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.

Washington Post: The ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ of stereotyping Asian American students

“Ophelia” was never a very good student.

The second generation Vietnamese American described herself as “not very intelligent,” someone who got straight Cs. She failed the exam to qualify for Advanced Placement classes at the end of Junior High.

But for reasons beyond her understanding, she was placed on the AP track when she got to high school. There, surrounded by ambitious peers and high expectations, “something clicked,” she told researcher Jennifer Lee.

I wanted to work hard and prove I was a good student,” she said. “I think the competition kind of increases” the desire to “do better.”

Ophelia graduated with a 4.2 grade point average and an acceptance to a prestigious pharmacy program.

Lee, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine, is an author of the new book “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” which examines how stereotypes based on race can determine students’ chances for success. For their research, she and co-author Min Zhou surveyed hundreds of students like Ophelia — children of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants who felt they were treated differently because of their race.

Teachers and guidance counselors and peers assumed that they were smart and disciplined and high achieving,” Lee told The Washington Post. “So they were more likely to be placed on advanced tracks, more likely to be directed toward selective colleges. Some admitted to getting grades they didn’t feel like they deserved.”

Paradoxically, though, this was one stereotype that served its targets well. Lee said students who were subject to irrationally high expectations usually rose to meet them. Surrounded by brainy classmates only happy with “As,” they adjusted their own notions of what it means to do well. Assumed to be a “smart Asian,” as Lee put it, they put extra effort into their coursework in order to live up to expectations of their ethnicity.

What you have is a self-fulfilling prophesy where initially what is untrue becomes true,” Lee said. She calls it the “stereotype promise.”

Lee’s findings are the inverse of social science we’ve heard about before. For the past two decades, researchers have been investigating the “stereotype threat” — how negative assumptions about certain groups can undercut their performance. It’s been used to explain why high-achieving African American students sometimes struggle when they get to college, why talented women may underperform in STEM fields.

Social psychologist Claude Steele, who coined the term in 1995, explained how the stereotype threat affects members of groups that are seen as less able or intelligent.

They know that they are especially likely to be seen as having limited ability,” he wrote in the Atlantic in 1999. “Groups not stereotyped in this way don’t experience this extra intimidation. And it is a serious intimidation, implying as it does that they may not belong in walks of life where the tested abilities are important — walks of life in which they are heavily invested. Like many pressures, it may not be experienced in a fully conscious way, but it may impair their best thinking.”

In the Los Angeles area, where Lee and her colleagues surveyed 4,800 first-generation Americans, the children of Mexican immigrants were most likely to be affected by the stereotype threat. These respondents told Lee that they were rarely taken seriously as students. They weren’t offered help preparing for the SAT and weren’t advised to apply for four-year colleges. If Mexican American students wanted to get into a selective school, they had to be their own tutors, their own guidance counselors.

One of the questions it raises is how many students aren’t given the opportunity to meet their potential,” Lee said.

Lee’s finding challenges the assumption that gaps in achievement are purely cultural, that “tiger moms” and community regard for education entirely explain Asian American students’ success. The perception of a culture can be as influential as the culture itself.

That’s not to say that culture isn’t a factor — Lee has previously studied how raised expectations within the Asian American community drive high achievement. But when we adopt stereotypes about Asians and education, we’re crediting the wrong culture, she said. It’s not necessarily Chinese people who value education so highly (only 4 percent of China’s population has a college degree), it’s the highly educated Chinese immigrants who come to the United States, more than half of whom went to college.

It’s not culture reduced to a certain ethnicity,” Lee said. “It’s about who immigrates to the U.S. and what sort of norms they’re bringing.”

Chinese and Korean immigrants are “hyper-selected,” as Lee put it. They are more likely to be highly skilled and more likely to hold an advanced degree than almost any other immigrant group. In fact, they are almost twice as likely to be college-educated than the general U.S. population — only 28 percent of Americans have graduated from college. Since parents’ level of educational attainment is one of the best predictors of their children’s achievement, it’s hardly surprising that academically successful Chinese immigrants will have academically successful kids.

Teachers’ assumptions about Asian culture — misplaced though they may be — affect how they perceive Asian American students. And Asian American students internalize those perceptions. They wind up achieving more than they normally would have based on a stereotype that isn’t even completely true.

We think that grades and test scores and who gets into what colleges is objective, that it’s all about individual effort,” Lee said. “But our work reveals the hidden ways in which biases and stereotypes operate that make certain outcomes more possible for certain groups.”

Most of the students Lee spoke to said that the stereotype promise was a good thing. It helped them do well in school and get into good colleges.

But Lee warns that it can be a “double-edged sword.” Asian American students are also likely to feel a form of the intimidation Steele described in writing about the stereotype threat.

