Asian American Issues [January 2017]

Tune in to activism on the Stanford campus and issues around the nation! Our monthly newsletter highlights developments in politics, current events, culture and entertainment of interest to the Asian American & Pacific Islander alumni community.

1. Asian American Political Participation

2. Japanese Americans, Internment Camps & the Muslim Ban

3. Other National Politics

4. Activism at Stanford and in Higher Education

5. Representation in Pop Culture and Entertainment

6. Art, Culture, History & Miscellany

1. Asian American Political Participation

Political Participation: Asian Pacific Americans make up just 3-5% percent of voters today, but the numbers will only grow in the years to come. As the nation’s fastest-growing racial group and with a total population of 21 million today, AAPI voters have the opportunity to shape future elections, especially as margins of victory have narrowed in recent contests. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of AAPI casting ballots rose from 2 million to 3.9 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, yet this was less than half of the AAPI population eligible to vote. If population numbers can be translated into actual votes, the AAPI community could become a potent political force.

AAPI persons now constitute 5% or more of the citizen voting-age population in at least seven states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Washington. By 2040, one in every 10 Americans will be AAPI, and the number of AAPI voters could double to 12 million, the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund estimates.

Asian American voter preferences: An interesting infographic disaggregates the AAPI community’s preferences on a wide range of political issues in 2016, including how we planned to vote on issues across the nation. In the November election, the majority of AAPI voters broadly supported Clinton (by 65-75%), confirming a decisive shift in the past two decades that has seen the AAPI community become much less conservative than previously thought.

Voter access: Across the country, six new counties will provide voters with language assistance in Asian languages during elections, including Chinese (Contra Costa, CA and Malden MA), Vietnamese (Fairfax, VA and Tarrant, TX), Indian languages (Middlesex, NJ), and Cambodian (Lowell, MA).

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, translated ballots and voting materials must be made available if the Census Bureau “certifies that five percent or more than 10,000 voting-age citizens” in that county “speak an Asian language, have limited English proficiency, and have a higher illiteracy rate than the national illiteracy rate.” The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund estimates that nationwide, third of AAPIs fall in this category.

Gubernatorial race: California Treasurer John Chiang, a Taiwanese American, is running for governor in 2018, and has been buoyed by his campaign's efforts to tap into the Asian American donor base of “college-educated, high-net-worth voters.”


2. Japanese Americans, Internment Camps & the Muslim Ban

An amazing collection of images by famed photographer Dorothea Lange on the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. See  more here .

An amazing collection of images by famed photographer Dorothea Lange on the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. See more here.

Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from the United States has evoked painful memories for the Japanese American community, who are speaking out against race-based targeting. During World War II, about 120,000 people—mostly U.S. citizens—of Japanese descent “were incarcerated for no other reason than their ancestry.” The Japanese American Citizens League condemned comments by a Trump advisor who claimed that Japanese internment provides a historical rationale for banning Muslims today.

The Los Angeles Times featured the Tule Lake segregation center, “the biggest and most notorious” internment camp, as an example of how travel and national history intersect. It also published, then retracted, two controversial letters related to Japanese American internment. Some commentators have questioned whether we should shy away from debate for fear of “normalizing” abhorrent behavior, or if it would be better to engage these difficult questions head on.

View famed photographer Dorothea Lange’s collection of images of the camps and an interview with a scholar who hopes that conditions in America today would prevent injustice on this scale from happening again. Japanese American writer and producer Koji Steven Sakai is working on a film, “Executive Order 13800” that imagines what Muslim internment might look like.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, which advocates for AAPI issues, has requested a meeting with President-Elect Trump citing the group’s concerns about immigration, civil rights, and education. According to caucus leader Rep. Judy Chu of California, a Chinese American, the group’s “primary objective right now is to ask Trump not to establish any system that would unfairly discriminate against Muslims, such as a registry, which the president-elect said he supports. ‘This would be a serious invasion of Muslim-American civil liberties in this country,’ Chu said. “Much like how the Japanese were the target of the internment camp experience. They lost their civil liberties due to fear, hysteria and accusations of espionage. We cannot have that happen again.’”


