I relate to you, now, a story told to me by my father.
The tie-dyed 60's. Civil Rights. (De)Segregation. Fact and de facto. Martin Luther King. A time when voices demanding hot crowds, taught police that the struggle for racial equality was, at the very least, water-proof. An era when the wall of "se parate but equal" was erected as a political subterfuge _ a phrase whose literal translation meant that some were more equal than others. But even then, during a period of significant social upheaval and profound change, many aspects of life stayed tradi tionally mundane. Professors still assigned papers and graduate students still scraped by on loans and scholarships.
My father, then a thirty-year-old graduate student at a small southern school, boarded a bus to get to his part-time job. He dragged his knapsack full of incomplete thesis outlines and overdue library books to the back of the bus and sat down. The bu s driver, watching through his rear view mirror, promptly pulled the bus off to the shoulder of the road. "Young man. Yes, you, young man," he yelled back to my father, "I can't drive the bus unless you sit up front. Only coloreds in back." My father, confused and somewhat amused by the situation, got up and sat in the front so he would not cause any further delay. By choosing the "wrong" seat, my Korean father had inadvertently become caught up in a web of issues which still entangle many of us today : When the line is drawn, when our hands are forced, do Asians consider themselves more white than a minority? More white than black?
As masters of assimilation, Asian Americans have learned to compete and succeed within the rules of the system, a way of life indelibly influenced by the teachings of Confucius and Buddha. We, the first and second generation, have grown up with the no tion that we should not make waves, that energy and effort should be spent in a constructive way to help and sometimes get ahead of others. Our immigrant parents, who often lacked the benefits of higher education, stressed to us the necessity of a colleg e education and even graduate school as a bare minimum. Today, the fruits of our parents' strict discipline are borne out in the numbers of Asian-American professionals across all fields and occupations. Many of us are on the way to living the American Dream. But have we lost anything in the transition? Is there a price we have paid for fitting in so perfectly?
This country has recently been undergoing an era of renewed racial and ethnic awareness as exemplified by the commercial and critical successes of, for the most part, African American film makers, such as Spike Lee and Robert Townsend and recording art ists, such as Public Enemy and Boyz II Men. As the burgeoning minority population threatens to become the majority in the coming decade, the tolerance for differences must also increase, if we are not to implode. In 1994, the United States is a recogniz ed melting pot of Asian peoples, a conglomeration of multicultural heritages. Yet, Asians are caught in a bind. In this country, we have been sitting on the fence in terms of racial identity. We have tried to work within the system, never demanding equ al rights for Asians. "Yellow is Beautiful" never crossed our minds and an Asian History Month has yet to be a national declaration. We have kept our voices low and kept out of the limelight.
During my year in Los Angeles working in the film industry, I often heard about the next wave of talent. Producers and directors conjectured that soon artists with Asian backgrounds would have their moment of glory. But I question whether that predic tion will ever materialize. I wonder if Asian Americans are too uncomfortable with the necessary focus on differences, too afraid of being seen as an outsider, to freely develop and tell our "stories."
If Asians are in essence already happily mixed in to the larger melting pot of all people in this country, can they be separated out? How can my father demand to sit in front of the bus if he has always been allowed to sit there? I struggle with these issues, realizing that there is a chameleon-like qu ality in being Asian American. I can be mainstream when I want to be mainstream, and an ethnic minority when I want to be part of a "out" group which happens to be "in" for the moment. As individuals and as a unified voice, Asian Americans must somehow come to terms with these conflicts and develop an identity. Asians and Asian Americans do have a unique perspective on the world and our stories need to be told. As much as we are a part of the American public, we have much to share with the other membe rs. Writers, such as Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, are beginning to gain wider attention and others are certain to follow.
In the meantime, the first step is to explore the various ways Asian Americans are viewed by non-Asians and how that differs from the way we view ourselves. A few weeks ago, I had a physical examination at University Health Services. My physician put the letter "C" in the space for Race on my records. I surmised, "Maybe it was for CaucASIAN?" Puzzled, I left the office assuming that the physician knew best, after all being a doctor was the best job in the land (according to my parents). I inferred that Caucasian was close enough to Asian for medical purposes. But what if she had written "B" for Black? Would I have questioned her? Why not an "A"? I should have asked. The road to developing a self-identity and a group identity starts with askin g difficult questions. Suddenly, rocking the boat doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
The 1990's will be an exciting period during which we will see the emergence of Asian Americans, coming together to flex their combined muscle. We are entering a time when we will be in positions to make ourselves be heard; we just have to decide on t he message.
Sandra Lee went to Havard College and received her M.B.A. from University of Virginia. This article originally appeared in November 1992 issue of 2nd Generation.
Americans celebrate more than Independence Day on the Fourth of July. This nation of diversity also honors the enduring Spirit of 1776, the ideal that "all men are created equal." As the country marks the 217th anniversary of its birth, it has a lot to be proud of, according to Professor Ronald Takaki, a leading U.S. historian. He says that America, a country of immigrants, has come a long way.
"All of us, whether or not our ancestors were present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, can make a claim on the Declaration, can make a claim on the Fourth of July," says Takaki. "We invented ourselves as Americans. This is our Fourth of July now."
Takaki, 54, a third-generation American of Japanese ancestry, has been a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California in Berkeley for over two decades. His latest book, "A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America" (Little, Br own), was published in June. The professor admits the vision of the Founding Fathers wasn't perfect. "In 1776, when Thomas Jefferson wrote that famous statement -- "all men are created equal" -- he was not including African-Americans," says Takaki. "He was not including the native p eoples of America."
What Takaki calls the white "Anglo-centric" viewpoint had prevailed in the 13 British colonies. But the concept of individual freedom was firmly established. So was the idea of America as a society of immigrants. Rightly so, of course. Even the so-cal led Native Americans actually had migrated to this continent in prehistoric times from Asia. "Yeah, that's right," Takaki says. "Those were my ancestors, in a way."
Later arrivals didn't always find a home in America right away. The Naturalization Act of 1790, which defined the membership of the new republic, specified that only whites were eligible for citizenship. Not African-Americans. Not "domestic foreigners " -- as Indians were called.
But the Declaration of Independence started Americans on a democratic path that led to the U.S. Constitution, to the Bill of Rights and to much else. "I keep thinking about Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address," says Takaki, citing the Civil War president. "He said, 'Four score and seven years ago' this nation was 'dedicated to the proposition' -- referring to the Fourth of July now -- 'dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.' That was the idea that provided the vision."
America had emerged as a testing ground. Key question: In the words of modern historian Henry Steele Commager, "Can men of different races, tongues, and faiths live amicably side by side?" Takaki says "A Different Mirror" is an effort to trace the com ing together of U.S. peoples -- Native Americans, English, Africans, Irish, Asians, Jews, Latinos, etc. -- from various points of departure. "All of these groups earned the right to make a claim on the Fourth of July," Takaki reaffirms. "We helped to pr eserve this nation's dedication to the proposition of equality."
