Announcing the Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship

Medium.com (by Anoop Prasad):

Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus is excited to announce a new fellowship for formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islanders. Too often, the movements against prisons and deportation are out of sync and ignore the intersectional experiences of people in both systems. Advocates often make decisions without inviting formerly incarcerated people into the conversation and without consulting people who are locked up. Through the Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship, we hope to begin changing that. By centering and building leadership among directly impacted people, we hope to support a movement led by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

Over the next several months, the first two Yuri Kochiyama Fellows will be using their experiences to advocate for changes to America’s incarceration and deportation systems. As people who have spent years in prison and immigration detention, their voices and leadership are sorely needed in the movement.

We chose to name the fellowship after Yuri Kochiyama. She was a tireless political activist who dedicated her life to social justice and human rights for almost five decades. Yuri spent two years as a young adult in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Arkansas during World War II. Later in life, she worked with Malcolm X, the Harlem Parents Committee, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and other groups. Throughout her life, she supported people in prison by exchanging letters, advocating for their release, and organizing support committees.

Our first two Fellows will carry on Yuri’s legacy by using their experiences in prison and immigration detention to advocate for those still locked up. Their first advocacy project will be in support of a ballot measure that limits the ability of District Attorneys to charge children as adults. The reforms will keep thousands of children from being sent to prison for decades and from facing deportation for those crimes.

Rajeshree Roy, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama Fellow, was arrested at the age of fifteen for a robbery. Rather than receiving services as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who was homeless, she was tried as an adult and sent to prison for fifteen years. She would later spend a year in immigration detention.

Aelam Khensamphanh, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama Fellow, fled war in Laos and came to the United States as a refugee when he was eight-years-old. His family was resettled in Modesto, a poor community plagued with violence. Unable to speak English and without language services, he struggled in school as a child. Attempting to fit in, he joined a gang at fifteen. After a shootout with a rival gang, he was sent to prison for life at the age of seventeen. While in prison, Aelam worked with the Squires Program to intervene with at-risk youth. After serving twenty-two years in prison, he spent months in immigration detention before being released earlier this year.

Aelam and Rajeshree will be working to make sure that future generations of children will not go through the same cycle of trauma, incarceration, and deportation that they did.

Playbill: Casting and advertisement of Yellowface play “The Mikado” stirs controversy amongst Asian community in NYC

 Playbill (by Michael Gioia):

When a flyer advertising The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players‘ December production of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s The Mikado — featuring four Caucasian actors portraying Japanese characters in the classic Gilbert and Sullivan opera — was sent out to theatergoers, members of the Asian community took offense.

Playwright and blogger Leah Nanako Winkler was among the first to speak up, posting (from memory, not directly quoting) her conversation with NYGASP artistic director Albert Bergeret, in which he explained that out of the approximately 40 members of the company, only two actors are of Asian descent.

Erin Quill, a former Christmas Eve in Broadway’s Avenue Q who bills herself as “The Fairy Princess” on her Fairy Princess Diaries blog, also responded to the planned production, stating that when she saw the NYGASP’s last production of The Mikado, it was not “historically accurate” in its presentation and that Gilbert “wanted the representation of Japanese people to be respectful and elegant.”

Instead, Quill said that artistic director Bergeret added a character called The Axe Coolie (“coolie” is a term used to refer to Chinese workers at one time in America, yet the show is set in Japan), a small female child who ran around the stage dressed as a male Asian shouting “High Ya.”

She told Playbill.com that while some actors in that production were “just in a costume and doing their track, others were taking special delight and making a large effort to use stereotypical behavior. There was pulling of the eyes, there was shuffling of feet, there were exaggerated gestures in many regards, but when one cast member both pulled his eyes and gnashed his teeth — it was clear that this production had nothing to do with Gilbert and Sullivan any longer, it was an excuse to indulge in caricature that was degrading and hurtful.”

She concluded that the company “played The Mikado for cheap laughs at the expense of Japanese Heritage.”

