Emil Guillermo: Does SFPD racist texting scandal help us understand NYPD's Liang-Gurley case?
May 1, 2016 9:03 AM

Happy Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (the official name signed into law, as per President George H.W. Bush's pen), or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, or AANHPI Month.

By whatever name you choose, it's still May--our time to revel in our Asian-ness and help people understand the complexities of our big tent sensibility from New York to Honolulu.

We're not the model minority, and we're not "seen one, seen them all." 

Unless, of course, you're a cop.  

And then blue is much more dominant in the color scheme than we all think.

Let's just hope you didn't get a "Happy APA Month" text greeting from former San Francisco Police Officer Jason Lai. 

JasonLaiSFPD.jpgIf you did, it was likely filled with some pretty spicy language.

Last week, CNN reported on the release of dozens of text messages by Lai in 2014 and 2015 that revealed a politically incorrect view of people's ethnicity.

South Asian Indians?

Lai texted (misspelling included): "Indian ppl are disgusting."

Latinos?

"I hate that beaner," boasted Lai in another text about a Latino person.

Lai called African Americans "nigs" in a text about basketball player LeBron James.

He even used the words "hak gwai," an insulting Cantonese phrase for African Americans. Lai called one incident a "bunch of hock gwais shooting each other."

And there's more where that came from, discovered as part of a police department sex probe against Lai last year that resulted in no charges. 

Since then, he's been charged on misdemeanor counts for accessing DMV information for non-official reasons, with an arraignment scheduled for May.

Don Nobles, Lai's attorney, told CNN that the texts were "not reflective" of his client, and that they were transmitted from his personal phone to his friends on the force, but not necessarily in the act of policing.

When I first heard of the whole thing, I was colorblind to Lai's race. It was also the second instance of inappropriate texting at SFPD since 2014. That one involved homophobic remarks.

But when I saw the key figure in this go-round was an Asian American, (there's another Asian American involved as well, retired Lt. Curtis Liu), I asked the man who released the texts to the media, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, his reaction.

Did it strike him as odd to read such things from another Asian American?

"No," Adachi told me. "I think that SFPD has a problem in terms of a culture that allows racism to thrive. When you have sergeants and lieutenants involved in this racist texts scandal, it tells us that it is much deeper than just street officers who share these attitudes and engage in racial profiling. Minority officers like Lai are not immune from racism. Clearly, Lai expressed his racist beliefs and feelings to his fellow officers and friends, and did so in a very casual and comfortable manner. What was chilling is that you can see how his racist beliefs affected his police work and his use of the power that was entrusted to him. "

Adachi, a Japanese American, indicated there's something in cop culture that trumps all ethnic loyalty or sense of solidarity. 

"Being an Asian American, it troubles me greatly when I see an Asian officer who harbors these kinds of racist attitudes," Adachi said. "What does it say about how Asians view Blacks or Latinos? That's why it is important for Asians to come forward and say they denounce Officer Lai's texts. I think most Asians do not, although it's important to acknowledge that we all have unconscious biases that affect the way we see others based on race."

Denouncing Lai, the former Asian American cop, should be easy.

But another case involving policing and race, it sure hasn't been easy to denounce former NYPD officer Peter Liang. Many have instead rallied to his support. 

PeterLiang.jpg

The Liang case involving the stairwell shooting of Akai Gurley continues to divide the community, Asian vs. Asian, as well as Asian vs. everyone else. 

The recent sentencing hearing that resulted in no prison time for Liang has only aggravated the situation.

Liang is still seen as a greenhorn Asian American cop who is being scapegoated. 

Or he's seen as symbolic of a racist police force whose careless actions result in a tragedy like the Gurley shooting death in New York.

In San Francisco, it helps that Lai isn't a rookie. I have seen no public outcry for leniency in the texting case. 

Perhaps too, it's because the texts reveal an underlying attitude in cop culture that can alter one's personal sense of values. It seems to create a real "us vs. them" mentality that trumps ethnic loyalties or even morality. 

If you are an east coaster or a Peter Liang supporter who doesn't get why people don't run to support a fellow Asian American in San Francisco, the texts show how Officer Lai of the SFPD saw the world. 

Adachi insists that has to affect how you police. He believes it could have an impact on many cases his office is defending against the SFPD. The first texting scandal in 2014 has already prompted a review of 1,600 cases for police bias.

"Racism is ingrained in police culture," Adachi told me. "The blue wall of silence means that officers don't report other officers who are racist or who express racist beliefs. There were 14 officers involved in the first texting scandal, and now four more. The question that should be asked is why none of the officers came forward when they became aware of the racist texts. It's because they are trained not to tell on each other, even when misconduct occurs. That needs to change, because if they expect the public to cooperate against criminal conduct, the police need to as well."