He points out, for example, that blacks also died in U.S. uniform in the Civil War, which was fought to preserve the Union and end slavery. During World War II, Japanese-Americans, like other minorities in the U.S. armed forces, went to Europe to figh t Nazi Germany, a foe described by Takaki as "the epitome of racism." In many cases, the families of those Japanese-American soldiers were interned at that time in U.S. camps.
Takaki can identify closely with their brand of patriotism. "I'm not Japanese," he says. "I think of myself as Japanese American -- it's not a hyphen. The `Japanese' is the adjective for American." He says his grandfather emigrated from Japan to Hawa ii in 1886 and worked as a contract laborer on sugar plantations. "Although he hadn't known about the Fourth of July," says Takaki, "he nevertheless had some notion that in America there was something called democracy. Whereas Japan was still a hierarchical society."
In general, Takaki says, immigrants to America, such as his grandfather, can be seen as dreamers, individualists, people with a sense of adventure. "For us, we were born here," says Takaki. "We didn't have to make a choice. They made a decision. Citi zenship for them -- to become American -- was freighted with deep meaning."
Illegal aliens do raise concerns. Takaki worries about a backlash. "It's very important for us to enforce the immigration laws," he says. "At the same time, I think we need to be careful not to engage in the bashing of illegal immigrants and to blame t hem for our problems." Takaki endorses multiculturalism taught comparatively. "We need an affirming message," he says. Takaki believes that comparing the differing heritages of people in the United States can lead to wider understanding.
So can revisioning Independence Day as an American celebration. "What we can do," Takaki says, "is to make the Fourth of July multicultural -- because it truly is multicultural." "All of us, whether or not our ancestors were present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, can make a claim on it."
I'm a Korean American, teaching sociology at a racially integrated state university. I hate any type of discrimination. Regardless of my racial background, I absolutely sympathize with those, whether they are Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native America ns, or even Whites, who are discriminated against on the basis of their attitudinal, cultural, or physical difference. I not only understand, but also share the pain and struggle of the disadvantaged. As a sociologist, one of my ultimate goals is to rev eal structural injustice in the society.
This letter addresses Mr. Louis Farrakhan's comments to Barbara Walters in a "20/20" segment on April 22, 1994. Specifically, Mr. Farrakhan stated the opinion that Koreans are leeches who suck the blood of Blacks. He went on to observe that Koreans, in their cohesive business patterns, are destroying Blacks, leading Blacks into poverty, and degenerating the Black community. I sincerely hope that these statements do not represent the majority opinion of the Black community.
Mr. Farrakhan did not explain what particular incidents led him to make the statements. These statements remind me of the unpleasant memories of the Los Angeles riot 2 years ago. Many Blacks burned and destroyed Korean businesses during the riot. So me Blacks, including the leaders of the Black community, justified the unlawful behaviors by complaining that the Koreans who make profits from Blacks do not use the money for the benefit of the Black community. If Mr. Farrakhan was referring to the comp laint of the Blacks by these nasty statements, he is confusing business with philanthropy.
The purpose of business is utility maximization. Business is a selfish and cruel behavior, the purpose of which is to legally obtain the money of others by rendering goods or services. The underlying mechanism in business is competition, and only win ners survive in this capitalist environment.
Regardless of the means a man employs, so long as his activity does not violate the legal codes prescribed by the law, his business is legitimate. As a group, we Koreans, one of the smallest minorities in American society, demonstrate a strong work et hic. Like Blacks, we are struggling to get to the "Dream Land" repetitively referred to by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Mr. Farrakhan's remarks seem to indicate his belief that Koreans prefer to remain a closed subset of society who intentionally exclude non-Koreans from sharing in the profits generated by the industrious efforts Koreans put forth. This is inaccurate. Korean people have no qualms about sharing realized benefits with those who shared the risk and efforts expended in achieving those benefits. We do not, however, believe it is appropriate to grant participatory stature to consumers of the goods or servic es offered by Korean-owned businesses, nor are we compelled to philanthropically distribute those benefits to non-contributors. For example, if I cook a meal in my restaurant which you, as a patron, consume, you cannot rightfully lay claim to the profits which derive from my labors in cooking the meal.
Mr. Farrakhan! Stop complaining because Koreans realize profits from honest labor, and stop insisting that you should share those profits without having labored to earn them. Develop sound business practices and a productive work ethic, then go out a nd earn your own. Ours is - and ought to be - ours.
There has been much talk about finding one's identity in writing. I have found something like an "identity" in my writing, so much so that I can barely recognize any longer that dream figure, my past self, the one I only see in my memories. The skinn y young kid who was never very good at sports, who stuttered in front of the girl he had a crush on the boy who started shaking before having to read a science report or a social studies paper. It seems an impossible joke now. He is an individual of who m I have mixed feelings. I like the kid of the past simply because he survived, trusted the world and his friends, and because he was ambitious in a purely self-interested unpretentious way. He got a kick out of things dinosaurs and ants and space ship s and it didn't bother him about being a "nerd." I think he was, a nerd, but he still seems alright.
What I think I didn't like about my former self was that I felt more deeply than I want to admit ashamed about being Korean. I would even call the feeling "shame," not just embarrassment or fear of absolute alienation. Though I have an American la st name (a real creation, as it is a shortened form of a name that just sounded too German for my grandfather and for the country), my middle name is Kim. Kim is a girl's name. It doesn't matter that nearly half the population of an entire country overs eas a country with a tradition that is vital and rich, and history that dwarfs that of the United States possesses this name. In a small town in America, Rutherford, New Jersey, Koreans were frowned upon and mocked and not just by children.
I know I had a tough time with my classmates the entire time until I went to Jersey City but I never thought that adults could harbor such racist feelings. It's been told to me recently that my family, the first Koreans to settle in Rutherford, rais ed more than a few eyebrows when unpacking the Pontiac in front of 141 West Newell my uncle Koo Boo, my aunt So Young and cousin Nae Young all in attendance. And what did the locals make of my mother, going to Catholic mass in traditional Korean garb?
I didn't realize at that point that there had been a war in which Japanese fighter planes had demolished an entire American harbor, and that many Americans took this very personally. And now I recall some of those older, trusted eyes, those people who m I realize wanted to have nothing to do with me. I realize as well that it is not the children who thought up the racist slurs, the terribly hurtful phrases, the attitudes.
