“I can’t believe people are still saying things like that today.”
“Are the editors really that oblivious?”
These were some of the comments voiced by my classmates after my presentation in discussion section for an ethnic studies class at Yale. Our lectures and readings that week focused on the history of the racialization of Asian Americans and touched specifically upon the legal, social, and economic exclusion of Chinese migrants and laborers at the turn of the twentieth century. In class, we examined not only the development of Chinatown as a racial, urban space, but also the fictive construction of Chinatown as a place of vice, disease, immorality, crime, and mystery in the popular imagination. These tropes are continuously rehashed even one hundred years later in our media today, from movies like Gangs of New York to movies as innocent as Freaky Friday.
So where do Taiwanese Americans fit into the picture? As someone who is passionate about Asian American history and the Taiwanese American identity, I thought it would be an opportune moment to discuss Jeremy Lin’s rapid ascendance into the media limelight critically in relationship to the history we were learning in class. I pulled up and projected recent incendiary media headlines about Lin and asked my fellow section attendees how the racialization of Asian Americans as a perpetually foreign “Other” one hundred years ago continues to affect Asian Americans today. I also challenged them to think about how his Taiwanese American background plays (or doesn’t play) into the media’s portrayal and scrutiny of his career. Two of the headlines I chose included ESPN’s headline “Chink in the Armor” and FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock’s tweet after the Knicks secured a victory over the Lakers that “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight.”
Perhaps students who voluntarily elect to take an ethnic studies course are predisposed to feel outraged at such headlines and not brush it off as a joke, but my gut feeling is that these prominent media headlines also made many of you feel uncomfortable. One hundred years later, the same, insidious stereotypes about Asian American masculinity (or lack thereof) and foreignness still rear their ugly heads, even when the person in question seems to perfectly embody the American dream – a hard-working, faithful, Harvard-educated son of Taiwanese immigrants who has achieved stunning success in basketball and captured the attention of millions of Americans on television. Why do the media still insist on recycling these stereotypes? Why is it that his success is perceived as so unusual?
These questions, whether we like it or not, have to do with race. The Linsanity phenomenon has exposed faultlines of identity, ethnicity, “Americanness.” We are reminded through these ugly incidents that while we rally around a fellow Taiwanese American, we are not only involved in a collective Asian American struggle, but we also occupy a special niche as Taiwanese Americans. As Taiwanese Americans, our stake in the Asian American identity is different. Due to Taiwan’s unique history and special relationship with the U.S. in the last half century, many of us are sons and daughters of Taiwanese immigrants who came here after U.S. immigration laws were revised to recruit professionals to pursue higher education or specialized careers, giving us access to opportunities for college education and more prospects ourselves. Our contemporary legacy in the popular imagination as the “model minority” with “tiger mothers” and “high-expectations Asian fathers” is not immune from flawed and insidious stereotypes, as the media hubbub around Jeremy Lin has aptly demonstrated.
What does this mean for us and for ITASA? As an intercollegiate network, our voices are strong and deserve to be heard. Popular outcry from Asian American activist groups have demanded apologies from the media and demonstrated that we are a force to be reckoned with. So stay vigilant, stay awesome, and take pride in our collective voice.
Written by: Christina Lee - East Coast District Chair (Yale University)
The East Coast Conference was intense, fun and fruitful. It started on Thursday with a Bubble Tea Social where people started trickling in; there was a small group of people making it an intimate setting and easy to get to know each other. Then Friday started with a small icebreaker and the first workshop, then was a tour of Atlanta which included touring the aquarium, World of Coke and CBS. After this free time everyone gathered to watch the variety show at Emory to end the night. Saturday started with wonderful breakfast from the Flying Biscuit Café that had amazing cheese grits, then a full day of workshops and keynote speakers. Lastly, this conference ended with banquet at the Canton House Chinese restaurant and an after party at Opera.
