Page 1

an APAC publication Winter 2010 Issue 6, Vol. 1


of Asian-American Studies


Life between two continents

ASIAN WEB CULTURE Does your mom knit with chopsticks?



Four pho hotspots just steps away from the El


nuAsian winter 2010

editor’s note an APAC publication

Dear Readers, When I became the editor of NU Asian last year, my goal was to spark discussion within the Asian American community on campus. My challenge, I soon discovered, was to find a common ground among members of a community that is so multi-faceted and ethnically diverse. While the Asian American community is strengthened by cultural similarities and motivated by shared concerns, it is important to note that there is no one Asian American experience. In many ways, I am the unlikeliest person to get involved with a cultural magazine. Growing up, I often yearned to look more like my classmates. I asked my parents why I had black hair, not blonde, why I had dark brown eyes, not blue or green, why I felt and looked different. But, the things that I thought set me apart from my classmates are the very things that have shaped my identity. That is just one aspect of my own Asian American experience. I’ve been fortunate to been able to indulge in the stories of other classmates, some of which are shared here. This magazine explores a multitude of remarkable Asian American experiences, from individuals making strides in the performing arts to student protestors working to promote a message. Check out our interview with KoreanAmerican singer, Sam Kang (p. 8), our feature on international students at Northwestern (p. 10) and our cover story on Chicago’s vibrant Argyle neighborhood (p. 17). In recent months, the NU Asian staff has worked very hard to re-design and modernize our look. I am proud to present a new and improved NU Asian, one that I hope you enjoy! Thank you again for reading.


Nathalie Tadena, Editor-in-Chief

Have a question or comment? Let NU Asian know! We want to hear from you. We are also looking for writers, photographers and designers to contribute to our upcoming spring issue. Reach us at

Volume 6 - Issue 1 - Winter 2010 Funded by the Student Activities Finance Board Magazine Staff 2009 - 2010 Editor-in-Chief Nathalie Tadena Managing Editor Alanna Autler Business Director Melissa Lu Outreach Editor Nancy Lee Online Editor Kathy Duan Staff Writers Annie Chang Bettina Chang Elise De Los Santos Ashley Kim Renee Lee Katie Park Katie Zhu Contributing Writers Pavan Krishnamurthy Todd Kushigemachi Design Bettina Chang Emily Chow Melissa Lu Hyungjoo Han Katie Park Advisor Tedd Vanadilok

An inside look at one of Chicago’s Asian American neighborhoods with 4 pho hot spots


The brains behind Do Asians really all look the same? Kollaboration Soap Box: Why are you proud of your heritage? Artist Profile: Sam Kang

NU’s hand in China Care Living between two countries Op-Ed: The India Pakistan War AASP: Celebrating 10 years What being Filipino means to me Thoughts on diversity


nuAsian winter 2010

To Mother,

With Love

“Is funk means sexy?” Serena Wu shares how this and many other memorable mom quotes helped spawn and its endearing counterpart, by Alanna Autler Serena Wu knows how to poke fun. Especially at herself. “I’m unemployed,” the UC-Berkeley (’09) graduate says. “I didn’t do anything today.” This interview might be the highlight of her day. But Serena’s sense of humor doesn’t end with herself. Most of the time, her jokes extend to that beloved firstgeneration of Asians: our parents. Wu is co-creator of the hit Web sites, “My Mom is a FOB” and “My Dad is a FOB.” Utilizing a white background and black font, the blogs appear simple. That’s because the gem lies within the content. Submit something ridiculously Asian your parents say, and they might get their 15 minutes of fame. In October 2008, Serena and childhood friend, Teresa Wu (of no relation), launched the site. According to Serena, Teresa was receiving e-mails from her friends that detailed hysterical comments made by their Asian mothers. All too familiar with these Asian catchphrases (“Is funk mean sexy?”), Serena and Teresa created a Tumblr to log the funniest quotes. After a week, the site crashed because it got so many hits. The duo immediately crafted a blog that could facilitate more traffic—and it did. That week alone, “My Mom is a FOB” exceeded more than 50,000 views. Such popularity—combined with demands for more material—galvanized Serena and Teresa to launch “My Dad is a FOB” a week later. Now, with 3,500 and 1,900 subscribers respectively, “My Mom is a

FOB” and “My Dad is a FOB” receive comment, “‘Oh my god, my parents, nearly 70,000 hits per month. call me fat all the time, too!’” Serena insists that despite its deBoth Serena and Teresa grew up in rogatory title, the blog does not aim California—the American hotbed for to mock Asian parents. The pair does Asian immigrants. Serena attributes receive a few emails per year that a tolerance for Asian values to her Bay protest the “racist nature” of the sites. Area childhood. That explains why The term, “FOB,” she’s not at all commonly refers fazed by mothto Asian immiers who refuse grants “fresh off to get into the the boat.” car without “We never their UVmeant to make protected arm anything malisheaths. cious,” Serena “We don’t says. “People want people send us submisto be embarsions because rassed of their Do you suppress laughter when you open emails from your mom? You’re not alone. they find what parents because their parents say they’re culturreally endearing.” ally different, but to embrace their difThe subjects tend to agree. A sizable ferences,” Serena says. She mentions portion of the sites’ subscribers are she’s even posted quotes from Eastern Asian mothers themselves. And acEuropean parents. cording to Serena, they’re some of the “Parents…are all the same. They’ll blogs’ biggest fans. always call you and send you emails. “I think parents recognize, ‘Oh my They’re always really cute,” she says. god, I say that, too!’ But then there are Over the past year, the average parents who are like, ‘What? Why was number of daily submissions has dethat funny?’” creased from 25 to five. But the girls The architecture major adds the recently signed a contract with pubblogs would not exist without the first- lishing company Penguin Group. Acgeneration’s cultural preservation, or cording to Serena, their book will mirfor that matter, the second-generaror the content offered on the site. tion’s assimilationist commentary on But she promises “My Mom is a that preservation. FOB” and “My Dad is a FOB” are here “All we want for is people to share… to stay. Serena says they will maintain it’s a community, definitely,” Serena the blogs as long as possible. And you affirms. can count on that like an Asian mom She labels the blog as a place for the forgetting to punctuate her text messecond generation—where kids can sages.

nuAsian winter 2010

How would you perform in this exam room?