Writing has much to do with how I managed to make it out of this fairly desperate situation. It goes without saying that I don't think most of my friends listened to me when I was younger, or that they could ever understand what it was like to be sing led out of a crowd simply for one's appearance. Few of them will ever know what it means to stand up against someone who is accosting you for the purely banal reason of your physiognomy. Victory in these cases is more a matter of defeat, since victory on ly means that you acknowledge your status as a victim. Banal situations will not make heroes, and virtue cannot be concocted out of thin air. Applause comes too late in cases like this, and if no one is paying attention and if you are too afraid to cal l attention to yourself, which was my case it never comes.
It is in writing that I found a way of living, of deciding, in such a way that my dependence on others was minimal where I need no one to judge me, and where I need fear no one's judgement. This is not yet the achievement of that "identity" which I m ention in the title of this essay, but it is the beginning of the long road there.
Writing is, I believe, that empty room Dostoevski wrote about when trying to describe freedom. He wrote that it is only when one is in a room alone, with none other to affect you, that one can be free. It is only in such a solitary, perhaps alienated , state that one can lift an arm or raise a hand, and be consequently assured that the action was an act of free will.
Using the language and eventually mastering it seemed, and still seems, to me the only way of sure victory, since even today I still see my life in terms of that basic, banal struggle of my youth. I still feel a foreigner in this country, though I can 't speak an Asian language (I am presently learning Hangul). Having wrestled with the English language so long, however, I feel I have learned something practically mystical in content. Life is always having to be recreated. Each of us must make a ficti on of ourselves and enjoy it, laugh at it, America itself is really just the invention of millions of minds divide between feeling entirely at home and entirely out of place. Most important, I am finally able to see myself as Asian and American, and I am continually finding myself excited about the future perhaps a little naively, but with a genuine enthusiasm. Asian Americans have a glorious fiction to create for themselves. we have books to write and a great big canvas to fill with images, so let's start now!
I remember shaking my head in disbelief when the first reports from Los Angeles made the news back in Seoul. Headlines and newscasters constantly referred to the "black riots" and I had friends calling me to make sure my family back in the U.S. was saf e. Many Koreans had conjured up images that all of America was in flames and that anyone with a surname Kim, Park or Lee was a walking target. One classmate took me aside and asked in earnest, "Why do blacks hate Koreans?" To which I could only wonder alo ud, "Why do Koreans hate blacks?" But, of course, the problem isn't so simple. Even to begin to explore it would require delving into the annals of American and Korean history and the dynamics of racism in America as it applies to slavery, immigration and other exclusionary policies. Bu t I am not here to explain why tensions between Korean Americans and African Americans are running high, but to offer some observations I made while in Korea, which relate to the events of last spring in Los Angeles.
As a Korean who was born, raised and educated in the Midwest, I did not grow up speaking mainly Korean at home, nor was I familiar with the Koreatowns or Little Korea's most of my Korean American contemporaries have known. The consciousness of my iden tity grew out of a desire to understand my first-generation parents and why I did not feel totally comfortable in American society as a person of Asian descent. Before, during and after the L.A. rebellion, I had countless discussions with my friends in S eoul about race. These friends, most of whom were active in various social movements as students, laborers and feminists, would proudly declare that despite all the other problems in Korea, at least they didn't have to deal with race or racism. "We are a ll one race," they would tell me. I have to admit that I also was awed by being in the majority for the first time in my life. As time passed, though, I found more than enough frustrating aspects of being part of a so-called one-race society.
To begin, constantly insisting that racism is not a problem in Korea ignores that minority communities do exist there. Most notable are the one million Chinese whom most Koreans know nothing about and the Southeast Asian w orkers who are taking over the down-and-dirty jobs many Koreans refuse to touch.
Then there are the Korean women in relationships with foreigners, in particular lonely American G.I.'s on one-year tours of duty in the Republic. These women are often derogatorily referred to as "western princesses" and in many instances are shunned b y their own families for keeping company with a non-Korean. Having met several women in this situation, both in Korea and the U.S., I have to say that the women have a resiliency which I often wish I could emulate. Women in relationships with men of Afric an descent are especially impressive despite being the brunt of the most offensive comments from fellow Koreans.
I can't say that such attitudes toward blacks in Korea really surprised me. Racist stereotypes flood the Korean media just as they do here in the U.S.�after all, many television programs and movies are, just as the looting and fires were, beamed over from Hollywood. African Americans are portrayed as drug dealers, deadbeats, people who have nothing better to do than terrorize their fellow citizens.
To be fair, I did meet several Koreans who were troubled with their countrymen's ignorance of the United States as representing anything other than the American Dream. The local media in Seoul simplified the Los Angeles rebellion into yet another outbu rst of Korean-black tension and many Koreans still do not understand the complicated dynamics of race in the U.S. I've met so-called progressive Koreans in the U.S. who continue to refer to African Americans in offensive terms, claiming it is language th ey are most familiar with. One middle-aged woman joked that she preferred one such term over the more generic one to describe blacks because the former was pure Korean while the latter came from Chinese characters.
The "One-race society" in Korea did respond with overwhelming concern for its brothers and sisters in Los Angeles. I was particularly struck by the speed with which prominent figures in government, politics and business responded to the crisis in Korea town. When local police and the National Guard took their time in protecting Korean stores from total destruction, the rumor in Korea was that President Roh Tae Woo would dispatch special troops to the "battleground" from across the Pacific. Editorial wri ters and television broadcasters focused on the plight of Korean immigrants in the U.S.,in an effort to prove that Koreans don't belong anywhere besides Korea.
When I heard that comment and similar ones from Koreans who would encourage me to uproot and move to Korea, I often found myself at a loss for words. On one level, I was enjoying being anonymous and not having to worry about being conspicuous as an Asi an. Also, being surrounded by Koreans for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, gave me ample opportunity to gain an understanding of what Koreans refer to as "our culture," "our language," and "our country." While it was good to get a sense of what was Kore an, I also found that I often did not fit that mold. When people suggested I move back to Korea, I had to remind them that I was never there in the first place and that my hometown was in Columbia, Missouri. "Even so, you are still a Korean," insisted cou ntless relatives and friends.
Now that I am back in the U.S., I realize that they are right�to an extent. With a sense of Koreanness that I was once hard pressed to articulate, I am trying to sort out where I belong and what my role as a second-generation Korean American can be. I went to Korea thinking I would find answers to questions, but I have returned with even more questions. The Los Angeles rebellion has shown me that identifying myself as a Korean American involves more than just speaking the language or embracing "our cul ture." It also means that "our people" need to confront certain weaknesses that stem back to Korea, and that those weaknesses are "our own."
Grace Lee, born and raised in Columbus, Missouri, stayed in Korea for a year while studying Korean language and culture at Ewha University, Seoul.
The capacity of human beings to rationalize and justify the most egregiously unpleasant actions as long as they are in consonance with preconceptions appears limitless. The most current examples are the apologists and individuals billed as "responsibl e community leaders," who, in discussing the Los Angeles riots, adroitly brush away murder, assault, looting, arson and other criminal actions under the guise of legitimate outrage of the Rodney King verdict.
