"Lee Siegel’s essay, “Rise of the Tiger Nation,” [drawing parallels between Asian American and Jewish American experience] will undoubtedly provoke sharp reactions both within and outside the Asian American community. The fact that I was mentioned as an example of Asian American success (I won “Survivor” during the controversial thirteenth season when the contestants were divided by race), combined with the shirtless photo of me that accompanied the article, has already caused me some consternation. […] My friend, Jeff Yang, has written an excellent response explaining why blanket assertions about Asians and Asian Americans are misguided, so I won’t try to articulate the same points here in less articulate fashion.
However, I do think it’s worth highlighting one critical difference between Jews and Asian Americans that Siegel’s essay doesn’t touch upon. In general, Jews are more easily able to assimilate into American society because of the absence of easily identifiable physical traits that distinguish them from other “white” Americans. For example, Jon Stewart is Jewish (he was born “Jonathan Leibowitz”), but most people would never know this If he didn’t make reference to his Jewish background. By contrast, one of the drivers of the enduring “perpetual foreigner” stereotype for Asian Americans is the fact that we obviously look different from whites (as well as blacks). Consequently, it often doesn’t matter if we were born in the US, educated here, work here, or even Americanize our names – the immediate presumption that many people make upon seeing us is that we’re foreigners because we don’t look conventionally American."
Yul Kwon, shirtless or not, makes a point that’s so obvious — literally in your face — that it really doesn’t need to be said: Asians don’t look white and can’t pass for white. Asians will never be seen as “fully American” in our lifetimes; that’s just the way it is. It doesn’t bother me one bit. In my view, it’s not something we need.
I’m South Asian and go by ‘Sam’. When I introduced myself to a white man at a party, he asked me what Sam was ‘short for’. When I replied ‘Samantha’, he told me that he was expecting something more interesting.
A Slanted view (my fight with the USPTO for API rights)
This is reposted from my original article at yomyomf.com:
I play bass in what’s often known as the first and only all-Asian American dance rock band in the world. We perform at many of the largest Asian cultural festivals in North America. We’ve been featured in and on over 1,500 radio stations, websites, magazines, and tv shows talking about the Asian American experience. As I mention in my bio above, my band members and I often facilitate workshops on cultural diversity, racism, and stereotypes about Asian and Asian American culture. In fact, when you look up information on the band, it’s hard to find anything that doesn’t associate us with Asian American culture, which is why when the U.S Trademark and Patent Office said that our band was disparaging to persons of Asian descent, I was rather shocked.
Let me elaborate.
The name that I and my cohort of pan-Asian Americans chose for the band is The Slants. We deliberately chose this outdated, generational term to inject pride into Asian American culture. Because of the broad support that we’ve had from APA’s – not only from media and blogs, but lifelong activists who are aware of the sensitivities of the community at large, we never expected the USPTO to have an issue when we filed for a trademark on the band’s name.
The Trademark Office doesn’t allow terms that are deemed to be disparaging to be approved. In order for them to reject an application for a trademark on these grounds, they have to show that a substantial composite of the referenced group to be offended by the word.
When we responded to the Trademark Office with evidence of support from the community, we included dozens of examples of Asian Pacific American media supporting our band. Well known lifelong APA activists wrote letters of support for our use of the name. We also showed other examples of Asian Americans using the term “Slant” in a positive manner, such as major API Film Festival “Slant”and Chicago-based TV show “The Slant.”
So what kind of evidence did they bring to demonstrate the collected outrage of APA’s who are offended by our name?
First, they cited UrbanDictionary.com. Then, they found an anonymous post on a message board from someone who said they didn’t like our name. After that, they put in photographs of Miley Cyrus making a slant-eye gesture. They sent this to us along with a rejection letter that said the vast support we demonstrated from the APA community was “laudable” but not influential.
This is what angers me the most: the US Trademark Office decided that anonymous wiki sources mattered more than the voice of Asian Americans. Why does a government agency that has no connection with APA’s have the right to dictate what is appropriate for our community? Why don’t we have the right to decide for ourselves?