Since both posts began circulating the Internet, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players pulled the season brochure post on their page and issued statements explaining that they have taken in the “constructive criticism” and are meeting on how to proceed with the production.

David Wannen, the executive director of NYGASP, explained to Playbill.com via phone that the actress on the cover of the brochure (who has asked to remain nameless) is of Asian descent and that the Caucasian actors inside the brochure are not “manipulating” their facial features to appear Asian (therefore, they are technically not painted in Yellowface, a form of theatrical makeup used to represent an East Asian person).

According to the company’s casting policy, “Qualified singers of all ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities are encouraged to audition in all appropriate categories. There are no ethnically specific roles in Gilbert & Sullivan.”

While the company has held various auditions over the last five years, they said it would be “hard” to get a “demographic percentage of how many actors of Asian descent audition, and of those how many are cast.” Regardless of race or culture, the company casts “based on merit alone, and how that merit fits into the needs of a repertory company.”

In a statement issued to Playbill.com, NYGASP explained, “The original plans for the production have been worked on by an independent committee of the board who scanned The Mikado for offensive material and practice. It was determined that the practice of Yellowface makeup — using make up to appear Asian — was the most offensive practice brought to light by the Asian-American community. As part of a policy that is generally outlined by the statement on the website, we agreed to instruct the cast to avoid this practice specifically. Makeup that was appropriate for the stage without the manipulation of features or complexion. We also agreed to go ahead with the wigs and costumes of our traditional production. Obviously, from the reaction to images on our promotional material, this distinction was not able to be seen and was not satisfying to this community.

We are listening to the response we have received. The Executive Committee of the Board is meeting to discuss a strategy and policy going forward. We have taken this issue extremely seriously since the outcry last summer (2014) and remain committed to doing so.”

On the company’s Tumblr page, they addressed the community’s concerns, stating, “We have attempted to keep the satire in our production of The Mikado as true to the original intent as possible; that is, using the fictional Japanese town of Titipu as the setting for satirizing the very real people of Victorian England.”

They added that, in terms of casting for the company’s repertory nature, “There is no separate casting for parts in specific plays. NYGASP cast members are G&S specialists who must be able to play Japanese villagers in The Mikado one day, British sailors in H.M.S. Pinafore the next day and Venetians in The Gondoliers the day after that. The music, the libretti, the stage direction, the singers’ interpretations, the sets, the costumes and the staging must all combine to create the belief that each actor indeed becomes multiple different characters across the spectrum of Gilbert and Sullivan’s imaginative works.

“NYGASP exists to nurture the living legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – not to preserve the past unthinkingly, but to show how much G&S can still teach us about the foibles of human nature that are both geographically universal and timeless. We believe passionately that these enduringly entertaining works of 19th Century England – of which The Mikado is the best known – continue to speak to every generation that watches and listens with an open heart.”

By email, Quill added, “No Asian American disputes that The Mikado is a staple of the G&S canon, nor that the music is lovely. The Mikado, in mocking British mores of the time, says many things about being an individual, about standing up against petty tyrannies, that love will find a way no matter what age you are, and that ultimately if you speak your truth to power, reason will prevail. (Yes, there are large amounts of ‘poo’ references in the names of characters and the town itself. At the time, it was funny, now it is a bit of a ‘groaner.’)

However, the execution of any production that allows exaggerated makeup, inaccurate costuming, and mockery of Asian people is not, in this day and age with Hamilton, Allegiance and School of Rock, acceptable. When you view the current Lincoln Center Theater performances of The King and I, and see how beautifully APIs [Asian-Pacific Islanders] can inhabit a show that is, yes, a standard of the MT [musical theatre] canon, then you can see the authenticity of a pan Asian representation and what it brings to a production.

“We, the Asian Americans, do not want to ‘take away’ your precious Mikado – we want you to do better. We want you to stop constantly mocking us and telling us by your actions and deeds that Yellowface remains part of your theatrical lexicon. We want you to make any production of it, smarter, less full of stereotypes – more full of the respect G&S were trying for.”

Wannen said, “I really believe that the issue is a larger issue, obviously, than who is Asian and who isn’t. We’re dealing with this on a global level and listening to this outcry.”

