Randall Park on what it means to star on TV’s first Asian American family sitcom in 20 Years

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Audrey Magazine: (story by Randall Park)

 

It happened! A pilot that I worked on got picked up to be a series!

Now, I’ve done several of these during the course of my career, and none have made it past the pilot stage. But after over a decade of hard work in this business, it’s finally happened. I will be a regular character on a nationally televised show. But this is not just any show. When it makes its debut next year, ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat will be the first Asian American family sitcom to air on network television in 20 years, since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl. For me, coming from an Asian American studies background, this is like a wet dream. But it’s also a lot of pressure.

People are hungry to see themselves represented on television, and people rightfully want to be represented properly. But the Asian American community is not monolithic, and proper representation means different things to different people. For example, there has been a great deal of online debate about whether or not the title Fresh Off the Boat is offensive. The answer isn’t so clear-cut: it’s yes for some, no for others. Again, members of our community do not all think alike. But with that said, this particular show is based on an amazing book bearing the same title by Eddie Huang. It is his memoir, it is his title, and I, for one, am all for it.

I do, however, have my own issues with the show: first of all, the fact that I’m on it. To have a Korean American actor play the father of a Taiwanese-Chinese American family is an issue that is not lost on me. I’ve even expressed my concerns repeatedly about this to Eddie himself. And every time, he has shown me nothing but love and support, assuring me that I’m the only one for this job. Whether true or not, I take that to heart because, again, it is his story.

Then, there’s the issue of having to speak with an accent. In an ideal world, I would never have to play a character with an accent. But this is a character based on a real person. So it’s something that I have to honor and try to perfect as the series moves forward.

Playing an immigrant character on a television comedy also has its own inherent risks: Is the audience laughing because the joke is funny or because I’m speaking with an accent? Are they laughing because I’m a human being in a funny situation or because they think I’m a funny-talking immigrant? I am constantly analyzing through this lens, almost to the point of paranoia.

Geesh, white actors never have to go through this sh-t.

But issues aside, I am proud to be a part of this amazing show. Getting a television series on the air is an incredible feat. Getting one with no bankable name stars in today’s television climate is damn near impossible. Getting one about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle. Just know that. And regardless of how Fresh Off the Boat does ratings-wise, I believe it’s a step toward more varied representation on the small and big screens. Hopefully, it inspires others to tell their own stories and translate them to a TV show, as Eddie did. It is possible. And we shouldn’t have to wait another 20 years for it to happen again.

 

This column was originally printed in KoreAm Journal. It was later published in Audrey Magazine’s Winter 2014-15 issue– Get your copy here

Fresh Off the Boat premieres Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 8:30 pm. and a second episode will air at 9:30. Fresh Off the Boat will move to its regular 8:00 pm Tuesday timeslot on Feb. 10.  

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Washington Post: Why Asian American kids excel. It’s not ‘Tiger Moms.’

 

Washington Post:

 

No more 'tiger moms': the study's found that socioeconomic factors may be the reason for Asian Americans' success -- as opposed to strict parenting techniques, like the ones made famous by Amy Chua (pictured)

No more ‘tiger moms’: the study’s found that socioeconomic factors may be the reason for Asian Americans’ success — as opposed to strict parenting techniques, like the ones made famous by Amy Chua (pictured)

 

Why do Asian American students outpace everyone else academically?

The most publicized attempt to answer that question — a few years ago, by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua — set off a controversy that rages to this day.

Chua’s answer, originally set out in a 2011 Wall Street Journal opinion article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” was that “tiger mothers” were prepared to coerce kids into doing homework and practicing the piano, in part by calling them names. Chua (who’s latest book is “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America”) held herself and her academically successful children out as examples.

But a new study published in the journal “Race and Social Problems” by two California scholars takes on Chua, suggesting that with all the economic resources at her disposal — she and her husband are Yale professors with highly-educated parents — her children’s success is just as likely the result of socioeconomic and cultural advantages, generally cited by scholars as the main reason some children do better than others.

The authors of “The Success Frame and Achievement Paradox: The Costs and Consequences for Asian Americans” are Min Zhou, professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at the Univ. of California at Los Angeles, currently on leave at Nanyang Technological University, and Jennifer Lee, professor of sociology at the Univ. of California at Irvine.

