Category: Education

Andrew Lam

Remembering A Broken Romance on Valentine's Day

By Andrew Lam, Feb 14, 2013 1:48 AM

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 What do you do when you graduate from Berkeley with a broken heart and a B.A. in biochemistry? You break your immigrant parents' hearts and become a writer.

In my freshman year at Berkeley I fell hopelessly in love; in the year after I graduated my heart shattered. While working at the cancer research laboratory on campus I took to writing, in part, in order to grieve. Daytime and I bombarded the mammary tissues of mice with various carcinogens to see how they grew; nights and I gave myself to memories, to heartbreak. I typed and typed. I got good at writing, bored with science, so I dropped the test tube and kept the proverbial pen.

Berkeley had indeed radicalized me. But I do not mean that in a political sense. No, the quiet, bookish, apolitical, obedient boy who didn't date in high school left his Vietnamese household and found sexual liberation in college, found carnal pleasure.

More important: I fell in love with "M." In "M's'' embrace and kisses, what I had thought important until then turned out to be trivial. My desire to please my chronically unhappy mother was trivial, good grades were trivial, the path toward medical school, too, was trivial. "M," whose smile made me tremble, who was all there was, stole me away from my familial sense of duty. I found a new country, a new home.

What I remember, too, was an incident during my freshman year that, over time, marked me. A studious Chinese student tried to jump from the Campanile. He was from my dorm unit. He wanted to kill himself because, well, so went the gossip, he had never gotten a B before, until chemistry or some such difficult class overwhelmed him. I remember the entire dorm talking about it. I might have been momentarily horrified. But I was too busy being in love to let it really register. I do, however, remember thinking, and not without a certain vanity, that he wouldn't have considered jumping had he discovered love instead.

Other bubbles are coming up randomly now from under the deep dark waters of my college life: Professor Noyce in organic chemistry dragging on his thin cigarette, the smoke twirling in the air as he draws the nicotine molecules. "Don't ever smoke," he admonishes his audience. "It's bad for you." My roommate, Tony, who plays trumpet in the band, coming home from the big game, '82, crying with happiness. The Bears have just trampled the Stanford Band to score that spectacular and bizarre turn- around in the last seconds. I am walking down Telegraph Avenue at two in the morning and the street cleaner is spinning like some lazy grazing animal and the mist is rising at my feet. The bells of the Campanile ring out one humid afternoon and for no reason at all, I drop my backpack and, while spectators look on, dance.

Above all, though, the salty scent of "M."

Then "M" was gone. And my heart was broken.

Wasn't it then that I began to write? Wasn't it then that I began to bleed myself into words?

Yet it was not the larger world, nor my Vietnamese refugee experience, nor the Vietnam War that I wanted to address. I wrote about my unhappiness. I tried to capture what it was like to lose someone who had been my preoccupation throughout my college life; who was, in fact, my life then. Yet I was too close to the subject, too hurt to do the story justice. But the raw emotions unearthed another set of older memories simmering underneath. When one loses someone one loves, with whom one shares a private life, a private language, a private world, one loses an entire country, one becomes an exile.

But hadn't I been exiled before?

I had. The brokenhearted adult slowly found himself going back further, recalling the undressed wounds of the distraught child who stood alone on the beach of Guam, the camp with its khaki-green tents flapping in the wind, the child missing his friends, his dogs, fretting about his father, whose fate he had no way of knowing, and wondering if he 'd ever see his homeland again.

My sadness opened a trapdoor to the past. A child forced to flee. The long line for food under a punishing sun. People weeping themselves to sleep. The family altar, where faded photographs of the dead stared out forlornly, the incense still burning but the living gone. A way of life stolen, a people scattered. I yearned for all my memories. I wrote some more. I began to go back.

Some years passed...

"These are Andrew Lam's awards," said my mother one after- noon to her friends when I was visiting and eavesdropping from upstairs. Sometimes my parents wouldn't say my Vietnamese name to their guests. "Andrew Lam" became someone else-- related but somewhat remote, and yet important. For visitors, especially if it was their first visit, there would be an obligatory walk by the bookcase before sitting down for tea. On it were the various trophies and awards and diplomas, but chief among them, Andrew Lam's journalism awards.

