Subjugating APA Women One Meal At A Time

geisha

‘Cuz when I go out to dinner, I’m looking for a little bit of racism with my sushi entree.

The Asian American community is no stranger to offensive Asian-themed restaurants. Here in Tucson, the Asian American community successfully lobbied a local restaurant named “Eggrolls, Etc.” to change multiple anti-Asian references in their menu. Last year, this blog was involved in lobbying a restaurant on the East Coast in an effort to raise awareness about advertisements that exotified and objectified the Asian female form.

But, here we go on: a restaurant that has yet to open in the Oakland area is raising more than mere eyebrows. This restaurant will be named “Geisha”.

Yes, you read that right: “Geisha”.

As an Asian American woman, I am deeply offended by the title of this proposed restaurant, and am even more insulted by the nerve of the restaurant owners to open such a derogatorily-named establishment in the heart of one of the nation’s more populous Asian American communities. The last thing that Asian American women and girls need is to be walking down the street and get exposed to yet another example of mainstream exotification and subjugation of our bodies. America’s fascination with the geisha image is not for merely due to the rampant sexuality of the stereotype; no, it is an obsession with a distinctly racialized image of an Asian woman as existing purely for pleasure and domination by men. We’re not merely talking about simply hypersexualizing the Asian/Asian American woman (as if that weren’t bad enough) — we’re talking about glorifying the sexual slavery of the Asian/Asian American female body by rendering her nothing more than a meek, demure and ultimately silent sexual plaything. The persistence of the geisha image in the American cultural landscape is a daily affront to strong and empowered Asian American women, and takes the cause of Asian/Asian American feminism several steps backwards.

But, before I go on waxing philosophical, check out this incredible letter by professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, Dianne Wu. Wu breaks down the argument against “Geisha” poignantly and eloquently in her letter to the Oakland Planning Commission, urging them to deny a permit for “Geisha”. You can read the full text at Angry Asian Man, but I’ll quote my favourite part regarding microaggressions:

A recent study conducted by Derald Wing Sue et al (2007) from the Teachers College at Columbia university identified 8 major types of microaggressions commonly experienced by Asian Americans. Of the 8, 2 are relevant to the issue at hand today.

First is the exotification of Asian women, where Asian and Asian American women are perceived as being available for sexual favors for men. As Jessica Tan and Jen-Mei Wu’s testimonials also concur, these incidents are not isolated to academic books and journals and radical social justice circles, but a salient feature of Asian American women’s lives in Oakland, in downtown, in the United States every day. I would hope and expect that the Oakland in which I live, work, love and play would absolutely reject any role in allowing this stereotype to live or become in any way a feature of the physical or psychological landscape of this city.

Second was the widespread denial of Asian Americans racial realities. This included messages being conveyed were that Asians are not an ethnic minority group, experience little or no discrimination, and that their racial concerns are unimportant. In this case, the group’s prior attempted exchanges with Perry were met with absolute denial that our concerns about the name of the bar-restaurant-lounge could possibly be reinforcing a racist and sexist stereotype, nor even that geisha itself was a racist and sexist stereotype in the US and Western context.

According to Wing Sue et al, microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial – and this case, racial and sex-based – minority group. These exchanges are so pervasive and automatic in daily interactions that they are often dismissed and glossed over as being innocuous.

Sadly, the Oakland Planning Commission confirmed the perceived innocuousness of these kind of anti-Asian stereotypes by voting in favour of “Geisha”. Here are the names of the four commissioners who voted “yes” (kindly collected by spamfriedrice over at Asian Americans for Progress) —  Act Now! and write a letter expressing your displeasure at their votes:

Michael Colbruno
Clear Channel Outdoor
555 12th Street, Suite 950
Oakland, CA 94607
835-5900
Fax: 663-4662
Email: michaelcolbruno@clearchannel.com

C. Blake Huntsman
SEIU, Local 1021
155 Myrtle Street
Oakland, CA 94607
452-2366, ext. 522
Fax: 452-2436
Email: Blake.Huntsman@seiu1021.org

Douglas Boxer
Boxer & Associates, Inc.
300 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 500
Oakland, CA 94612
286-2937
Fax: 835-0415
Email: dboxer@gmail.com

Vince Gibbs
City of Oakland
250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza Ste. 3315
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 903-9516
Email: VinceGibbs.opc@gmail.com

In addition, write about how you find the restaurant’s name offensive on Yelp, where the restaurant’s owners are trying to stir up some good press for their future establishment. And of course, if you live in the Oakland area, boycott the living hell out of the place.

