Category: Race

Andrew Lam

Birds of Paradise Lost: Stories about Vietnamese Immigrants in California

By Andrew Lam, Dec 27, 2012 12:03 PM

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 The thirteen stories in Birds of Paradise Lost shimmer with humor and pathos as they chronicle the anguish and joy and bravery of America's newest Americans, the troubled lives of those who fled Vietnam and remade themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area. The past?memories of war and its aftermath, of murder, arrest, re-education camps and new economic zones, of escape and shipwreck and atrocity?is ever present in these wise and compassionate stories.

Andrew Lam

The Post-Colonial Presidency: Our Man Obama

By Andrew Lam, Nov 7, 2012 1:26 AM


As a refugee from Vietnam, a country colonized by the French and then fought over by the Americans and the Soviet Union, I see the Obama presidency as spelling the end of a five-hundred-year-old colonial curse.

Decades ago, English still unruly on my tongue, I read a spin-off of Daniel Defoe’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, but I read it not as most of my American peers did. I saw myself, on one level or another, as Friday, his servant.

A British sailor participating in the slave trade, Crusoe was shipwrecked off the coast of Venezuela. He was alone for some years but managed with his guns to rescue a native prisoner who was about to be eaten by his captors. He named him Man Friday, taught him English, and converted him to Christianity. He taught Friday to call him “master.”

James Joyce once noted that Defoe’s sailor is the symbol of the imperial conquest, that “he is the true prototype of the British colonist. . . . The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe: the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity.”

Likewise, all those who have been colonized and oppressed in the age of European expansionism are embodied in Friday. Indentured and “saved” by Crusoe, Friday becomes, over the centuries, a political symbol of racial injustice, of victims of colonization and imperialist expansion, of slavery. Friday was African, Native American, Asian, Latin American. And Friday was all the children born from miscegenation.

Andrew Lam

Ode to the Bay: My Life as a Vietnamese Immigrant in California

By Andrew Lam, Oct 18, 2012 4:32 PM

 My first California moment: I am 12 years old. I do not yet speak English, only Vietnamese and French. Fresh from the Pendleton refugee camp, I am quickly enrolled in an ESL class in summer school in Colma, south of San Francisco. On our second day we all learn to parrot this phrase: I am from... Thus, shyly, in various accents, the world introduces itself...

...the Philippines

For the summer I am wedged between Mexico and Taiwan. Taiwan is timid and bookish, but boisterous Mexico, whose name is Juan, and I immediately bond. Communicating with our hands, facial gestures and a few shared words, we manage to joke and banter. "I am from Mexico," Juan keeps whispering in various cadences, as if trying out a new song, until I fall into a fit of giggles. Mrs. H., our teacher, who is beautiful and blond, and married to a black man from Africa (she shows us pictures of her wedding the first day), makes us sit outside of the classroom for disrupting the class.

And here's the moment: A redhead stops by as Juan continues his antics outside. "I'm from here," she says, and then she shakes our hands as if we had just landed on the tarmac. "Welcome to America," she says. She then gives us each a stick of cinnamon gum. Juan and I look at each other and shrug. I pop the gum in my mouth and chew.

Spicy. Sweet.

Three decades later I can finally say what I intuited at that piquant instant: to live in the Bay Area, where I am now from, is to live at the crossroads of a global society. It's many a tourist's mistake to define the place materially, and it is true that the things it is known for -- arching bridges and grand ports and famed high-tech companies -- evoke, in many ways, what often transpires here: the ability to span distances and transgress borders.

A magnificent terrain, certainly, and full of golden promises, but so much more: a place where human restlessness and fabulous, alchemical commingling are becoming increasingly the norm. The entire world comes to the Bay Area, and the Bay Area, in return, assimilates the world. The Central Pacific Railroad ended here, but more than a century and half later, the majority of the construction of that far-reaching new undertaking, the information highway -- Yahoo, Google, IBM, eBay, Sun Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Craigslist, Apple, Pixar, Netscape, Intel, Oracle and a myriad of others -- while centered here, is everywhere, virtually.