by Katie Zhu I’m 100 percent Chinese. And proud of it. But I’ve been mistaken as both Korean and Japanese. Granted, this was during the period when I had highlights so maybe I brought that one upon myself. Enter Asianprofiling. Think racial-profiling, but more specific. According to Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog written by Dienekes Pontikos, Chinese are generally thought of as having a lesser-defined bone structure, while Koreans are associated with rounder faces. The Japanese, Pontikos writes, apparently have very distinguished noses. It’s an urban myth that Caucasians can’t tell Asians apart. Dyske Suematsu, the mastermind behind, created his website to “demystify this issue once and for all.” A cyber exam room, containing the faces of 18 different Asians living in New York City, tests the truth behind this stereotype. The people featured are either full Chinese, Korean or Japanese – no one is mixed. Suematsu’s disclaimer: “We are not here to make a statement; it’s a question.” While my own personal views of Suematsu’s creation range from amusement to relatibility, other Northwestern students’ opinions differ. “Some people would definitely think [the site] is racist,” says Medill freshman Alex Rudansky. “It doesn’t matter if an Asian created it. That’s like a Jew making a Hitler joke; I’m still offended by it.” While the web-site certainly does toy with racial categorizations, other students voice concerns about the actual purpose of the site. Stefanie Groner, a Medill freshman says, “I’m not sure what kind of point they’re trying to prove. People think they can categorize different races, but in the end, there’s no good way to do this.” Here’s another urban myth—Asians can tell other Asians apart. Of 10 students I surveyed, the highest score was nine out of eighteen, achieved by a Caucasian; the lowest was five out of eighteen, scored by an Asian. In fact, Asians surveyed only scored between five and six, while other Caucasians’ scores ranged from five to nine. Is this popular conception of similarity among Asian races mirrored in the Western world? Is it easier to tell an Italian from a French individual than a Japanese from a Korean? Suematsu puts forth the answer from the start: it’s actually still a question. Stereotypes of white ignorance may logically stem from true experiences, but the distinctions between races and perceptions of these races are extremely blurred from the outset. There’s no hard and fast rule for looking Chinese. And when it comes to such subjective distinctions, generalizations are seldom the answer. Well, except this one: Azn pride. photo courtesy of



nuAsian winter 2010

E m p o w e r i n g OLLABORATION entertainment

For 10 years, Kollaboration has brought Asian Americans together to celebrate creativity and community—join the movement, feel the empowerment and enjoy the entertainment. by Bettina Chang


ou’re sitting in front of has expanded its scope to other Kollaboration boasts a wide Although Kollaboration the TV, attempting to do cities in the U.S. and Canada as array of alumni who are now technically is a competition, the some reading for class well as the entire Asian Pacific becoming mainstream. Past organization is set up so everywhile a rerun of Scrubs plays Islander community. performers include hip hop one wins, from the competitors in the background. The comJane Oh, a Communication artists Far*East Movement, to the staff to the audience. mercial break starts, and you senior at Northwestern, has who are now opening for LM“Kollaboration is run by reluctantly turn your eyes people who want to back to the blue Quartet empower,” Oh says. Copies booklet but some“Everyone has their thing catches your eye— own dreams as artists, could it be? Was the man filmmakers, singers, sitting behind the desk in but we don’t even that insurance commerpromote ourselves, cial Asian? we promote others. If you’re like most It’s really about colcollege-aged Asian Amerlaborating with other icans today, this moment people and doing is worthy of celebration. something beyond Many of us grew up with themselves.” very few Asian American Oh stresses that role models in the media, ChiKollaboration and although portrayneeds the support of als of minorities have the Northwestern stuimproved in the past few dent community. As a years, it’s still a small vicnon-profit organizatory whenever an Asian tion, the shows run American appears on primarily on donaPhoto courtesy of Jane Oh the screen without nuntions and often end up Kollaboration judges and staff from Los Angeles and Chicago pose with Northwestern’s chucks or a kimono. losing money. Getting KASA members. NU KASA has worked extensively with ChiKollaboration. In 2000, a group of volunteers to dedicate Korean Americans gathered been working for Chicago KolFAO, and America’s Best Dance their time and energy to an anin Los Angeles to rectify this laboration (ChiKollaboration) Crew winners Quest. Internet nual show is a daunting task, lack of media representation for three years. Oh is part of sensations David Choi, David but Kollaboration staff say it’s a with “empowerment through the community team in ChiElsewhere and Phil Yu have labor of love. entertainment.” Thus, Kollabocago, and she videotapes the participated at Kollaboration “It’s a family,” Oh says, “a ration was born. Led by Paul performances in Chicago and shows, and celebrity guests community that you can’t get “PK” Kim, the organization Los Angeles. have ranged from Battlestar anywhere else. That’s why, no sought to encourage creative “Coming from white suburGalactica’s Grace Park to Pink matter what I end up doing, I’ll expression, communication bia, I didn’t know that much Power Ranger Patty Le. always go back.” and community among Koabout Asian Americans and the rean Americans with an anmovement that was going on For more information on auditions and event dates, nual contest to showcase their [in the entertainment indussee, or join the ChiKollabomany talents. Since the first try],” she says. “It kind of blew Kollaboration show in 2000, it my mind … how many talented ration team by e-mailing Jane Oh at janepakoh@ now attracts upwards of 6,000 Asian American artists there people to its biggest shows and are that we can promote.”

nuAsian winter 2010

Soap Box

What do you like most about your heritage? Students share their thoughts on the importance of their heritage

“ ” ”

I really appreciate that my first language is Chinese since it is very hard to learn and the culture is very hard to understand for people who aren’t Chinese. The food is amazing because there are so many different types.

Ye Hong WCAS 2012

I consider myself Korean-Korean more than I consider myself Korean-American. I pretty much love everything about my heritage: food, people, plants, trees, buildings, cities, and technology. Angela Kim SESP 2012

” “

I love being Taiwanese because the food in Taiwan is very good. It combines food from different cultures, but also adds a flavor of its own.

“ ”

Filipino-American culture is very welcoming and performance-based. I can share my culture in a that’s very universally appealing. AJ Aguado Comm. 2010

George Liu McCormick 2011

I really like sharing our food, rather than just eating one meal per person all alone. Lisa Guo Comm. 2013

Gokila Pillai WCAS 2012

I like the idea of respecting elders. In Korean, I know how to speak formally to adults, but in English, I don’t know how. And Korean food! Compared to American food, it’s a lot better for you. Stephanie Kim Medill 2013

The thing I like best about being an Indian-American is the ability to combine the best of both cultures.

” “

I am really proud of my heritage because my country is prospering and my studying abroad experience as an international student has made me more aware of my cultural identity.

