Metrics of Asian American Racial Progress

ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat is premiering in the New Year and it makes me think that mainstream media again is trying to figure out how to portray Asians not as sidekicks, comic relief, faceless hordes, sinister but emasculated male villains, or hyper-sexualized dragon ladies. It represents a reboot of this effort. The first time they tried almost a generation ago with Margaret Cho’s All American Girl. That show was broken by the network’s demands that Cho be more Asian doll sexy and the jokes more relatable (racist) to an audience not aware of Asian American culture. I propose the following metrics of Asian American racial progress.

1. The number of Asian American male leads in mainstream American television and cinema with top billing. Randall Park didn’t get equal billing as James Franco and Seth Rogen even though he had to carry the comedic load in much of the Interview. Selfie’s John Cho is one person, who I guess ironically is our Sidney Poitier, but the show got axed just as it was getting decent.

2. The amount of time it takes your Asian American child to face racism by one of his peers after day one of kindergarten.

3. The quality of the local Asian food -is it a world class eatery with an enigmatic monosyllabillic name or is it Chopstick Charlie’s. Are there authentic Asian items on the store shelves or just pale “Oriental” facsimiles? Are there bearded white hipsters non ironically crafting obscure regional kimchis?

4. The number of buildings at Harvard with Asian names. Famously, Harvard turned down the Wang family’s generous offer of a huge donation in exchange for renaming North House in the late 80’s, saying that North House -named for a compass direction, was to stay that way out of tradition. Less than ten years later it gets renamed Pforsheimer House. I guess it isn’t our turn.

5. The ratio of Asian men marrying non-Asian women in proportion to the Asian women marrying non-Asian men.

6. The frequency of having to school non-Asians in how to eat the food, in what the differences are between Asian countries, and why we can speak without chopsocky accents. And why we find “Oriental” to be mildly offensive.

7. The number of Asian Not Ready for Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live. Yellowface is just as offensive as Blackface.

8. The number of times in a year when the politically correct social media rage machine eats a celebrity or politician for making a racist anti Asian comment with the same kind of vigor with which it destroys someone making a racist anti Black, anti Woman, or anti Semitic comment or joke.

9. The number of Asians shaping and directing mainstream American culture.

10. The number of Asian American Presidents of the United States.

Things to Get an Incoming Harvard Freshman

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Sheep shear belt from J. Press of Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

As I was headed to my 25th college reunion at Harvard, I got a text from one of my partners. One of her friend’s sons was graduating from high school and headed to Harvard this fall and she wanted gift suggestions. As I was waiting for my hopper to O’Hare, I opined in no particular order:

1. Personalized stationary with initials embossed on paper and envelopes

2. Fountain pen -nifty basic Mont Blanc or fancy Cross with name engraved

3. Box of name cards

4. Custom laptop bag from Timbuk2 with an iPad Air inside encased in a Zagg backlit keyboard case

5. Album of fun selfies, depending on how cozy she was with the boy

6. Tie wardrobe from jpressonline.com -looking under neckwear. About five would do

7. Tasting flight of single barrel Kentucky whiskeys

8. Watch wardrobe featuring cheap but fun watches by Stuhrling, Stauer, Casio, Timex

9. Sony RX100m3 camera

10. Custom blazer buttons with his initials embroidered on them

11. Warm, lined hunting vests from Orvis

12. Gentleman’s knife with a 3 inch blade and corkscrew, other stuff optional

13. Rice cooker -old fashioned kind that lets you cook ramen, stews, osso bucco

14. Shaving subscription

15. Squash racquet and bag of balls, eyewear -even if he doesn’t play now, he will

16. Collapsible bike

17. BMW i28 convertible in silver

18. Bose bluetooth speakers -the big ones, Bang and Olufsen if particularly favored

19. Waterbed

20. 3 pack of 10,000 mAH battery packs, solar charger

21. 4 years of Dropbox subscriptions

22. Lava lamp

23. Annual summer retreats in the Hamptons, Calabria, Florianopolis, and Catalina.

24. Foul weather wardrobe -waxed cotton jacket in green by Barbour, anorak by LL Bean, ski jacket system by North Face

25. Beef jerky

25th Reunion Class Report Excerpts

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…It strikes me odd how fast 25 years flew by. I have decided it is a function of age and perception of time. Looking through the eyes of my four year old, I see that a year comprises 25% of his life and proportionally, that is almost 12 years in my life. A lot happens in a year of a 4 year old, and a lot happens in 12 years to a 46 year old, but a year slips by to me like a month does to my little one. So each year, being proportionally a smaller part of my experience, goes by faster and faster, an unwanted acceleration.