Gertrude Stein once observed about Oakland, where she spent her childhood, that "there's no there there." But having grown up here and traveled the world, I'd like to add this corollary: nowhere is as both here and there as the Bay Area.

Go to the San Francisco Airport on any given day and you'll see what I mean. A world in motion, in flux: the number of people who pass through those gates at SFO each year exceeds the entire population of the Golden State. At last count there were 112 languages spoken in the Bay Area. On warm summer afternoons, Nob Hill, where I live, turns into the modern tower of Babel. The languages of the world -- Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Vietnamese and many more I do not recognize -- waft in through my open windows, accompanied by the cable cars' merry cling-clanging bells.

These days Shanghai, Bombay, Cairo, Paris, Buenos Aires and the likes are much closer to the Bay Area than we ever thought possible. There's a transnational revolution taking place, one right beneath our noses. The teenage girl in Marin County is flirting in the chat-room with the teenage boy in Islamabad. The Chinese businessman in Silicon Valley is talking to his grandmother in Guangdong on his cell, while answering e-mails to his business partners in London and Rio de Janeiro. And when a woman at a cocktail party told me casually that she was bicoastal, she did not mean the tired New York-San Francisco trajectory. She summers in San Francisco but winters in Shanghai.

Or try on this scene, another California moment: in their high-ceilinged SoMa flat, two friends of mine are conversing with the world. An Austrian H1B Silicon Valley computer wiz chats with his parents in Vienna on his webcam; his Singaporean boyfriend, who is holding his hand, is gossiping in mixed Mandarin and English on his cell phone with his sister in Melbourne. On TV, which neither one is watching at the moment, characters from their favorite Japanese anime are fighting a bloody battle in some futuristic metropolis.

California's diversity is, of course, nothing new. Multiracial, multicultural and multilingual -- even if differences were not historically celebrated, all these delineations were part of the Golden State from the get-go. Latin and Anglo America came to an epic collision, and California was the result.

Long before Webster acknowledged the word, globalization had already swept over the Bay Area. Gold made the state famous around the world, and the world rushed in and greeted itself, perhaps for the first time. Since then, layers upon layers of complexity -- tastes, architecture, religions, animals, plants, stories, music, languages -- have been piled onto the place, making it in many ways postmodern even before the rest of the world struggled to enter the modern era.

Before I came to San Francisco, I too knew it, as most East Asians knew it, as Old Gold Mountain, with the Golden Gate as the entrance to a wondrous America. Living on that mountain now, I too have seen my share of the gold rush made new by microchips and startup companies. "Try to imagine," a Vietnamese American entrepreneur friend of mine, once a refugee, tells me. "A new wave of Indians and Chinese and Vietnamese software programmers building the information highway, and you have the repeat of when poor Chinese laborers were building the railroad." Except for this: he retired at 38, having sold his startup company, and now manages his portfolio and collects art.

Diversity may not be new, but it has certainly been intensified by the degree of interactions, and by the rate of change we are all experiencing due to the forces of globalization. And new too is the way our society has gone from being overtly xenophobic -- many Chinese railroad workers were murdered when they finished building the railroad -- to celebratory about our differences. While racism will always lurk in many a resenting heart, and fear of the other will always be part of the human condition, cultures that were once considered proprietary have spilled irrevocably into the mainstream, mixing with one another, transforming the landscape.

Think about it: three decades ago, who would have thought that sushi -- raw fish -- would become an indelible part of California cuisine? Or that Vietnamese fish sauce would be found down Aisle three of Safeway? Or that salsa would replace ketchup as the most-consumed sauce?

We slowly give up blandness to savor the pungent lemongrass in our soup, feel that tangy burn of red curry on the tongue. Tomorrow's classics are today's bold experiments: tofu burrito, hummus guacamole, spring rolls with salsa dipping sauce, lamb in tamarind sauce, lychee martini, wasabi bloody mary.

Marisa Treviño

Conservative Pundit Says Immigrants' Rights Are Not Civil Rights. Who Is She Kidding?