As riots tore across Los Angeles and other cities in North America, observers were stunned by the seeming endless series of reprehensible and mindless acts _ especially attacks aimed at businesses and stores owned by Korean Americans. That they were specific targets for looting and destruction is quite apparent in the aftermath of the riot. Some have justified this as a reaction to the shooting of a black teenage girl by a Korean American shopkeeper last year. This makes all Korean Americans respon sible for the actions of a single person, a concept as repugnant as making all African Americans responsible for the actions of a single black person. Equally ignored or diminished is the simple fact that the criminal behavior of the rioters was largely opportunistic, not idealistic.
It is indeed unfortunate that racism against blacks was used as an excuse to perpetrate acts of extreme violence and racism against Koreans. Korean Americans are not responsible for the unhappy situation in which other minority community members find themselves. As Ms. Angela Oh, ad hoc spokesperson for the Korean American community, so lucidly pointed out, "Korean Americans are not victims, they are scapegoats." Stores owned by all races were attacked and destroyed, but Korean American businesses s eem to be singled out for particularly unwelcome attention. As innocent bystanders they absorbed the blows and suffered the major riot damage with precious little assistance from the police and fire authorities whom their tax dollars help to support. It is only because the Korean community rallied against the rioters and took the steps to protect itself that even more death and destruction was avoided.
What is tragic is that the Korean immigrant community_by hard work, dedication and sacrifice _ has pulled its immigrants within one generation from the local businesses into the professions. Korean Americans sacrifice to insure that their children rec eive a quality education and are prepared to take a place in society. They open small businesses _ typically grocery stores, liquor stores, nail salons, laundries, and the like _ which take relatively little capital to start. Quite often these businesse s are financed on a shoestring by personal loans from family and friends and can only be started in areas were rent and overhead is low.
To: Mr. Mrs. Y. H. Li
I feel often confused, misunderstood and ignored. Coming from both cultures, I am split between what I believe as an American and what I believe as a Chinese. Although I do respect my Chinese cultural heritage, I can not be the stereotypical "traditi onal Chinese"_ one who can not express his or her opinions, always keeping everything locked up inside, and doing everything his or her parents say, no matter what.
Perhaps I am exaggerating, but my parents are very traditional, especially my father. He is rarely home, so he does not know who I am, or who my siblings (my three older sisters and one older brother) are. He is always somewhere on business and when he comes home, he expects us to do everything for him, otherwise to leave him alone. To me, he is intimidating and hurtful. I guess one could say I am overly sensitive. About my older sisters, he just does not care or understand. Even my mother does n ot understand him. To my brother, he really does not matter. They have had so many fights and don't get along very well. But my brother still respects my father for what he tries to do for the family.
That is why I feel bad when I say mean things about him. My father works for a large company and he is the breadwinner. He tries very hard to keep us living well. He expects us to shower him with affection. My father has been so hardened over the ye ars that the only time I feel that he shows his affection is for a minute at the airport when he comes back from his business trip to Asia. Although they add up to a lot of minutes, all those minutes can not be compared to years. I suppose it is not his fault that he is the way he is, since he has gone through so much. But we need some affection shown to us once in a while, just as my father does. I myself can not show my father my love very openly. My mother tries to help by giving me topics to talk about with him, but all I usually get out of him are grunts of yes, no, or don't-you-see-I'm-busy, and then my intimidation sets in and I leave, feeling stupid for ever trying. He, if anyone, believes that I have to be that stereotypical "traditional ki d," his ideal daughter. At least, that is what I believe.
What makes us really strangers is the fact that we really do not know one another. I do not even know simple things about him, like what his favorite food is, or does he have one? Our communications are horrible, with so much static that we can not e ven hear one another.
My mother, on the other hand, understands me more. She also is more Americanized than my father. Chinese housewife living in a town with many other Chinese housewives. Although my brother and sisters may not share this opinion, I do not feel that th ere is anything really wrong with our mother, for my relationship with her is generally fine. She tries her best to do things for our family even though her efforts may be wrong, just like my father. However, unlike my father, she often takes into con sideration how we, her children, might feel as an outcome and whether it would be beneficial or not in the long run for us. I do admit that at times I say to myself, "I HATE HER!" but I know I do not mean it.
My brother, Peter, believes that she always loves me more than anyone else in the family, but he is wrong. We just communicate better than he does with our mother. And, well, my mother and I also communicate much better than I do with my father. She is never somewhere so far away that we lose touch.
But most importantly, she understands us (most of the time) and stands up for us when she feels and knows she should. She puts us before herself, and during the past 27 years, she has sacrificed so much for the benefit and well-being of her children. I guess the reason why I praise her more than my father is because she understands; after all, she has had experience with three children before me. And she knows what she is doing; whereas, with my father, all four of his children are like new-born ba bies, all first-born, and he is a new parent.
I know that you, my parents, are in a tough position that may be even harder than mine. But you do not seem to understand I am in one too. Many times, you seem to ignore my opinions on decisions that matter. And I must admit, just as much as you do not understand me, I do not understand you. So we are pretty much equal in that sense. I just wish you both tried to understand me, just as I try to understand you.
Love always no matter what
Your daughter Kathy
Kathy Li was attending a high school in Los Angeles when this article was written.
Korean or American? What is important here are not necessarily the two types of nationalism themselves but the conjunction "or." It is the contrast between Korean and American assumed in the question that carries relevance because these are the rigid options most of us so-called second generation Korean-Americans cling to as our identities.
There is, however, something illusory about placing such an extreme distinction between the two labels. Indeed, those of us who long to become Americans in the contemporary sense of the term do not need to go any further than a mirror to realize that this is an impossibility.
And to the same degree, our parents' wishes for us to maintain a pure, traditional Korean character is also an impossibility. No matter what may be desired on either side, our sense of nationalism will never be pure: it will always be permeated by bo th. Any traditionalist who denies this fact is just as much in error as someone who believes that Donald Regan is the name of an ex-President.
What it means to be Korean-American, therefore, must inspire a literal interpretation of the term_a fusion of both nationalities. Yet, this is more difficult than it sounds because a distinct Korean-American identity is not the product of a mere filt ering process of two cultures. It is not simply a matter of eating kimchi on one day and dining at McDonald's on another but focusing on how we organize our social and political life and to what extent this influences our very existence.
The risk in claiming stake to a hybrid nationality is that when we emphasize one, we seem to be compromising on the other. So, an effective deconstruction of Korean and American must be practical_that is to say, concerned with specifying which roles f it where_rather than narrowly abstract. It must, in other words, reevaluate the definition of nationalism altogether.