Xinxin Li WCAS 2012 photos taken by Hyungjoo Han, Nathalie Tadena, Katie Zhu



nuAsian winter 2010

Five Things You Missed

Q: What are three things you would take to an island? A: My guitar, my dog (a Jack Russell Terrier named Capo) and a machine that makes beer.

News in the APA Community


NU police officer Freddie Lee filed a racial harrassment complaint against the school in September. The Chinese-American officer was suspended and later terminated from the force in October, said Lee’s wife, Jenny.


In November, President Barack Obama made his first trip to Asia, meeting with leaders in Japan, China, Singapore and South Korea.


Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao won the WBO World welterweight championship, defeating Miguel Cotto and earning his seventh world title.


NU junior Jessica Lin was named the 2010 Miss Friendship Ambassador, in a pageant organized by the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.


John Liu became the first Asian-American elected to citywide office after winning New York City’s comptroller race. He was sworn into office in January.

Q: What was the first song you learned on guitar? A: “Wild Thing” or “Free Fallin’.” Q: What’s your favorite NRB (noraebang or Korean karaoke room) song? G: “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”! Q: Finish the sentence: “Music___________” A: “…is what I’ve been given to explain myself and explain different experiences to others.”


Sam Kang by Ashley Kim Singer/ songwriter Sam Kang has proven himself to be more than your typical MySpace musician. In 2008, the SoCal native released his latest album, “Geunjin’s Place,” and he recently finished filming a music video with Wong Fu Productions. In December, Kang released a music video for his single, “Red Light.” Geunjin, Kang’s stage name, is his Korean namesake given by his father. According to Kang, his songs encapsulate his experiences as a Korean-American trying to find his identity.

Q: What goes on in your head right before you perform? A: Don’t mess up. And make sure they get the message. Q: What’s the hardest part about being an Asian -American artist? A: The more mainstream you go, the more disadvantages. A lot of people don’t know Asian culture. So they see you and base their Asian culture experience through you. They say things they shouldn’t say and look down on you because they don’t know you. But they learn through you. It’s definitely difficult as an Asian American, but you have to take on people. It’s a gift more than a burden. Q: How did your parents feel about you and music? A: As long as my music didn’t interfere with school. Sometimes they hid my guitar in their closet. So I would sneak and play next to the window near the driveway so I could hide it when my parents pulled in. Q: What do you think you represent in the Asian -American community? A: Just being an artist is difficult because it’s so against Asian culture. It’s not really what I do but why I do it. If I don’t do it…someone out there will someday. But I do this today and can inspire someone else today. Q: Why did you create the Monday for Monday tours? (Every Monday, Kang uploads a new song to his YouTube channel, GeunjinMusic.) A: Monday is that day when people think of going back to work, and I wanted to give them something else to look forward to. Q: How was performing at NU’s Korean American Student Association show this year? A: I’ve never been to NU before so it was great to gather a bunch of Asians there. It was good; a very new experience. Q: How do you want to be remembered when people think of Sam Geunjin Kang? A: That I was honest. That I was able to serve other people through music.

nuAsian winter 2010

Cultural Caring

Students bring community and fun to adopted children

by Katie Park


n the morning of Halloween, Northwestern students gathered with children adopted from China to paint pumpkins, make masks and learn about Chinese culture. This gathering was part of a playgroup event for China Care, a student group that fundraises for orphans in China and provides cultural programming for Chicagoarea children who have been adopted from China. China Care co-president Molly Chen said playgroups, where the children usually do arts and crafts and learn about Chinese holidays and customs, give the children and their parents a venue to form a community. “The kids who have been adopted may

have some questions about their identity, so we’re here to help them understand their culture and heritage as well,” Chen said. “They get to see kids that are also similar to them, so that way they form a community and the parents can network with each other.” But another important goal of the playgroups, according to co-president David Yao, is just to let the children have fun. “I think as kids, you definitely just want to have a blast with whatever you’re doing, just to enjoy life to its fullest,” Yao said. “I think that we definitely help these children just have a lot of fun.” Jill Schroeder, who brought her daughters Julia, 10, and Emily, 5, said she wants her daughters—especially her older daughter— to maintain a connection with their culture.

“I think it’s important to her to just have a little bit of that,” Schroeder said. “You can’t take the Chinese out of her—she’s American, but she’ll still be of Chinese origin.” Schroeder said she would like her daughter Julia to be involved with China Care’s mentorship program, which pairs older children with Northwestern students to provide role models for the children. In addition to hosting playgroups and mentorship events, Yao said China Care sponsors surgeries for orphans with disabilities in China. “There are so many Chinese orphans in China who are unfunded,” he said. “They’re kind of just left there, and no one takes care of them. We just try to help one child at a time, just because there’s so many of them.”



nuAsian fall 2009

Across the

GLOBE by Annie Chang

nuAsian fall 2009 The past few months have been some of the hardest for Weinberg freshman Birong Wang. Last September, Wang packed up her life in Shanghai, China, and flew halfway across the world to attend Northwestern. “I’m still seeking methods to adjust,” she confesses. “It comes from yourself – you have to force yourself to talk to people, get involved in class discussions and meet new people.” Wang is one of more than 2,000 international students from 140 different countries at Northwestern. The university saw an increase in international students in the class of 2013 especially, with about 6.6 percent of this year’s freshmen coming from foreign countries. Wang said the large international community made it easier to find her niche at Northwestern and feel more at home. “Most of my friends here are from China, too. We always speak Chinese when we’re together,” she says, adding that she has picked up Chinese friends “all over” campus as well as a few American friends from her classes.

She says having friends from China has greatly helped her transition because she often feels disconnected from the American students on campus. “During activities, like when everyone wore costumes on Halloween, I didn’t feel part of it,” she says. “We don’t cel-

China’s 60th birthday. “Going to the events help me relieve my nostalgic feelings, and kind of gives me a place to belong,” she says. Several other Northwestern student groups also offer similar resources for international students.