By Marisa Treviño, Sep 25, 2012 12:06 PM


No Sunday TV viewing is complete without watching the Sunday morning pundit roundtables. It was a nice surprise to see Jorge Ramos as one of this week with George Stephanopoulos‘ panelists. Of course, it was to recognize the new ABC/Univision partnership and Ramos’ recent interviews with Romney and Obama, but it was nice to have someone there who was speaking from firsthand knowledge rather than making assumptions.

Edwin Buggage

RNC -- A Throwback to 1950s TV America

By Edwin Buggage, Aug 29, 2012 3:45 PM

What I see downtown at the Republican National Convention is not a reflection of America in the 21st Century. What it seems more like is a throwback to the TV America of the 1950's. And it is unfortunate that this race has devolved into something equivalent to turning back the hands of time into this sort of nostalgia and selective amnesia of "The Good Old Days." A time where minorities and women were on the margins or non-existent in the mainstream of America.

Marisa Treviño

Texas Latino Voters Wonder at Excitement Over Cruz Victory

By Marisa Treviño, Aug 2, 2012 11:34 AM

The political world is in a frenzy today because of what happened in last night’s Texas Republican Senate primary race — newcomer Ted Cruz beat veteran and current Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.

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).

Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Criminalizing Students

By Edgardo Cervano-Soto, Apr 19, 2012 12:04 PM

There is a scene in “All She Can,” a new film about a Mexican American high school female weightlifter in Benavides, Texas that I hadn’t expected to be emotional over.

Rafael Prieto Zartha

Latinos Are Racist, Too!

By Rafael Prieto Zartha, Apr 13, 2012 12:05 AM

Editor's Note: The George Zimmerman case has sparked a dialogue in Latino media about racial identity -- and racial attitudes -- among Latinos. But asking if Latinos can be racist is like asking, 'Is the Pope Catholic?' according to an op-ed by Rafael Prieto Zartha in Spanish-language daily La Opinión.  An abbreviated version of the commentary appears below. Read the full op-ed in Spanish.

Translated by Elena Shore, New America Media.

DeShuna Spencer

The Scabs That Won't Heal: Racial Injustice, Stereotypes & Social Ills

By DeShuna Spencer, Apr 10, 2012 3:24 PM

emPower Magazine

America is in denial. Everyday millions of us of various ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations congregate together in our places of work, at our schools/universities and public spaces exchanging politically correct pleasantries as we interact with each other. All the while, boiling deep, down inside many of us lies unconscious, deep-seated stereotypes and misconceptions about the very people (co-workers, neighbors, store patrons, etc.) we come in contact with on a daily basis; and we’ve been carrying these racial wounds since childhood.

Peter Schurmann

Whitlock's Twitter Linanity

By Peter Schurmann, Feb 17, 2012 1:22 PM

Twitter hasn’t been kind to black commentators lately. CNN’s Roland Martin put his proverbial tweet in his mouth last week for anti-gay remarks, and earlier this week Fox News columnist Jason Whitlock riffed on a common stereotype when he took aim at Chinese American basketball phenom Jeremy Lin’s masculinity.

Peter Schurmann

Black in America -- Not in Silicon Valley

By Peter Schurmann, Feb 16, 2012 12:49 PM

CNN’s Black in America series recently touched on the struggle African Americans entrepreneurs face in breaking through the tech ceiling of the “new promised land” that is Silicon Valley. At one point in the segment, a successful South Asian businessman tells the group they need to hire a “white front man” if they ever want their ideas or businesses to see the light of day.

Marisa Treviño

Latino GOP Group to GOP Women's Org: Don't Host Speaker from Hate Group

By Marisa Treviño, Jan 17, 2012 9:00 AM


Since 2007, many young and new Latino voters have, from time to time, written into Latina Lista to ask how I could publish the viewpoints and stories of Latinos who self-identify as Republicans. It’s a natural question from those newly engaged in the nation’s civic process, especially the young.