 

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Professors Jennifer Lee of University of California-Irvine, left, and Min Zhou, right, from the University of California-Los Angeles conducted the study which casts doubt on ‘tiger mom’ parenting

 

That is exactly what they’ve done. And their findings are pretty straightforward: Young Asian Americans have all kinds of good role models to emulate. Their communities and families make sure they get extra help when they need it. Their families, even on limited resources, manage to seek out and move to neighborhoods with good schools. And they aspire to success with specific goals in mind: medicine, law, engineering and pharmacy. And they aim for the best schools.A better way to understand Asian American academic success, they write, is to look at families who don’t have resources and succeed nonetheless.

It’s not about coercion or some mysterious ethnic gift, they write. It’s about the way they view their horizons, with extraordinarily high expectations — so high that kids who don’t rise to the occasion feel like “black sheep” and “outliers.”

Zhou and Lee studied Chinese American and Vietnamese American communities in Los Angeles without a lot of financial resources or parental higher education — factors that tend to skew other academic studies of success. They focused on two groups: the so-called “1.5 generation” — foreign-born immigrants who came to the United States prior to age 13 — and second-generation families. They conducted 82 face-to-face interviews to get a picture of why these communities are doing so well in advancing their children through high school and college.

Here’s what they found: Although their means are limited, Asian families in the study choose neighborhoods carefully to make sure schools offer honors and advanced-placement courses. To do this, parents use the “Chinese Yellow Pages,” which the researchers describe as “a two-inch thick, 1,500-page long telephone directory that is published annually and lists ethnic businesses in Southern California, as well as the rankings of the region’s public high schools and the nation’s best universities.” They also make sure their kids get plenty of supplementary help such as tutoring.

These families have incredibly high standards, according to the study. If kids come home with a 3.5 grade-point average, parents are disappointed that it’s not 4.0 — and they show it.

If a child gets into, say, Cal State, the question is why they didn’t make it into Stanford.

If a son or daughter comes home and settles for a bachelor’s degree, they’re made to feel less accomplished because they don’t have a PhD.

Both groups in the study, Zhou and Lee reported, adopt a similar “frame for what ‘doing well in school’ means: getting straight A’s, graduating as valedictorian or salutatorian, getting into one of the top UC (University of California) schools or an Ivy, and pursuing some type of graduate education in order [to] work in one of the ‘four professions’: doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, or engineer. So exacting is the frame for ‘doing well in school’ that our Asian respondents described the value of grades on an Asian scale as ‘A is for average, and B is an Asian fail.’’’

Such high standards have positive and negative impacts, the researchers found.

If expectations are that high, many young people will try to meet them. They will get into Stanford and they will get that PhD.

The downside is that those who fall short — the ‘A-minus’ student’ — wind up feeling alienated from their ethnicity. In short, they feel less Asian and more, well, American.

They describe a young man named Paul who chose to be an artist instead of following the path prescribed by his parents. He called himself “the whitest Chinese guy you’ll ever meet.”

They tell of one young woman they interviewed, Sarah, who when asked whether she feels successful compared to her friends who are not Chinese, pauses “as if she had never considered that comparison before and finally replied, ‘If I were to look at my white friends of that same age range, yes I’m more successful. If I were to look at all of my friends, yes, I would say so.’”

They write:

Sarah is not unique in this regard; none of the 1.5- and second-generation Chinese and Vietnamese respondents considered measuring their success against native-born whites (or native-born blacks for that matter). Rather, they turn to high-achieving coethnics as their reference group — a finding that highlights that native-born whites are not the standard by which today’s 1.5- and second-generation Asians measure their success and achievements.

…So strong is the perception that the success frame is the norm among Asian Americans that the 1.5- and second-generation Chinese and Vietnamese who cannot attain it or choose to buck it find themselves at odds with their immigrant parents and with their ethnic identities.

 

While acknowledging the benefits of this “success frame,” Zhou and Lee are not entirely happy with it. They say they would prefer that academic prowess no longer be “coded as an ‘Asian thing.’”

