Obama to Sign E.O. On APAs

I was surprised to find out this morning that President Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (and would be donating the $1.4 million prize money to charity). I was shocked to learn this afternoon that next Wednesday, October 14th, he would be signing an Executive Order restoring the White House Advisory Commission and Interagency Working Group to investigate and address issues concerning the Asian Pacific American community.

Previously, President George W. Bush moved these issues to an agencyunder the purvue of the Department of Commerce — because, you know, Asian Americans only deal with economic concerns.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release that was sent to Asian Pacific Americans for Progress today:


Office of Media Affairs


October 9, 2009  


ADVISORY: President Obama to Sign Executive Order on White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on Wednesday

 WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, October 14, President Obama will sign an Executive Order restoring the White House Advisory Commission and Interagency Working Group to address issues concerning the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.  At the East Room ceremony, the President will also observe Diwali, or the “Festival of Lights,” a holiday celebrated across faiths.

You can bet I’ll blog about it when it all goes down. I cannot even begin to express to you how badly I wish I lived in Washington, D.C. right about now.

“Geisha”: Blog Wars?

Yikes — looks like we might have a blog war a-brewin’ between APAP and 8Asians.

I blogged earlier this afternoon about the “Geisha” bar opening in Oakland, linking a post from APAP for some of my sources. It turns out that Moye, over at 8Asians, also read the APAP post and has a different take on the “Geisha” fiasco.

Aside from the heavy cultural significance of the word, the leaders of this protest also cite that giving the bar with such a name would help support sexual harassment, mental illness, and a negative economic impact with its indirect support for the sex trade and/or pornography. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that rapist in the area who was targeting Asian women. Wait, what? These are all related?

I hate to be the one to say this, but I can’t help think these folks are overreacting in this situation, and wrongly defining the history of Japanese geisha. They were dancing and musical entertainers, and nowhere did violence and overt sexuality come to play in their formal occupation. No, geishas aren’t prostitutes. Maybe some of them were but hey, it’s the oldest job in the world.  If anything, they should be focusing their outrage on two Asian American businessmen with a tired and unoriginal idea for a new bar, or at least ask why someone would want to go to a Geisha bar in the heart of Chinatown. Wrong culture, people.

Also, what does the NorCal rapist have to do with this? Did he have a geisha fetish or something and this bar is his one chance to finally hang out in the open? I don’t see the connection.

I think the problem here is a question of interpretation: is the criticism of “Geisha” a reaction to the negative connotations of the geisha profession? Or how the term “geisha” is interpreted by American audiences.

As Moye points out, the traditional geisha was not a prostitute. Geisha would be best described as artisans, trained in music and dance and hired by wealthy men to entertain at dinner parties by playing songs, singing, and socializing. Some prostituted themselves, but the profession, as a whole, is oversimplified by the term “prostitute”.

But that’s looking at geisha from a strictly historical perspective, and not in the context of America’s sociopolitical landscape — which is the way most restaurant patrons and passersby will view the restaurant name. Here, the term “geisha” refers to an archetype that fits hand-in-hand with other images of the hypersexualized, demure Asian female “lotus blossom” prevalent in historical and contemporary American media. Asian and Asian American women are — and have been — predominantly depicted in hypersexualized and subjugated roles in American film and literature, and this directly counteracts efforts to empower Asian American women with a positive and healthy image of ourselves and our sexuality. To that end, failing to criticize a local establishment, opening in a heavily Asian American community, that draws upon and glorifies this negative stereotype of Asian women would be irresponsible.

Moreover, while the link between a bar named “geisha” and depression is not direct, dehumanizing stereotypes left unchallenged in mainstream media often lead to conflicted and unhealthy self-image problems. After all, no one questions that our society’s predilection for super-skinny images of beauty are contributing factors to high rates of anorexia and bullemia specifically amongst teenaged girls of all races.

That being said, I’m not sure I co-sign the Norcal rapist connection; mainly because I don’t think we know the specific motivations for that dude.

Subjugating APA Women One Meal At A Time


‘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
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
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


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.

  • 80/20 and Asian American Salaries in the Sciences

    Followers of this blog will remember that I’m not the world’s biggest groupie of 80/20, a political action committee (or P.A.C. as the lingo goes) that I find self-promoting and an embarrassment to the grassroots Asian American political movement. As far as I can tell, 80/20 sends poorly worded, all-caps emails (with lots of red text, because we all find red text more persuasive than black text) imploring listserv members to donate after stirring up rage over poorly cited and often misguided statements describing real (or not-so-real) forms of discrimination that we as a community face.