Judge Denny Chin Nominated to U.S. Court of Appeals

denny-chin

The White House announced today that Judge Denny Chin, the accomplished judge who presided over the infamous U.S. vs. Madoff case earlier this year, has been nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Here’s Chin’s biography, as released by The White House:

Judge Denny Chin: Nominee for United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Judge Denny Chin was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong. His family moved to the United States when he was 2 years old. Judge Chin was raised in New York City, attending Stuyvesant High School, a New York public school specializing in math and science, before attending Princeton University. He graduated from Princeton magna cum laude in 1975 and from Fordham Law School in 1978 where he was the managing editor of the Fordham Law Review.

After graduation, Judge Chin clerked on the Southern District of New York for Judge Henry F. Werker. He then spent two years at the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell before becoming an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1982. When he left the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1986, Judge Chin started a law firm with two colleagues: Campbell, Patrick & Chin. Four years later, he joined the law firm of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., where he specialized in labor and employment law.

In 1994, Judge Chin was nominated and confirmed to the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York, where he currently serves. He was the first Asian-American appointed as a U.S. District Court Judge outside of the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Chin has served as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching legal research and writing since 1986. He is currently the Treasurer for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Judicial Council, and he has served as the President of the Federal Bar Council Inn of Court and the President of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. He also currently serves on the Boards of Directors for the Fordham Law School Alumni Association and the Fordham Law School Law Review Association and as the Co-Chair for the Fordham Law School Minority Mentorship Program. Judge Chin is a member of the Federal Bar Council Public Service Committee, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Judge Chin is being nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

Why is this a significant step?

The Asian American Bar Association (AABA) openly discusses the lack of representation of Asian Americans in the upper tiers of the judicial system. They write:

At the federal level, the number of Asian Pacific American judges is miniscule. In the Northern District of California, which includes San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties among others, there has never been an Asian American district court judge pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution.  As to all Article III federal courts, the number of active Article III judges who are Asian Pacific American is:

•  Zero in the Northern District of California
•  Zero in the federal circuit courts of appeal
•  Zero on the U.S. Supreme Court

In addition, former AABA president Celia Lee and Judge Ken Kawaichi wrote a compelling argument lamenting the embarrassing lack of diversity of judges in the federal courts system for the San Francisco Chronicle, with a specific focus on the state of California.

The absence of an Asian Pacific American jurist on the federal bench is a stark contrast to the Asian Pacific American jurists who sit on the state courts in Northern California, where there are 27 Superior Court judges, two commissioners, a justice on the Court of Appeal and two justices on the Supreme Court. Even with that number of Asian Pacific American jurists on the bench, state courts have not achieved parity with the Asian Pacific American population, which constitutes 33 percent of San Francisco’s population and about 20 percent of the Bay Area population. But at least there is progress. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appointed five Asian Pacific American judges in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco counties.

Lee and Kawaichi go on to state the case for why having equal representation among judges is critical; many of the country’s landmark civil rights cases throughout history were brought by Asian Americans against the state of California or the federal government. Here are those listed by Lee and Kawaichi in their article:

In Yick Wo vs. Hopkins, one of the earliest civil rights cases in American history, the Supreme Court in 1886 struck down a discriminatory San Francisco ordinance targeting Chinese Americans.

In Wong Kim Ark vs. the United States, a landmark immigration case in 1898, the Supreme Court applied the 14th Amendment to grant citizenship to an American of Chinese ancestry born in the United States.

In Korematsu vs. United States, one of the most infamous civil rights cases in American history, the Supreme Court upheld the forced exclusion and detention of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II without the right to notice of charges, the right to attorneys or the right to a trial. Forty years later, in 1984, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Northern District court overturned Korematsu’s conviction, ruling that there was no good justification for the internment.

In Lau vs. Nichols, a suit brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco, the Supreme Court expanded the rights of all students throughout the country with limited English skills by requiring language accommodation.

