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.

The Words of Asian American Men

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHIi11HX0tE

This post also appeared on Racialicious. This post was one that was lost to the ether during my domain migration, and I’m delighted to be able to restore it from Racialicious!

A little less than a month ago, a panel discussion was put together by The Asian Society focusing on Asian American male identity. The panel, consisting of three prominent Asian American men in pop culture today: The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi, the single best Asian American writer of contemporary pop culture, Jeff Yang, and the ever so swoon-worthy Yul Kwon of Survivor: Cook Islands (whom this blog dubbed the real Super Asian Man back when his show was on the air). These three men chatted for a night on issues affecting Asian American men, and The Asia Society graciously put an edited “clip show” of the event on YouTube for us to view.

Continue reading “The Words of Asian American Men”

Shakira on the MTV Video Music Awards

I’m currently watching the MTV Video Music Awards as I type up my notes for the morning, and I just watched Shakira and Wyclef Jean perform “Hips Don’t Lie”. And would you believe that Shakira and her back-up dancers appropriated Asian Indian traditional dress and dancing?

I’m so tired of watching Asian cultures get appropriated by contemporary performers as a way of “snazzing up” the same ‘ol routine, as if a little dash of “the East” can give an overplayed song an exotic twist. How many pop culture singers and dancers have we seen over the past few years dressed in hanbok or chi-pao? Are we really surprised that this generation’s youth think there’s nothing wrong with appropriating Asian cultures? Those who establish “that which is cool” send the message that not only is there nothing wrong with appropriating Asian cultures, but that it’s in fact desirable.

But then again, why am I turning to the MTV Video Music Awards for discussions of identity politics? Sarah Silverman (known to Asian American activists for her defense of the epithet “chink” in her comedy) just did a homophobic segment lambasting recently outed Lance Bass. I feel my brain cells dying. This is my generation?