow the stereotypical path of studying math, engineering or natural sciences at an elite university. The Chinese American San Francisco native seeks the smaller learning environments of liberal arts colleges. Her top choices are Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, and Connecticut College in New London, CT. She is leaning toward a major in the social sciences and has strengthened her application with a plethora of nonprofit and community service experience. She volunteered with 826 Valencia, where she tutored writing to low-income students. She also worked for Garden for the Environment, a nonprofit that cultivates small urban gardens. But her dream schools carry a hefty price tag. Both Hampshire and Connecticut would cost more than $50,000 annually in tuition and room and board. She hopes her scholarship applications and financial aid will come through for her. As a hedge, Lee applied to some schools on the opposite end of the spectrum, namely large public universities: UCLA, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz and UC San Diego. Many of her friends and family members convinced her to apply to these schools as an alternative because they believed that the University of California provided quality education at a more affordable price. “They told me I could study the same subject matter and save money,” Lee said. “I wouldn't walk out with heavy loans.” The notion that one can obtain a prestigious degree at a public
HYPHEN SPRING.11 043
university without spending a fortune has turned the 10-campus University of California system into the crown jewel for higher education amongst the state’s Asian American community. When California passed Proposition 209, banning the use of race as a factor in admissions in 1996, the Asian American student population system-wide increased from 25 percent in 1995 to 40 percent in 2009. But black and Latino enrollment has suffered since Proposition
“For most elite schools, close to half the seats on average go to somebody with an admissions preference.” — Dan Golden, author of The Price of Admission 209. In 2005, UCLA had its lowest number of African Americans enroll: a paltry 96 out of a freshman class of around 4,000 students. Because of this, University of California administrators began considering how to make their system more accessible to minority communities, and in 2008, they revised the rules determining applicant eligibility. These rules, which will go into effect for fall 2012, are meant to reduce barriers for underrepresented students. The biggest change was to remove SAT subject tests as a requirement. Previously, students had to take two subject tests to be eligible, which was a barrier to applicants who could not afford the $47 to take the tests or were not informed they needed to take them. The University of California also increased the percentage of students guaranteed admission from each high school in the state. The old eligibility policy only gave the top 4 percent of students in each high school a guaranteed space at a University of California campus, though not necessarily their preferred campus. Now, the top 9 percent will have a slot, which benefits students from lowincome communities who suffer the most serious achievement gap. A third change reduced the percentage of students statewide who receive guaranteed admission, from the top 12.5 percent to the top 10 percent. Instead, the UC will make up the difference by admitting an additional 2.5 percent of students from an “entitled to review” pool, consisting of all students who have met requirements for coursework and taken the SAT. But for Asian Americans who excel in tests and tend to make up a greater percentage of high achievers statewide, these changes might negatively impact their enrollment. When a group of Asian American academics and advocacy leaders met with the Board of Regents and asked it to do simulations in early 2009 on how these changes would affect admissions, initial results, prepared by the UC’s Institutional Research Office, seemed to threaten diversity across the board: African American admissions were predicted to drop by 27 percent, while Asian American and Latinos registered a 12 and 3 percent drop respectively. Several Asian American professors and lawmakers called on the University of California to repeal the new rules. The media, including MSNBC and USA Today, ran articles on how the new University of California rules would decrease Asian American admissions. Retired UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor Ling-Chi Wang is one who has called on the University of California to hold off implementation of the new policies pending further studies and most importantly, consultation with minority communities. “The new policy was formulated without the input and participation of racial minorities,” Wang said. Wang argues that this policy, along with other changes the University of California made under the current era of fiscal austerity
044 HYPHEN Spring.11
(decreasing total enrollment by 4,000 in the last two years and increasing tuition by 34 percent over the past year), would turn into a disaster for minority enrollment. The University of California is thus implementing a policy that runs counter to its supposed objectives, Wang has concluded. “Why has the university dismissed the findings of its own studies?” Wang said. “They have broadly increased the applicant pool at a time of shrinking enrollment and rising costs. The new policy, in short, is a false promise, and if I may even put it more bluntly, a cruel hoax!” UC Davis professor Mark Rashid, who chaired the committee that recommended the new rules, said they had not originally planned to do simulations but were asked to do so later by those who opposed the reforms. “We warned that the simulations had huge assumptions on applicant behavior built in behind them,” Rashid said. “In retrospect, they were probably worse than wild speculation.” Rashid argues that the University of California has an obligation to eliminate the unnecessary barriers that prevent many qualified minority students from applying, especially since research has shown that the SAT subject tests do not really predict how a student would perform in college. “K—12 education in California is so inequitable, it’s borderline criminal,” he said. “Even if factors like tuition and fee hikes limit minority enrollment, does it mean we allow an eligibility policy that is clearly unfair?” Poon, of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, also takes issue with the accuracy of the simulations, claiming they had a margin of error as high as 30 percent (the UC itself admits the projections have “a high margin of error”). Besides, she argues, predicting actual enrollment is impossible. “Enrollment is only the last step, and the hardest thing to predict,” Poon said. “It comes after student and family decision-making, financial aid offers and the actual admissions process, which is determined differently at each of the 10 UC campuses. The new policy is only about eligibility to apply. It is pretty far removed from actual enrollment.” Poon advocates a wait-and-see approach: waiting to analyze the racial composition of the 2012 freshman class, the first to get admitted under the new rules. Other Asian American student groups are backing this approach. When the policy changes were being considered between 2006 and 2008, Asian American student organizations joined with other minority groups to support the change as a means to increase access for all minority communities. Those of Southeast Asian heritage, for example, have college education attainment rates that match closely with the black and Latino communities. Fewer than 20 percent of Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Hmong Americans hold bachelor’s degrees, compared with more than 40 percent of Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Indian Americans, according to the 2000 census. “Asian American communities are really diverse, and groups such as Southeast Asians, who are often not as affluent, have more difficulty accessing UC schools,” said Gregory Cendana, who was on the executive board of UCLA’s Samahang Pilipino, a group that allied with other Asian, black and Latino student organizations to advocate for the removal of SAT subject test requirements. “Any admissions process that includes less eligibility criteria will allow for more of these students to apply.” Ultimately, no one knows yet whether Asian Americans will be disadvantaged by these changes in the University of California system. In April, the high school seniors met their college fate: Harrison