While black students may worry that their failures will reinforce negative assumptions about African American achievement, Asian American students who didn’t meet the high expectations set for them “didn’t feel Asian,” Lee said. One man told her that he was “the whitest Chinese guy she’ll ever meet,” because he didn’t fit the stereotype of a high-achieving Asian. The pressure can lead to mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

And the positive stereotypes that serve Asian Americans well in school can act against them once they’re in the workforce. They have a harder time attaining leadership positions because they’re seen as diligent and thoughtful, rather than bold and creative, according to Lee. She noted that Asian Americans made up 6 percent of college students (slightly more than their proportion of the U.S. population) but 2 percent of college presidents. In Silicon Valley, Asian Americans are 27 percent of the workforce but just 14 percent of executives.

The stereotype promise may help Asian American students get a degree, Lee said, but the “bamboo ceiling” stops them from achieving as much as they could with it.

BBC Magazine: Three Western myths about Japan

Geisha eats a sushi roll

BBC- Magazine (by Dr. Christopher Harding):

National and racial stereotypes are often hard to dispel, but in the case of Japan, argues Dr Chris Harding of Edinburgh University, people in the West seem particularly determined to cling on to a set of long-established myths.

Landing in Japan for the first time 10 years ago, I couldn’t wait to get out of Narita Airport‘s dull beige arrivals area and into the real Japan.

Pretty soon, I felt sure, I would be lost in the intense verdant greens of paddy fields and forests, the steaming waters of natural hot springs. A sip of green tea would set me up for an afternoon of meditation in some old Buddhist temple tucked in among fragrant cedars. And then as night fell, a bullet train would zoom me into central Tokyo for a joyously baffled embrace of its Blade Runner futurism and crazy entertainments.

None of these fantasies survived a three-hour gridlocked bus ride into Tokyo, the motorway’s faceless concrete sidings occasionally dipping to allow views out across faceless concrete high-rises.

Rush-hour traffic in Tokyo

I drank sugary milk marketed as “ice coffee” with the Japanese acquaintance who’d come to meet me. We established that though his family was “technically Buddhist” he had no idea what that meant and he associated temples with school trips and dead people.

As we lapsed into silence, I considered asking Japan’s tourist board for my money back. I had been mis-sold Japan!

Later I realised they were just doing their job, generating tourist dollars with the material available to them – one extremely gullible young man, plus a century and a half of Western misrepresentations of Japan.

Here are three of the best misrepresentations – or worst, depending on your point of view.

1: Japan is inherently strange

“To find oneself suddenly in a world where everything is upon a smaller and daintier scale than with us – a world of lesser and seemingly kindlier beings, all smiling at you as if to wish you well – a world where all movement is slow and soft, and voices are hushed… this is surely the realisation, for imaginations nourished with English folklore, of the old dream of a World of Elves.”

That was the writer Lafcadio Hearn, 125 years ago. Across the century that followed, countless Westerners visited and worked in Japan. Japanese culture became readily available to us in literature and film. And yet despite all this, the keynote of the brilliant 1980s travelogue Clive James in Japan was a drily comic bewilderment at everything.

When he buys a snack on a bullet train, thinking that it might be a ham sandwich (while also noting that it looks like a pair of tights) it turns out to be a powerful-smelling dried squid – “dried and ironed” he speculates. Revolted, James stuffs the snack into the seat pocket and heads off for his next misadventure with the carriage’s on-board telephone.

Maybe I shouldn’t gripe. This was light entertainment, after all. But whereas most travel documentaries try to offer a portrait of a place, helping viewers or listeners get to know it, when it came to the Japanese the underlying message was: “It can’t be done! They’re completely inscrutable!”

Why? One reason may be that in a world where true strangeness and surprise have become rare and precious commodities, we have to find them somewhere. Financial Times journalist David Pilling quotes a friend who said Japan was the most alien place she’d been that had good plumbing.

At the same time, Japan offers us a mirror in which to look at ourselves. We say “Japan is…“, but we’re really asking a question: “Are we…?” The Japanese are dainty, kindly, soft – are we coarse and hard-hearted? Japan is hobbled by a group mentality that trumps individualism – how free are we…?

2. The Japanese are dangerous

1942: Japanese soldiers celebrate after capturing an American gun emplacement in the Bataan province of the Philippines

Atrocities committed during World War Two gave the Japanese military a powerful reputation for cruelty. But a notion has long bubbled away in the West that the Japanese as a people are inherently unpredictable and dangerous – the famous gentility masking something menacing. This goes back at least as far as the 1850s, when British travellers and diplomats saw Japanese tolerance of their presence in the country morph into sporadic attacks against Westerners and their Japanese assistants. They linked the violence to the particular outlook of the samurai class, and the association stuck.