For the Korean-American, nationalism, as the British Marxist Terry Eagleton once wrote, always involves irony and commitment. Living in the United States, we are not so much asking for the freedom to be Korean_as though we all understood what that mea nt_as for the freedom to be fully human. It is just that abstract sense of humanity can be articulated in the present only through our very Korean background, since this is the site where our humanity is injured and refused.
Our nationalism is thus inevitably linked with self-irony: we are caught up in the very ethnic category we hope to one day destroy. Our problem with America is not only that it has tried to make us insecure about who we are but that it has forced us to pay an unnecessary amount of attention on these details, which are in the end not all that important.
And to those traditional Korean-Americans who object to such lines of reasoning on why remembering our Korean background is important, one only needs to consider how our sense of nationality differs from that of actual native Koreans. Do they place so much importance on their sense of nationality? Probably not, and this is because nationalism--that is, legitimate nationalism--becomes important only when the ways of a minority deviate from those of the majority.
Unlike natives, as Korean-Americans we must always remember that we belong to that minority. It is a radical commitment not as a form of ethnocentricity but what one might call an oppositional ideology or an emancipatory politics. It is something tha t is more akin to civil rights rather than singing the national anthem at a ballpark game.
There is one final aspect of this type of nationalism that makes it ironic. When we profess our right to be Korean in the manner already outlined, we are also professing our right to be American. In spite of all the contradictions evident in its hist ory, to be American really means to be able to enjoy certain freedoms as humans, to be accepted regardless of trivial distinctions like race.
Since our fight for our right to be Korean is indispensable to our right to be human in the United States, we are also accentuating our right to be American. In the process, we are blasting history from its dreary continuum and providing a space where a true Korean-American nationality may germinate. And it is in this sense that the rigid distinctions between Korean and American are not the only political alternatives.
Reality is never black and white, but you would never know it from the United States Census. Ninety-four percent of Americans were listed as either black or white in reports from the 1990 survey. That year had fifteen different racial classifications: white, black, Indian, Aleut, ten variations of Asian/Pacific Islander and, for the first time, a new box labeled "other." But federal statistics cannot account for "other," so the 10 million people who checked that box were divvied up proportionally among the other categories.
That may soon change. Over the past six months, mixed-race activists--light brown, yellow/white and black/yellow--have been lobbying the Census Bureau for recognition through a separate box labeled "multiracial." There are already an estimated 1 million children of mixed-race marriages, and they are fast multiplying, as these marriages have quadrupled in the last twenty years to reach 1.2 million, or 2.2 percent of all marriages. The movement is spreading. At dozens of universities across the country, from Brown to the University of California-San Francisco, groups of mixed-race students are demanding recognition on application forms and in curricula.
The sixty or so multiracial groups, which have banded together under a San Francisco-based umbrella group called the Association for Multiethnic Americans, have done remarkably well on the local level: in two years, groups of parents, inspired by Susan Graham of Project race (Reclassify All Children Equally) in Atlanta, pushed through legislation adding a "multiracial" box on all school forms in Ohio and Illinois. In Georgia, similar legislation passed the senate unanimously and is expected to pass the house in the next session.
But when the U.S. Census Bureau announced this summer that they would include the multiracial box in a 1996 test run, minority groups revolted. The prospect that the new category would dilute their statistical strength had them clamoring in defense of the status quo. At a June hearing before the House Census Subcommittee, Billy Tidwell of the National Urban League went so far as to say a multiracial box, by splintering the black community between light-skinned and dark, would "turn the clock back on the well-being" of African Americans. Henry Derr, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, challenged the multiracial groups to document "distinct disadvantagement," and concluded that "like Swedish, the category would be interesting, but not salient" for advancing minorities' civil rights.
In blurring racial lines, multiracial groups have highlighted the stubborn tendency of civil rights groups to cling to racial differences and a zero-sum mentality despite a shifting racial and ethnic landscape. Multiracial activists make no secret of their hostility to traditional racial categories. Their bane is the Office of Management and Budget's Directive 15, which sets race standards for federal statistics. It instructs people of mixed race to "choose one box which best reflects the individual's recognition in the community" when filling out the Census form. "We call this eyeballing," says Graham. "It is a totally subjective and unfair method."
Yet instead of rejecting all racial classification boxes as arbitrary, multiracial groups are seeking a box of their own. At the June hearing, Marvin Arnold, father of two biracial children, bemoaned their plight. Any child who can't see his reflection in a box suffers "monumental emotional trauma," and even "perceived psychopathology," he said. "Omission is a form of discrimination," adds Graham. "Labels are important to people."
To build a community behind the label the multiracial movement has spawned two magazines: Interrace (which has 25,000 readers) and New People (which has 2,500). Both fulminate against race-consciousness. The masthead of New People, subtitled "The journal for the human race," contains this disclaimer: "We continue to use [the term "race"] only to challenge conventional notions of racial classification and separation." A recent article calls Afrocentrism "a newly revived ideology of antagonistic separation of the races." Yvette Walker Hollis, the magazine's editor, heralds the multiracial category as "an act of sabotage against the pervasive overemphasis on race in this country."
Yet the words the editors and writers use to describe their vision of a new human race are drenched in the race-consciousness they try to repudiate: "I am white. My husband is black. Color has never been an issue to us," opens one recent letter to the editor. Hollis says she founded New People in 1990 after she could not find a mixed-race bride and groom ornament for her wedding cake. The magazine now sells them, along with a greeting card series called "Forgotten People," for the racially mixed.
Interrace has a more vigilant mission. It specializes in "outing" the rich and famous, revealing their multiracial parents and crossover love interests: in March the magazine announced that u2 bassist Adam Clayton "has a sweet tooth for a chocolate diva"--Naomi Campbell. New People did a summer tally of how many of People magazine's fifty "Most Beautiful People" this year are multiracial (four).
The leap from a subculture to a race box on the Census is a big one, however. Though a multiracial category seems to make racial accounting more accurate, Census statisticians claim it is too broad to be useful. "Who's in there? You could fit all of the U.S. in that category," says Juanita Tamaya Lott, a Census consultant. "In order to do statistical analysis we have to have mutually exclusive categories." Most Hispanics, for example, are multiracial, and they now make up 97 percent of the 10 million people who checked "other" on the 1990 Census race question. And Census officials estimate that at least 75 percent of American blacks are technically multiracial.
The race question is particularly vulnerable to inaccuracy. Unlike other Census questions, which elicit factual answers--address, income, date of birth-- responses to the race box can be "wildly capricious," says Leslie Brownrigg, a researcher at the Census Bureau's Racial Statistics division. For example, population projections underestimate the number of Native Americans by 30 percent every year, as more people who used to check white begin to identify themselves as Native Americans. And in the past twenty years, the number of Hawaiians has doubled to 200,000, twice the number of births. An Urban Institute study found that by changing the definition of Hispanic, projections of that population ranged from 5.2 million to 9.6 million. To refine the multiracial category, Graham proposes limiting the definition to those who have "one essential attribute" in common: parents of different races.