3. Other National Politics

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan (ROC) speaking to President-Elect Donald Trump by telephone in early December. Taiwanese Americans have been both excited and apprehensive after the  event . They are  worried  about China's aggression and  fear  that Trump might treat the democratic island as a "bargaining chip." (Photo:  SCMP )

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan (ROC) speaking to President-Elect Donald Trump by telephone in early December. Taiwanese Americans have been both excited and apprehensive after the event. They are worried about China's aggression and fear that Trump might treat the democratic island as a "bargaining chip." (Photo: SCMP)

International phone call raises Taiwan's profile: President-Elect Donald Trump’s phone call with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan made international waves. Taiwanese Americans have been glad to see the profile of their homeland raised, but retain mixed feelings about Trump, despite his overtures to the democratic island.

Impact of the new presidency on AAPI communities: An NBC feature story unpacks “How Trump's First 100 Days in the White House Could Affect Asian Americans” in terms of immigration policy (including “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), healthcare, and a Supreme Court pick. The Los Angeles Times reports there are an estimated “1.5 million Asian immigrants” in the United States illegally, making them the second-largest group after those from Mexico and Central America. Some 416,000 persons are in California alone. However, the article finds that “shame” sometimes causes undocumented AAPI immigrants to remain silent instead of advocating for immigration policy reform.

Disaggregating AAPI statistics: The U.S. Department of Education gave grants to universities in Minnesota, Washington, and Hawaii to “improve data collection of Asian American Pacific Islander students” and help “identify effective practices to close achievement and opportunity gaps.” These were awarded through the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Data Disaggregation Initiative, which is “aimed at better accounting for the diversity in background cultures and languages in the AAPI community, as well as the wide variances in academic performance of those students.”


4. Activism at Stanford and in Higher Education

Stanford students protested during 2016 graduation against the university's handling of multiple sexual assault cases. Source:  East Bay Times . Many more photos of student posters held aloft during the Wacky Walk  here .

Stanford students protested during 2016 graduation against the university's handling of multiple sexual assault cases. Source: East Bay Times. Many more photos of student posters held aloft during the Wacky Walk here.

Sexual Assault: Stanford is in the news again over its handling of sexual assault allegations. The New York Times published a year-end investigative report about a female student’s case against a football player, who was allowed to remain on campus and on the team (including last week’s Sun Bowl victory)—despite the fact that a majority of a disciplinary committee found that he had committed sexual assault. Stanford’s statement in response to the story is here. KQED’s round-up of the university’s turbulent handling of rape cases includes an interview with Stanford law professor Michele Dauber. During last year’s Commencement Address and Wacky Walk, numerous students protested the University’s treatment of sexual assault survivors.

Faculty Sexual Harassment: Professor of Literature Michelle Karnes, who won the Dean's Award For Distinguished Teaching, also spoke out to The Guardian last month about leaving Stanford because of sexual harassment.

Leadership Diversity: The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) has chosen Indian American Ravi S. Rajan to lead the school, becoming the institute’s first API president. This may provide inspiration to the Stanford activist community concerned about more diverse representation among the university faculty and leadership, who run the “Who’s Teaching Us?” campaign.

Frank Wu, a professor at the UC Hastings College of the Law calls for Asian Americans to do more to fight discrimination and actively break through the glass ceiling.


5. Representation in Pop Culture & Entertainment

Donnie Yen is one of two major Asian characters in the new film "Rogue One - A Star Wars Story"

Donnie Yen is one of two major Asian characters in the new film "Rogue One - A Star Wars Story"

Asian Presence/Absence in Hollywood: Asian actors feature prominently in the new Star Wars film “Rogue One” and a growing number of AAPI actors star in television shows. The Angry Asian Man blog has counted all of them! Chinese-Canadian actor Hayden Szeto, recently starring in “Edge of Seventeen” discusses Asian Americans in the acting industry.

Whitewashing Asian Roles: This is encouraging news after a year of “whitewashing,” where Caucasian actors portray Asian characters. The controversial practice is also called “race bending.” Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead in “Ghost in the Shell,” a film adaptation of a popular anime set in Japan, which provoked outcry. In “Doctor Strange,” the Scottish actress Tilda Swinton plays a role originally intended to be a Tibetan mystic. Margaret Cho and Swinton later discussed why the issue was so distressing to the AAPI community.

Casting Mulan: Another problematic fate—the White Male Savior syndrome—might have befallen the new live-action “Mulan” film by Disney. An early spec script, featuring a white male lead who rescues Mulan, was leaked, provoking a ferocious backlash from the AAPI community. Disney had to deny that the film, whose script is being developed for a 2018 release, will have a white male lead. Oscar-winner Ang Lee commented “it’d be great to see an Asian” direct the film, as he had to turn down the offer due to other commitments. A second live-action Mulan film by Sony has already hired a non-AAPI director.