Some of these early ideas about the samurai were in part Japanese creations – fantasies concocted for a Western readership willing to pay good money for exotic tales of violence and sex. World War Two gave the legend another twist: the chivalrous, highly ethical elements of this samurai fantasy were lost, and what remained was the unthinking loyalty, the refusal to surrender, the indifference towards death – and others’ lives.

You can hear the results of all this in Alan Whicker’s nervous postwar musings on karate.

3. Japanese women are submissive

Japan has been seen as the land that feminism forgot. Both Japanese and Western commentators have tended to see the geisha girl as the ideal of Japanese womanhood – attractive and subtle, subservient to men, but clever enough to be good company. Then there was the influential American anthropologist of the 1940s, Ruth Benedict, who heard that Japanese girls were given just enough education so they could put their husbands’ books back the right way up once they’d finished dusting them. By the 1960s, for Western men unsure what to make of the rise of women’s liberation movements, all of this appeared deeply attractive.

Japanese women even received the ultimate British seal of approval in 1967, as Mie Hama became Bond-girl “Kissy Suzuki” in You Only Live Twice. Given the low-down on domestic arrangements in Japan by his male host – women are inferior to men, they’re happy with that, and they live to serve – Bond gives his blessing: “I think I’ll retire here…”

And if you think that nothing of this sort could possibly go on in the early 21st Century, then you haven’t been paying attention to Japanese pop culture, and the success of Japanese pop behemoth AKB-48.

Japanese all girl band AKB-48 arrive at the 22nd Golden Melody Awards in Taipei on June 18, 2011

Yes, 48 young girls (in the original line-up, though the group has since expanded), forbidden from having boyfriends and content instead to smile and dance around in bikinis or mock military uniforms or really whatever a paying public of – critics would argue – socially inadequate young and middle-aged men want to see.

All in all, this particular myth about Japan is simply worth too much to too many people – Western men mourning the passing of the patriarchy, Western feminists looking for sisters to save in Asia, corporate Japan chasing the under-deodorised male dollar (or Yen) – for it to be revised any time soon. It’s the perfect example of how diverse interests come together over time to create misrepresentations with a surprisingly long shelf life.

How Asian Americans should deal with racist “microaggressions”

Dr. Richard Lee, Professor of Psychology- University of Minnesota

The Mac Weekly (by Minju Kim):

Microaggressions is a form of racism, often subtle, many Asian Americans deal with in their daily lives. Dr. Richard Lee, a psychology professor at University of Minnesota, is an expert on microaggression towards Asian Americans. He does extensive research on Asian Americans, including diverse issues ranging from international or interracial adoption and immigration to media portrayal of Asians.

On February 26th, he visited Macalester and gave a lecture titled “What does FOB mean? Fresh Off the Boat or Foreigner Objectification?

He explained that microaggression, which is a subtle but still concrete form of racism, occurs because many people regard Asian Americans as “forever foreigners,” rather than a part of “American identity.” They objectify Asian Americans in categories and exoticized as to serve their curiosity. The question that they frequently ask, “Where are you REALLY from?” manifests their perception of Asians as foreigners. Thus, the term FOB, which originally means Fresh-Off-the-Boat, can be interpreted as Foreign Objectification.

While the lecture marked a great success with high turnout, some questions remained among the participants. With regards to the questions, the follow-up interview was conducted through email in order to help the readers to better understand the argument that he makes.

TMW: At the lecture, you mentioned that it is important for adoptees to be connected to their original ethnic cultures. At the same time, their identity as American is essential to their self-esteem and life satisfaction. Then, what is the best and most stable identity for them to have? The American identity? The Asian identity? The Asian-American identity?

RL: There is no one best or most stable identity for any group of people, adopted or not. Research suggests that what is most important is that individuals develop an overall healthy, positive identity. If identifying with a particular social group (e.g., Asian American, Vietnamese, African-American) contributes to this overall identity, then all the better. Other research also suggests that feeling like you belong in this country (and hence identify as American) is important to well-being.

You said “Microaggression towards Asians is more cognitive rather than emotional.” Could you elaborate that point?

Our view is that microaggressions toward Asian Americans often are based on stereotypes that are not necessarily laden with negative emotions (e.g., angry black man). Instead, they are based on stereotypes such as nerdy, weak and foreign.

What do you think is the cause of microaggression? Would it be strictly because of the media portrayal of Asian Americans?

Media plays a big role but it’s also historical, dating back to the first Chinese immigrants to come to America.

You mentioned that you are interested in researching the ways in which Asians Americans cope with microaggression. However, as of now, how do you recommend Asian Americans to react when they encounter such racism?