I’m still seeking methods to adjust... . You have to force yourself to talk to people, get involved in class discussions and meet new people. ebrate it in China. You get the feeling that you don’t share the culture, the vernacular.” Wang has found comfort in the Chinese International Association, a campus group made up mostly of students from mainland China. She says she met many of her friends at CIA events, some of which included visiting Chinatown, singing karaoke in Chicago and painting the Rock in honor of

The Chinese Student Association’s main objective is spreading awareness of the Chinese culture to the entire Northwestern campus, but it also offers a place for foreign students. “I definitely meet a number of international students in the group,” says Weinberg junior Michelle Chou, president of CSA. “The international students we have embrace both

cultures – it’s really easy to get along with everyone.” Chou says CSA holds many events geared towards broader audiences, such as Dumpling Night, but also holds more traditional Chinese celebrations, like the Moon Festival. “We try to bring Chinese authenticity to our events,” she says. Though CSA members are “really welcoming,” Chou says there are some differences between American-born Chinese and native Chinese students within the group. “I think there sometimes is an invisible barrier, with language differences and cultural differences,” Chou says. CSA social chair Stephanie Leung says she doesn’t feel that the differences between Asians and Asian-Americans within CSA are that significant. “It’s really obvious for some people, but a lot of people we have in CSA have been in the USA at some point in their lives,” says the Weinberg sophomore Leung. “There isn’t that big of a difference.” As a Chinese-American born and raised in California but living in Hong Kong for the past ten years, Leung can relate to both sides of the spectrum.

WHO’S WHO BIRONG WANG Weinberg freshman Shanghai, China



nuAsian fall 2009

KAY SHIN Weinberg sophomore Seoul, South Korea

Photos by Nathalie Tadena

She says adjusting to life on an American campus was only a matter of attitude. “I feel like it’s more the mindset you come with,” she explains. “If you come with the mindset of, ‘People won’t understand me,’ you will only hang out with people who you think do.” McCormick freshman Roy Lu, who considers himself “half-international,” is in the inverse situation. Born in Taiwan, Lu moved to California when he was 14. But like Leung, he says the extra years in the United States gave him an advantage in adjusting to life on campus. “I don’t feel separated from non-internationals at all,” he says. “Most of my friends are actually from the states and I’ve had opportunities to explore Greek life.” Another major resource for students is the university’s International Student Association, a student group that aims to make the transition to the new environment as smooth as possible for foreign students. “The first main mission of ISA is to be a resource for international students here on campus and help them adapt to life at Northwestern,” says Weinberg senior Alex Jeffers, president of ISA and an international student from France. He says there are four main

areas that international students have to deal with: social, linguistic and academic. ISA organizes several social and cultural events throughout the year, its most important being the International Student Orientation, which is held prior to Wildcat Welcome Week each year. During this program, which is sponsored by the university’s International Office, students are able to meet

sist international students and scholars, resolve immigration issues, orientation programming, and anything else they would need while they’re here,” says Ravi Shankar, Director of the International Office at NU. The International Office has three advisors who work with international students, Shankar said. “Our goal is to see international students academically

I’m still seeking methods to adjust... . You have to force yourself to talk to people, get involved in class discussions and meet new people. other international freshmen, familiarize themselves with the campus, and buy dorm necessities on organized shopping trips, Jeffers says. The International Office is an administrative resource for international students, helping them deal with with the bureaucratic side of living in America. “Our main purpose is to as-

successful,” he says. Weinberg sophomore Kay Shin met many students during the International Student Orientation last year whom she still considers good friends. “Asian international students are infamous for sticking together,” she laughs. “I admit it.” She says she has also met several people through the

Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences program and has hung out with “lots of different groups,” which she says she believes is healthier. It has been more than a year since Shin first moved to Northwestern from Seoul, South Korea, but she still feels homesick from time to time. “Just being away from my family and home, that is really hard for me. There’s a culture shock – the college culture, everything is so different here,” she says. She also recalls the difficulties being the only international student on her floor in Allison. “I don’t think my roommate wanted an international roommate,” she says. “She didn’t want to talk to me.” She moved to Hobart after fall quarter, where she says she related to many more people – the dorm houses a significant number of international residents. A year later, Shin is actively involved with her church in Chicago and, though she hasn’t completely adjusted to life in America, she says she feels “much more comfortable.” She says her friends have helped her a lot. Wang agrees. “I’m glad I came to Northwestern, despite the difficult experiences,” she says.

nuAsian winter 2010

Breaking Down the Indo - Pak Conflict by Pavan Krishnamurthy


ince the partition of India in 1947, there have been three major wars and hundreds of small skirmishes between India and Pakistan. Even though the region of Kashmir, which borders both Pakistan and India, was predominantly Muslim, post-partition politics made it economically strategic for Kashmir’s ruler to sign the Instrument of Accession. And with the establishment of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, the conditions became perfect for major and continual war that has claimed millions of lives to date. In terms of contemporary South Asian politics, the stakes have only increased with time. With the 2006 Mumbai Train Bombing, October’s International Islamic University bombing, increased Taliban presence in India and Pakistan, tensions have never been higher. And while, these tragic incidents were not directly perpetrated by either government, it forces populations to align themselves with one side – dichotomizing rhetoric has become commonplace. However, what seems to be the most frightening aspect of this situation is that both sides have tested and established large stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and neither India nor Pakistan has acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Just recently, India began sea trial of its nuclear submarines and to maintain nuclear parity Pakistan has used the last 10 years to double the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal that is believed to be targeted towards an attack on India. The problem with nuclear proliferation is that it puts both countries on high alert. Generals on either side understand that their country can be wiped off the map. Due to proximity of the countries a potential strike would arrive in minutes, leaders have a limited amount of time and fear of losing second-strike capabilities may spark escalatory nuclear conflict. Four years ago I traveled to Ladakh, (a part of Indian controlled Kashmir), and what I saw there was quite surprising. There were no traces of Hindu or Pakistani

culture; instead, there was a stronghold of Tibetan and Buddhist practices – from the temples, to the food, to the dialects. It seemed like I was in the eye of a hurricane. The people felt quite strong about the situation and often sided with the idea of self-determination – which to me has always made sense to me. Unfortunately, these types of decisions are rarely left to whom they concern the most. A group of people should not be forced to assimilate to a state that does not share their cultural beliefs. From my own experience and understanding of the

dwell on all the time.” So, where does that leave the everyday (South Asian) Northwestern student? Even though this conflict involves more than a sixth of the world’s population, we have become so far removed from the act of war that it seems more like a simulation or a bad movie than reality. The evaporation of cities now just takes the click of a button. As a generation who has experienced what some have called “perpetual war” with the Gulf War, September 11th, the War on Terror, Afghanistan, and Iraq – sadly, concern for the India-Pakistan conflict may take a back seat in our daily lives. Sanitized to images of violence, the cycles of military and institutional violence may seem an inevitable, considering the major choices of war are left in the hands of the upper echelons of the government and armed forces. I too am also guilty of this type of ignorance and cynicism. It is always easier to forget than remember. It is always easier to speak against than act. It may be easy to overlook the IndoPak conflict when we do not hear the bullets that are fired in the name of liberation, but just because we are on the other side of the ocean does not mean that there is no hope to resolve this conflict. Increased globalization has made this world ever more interconnected. Policies that the United States peruse can directly affect the rest of the world, for example, the United States policy to maintain its ability to “first use” nuclear weapons is cited by the Pakistani government when justifying its program. Increased trade and economic ties now make it easier for us to influence the actions of others. Even at an individual level, we have a choice in our endorsements; we can vote with our checkbooks. Some of us can even go into careers that specialize in peace process. Awareness is the first step. It is such a waste that two populations that share a rich history of cooperation and culture, face such dire implications. What would be worse though, is if we sat idly and watched it happen.