Asian American student
No data released on ethnicity Source: Harvard University Fall 2009 Degree Student Enrollment statistics
No data released on ethnicity Source: Cornell University Fall 2010 Enrollment at a Glance
No data released on ethnicity Source: Whitman College Factbook, 2010 to 2011
40% 3.9% 15.9% 2.2% Total Asian American
Source: The University of California Statistical Summary of Students and Staff, Fall 2009
5.5% 7.2% 5.3% Korean
42.2% 3.7% 20.6% 1.6% Total Asian American
Source: The University of California Statistical Summary of Students and Staff, Fall 2009
Kim, the Eagle Scout with excellent SAT scores, was not accepted to any Ivy Leagues he applied to, but he did get into Tufts and the University of Washington, among others. Courtney Lee, who had highlighted her community work and scored above average on the SATs, was accepted to all 10 liberal arts and public colleges she applied to, including UCLA, Hampshire College and Connecticut College. It becomes too easy to pin this result solely on the existence of Asian disadvantage. The choices that Kim and Lee made, such as the schools they applied to, the majors they picked, and the way they approached their college essays, could have affected this outcome. However, what also influences this result is the black box known as the admissions office. Each has a particular reason why
they accepted or rejected these students â€” but the schools are not telling. As admissions offices begin a new round of recruiting, a new crop of Asian American students likewise plan on trying their luck in overcoming the odds stacked against them. Full Disclosure: Hyphen Editor in Chief Harry Mok works in the communications department for the University of California Office of the President. Lin Yang is a writer currently based in Taipei. He last wrote for Hyphen in Issue 15, about his experiences as an Asian American living in Helena-West Helena, AR, where he spent two years as a high school teacher as part of Teach for America. This story was funded in part by the Spot.Us community.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 045
Lee Writer Ashley Schleeper Title Illustration Stephanie Kubo
046 HYPHEN Spring.11
In Brooklyn, NY, Peggy Wang stands amid a group of photographers, stylists and art directors gathered for a photo shoot. While they are abuzz with chatter about outfits, hair and makeup, Wang sinks into her coffee, calmly taking two sips while decisions rattle on around her. This is nothing compared to being on stage. Wang, a New Orleans-bred Chinese American, plays keyboard and sings vocals for the New York indie pop band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Since their debut in 2007, Wang has juggled her day job as a senior editor at BuzzFeed, a website dedicated to all things viral, and her gig as a world-touring musician. Before moving to New York in 2001, Wang’s life was average at best and socially unfulfilling. Wang hails from a small, predominantly white area of New Orleans, and she was an only child whose parents worked most days and nights, leaving Wang to a self-education in early ’90s pop culture: The Baby-Sitters Club, Clarissa Explains It All, MTV, mixtapes. “My parents owned a video store and I remember when I was 8, I would sit in the back and watch videos all day,” she says. She had few friends and even fewer Chinese friends. Wang would mingle with other Chinese kids during the five nights a week her mother played mahjong, but
HYPHEN SPRING.11 047
Dress, Nicholas K
Wang hails from a small, predominantly white area of New Orleans
and she was an only child whose parents worked most days and the friendships never lasted. But there was music. With her best nights, leaving Wang to a self-education in early ’90s pop culture: friend, she formed her first band in eighth The Baby-Sitters Club, Clarissa Explains It All, MTV, mixed tapes. grade, and they performed Bikini Kill covers and her original songs at the local coffeehouse. Wang played the guitar back then. “I was obsessed ents in China for a long-overdue visit. The last time she saw them with fingerpicking,” Wang says. was during a brief visit to China in 1992 when she was 10 years Another infatuation was the first season of the MTV reality old. She hopes she’ll get the opportunity the next time the band show The Real World — her dream was to move to New York. goes on tour. “Growing up, I’d never had a group of friends like that, so I always Back on the set, the makeup artist applies mascara while stylsort of wanted it.” Upon leaving New Orleans, Wang got exactly ists dig deep into Wang’s hair, teasing, pinning, stuffing and spraywhat she wanted — five roommates. ing her strands into a perfectly aerodynamic bouffant without so But even being surrounded by friends and sparking the atmuch as a wince from Wang. Even after a six-hour photo shoot in tention of the indie pop spotlight haven’t eliminated her identity 25-degree weather, Wang remains content and thoughtful — quistruggles. “When I first started at BuzzFeed, the offices were in etly prepared for her close-up. Chinatown and I remember never feeling like I really belonged,” she says. Even though she speaks fluent Mandarin, she still felt Hatnim Lee is a fashion and documentary photographer based in Brooklyn. Ashley Schleeper is a writer in Norfolk, VA. She has been a contributor to NPR. like an outsider. To reconnect, she would like to see her grandpar-
048 HYPHEN Spring.11
Vintage skirt, Sweet Virginia (Brooklyn)
Art director Kelly Colley Wardrobe Nari Kim Key makeup/hair Satoko Ichinose Assistant makeup/hair Ruico Oshika
HYPHEN SPRING.11 049
Botany of the Body The work of Samanta Batra Mehta.
As a child in New Delhi, Samanta Batra Mehta grew up surrounded by her grandfather’s lush ornamental gardens. But this mythical landscape existed only in her memories. Her grandfather, a professor of agricultural sciences, left them behind during the devastating partition of Pakistan and India that displaced an estimated 12 million people. Mehta’s interdisciplinary work symbolically documents the oral histories of displacement. Voices of longing materialize in Mehta’s detailed, meticulous drawings of botanical forms. Mirage (2010) recalls the receding memory of her grandfather’s beautiful gardens while Silent Witness (2010) layers a map with cut vellum and blood-red ink. In her work, the New York-based artist uses a variety of media including painting, drawing, photography, found materials and installation to explore the relationship between land and the body. “I am interested in mapping connections between human condi-
050 HYPHEN Spring.11
Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik tions and the environment that we inhabit,” Mehta says. “The female body is a microcosm for what is happening in the world today. It can be plundered, degraded, controlled and maimed, much like the land is.” But in works such as Forest of Desire #2 (2009), the landscape is also about fecundity and fertility. Land is both subject and metaphor in Mehta’s art practice, both generative and vulnerable. Through her meticulous line drawings, Mehta explores her lived experience in memory and myth. “Being a diasporic artist, I am always trying to locate my place in the universe,” she says. “It’s more about where I am — longing, belonging, being rooted and routed.” See more of her work at samantabatramehta.com.