It is important for Asian Americans to develop a repertoire of interpersonal and emotional coping skills to manage racism and discrimination. These skills should help people immediately after a discriminatory event occurs and afterward too. For example, if someone keeps asking questions and making comments that make you feel like they are treating you as a foreigner, it is helpful to know how to address this treatment rather than just accept it and thereby reinforce this person’s stereotype, but if there is a potential threat in the environment and its not safe, then it is important to know how to defuse the situation and step away. It also is important to know when to seek support from friends and family.

For those students who are not Asian Americans, what is the proper way for them to interact with Asian American students? Should they just not ask questions even when they have questions?

I think it’s important for people to just take a minute to examine their assumptions before making a comment such as “Where are you really from?” Is it the same kind of question you would ask a white person? If not, then why are you asking it now? If you are curious about someone’s ethnic background, ask yourself why. Is it to satisfy your curiosity? But then ask if you would ask another white person this question. Why are you only curious about the background of someone who is Asian? Is it the novelty or because you perceive Asians as an Other that is exotic and foreign?

To conclude, foreign objectification all comes down to hasty assumptions and inappropriate questions. Don’t get me wrong, I do not intend to say that microaggression always stems from ill intention. However, to borrow W. Kamau Bell’s words, “ending racism is not about ending your curiosity.” It takes a long time to change the society. However, it takes only few seconds to think before asking an inappropriate question and to avoid partaking in microaggression.

Asian-American students share their struggles in #MyBananaStory

"After moving to the US, I tried to fit in for sure, but it wasn't my appearance that I tried so desperately to change. I was proud of being different. I was proud of the fact that I ate hotdogs for breakfast, and packed rice for lunch. What I wasn't proud of was my accent. I don't know why, but I tried really hard to "normalize" it. Maybe it's because that was the only way I could think of for them to listen to me without immediately branding me as a foreigner...so I could make them understand that just because I have a Filipino lifestyle, that doesn't mean I'm a foreigner. I'm just really glad I found the few, open-minded people in my earlier years in the US who invested time in getting to know me while appreciating my culture, and not just judging it from afar," said Charmaine Balisalisa, director of creative enterprises of Paradox. (Walbert Castillo/USA TODAY College)

“After moving to the US, I tried to fit in for sure, but it wasn’t my appearance that I tried so desperately to change. I was proud of being different. I was proud of the fact that I ate hotdogs for breakfast and packed rice for lunch. What I wasn’t proud of was my accent. I don’t know why, but I tried really hard to ‘normalize’ it. Maybe it’s because that was the only way I could think of for them to listen to me without immediately branding me as a foreigner…so I could make them understand that just because I have a Filipino lifestyle, that doesn’t mean I’m a foreigner. I’m just really glad I found the few, open-minded people in my earlier years in the US who invested time in getting to know me while appreciating my culture, and not just judging it from afar,” said Charmaine Balisalisa, director of creative enterprises of Paradox. (Walbert Castillo/USA TODAY College)

 

USA Today: (By Walbert Castillo)

Some individuals consider the banana to simply be a sweet, crescent-shaped fruit. But for some Asian-American students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, it has a different connotation. Like them, it’s something that’s yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

Which is why Paradox, an Asian-American sociopolitical rights organization at U. of Illinois, created My Banana Story. It bring awareness to Asian Americans who have felt alienated, bullied or suffered from social anxiety while assimilating to American culture and society.

Alex Wen, co-founder of Paradox and a recent U. of Illinois graduate, says the banana represents Asian Americans’ desire to be white and socially accepted. And My Banana Story, he says, highlights the internal conflicts Asian Americans faced growing up.

Paradox members’ Facebook profile pictures feature photos of themselves holding a banana to their head, which symbolizes a gun according to Bing Wang, the Paradox director of communications. And each picture caption tells the members’ respective stories, featuring the hashtag #MyBananaStory.

This idea was to pose in a way where we’re committing suicide,” says Wen. “Because (My Banana Story) is this idea of killing your own identity in order to conform.”