We have become so far removed from the act of war that it seems more like a simulation or a bad movie than reality. conflict, it seems like much of the violence is rooted in vestigial xenophobia and racism and driven largely by politics. This self-fulfilling prophecy reinforces discrimination and is passed on generation-to-generation instigating more conflict. I was able to talk to a few Northwestern students to see what they thought. Weinberg sophomore Maya Bhardwaj said “she felt that both sides are to blame to a certain extent” and that “many people from both countries are very upset with the way the situation had been handled”. Another student, Uzair Qarni, a McCormick sophomore, also said “discrimination and racism is perpetrated on either side of the border, which is a shame because cooperation has so much more to offer.” Sunanda Katragadda, a McCormick junior admits, “even though the conflict is so serious, it’s obviously something I can not think about or



nuAsian winter 2010

Looking back on history by Elise De Los Santos Fourteen years ago, students at Northwestern hungered for change – literally. On Nov. 13, current students, alumni and faculty members from NU and other universities celebrated the 10th anniversary of Asian American Studies at NU, a program that exists today because of the efforts made by students in the mid- to late-1990s. Students began lobbying for an Asian American Studies program in 1995. The Asian American Advisory Board dedicated itself to composing and submitting a proposal to the Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences for the creation an Asian American studies minor. “It was a 200-page proposal,” said Tedd Vanadilok, director of Asian/Asian American student affairs at NU. “It could be held, shared and presented with administration and students on campus and campuses nationwide.” Despite the passion the students involved had for the proposed program, the administration did not share their eagerness, citing many logistical issues as barriers to the creation of a new program, such as budget constraints and staffing concerns. The students, unprepared to lessen their demands, took the next step in trying to gain support for their cause. In April 1995, students began a hunger strike that attracted the attention of media and other college campuses across the country. According to Vanadilok at the Nov. 13 celebration, the hunger strike was conducted in shifts, where students would rotate abstaining from food for a few days. Student morale soon wavered, however. “The system broke down because the administration was not paying attention except to the health of individual students

Photo by JoelZimmer

involved,” Vanadilok said. Some criticized the rotation schedule of the hunger strike, arguing it compromised the strike and weakened its message. Charles Chun, a student at the time, was one of these critical voices. Chun participated in the hunger for 12 consecutive days, abstaining from food the entire time. The hunger strike ended 23 days after it began with no move from the administration to change their stance, but the dedication of the students garnered support from others. “They received support from brothers and sisters in other communities … African-American, Latino-American, the LGBT community,” Vanadilok said. “The stories are the same, the actors are different.” It took four more years for the Asian American Studies program to become a minor in Weinberg, but the struggle did not end there. The new program had few faculty and resoures and was literally starting from the ground up. “We had nothing,” said Prof. Ji-Yeon Yuh, director of the Asian American Studies program. “We had the three courses I was teaching and a small office in the basement of University Hall.” But from the 1999-2000 school year, the program grew from offering one course per quarter through the history department to offering several courses a quarter through the sociology, political science, gender studies and English departments. As the decade progressed, the program was able to offer more classes under its own title, Asian American Studies. To minor in Asian American Studies, a student must complete with a grade of C- or higher five core classes in Asian American Studies, one elective course in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


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and another elective course in Race and Ethnicity Studies. According to Yuh, the program now offers students choices from 12 to 19 courses a year, with classes that are constantly filled. “Ten years later, it is thriving,” Yuh said about the Asian American Studies program. “It is the best in the country.” Yuh informed the attendees of the 10th anniversary celebration that the doctoral program was also flourishing and that the program was in the process of developing an undergraduate major. Yuh credited the growth of the program to its faculty, who are “enthusiastic about expanding,” and students, who are “expanding the scope of ethnic studies.” “Asian American studies is not simply studying people of Asian descent here in America or the Americas,” Yuh said. “We’re really talking about the diversity of people and cultures.” The Nov. 13 event featured two panels with speakers who addressed not only Asian American issues but similar and connected issues in a diversity of other cultures. The panelists came from many areas of ethnic studies, including Latina and Latino, Islamic, Native American and African American studies and included faculty from NU, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Michigan. The keynote speaker,

Yen Le Espiritu, is the chair of ethnic studies at the University of California at San Diego. Yuh said the appeal of ethnic studies and its continued success and growth at NU and other universities is its applicability beyond class and campus life. “It is a way to vitally link the University and real life community,” Yuh said, “to link what you’re studying in the classroom to what your life experiences are outside the classroom.” Sophomore Deborah Kim, who took Yuh’s Asian American history class Fall Quarter, said the course affected her on a personal level. “The class forces you to think about your identity as an Asian American,” Kim said. Kim said she thinks the Asian American studies program plays a critical role in filling a gap in most people’s education. “Generally, you didn’t learn any of it in American history in high school,” Kim said. “And since Asians are becoming more important in the United States, I think it’s important — especially for me as an Asian — to know about this culture.”

“Ten years later, it is thriving...It is the best in the country.”


Photos courtesy of Greg Jue, Phuong Nguyen and the Asian American Studies Department



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Ji-Yeon Yuh by Renee Lee

Ji-Yeon Yuh has been the Director of the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern since 2005. Yuh was born in Korea, and grew up in NU-neighboring Rogers Park. After studying cognitive science at Stanford, she worked as a journalist for a few years before pursuing history at the University of Pennsylvania. She talks about her experiences witnessing racism and sexism in the workplace and about the growth of NU’s Asian American Studies Program.

Q: Can you tell me about how the Asian American Studies Program started here? A: It began in April 1995 with a hunger strike. At that time we had no classes of Asian American Studies. [A group of students] had this hunger strike. It was an action that was supported by a bunch of other groups on campus, not just Asian Americans attended. That strike ultimately failed. Q: It failed? A: Well, the school had only promised to look into the students’ concerns more seriously. It wasn’t until a year or two later that the university did more visible things that really made the program.