Our plight reminds me of another case. You might know of the NFL team, The Redskins. The litigation over their name has been going on since 1992 except in that case, the Trademark Office continues to defend their name despite formal objections, legal challenges, and law suits from Native Americans who find the term “Redskins” to be an offensive racial slur. Again, a government agency that has no connection with the referenced community is making decisions as to what is appropriate or offensive for them. In our case, they deny our trademark in the absence of any valid complaints from Asian Americans. With Native Americans, they continue to defend “Redskins” even in the face of formal objections.
The role of government shouldn’t include deciding what a group can define themselves as. That right should belong to the community itself. While I would love to win the trademark to protect my band’s name – and frankly, to end the process because it’s been a long and expensive one – this case is bigger than The Slants. This will help determine what other minority groups are going to do in the future.
So let me wrap up by saying to the Asian American community: Thank you for your support over the years. Our love for spreading API culture drives us to continue what we do. If you would be so kind to donate a few minutes of your time and join us in this fight, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org (or tumblr @aslantedview)
And To the Trademark Office: Thank you for being offended on my behalf. You might not know this, but API’s have been a part of U.S history since 1750, when Filipinos began settling here. We have helped built this country, from the railroads to shaping civil rights laws for all citizens. And believe it or not, we’re grown up enough now to decide what’s right for ourselves. The broad, unified support of the Asian American community should be enough to trump that of Urban Dictionary.com. Our voice matters, you should listen.
But then again, my view is a little “slanted”.
“I blamed my ethnicity, being Chinese limited me”
By Phoenix Tso
There are several ways for ethnic Chinese people who were born in or grew up in America to describe themselves, or be described by others. From a young age, my mom would tell me that I was “Chinese-American”. When I studied abroad in China two years ago, I learned to refer to myself as a 华裔 (hua yi, foreign citizen of Chinese origin) or “American-Born Chinese” to those who asked where I was from. Yet, for many years I refused to refer to myself as both American and Chinese. Instead, I was just “American”.
I grew up outside of Boston, learned English first, and am most familiar with American (or at least Western) music, books, movies, politics, fashion, religion, etc. It was jarring therefore to find myself in situations where being from a Chinese family was a limitation to how comfortably I could fit in with other people in this country. When I was four or five years old and playing with my first best friend, she started talking about how excited she was to celebrate Hanukkah, as someone who is Jewish.
“I’m Jewish too,” I said, wanting to be whatever she was.
“No you’re not. You’re Christian,” she replied.
Sure, as far as I know, there are very few Chinese Jews in the world, but the implication that being Chinese limited me from exploring different aspects of what American society had to offer, or that I could not try on different identities as easily as other people, stayed with me. This was reinforced by other incidents: When we played Power Rangers at recess, I could never be the Pink Ranger. In sixth grade, my classmates were surprised I knew something about their favorite rappers. Strangers, when they met me, would often assume that I was smart, even when I offered no evidence to support that theory.
Above all, I could never get rid of this niggling feeling that I would be more “fun” or “cool”, that I would have more friends, if I weren’t saddled with the “Chinese people are studious” stereotype. In retrospect, there were many other good reasons for any social exclusion I faced, but at the time, I blamed most of it on my ethnicity.
So I consciously stopped speaking Chinese at home, or even with my grandmother when she would call from Taiwan. I engaged very little with the people around me or with the sites we visited on our trips to China. I ignored the Qing Dynasty soap operas; the CDs of Taiwanese pop music, and other relics of that bygone culture that my parents kept in the house. When others would ask me where I was from, I would defensively tell them the hospital in Connecticut that I was born in. When people referred to me as Chinese-American, I would tell them to cut off the “Chinese-” part.
I started rethinking this choice though when I traveled back to China the summer before I entered college, and found myself unable to communicate with my relatives in Shanghai. I realized that I was cutting myself off from a culture that had shaped me so much, from my eating habits (namely my preference for pig ears and fermented bean curd) to my experimentation with religion (I first embraced Christianity through my town’s Chinese Gospel Church, and then rejected it in line with my family’s religious history). And after being known as a “good student,” who never actually did her homework, I embraced academic achievement as the best way to attain success, mindful of my mom’s history, of how pursuing an education in America was her second chance after being denied the opportunity because of the Cultural Revolution.
Now I take pride in the fact that being Chinese is an inextricable part of identity, and completely enjoy deepening that part of myself. I will always feel more American than Chinese, which is why I will never identify with being an ABC. But I’ll never be just American either.