    80/20 excels at stirring up political awareness; no one can criticize the fact that this single P.A.C. stays in business by taking money from a large swath of West Coast Asian Americans who want to see improved civil rights. In fact, the very success of 80/20 is an indication that there is a hunger for political change within the APA community. It’s how 80/20 goes about doing it that bothers me; most of their communications to their members are self-promoting, and frequently riddled with errors.

    Case in point, this morning, I received an email from 80/20 telling me that Asian Americans in the sciences receive the lowest wages of all ethnic groups. Donate $50, said the email, because 80/20 will protect me and you from this kind of discrimination.

    Do you believe in equal pay for equal work? What if YOU are denied your due? It’ll not happened to YOU? Hope not! However, if it does, what are YOU going to do abut it?

       Look at this SALARY SURVEY published by The Scientist in its September, 2009 issue. We again came out on the shortest end.It shows that Asian Am. M.Ds. and Ph. Ds in life science are paid the lowest salaries when compared with all other races. Visit http://www.the-scientist.com/salarysurvey/

        Combine this knowledge with Chart 1 shown below, where we again came out on the shortest end in terms of the odds to be promoted to managers, then ask yourself

    (1) Which organization brings to you information of such vital bearing on your life?
    (2) Which organization is working effectively to keep you from being shortchanged like that in the future?

       JOIN 80-20. Help 80-20 to help YOU and YOUR children.

    [insert payment methods, with random red text, here]

    Your payment of $35 or $50 is not even 1/100th of your salary. Don’t let yourself get stepped on and be paid less! JOIN 80-20 and forward this info to every Asian Am. you know. Why? TO STOP SUCH DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOU FROM CONTINUING ASAP!

    Being an Asian American, who will soon be getting a PhD and working in the life sciences, I was curious to see this survey. It’s been long known that Asian Americans have a hard time breaking the glass ceiling into management positions. However, it’s not clear that this translates into the sciences, where doctoral holders have a choice between being a “primary investigator” (managing a lab) or a post-doctoral (not managing a lab). I have yet to track down statistics that break down presence of Asian Americans doctorates into “management” and “non-management” positions. 

    That being said, I hadn’t yet seen a study that had also shown a salary discrepancy for Asian American doctorates in the sciences. So, I clicked on the attached link and saw that The Scientist has indeed published a chart claiming that Asian doctorates make less money than non-Asian degree-holders. In fact, according to the chart, we make less money than all other ethnic groups! Oh, no!


    (According to the graph accompanying this one, women also make less money than men).

    Then, like any good scientist, I did my homework. Actually, before I even went and clicked on the results of the survey, I checked the methodology. And here’s what it is:

    The survey was conducted via a web-based survey which was open from March 5 to May 31, 2009. Participation in the survey was promoted by e-mail and advertising to readers of The Scientist and visitors to The Scientist web site. It was also promoted by participating member societies to their members. Usable responses were received from 4,738 individuals in the United States. Since many individuals are subscribers to The Scientist, and/or registrants on their web site, and/or members of one or more of the sponsoring societies, it is not possible to compute an accurate rate of response.

    Respondents were asked to provide demographic data about themselves in 18 categories, and give their base annual salary and other cash compensation. The responses were carefully filtered to eliminate duplicate or misleading responses. Not every participant provided all of the information requested. If the participant provided income data, plus information concerning at least one demographic characteristic, the response was included in the study.

    Let me emphasize the important points: this is a voluntary. web. survey. that The Scientisthelped run. In other words, it’s about as scientific as CNN’s daily web poll. Sure, the study collected information from more than 4,500 respondents, but none of the summary information contains sample size. More galling, none of the bar charts contain a single error bar. Oh, and did I mention that this was a voluntary. web. survey.?!?

    Lest we forget, the science of voluntary surveys was debunked decades ago when one voluntary mail survey conducted by a woman’s magazine concluded that an obscenely high percentage of female respondents have cheated on their husbands (I can’t find the link now, will try again later). It was later determined that this conclusion was due to a faulty assumption that the respondents were a random sampling of all women. Unfortunately, they weren’t: a high percentage of angry or dissatisfied women found the time to answer the survey compared to women who were satisfied with their marriage.