This may solve the emotional bind of choosing between parents, but it is also arbitrary. For example, what box does the child of two multiracial parents mark? What's more, Graham's definition waters down the definition of race and makes it a one-generation phenomenon, more like an interest group. The box "would represent a fundamental change in philosophy, in how you define race," says Roderick Harrison, who heads the Census Bureau's Racial Statistics division.
As it is now, only about a third of the 1 million multiracial people in the United States checked "other" on the Census; a great majority of the remaining--70 percent, according to the most recent study (1980)--checked black. And while no one expects a mass exodus from the black box if a multiracial category were added, Harrison predicts that a 10 percent defection would be a reasonable estimate.
"Ten percent! Absolutely we would oppose it!" Tidwell says. "Analyze what that might mean." In truth, the Urban League has reason to fear. The numbers are used to measure the effectiveness of almost every aspect of affirmative action policy: the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, employment discrimination and desegregation in the public schools, to name a few.
The multiracial box would vastly complicate how these policies are enforced. For example, no one knows how the multiracial would be counted for affirmative action programs. They could increase the number of people eligible, by allowing those with traces of nonwhite blood to be counted as minorities. They could also have the opposite effect, by weeding out the "full" minorities from the partial. Universities that included an "other" box with a write-in option on application forms last year are rumored to have used it as one factor in picking out truly underprivileged blacks for affirmative action programs. With the mushrooming of multiracial student groups on campuses in the last two years, this could easily become common practice. Either way, the traditional civil rights agenda suffers.
The multiracial groups themselves are split on the issue. Most, like Graham, avoid it, recognizing it as a lightning rod for civil rights groups. But the more outspoken, such as Candice Mills, editor of Interrace, oppose race-based programs. "I'm not against affirmative action. I'm just against giving something to one group because of their race." Instead, Mills advocates basing programs on income or targeting recent immigrants.
If the multiracial box is added, it could open the door to a bevy of special interests demanding recognition. At the House hearing in June, leaders from various ethnic groups lined up to make their cases before the committee. The National Council of LaRaza demanded a Hispanic race box; the Arab-American Institute, a Middle Eastern box; five other Asian splinter groups petitioned for a sub-box; and groups of Eastern Europeans, claiming to be underrepresented in the work force, complained about being lumped into the white box. Even native Hawaiians tried to break free from their designation as Native Americans with a pitch for their own box. But it won't come easy. The National Congress of American Indians opposes the move, insisting that the Hawaiians remain in their square. In a battle where numbers mean dollars, a quarter-million islanders is too rich a statistic to give up without a fight.
It is no secret that knowledge of geography and international politics is lacking in many Americans. In the late 80's I went to Boston for some orthopedic surgery and found myself sharing a hospital room with a very pleasant older man who was having b oth knees replaced. He was intrigued by the fact that I'd come all the way from Singapore and introduced me to his family and friends who visited. In the morning that I was discharged my new friend was about to be wheeled off to the operating room for h is second knee replacement. I wished him well as we shook hands, and just as he disappeared through the door, he called back, "Have a good trip back to China."
A few years later a relative of mine called to convey some unfortunate family news. It turns out that she had encountered considerable difficulty in reaching me since she had to go through directory assistance to get my number. She explained, "The st upid operator kept insisting that Singapore is a country." This is a woman with a master's degree who had taught children for years. I never did find out exactly where she thought I was living.
The situation does not seem to have improved. During a brief vacation in June this year I was invited to a cocktail party in a comfortable upper-middle class suburb of Boston. When people learned that I was living in Singapore, questions about the Mi chael Fay case followed immediately. The majority of people there heartily endorsed the action of the Singapore government, which was hardly surprising since the partygoers were mostly well off retirees and solidly conservative Republicans _ real law and order people. One of them, a former radio news announcer, seemed most knowledgeable about the case and he spoke at length of his respect for the Singapore government. I was impressed. About a half hour later the same gentleman asked if I would be stay ing on after China took over in 1997. Ah, well.
A little background for any who may have missed the Michael Fay saga. Michael Fay, an 18-year-old American living in Singapore, and six other youths were picked up by the police and charged with stealing some signs and vandalizing cars in Singapore la st October. Fay pleaded guilty and was sentenced by the Singaporean court to four months in jail and six strokes of the rotan cane. He wound up serving 83 days and having the caning reduced to four strokes as an appeasement to President Clinton's call f or clemency. One other student, a Hong Kong boy named Shiu Chi Ho, received an even tougher sentence_eight months in jail and twelve strokes of the cane (later reduced to six). The other boys, with one exception, either had charges dismissed or were gi ven admonitions involving neither jail time nor caning. The exception, an Australian lad, jumped bail and fled the country.
It was the sentence of caning for Fay that the American press pounced on, which set off a media frenzy that quickly entered the world of fiction, hypocrisy, and distortion. These stories from America were picked up in Singapore by the local press, and when Singaporeans read them they were basically bewildered; Why were the Americans so upset? How could the United States possibly be lecturing us on how to maintain an orderly society?
To the American expatriates of professionals in business and academia in Singapore, however, it came as no great surprise. The sensationalism, the gross inaccuracies, and the pompous righteous posturing, particularly by television_well, that's the way we do things back in the States. What all the attention provided was considerable embarrassment, particularly when the President got involved.
At the height of the frenzy a New York newspaper carried a story about a man who had "witnessed" a public flogging in Singapore, where hundreds of people gathered to watch the spectacle. He then went on to make the rounds of the talk shows where his v ersion of sadistic Singapore justice was accepted as fact. This was all a preposterous lie. In fact, it is doubtful the man was ever in Singapore. The really depressing aspect of this is that it would have taken no more than one or two hours for a comp etent journalist to ascertain that this story was a fraud.
More reputable journalists and publications soon became involved. William Safire of the New York Times denounced caning as the "torture of choice" of the "dictatorship of Singapore."
By a 9 to 1 margin Singaporeans polled approve of the practice. After all, it is their country. In my opinion caning does not qualify as torture. It is a punishment that is humiliating and painful, but lasts but a short time (in Fay's case about a m inute). It usually leaves a scar but no one has ever been permanently impaired because of it.
The "dictatorship of Singapore?" Without question Singapore has a paternalistic, authoritarian government. It may take people of considerable fortitude, but Singaporeans can and do oppose the government when necessary. In the last three elections th e opposition has averaged about 40 percent of the vote.
There is no doubt that Michael Fay's parents worked very hard to portray their son as the victim of a tyrannical regime. To a considerable degree they succeeded. Safire was by no means a lone voice. Almost all editorial pages condemned the Singapore "dictatorship." The New York Times urged the many American multinational companies with operations in Singapore to voice their protests to the Singapore government.