“Racial slurs, death threats, and getting spit at was not what I was expecting from high school when I first entered during my freshmen year. After getting off at my bus stop, another student calls me a word I won’t write on here. But I respond rather passively, trying not to escalate the situation. However, he shoves me and calls me a “dirty chink” so I respond with some expletives. He goes on calling me more offensive and racial words, the usual targeted racial stereotypes like you smell gross because of your food, your eyes are too small, you sound weird and others that aren’t written as nicely as the previous ones. Normally, this would have constituted in punches being thrown. But despite the spitting, yelling, and shoving, I held back, because I believed what he was saying. It made me account my own social and academic failures to my culture rather than myself. So I changed. I tried to be as “American” as possible. A while later, my family visited Taiwan. I fell in love with my culture again. But once again, I wasn’t accepted. Every day I would play basketball at the same courts with the same groups of people. I was not seen as Taiwanese though. They clearly saw me as American through names, actions, and remarks. I wasn’t seen as American in America and I wasn’t seen as Taiwanese in Taiwan. I had no culture to identify with. I was a “banana” and it took me years to find myself again," said Matthew Hom, director of media of Paradox. (Walbert Castillo/USA TODAY College)

Racial slurs, death threats, and getting spit at was not what I was expecting from high school when I first entered during my freshman year. After getting off at my bus stop, another student calls me a word I won’t write on here. But I respond rather passively, trying not to escalate the situation. However, he shoves me and calls me a ‘dirty chink’ so I respond with some expletives. He goes on calling me more offensive and racial words, the usual targeted racial stereotypes like you smell gross because of your food, your eyes are too small, you sound weird and others that aren’t written as nicely as the previous ones. Normally, this would have constituted in punches being thrown. But despite the spitting, yelling, and shoving, I held back because I believed what he was saying. It made me account my own social and academic failures to my culture rather than myself. So I changed. I tried to be as ‘American’ as possible. A while later, my family visited Taiwan. I fell in love with my culture again. But once again, I wasn’t accepted. Every day I would play basketball at the same courts with the same groups of people. I was not seen as Taiwanese though. They clearly saw me as American through names, actions, and remarks. I wasn’t seen as American in America and I wasn’t seen as Taiwanese in Taiwan. I had no culture to identify with. I was a ‘banana’ and it took me years to find myself again,” said Matthew Hom, director of media of Paradox. (Walbert Castillo/USA TODAY College)

 

Alice Yao, a representative of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said the stories provide an outlet for Asian-American students to share their experiences and find strength through common themes.

The Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC) co-hosted a workshop with Paradox at the Asian American Cultural Center on U. of Illinois’ campus Feb. 25. The workshop’s co-chairs, Christina Malibiran and Sarah Park, say its purposed is to provide an outlet through which students could publicly share and reflect upon their respective banana stories.

The movement is a great way for Asian-American students on campus to talk more about student activism or political activism when sharing about their identity,” says Kenneth Importante, assistant director of the Asian American Cultural Center at U. of Illinois.

Prior to arriving at the U. of Illinois, Melanie Chiu, a freshman and member of Paradox, says she had never heard the word “banana” used to describe an Asian American. But when Chiu learned what the term meant and what it was associated with, she joined Paradox’s efforts to spread awareness..

There were some individuals who weren’t able to relate to My Banana Story because they’ve never felt white on the inside and yellow on the outside,” says Imee Ignacio, co-director of APAC.

Ignacio says Asian Americans should reclaim the word “banana,” using it as a form of empowerment. While “banana” can have negative connotations, Ignacio says it could — if used properly — help students better associate with their culture, identity and ethnicity.

This is a great way for us, as a campus and community, to share and educate what had happened to many of the students,” says Importante.

 

“A conversation with cultural critic/Jeopardy champ Arthur Chu on nerd culture, Asians, and media

chu

The Awl:

Since Arthur Chu’s historic win streak on Jeopardy! early last year, he’s shrewdly turned his still-minty viral celebrity into a regular gig as a cultural critic and, as some have put it, “the ombudsman of the nerd community.”

At Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan’s Chinatown, we talked about milking his fifteen minutes, the crisis of nerd culture, and becoming an unlikely Asian-American male icon over a plate of chicken feet. (For me, since he politely declined.)

Is online celebrity strange?

It is, because stuff that’s happening on Twitter, you feel like it’s the whole world and you step off for a few minutes and it doesn’t matter to the majority of people. Even to the extent that it does, there’s a huge decoupling of what makes you important online. A lot of times, I just throw up my hands and say, “I don’t even know what my follower count means anymore.” You just have to keep that in perspective. It affects the real world but it’s something separate from the real world.

What did you do after Jeopardy!?

Call up publicists and PR firms, and said straight up, “Hey, do you work with viral celebrities?” Then I’d ask, “If you were me, how would you hang on to the fame, how would you monetize it?” I got good answers—they weren’t bad answers—but it was stuff I couldn’t imagine myself doing. It was stuff like, “Well you should take the whole idea of game theory and you should become an advice kind of guy, you should do lifehacker stuff, stuff like how-tos on how to invest, get a mortgage.” I said, “That stuff doesn’t interest me.” I didn’t want to keep talking about that for the rest of my life.

You started writing for the Daily Beast. There was that piece that was a critique of nerd culture, and specifically the misogyny in nerd culture, which seems to be a topic you’re obsessed with talking about.