Overall, this conference was a blast and everyone got to meet a lot of people. Hearing about different stories of how people did crazy things to get to this conference such as drive or take the bus for 15 hours from New York University just showed how everyone was excited for it. In addition being able to tour the World of Coke was very interesting; there had displays of different Coke products around the world such as from Taiwan, and Japan. It was only after visiting this place that I realized so many different drinks in Taiwan were under Coke. But the highlight of my night would be the variety show, there were so many difference performances and they were very energetic. It started with the Taiwanese School of Atlanta Drum Team that got us all pumped up, then the amateur artist Victor Mua who dang touching songs and then the all female hip hop dance crew Persuasion which caught everyone’s eye with their energy and fierce attitude. Of course the most amazing performance was by Instant Noodles, which composed of alumni from Taipei American School and had competed in America’s Best Dance Crew.
On Saturday, there was a workshop that was hosted by Jen Che, the founder of the food blog, Tiny Urban Kitchen. She taught us how to make lou rou fan (pork minced meat with rice) then how to take pictures of it for it to look appetizing. At banquet, the location of the next East Coast Conference was announced to be New York University and Columbia. It was touching to see the other bidding team be classy and go up to congratulate their opponents. Then came the after party which everyone was excited for, it was finally time to wind down and have fun. Since we had a private room at Opera, it was very enjoyable because we got to just relax and de-stress from the intense few days of workshops.
This conference was definitely well planned and very entertaining. Now it’s time to look forward for the Midwest Conference 2012 at the University of Michigan!
Written by Christine Ko - Midwest District Chair (UIUC)
Photo by Eric Kao - National Public Relations Director (Washington University in st. Louis)
We’ve had many articles on being Taiwanese American, the role of Taiwanese Americans, and supporting Taiwan. These really inspired me to reflect upon what I personally feel it means to be to be Taiwanese American, and what I think our mindset going forward should be. I wrote a series of four blog posts, but I wanted to share what I thought was the most important one out of all of them. While I encourage you to read them, you by no means have to buy every word. To just give it some thought is all I ask!
I don’t believe that it is the Taiwanese American (TA)’s place to meddle in Taiwanese politics. I think we should care about election results, but because most of us live in the United States, we should take a little bit of a step back and let the people of Taiwan decide. Instead of bitching and moaning about politics, why don’t we take action?
If not politics, then what?
In the United States, Taiwanese often gets lumped into the categories “Chinese” or “Other Asian”. If you keep your mind open, this grouping isn’t unfair – the question we must ask ourselves is, “have we really given people a significant reason to make the distinction?” While there are many influential Taiwanese-American people, we’ve only made a small dent on the world. It’s like physics – think of the basic equation F=m*a. The two pieces work together and having a huge amount of one doesn’t really matter that much if you have very little of the other. Perhaps from a cultural point of view, Force = Members * Accomplishments.
What does this mean? If we want to increase F, we must:
- Make apathetic Taiwanese Americans… well, less apathetic – that is, have them become a member of the community. It’s also great to have people who aren’t of Taiwanese heritage be advocates of Taiwan - They deserve a lot of respect for being able to open up, respect, and support a different culture. They also certainly are members of our community.
- Empower the TA community and train servant leaders who will make a positive impact on the world – that is, help the community make an impact through philanthropy, idea generation, media production, whatever we have to offer. It is important to note here that we don’t just give back to the TA community, as tempting as that may be. Other groups are similarly trying to increase their F, and if we have the resources, we should help others achieve their missions as well.
I think what ends up happening is a snowball effect as well. As people see TAs doing big things, those who used to be apathetic about being TA will bandwagon – an excellent example of this, though I’m hesitant to use it, is Jeremy Lin’s recent ascent to stardom.
Why should this route be taken? People (both Taiwanese and non-Taiwanese) must care about Taiwan, before you can expect them to think long and hard on the tough decisions and their implications for the island’s future.
Actions speak louder than words, so instead of ranting about politics, lets show the world that Taiwan matters, and we the people matter.
Adapted from Part IV: What Now?. Written by Eric Kao - National Public Relations Director (Washington University in St. Louis) If you’d like to read the other sections, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll share them with you!
The winners were announced at our East Coast Conference, so if you missed out, here are the results!
Outstanding Leader: Julie Shen, University of Pennsylvania PTS