"My son the Berkeley radical" became my father's favorite phrase when he introduced me to his friends. "Parents give birth to children, God gives birth to their personalities" became my mother's oft-repeated phrase, as a way to explain her youngest son. I don't take offense. I take it that this was their way of accepting how things can turn out in America, which is to say, unpredictable and heartbreaking.
I can't remember for sure how long he stood up there, or how he was talked down, that studious Chinese boy from the dorm. I do remember that around that time they put up metal bars on the Campanile so that no one else could jump.

A few years ago, after having revisited the Berkeley campus, where I was invited to give a talk about my books, my writing life and about my various travels as an author and journalist, I had a dream. In it, it is me who finds himself atop the Campanile alone at sunset. I hesitate butI am not entirely afraid. I am not gripped by fear. Below, people are gathering. Before me: a beatific horizon. I leap. And soar high over the old campus before heading out to where sky kisses sea.

I haven't landed yet.

New America Media editor, Andrew Lam is the author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" (Heyday Books, 2005), which won a Pen American "Beyond the Margins" award, and "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres" where the above essay was excerpted. His latest book, "Birds of Paradise Lost," a collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants struggling to rebuild their lives in the Bay Area after a painful exodus, was published March 01, 2013. He has lectured and read his work widely at many universities.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Veto SB 59! No guns in my children's schools!

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Dec 17, 2012 2:41 PM

The night before the school shooting in Connecticut, in a marathon late night session, lame duck Michigan legislature voted to allow concealed weapons at schools, daycares, churches, arenas, hospitals, etc.

Andrew Lam

Buddha in the West: Even Bill Clinton Turns Toward Meditation

By Andrew Lam, Aug 21, 2012 9:19 AM

Buddhism made a bleep in the news early this month when the Times of India, and other news outlets, citing an unnamed source, reported that Bill Clinton, has turned to Buddhism for mental and physical well-being. The former president went so far as hiring a Buddhist monk to teach him the arts of meditation.

This may come as a surprise to some but to many others it's only a natural course of how things transpire in the globalized world. In the last half of the 20th Century, America cunningly exported itself overseas, marketing its images, ideologies, products and religions with ingenuity and zeal, but what it has not been able to fully assess or prepare for are the effects in reverse. For if Americanization is a large part of globalization, the Easternization of the West, too, is the other side of the phenomenon.

I take it as some cosmic law of exchange that if Disneyland pops up in Hong Kong and Tokyo, Buddhist temples can sprout up in Los Angeles, home of the magic kingdom. Indeed, it comes as no surprise to many Californians that scholars have agreed that the most complex Buddhist city in the world is nowhere in Asia but Los Angeles itself, where there are more than 300 Buddhist temples and centers, representing nearly all of Buddhist practices around the world.

In October of 2009, CNN reported that, "programs and workshops educating inmates about meditation and yoga are sprouting up across the country." There are more than 75 organizations working with some 2,500 people, most of them prisoners, and they inspired a documentary called "The Dhamma Brothers." where inmates reached inner peace and spiritual maturity through meditation and the practice of compassion.

This was the same year that Thomas Dyer, a former Marine and one-time Southern Baptist pastor, became the first Buddhist chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army and he was sent to Afghanistan to administer to Buddhist American soldiers.

Over the past quarter-century, Buddhism has become the third largest religion in America behind Christianity and Judaism, according to a 2008 report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Evidence of Buddhism spreading deep roots in America is abundant. The UT San Diego newspaper estimated that there are at least 1.2 million Americans who are buddhist practitioners, the majority of whom live in California. Other scholars estimated that number to be as high as 6.7 million.

Even if small in population, the influence of Buddhist ideas are clearly strong on the cultural spheres. When the Dalai Lama visited the US three years ago, for example, he was a celebrity at every American institution. One scene in particular remains memorable: the most famous monk in the world sat on the dais, lecturing on wisdom in the modern world and exploring the concept of the soul, as hundreds of enthralled monks and laymen look on below. The scene harks back to the golden era of Tibet, with the halls festooned with hundreds of strings of colorful Tibetan prayer flags, except the event took place at American University.

Yet, despite Buddhism's message of inner peace and compassion, it, in its own way, is a very radical spiritual practice for its refutation of the existence of a creator. In essence, the serious practitioner aims to extinguish the self by defeating his own ego and, thereby, seeing beyond the illusion spun by the ignorant mind.

