Reconnecting Heart and Head: Racism, Immigration Policy, WeChat, and Chinese Americans

By: OiYan Poon

Smirking when I asked if he had any questions before I turned on my recorder for our interview, Stan responded, “Yes. I can tell by your name and how you talk that you’re probably ‘Chinatown Chinese.’ Am I right?”

Stunned and curious, I asked, “What do you mean by ‘Chinatown Chinese’?”

Presumably trying to convey that he was superior to me, Stan proceeded. “You know what I mean… you probably have family who work in restaurants and sewing factories… low class immigrants. My generation of Chinese immigrants is different than yours. We’re highly-educated professionals. We don’t need handouts. Your generation of Chinese immigrants gave us a bad reputation in America, relying on government handouts.”

Feeling a rage rise in me, I pushed it away for the sake of my research. Taking a long sip of latte and a deep breath to calm myself, I responded nonchalantly “My mom was a garment factory worker, and most of my family have worked in restaurants… casinos, too. My grandparents lived in Boston Chinatown, so we do identify with Chinatown. Some of my family benefited from public assistance. And, I have a Ph.D. like you. Why are you asking these questions?”

Still smirking, Stan answered: “Just curious.” And with that, we began our interview with my audio recorder on for the remainder of our conversation.

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‘Soft Power’: A Powerfully Acted but Underwhelming Spectacle

By Guest Contributor: Edward Hong (@CinnabonMonster)

Ever since I wanted to be an actor in high school, I became immediately aware of Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang. To this day, Hwang is arguably the best known Asian-American playwright in the world. Hwang’s plays (most notably, F.O.B. and M. Butterfly) have pioneered the expression of the Asian American identity on stage for the world to see.

To say that Hwang was a playwright I looked up to as an Asian-American actor would be a huge understatement. This guy was everything to me.

Thus, it was a no-brainer that I would go watch his latest work, Soft Power, which premiered on May 3rd at the Ahmanson Theatre. Excitement, intrigue, and fascination all swirled into one, particularly since Soft Power was also a collaboration between Hwang and well-known composer, Jeanine Tesor (Fun Home).

So what’s Soft Power all about?

The following review contains several spoilers about the latest musical production Soft Power. Please read on with care.

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Asian Americans Run for Something: Ben Ku | Candidate for GA Gwinnett County Commissioner, District 2

This year, a record number of Asian Americans are running for public office at the local, state, and national level. Reappropriate has partnered with Run for Something — a non-profit launched in 2017 to support grassroots campaigns to elect progressive candidates — to profile these progressive Asian American candidates for higher office. Check back at Reappropriate throughout 2018 to learn more about these candidates and find out how you can get more involved in their campaigns.

What is your full name?
Ben Ku

What office are you seeking?
Georgia Gwinnett County Commissioner, District 2

When is the election date?
I am facing an opponent in the Democratic primary opponent, which will be held on May 22. If I win the primary election, I will face a Republican incumbent opponent in the general election on November 6.

What is your party registration (if any)?
Democrat

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Why We Must End Caste Oppression

By: Thenmozhi Soundararajan

Last year I was ejected four times from the California Board of Education building. My crime was being Dalit American.

I was part of hundreds of caste-oppressed South Asian American families who came out to testify at the Board of Education’s hearings hearings about textbook descriptions of caste discrimination. The protest I attended was organized by the South Asian History For All Coalition. We were fighting a Hindu American foundation that had thrown millions of dollars into this textbook battle, hoping to erase discussions of caste from  California textbooks and replace it with a sanitized version of South Asian American history. The threat of Dalits breaking the silence on caste was so disturbing that upper-caste Hindus called the police on Dalit families, and disrupted and heckled us as we testified.

We had the historical record and our personal stories on our side, and we were fighting to support an evidence-based curriculum recommended by hundreds of academics. Yet, the California Board of Education allowed fundamentalist dollars to override the facts. With that, they allowed alternative history into textbooks in a decision that will impact millions of children across California.

This is experience is at the heart of why I worked with my co-author Maari Zwick Maitreyi to create the first survey on caste in the United States. Our historic report, Caste in the United States, provides some of the first data on caste discrimination in the US. The report confirmed that caste discrimination exists in the United States, that it is a significant problem, and that for South Asian Americans it is as crucial for us to tackle this violence as it is to confront white supremacy.

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Digging into the Racial Politics of ‘Ugly Delicious’

By Guest Contributor: Rachel Kuo

The popular reception of David Chang’s Netflix series Ugly Delicious – which seeks to open conversations about food, culture, identity, and politics – demands investigation into how the show actually engages these questions. Beyond troubling concepts like ‘authenticity’, what does Ugly Delicious offer and where might it fall short?

Ugly Delicious has received positive reviews from popular food sites like Eater, while publications like the New Yorker, New York Times, the Boston Globe, Vulture, and Indiewire specifically laud the show’s ability to tackle the cultural politics of food and engage difficult questions about race, class, and power in food culture. Chang himself states that the show uses food as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to talk about broader social topics as well as to represent histories and tell cultural stories about food.

Through Ugly Delicious, Chang is able to talk about the “elephant in the room: racism” (Episode 7: Fried Rice). By leveraging his elite status in the culinary world, his success in building restaurants that ‘mix’ and ‘borrow’ from different cuisines, and his ability to expertly navigate his Korean American identity, Chang is able to engage in debates about culinary appropriation in mainstream media where other people of color who have written bout food and race have been met with criticism, backlash, anger, and trolling.

Ugly Delicious offers introductory conversations around the racial and cultural politics of food. For example, in ‘Fried Rice‘, ‘Tacos‘, and ‘Fried Chicken‘ episodes, the show establishes that in order to talk about food, taste, and authenticity, one must engage the ways in which structural racism decides whose food gets valued and why. What do we do with food when white supremacists want their Del Taco while seeking to deport Mexican immigrants, too? Chang contends with his conflicted emotions about the popularization of Korean food, evoking Ruth Tam’s writing on the frustration of being shamed for one’s food when white people make it trendy.

Despite provoking these nuanced ideas around race and food, Ugly Delicious also reproduces harmful cultural logics and narratives, such as the overemphasis on representational visibility as viable markers for social progress; the exacerbation of problematic racial dynamics around white self-identified cultural experts; and, the erasure of colonialism, militarism, and war when stating that certain food cultures have ‘always’ had global influence.

Given that the show intends to open up conversations about social issues through food, my hope is that it can spark further discussions about the intersections of food, race, power, and capital.

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