Paul Kleyman

David Brooks' "Aristocratic" Presidency: A Tale of Two Romneys

By Paul Kleyman, Jan 16, 2012 1:25 AM

SAN FRANCISCO--No one should be surprised by the news that presidential candidates are necessarily millionaires. But last Friday, Jan. 13,  New York Times columnist David Brooks, in his thinly veiled support of Mitt Romney--anointed another class of those Americans should expect to occupy the White House. Call it the Aristocratic Presidency.

As Romney slogs toward Saturday’s South Carolina primary--through a thicket of distrust about his wealth and a briar patch of his own gaffes (“Corporations are people,” “I like to fire people”)—Brooks (“The CEO in Politics")  attempts to reconstitute Romney by enumerating the qualities of a successful United States president.

Heading Brooks’ list of the prime presidential attributes successful presidents have shared are that they tend to be “emotionally secure” and “often raised in an aristocratic family.”

The erudite pundit concludes by declaring Mitt Romney’s performance at the private equity firm Bain Capital to be “largely irrelevant to the question of whether he could be a good president.” Good character, you see, may be its own reward; never mind what those on high have actually done.

Life’s Experiences (Including at Prep School)

Brooks asserts that “the real question” is whether Romney, the son of an industrial leader who became a governor and GOP presidential candidate, has absorbed the traits “from his upbringing and the deeper experiences of life” that would manifest later as greatness.

It can’t hurt if some of Romney’s early experiences and those of past presidential successes , suggests Brooks, “were infused, often at an elite prep school, with a sense of obligation and responsibility to perform public service.”

Certainly, the advantages of wealth and position often clear a path to the top, such as for Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. And Brooks’ column also gives nods to the emotional security evident among “military leaders like Dwight D. Eisenhower, and in serenely successful movie stars, like Ronald Reagan.”

Historians can argue over Brooks’ discussion of meritorious presidents, serene movie stars in politics and their attributes. But somehow the genteel commentator doesn’t quite count Romney’s decades of business practice among the factors most would regard as central to his life experience.

Mitt’s Real Rival, His Dad

The genuine question is not how Mitt Romney’s business practices and the values they reveal stack up against Gingrich, Paul and Santorum, but how well he compares to the one he can be most sharply measured against–his father, George W. Romney.

On his way to business and political success, George Romney’s leadership qualities were annealed by mien family circumstance in the Depression and a tough course at the prep school of hard knocks, where by all reports he learned the meaning of a day’s work.

The senior Romney emerged as the CEO of American Motors Corporation (AMC), and there he revitalized a struggling company by reviling Detroit’s “gas guzzlers.” He proved there was an American market for smaller, more efficient cars, notably the Rambler. George Romney rolled steel off assembly lines; he didn’t push companies and their workers off the financial edge of his desk.

George worked closely with labor, although he’d certainly bumped heads with them. And he was among a breed of CEOs who understood that it is unseemly to fract the company’s coffers for personal riches, thus sowing resentment down on the line.

During Mitt’s bid for the 2008 GOP nomination, Brooks’ New York Times colleague David Leonhardt wrote in reported that George Romney “voluntarily turned down $268,000 in pay over five years when he was chief executive, which was equal to about 20 percent of his total pay during that time.”

In 1960, the senior Romney refused a $100,000 bonus after persuading the AMC board that no officer of the firm should make more than $225,000 a year (equal to about a million and a half dollars today).

In addition, Wikipedia notes, George "was one of only a few Michigan corporate chiefs to support passage and implementation of the state Fair Employment Practices Act."

Times have changed along with what Leonhardt termed “cultural norms and basic economics.” He wrote that before Mitt left Bain in 1999, he owned 100 percent of the company’s voting stock, thereby earning “the hero status conferred on executives.”

Unlike his father’s old-fashioned model of domestic manufacturing for the mostly American market, Mitt rode an international wave of “new financial instruments like junk bonds, borrowing money to make big bets and, when they paid off, big returns.” One might add subprime mortgages, derivatives and other exotic instruments that contributed to today’s economic gulf between rich and poor—not to mention the financial collapse.