I was the weird smart kid when I was in school, and it sucks being isolated for any reason. But especially guys in our culture, when you feel like you have no romantic prospects, the girls look down on you. It’s baked into our TV, books, and media, that validation comes from girls who like you, and being rejected by girls is sort of being rejected by society. I didn’t date much, and when I’d have fights with my girlfriend in high school, it would always come back to me feeling this sense of being judged. Like, you’re a girl, you’re attractive, you’re automatically on this higher level than me, on this pedestal. People always talk about this like it’s a good thing. The nice guy narrative—“Oh, I admire you so much. I would lavish so much attention on you”—that quickly becomes about getting what you want. Resentment.

I feel like what happened with Jeopardy! was that I got public recognition of my membership in this club. The nerd club. I was specifically lambasted online for being a nerd. If you want to talk about nerds being an oppressed class, a ton of people attacked me in public for being socially awkward, the way I came off. And yet I still have a huge problem with the narrative of the nerd underdog that’s being used to justify all of these things. Awkward guys have taken a lot of abuse, but we are not the actual victims right now in society. We’re taking our past victimization and using it to justify the terrible things that we do. Weirdly enough, I started saying this, and this past year become the year of the big events that highlight that. Elliot Rodger, Gamergate, the low-level nastiness that’s in gamer culture just blows up, and starts drawing attention to itself. That’s not unique there. You see it everywhere when people say, “Oh Christians are oppressed in the US. Or white people are oppressed.” Everyone wants to have that victimization narrative.

How do you see this affecting Asian-American men?

Speaking of horrible things on the Internet, there was a forum called AutoAdmit. One of their memes was this guy who would get really mad and post a photo every time he saw a white guy with an Asian girl. You know this is a long simmering issue in our community. That blog “Stuff White People Like” had a post that said, “What do white guys like? Asian women.”

Everyone thought that he was an Asian guy for a while because of how angry he sounded about that. Anytime there’s a fracture between Asian man and Asian women, it’s always like, Well who are you trying to date? Why are you trying to date white guys? Why are you trying to date white girls?

I’m in this Facebook group that’s basically just Asian guys railing about why Asian women don’t date Asian men, and their perceptions about how Asian men are emasculated in the media. There’s all of this anger and resentment.

Yeah! I mean, I can speak to this. When The Joy Luck Club, way back when, was a bestseller, the one woman’s story whose life most closely mirrored Amy Tan’s—she marries a white guy. And it’s the happy ending. Every Asian man in this story is a horrible abuser, or he’s an unloving cold fish that gets dumped for a white guy. It was a small part of what the book was about. But for a lot of Asian guys, it hit pretty hard. Some guys make it a whole part of that men’s rights activist thing, saying Asian women are privileged relative to Asian men—Asian men are almost an unnecessary demographic.

A lot of the positions you take perhaps aren’t mainstream Asian-American positions. Talking about race, talking about police violence, talking about sexism.

You get raised to run away from politics. That was how I was raised, in an evangelical Christian family. People from our backgrounds, you want to be just like everyone else. You want to integrate into American culture, you want to be invisible, you want to be the same as your white friends. For me, that was very much true. For a long time I’d say things like, “Why bring up race? Why not try to be colorblind? Why not have an identity that’s distinct from any racial background you have?” I was one of those guys. I’m an American. No hyphen.

There’s just a point—the more you confront what America actually is and how America works—you can’t say that America is apart from race. America is race. It’s a series of colonies that were founded by people taking land away from people who they felt didn’t deserve it. Because of race and then working the land with people who were enslaved because of race. It’s built on that. Do you look at your black friend and say, “I don’t see your race. It’s just a coincidence that you get stopped by cops when my white friends don’t. It’s just a coincidence that this black kid got shot”? When you try to be an actor and you look around and say, “Hey, there’s no other Asians here. Weird”? There are all these spec sheets that they put out, audition sheets, and they all say, “Whites or other race.” I’d like to keep thinking that it’s just merit, but gosh, it feels like, once you actually have your eyes open, you can’t keep lying to yourself about that stuff anymore.

What does it feel like to become a bit of an Asian-American icon?

I thought it was weird. I compared it to Linsanity when I first started thinking about it. It’s not just that there is a successful Asian-American that’s in a field that we’re not used to—we get sick and tired of the same narrative, someone with a web-based business, some computer scientist, an engineer. To see someone become successful in a different way, it’s liberating. I didn’t think an Asian-American winning on Jeopardy!by itself would be a big deal. The funny thing being there’ve been very few champions who are Asian-American—the contestant pool has been overwhelmingly white. So it was funny when it happened and people were like, “an Asian guy winning Jeopardy!, that’s predictable.”