(Opposite) Mirage series #1, 2010 Ink, graphite, 22k gold leaf, mylar, paper 11 x 11 inches (detail shown)
(Above) Mirage series #10, 2010 Ink, graphite, 22k gold leaf, mylar, antiquarian maps 11 x 11 inches (detail shown)
(Left) Mirage series #2, 2010 Ink, graphite, 22k gold leaf, mylar, antiquarian maps 11 x 11 inches
HYPHEN SPRING.11 051
052 HYPHEN Spring.11
(Above) Here I Lie in My Own Separate Skin #1, 2010 C Print 18.75 x 49.5 inches
(Opposite, bottom left) The Last of the Uncolonized Lands #1, 2010 C Print 30 x 30 inches
(Opposite, bottom right) The Last of the Uncolonized Lands #2, 2010 C Print 30 x 30 inches
(Left) The Last of the Uncolonized Lands #3, 2010 C Print 30 x 30 inches
HYPHEN SPRING.11 053
054 HYPHEN Spring.11
Facing History A portfolio of five iconic Asian American activists. Photographer An Rong Xu Writer Judy Lei
Corky Lee The People’s Photographer You may not recognize his face, but you certainly know his work. Corky Lee’s award-winning photographs — which catalyzed as much as documented the burgeoning Asian American movement of the early 1970s — have appeared in the likes of Time magazine and The New York Times, as well as a bevy of Asian American media. A community organizer turned photojournalist, Lee has always aimed to capture both the everyday experiences and the extraordinary struggles of Asian Americans — illuminating realities that are passed over daily by mainstream storytellers. “It’s an art of persuasion,” he says of his photographs. “It is documentary and history. And sometimes, photography is a form of propaganda.” Case in point: Lee’s stunning 1975 photo of a bloodied Chinese American man being hauled away by the New York Police Department moved 20,000 people to march against police brutality on the very day it was published in the New York Post. Such is also the impact of Lee’s work on the people he has spent his life recording: potent, immediate and at times overwhelming. Lee not only credits the community (and its independent media) for much of his success but also insists that the best advice he can give to younger artists is to learn their Asian American history.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 055
Nobuko Miyamoto and Charlie Chin Melody of a Movement As two-thirds of the acclaimed folk trio Yellow Pearl, Nobuko Miyamoto and Charlie Chin (along with Chris Iijima) are credited with composing the soundtrack of the Asian American movement. The trio came together at an Asian American college conference in 1970. “The first time I heard Chris and Nobuko was the first time I played with them,” Chin says. “I had been a professional musician for eight years but had never played to an all-Asian audience. We went on and, as they played and sang, I played lead guitar in between verses. I was impressed with the [lyrics] and the fervor with which they sang.” They went on to perform at community centers, colleges and schools across the United States. As veterans of the civil rights movement (Chin had marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Miyamoto had produced a documentary on the Black Panthers), the group determined that their music would be chiefly a political tool. “We had a job to do, and that job was to deliver a message: Inequality, racism and sexism should be wiped out, and as Asians, we had helped build this country and had a right to be here,” Chin says. Although the group was only together for three years, their music articulated a unified Asian American identity for countless youth. Their album, A Grain of Sand — which Miyamoto describes as “a collection of poems, graphics and songs, stacked in a yellow box the size of a record album that would disintegrate over time” — is now a part of the Smithsonian Collection where, far from disintegrating, it will live on as part of Asian America’s cultural and political legacy. Fans can buy or download it on the Smithsonian Folkways website (www.folkways.si.edu). Miyamoto is now the founder and artistic director of Great Leap, a Los Angeles-based Asian American arts organization that expanded its mission to promote multicultural arts after the 1992 L.A. riots. She continues Yellow Pearl’s mission of cultivating change through the arts — though she admits that her mediums have evolved considerably since she first began making music. “In those days, folk music was in, now it’s hip-hop!” she says. “But I do see lots of powerful voices. As young people, leaders, you must find what you love to do and mix it with your beliefs — write it, sing it, practice it, live it.” Read more about Yellow Pearl and Miyamoto’s current activism on page 24.
056 HYPHEN Spring.11
HYPHEN SPRING.11 057
Yuri Kochiyama The Original Radical Yuri Kochiyama has come a long way since being imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp at age 20. Once a devout Sunday school teacher from a predominately white West Coast town, she transformed herself over many years into a hell-raising political firebrand who agitated for black and Puerto Rican rights in West Harlem and advocated for armed revolution abroad. During the civil rights movement, she volleyed with Malcolm X and gained national notoriety when, in 1965, he died in her arms after being shot at a rally. She has worked to free political prisoners, fought for reparations for the internment of Japanese Americans, protested Americaâ€™s involvement in the Vietnam War and spoken out against anti-Muslim sentiment following 9/11. These days, the 90-year-old revolutionary spends most of her time at her home in Oakland, CA, reading, remembering and corresponding with family and political prisoners alike, but she is still routinely sought out for speaking engagements and interviews. From humble roots, Kochiyama became a political and cultural icon within the Asian American community, her work across color lines embodying the spirit of solidarity.
058 HYPHEN Spring.11
Helen Zia The Crusader Helen Zia has been breaking barriers for most of her life. She was among the first women to graduate from Princeton University in 1973 and has long spoken out against racism within the American feminist movement; she came out as a lesbian on national television (she married her longtime partner in 2004 and again in 2008). Zia, however, is most notable for her role in organizing against the racially motivated murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American beaten to death in 1982 by a pair of autoworkers who mistook him for Japanese. At the time, auto industry layoffs â€” presumably caused by rising Japanese imports â€” fueled anti-Japanese sentiment in Detroit, and Chin become a national symbol of anti-Asian hate crimes. Zia, who was then working as a labor organizer, managed to unite a wide spectrum of Asian Americans into a cohesive movement. She later found her calling in journalism, becoming the executive editor of the feminist quarterly Ms. magazine and penning a number of hard-hitting pieces for The New York Times, Essence and The Washington Post. She also wrote two groundbreaking books about the Asian American experience: Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People and My Country Versus Me. An Rong Xu is a documentary photographer based in New York City. New York City native Judy Lei is a student at Smith College.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 059
San Francisco-based Bui contacted Tran, who lives in New York City. Here, in this collaborative graphic essay, the two cartoonists discover that the coincidence between their work, rather than representing one artist’s individual loss, is actually a larger step toward bringing to light the difficult and often overlooked historical details of the Vietnam War.
CREDIT TK: TK
During her residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, cartoonist Thi Bui came upon GB Tran’s graphic novel Vietnamerica. Bui herself was hard at work on a graphic novel that explored the legacies of the Vietnam War, but unlike her project, Tran’s novel was already completed and ready to hit stores.