Perceptions of Asian American Males: The Mulan film is also an opportunity to elevate the portrayal of Asian American men as well as women. NPR reports on the representation of Asian American men as “weak and effeminate” and points to how a humorous short film, “It’s Asian Men!” challenges this stereotype. It spoofs “Magic Mike” with Asian males cast as sexually-desirable. The “Haikus On Hotties 2017” second annual calendar, featuring (shirtless) Asian males has made a splash with its attempt to change public perceptions.


6. Art, Culture, History & Miscellany

The newest iteration of Super-Man is a Chinese teenager named Kenan Kong. He was created by Gene Luen Yang, who discusses how Kenan came to be in this  interview on National Public Radio . Image source:  DC Comics

The newest iteration of Super-Man is a Chinese teenager named Kenan Kong. He was created by Gene Luen Yang, who discusses how Kenan came to be in this interview on National Public Radio. Image source: DC Comics


Honoring Asian American creative minds: Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang was named a 2016 MacArthur "genius" fellow this fall. The Taiwanese American artist is also National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and advocates for diversity in young adult literature. The newest issue of the Superman DC Comic he writes, featuring Kenan Kong from Shanghai as the title character, was released in December. Yang’s other graphic novels include "American Born Chinese," "Boxers and Saints," and "The Shadow Hero.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, associate professor at the University of Southern California, won the 2016 Pulitizer Prize in fiction for his novel "The Sympathizer,” which follows the stories of Vietnamese during the mid-twentieth century conflict. The non-fiction companion book, "Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War” was also nominated for the National Book Award.

“When the Sea Turned to Silver,” a novel for young adults by Grace Lin was a 2016 National Book Award finalist. The story is set in an “ancient, mythical China” where two children, Pinmei and Yishan, seek out the Lumionous Stone that Lights the Night and rescue Pinmei’s grandmother.

NBC also featured a number of works such as the essay collection "Good Girls Marry Doctors: South Asian American Daughters on Obedience and Rebellion" edited by Piyali Bhattacharya and “In the Tongue of Ghosts,” a book of poetry by Jade Cho.

“The Fortunes” by Peter Ho Davies, was selected as one of The New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of the year. Davies, of Welsh-Chinese extraction, teaches creative writing at the University of MIchigan. The novel’s four sections represent different characters and facets of the Chinese American experience. It spans the Gold Rush in the 1800s, actress Anna May Wong’s life in 1930s Hollywood; the 1980s, where Vincent Chin’s death sparked a political awakening for Chinese Americans; and present day.

Actor and LGBT activist George Takei was inducted into the California Hall of Fame. Takei, a Japanese American, played Sulu on the original “Star Trek” television series—one of the first instances of an actor of Asian descent playing an Asian character who is positively portrayed, rather than stereotypical.

History behind Chinese restaurants: MIT historian Heather Lee explains to Food Beast why there are more Chinese restaurants than McDonald’s in the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned whole categories of laborers from China, including miners and restaurant owners, from immigrating to the U.S. Only non-laborers, such as merchants, teachers and diplomats were allowed. However, “a New York court case ruling in 1915 would later uphold that a Chinese restaurant could be classified as a merchant, thus immediately giving the Chinese a new way to enter the country.”

To learn more about these stories, the Chinese Historical Society of America has a new exhibit on Chinese American Exclusion/Inclusion. SAPAAC will be organizing a guided tour and tea at the CHSA Museum in February. Please join us!

Museums and public art: The Seattle Asian Art Museum will undergo a major renovation in coming years and is in the process of taking public comments. In San Francisco, a memorial to “comfort women” will be built in a city park. It will honor women from different Asian nations who were forced into sexual service by the Japanese Army during World War II. The memorial will share the park with public artwork commissioned by the Chinese Cultural Center, and as a result, the artist making the Book of Rocks project has unfortunately withdrawn her work.

Asian Americans in sport: It should be clarified that while the late Sammy Lee was the first Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal, Victoria Manalo Draves was the first Asian American woman to do so, two days prior, at the 1948 Olympics.

After the holidays: Read a roundup of toys featuring Asian-American and Pacific Islander characters. Consult the “Flowers, Hotties, and Food: An Asian-American Gift Guide for 2016” for the Asian American activist in your life.

Compiled and edited by Kevin Hsu and Solina Kwan