George certainly was among the super rich of his day, not merely a member of the 1 percent (or 1 in 100), but of the top 0.01 percent (1 in 10,000) in annual earnings. However, explained Leonhardt, that group absorbed 1.2 percent of all income in the United States. By 2005, the wealthiest of the swells sucked up over 5 percent of U.S. earnings.

Leonhardt praised Bain for transforming some firms and building up some companies. Mitt gets credit for developing Staples, for instance, and also Dominoes Pizza.

George Welcomed MLK, Hit Goldwater’s “Racist Campaign”

In politics, George, like any public figure, did not serve a governor of Michigan without controversy. History credits him as a champion of civil rights, welcoming Martin Luther King, Jr., to the state with an official endorsement of King’s 1963 march in Detroit. When Romney was sharply criticized by a top Mormon leader for proposing a civil rights bill, Romney stood his ground.

In 1964, as a proud leader of the now-clipped liberal wing of the Republican Party, George “picked a fight with supporters of Senator Barry Goldwater by suggesting he planned a ‘racist campaign,’” according to a 2007 Times article by David D. Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick reported that while the father had kicked off his 1968 presidential campaign “with a tour of slums,” son, Mitt, in 2007, was “courting Christian conservatives and anti-tax activists” for their support.

True, George also handled Motor City’s 1967 riots poorly. But overall he's remembered as a man of integrity. On another issue as Michigan governor he promoted a tax-increase to improve Detroit schools--while his son now advocates for private universities, especially one that contributes to his campaign. And George led the way for a new state constitution to make raising revenue easier.

Of course, in South Carolina this week, Mitts opponents are vilifying him as a “moderate.” (Imagine Bernie Madoff calling Willie Sutton a moderate because he only robbed one bank at a time.) But it would be difficult to conceive of George, who built his reputation as someone who could get things done on a bipartisan basis, coming hat in hand to the Tea Party and swearing to repent his past sins--in the way that Mitt has with universal health coverage, among other flip-flops to the right.

Time will judge whether, if elected, Mitt Romney will nobly acquit himself as a successful president in the Brooksian mold. But in considering Brooks’ ruminations on presidencies from the base to the aristocratic, readers last Friday didn’t have to do more than shift their gaze to the left, of course, for a differently informed viewpoint, that of Paul Krugman.

A Whiff of Gordon Gekko

Yes, yes, Krugman is dismissed by some as a shrill liberal, while many read Brooks for his seeming philosophical equanimity. But Krugman’s 2009 Nobel Prize for advancing economists understanding of the global economy should count for something in evaluating a candidate who claims his business experience as his chief qualification to occupy the White House.

Krugman’s instructive column questions whether Mitt “understands the difference between running a business and managing an economy.”

As to Mitt’s business acumen and his character, though, Krugman cuts to the cold heart of the issue. Referring to the “greed is good” character in the film Wall Street, Krugman writes, “There is at least a whiff of Gordon Gekko in his time at Bain Capital, a private equity firm; he was a buyer and seller of businesses, often to the detriment of their employees, rather than someone who ran companies for the long haul.”

You know, a company like his father’s AMC.

Raynard Jackson

Optics of Iowa

By Raynard Jackson, Jan 6, 2012 5:21 PM

Tuesday night the political world was all focused on the Iowa Caucuses. Everyone was watching to see if Santorum would defeat Romney. When all the votes were counted, Romney had won by a mere 8 votes. Romney was finally declared the winner around 2:30 am (east coast time). I stayed up to listen to all the candidates make their election night speeches. The speeches were unremarkable.

Tammy Johnson

CA DNA Database Expansion -- The Silent Threat to Privacy

By Tammy Johnson, Dec 1, 2011 10:45 AM

According to a recent report released by Generations Ahead, an aggressive expansion of DNA databases in states across the country now includes the collection of DNA from individuals merely arrested for a felony offense, regardless of whether a trial is held or not, and whether a conviction is obtained or not. California’s Proposition 69 was part of this trend that now includes a total of 25 states. Wondering why we should care?