060 HYPHEN Spring.11
CREDIT TK: TK
Read an interview with the artists at hyphenmagazine.com.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 061
New and noteworthy Hiroshima in the Morning By Rahna Reiko Rizzuto (Feminist Press at the City University of New York) Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, maps the author’s physical and psychological journey to Hiroshima, where she conducted an ethnographic study of the hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors. The plot is set amidst two significant moments in Japanese and Japanese American history: the internment and the atomic bombing. The memoir also revolves around the story of Aunt Molly, who moved to Japan during the war, and her work as a peace activist, as well as a daughter’s discovery of her mother and herself as women unhinged by the demands of motherhood and wifehood. The memoir weaves multiple narratives that occasionally intersect and exist concentrically. In the five-part book, Rizzuto juxtaposes the events of 9/11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan to illustrate the repetitive nature of history and how violence affects all. By asserting the role of memory in the writing and collective understanding of history, the book foregrounds narratives that are not necessarily verifiable by facts of history and are personal. Rizzuto’s memoir demonstrates how stories do not merely recount events but can also heal. — Mosarrap Hossain Khan
Diwata By Barbara Jane Reyes (BOA Editions) In her third poetry collection, former Hyphen editor Barbara Jane Reyes moves backward in the Filipino diaspora timeline. Whereas her previous book, Poeta en San Francisco, addressed present-tense war and displacement from the viewpoint of fire escapes in San Francisco, Diwata returns to a Philippine archipelago caught in an eternal moment of myth. By turns invoking and speaking through diwatas (or fairies/spirits), mermaids and goddesses, Reyes’ prose poems layer moments in Filipino colonial history upon mythical origin stories. A divine rape is mirrored in the book by a colonial rape; a siren later appears as the ocean embracing the bodies of murdered guerillas. The poems repeat motifs, story lines, even lyrics in a restless search for a new way to tell the story. And throughout, we hear the sounds of island life: the wind, the cracking of bamboo poles in dance, the chanting of villagers, the tattoo of gunfire. — Claire Light
Adamantine By Shin Yu Pai (White Pine Press) Stone Buddhas. Metal Buddhas. “Undigested bits of plastic.” The lines of a poem in a single sweep: “demitasse / caviar / absinthe / bouillon / silver / spoon / washboard / & jug.” An obsession with material things so grossly pervades Adamantine that one nearly misses how necessary they are to these beautiful poems. Objects exist here to mark time, so that inner states — meanness, kindness, altruism — might be expressed through them. The collection’s best poems have the appropriately glossy luster suggested by their book’s title — a lament of surfaces perhaps, a reveling in the paradox of sacredness. The poems are most successful when they reside in tentativeness and enact alienation; they are less successful when they moralize hot topics in current events. As a whole, Adamantine is a testament to the notion that meditation is not merely an emptying of the mind, but an active cultivation of being by being among things — because in these mortal bodies, “we could travel no / further than that.” The collection helps the reader to cultivate a thoughtful pose, which certainly is the foundation for an ethically lived existence. — Vernon Ng
062 HYPHEN SPRING.11 Spring.11
top three Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of When Skateboards Will Be Free (Dial Press), tells us about the top three books that have held the most bittersweet meanings for him. The Crucible By Arthur Miller (Penguin) I read The Crucible when I was 27 years old and nearing the end of a relationship. I used the book as an example of how my girlfriend didn’t read and wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough for me. (As if I was so brilliant.) In a fit of desperation she promised, “I’m going to read this over the weekend!” We broke up anyway. I regretted my decision almost immediately, dreaming of her nightly. And many months later, I dreamed that we were living in 17th century New England, riding together in a covered wagon on our way to our deaths. Wage-Labour and Capital & Value, Price and Profit By Karl Marx (International Publishers) A surprisingly short and accessible explanation of how capitalists extract profit from workers. I read it after having asked my father to explain the concept to me. Although a committed Marxist and leading member of the Socialist Workers Party, my father was astounding in his inarticulateness: He had no grasp of what he was talking about. So over the course of a few nights, I read the book for myself. I had hoped that my newfound knowledge of things like labor-power and -value would endear me to my father. Instead, it spawned vast disillusionment with him and ruinous fissures between us. Krapp’s Last Tape By Samuel Beckett (Grove Press) I was 23 the first time I encountered Krapp’s Last Tape, during a read-through in a barebones Pittsburgh theater that was producing five short Beckett plays, one of which I had been cast in. I sat in the audience and watched the actor playing Krapp listening to a tape recording of his character from 30 years earlier. It was evident that the young voice had a grand view of his future while we, the audience, understood that what resulted was lost love and abject isolation. At the close of the play, the voice of young Krapp said, “Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance at happiness.” With the tape recorder running on in silence, the old Krapp stared out at the audience with a look of horror and defeat. I stared back, sobered and unsettled.
CREDIT photo TK: courtesy TK of basso cannarsa
Do You Miss Me? Revisiting Filipino American R&B music of the 1990s. Writer Dino-Ray Ramos THERE WAS ONCE A TIME when the soul and R&B music scene wasn’t dominated by precocious, hair-whipping preteens, leggy Caribbean beauties and fedora-topped, sneaker-wearing crooners with sharp suits and even sharper moves. In the mid ’90s, before Bruno Mars threw his “Grenade” and before the Black Eyed Peas phunked with our hearts, a generous swell of Filipino American soul and R&B music acts filled radio airwaves and concert stages in some major cities, in particular the San Francisco Bay Area, where many of these groups were based. Among them was the boy band Kai, whose smooth-crooning slow jam “Say You’ll Stay” reached No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998 and was the second Filipino American act to release an album on a major label, after Jocelyn Enriquez’s 1997 album Jocelyn was released on Tommy Boy Records. Fueled by the infectious freestyle club hits “Do You Miss Me?” and “A Little Bit of Ecstasy,” Jocelyn hit No. 12 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Other popular Filipino American R&B/pop acts of that era include: Pinay (hit song: “Is It Real?”), Devotion (“When I”), OneVoice (“When You Think About Me”), M:G (“Sweet Honesty”) and Buffy (“Give Me a Reason”). While they benefited from the stratospheric insurgence of R&B acts like Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, TLC and Janet Jackson during this period and gained some fame among urban Asian American youth, most of these groups were left unrecognized by the American mainstream. Musicians of that era say that, because of their race, they were unable to vault over the marketability hurdle in the music industry, which was practically insurmountable only 15 years ago — and is still only slowly being overcome today. In 1993, University of California, Berkeley, students Irma Laxamana, Maylene Briones, Angelica Abiog McMurtry and Jocelyn Enriquez (yes, that Jocelyn Enriquez) formed Pinay. A Filipino American version of En Vogue, the group got its start performing at a Filipino student group event on campus. “We got such an amazing
response from the crowd, that we did another event and then another and another,” Laxamana said. “It just kept on going.” Enriquez left the band shortly after to sign as a solo artist with local Filipino American-run independent music label Classified Records, and her 1994 debut album featured the hit singles “I’ve Been Thinking About You” and “Make It Last Forever.” Pinay eventually signed to the label as well. Inspired by the rise of Enriquez under Classified Records, Laxamana said that many Filipino American musicians developed an equal interest in the artistic and the business sides of music, which helped them navigate the industry. “Seeing the success that they were able to make for themselves gave a lot of talented artists the belief that they could really make a go at the music business,” Laxamana said. The Asian American community also fostered a nurturing environment for these acts. “It was a time when a great number of young Asian and Filipino Americans were interested in providing a platform for this talent to be seen and heard,” Laxamana said. Like the women of Pinay, the five men of Devotion — a pop and soul boy band from Orange County, CA, who mixed Backstreet Boys appeal with Boyz II Men harmonies — started by performing at school and community events. In 2000, they released their debut album, Image of Devotion. “There was never a shortage of venues or events to perform at. With that exposure, there were large numbers of people that wanted to hear our music,” Laxamana said, referring not only to Pinay but to other groups of that era. Rodney Hidalgo, a member of Devotion, said that many Filipino American performers of that time were tired of seeing a lack of representation and were eager to prove their talent. “We were very capable of doing the same things as mainstream artists,” Hidalgo said. “All it took was one to light the match, and more acts gained the confidence to take their talents out of the garage and onto the stage.” But as Filipino American acts gained attention and support
“All it took was one to light the match and more acts gained the confidence to take their talents out of the garage and onto the stage.” — Rodney Hidalgo of Devotion
HYPHEN SPRING.11 065
in some markets, there was one obvious obstacle to widespread popularity: ethnicity. Hidalgo said that many radio stations wouldn’t give them a chance when they found out they were Asian American artists. “Music is an expression of emotion, and to make that expression marketable and profitable, it’s easier to reach out to the masses by having that perfect image of a person convey that emotion rather than your average joe or even an Asian American,” Hidalgo said. In addition, trying to get an R&B/pop group played on radio stations overrun with gangsta rap proved difficult. One Las Vegas radio station played a Devotion song in a head-to-head song contest where listeners voted for the winner. “The only problem was that our (opponent) was Snoop Dogg,” Hidalgo said. But the rise of rap and hip-hop also opened doors for some Filipino American artists, like Joyo Velarde, an opera-trained soul singer. Velarde has, since the late 1990s, been the go-to songstress for fellow labelmates at the San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop label Quannum Projects, home to acts such as Lyrics Born (Velarde’s husband), Blackalicious and DJ Shadow. With the introduction of hip-hop to the mainstream music scene, “many aspiring artists who also happened to be Asian Americans finally found an immediate outlet for them to apply and succeed in using their talents,” Velarde said. In some ways, the Filipino American acts of the 1990s and early
066 HYPHEN Spring.11
2000s paved the way for many musicians of Filipino descent who have come and gone on the pop music scene since: Nicole Scherzinger, Chad Hugo, Cassie, DJ Qbert and Jasmine Trias, to name a few. And in today’s digital age, more Filipino musicians are becoming discovered via social media, among them mini-diva Charice Pempengco and Journey frontman Arnel Pineda. But, both Pempengco and Pineda were imported from the Philippines. With so much homegrown talent, as demonstrated in the golden age of Filipino American music, the question might be raised: Why outsource? But Hidalgo, for one, isn’t doing the asking. “I think that anyone, from here or there, is deserving of a shot,” Hidalgo said. “If they have the desire and the determination, there is no reason they shouldn’t have the same opportunities for success.” The time when you could switch on a radio station in San Francisco and hear a Filipino voice may be over, but Laxamana still performs occasionally. Devotion released a new single at the end of last year, and Velarde released an LP last year. Today, Laxamana encourages more Filipino acts to stand up and grab the limelight, as they did during the mid-1990s. “You could be the most talented person on the planet, but if you don’t find or make the right opportunity for yourself, no one will know it,” she said. Dino-Ray Ramos is a journalist based in San Francisco and Hyphen’s pop culture columnist.