Q: What kind of stuff did you do as a journalist? A: I was at the Omaha World-Herald and was the Chief Agricultural Reporter. Then I was at Newsday, mostly covering immigrant communities. I also did editorial writing at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Q: You were a major part of an incident at Newsday involving racism and sexism. Can you tell me about that? A; This was an incident with Jimmy Breslin. He was a Pulitzer awardwinning columnist at Newsday. In one of his columns, he made some sort of link between wives and female parking meter readers. He said women were only fit for being at home. I thought, why should derogatory ideas about women be presented as funny? He threw a tantrum when I criticized it, and yelled all kinds of racial and sexist slurs against me.

Q: Did you ever hesitate when you spoke out against him? A: I was young, just three years out of college, and I didn’t really stop to think about it. I was annoyed and very disappointed. His ideas of being racist had only been about blacks. He had no idea about the racism against Asians.

Q: Since then, do you think racism against Asians or other racial groups has changed? A: It really hasn’t changed that much. I think you still see the basic kinds of attitudes. I think there’s been an increase in interest of Asian women. An increase in “Yellow Fever,” really. Just because you’re dating interracially, you’re not really multicultural in a good sense. Some of it is predicated on racist ideas.

Q: How is the Asian American Studies Program right now? A: It went from zero faculty to four full-time faculty members. Two are tenured, one is in tenure review and the other will be given tenure in a few years. Our courses are full and we have a handful of minors. It’s growing.

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Exploring Argyle Pho and beyond by Katie Zhu


hoebox-sized storefronts housing everything from lucky bamboo to bubble tea, from pho (pronounced “fuh”) to karaoke CDs, line Argyle Street – Chicago’s very own “Little Saigon.” But don’t let the dinky appearance fool you; remember, good things come in small packages. The Argyle neighborhood, stretching from Sheridan to Broadway, is a predominantly Vietnamese community, although the plethora of Chinese, Thai, Cambodian and French-Vietnamese ethnic restaurants and cafes demonstrates an eclectic mix of cultures. On the corner of Argyle and Winthrop stands a magnificent 100-foot depiction of 100 years of immigration and daily life on Argyle Street. The Roots of Argyle mural is a communityproduced masterpiece: designed by community members and realized by Brother Mark Elder and his students from DePaul University, reinforcing the image of America as a “melting pot” of various cultures and ethnicities. “Welcome” is displayed in the immigrants’ native languages. Doorway arches labeled for various time periods, 1980–1960, 1960–1940, 1940–1920 and 1920–1900, represent five generations of immigrants passing from their home country into the “plaza of Argyle Street History.” Argyle has one of the city’s largest Asian populations, according In the early 1970s, Chicago restaurateur Jimmy Wong started developing his “Chinatown North” between Sheridan and Broadway. Alderman Marion Volini and Charlie Soo were also involved in the Argyle Street revival. Volini, a political architect, worked alongside Wong and Soo, a businessman and founder of the Asian American Small Business Association, was nicknamed “mayor of Argyle Street.” Although Chinese immigrants were the first to commercialize



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Photos by Katie Zhu

Argyle Street, the once ethnically homogeneous neighborhood exploded with diversity in 1975. Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai and Laotian immigrants settled in Argyle to escape many of the wars that plagued Southeast Asia, starting businesses and prompting the neighborhood to flourish into what we know it as today. Cultural juxtaposition is evidenced in all aspects of the neighborhood. The Argyle El stop, guarded by traditional Chinese gates, symbolizes the threshold of cultures to be traversed in entering Little Asia. Immediately after exiting the station, establishments such as Viet My Video and Tan-Thanh Book and Gifts allure customers with their flashy neon lights and “everyday sales.” Across the street, the smell of freshly baked Thai pastries permeates the air. Storefronts flashing Hong Kong Fashion, boba, Asian souvenirs and jewelry work collectively to create a distinct cultural amalgamation, one that cannot be found elsewhere. Perhaps the best embodiment of this ethnic fusion is Thai Nam Market Center. Sitting one block south on Broadway, this grocery store stocks anything and everything Asian: rice, rice cakes, soy sauce, sriracha hot sauce, curry, noodles, bamboo shoots and live crab and lobster. On the surface, the draw of Argyle seems to be its cuisine. However, restaurants serving pho, bubble tea and Thai noodles are only half the story. This cultural neighborhood is also home to various non-profit organizations specifically targeted to the Asian community. One such organization is the Vietnamese Association of Illinois, a non-profit organization that caters to low-income families in the Vietnamese community. They undertake various projects, such as “Home Maker” to care for the elderly as well as two youth

programs (one for younger children and another for older). VAI also sponsors a health program for those on Medicare, Medicaid and the uninsured, in addition to an employment program and English as a Second Language courses. Tim Vu, an employee of the Vietnamese Association, works with the youth program, predominantly the older kids, and the mental health program to assist those in need. Vu, a graduate of North Park University (nearby on Foster), found the philanthropic nature of the Association to be an irresistible draw. “I worked in advertising right after graduation. And it was everything I ever wanted, but I couldn’t stand not helping people. I also wanted to polish my broken Vietnamese, so this place was the perfect opportunity for me,” Vu says. On Argyle, there is also the Chinese Mutual Aid Association, a non-profit organization assisting Southeast Asian refugees in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. While the neighborhood is predominantly Vietnamese, Vu acknowledges it does also have a notable Chinese and Thai population, evidencing the cultural blend between the various Asian races. “The neighborhood provides a mix of Asian ethnicities so it is hard to distinguish who is who,” says Vu. “The restaurant owners of Pho Xua, which has a great mixture of Chinese and Vietnamese food, predominantly speak Chinese, but can definitely speak Vietnamese fluently. The owners of Furama, a dim sum Chinese restaurant, are the same way. I would make a safe bet [that] anyone who owns a business on Argyle and is Chinese in the neighborhood can also speak Vietnamese. Otherwise, they would [go out of] business if they could not communicate with the Vietnamese population.” Walking down Argyle Street, absorbing its abundance of restaurants, is likely to provoke one question: “How many pho

Across the street, the smell of freshly baked Thai pastries permeates the air.



nuAsian winter 2010

places does the neighborhood really need?” Yet Pho 777, Pho 888 and Pho 999—all unique in their own way—also highlight the shared ethnic bond in the neighborhood. Asians – be it Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, French-Vietnamese or Cambodian – rally around both cultural and social commonalities: shared heritage, as exemplified by The Roots of Argyle; good food, through the myriad of ethnic restaurants; and parallel community goals, as illustrated through the Vietnamese Association of Illinois. So when you go visit Argyle, don’t let the shoebox storefronts throw you off. There’s definitely more than meets the pho.