Asian Americans are not merely impacted by decisions made in federal courts, we have been instrumental in changing the face of the United States for the better throughout this nation’s history. Yet, Asian Americans are yet to be adequately represented in the positions that actually make these critical rulings.

Earlier this year, President Obama took a major step towards rectifying this disturbing lack of representation of Asian Americans among federal jurists; in August, Obama nominated Judge Edward Chen to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where he is now the first Asian American to serve as a federal judge overseeing a region encompassing some of the country’s largest Asian American populations.

If I read the AABA’s website correctly, if Judge Denny Chin were confirmed to the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, he would be the only Asian American currently serving in the federal court of appeals system. In other words, even with Judge Chin sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Asian Americans would still only represent 1% of judges in the federal circuit courts of appeal compared to representing more than 4% of the population.

Nonetheless, I applaud President Obama for this important step towards improving diversity in this nation’s courts. When Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he took a stance towards improving representation of underrepresented minorities in the judicial system, and it’s good to see that he has been true to his word when it comes to the Asian American community.

Act Now! The Asian American Bar Association has a number of recommended actions you can take if you want to let your elected representatives know you want more Asian Americans in the federal courts.

  • Send an email to Senators Feinstein and Boxer letting them know this is an important issue, letting them know that it is important for Asian Americans to be represented on the federal bench. For Senator Feinstein, click [here], and for Senator Boxer, click [here].

  • Become an AABA member and join our committees, including our Judiciary/Public Appointments Committee.

  • Support AABA, NAPABA, and other organizations seeking to diversify the judiciary.

  • Come to our Annual Dinner and other events to learn more.

  • International Non-Violence Day

    Today is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, and is marked by International Non-Violence Day. Today is a day for remembering the lives lost in social oppression and violence, and a day to appeal to the better nature in all of us. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence as a method for resistance and uprising inspired political leaders around the world, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Yet, International Non-Violence Day falls this year during a time when America is still fighting wars in the Middle East. More than 5,000 troops have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. At home, men and women still suffer and die every day due to social injustice: the sick are denied life-saving healthcare while politicians quibble in Washington, inner-city children don’t have access to adequate public education, and people of colour are shot to death by those who are sworn to protect us.

    The anger I feel at these injustices challenge the principles of non-violence; yet it is imperative that the anger that would tempt us away from non-violence be used to funnel political activists towards effective, and yes peaceful, action. I think what that action is can differ for everybody. However small the act, a protest is still a protest: the important thing is that one acts, and does not remain passive. For me, this blog is my protest — sparking discussion, I believe, can overthrow a system of inequity by helping raise awareness and stir political activism.

    President Obama released a statement today about Gandhi’s influence on modern world history:

    THE WHITE HOUSE
    Office of the Press Secretary

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    October 1, 2009

    Statement by President Obama on
    Mahatma Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary

    On behalf of the American people, I want to express appreciation for the life and lessons of Mahatma Gandhi on the anniversary of his birth. This is an important moment to reflect on his message of non-violence, which continues to inspire people and political movements across the globe.

    We join the people of India in celebrating this great soul who lived a life dedicated to the cause of advancing justice, showing tolerance to all, and creating change through non-violent resistance. Americans owe an enormous measure of gratitude to the Mahatma. His teachings and ideals, shared with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1959 pilgrimage to India, transformed American society through our civil rights movement. The America of today has its roots in the India of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent social action movement for Indian independence which he led. Tomorrow, as we remember the Mahatma on his birthday, we must renew our commitment to live his ideals and to celebrate the dignity of all human beings.

    ###

    What are you doing to end social injustice, today?

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    Bao Phi on Race, Violence, and Police Brutality

    Hat-tip: Racialicious

    Bao Phi writes about the little-known stories of victims of police brutality. Here’s an excerpt:

    We all have our fears.  Some of these fears are consciously and subconsciously taught to us by society, some of them may be reinforced by personal experience. And these fears are absolutely impacted by race, gender, class, sexual orientation.  Those of us who are people of color, women, from poor and GLBTT communities have the added fear that if we are victimized by violence, we will be harmed more than helped by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

    Take the case of Michael Cho, a 25 year-old artist who was shot 10 times and killed by two La Habra police who claimed he was unresponsive to their demands and was threatening them with a tire iron.  However, Michael Cho was physically disabled and found it difficult to walk quickly, let alone threaten two police officers.