    The basic premise as to why you’re liable to obtain faulty conclusions from voluntary surveys is that you’re sampling from a non-randomized (and thus non-representative) population. You can’t be certain that all the people who responded a certain way didn’t choose not to respond to the survey, in part because the way they would have responded biased them against responding. For example, if you wear a “Vote Liberal” button and try to conduct a non-partisan exit poll at a polling station, you’re likely to get more Democrats than Republicans opting to stay and tell you who they voted for. Since more Democrats responded than Republicans, you might therefore conclude that Democrats will win the precinct when in fact the majority of folks who voted might have voted Republican and walked right past your pollster. Thus, care must be given to experimental design to try and control for variables of self- and voluntary reporting, and all results have to be taken with a grain of salt (and with a mind for methodology). The fact that there is no error or sample size included in the survey data suggest to me that The Scientist‘s “scientific” survey was decidedly non-scientific.

    Take, instead these data compiled from the National Science Foundation, which is based on national survey data collected from (among other sources) the U.S. Department of Education. In short, the data was compiled by some poor intern sitting in a dark, stuffy office inputting data about every doctoral degree awarded in this country — by definition, a representative sampling. I don’t envy that dude’s job, but I do know that we’re not talking about some voluntary. web. survey.

    This PDF shows that while females in the sciences still make about $6,000 less in median income than their male counterparts, Asians in the sciences make $5,000 more than the median income for all races in the sciences. This trend holds true across all industries within science and engineering.

    Why? Because, compared to virtually all other workforces, Asians are grossly over-represented in the sciences. While Asians are roughly 5% of th national population, we represent more than 17% of scientists, and more than 30% of engineers.


    The problem for Asians in the sciences just isn’t as simple as 80/20 would have us believe. There is no vast (right-wing?) conspiracy to under-pay Asian scientists. 

    Rather, the problem for Asians involves underrepresentation of specific Asian ethnic groups. Demographic studies such as those shown above don’t distinguish within Asians: it’s very likely that American-born Asians are underrepresented compared to foreign-born Asians. And some Asians are underrepresented, such as Pacific Islanders, Hmong, and other groups who tend to have reduced access to higher education.

    In addition, Asian scientists tend to face workplace discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping that’s difficult to quantify in numbers from national surveys. Because English is the language of science, I’ve often seen an ingrained distaste for Asian accents or a presumption that a person with a foreign name will suffer from an inability to communicate with English-speaking investigators. There’s also a culture gap that Asians in science deal with: Asians are occasionally perceived as less willing to challenge their scientific peers because of our culture of collectivism, which is perceived as a detriment in establishing a forum for scientific debate.

    And as with women of other ethnic groups, Asian/Asian American women face difficulties being taken as seriously as their male counterparts, let alone receiving equal wages.

    Asian/Asian American scientists also lack access to specific grants, awards, and funding geared towards improving Asian/Asian American participation in science, since most Asians are not able to apply for any funding set aside for underrepresented minorities. What we really need is for 80/20 and other organizations to establish travel grants or small young investigator grants specifically focused on aiding Asian American scientists.

    So, 80/20 gets it partially right: Asian/Asian American scientists face discrimination in the workplace. But it’s not due to salary iniquity — it’s about challenging a culture of stereotypes. This stereotyping will not be defeated by a $50 donation to 80/20, but by a collected effort on the part of all Asian Americans to start a national dialogue about the falseness of anti-Asian stereotypes.

    And, with all of the money 80/20 rakes in from Asian immigrants hoping for a more equal tomorrow, they should really shell out the money to hire a fact checker and a PR person. I think 80/20’s persistent inaccuracies, not to mention their shoddily written emails (that, thankfully, contain fewer typos and spelling errors now than they have in the past), make one of the more visible Asian American P.A.C.’s look unprofessional and incompetent. If a mere blogger like myself was able to poke a gaping hole in 80/20’s argument regarding discrimination against Asians in science, than what hope does 80/20 have lobbying Washington? And if 80/20 presents such an easily debunked argument to the powers-that-be, how does that do anything but hurt those of us who actually do experience a real, if different, form of discrimination in science? 

    Personally, I’m keeping my $50, thank you very much. Besides, it is a significant chunk of my salary and I’d rather use it to buy groceries.