Since Adachi leaked the Lai texts last week, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr released even more texts and said he's ordered anti-harassment classes for his force next month.  

The Chief is getting support from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, but that might not be enough.

The texting scandal comes on top of two recent police shootings of an African American and a Latino. A third case last March involves a federal grand jury's decision that the police did not use excessive force when it gunned down Alex Nieto, 27. Nieto allegedly pointed a stun gun at officers.

It all has fueled the rage of San Franciscans who see police misconduct and gentrification, which has displaced working class people, as commingled. 

Sound familiar New Yorkers?

But in San Francisco, the protest has spawned a hunger strike that continues into its 11th day. 

The Frisco Five includes Asian American rapper, Equipto (Ilych Sato), who last October criticized Mayor Ed Lee for his policies saying that Lee was a "disgrace" to Asian people and "had no heart."

The Five say they won't eat until Suhr steps down. 

It's all a bit of a mess, and it's happening on Mayor Lee's watch.  

Ineffective Asian American leadership, plus allegedly racist Asian American cops. 

Look at the positive side. We're busting up that model minority myth!  

And just in time for heritage month, or whatever you want to call it.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: Prince--Beyond race, a genius' vision, an activist's heart
April 22, 2016 7:12 AM

For an Asian American guy like me, who has a penchant to go amok, Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," with its purple banana reference, was always a favorite.

But now the lyrics seemed to have a divine message:

'Cause in this life 
Things are much harder than in the after world

In this life 
You're on your own

And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor

I still wasn't ready for Thursday's news.

Like almost everyone, I had the initial reaction that this was some kind of cosmic prank.

Twitter hashtag #PrinceRIP? Dead at 57? Did Prince punch out?

I reassured myself that this had to be an IHFKAJ--an "internet hoax, formerly known as a joke."

I still want to think that this is all some belated April Foolery.

But no, it's for real.
 
prince2.jpg
On the Queen's birthday, Prince died and the purple tears began.

On the news shows, it became the only song.

Not even the ridiculous North Carolina bathroom debate could get much airtime.

Prince was the man who could trump Trump--and Cruz. 

Those two men may want to be the next president, but they could never hold a candle to Prince, an artist who influenced world culture for five decades.

As I saw the anchors on Fox News Channel report on the death, I kept thinking--if only their viewers actually listened to Prince's music, there wouldn't be such a tremendous racial divide in this country.

They'd have too much fun for hate. And the right soundtrack for love.

At least for the moment, Prince had forced Fox to keep things politically rancor-free. 

Everybody seemed to get it, about how much Prince mattered.

Still, I wondered how many Ted Cruz evangelicals were home tapping their foot to Prince's 1979 hit, "I Want To Be Your Lover"? 

Or rushing to iTunes to check out "Dirty Mind" from 1980, where Prince was evolving his identifiable rhythm in songs like "Head"? (Uh, that's not a song about Fox News head Roger Ailes.)

For me, it was the music and the style. In the '80s, I was a young permed Asian American of Filipino descent covering the entertainment scene for the San Francisco NBC station. The high point was 1984, when the music scene exploded with major tours from Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Prince.

All three stars were destined to become iconic. But for me, it was always the mysterious Prince who had the most mass appeal with his funky, sexy, androgynous fun.

Prince defied all the traditional categories.  You couldn't segregate his music on the black stations. And he wasn't a traditional rocker. But just check out his axe solo on "Let's Go Crazy."

Prince had chops. And he was vegan.  

He broke down all the barriers in music and in life, and created a unique blended package. Gender? Race? I know Filipinos to this day who swear he had some Asian blood in him from his Louisiana roots. In fact, the Guardian in England published an interview Prince gave to the New Musical Express that acknowledged his father was of mixed race, including Italian and Filipino.

So does that explain being 5-foot 2-inches? He was part Asian with a love for heels? 

But as he sang in his song, "Controversy," "I said life is just a game, we're all just the same, do you want to play?"

Prince was simply free to play and be Prince, which in itself was an inspiring thing.

"He allowed himself to be himself, and encouraged others to be themselves," said Stevie Wonder on CNN.

"He was very free. . .to do what he did without fear, was a wonderful thing. Because it is always great. . .Always great when we don't allow fear to put our dreams to sleep, and he didn't."

There was a fearlessness to his art, and ultimately in his fight to recover the rights to his music.

Of all the commenters I heard, perhaps the most revealing was Van Jones, the CNN political analyst who was a close friend of Prince's. Jones could talk about the legal battle Prince waged with the help of Phaedra Ellis Lamkins. 