We’ve lost some dear classmates…. They still live in my memories, but their absence on my contacts and my Facebook gives me a daily measure of the value of my time here and now. Their remarkably full but brief lives make me believe that living is not just not being dead. Every reunion after the 10th is as much about mortality as it is about taking measure of each other’s progress. It fouls the air with its musky perfume.

I concluded after the last reunion that people don’t really change, but the guys really can gain weight and lose their hair. Everyone should take a look at their weight and work very hard to get back to their Freshman year weight. You will be easier to look at, and you will be healthier and less of a burden to the pedicab driver next time you are in Phuket. Can’t help with the hair.

I think that television programming caters to this middle age navel gazing and explains nicely the current popularity of zombies and meth chemistry. Do you struggle to avoid becoming a zombie or have you have you unwittingly joined the undead? Do you make choices that help others or just yourself? You knew that head on the turtle was rigged to blow but so often you will grab it just because, no? Spoiler Alert –Walter dies. Or was the whole last episode was a fever dream as he froze to death inside the jacked Volvo in New Hampshire. Which isn’t that bad of a way to go.

Speaking of ways to go, would you help your fellow classmate if you ran into them in the post-apocalypse? As you stare at them unblinkingly through the reticule of your rifle, do you ask, “what House were you in?” as your posse dispossesses them of water bottles, tents, and a few cans of Spam. Nice shoes. Do you invite them in, or give them back their water bottles and shoes and send them along, or do think you will need more salt. I would like to think that an invitation would be the sensible thing because we humans are social animals and survive best in bands of trust and kinship, which I assume is a given among you, my brothers and sisters. Unless you lived in the Quad, then at best you might make a passable sopressata.

I recently visited Calabria, speaking of sopressata. Looking out on the sea, with the Aeolian Isles in the horizon, I thought of Odysseus and how he really took his time getting back home. I thought of Saracen Corsairs picking out good spots to land where they could avoid boiling oil showers, and thought maybe they tried the sopressata despite the injunctions if they were curious enough, curiosity being a kind of hunger. I can’t say I understand the meaning of life after that visit, but I can assure you I came a few steps closer staring out onto the sea under moon and stars with the hot Saharan wind pushing you away from the edge of the ruined battlements.

My meaning of life is written in the sweetness of a baby’s breath, the soft kiss of your wife, the sturdy pride in your children’s accomplishments. It is in seeking friendships that aren’t metered in banal Likes but in thoughtful actions. It is to serve the world at large. It also is to buy the latest iPad because you can. And sometimes you take the long way home because you want to, because the car drives nicely. And you try the sopressata, chased with a Zantac…

Our Jackie Robinson

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Jeremy Lin is not basketball’s Tebow. He’s a barrier breaking Jackie Robinson for Asian- and Harvard-Americans. For years, all they thought we could do was be attorneys or urologists, but this shows there is more than one way to pass the rock. Now scouts will have to notice that non-black, non-Croatian dude dribbling the ball so well with the four color pen in his short pocket. Asian Harvard-Americans from Orange County to Westchester County are rejoicing. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last.

I F$#@ing Hate the Social Network, That’s Why You Have to Watch It

I fucking hate The Social Network. Not because it’s a bad movie -it’s very good and you should see it. The reason I hate it is it’s too good. During the entire first half hour, I felt like I was in one of my recurring stress dreams where I’m back at Harvard. In this dream, I am walking into Memorial Hall and sitting down with a stack of empty blue books, and I have three hours to answer questions that I know nothing about in a language that I cannot understand. < shudder >

Most of the first act was shot at Harvard, and the House dorms looked about the same as they did over twenty years ago.  What was more ingenious was the portrayal of undergraduate life there which was spot on. With those pictures rushed back the anxiety over social status, ethnicity, money, and the general envy and dismay towards all the Winklevosses who were there and above all of us. Hooray for Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. They have changed the world.

Everyone who agrees, just poke me.

The Bonfire of the Bonus Babies

 

The Fifth Horseman - TARP Fund Distribution

The Fifth Horseman - TARP Fund Distribution

 

On some level, I understand why the management at AIG took their bonuses. If it was part of their contract, why shouldn’t they? If their pay was part of the balance sheet that the rescue package was meant to help pay for the negative side of the sheet, why shouldn’t they collect? After all, the laws requires the company to pay its debts. Are we then to decide which of these debts take priority? Is it then not a fiction that we are rescuing these institutions when in fact we are just paying out to companies owed by AIG who in turn have their own contractual bonus obligations to meet. Why must the AIG boys hang and not the people about to collect on insurance floated by AIG.