The ultimate Buddhist experience entails neither god nor self, neither "out there" nor "in here," for that membrane that separates the practitioner's being and that of the world, upon awakening, has been lifted. All that remains is - ohm - absolute awe and bliss. Imagine, if you will, Moses not turning his face away from the burning bush that is god but approaching it then fully merging with that terrifying fire. To reach spiritual maturity, the I must, at least temporarily in meditation, be dissolved.

"Buddhism," writes Diana Eck, professor of comparative religions at Harvard University, "challenges many Americans at the very core of their thinking about religion -- at least, those of us for whom religion has something to do with one we call God."

As ties deepened between the two continents, as immigration from Asia continues unabated, and as the Dhamma [Buddha's teachings] spreads beyond all borders, we are entering what many thinkers and philosophers call the second axial age, an age of pluralism where the various spiritual traditions co-exist.

In these global days, no single system can exist as a separate entity, nor can its borders remain impervious to change, all exist to a various degree of openness and exchange. And the old Silk Road along which so many religious ideas traveled has been replaced by a far more potent thoroughfare: unprecedented global migration, mass communications, and the information highway, which transcends geography.

I once kept on my study's wall two very different pictures to remind me of the way East and West have changed. One is an issue from a Time magazine on Buddhism in America. In it, a group of American Buddhists sits serenely in lotus position on a wooden veranda in Malibu overlooking a calm Pacific Ocean. The other is of Vietnamese-American astronaut named Eugene Trinh's space shuttle flight. The pictures tell me that East and West have not only met, but also commingled and fused. When a Vietnamese man who left his impoverished homeland can come very close to reaching the moon, while Americans are becoming psychonauts - navigators of the mind - turning inward, trying to reach nirvana with each mindful breath, I think that the East-West dialogue has come a long, long way.

New America Media's editor, Andrew Lam, is the author of "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres," and "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora." His next book, "Birds of Paradise Lost," is due out in Spring, 2013.

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Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Parent Trigger Reform: A New Age for Community Education?

By Edgardo Cervano-Soto, Aug 10, 2012 2:12 PM

When I attended public school, it was common to hear students, parents and school officials demanding more of each other, specifically parent involvement. In many cases, parent involvement and organizing were seen as the missing ingredients to a successful school. Never mind the poverty levels of the surrounding neighborhood, the budget cuts from the state, or the quality of teachers inside the classrooms -- all of that would be mitigated if only there were a higher level of parental involvement.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Study Claims Students Not Being Challenged

By Edgardo Cervano-Soto, Jul 24, 2012 12:28 PM

This year, reports of California’s budget cuts to its education system have dominated the education headlines. From districts having to cut art and music classes, to the cancellation of summer classes and tuition hikes in California’s public university system, it feels like our education system is imploding. And now, a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think-tank in Washington, DC, says that K-12 students across the nation are not being academically challenged in school.

Stephanie Espinoza

School is Out, But Lunch is Still Being Served

By Stephanie Espinoza, Jul 3, 2012 1:58 PM

Summer is supposed to be a time when kids can break free from the rigors of school. But for some, it also means no more school lunches, which is why districts around the state are taking the initiative to make sure their kids stay well fed.

John Oliver-Santiago

Support Gap in Kinship Care

By John Oliver-Santiago, Jun 18, 2012 4:10 PM

There are currently 2.7 million kids in the U.S. who are under kinship care. And according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, this number has increased 18% from 2001 to 2010. There are many ways children can end up in kinship care including parental death, incarceration, abuse, or service in the military.

Ben Winograd

After 30 Years, Plyler v. Doe Decision Survives but Remains Under Attack

By Ben Winograd, Jun 15, 2012 12:30 PM

Thirty years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Plyler v. Doe, holding that states cannot deny a free public education to students for lack of valid immigration status. The decision has since opened the schoolhouse doors to untold numbers of children who might otherwise be deprived of a basic education. Yet today, the decision remains under continued attack from critics who—as part of an ongoing effort to put the issue back before the Justices—appear willing to sacrifice the welfare of U.S. citizens.

