Undoing “Mikado”: Japan is not an imaginary place, and I am not a metaphor

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The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of comic-opera “The Mikado” has caused controversy due to the nature of the show and the production’s use of White actors to play Japanese characters.  LA-based community organizer Sean Miura (@seanmiura) reflects on his experience with the “The Mikado” and the society’s response to the backlash.

I hold a special place in my heart for the people of Seattle.

Seattle is the city where my great grandmother settled after leaving Japan, going on to raise four daughters as a single mom.  Seattle is where my great uncle crossed the Bainbridge Island pier to board boats to buses to trains to concentration camps in the wake of Pearl Harbor hysteria.  Seattle is where my mother moved after law school, became chapter president of the local JACL, fought for redress and reparations, and fought to right the conviction of a man who resisted being imprisoned in a World War II concentration camp.  Seattle is where my mom met my dad.  Seattle is where I was born.

Seattle is not where I grew up, but Seattle was the closest I had to an Asian American community with the International District, Uwajimaya food court lunches, and the salmon my uncle Tike would catch fresh in the mornings.  My mom drove me, 10 years old at the time, from our home in Vancouver to see David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child” at the Seattle Reparatory Theater, the first time I saw Asian Americans telling our own stories live.

I saw The Mikado a couple years later.

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South Asian American man wanted to kill women at UW in emulation of Elliot Rodger

FBI report of threats published by Keshav Bhide under the screen-name "Foss Dark", declaring his intent to engage in a mass shooting like Elliot Rodger.
FBI report of threats published by Keshav Bhide under the screen-name “Foss Dark”, declaring his intent to engage in a mass shooting and then kill himself, like Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger.

(H/T Jeff Yang (@originalspin))

Less than a month ago, Elliot Rodger stabbed to death his three Asian American housemates and then went on a shooting spree in the residential college town of Isla Vista, randomly targeting women and their boyfriends as alleged punishment for society’s emasculation of him. I wrote about how Rodger’s actions were symptomatic of society’s larger definition of masculinity; I coined the term “misogylinity” to describe hegemonic masculinity’s toxic and misguided assertion that men should pursue and covet a masculinity defined relative to the sexual commodification of women.  I further discussed how issues of masculinity are of particular interest to the Asian American community, where the racial pain arising from stereotypes of emasculation is explicitly political, and which has rationalized the pursuit — often uncritically, and sometimes outright problematically — of misogylinistic notions of manhood.

I concluded that while misogyny, masculinity and misogylinity is America’s problem at-large, it is Asian America’s problem, too. In some corners of Asian America, radical misogyny incubates virtually unchecked.

Yesterday, a 23-year-old South Asian American man by the name of Keshav Mukund Bhide was arrested and held on $150,001 bail after posting numerous online comments idolizing Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger through YouTube and Google+, the latter through his account name “Foss Dark”. Bhide is a student at the University of Washington.

Bhide posted several comments calling Rodger’s “Day of Retribution” “perfectly justified”, and threatening to follow in Rodger’s footsteps. On May 30, Bhide wrote a comment on his own sharing of a YouTube video, saying that he “would have done exactly the same shit” but that he “would have killed only women”.

In explanation for his misogyny, Bhide cited a trope that again is all-too-familiar within the Asian American community: he rationalized his anger against women for society’s rejection of men who are “short” and who have an “ugly face”.

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