It begs the question: is it wrong to be rich?

The Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel

It’s a question that comes starkly to me as I wandered around ground zero of this pickle. I got to visit Southampton on Long Island and stayed in a luxury building on Central Park South. I ate Chinese a stone’s throw from Wall Street, and meandered past the half empty emporia of the vilified wealthy.

 

I noticed that among the well heeled, they never feel all that wealthy and they envy, resent, or at least are aware of someone wealthier than they. It is human nature to feel inadequate and to want. It is easy to live in the myopic view of the world in front of one’s face and not see the wider world around.

We notice only this world of the nearby and can be disassociated from images of suffering around the globe. Its that most people living near the median never actually see the lives of the people living one or two grades above them. The talk has always been about the invisible poor, the hungry and the homeless, but reveal the invisible rich, and it’s “to the barricades.” The French had these spasms of violence against the rich. Most recently in 1871, where mobs ransacked, butchered, and raped (in random order, usually all three) the wealthy and privileged of Paris. We are coming close to this when we vent rage at the managers of AIG.

 

View from Central Park South

View from Central Park South

The culture of the past twenty years has degenerated to a worship of things and their acquisition. By putting credit in front of people not used to wealth, the earnings of many years and even generations were made available to people who could not manage this kind of wealth. The packaging and selling of these loans and the skimming of fees as they were passed around, the leveraging of fractions of this debt, and the insuring of the particles thereof produced great wealth for a time, but it all came due. 

 

Everybody is at fault. This is a national vice issue where  there were pimps, whores, and johns, and no victims, but lots of perpetrators. If you’ve ever carried credit card debt beyond a month, you have been a party to this. If you bought lots of stuff borrowed from the value of your home, you have been a party to this. Right now, though, we’re concentrating on destroying the narrow class of Ivy-League educated ruling class living in smart enclaves in Connecticut and Manhattan, with their retreats in isolated burgs and islands.

Atlas -aka as President Obama

Atlas -aka as President Obama

I have to say, it is a terrible injustice to point the finger at a few and say, these people did it, and by burning them at the stake, we’ll be free. Everyone carries some of the blame. 

For the so-called middle class, this comes in the form of giant homes made of pressed wood fiber and synthetic petroleum byproduct, filled with unused exercise equipment, scattered and broken toys, and flat screen televisions. An anodyne futuristic lifestyle made available by the floating of a couple of years worth of disposable income.

The whole country’s occupation for the past generation had become the building of far-flung exurbs reachable by SUV, with no town center but a giant parking lot attached to a WalMart or a Costco. This was our wealth, to build these pressboard homes and borrow future earnings against their ever inflating values to accumulate jet skis and recreational vehicles, and Praise the Lord in colossal arena churches with concert level sound systems, sermons delivered in Powerpoint, and self-justification assured in the liturgy of accumulation and consumption.

The poor managers of AIG, the ones with death threats and private security guards, are merely the sacrificial scapegoats, the fools thrown out to the zombie mob in hopes that its attention will be distracted. What we aren’t seeing is a concerted message that the old ways are done. International commerce is done for a while, especially after we wash our hands of the accumulated debt by devaluation and nationalization.

What to do? Think about what it was that sustained life in the area around you. There is no reason why millions should live in the desert when the original population density was a few people per square mile. These areas should be abandoned. The general population should get used to working for and creating food. Our treasure and work should be spent creating sustainable economies, healthy strong communities, and planning for the future  rather than consuming and destroying and breeding with the hope of some end of the world bringing salvation. Or worse, go to Greenwich, Connecticut, to burn it down, and turn eastern Long Island into Rwanda.

The President gets it when he and his family started a garden. Say hello to your neighbor and wake up to the fact that he is really your fellow tribesman, and not the guy relocated there last year from Charlotte by his multinational now going belly up. The people around you and your relationship to them are the most important tools to survival. Humans were evolved to live in bands and tribes. The idea of holing up in some mountain redoubt with a lot of guns is a failure to recognize the lessons of zombie movies. 

We have to see these times as transformational, and that in fact we need a new contract that returns to the basic framework of the Constitution but acknowledges the challenges of the modern economy -too many people, not enough resources, inefficient ways of distributing them. 

For myself, the ethos of golf applied to life out of the bounds of the fairway, the application of the USGA rules of Golf to life, makes perfect sense. It is the need to create a new concept of the citizen and player in this country.

The Mast at the Empire State Building

The Mast at the Empire State Building