The idea of an Asian in the news for being controversial and unapologetic, for having strong opinions… Asians are supposed to work hard and do well but not to make waves. Not to create controversy. When you’re raised to think that’s not your place, to me, it’s important to make that space. It’s okay to be loud and rude and opinionated as an Asian. It’s a good thing.

Margaret Cho comes to mind.

Yeah, like Margaret Cho! Her show, her standup is so good, and her show, as soon as they gave it to her, they were like, “We can’t let this happen, we have to shape it into something that we’re comfortable with.” Pat Morita did stand up his whole life, he was a very outspoken, profane, funny guy. But America remembers him as Mr. Miyagi.

That’s how I remember him too, to be honest.

Exactly. That’s what they want to see. So it’s always fighting to see something else, to push some other narrative.

Did this influence you as a kid? This lack of a different narrative about Asian-Americans.

I often grew up in communities where there weren’t many Asian kids, so I tried to identify with my white friends.Then there was the flip side, in high school, when we moved to California, and there were a lot of Asians. I didn’t fit in with them either. My dad always had this idea, once you’re with other Asians who won’t reject you because of your race, you’ll fit right in. I was like, “No! I’m still a weird person.” Most Asian-American kids in LA are like white American kids in LA—they have certain tastes, and it was very, very different from me. It was always me kind of feeling like, whatever community I’m in, I’m always different. Having spent a lot of my life feeling alienated from the Asian-American community, it’s weird to be welcome back.

How so?

In retrospect, I know there’s been Asian-American activists being very loud and political even before I was alive, but where I lived, it just wasn’t visible. That’s not something we do, that’s something that Black activists do. I think it would’ve made a lot of things easier for me if I’d had those messages—like it’s okay to be mad about racism, it’s okay to talk about it, it’s okay to think about and analyze things in terms of race, instead of just pretending like you don’t notice.

Would you describe yourself as an Asian-American activist?

I’d like to think of myself as one. A slacktivist, maybe. I haven’t put in as much work as people who’ve put in work, but it’s something I care about.

So what’s next for you?

I’m looking at writing a book about my journey on Jeopardy! and the idea of success around nerdy guys in America.

Any title ideas yet?

No, not yet.

Time to get on the Chu-chu train? I can tell from your face that you’re not really into that.

Ken Jennings likes Chu-phoria.

Haters Gonna Hate: An Interview with Constance Wu of “Fresh Off the Boat”

Haters Gonna Hate: An Interview with Fresh Off the Boat's Constance Wu

The Muse:

Constance Wu is living the dream of every up and coming actor—landing the lead on a hit sitcom on a major network with a rapt audience. But Wu’s role as Jessica Huang, Taiwanese mom of three boys on Fresh Off the Boat, is more than just a sweet gig—it’s historical, as FOTB is only the second Asian American-centric sitcom in 20 years after Margaret Cho‘s All-American Girl in 1994. Add to the pot the outspoken opinions of the show’s creator Chef Eddie Huang, who went from bashing the show to supporting it in a matter of days, Wu’s first big break is breaking color lines and studio systems. But the 26-year-old is taking all of it in stride because haters gonna hate, you know?

For your first sitcom, your comedic timing is great without trying too hard. How do you strike that balance with Randall Park, who plays your husband Louis Huang, and the three boys Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen?

This is only the second comedy I’ve ever done and it didn’t work until I stopped trying to be funny. That’s the trap. Whenever you’re trying to be funny, it becomes cloying and manipulative. My goal with my performance is to be as true as possible.

People think that Jessica’s accent is funny but no one writes jokes about her accent. The humor comes from the writers giving me very funny situations and lines. What makes her so refreshing is that she has an accent and doesn’t know perfect English but she doesn’t think that’s a reason for her not to have a voice and a very loud one at that. That’s what’s interesting and fun about her and playing against Randall and the boys because we’re all just trying to have a good time and tell a specific story.

Speaking of the accent, some felt it was very controversial for you to portray Mrs. Huang with her Taiwanese accent. Why do you think accents in general are so divisive when it reflects actual humans?

Asians have been so rarely represented in mainstream media and historically, especially in the early stages, the accent was used as a humor tool with jokes written about it. But now I would challenge people who say that Jessica’s accent is stereotypical and ask what does that mean? An accent is not a stereotype, it’s just a set of linguistic phonetic changes that happen when your mother tongue has a different set of phonetic constraints than the newer language that you are now speaking. Stereotype enters when that accent is used for the purpose of humor. Of course there are people who are laughing at my character’s accent for very coarse reasons, but we aren’t writing jokes about the accent. It’s an important shift to make.