But Jones also knew another side that wasn't just about the music.
  
VanJones.jpg
"There was a core of genius that just used music to express itself, but he was also an incredible humanitarian," Jones told CNN. "He was a Jehovah's Witness, so he was not allowed to speak publicly about any of his good acts, any of his charitable activity."

Jones was one of those close to Prince who helped him back organizations like "Yes We Code," which helps underprivileged youth from minority communities get into high tech.

"Every time you see a black kid wearing a hoodie, you say: There's a thug. If you see a white kid wearing hoodie, you say: There's Mark Zuckerberg," Jones told USA TODAY last year. "I said, 'That's because of racism. And Prince said, 'Maybe so, or maybe you civil rights guys haven't created enough Mark Zuckerbergs.' "

On the night of Prince's death, Jones mentioned other projects Prince was involved with, such as "Green For All," a program that helped Oakland residents get solar panels. 

"Anybody struggling anywhere in the world, he was sending checks, he was making phone calls, but he did not want it to be known publicly, and he didn't want us to say it," said Jones on CNN. "But I'm going to say it because the world needs to know that it wasn't just the music. The music was one way he was trying to help the world. But he was helping every single day of his life."

Earlier, Jones said Prince didn't call when you had a good day. But he was there when you had a bad day. And now Jones said he felt guilt over the death of his friend. "What could we have done? What happened?" Jones told CNN as he held back tears. "He was there for us when we were down."

Jones said when he left the Obama White House and was at a low point emotionally and professionally, Prince called and invited him to the Paisley Park estate to talk.  "And he said, 'Go to Jerusalem, stay there two weeks and pray. Then when you come back, sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down everything you want to do that you think will help the community. And I will help you do it, OK?'" Jones said. "And so I went from working for a president to working with Prince."

Jones said the recent concerts in Chicago, Baltimore, and New Orleans enabled Prince to help local non-profits and their leaders. "He said, 'I can't be in this world and see all this pain and suffering and not do something. Don't give me the credit, don't give me the glory.'  But he pushed all of us to do more. And we all did more. And I want him to be known for that too."

I knew Jones when he was an Oakland activist at the Ella Baker Center. At the time, I hosted a local TV show, "NCM-TV New California Media," and could always count on Van to come on to make his points eloquently and passionately.

On this sad night, Jones again delivered the truth, this time about Prince--humanitarian, activist, and philanthropist.  

Quietly, Prince was going crazy for those in need in the community. 

As it turns out, we weren't alone. Prince was there for many of us. 

And now the music plays on without him.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: We are all No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day, even Asian Americans like Tim Lincecum
April 15, 2016 5:52 PM

Color lines were broken on April 15, 1947, almost a generation before the Civil Rights Act. 

That still left a lot of barriers to break down, even after Jackie Robinson took his first step into fair territory on a major league diamond. 

J.Robinson.jpg

Surely, you didn't see a lot of Asian Americans on baseball teams back then. Still don't. 

And since it falls on a Friday this year, we should make it an all-Jackie Weekend just to take in all the significance.

Robinson's first days are worth remembering. 

Just like the days when you were the only Asian, only Filipino, or only minority in the room in your respective field.

Robinson started at First Base and batted second when Brooklyn played the Boston Braves in Ebbets Field and won that first game 5-2. He didn't get a hit, but reached base on an error and scored his first run, which broke the tie that enabled the Brooklyn victory. 

It was one first after another. Robinson's first hit, a single, didn't come until his second game, April 17.  

On April 18, Robinson got his first RBI and his first home run. The Dodgers still lost the game, 10-4. But that's OK. It was against my beloved Giants in the Polo Grounds.

Somehow, by design, the Giants and the Dodgers, now both in California, always play on Jackie Robinson Day. This year, they're in Los Angeles, where the big matchup is the pitching duel between the Giants' Madison Bumgarner and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.

For me, as an Asian American of Filipino descent, I'll never forget covering Jackie Robinson Day 2014 when the Giants played the Dodgers in San Francisco.

Of course, they all wore Robinson's No. 42 that day. 

But the Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum was special. And not just for the mustache he sported that year.

His mother, Filipino, his father of French descent gave him the genetics for his unorthodox delivery that featured his unique ball dangle. 

Lincecum.jpg
(photo by Emil Guillermo)

You can't argue with the results. Can you name a more accomplished player with an Asian American background? 

And not an Asian import like an Ichiro Suzuki.  I mean a 100 percent American of Asian American descent.

2014 was the year Lincecum pitched his second no-hitter, becoming the first in Major League History to no-hit the same team (San Diego) in consecutive seasons. Baseball is legendary for scraping through the record books for any anomaly that tells us: We've never seen this before.