Then, they write, “Asian American students may be more willing to measure their success against a more reasonable barometer, which may result in a boost in self-esteem and self-efficacy.”

 

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Washington Post: Why Asian American kids excel. It’s not ‘Tiger Moms.’

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New book explores representations of mixed race Asian Americans in popular culture

 

In this first book-length study of media images of multiracial Asian Americans, Leilani Nishime traces the codes that alternatively enable and prevent audiences from recognizing the multiracial status of Asian Americans.

Nishime’s perceptive readings of popular media–movies, television shows, magazine articles, and artwork–indicate how and why the viewing public often fails to identify multiracial Asian Americans. Using actor Keanu Reeves, golfer Tiger Woods, and the television show Battlestar Galactica as examples, Nishime suggests that this failure is tied to gender, sexuality, and post-racial politics. In contrast to these representations, Nishime provides a set of alternative moments when audiences can view multiracial Asians as multiracial. Through a consideration of the Matrix trilogy, reality TV star Kimora Lee Simmons, and the artwork of Kip Fulbeck, these examples highlight both the perils and benefits of racial visibility, uncovering our society’s ways of constructing racial categories. Throughout this incisive study, Nishime offers nuanced interpretations that open the door to a new and productive understanding of race in America.

Nishime’s persuasive, well-grounded analysis yields genuinely brilliant insights regarding the pitfalls and possibilities of multiracial visibility in contemporary media culture. Lucidly written with appealing attention to popular texts, this is the sort of book that moves multiracial and Asian American studies in interesting and engaging new directions.”–Glen Mimura, author of Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video

Leilani Nishime is an assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington and the coeditor of East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture.

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New book explores representations of mixed race Asian Americans in popular culture

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Museum cancels yellowface-themed fundraiser after accusations of racism

CBC News:

Racism complaints force WAG to rework fundraiser theme

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is changing the theme of its Art & Soul fundraiser after complaints of racism.

The theme for the Feb. 22 event was initially called Big in Japan and encouraged people to “grab your chopsticks, show off your jiu-jitsu skills”  and “get noticed by Geisha girls.”

Jenny WillsJenny Wills wrote a blog post criticising the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s theme for an annual fundraiser. The gallery later changed it.

Jenny Wills condemned the event in a blog post that has since gone viral. People flocked to Twitter to criticize the event, using the hashtag #WAGOrientalism.

My initial reaction was that it had to be a joke. The original page has things like, ‘This party will be so epic, you’ll think you’re turning Japanese,’” said Wills, who teaches Asian studies at the University of Winnipeg. “It was just sort of horrifying to me that some of the stereotypes that had been used to make me feel othered as a child were still being used — and being used by a cultural institution in the name of fundraising.”

The website for the event also referenced environmentalist David Suzuki, who was born and raised in Canada. That particularly hit a nerve for Wills.

This is the same kind of ‘forever a foreigner’ that was used to intern and deport over 20,000 Canadians with Japanese ancestry during World War 2, more than half of who were born in Canada,” she said.

It was surprising that the art gallery didn’t realize their event would offend a lot of people, said literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, who specializes in Asian-American studies at Stanford University in California.

If you had an event and called it ‘Let’s be Jewish for a Day’ And you mimicked various Jewish customs and food. I think the Jewish community would think of it as being anti-semitic,” he said. “Just imagine your ethnic background becoming a spectacle.”

“Through social media and emails, several people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Big in Japan theme,” Stephen Borys, WAG director and CEO, stated in a press release.

It became clear over the course of the last few days that the event itself was being overshadowed by the issues at hand. However, when the community speaks up, we listen.”

The fundraising event “will feature four floors of décor and entertainment reflecting Manitoba’s distinctive seasons,” the press release stated.

We’ve heard opinions expressed across the spectrum, many who wanted to stay with the theme who believed in the event as a cultural celebration, but at the end of the day we needed to do the right thing,” said Borys.

The WAG would never want to reduce any culture to stereotypes and we thank those who contacted us directly with their concerns, and we are sorry for any offence that was caused.