Marisa Treviño

Latino high school valedictorian delivers speech in Spanish --and it's no big deal

By Marisa Treviño, Jun 14, 2012 1:20 PM


The two quickest ways to set off a firestorm among anti-immigrant critics is to do one of two things: talk about amnesty or speak Spanish at a public event. It was the latter that has one California high school valedictorian facing a barrage of criticism and forcing a school district to finally come to terms with its bilingual student body.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

On Proms and Protocols-Figuring out the rules and creating new paths

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Jun 13, 2012 12:32 PM

It was after midnight when my girlfriend Margie posted her prom picture on Facebook. The comments came promptly, “Major hotness! Oh, Margie looks good too.” (Her prom date, obviously, still enjoying his white tuxedo and sky blue ruffled shirt.)

Sharee Lopez

Take Teacher Quality Seriously

By Sharee Lopez, Jun 5, 2012 3:40 PM

When asked which teacher I had has changed my life? I would say Ms. Kleiman, a pre-calculus teacher at Wilson High School. This answer does not come immediately. It arrived after a subtle process of elimination, as well as reminiscing the worse and bad times in classrooms that help shaped with my perception of good teacher.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Bill Proposes to Help Middle Class Students in Ca.

By Edgardo Cervano-Soto, Jun 4, 2012 4:08 PM

In early May, the Public Policy Institute of California released a report stating that an increasing number of California high school graduates are foregoing the state’s UC and CSU system in favor of other private and public universities in California, and even out-of-state universities.

Ben Winograd

STARS Act Highlights Potential Pitfalls of Rubio DREAM Proposal

By Ben Winograd, Jun 1, 2012 1:00 PM

Immigration Policy Center

When news broke yesterday that a Florida congressman introduced an alternative version of the DREAM Act, many assumed it was Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been promising for months to introduce such legislation. In truth, the bill in question—dubbed the STARS Act—was introduced by Rep. David Rivera, a member of the House who introduced similar legislation (the ARMS Act) last January. Although both of Rivera’s proposals would benefit fewer people than the original DREAM Act, they would put qualified applicants on a path that would ultimately lead to permanent residency. From that perspective, they differ significantly from the proposal Senator Rubio has been discussing, which reportedly does not include a dedicated path to permanent residency.

Sharee Lopez

Predicting Success By Test?

By Sharee Lopez, May 31, 2012 5:26 PM

Is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), really the best indicator of college success? I propose that college acheivment can be measured by success in the classroom itself. It seems unfair that a test can dictate your future and intimidate students who are deciding to apply to schools. Student’s, who are intelligent, but not savvy to the SAT, are getting left behind.

Valerie Klinker

Second Chance at Prom Night

By Valerie Klinker, May 25, 2012 11:47 AM

As a teenager in high school, I never went to prom. I didn’t know at the time just how much I would come to regret that decision.

John Oliver-Santiago

Recipe for Educational Failure

By John Oliver-Santiago, May 22, 2012 5:18 PM

Here's a recipe for educational failure: cut deeper into school funding and then completely restructure schools with the money that's not there.

Stephanie Minasian

Cal. State Union Paying for Strikers

By Stephanie Minasian, May 22, 2012 3:01 PM

With contract negotiations still underway between California State University (CSU) management and the California Faculty Association (CFA), a handful of students at six of the university system’s campuses are continuing their hunger strikes, writes Kevin Jersey in the LA Valley Star.

But there’s a catch.

Stephanie Espinoza

Study Shows Continuation Schools in California Unsuccessful

By Stephanie Espinoza, May 21, 2012 4:14 PM

I recently visited Nueva Continuation School in South Kern County, in the rural community of Lamont. The children's center there once provided childcare for teen parents but it was eliminated a few years ago due to lack of funding. The loss has made it especially difficult for student-parents without the financial means to obtain care elsewhere to remain in school.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Census Data, Education and the New Majority

By Edgardo Cervano-Soto, May 21, 2012 3:20 PM

Last week, the U.S Census reported that July 1, 2010 marked the first time births of non-white babies (at 50.4 percent) eclipsed that of white babies (at 49.6 percent). The demographic shift forces a reconsideration of tomorrow’s faces, projecting that by 2042 whites will become the minority demographic nationwide (a yardstick long since surpassed in California).

Stephanie Espinoza

Hope In a Time of Crisis

By Stephanie Espinoza, May 18, 2012 3:36 PM

The EdSource 2012 symposium, in collaboration with the California State PTA, brought together educators, parents, policy makers, and researchers last week at the Anaheim Convention Center to discuss the impact of California’s budget deficit on schools and children. The discussion centered around the theme “Striving for Success in a Time of Crisis.”