Pinay photos courtesy of Irma Laxamana. Joyo photo by Ben Mayorga.
The R&B group Pinay, then and now.
(photos shown actual size)
e’s azin Mag quare 7 x in 7 rdelli S red ra eatu at Ghi f s a t n w e x Bo ity” ev gh Lau he C The st of t “Be
Smith Westerns Dye It Blonde Fat Possum fatpossum.com/artists/smithwesterns Since the rise and fall of The Strokes, we have found ourselves amongst a new generation of gawky, throwback private school-esque rockers offering their take on those bratty, brash, simple and sassy sounds. One of the current members of this genre is Chicago’s altgarage pop rock outfit Smith Westerns, composed of the sibling songwriting duo Cameron and Cullen Omori and guitarist Max Kakacek. The band’s sophomore album, Dye It Blonde, is just dandy: stripped-down, major-chord, British-influenced power pop with lush, drawn-out vocal melodies. It is a wellproduced, mid-tempo alternative pop album with traditional-yetloose arrangements and glam rock leads. The content of the band’s lyrics are both formative and meaningless, but in a most brilliant post-modern way — something that a young band tends to lose over time. And the production on Dye It Blonde is fitting: simple, yet textured. Having a recording budget this time around has worked in the band’s favor. The listening quality has improved, but the sounds still maintain the lo-fi characteristics that got them to where they are. — Lyle Matsuura
068 HYPHEN Spring.11
Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai
Verdugo Hills Temporary Residence carolinelufkin.com
Further She Wrote Self-released on Moving Earth Productions LLC yellowgurl.com
Goodnight Company Self-released janelui.com
If you’re an escapist, you probably favor songs that create their own space, molding sounds into sensations beyond the auditory. So it will be your serene pleasure to explore Mice Parade band member Caroline Lufkin’s solo debut LP Verdugo Hills, an album of electro/acoustic nocturnes sure to stimulate your senses. Bells twinkle like music boxes while electronic glitches and pops achieve a warmth akin to the analog fuzz of an old LP. The music closes in and encapsulates, an experience of exploration and nostalgia like searching through an attic, rummaging through artifacts and finding yourself lost in contemplation. Song titles give away Lufkin’s dream world: “Balloon,” “Words Flutter” and “Pink Gloom.” There is a depth to the prevailing intimacy that dispels the claustrophobic feeling, as dulcet tones permeate like ripples on the water of a moonlit night. Occasionally, notes are heard cascading off the strings of harps and guitars. All the while, Lufkin’s seraphim voice caresses you. The sound is beautifully simplistic. Each element is pristine and affecting. This writer has since added Verdugo Hills to his list of favorite musical vacation spots, along with the evergreen pastures of Múm’s Finally We Are No One and the glossy slopes of Björk’s Vespertine. — Ryan I. Miyashiro
Brooklyn, NY, by way of Chicago, spoken word artist Kelly Zen Yie-Tsai follows up her 2007 Infinity Breaks album with 11 tracks interweaving poetry with dense electro-hop. Producer (and fellow poet) Black Cracker’s precisely crafted beats lend an added depth and atmosphere to Tsai’s verse, and the induced head-nodding could broaden the appeal for those who may not immediately gravitate toward spoken word. From an ode to Lauryn Hill to challenging the trappings of monogamy and calling on political candidates to pay more than lip service to the Asian American community, the album covers the topical spectrum. “Ballad of a Maybe Gentrifier” takes a frank, no-excuses look at the encroaching urban development in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood — and Tsai’s own role in it — buoyed by spacey, bass-heavy beats. Tsai’s voice remains resonant, uninhibited and deft in its range of expression throughout. Tsai succeeds at making the personal political without the sometimes smug, contrived feel of agit-pop or “conscious” art. She is a people’s poet who still likes to party, and Further She Wrote transcends the seemingly prevalent belief that poetry has to be about either love or politics. — Cynthia Brothers
So how does a classicallytrained musician make contemporary music without going off the edge with drivel that passes for pop? Look to Jane Lui for one answer. With her third full-length album, Goodnight Company, the talented artist is a multi-instrumentalist who produces music injected with soulful, near-operatic female vocals that are sometimes labeled as chamber pop. Other times, Lui’s music reminds one of Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos and Imogen Heap — the latter comparison speaking to haunting melodies tinged with electronic elements. Even with the musical comparisons, Lui’s music is still hard to define. From acoustic guitar picking on “Illusionist Boy” to strong bass lines and whispers of strings on “Jailcard” to a cover of “Edelweiss,” one may love some songs and loathe others. While tunes on Goodnight Company vary in style, the album still manages to come together under Lui’s musical identity. And it’s a rich sound, sometimes with more vocals than instrumentation and vice versa. In either case, this complexity warrants several listens to flesh out the sounds. Even if one does not proclaim to be a fan of any of the above-mentioned genres or artists, Lui’s talent should be enough to at least pique one’s curiosity. — Margot Seeto
Someone Else’s War
The People I’ve Slept With
Directed by Karin Mak reddustdocumentary.org
Directed by Arthur Dong deepfocusproductions.com
Directed by Lee Wang someoneelseswar.com
Directed by Quentin Lee thepeopleivesleptwith.com