In an editorial deriding President Clinton, Business Week stated, "Even tiny Singapore feels it can mock the President of the United States by refusing his request not to cane an American teenager." A tiny nation with a minuscule crime problem should alter its penal code to accommodate a politically motivated plea from the leader of a large country with an out-of-control crime problem?
In Singapore it seemed that for months on end there was a story about every three days with a U.S. byline containing wrenching tales of unspeakable brutalities and torture. Those are myths, pure and simple. Michael Fay was not tortured. He wasn't tr eated gently either, but I doubt that any police interrogation is pleasant and Asian police certainly do not coddle troublesome teenagers. The perception Singapore residents have of their police, expatriates included, has nothing to do with fear or viole nce. They are honest, relatively unobtrusive, and effective.
Singapore is a wonderful place to live. It is a clean, green, beautiful city-state which has achieved economic growth rates over three times those of the U.S. or Europe over the past few decades. The government has accomplished this without the sligh test taint of any corruption that is all too common in the neighboring countries. There is nothing like a Marcos or a Suharto family or the Thai generals or the Malaysian politicians in Singapore. The Singapore government is squeaky clean and because of this it has delivered the benefits of its economic success to its people in the form of the highest standard of living in Asia next to Japan. Over 80 percent of the population own their own homes and random violent crime is virtually non-existent.
During all of its brief independent existence Singapore has been decidedly pro-American. When the U.S. armed forces were ignominiously chucked out of the Philippines, Singapore offered the use of some of their facilities despite the objections of thei r immediate neighbors. The United States took up the offer. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the driving force behind the Singapore success story, is the only Asian leader I have ever heard to publicly thank the U. S. for the open access to the Ameri can market which made the spectacular development of all the East Asian economies possible.
Admittedly, there are elements here that are anathema to Western liberals. The press is kept on a short leash and organized protest is not common. There is no formal "welfare" system in the Western sense but there is no unemployment, no homeless, and no one goes hungry. Great emphasis is placed on filial piety and the individual's responsibility to the community.
The Old Curmudgeon is a former US Navy fighter pilot who has lived for 23 years in Asia, Hawaii, and the West Indies and is currently living in Singapore.
Asia is like the smartest kid in class; the kid who gets the highest grades, who knows all the answers to the teacher's questions, who turns in the best class project... but is the lonely nerd who doesn't know or want to know anything about his fellow classmates.
Japan is about to open, and Hong Kong is feverishly building, the two premier airports of tomorrow, both built on man-made real estate on water. The skyline of the major Asian metropolises glisten in the sun with soaring high tech towers of glass and steel. Asian economic vigor has impacted the world, with corporate names like Sony, Hyundai, and Malaysia Airlines recognized globally. Asia today is a full member of the community of nations. Yet Asia has a penchant for behaving as if it lives in some remote, closed-off society.
The internationally lauded Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou has perennially had censorship difficulties with the release of his films to the very audience for whom his works are intended - the people of China. Instead, he is showered with laurels, medal and accolades in Europe and America. Only after these international embarrassments, and with much reluctance, do the Chinese censors relent.
When director Bernardo Bertolucci's Academy Award - winning epic The Last Emperor was released in Japan, the sequence that depicted the fall of Nanking in the Second World War, a massacre so horrific that it has come to be known in history books as "th e rape of Nanking," was cut out of the film. Only after the outraged protests from Bertolucci himself did the Japanese censors reluctantly reinsert the excised scene.
More recently, Shigeto Nagano, the former Justice Minister of Japan, demonstrated the extent of his kind of mind laundering. As a cabinet member of the administration, he stated that the massacre at Nanking was a "fabrication" and denies that Japan's invasion of Asia was "a war of aggression." Even after he realized too late the political stupidity, if not the intellectual dishonesty, of his statement, all he could do was to "apologize for causing such a big shock and anger."
Now we see Asian countries having difficulties with Schindler's List, one of the most important films to chronicle the colossal human tragedy of World War II: the Nazi genocide of the Jews. And the reasons they offer for their censorship of this Acade my Award winning film are almost frivolously specious. The keepers of public morality for the Philippines and Thailand seem to blush at the nakedness of Jews, stripped of clothing and all human dignity, as they are herded into the gas chambers like anima ls to slaughter. Malaysia's scrupulously impartial censors seem almost mindless in their concern about the "one sided favoring of a religious group." These rationales are so shockingly hollow that they make one question if they really saw the film by St even Spielberg.
The very fact that Schindler's List is having these difficulties in these Asian countries strongly underscores the imperative that this film be seen by the people of Asia - complete and uncut. If Asia is to be a member of the family of nations, if As ia is to become a partner in the global economy, if Asia is to be a full participant in the interlinked politics of the world, then the people of Asian must become informed and responsible citizens of this global community. Asia must unbolt the ideas of its own artists and intellectuals, open itself up to its neighbors and to the history and aspirations of the great family of nations. Because our world today is too small, out international fiber optic sensitivity too immediate, and out lives too interde pendent for Asia to remain the studious, hard - working and sadly disconnected global nerd.
Going downtown the other morning on the 38-Geary, the busiest line in San Francisco, I was serenaded by a symphony of Asian tongues.
Conversations were going on in Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog, Korean and Japanese-- all within hearing range. Intrigued, I looked around the bus. Of the passengers, there were forty-five Asian faces, four white and one black.
No wonder visitors from Asia are astonished when they arrive in San Francisco. "San Francisco sure doesn't seem like America," remarked a friend from Tokyo, who last visited the city 15 years ago. "If it weren't for the weather, I'd think I were in H ong Kong."
Asians are the largest minority group in San Francisco _ a third of the city's population. In the coming decade, the population of the San Francisco Bay Area will grow by one million _ half of it Asians _ making this the only region in California were Asians will outnumber Hispanics. Just think of the implications of these figures!
Already in San Francisco public schools, where the ethnic minorities are 85 percent of the student body, Asian Americans comprise 45 percent _ a fact that surprises many.
Despite their numbers, however, Asians are often made to feel like foreigners. There are not many American-born Chinese, Japanese or Koreans who hasn't been asked, "How come you speak such good English," or "Where do you come from?"
Because the dominate culture still views race and ethnicity in terms of black and white, the stunning demographic changes of the past 15 years have not made their imprint. Thus, even if you trace your ancestors to the Gold Rush, if you have a yellow f ace, you don't have a legitimate claim to America and its history. This is a tragedy.
Along with the textbooks used in the public schools, I blame the mainstream media for perpetuating the myth that Asians are not as American as anyone else. This is a narrow viewpoint that helps explain why the mainstream newspapers are losing circulat ion in the cities while ethnic community papers are thriving. There are a dozen Chinese-language newspapers, four Korean dailies, two Japanese newspapers and two Vietnamese newspapers in San Francisco.
