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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.

Heroes, Season 4 Episode 1

Yes, I’m already a week behind on blogging about the latest season of Heroes. Blah.

Heroes is noteworthy for being one of the few shows on primetime to feature a multi-racial cast of characters. With the generally abysmal representation of Asian American faces on television (although Jee of 8Asians notes the growth in number this year), series regulars Masi Oka (playing self-described “hero” Hiro Nakamura) and James Kyson Lee (playing Hiro’s buddy Ando Masahashi, the show’s original straight man who later developed superpowers) were — and perhaps still are — among the most identifiable Asian American faces on television.

So, it’s hard to understate the disappointment I experienced with last week’s season premiere.

Hiro possesses arguably the most powerful ability of all the Heroescharacters: he is capable of bending time and space to freeze time, teleport himself and others across the globe, and to go backwards and forwards in time to change history. Hiro had the makings of a true bad-ass. Indeed, I don’t think I got greater chills from Heroesthan when a future version of Hiro appears before Peter Petrelli –insightful, confident, clad in black, wielding a ninja sword, and speaking flawless English. Future Hiro was the promise of what Hiro could be: a righteous, ass-kicking good guy.

Instead, what we get is Masi Oka’s best impression of a bumbling idiot.

Hiro Nakamura is little more than a walking stereotype. Perpetually clad in a short sleeves white dress shirt and black tie, Hiro represents the Japanese working stiff meets child-like imbecile. Despite his awesome powers, Hiro is an incompetent superhero, and has been indirectly (or directly) responsible for setting in motion the events that lead to the rising of a Big Bad in at least two of the last three seasons. Four seasons after his first appearance in the series premiere, Hiro is still obsessed with an infantile definition of the “superhero”, striving to emulate the heroes of his mangas and imported comic books. And though Hiro should be considered the powerhouse of Heroes‘ good guys, he’s relegated to secondary status perpetually living out minor story arcs of irrelevance and impotency. Hiro is an Asian Billy Batson, and no one ever takes Captain Marvel seriously.

And while this might be a good place to start a character, after four seasons, I’m wondering why none of Heroes‘ writers have let Hiro Nakamura grow up. Last week’s season opener showed Hiro struggling with more of the same: trying to force himself to be a hero, while dealing with his powers not working properly. Didn’t we see this already last season? Oh, and maybe he’s dying, but even here Hiro’s more concerned with hooking Ando up with his sister than with dealing with impending death.

Meanwhile, Ando’s developed an abilities amplification power but spends the season opener pining after Hiro’s sister, Kimiko (as well as falling on his head while trying to save a cat). Does he get the girl in the end? Well, sort of — apparently, Kimiko doesn’t date Ando because Ando once spilled a slushie on her dress. Hiro goes back in time, takes a slushie for the team, and lo and behold, Ando and Kimiko have been doing it like rabbits ever since. I’m sure that plot point sounded a lot better on paper.

Meanwhile, what’s up with Kimiko? When we first met her, she was the frustrated and undervalued daughter of the Nakamura household, infinitely more competent running the family business than Hiro but never in line for the job. She was kind of a strong character in her own right, exasperated by her idiot brother and trying to do right by herself. Sure, she was a bit of a dragon lady, but at least she wasn’t taking crap from people. Now, we see she’s as flaky as a schoolgirl, whose affections are literally as capricious as the aim of a falling slushie? Disappointing and cliched are just two words I would use to describe this latest turn of events.

I’m still waiting on the kick-ass Asian American superhero on Heroes. It could be Hiro. It could be Ando. It could be Mohinder. Shit, let’s give Kimiko a power if there’re going to cheaply these days. But let’s get one APA superhero on this show who has a power that a) he can actually use (unlike Hiro), b) doesn’t turn him into a power-mad villain (unlike Mohinder), and c) doesn’t render him a sidekick (unlike Ando).

I’m not exactly holding my breath.

NY Times: On Paper Sons

The New York Times had an excellent article on the “paper son” phenomenon that hugely impacted Chinese American immigration into this country. Here’s an excerpt:

“When we think about illegal immigration, we think about Mexican immigrants, whereas in fact illegal immigration cuts across all immigrant groups,” said Erika Lee, the author of “At America’s Gate: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943.” The book traces how today’s national apparatus of immigration restriction was created and shaped by efforts to keep out Chinese workers and to counter the tactics they developed to overcome the barriers.

The current parallels are striking, said Professor Lee, who teaches history at the University of Minnesota. And though some descendants of paper sons do not make the connection, many others have become immigrant rights advocates in law, politics or museums like this one, which hopes to draw a national audience to its new Chinatown space, designed by Maya Lin.

“In the Chinese-American community, it has only been very recently that these types of histories have been made public,” Professor Lee said. “Even my own grandparents who came in as paper sons were very, very reluctant to talk about this.”

[…]

“To get into the U.S. under the laws back then, I had to pretend to be another person,” Mr. Hom wrote. His father had bought him immigration papers that included 32 pages of information he was to memorize in preparation for hours of interrogation at Ellis Island.

Such cheat sheets were part of an elaborate, self-perpetuating cycle of enforcement and evasion, historians say. The authorities kept ratcheting up their scrutiny and requirements for documents, feeding a lucrative network of fraud and official corruption as immigrants tried to show they were either merchants or native-born citizens, groups exempt from the exclusion laws.

Read the full article here: Immigration Stories, From Shadows to Spotlight

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.