At only 21 minutes, Karin Mak’s documentary Red Dust maximizes every second as it follows female workers fighting for medical care from their former employer, China’s GP Batteries factory, after suffering years of cadmium poisoning. The women — mostly rural migrant workers who moved to the city to earn money — endure constant headaches, body aches, sore throats and the high, looming risk of kidney failure, lung cancer and bone disease from exposure to cadmium, which is more poisonous than lead. In their personal lives, they must deal with costprohibitive medicines, the emotional toll the illness has taken on spouses and families and the threat of intimidation from the factory and police, as independent labor organizing is illegal in China. The women’s sadness and exhaustion is juxtaposed with an ardent determination to support their “sisters united” as they take legal action against GP Batteries and draw attention to workers’ rights and factory conditions. Red Dust, Mak’s thesis film from the University of California, Santa Cruz’s social documentation program, beautifully reveals the humanity behind a true David vs. Goliath social justice movement. — Sylvie Kim
Written, produced, directed and edited by award-winning filmmaker Arthur Dong, Hollywood Chinese chronicles a century of Chinese American images in film. The strength of this documentary lies in the personal accounts from well-known artists such as Nancy Kwan, Joan Chen, David Henry Hwang and Justin Lin. Historical topics covered include yellow face (The Good Earth, Charlie Chan), sex objects for white knights (The World of Suzie Wong), desexualized Asian males and images associated with triads or evil forces (Fu Manchu), all illuminating how Chinese-related images have mostly been marginalized as “the other.” The artists display a high level of self-awareness about artistic compromise and pandering, although they differ in reactions about their work, ranging from defending Hollywood’s “as long as it makes money” excuse to downplaying the impact of their images or responsibility and expressing guilt or frustration at the system. Ultimately, the documentary is as much about the history of Chinese images in Hollywood as it is about a history of exploitation by Hollywood and the lack of control Chinese Americans possess to define their own images. The DVD collection is loaded with hours of extras, including The Curse of Quon Gwon (c. 1916), the earliest-known feature film made by a Chinese American. — Alvin Lin
More than 50,000 low-wage workers from South and Southeast Asia are caught up in a war that has nothing to do with them. These “third-country nationals” are doing the dirty work to support the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan, cleaning toilets, doing laundry and serving food. Lee Wang’s short documentary, which aired on PBS last year, focuses on those who are lured to work in Iraq under dangerous conditions, often without any idea what they’re getting into. The film highlights one aspect of the privatization of war: the hiring by military contractors of janitors and cooks from places like the Philippines, India and Nepal instead of higher-cost workers from the US. The filmmaker goes to the Philippines — a country with massive poverty — to collect stories about such workers and explains the context in which one in eight Filipinos go abroad to find employment. It’s yet another tale of exploitation, but told in a way that is nuanced. Wang’s debut documentary puts a human face on the label of “cheap labor” and goes directly to the workers and their family members to hear their perspectives. The film includes excellent investigative reporting, including footage smuggled out of Iraq by Halliburton employees. — Momo Chang
Don’t you just love a good ol’ fashioned hag-and-sassy-fagunplanned-pregnancy-quest-fortrue-love story? In The People I’ve Slept With, Angela (Karin Anna Cheung), a self-described slut, romps from one drunken sexual escapade to another — until her serial sack-hopping is derailed by the discovery that she’s pregnant by one of potentially five men. With the help of her queer BFF Gabriel (Wilson Cruz), Angela embarks on a wacky adventure to nab DNA samples from all the possible fathers. While Angela attempts to trick one into marrying her, Gabriel re-examines his life as a “gay cliché” and tries to win back his ex. While some moments are contrived and practically shriek “We’re the multiracial Will & Grace!” — the film does feature some memorable oneliners (“No smoking, no drinking, no coffee … getting knocked up is the worst STD ever!”). While the cheeky raunchiness plus a queer and multiethnic cast are refreshing, the film nevertheless embraces boilerplate rom-com aspirations: bad girls and boys that deep down want to be good, devoted partners. It may not aim to completely transform the status quo, but, for a playful, entertaining movie with a naughty twist, it’ll satisfy. — Cynthia Brothers
HYPHEN SPRING.11 069
The Big One
Writer Evelyn Manangan-Price Photographer Damien Maloney
were going at it for three days. Water. Beer. Fruit. Matthew’s weekend — he’s a waiter — is Sunday through Wednesday. And, on Sunday, at 4:20 sharp, we super-sized mimosas while he closed out his brunch shift, picked up a six of the latest microbrew for the ride home, slammed a few shots of whiskey down on the rickety kitchen table when we stopped at my place, then grabbed veggie burritos and sangria at midnight to keep us going. For three days. It’s Wednesday morning and Carlos, Matthew’s boss and housemate, must be sipping Yuban black and having a pre-shift smoke. Sharp-sweet smell seeps through the pocket door seams. While I try to sleep, they banter. “You get her pregnant yet, hijo?” Carlos asks. “Lo que sabes? These walls are thin.” Matthew laughs from his stomach, voice scratched up from last night’s debauchery. “No, dude. I’m tryin’ hard though — ” “That’ll wake her up, eh?” Carlos says inhaling. Someone jimmies the lighter, it lands on the table.“She should have a kid,” Carlos exhales. “Niña bonita. Pops anyone out of their funk.” Funk?! I shoot straight up in the futon-bed. Then the bedroom shudders like a tossed boat. Matthew’s books, battered guides to the World of Islam, Marxist thought, Ska and the like, list and droop in their shelves, neat towers of nickels and pennies collapse on the dresser. An overstuffed laundry hamper veers toward me sprinkling dirty T-shirts and boxers onto the bed. A mountain bike bungee’d up in the corner sways and slaps the wall once. Then, as suddenly as it all started, the room tilts back, upright and normal. “Whoa,” Matthew says. “What the … ?” “Ay Dios,” Carlos says, probably crossing himself. “I thought that was going to be the Big One.”