– See more at: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/casting-and-advertisement-for-the-mikado-in-nyc-stirs-controversy-amongst-asian-community-362609#sthash.40bZcHo4.dpuf

The low-down on e-cigarettes and why it affects Asian Americans

BZVape_ConvictHybridMod

Audrey Magazine:

A few years ago, I began hearing about vapes, or electronic cigarettes, and I saw my peers start to use them with the claim that they wanted to quit smoking. Naturally, I was extremely skeptical because I was against smoking, even if vapes were supposedly harmless. However, I noticed that many vape shops were opening around me and vaping was rapidly becoming some sort of trend.

You would not have expected me to work a part time summer job at a vape shop, now would you? Well, that’s exactly what I did the summer of 2013. Hearing about how passionate the new store-owners were about promoting a healthier lifestyle by “making the switch” and their own experiences with wanting to quit cigarette smoking opened my eyes and made me want to support their cause.

BZVape_SupportLocal

In June 2013, BZ Vapin’ had their grand opening in La Habra, California. I was stunned at how huge the event turned out to be as crowds of people filtered in and out of the store’s glass door. The store produced a chill, Hawaiian vibe since the owners had family members from the islands. This theme is actually quite fitting for a vape shop because, unfortunately, tobacco use is a major concern for the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community. In an effort to find a healthier alternative, they became one of the main consumers of vaping products.

According to the Asian Pacific Partners of Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership (APPEAL) in Oakland, California, tobacco is associated with heart disease, cancer and strokes. These are the top three killers of Asian Americans nationwide. In 2013, APPEAL conducted studies in Asian languages to accurately track smoking rates. Shockingly, the following groups revealed high smoking rates among men: Cambodian (13-58%), Korean (22-37%), Lao (32) and Vietnamese (24-41%).

 

Standard vaping pens called C-Twists are customizable from color to tank size.

Standard vaping pens are customizable from color to tank size.

So what exactly are vapes? Electronic cigarettes appeared in the marketplace in the early 2000s and were promoted as a cessation tool for those that wanted to quit tobacco smoking. Its use increased substantially over the last several years. Still, over a decade after the electronic cigarette’s first appearance, some doubt remains whether vaping is actually a healthier alternative to cigarettes and whether there are serious health risks.

In a recent issue of the journal Addiction, they reported that vapes have fewer toxins and at a significantly lower level, and found that switching over can help smokers quit or reduce cigarette consumption.

Vapes carry nicotine liquids or “juices” that typically contain propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, flavoring and nicotine. There are a variety of flavors, from natural and synthetic to organic fruit extracts. There are also different levels of nicotine that range from zero to 36 mg. This allows the consumer, if they desire, to gradually decrease their nicotine intake and perhaps eventually stop smoking or vaping altogether.

Aer juices (pronounced like "air") can be mixed to create your own flavor.

Aer juices (pronounced like “air”) can be mixed to create your own flavor.

E-cig users are inhaling water-like vapor that is free of the tar and high levels of carcinogens that make cigarette smoking so dangerous,” says George Conley, President of the American Vaping Association. He also claims that the public has been misled into thinking that e-cigs are a threat to public health because of the fear that those who have never smoked will vape as first time users. Conley also argues that with the increase of vapor products, there is also a quicker decrease in cigarette sales. Why would anyone be against this?

A customer at BZ Vapin' in La Habra poses with one of the owners while sporting a shirt that says, "Vaping saved my life."

A customer at BZ Vapin’ in La Habra poses with one of the owners while sporting a shirt that says, “vaping saved my life.”

As someone who is anti-tobacco, I support vaping as a healthier alternative. Though I have never smoked tobacco, I have used a vape with juice that contained nicotine many times. Did I become a smoker? No. Am I addicted to vaping? Not at all. I don’t even own one and don’t crave using it. However, I don’t mind the pleasant fruity or dessert scents that comes from the vapor.

So the next time a pleasant smelling cloud comes your way, you’ll know you have nothing to worry about.