Recently, a lot of Asians actors want to neutralize their roles on television and say ‘This person is playing a character who happens to be Asian and that has nothing to do with their identity.’

That is a trend that is flying across all minorities, it seems…

My grandfather was an illiterate bamboo farmer and my dad really had to work himself up academically to get a full ride scholarship and a Ph.D in biology in America. He didn’t have a leg up anywhere, he had to work to get that. To even say that that type of journey has nothing to do with my place and opportunities now is dishonorable.

I don’t think that identity is purely determined by race and if a story wants to focus on other things that are important to the narrative, that’s great. But it’s not harmful to say that ethnicity plays an important part in identity and that that part of the story matters. It’s not fodder for humor, it’s just another unique and beautiful element of humanity. Hopefully, we celebrate that. And we’re also a comedy! We want that comedy to be great and warm in our show, which Randall and I both found important.

How’s Fresh Off the Boat been as your first TV experience, between participating in the first Asian American sitcom in 20 years and the tumultuous process creator Eddie Huang had making it?

Eddie and I are new to network television. Before this show I’d done one guest star on Law & Order when I was in college. The network system is established, so being a newbie in this already established constrained situation, we struggled to find our footing. There can be the danger of gratitude becoming complacency which Eddie wasn’t willing to let happen. I think he had to realize which battles he needed to lose in order to win the greater war of representation. Even for myself as an actor, there were certain parts that I was uncomfortable with in terms of lines I was given.

As someone new to television, I wasn’t sure how openly I was allowed to express my opinion. I certainly didn’t want to tread on the toes of people who have more experience than I but I didn’t want to let that inexperience be why my voice and opinion were not valid. Straddling that line was nerve-racking. I didn’t protest too much, instead I found a way within my character work to make it work.

Then last week I emailed our show runner Nahnatchka Khan about a live reading I gave in episode nine or ten. In the first takes, I was trying hard to be clever and improved these funny lines and then on the last take—the scene was with Hudson (Eddie’s character)—for the first time, I actually heard what Hudson said to me, which was ‘You did good mom,’ and I had a genuine response to it. So I emailed Nahnatchka and wrote ‘When I’m doing that series of takes and I’m trying really hard to be clever and funny, and I know that it came off, but if you don’t mind, could we use the last take because I have plenty of times during the series where I’m clever and funny. The last one was the only take in which I actually heard what Hudson was saying to me.’ She emailed me back like, ‘We did use one of your clever takes and we just re-watched it and you’re right. The last take you did was good and it was lovely for a different reason and if that really means something to you, we’ll change it.’

I was stunned because I thought, ‘She’s been doing this forever but this means something to me. So I’m gonna say it with as much respect as possible and if she says ‘No’ at least I tried.’ But she said yes and added ‘Don’t be afraid to ask things like that, I really want to run this with an open door.’ Because Eddie has been so vocal from the beginning—and in the beginning, maybe they didn’t listen to him as much—I think it’s making the system change a bit. People were quick to stigmatize the conflict that Eddie was expressing but that’s just people trying to do better and figuring out how. And of course he’s gonna be sensitive about the show, it’s about his family.

You spoke earlier of stereotypes and a bit of the Tiger Mom trope arises in your portrayal of Jessica Huang when she begins tutoring her three boys after school. Was that something you had to negotiate?

We have real source material in Jessica Huang. I don’t think I should play against a stereotype just to fight the war against stereotypes. Because I’m playing a role that carries the show and a character that has an arc, occasionally elements of Jessica’s personality do fall into a Tiger Mom stereotype. But I’m playing them because they are true to her, not because I am exploiting a stereotype. I’m never doing that. You have to serve the truth of the character and Jessica Huang does what she digs, whether or not it falls into a stereotype.

Chris Rock said that if Tom Hanks does a project, he’s free to fail, but if Denzel Washington does something, he’s representing the entire black race. How are you handling the pressure of being the first Asian American family on network television in 20 years?

I feel that pressure but it’s not something that’s manifesting itself in my work. Sure, there is a burden of representation but the burden shouldn’t be to represent every Asian ever. The burden is to represent an Asian story with as much truth as possible that it touches something in other people and strikes up a curiosity for an experience that is different than your own. Then that gets the ball rolling for others to make individual stories based in truth, intelligence and compassion. My job is not to give you a watered down McDonald’s version of an Asian family so that your next door neighbor thinks, ‘Oh they’re just like me.’ I’m not like freaking out, haters gonna hate, lovers gonna love. People like authenticity and courage, that’s why people like Eddie. Haters will always hate, they’ll see a beautiful flower and be like ‘Ugh, look at that flower!’

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays at 8/7 Central on ABC.