070 HYPHEN Spring.11
“Dude,” Matthew says. “Thought I’d finally have a reason not to go to the restaurant.” They laugh. Pause. Flick, flick. Another cigarette. Someone clicks on Bay Area Morning to find out where it hit: Where was the epicenter? What fault line? The TV spits out Richter scale levels, past and present. Experts micro-dissect momentsago satellite video, voice-over Loma Prieta archival footage. Matthew bursts into the doorway wearing boxers. His white, topless body glaring. “Hey, did you feel that, baby? Are you all right?” I roll over and shut my eyes. Three days. For three days we’ve been drinking and living on sex, weed and takeout, and I can’t stand my bacchanalian self. Maybe this is why I got fired from writing dog food commercials. For the Web! Not even real, milliondollar TV doggie commercials with pet wranglers and puppy pedicures. And now this senselessness about getting me pregnant? Ever since I met Matthew and Carlos I’ve had to readjust my attitude to what I call their barn-raising crazy Californian mentality. An urban pocket of young whites and Latinos bonded by weed, car swaps, construction work and the will to somehow thrive. “Oh, mama,” Matthew purrs wrapping his arms around my flat belly, kissing the ridge of my ear, the back of my neck. “I’m glad we’re all OK.” Community, hippie, family-minded freak. Peace and love. I thought they were all done with that in San Francisco. The ‘60s died. But, apparently, not in this house. I’ll be at my best when I’m knocked up and baking bread. They cannot be serious. I can’t even water plants. I try to wriggle out of his hold with my shoulders, but Matthew gets right on me. His right hand reaches between my legs and my left hand automatically reaches behind me to undo the little latch on the cigar box where he keeps condoms and foreign coins. I slip
HYPHEN SPRING.11 071
off his happy face boxers single-handedly and he spreads my legs expertly, gently with his knee, slows a second, big brown eyes on me. The eye contact makes me nervous. I can’t undo the latch so I swat blindly at the cigar box until it falls to the floor and breaks open. Purple, foil-wrapped condoms skitter. Suddenly, I feel like one of those people in the movies who, in the midst of a tussle, is just struggling for that pistol, bat, andiron, whatever that’s just out of reach. Matthew’s lapping up my pussy now and when I look down I see his penis in the distance hanging down. Hard. I’m being selfish because I haven’t put his dick in my mouth and I’m not massaging his nipples, which for some reason he likes, but I’m distracted. I’ve got to protect the eggs. “Goddess, Goddess,” I say, arching my back with pleasure, yet still stretching like a mad gymnast for a condom. “You like that?” he asks. He murmurs between licks, low, slow sounds, and the vibrations are getting me hot in spite of myself. His red-blond hair has fallen like a tiny sheet across my thighs. Matthew gives great tongue. He dropped out of college three times. He drinks way too much. He doesn’t always have his rent on time and he never takes me to the movies, but his tongue can move. I’m a lesbian, he once said to me, in a man’s body. True pleasure. I stroke his hair with my hands and nudge my ass forward so he can get in deep. Pushing with full force, I’m writhing and shouting all at once, coming in his mouth, loving it and he’s pushing right back giving it to me the way he can’t give it to anything else — work, school, life responsibility. Next thing, I’m drawing him up by the elbows, splaying my numb thighs for him. His lips are dripping. He wipes with his forearm and attacks me with kisses, slipping inside, condom-less. I wonder what stars feel like? Would they be gaseous and feel like nothing? Would they be crystal-like, hot, invigorating to the touch? Could you walk inside a star and be drowned in Celeste, taste the Universe on your lips and never know hunger again? Stars can explode, right? All the gasses build up and its atomic structure explodes and explodes, bits of star streaking black void in a spectacle of Galactic beauty. This is his specialty. Matthew turns us into stars every time he lays me down. But fuck if I’ll have his kid. And fuck if I feel guilty about the 25 grand on my credit cards and my lack of employment. And no, cocktailing in a tight, cheap dress at Carlos’ restaurant does not count as a job. Matthew’s always telling me how smart I am, the only college diploma between us, but as time and my crisscrossing three states has proven, having a degree doesn’t mean shit about success. Especially when your college is known for two
072 HYPHEN Spring.11
specific things: Jewish movie stars and groundbreaking medical research, and you’re not a doctor or Jewish. Still, he won’t let up. Matthew says I’m just in a rut, a lousy funk, but whatever happened, whatever put me on the outs this time, it’s hard to see a way back now. “We can’t ignore it,” I say thinking aloud. Matthew pauses mid-stroke. Sweat beads his collarbone. “What?” “Don’t you think we need to use something?” “Oh.” He reaches up for the cigar case. Not there. “Right.” He snatches a condom from the floor. Says nothing about the busted cigar box. Once inside me, he closes his eyes and I massage his nipples the way he likes so we can climax. But he doesn’t get there. He opens his eyes and smiles, but I know he’s blaming the condom. He gets hung up on intent. Like, why would he be using condoms unless this is just sex for sex? Well, isn’t it? Hasn’t it been? Don’t get me wrong, condoms suck. And, I already know the sensation of Matthew’s naked penis. Drunk and begging him, he’s dipped in for me, but I don’t know what “it” feels like when baby-making is the intention. I imagine it would be different. Bigger, maybe. But when you get into that whole unprotected thing, you better know what you want from a person. You better know how to approach a soiled diaper. You better know how to say, I love you. And I can’t say it. “I love you,” Matthew says. He massages my back, pushing his thumbs and fingers into the places where I have muscle knots. But all I want is for this three-day sex marathon to be over. I want to sit down to breakfast, then smoke cigarettes and force him to tell me weird travel stories. I want time. “Have you ever tried Tantra?” he asks. Thirty-five minutes have passed and he hasn’t come. Not even close. And, I’m guessing Tantra has something to do with it. It’s times like these, as I co-star in a soft-porn how-to-Tantra video that I wonder whether it’s a good thing that Matthew reads. Voraciously. And he’s certainly not shy about adopting fringe theory or cooking up some of his own. After speed-reading some stuff on Pacific Asian identity politics and hanging around those whack jobs down at the Civic Center, he told me I have American-born Filipina disease. My past is suppressed; my mind, imperialized.