What the pho? The insider guide to top pho spots in Argyle

Pho. Not “fo,” as in “fo’ sho,” but “fuh.” It’s a Vietnamese beef noodle soup, combining tender beef strips, tripe and meatballs with noodles, fresh vegetables and bean sprouts, finally sprinkled with lemon, cilantro and other herbs into one bowl of bellywarming goodness. An Argyle native, Tim Vu, a North Park University graduate and employee of the Vietnamese Association of Illinois, shares his picks for the best places to get pho in the neighborhood. Pho 888 >> 1137 W. Argyle St., 773.907.8838 Pho 888 was rated No. 1 in Chicago by Time Out Chicago Magazine in 2009. Vu recommends the “ultimate” bowl – can’t go wrong with that. Pho Xua >> 1020 W. Argyle St., 773.271.9828 Pho Xua is Vu’s recommendation for the best combination of Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. “The name means old school,” Vu explains. Hai Yen >> 1055 W. Argyle St, 773.561.4077 “If you want a really authentic Vietnamese cuisine experience with really fresh vegetables, go to Hai Yen,” Vu encourages. Pho Viet >> 4941 N. Broadway, 773.769.1284 Boasting two flatscreen TVs, a stage and distinct artwork and lighting, Pho Viet is a “good place to go to just watch TV or a game,” Vu says.

Photo by SauceSupreme

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by Elise De Los Santos


hen I left my family to come to Northwestern, I didn’t expect to find another one – another Filipino family, that is. I’m 100 percent Filipino, but I don’t look it. Maybe it’s my height, or maybe it’s my un-petite body type, but people are always surprised when I say I’m Filipino. After watching me perform with other Filipino students in last year’s Pinoy Show, my own mother observed, “You know, you don’t really look Filipino. Everyone else looked a lot more Filipino than you.” When I asked her why I didn’t look Filipino, she answered, “I don’t know. You just look different.” I guess I am rather different – and not just in appearance. Culturally speaking, I’m sort of a halfway Filipino. Growing up, my opportunities to express my heritage were limited. In grade school, one of the few times I discussed my race was when I did a report on my cultural background. I made a poster illustrating my parents’ journey to the United States— basically a map showing how they flew in. There were no boats, no Ellis Island, no Europe. My parents had come to America, not my great-grandparents. I was aware my heritage was different from everyone else’s, but I wasn’t sure how to express this difference or if I should express it at all. Even among Filipinos, I didn’t feel Filipino. The big draw to any Pinoy event is the food. While many Filipinos – and non-Filipinos – cannot resist a perfectlyroasted lechon dish or stir-fried pancit noodles, I am not one of them. I don’t like Filipino food. Admitting this is the worst sort of blasphemy a Filipino can commit, but it’s true. My mom is a great cook and there is always at least one Filipino dish on

the dinner table, but I prefer the dry and tries to figure out what exactly it means to the bland, which Filipino food is not. be a Filipino-American. Just when the relationship between “Filipino-American” is exactly the term the Filipino culture and me was looking I have been looking for to describe the pretty bleak, my luck changed. I came feeling of being “a halfway Filipino.” Then to Northwestern and joined the Filipino and now, I find myself at the crossroads of student group, Kaibigan. My cousin had two cultures with different values, and it is been in the group the tension between and encouraged the expectations of me to get these two cultures involved. I feared that makes growing everyone would up Filipinobe way more American difficult. Filipino than I I thought when was, and I would I was younger my show up as this parents didn’t ignorant, whitewant me to have washed girl from fun when they the ‘burbs who wouldn’t let me do knew more about things everyone European history else was doing, photo courtesy of Elise De Los Santos Elise and friends pose in front of the Rock, painted than Filipino but now I see their for Kaibigan, Northwestern’s Filipino cultural group. culture. But this situation from a was thankfully not the case. slightly different perspective. They too Being part of Kaibigan has exposed me were trying to reconcile the expectations to aspects of Filipino culture I’d only heard of two different cultures and had to make about from my parents in passing. In the their own way raising children in a new last year, I have seen dozens of Filipino country without examples to follow. In the dances performed and — strangely enough same way my parents relied on and shared — performed in a couple myself. I have experiences with other Filipino parents, I eaten more Filipino food in the last year can rely on others who are also trying to than I have in my entire life, and though I make their ways as Filipino-Americans, can’t honestly say I’ve liked every dish I’ve an identity I am now prepared to embrace tried, at least now I can say I’ve tried them. whole-heartedly. Better yet, I met people who were in As I told a friend who was visiting the same situation as me, who felt as me, I’m way more Asian than I was in out of touch with their Filipino side as I high school. Though she couldn’t tell the did. Non-Filipino members who enjoyed difference and didn’t understand what I learning about and celebrating Filipino meant by it, I can tell and I understand. A traditions helped me find a pride for my culture isn’t something you merely inherit. culture that had lain dormant for 19 years. You have to choose to be part of it and how Kaibigan also allowed me to connect you’re part of it. with other Filipino-Americans outside of Though I’ll never look or feel completely Northwestern, building a network that will Filipino, finally being in touch with my be terribly important as our generation Filipino-ness is good enough for me.



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diversity at Northwestern by Todd Kushigemachi


orthwestern University is nowhere near post-racial. In fact, we usually handle race issues as well as a Hollywood movie. The 2005 Best Picture Oscar went to a movie highlighting racial tension in Los Angeles entitled Crash. The filmmakers apparently thought outlining hyperbolic racial divisions would teach us something profound about race. But instead of challenging our assumptions, the characters reinforced stereotypes – examples include a Persian storeowner, a black car thief and a white racist cop. Because these characters all got along in the end, we all learned a little something about diversity, right? This simplistic approach to racial relationships is not far from the surface-level solutions suggested by a Sept. 18 e-mail by the Northwestern administration commenting on the campus’ diversity. Undoubtedly well-intentioned, it was a noble attempt at addressing important issues, but the rhetoric was ultimately misguided. Quite frankly, as a Japanese