Japan theme at WAGThrough social media and emails, several people expressed dissatisfaction with the Big in Japan theme, said Stephen Borys, the WAG’s director and CEO.

We had several people speak to the issue of cultural appropriation and the offence that this theme was causing. The dialogue around what is respectful and beneficial to everyone is important to the WAG, and that’s why we’ve decided to choose an alternative theme.”

Art & Soul is in its 25th year as an annual fundraiser for the WAG. The event takes place throughout the entire building and centres on a particular theme that changes every year.

Wills said cultural institutions need to be aware of what kind message they are sending with their events.

She has spoken with employees with the WAG about having cultural workshops to avoid something similar happening again, but for now, said she’s happy they listened to her concerns.

I respect them for that very much,” she said.

Check out this link:

Museum cancels yellowface-themed fundraiser after accusations of racism

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Rising Real Estate Prices Remake New York’s Chinatown

 

Rising Real Estate Prices Remake New York's Chinatown

 

New York‘s soaring real estate prices have had a dramatic impact on scores of neighborhoods, including the city’s famed Chinatown.

The area in lower Manhattan has long been a critical base for Chinese immigrants and their families, making it one of the largest concentrations of ethnic Chinese in the West.   But now many are leaving as an influx of white professionals and students drive up the cost of housing.

Enough blame to go around

Peter Kwong, professor of Asian American Studies and Urban Planner at Hunter College, says developers eager to build high-rises are part of the reason for the shift. But he also blames outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “City Hall [has] been doing this throughout New York City, particularly Manhattan, Chinatown is the last area that has not been gentrified,” he said.

report released earlier this year by the New York-based Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund says there is a similar shortage of affordable housing in Chinatowns in Boston and Philadelphia. The report found an increase in luxury housing and hotels, and a decline in Asian businesses as well as family households.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg’s policies are credited for a significant decrease in crime, and many of his supporters say that rent increases are a sign of a city’s economic progress.

But in Manhattan’s Chinatown those rent increases have already pushed many former residents out. According to the 2010 Census, about 17 percent of Chinatown’s Chinese residents, some 6,000 people, were displaced from the neighborhood since 2000.

As rents move up, immigrants move out

Sun Meirong, has been living in Manhattan’s Chinatown since she first came to the United States from her native city of Fuzhou in 1990. Her restaurant is close to Canal Street, the gravitational center of the island’s Chinatown and she says she has seen a significant decrease in customers, mostly Chinese immigrants.

In the past during the thanksgiving holiday for example, there were so many people on this street outside, you could not walk. But starting from about three years ago there is hardly anybody on the street anymore. This is the change we see in Chinatown.”

Sun says that many of her neighbors have been evicted from their homes after landlords decided to renovate the buildings.

After that they just sold to developers without considering to give it to the people who were living there in the first place: immigrants,” she says.

For Sun, what is happening in Chinatown is counter to the ideals America stands for.

“The U.S. is a country of immigrants, but many immigrants get here and do not have a place to live or cannot afford it,” she says.

Opponents of gentrification try to reverse trend

Grassroots organizations in Chinatown are fighting what they see as the gutting of their neighborhood.

Li Hua, secretary of the Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association, says that her organization collected thousands of signatures to stop recent plans for more luxury development in Manhattan’s East Side.

We have been protesting against it in all venues possible. At public hearings, with the administration’s planning department, to the city council. We had people participating at every step, not just a few but hundreds. But Bloomberg charged on, they just do not care.”

With a new mayor elect ready to step into New York’s city hall, some are hopeful that the trend for Chinatown and other low-income neighborhoods in New York will be reversed.

New Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to narrow the gap between the wealthy and the poor in New York and expand the available affordable housing in the city.

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Rising Real Estate Prices Remake New York’s Chinatown

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Not Just A ‘Black Thing’: An Asian-American’s Bond With Malcolm X

KochiyamaCheck out this interesting piece by NPR:

“The brief friendship of Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama began close to 50 years ago with a handshake.

Diane Fujino, chairwoman of the Asian-American studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, details the moment in her biography ‘Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama.'”

Check out this link:

Not Just A ‘Black Thing’: An Asian-American’s Bond With Malcolm X

Yuri Kochiyama