My true Path, Dharma, Bliss, whatever he called it that day, is blocked. “You don’t even know who you are half the time.” I was so full of poison I barely heard him out. “And the other half of the time?” I asked. “The other half of the time,” he said, “you’re beautiful.” The bedroom lurches from side to side. Creak. crick. “What was that?” I ask. “I think it’s the Big One,” he says. He lifts his shoulders away still inside me, resumes. Sweat falls from the tip of his nose and makes a tiny, salty stream between my breasts. “The big one?” I ask. Outside the window, large tree boughs rustle. Birds — freaked out — take flight. Matthew opens his eyes, focuses. “Should we stay or should we go?” I ask. “Stay,” he says. “Die with me.” He’s laughing now at the face I’ve made and he’s stroking hard. He kisses my neck and I lose myself in the nuzzling, the radiating tingle. The futon lifts us as if we’re coasting on a slow wave. Rwoll, rwoll. Then, snap! It’s funny to think that this could really be the Big One, way overdue, and I’ve never won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay or been to Paris or Venice or done something even slightly more realistic like take the GRE. But it’s not as if I’d been studying or saving money for a trip or staying up late at night constructing plot twists. If this is really the end, it would be too late for all that anyway. Too late for me. Creak. Again. Crick. Now,
Matthew is talking into my shoulders, still pressing, hard and deep. Rwolllllllllllll. He whispers. How lucky we are to be naked together at the end of the world. And then the tremor’s finished. The bookshelves are still; nothing’s even fallen or dropped. But that condom didn’t have a chance, right? I run a finger over the base of Matthew’s cock, and all the latex is bunched high on the shaft. A slippery tear. If only we were stars and not human. If only our lifespan was simply about how long we could shine before we blew up. If only we didn’t have these evolutionary leanings to propagate or romantic notions to travel and see the world. They just confuse everything. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” Matthew says all the time, “if we just let things?” He also says I complain too much. And worry. Maybe I do. But when it comes down to it, with Matthew, all I want is to be a star. His face is open. His eyes are giving. Circles within circles within circles. For three days, between showers, beer runs, earthquakes and takeout to keep us going, this man has been making love to me. Lifting us until we weigh as little as clouds. And now he’s bursting, breaking this atmosphere and pouring into my insides, all stardust and seed, into the black spaces of the other half of me. Evelyn Manangan-Price is a student in the master’s program in creative writing at San Francisco State University. She blogs at fromtheseed.blogspot.com.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 073
Suturing Self A portrait of the idealist as a young doctor. Writer Dharushana Muthulingam Illustrator Danny Neece “Give the placenta to the med student.” I was handed a bowl of blood and jelly and told to examine it. While the resident grimly sewed vaginal lacerations amid the indiscernible sea of bleeding flesh, the patient was glowing, thanks to a well-placed spinal epidural, post-labor oxytocin and a ridiculously adorable, slimy new baby. I turned back to my bowl. Placentas are the weirdest things I have ever seen. They are amorphous blobs with veins that systematically course through them. My job is: 1. ensure the whole thing is out, so the patient does not get a nasty infection 2. correctly identify the blood vessels in the cord so the attending physician can grade me. It is a little after 4 a.m., and I am listlessly rooting through the still warm, quickly cooling organ that complies like an especially ropey, dying jellyfish. The smell is the coppery acrid smell of blood, amid the heavy odors of sweat. All the lobes are intact. We unceremoniously dump it in the correct biohazard bin. For this tremendous privilege, of course, I had spent years dissecting pickled cadavers, memorizing drug interactions, doodling out the arrows of biochemical reaction. And for that privilege I dutifully slogged through chemistry, biology, eye-stabbing loads of standardized testing. And in turn, I took my AP classes, performed my math drills, etc. Take one part South Asian American daughter, one part California public school system, a couple of Pell Grants and wham! Medical student. Here’s the thing. Don’t tell. I like medicine. I love it. I love bearing witness to birth, death and strength. I love figuring out puzzles and knowing what to do in a crisis. And I love tenderly examining placenta at 4 a.m. Not as much as sleep, but it’s not Do you have a story to tell in 1,000 a bad alternative. words or less? Send submissions to I was a closeted email@example.com. med for two years. Before
074 HYPHEN Spring.11
that I was defiant. OMG another Sri Lankan doctor! That’s silly. I would be a philosopher. Or maybe an astrophysicist. Something real. Not the tin-hat model minority doctor/engineer/accountant. No way! At 5:30 a.m., I begin to examine my patients on the labor and delivery floor. As the third-year medical student, I am my intern’s shadow. But I pretend these ladies are mine. I rehearse my bad Spanish; warm my stethoscope before I place it against their chest; press through swollen bellies; carefully remove surgical staples. New families curl together in hospital beds. I am accepted and invited into this strange intimacy. I am enthralled. Why not? Why not medicine? My father is not a doctor. My mother is not a doctor. They want me to be a doctor. Because then they will have Done Well, launching their daughter on a whooshing trajectory into the American Middle Class. Also, this was their retirement plan. But no way! I was Too Cool. And by cool, I mean a nerdy, angsty freshman at Berkeley, swept and devoured by the rhetoric of a New Consciousness. I wanted to be Revolutionary, a Bohemian, a Renaissance Woman. I majored in philosophy and learned modern dance. I wandered aimlessly through Morocco, Ecuador, China, staring morosely from cafes. It was still a variation on the privileged, educated American life, just one that my parents found to be terribly confusing. Why did I want to be a physician? Here is the application version: I love science, I want to help people. I am good at color-coding my notes. Here is the cocktail party version: I love body fluids. I want to skewer biostatistical methods and pharmaceutical backdoor deals. I can support my philosophy habit. I know everywhere people bleed and birth and run out of their insulin. I am needed. I am curious. Here is the version that is drunk on my own ferocious idealism:
I am the one handling your blood and your urine, and I am the one who knows how many abortions really happen, how much depression there really is, how much the upstanding rich and middle class really beat their children and their wives. If I know all this, then I have power. Because if I am a doctor, people will listen to me. If people will listen to me, I can tell the congressman the vastly increased rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks and strokes in communities of color. The devastation of neighborhood violence on young men who leave the hospital bound in wheelchairs and colostomy bags, if they leave at all. I can write the angry letters on world trade policies and the price of grain, the effect of food security on refugee populations, on access to patented HIV medication. I can blur that fanciful line that people draw between the mental illness and drug addiction of the wealthy and the mad junkies they pity on the street. Under the cold clinical light, bodies become the same fragile theater of triumph and suffering. If people will listen to me, if I have power, could I not share this compassion? Couldn’t I transform that rage at injustice — rage for all those who also feel left out and suffer for it, the rage of impotence — couldn’t I make it right? Here is the version where I am alone: If I am a doctor, I will listen to others, and others will listen to me. If I am a doctor, I will be tough in the face of suffering. I will have earned my place, my parents will hear me.
At 7:30 a.m., our rounds are interrupted by an emergency cesarean section. The team is tense. A slowing fetal heartbeat could mean a number of benign or terrible things. Most of the terrible things result in the infant’s cerebral palsy. In the OR, very quickly: Anesthesiologists are numbing and paralyzing, the surgeons ritualizing and gowning, the nurse is arranging the metal prongs, blades and sutures. The patient is bewildered but trusting. We try to shout explanations, but no one on the team today speaks Mandarin. An emergency cesarean is a violent affair. We tear into the young woman’s body, and deep within her, we find him, a small, blue, perfectly shaped thing, tangled in his own cord. The surgeon scoops him out and cheerfully shouts “Happy Birthday!” before tossin’ the creature to the waiting pediatric team. We take to reconstructing the woman. I am up to my elbows in the abdominal cavity of another human. She is warm and slimy and magnificent. In three days, I will remove her staples and be amazed when this will be only a neat line stitching itself together, and she will have learned to breastfeed her new son. I will remember: Aristotle; the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance; my illiterate grandmother, the village midwife. Here is a final version: If I am a doctor, I am Dharushana Muthulingam is a student in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. She blogs at oslersbeast.wordpress.com.
HYPHEN SPRING.11 075
Check out hyphenmagazine.com • Like and Share articles and blog posts on Facebook • Subscribe to RSS feed for our blog • New Blogger Op-Ed Columns • Support new stories that you're interested in via Spot.us • Magazine article from our online archive
visit us hyphenmagazine.com like us facebook.com/hyphenmagazine stalk us twitter.com/hyphenmagazine
An ambitious car for an ambitious you Introducing the new 2011 Toyota Corolla – it’s larger than life in a compact package. With refreshed styling, 35 MPG highway rating* and advanced safety features, like the standard Star Safety SystemTM, it’s headed in the same direction as you – upward.
Follow her dream@ toyota.com/corollamiku
* 2011 EPA-estimated mileage. Actual mileage will vary. Vehicle shown with optional equipment. © 2007 Crypton Future Media, Inc. All rights reserved. © 2011 Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.
Issue 23: The Bittersweet Issue