American and a minority student, I was offended by the e-mail’s lack of depth and disappointed it would be accepted as a routine mass message. The media and institutions such as the university feed us simplistic solutions for

elusiveness of diversity. My fears about race attitudes at this university originate from my Wildcat Welcome week. We were subjected to a painfully condescending discussion about diversity. The meeting started off with an actor pointing at us in the audience and listing off racial slurs: “towel head,” “wetback,” “chink,” “nigger,” and the list went on and on. What felt like a manipulative high school lecture depicted racial tension as a mere list of words. Like the movie Crash, it attempted to reveal prejudices in such an ineffectively hyperbolic way. Racism is not someone calling me a Jap. Racism is the fact that someone even thought about calling me a Jap in the first place. The actors used childish provocation instead of encouraging us to critically think. This was all in the back of my mind early this fall as I opened the e-mail titled, “Diversity initiatives at Northwestern.” I was eager to see what our school had to say about “diversity.”The university was proud to announce it had “a significant increase

What felt like a manipulative high school lecture depicted racial tension as a mere list of words. race issues on a regular basis. But because race plays such a complex role in our lives, any discussion about diversity needs to be grounded in a sense of humility. This ongoing dialogue will be counterproductive unless everyone, especially the university, acknowledges their prejudices and the

nuAsian winter 2010 the obvious. When exploring other cultures, we must humbly admit the limitations of our knowledge and take the effort to realize the full extent of a particular culture. In a Nov. 6 forum on blackface and race, University President Morton Schapiro spoke to students about working towards diversity. Schapiro took the opportunity to boldly admit he needed to take concrete action as university president. His humility was a breath of fresh air. The president showed he was actually responsive to the student body. For possibly the first time, we were listening to an earnest appeal from a fellow human being, not the empty words of an institution. We can only hope this is a genuine sign of change in the

administration. No one is always right went it comes to diversity. This does not mean we should accept the status quo in fear of being wrong. Critically thinking about race is crucial, and this means getting past the simplistic Crash mentality. Just because a white cop saves a black woman from a burning car does not mean that racial injustice has been brought to an end. Similarly, making sure everyone has a token Black, Latino or Asian American friend is not going to solve the larger issues we are dealing with when we say “diversity.” I don’t expect anyone to have all the answers when it comes to race. I just don’t want the university pretending it does.

u e g p h w To ea nd con en ers av e’r ou ni s er o de p e fic ed st m r ec at e gl r n Am an tha and ic c and tive No ad ew t er inc t th ing ond se s. B rthw to h stud yo ic re e i xu a e ur an as inc of t tion al y cr est ve nts in ac stu e i om he -- ori ea ern you , w w t tr ti d n th ing or we ent ing is t ba elc v o e e n d a o a st uci en ts. e nu cla ld a stri tio a d o in ck! me ud n ga T m s n ve n iv te O t ,o e r n o s d yo e g g o ur nt yo em cre ber of fi ch to p f r rse act e o ca w ow the urs en ate of rs alle ro elig co w f th mp or n a el t. a stu t-y ng vid io m ith e us t f of ld, ; ta er o to Ple tru de ear es e a n a mu stu mo , an a or ki r so as ly nt u yo n nd ni d st d cu n et a r ng mu me e jo inc s of nd ur exc ge ty - ent imp to rr hn eli a sic on in lu c er as it og - d s w o ou in icu ic gio cou pe e w us siv olor gra sum ing ra ive ith rtan r re La la or n rs rf ho in e c , w du p le ph rs d t tu of tin r op rac wit e th orm lo ce am ith ate tio arn ic o ity iffe opp rni th o/ ti ia h w at a ok leb pu a s ns in ri of re or ng w e w a S ons l gr hi ed nce s o ra s t dr tud . T g e gin ra nt b tun st es id tu t o ch uc t r s tin ha am en ow nv , o ce a i ud h u h t c t an ern e a die is y p. yo ate at oun g th t g at ts, ar iro f po and kg ies ent c n o d s e u i r s ev of ra . W ea Ind a yo xp ds e d es c r om th m lit et rou you s, r en en fer y e re u lo d i b is p a en ic h n ce m s; of e u wit ed un ab re iffe ver eyo e in ar t g t t al p nic ds pl he or by opp rge h a , w fa ou s a ren sity nd th ed oal hat er ity, and t e m s ay re e in do ort yo ne ha ili t an diff t th of me e n o la , we bro pec of . a i in n Yo te n u u w ve ar o er a ou re um s a t co im ur res g s nit to m e , o the en n y r n b t y are de ive w mm po st tin o y ies tak ajo xpa r t r r t cu ou stu um er ear ex ns an ith u r ud g ou th e r nd he eg ltu ; a de be of A , h tre yo d t a a e e a a n n us ic n nt xp w t dv d ed his ion re tte nt rs fr as m ur ab at t p le er ill No an m ou to of th nd bod req ica a s ely ou ing art ad i- ha rth ta ino r ry th an in y ui n ig ve - g g b re er e t e r y s s

also includes the many aspects of my culture. On-campus groups at Northwestern do a good job of representing the various cultures on campus. These groups demonstrate the sense of diversity we have on campus, not mere skin tones, language and avoidance of racial slurs. As students, however, we must approach these groups understanding their limitations. For any given event, they can only scratch the surface of what a culture is truly about. Having grown up in a Japanese American household, I know there is more to being Japanese than sushi, samurai and anime, the latter which I do not even watch. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many Americans, my culture is reduced to

Diversity initiatives at Northwestern


...join us in celebrating the diversity of our student body by introducing yourself to someone who looks or sounds different than you....

1 new e-mail


in the number of students of color.” As a firm believer in combating systemic racism, I appreciated the university’s proactive attempts to correct the lack of ethnic diversity. However, as a “student of color," I was uncomfortable with their choice of words. They made the short-sighted assumption that race and ethnicity simply have to do with the color of one’s skin. This ignores the culture, history and complex sense of identity that comes with one’s background. Their dated rhetoric left an uncomfortable taste in my mouth, but maybe I was just being too sensitive. So I read on. This is when the e-mailed suggested that you “[introduce] yourself to someone who looks or sounds different than you.” I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I would find it dehumanizing if students came up to me simply because I look or sound different than them. My monolids, “yellow” skin and black hair should not be the sole reason that anyone approaches me. This is an implicit form of racial profiling in which I am judged, as Martin Luther King would have said, by the color of my skin rather than the content of my character. I am tired of people incorrectly guessing that I am Chinese or Korean when I am in fact Japanese-American. Next is the question of whether or not I speak Japanese, followed by a brief demonstration that they can say, “Konnichiwa!” I understand these people have good intentions of connecting with me. At the same time, the “good intentions” excuse can be used as a way to sugarcoat and perpetuate simplistic thinking about racial and ethnic identity. Ignoring race is irresponsible because it can solidify an oppressive status quo, but making race the sole basis of social interaction is dangerous and counterproductive. My racial and ethnic identity


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NU Asian Winter 2010  

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