The truth of the matter is, major news organizations are not reflecting the changing demographics of the nation's cities. They say all the right things, then mistake talk for action.
People outside the news media would be astonished at the ignorance, indifference and arrogance of white media managers. To be sure, there are a few notable exceptions, but they are few and far between.
The story of this nation is the story of its immigrants. Yet, those immigrants who came across the Pacific with their non-Western languages and customs have never been accepted. That there are prominent figures in the news business who refer to Asian American journalists as "slant-eyeds" or "chinks" is proof that the Fourth Estate is as riddled with prejudice as the rest of society.
The news media are quick to point fingers at everybody and anybody but themselves. It's about time that the media aspired to see Asians in their full humanity. Perhaps media managers should leave their cars at home and take a ride through reality.
K. Connie Kang is a journalist based in Los Angeles.
"We must get together" is the feeling I brought back from a two-day visit to Los Angeles on behalf of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights between May 9 and May 11, 1992.
My trip included walking tours of the South Central area and Koreatown; meetings with victims and their families; meetings with community and religious leaders from the black and Asian communities (including Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Asian Indians, Japanese, Cambodian and other groups), both of Los Angeles and Long Beach; and discussions with city officials and the press. It was a hectic two days.
I witnessed the sorrow, despair, anger and disillusionment of the victims and their families. They are not sure everything can be brought back together again. Their American dreams are shattered. They kept asking, why should these dreadful destructi ve acts happen to them? Where were the police officers and firemen when they desperately needed them? They call for immediate grants instead of loans, since the damage was inflicted on them by outside forces and they themselves in no way caused it to ha ppen.
From the black community leadership, I garnered the sense that people in the street are angry and resentful, because they perceive that outsiders use them to earn a living but don't contribute to the community by hiring local youth, and those businesse s are supported by either the government or commercial banks, while local people cannot obtain similar support.
In particular, there is a strong consensus in the local community that the number of liquor stores should be limited, because they are viewed by some as a magnet for drug trafficking, gambling and other social problems. This response, however, is view ed by the Korean community as a sign of rejection or a deliberate attempt to block them from returning to their businesses. The devastating riot was the result of long years of injustice, poverty and unemployment in South Central, and the realization tha t they are not benefiting under the system and partaking of the prosperity of the 1980s.
From discussions with Asian American community leaders, I understood that damages extended beyond Koreatown to areas including Long Beach. Hundreds of businesses owned by Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Asian Indians and Laotians were looted and burn ed in these areas as well.
The overwhelming sentiment is the desire for a speedy process of relief so that businesses can be restored and livelihood can be supported again.
The following points are crystal clear to me from the conversations and observations of these two days:
In summary, civil rights are everyone's responsibility. Either we are on the side of the solution, or we are part of the problem. I appeal to all my brothers and sisters in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities to let better race relations start from each of us. The prevention of misconceptions and violent acts depends on how we act, react and interact with each other.
Rodney King is just a spark which set off an explosion causing 58 people to lose their lives and hundreds of thousands to be injured or lose their jobs and property. We need to realize that just to reach the American dream for ourselves is not enough. Only when we can all reach the same American dream will we have peace and harmony in our society. We've all got to get together.
Charles Wang is vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
One more incident signaling the prevalence of racial insensitivity and unwillingness to understand people of different cultures... It's a shame that the same exact incident occurred three times by the same person, in the same setting, without any learn ing or enlightenment on the part of the insensitive (seen by many as ignorant) actor.
Last year, two racist cartoons were published in the Duke University student newspaper, The Chronicle. Both of them featured stereotypes of Korean-Americans, both of which were met by adverse reactions on the part of the Asian-American student populat ion as well as other supporter of varying races. After six weeks of voicing strong opinions against the second cartoon last year, the effected population was convinced that similar incidents would not occur, at least not by the same actor.
I attended a forum last week sponsored by the Spectrum House (a living group organized for the purpose of promoting cultural awareness on Duke campus) where the cartoonist, Jim Funk, attempted to explain his motives behind his racist cartoon #3. Jim F unk took this opportunity to state that the purpose behind the cartoon was not to offend people, but instead, to make a satirical statement about political correctness on campus. This is ludicrous to me! He calculated that Duke students were intelligent enough to pick-up this "obvious" motive, implying therefore that the population chosen as the centerpiece of this satirical portrayal has no reason to react against it or even feel blown by it.
It was painfully obvious that the vast majority of the group who sat in this room, listening with ears of disbelief, did not get the same meaning from his cartoon. In fact, it was so incredibly unbelievable that there was an outpour of emotions from s ome who attended. Yet Funk responded by merely reiterating that his intent was not to hurt, but instead, to do good by throwing out a controversial issue into the minds of students so that they may more freely discuss the issue of political correctness. He did manage to get out the words "I'm sorry" with grave difficulty at one point, but his "apology" was instantly discounted as he said it with such an unequivocal smirk on his face.
I saw not a picture of satire, but an aftermath of absolute irony that filled the room. Funk gave his spiel on Duke's high rankings and recognition as one of the country's top universities, which led him to calculate that his logical statement of poli tical correctness would be understood by most of the student population. He may equate intelligence with G.P.A. and SAT scores, and so may Duke University; but obviously and unfortunately this "intelligence" is equated with ignorance as well.
Ignorance is a scary thing because one with such a disadvantage does not recognize it, at least not without some form of strong influence or impact at some point in his or her life. Obviously, the direct confrontations by large groups of peers telling Funk face-to-face (done more than on one occasion) that his drawings were racist and hurtful is not the force to break this man out of his ignorant shell. It's so unbelievably ironic, it makes me want to shout from the top of my lungs. If multiple occa sions of confrontation with this man does not promote him to open his mind to the thought that maybe his cartoons are racist and perpetrating a stereotype, than what will? I see the truth in the saying "ignorance is bliss".
There is another frustrating question that continues to resonate in my mind: Why didn't this capable Duke student choose a more logical context in communicating his opinion about such a topic as political correctness if that was is true intent? Knowi ng that this is his third cartoon of the like, it feels to me like he is testing my patience; pushing my buttons to see how I will react this time. I initially felt hatred toward Jim Funk, but now I only feel sorry for him.
There is one last occurrence that I need to reflect upon from what went on in that room. A handful of people (of non-Asian decent) were actually praising Jim Funk for his brave deed of goodwill, as if he selflessly put himself on the line for a great cause. It made me sick to hear people around me skew the perspective so violently as to bring Funk out from his true role as victimizer, to the role of hero in this story. This process powerfully illustrates the dangerous implications of such a phenomen on. Not only is ignorance a disease that is so difficult to cure since the diseased is blind to it, it is also highly contagious.
Young Mi Jo graduated from Duke University in 1993 and is currently a graduate student in the School of Social Work at UNC-CH.
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