Michael Barba

"Mi Nombre Es": Chilean TV Features Blackface

By Michael Barba, Dec 1, 2011 9:41 AM

In Chile, the American Idol-like television show “Mi Nombre Es” premiered this October, featuring Las Vegas style performers imitating famous vocalists from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga. The show entertains until it crosses comfort zones, mirroring American minstrel shows with contestants pretending to be Barry White and Ray Charles in full blackface.

Denise Chan

Culture as Costume

By Denise Chan, Oct 31, 2011 4:00 PM

Once a year, on Halloween, people seize the opportunity to dress as something “they’re not.” Everywhere you turn, there seems to be a sudden increase in the number of enlarged animals and sexy nurses on the street, usually drunk, stumbling in the darkness. But without fail, you can pretty much bet on the fact that there will be a few individuals who cross the line into cultural offensiveness.

Andrew Lam

Asian Americans have a higher poverty rate than non-Hispanic Whites

By Andrew Lam, Oct 26, 2011 8:05 AM

 I just received this press release from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
on Asian American Poverty report and thought I should share it below. 

Among the facts about Asian-American poverty in the report:

In 2010, Asian Americans have a higher poverty rate than non-Hispanic Whites. Almost 12 percent of Asian Americans live in poverty, higher than the 9.9 percent rate of poverty among non-Hispanic whites.

Asian Americans as a group have lower-than-average poverty rates, but several Asian nationalities have higher than- average rates of poverty. The poverty rate among Hmongs is 37.8 percent, among Cambodians 29.3 percent, among Laotians 18.5 percent, and among Vietnamese 16.6 percent.
Asian American seniors are especially affected by poverty. Asian American seniors age 65 and over suffer from a poverty rate of 12.3 percent. This is higher than the national average for seniors, which stands at 9.9 percent, and the rate for non-Hispanic whites, which stands at 7.8 percent.

The Northeast and Great Lakes regions have especially high rates of Asian American poverty. New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania have some of the highest poverty rates among Asian Americans in the country, at 15.5 percent, 14.7 percent, and 14.8 percent, respectively. The Northeast is also home to some of the largest Asian American populations in the United States.
But we go another step toward advancing policy solutions to lift up Asian-American communities and families, which will be imperative to American progress on this front. Here are two sections of the report that speak to this:

Page 6 - “Today, more than ever in America, one’s family of origin and the community into which one is born determines social and economic mobility. Without the necessary policy changes to curb the level of unemployment and poverty among racial minority parents, millions more children will grow up in poor families and with the associated economic consequences of being poor. In 2010, 45.5 percent of African American children, 37.6 percent of Latino children, and 15.6 percent of Asian American children under the age of 5 lived in poverty.These are the children who will be driving our economy and democracy 25 years from now. With America expected to have no racial majority by the year 2050, it is important that we close racial and ethnic disparities for the long-term health of our economy.”

Page 111 “…And while poverty affects every race and nationality in our nation, we must also be brutally honest about the racial disparities that continue to separate blacks and Hispanics from whites. While the 2010 poverty rate among whites was 13 percent, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Latinos lived in poverty. Our growing population and growing diversity as a nation is a source of strength in the international economic arena. But we need to provide economic opportunities to all Americans to capitalize on these important demographic trends—not least because these future taxpayers will be providing the fiscal resources for our own aging population in the coming decades.

Rising inequality among these emerging groups is unhealthy for our democracy, too, both in terms of economic growth and social conflicts. Escalating rates of poverty rob the United States of one of its fundamental values—the belief that one can achieve success through hard work. Thankfully, it’s not too late for us to act. This report lays out concrete steps our nation can and should take today to turn the tide on this crisis. By providing access to good jobs that honor the dignity of work and pay a decent wage, policies that strengthen families, and opportunities to promote economic security, we can chart a new course for America’s future—one based on the hard-won recognition that stable economic growth requires shared prosperity.”

For more info go to:

Andrew Lam is author of
East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres and Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diasora. His next book, Birds of Paradise, is due out in 2013.