    Or Marlo and Romel Custodio, who were shot with tasers and beaten by 8 San Jose police officers for allegedly possessing less than half an once of marijuana, and who were cooperating with their arrest.  They managed to call their 50 year-old mother, Marilou Alvarado Custodio, who was violently restrained when she arrived on the scene, her head repeatedly banged into a squad car’s door.

    And “The Quincy 4,” young Asian American activists who were brutalized by Boston police as they returned from an engagement party.  They were talking to a state trooper in the parking lot of a supermarket when a police squad car rolled up and without warning they were pepper-sprayed and attacked.  One of the victims, a young woman named Karen Chen who is just above 5 feet tall, was tackled and beaten by three male police officers, giving her a black eye and numerous bruises.  Not only were the police officers unpunished, they filed false charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, of which a Boston judge found them guilty and sent one of these young people, who had done no wrong, to prison.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have to look far for incidents involving police brutality.

    Read the full column here: Fong Lee, and Violence

    Act Now! Bao Phi, along with other artists and poets, are putting on a fund-raising performance for the family of Fong Lee, a Hmong-American boy who was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Proceeds from the performance will go towards legal costs for the Lee family. Here are the details:

    UP IN ARMS: A Night of Hip Hop and Spoken Word to Honor Fong Lee and End Police Brutality

    Saturday, October 3rd, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)
    Kagin Commons at Macalester College
    1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

    Featuring performances by Magnetic North (NY), Nomi of Power Struggle (Bay Area), Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage (Philadelphia), Maria Isa, Blackbird Elements, Guante, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, e.g. bailey, Tou SaiKo Lee with PosNoSys, True Mutiny, Shá Cage, Kevin Xiong with Pada Lor, Tish Jones, Maipacher, Logan Moua, Bobby Wilson, Poetic Assassins, Hilltribe, and special guests. Tou Ger Xiong and Amy Hang will emcee and DJ Nak will be on the one’s and two’s.

    $5-$10 suggested donation.  All proceeds go towards legal costs for the Family of Fong Lee.

    Congratulations, John Liu!

    225px-John_Liu_at_the_2009_West_Indian_Day_Parade_by_DS

    John Liu isn’t Asian America’s singular political leader (do we even have one?), but he’s pretty dang close. Those of us who have been around the politically active wing of the APA community have seen how John Liu, a New York City councilman, is omnipresent in virtually every major political action that our community has involved itself in. Councilman Liu has made a career of encouraging Asian Americans to be more politically involved, more vocal, and more strategic in our demands for improved political representation and civil rights.

    This year, Councilman Liu rallied the national APA community in support of his race for NYC comptroller, a position responsible for overseeing billions of dollars of city funds. Yesterday, the votes in the Democratic primary were cast, and when the dust settled, Liu became NYC’s Democratic candidate for this position. And with NYC the left-leaning city that it is, there’s little doubt that Liu and other Democrats who won this tough primary race are going to emerge victorious against their Republican competitors in November.

    But the real victors here are the Asian American community, who worked vigorously to help Liu become the first Asian American elected to city-wide office in New York City. Daniel Collins at The Huffington Postsardonically attributes Liu’s win to the APA community’s “hunger” for representationdespite what Collins characterises as Liu’s lacklustre qualifications for the job as comptroller. Nonetheless, Liu has been an incredible advocate for his constituents, Asian American and otherwise, and I personally see no reason to suspect that Liu, power-drunk with the new position of comptroller, will bankrupt the Big Apple. 

    Meanwhile, there’s one inescapable fact here: how is it that New York City, with one of the oldest, largest and most vibrant Chinese communities in the country, is only now — in 2009 — capable of electing an Asian American to a city-wide public office? Yesterday’s election results in NYC are a blow to the rampant political underrepresentation of Asian Americans in this country, and I hope that pundits nationwide are finally sitting up and taking notice: in the new millennium, Asian Americans are –as we should be — a political force to be reckoned with.

    Act Now! The race isn’t over for John Liu: he goes against Republican opponent Joe Mendola on November 3rd. And while Liu is the front-runner in that race, now is not the time to get lackadaisical. Whether an NYC resident or clear across the country, volunteer for and contribute to Liu’s campaign at his campaibn website.