Or if we have, it's so rare that it's remarkable. For example, Lincecum has won multiple World Series championships, multiple Cy Young Awards (for best pitcher), multiple no-hitters, and multiple All-Star games. 

The only pitcher to match all that? Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, again of the Dodgers.

The Giants won that 2014 Jackie Robinson game, 3-2. Lincecum struck out 5 batters after 5 innings and left the game before the Giants came from behind.

But now two years later, it's strange not seeing Lincecum, the face of the Giants for so many years in a San Francisco uniform. Lincecum is a free agent, recuperating from surgery and hoping for a comeback. Last week, it was reported he was rehabbing and pitching without pain in Arizona.

When I've talked to Lincecum, he was always a tad reticent about his Filipino-ness, having been closer to his father than his mother. On a short interview with him years ago, he's pretty candid.


But he was close to his maternal grandparents, and when we've had conversations about Filipino food and such, he'd light up and smile.

He was also not burdened so much with color, to the point that it may have derailed him as it did African American ball players prior to Robinson. Lincecum always had a chance to prove it on the field. And I hope he gets another chance again, as a starter, maybe for the Giants. But please, not the Dodgers.

In the meantime, Lincecum deserves mention as probably the most accomplished ball player of Asian American descent in the history of the game. 

Before him, the first Filipino player was Bobby Balcena, a Filipino American from California, who got a chance with a September call up in 1956.

And then there were durable players from Hawaii like Ron Darling, Benny Agbayani, and Shane Victorino.

But no Asian American comes close to the accomplishments of Lincecum. 

Who knows if he would have gotten a chance if baseball had remained racially and ethnically resistant. 

I know, I make a big deal about Lincecum's Filipino-ness more than others. 

Maybe even more than Lincecum.

But I know how people like to erase the memory of race and pretend it's not important.

In the new Ken Burns documentary on Robinson, there were more than just a few things that surprised me. 

For example, I didn't know Robinson was a Republican who campaigned and worked for Nelson Rockefeller. I didn't know Robinson was pro-Nixon, but ultimately shifted to Kennedy. Robinson was fluid politically, backing those who advanced racial progress.

Robinson was also much more business-oriented and corporate than I realized. He worked for Chock-Full-of-Nuts, then went on to run a bank. The guy was a capitalist. Smart and articulate. He didn't like Malcolm X, and he said so, as a syndicated columnist who wrote for both the mainstream and  the ethnic media. (Hey, an ethnic media columnist, like me. Imagine that.) 

But he faced some backlash. There were even some who called him an "Uncle Tom." Talk about heresy. Twenty years after the color line was broken, Robinson had to tread new cultural gaps exposed along generational, social, and economic lines. The documentary presents a strong and complex portrait of the man who traversed them all.
 
The documentary also revealed how Robinson's Hall of Fame plaque in 1962 didn't mention being the first anything or breaking any color barrier.  Nor was there much news coverage of this civil rights milestone. It was the year the Giants won the pennant in San Francisco. I was just in elementary school and didn't exactly know how race played into my life. Or what a big deal it was.

I do now.

As Asian Americans, we've seen a lot of barriers.

By breaking through a major institutional one, Jackie Robinson showed us how to break through them all.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: The nostalgic racism of Fox and "American Idol," still hung up on William Hung
April 9, 2016 12:12 AM

I was just getting back to normal. Not from the overwhelming sentimentality of watching the original "American Idol" judges--Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon Cowell--take their star turn on last week's series ending finale. 

No, that wasn't the striking finale moment for me.

I was still recovering from watching that tour de force twerking of America by current "Idol" judge, Jennifer Lopez.

J. Lo of pop's high court twerked supremely as if she were Justice Ginsburg possessed.

To see her disrobe to the sequins was a real marker of our cultural progress. When I first saw her on the pop scene nearly 20 years ago, Lopez was practically a waifish 28 and starring in the eponymous "Selena." 

She has come so far. And I could have called it a night right there.

"I hope there are no more surprises," said host Ryan Seacrest at one point in the show. "Although some surprises are worth waiting for..."

And then on cue, after a few pick-up notes from the rhythm section, Seacrest turns and out comes the scourge of all Asian America--WILLIAM HUNG!


Hung sang his infamous Ricky Martin cover: "She bangs, she bangs!" 

Quickly, my fuzzy J. Lo-induced farewell to "Idol" feelings soured.

William Effing Hung?  

I immediately tweeted my dismay. 

Fox just couldn't resist reprising the best worst, most offensive Idol contestant ever. 

Is everything bad really worth remembering?  

Or was it one more time, let's remember the good racist laughs we had at the expense of Asian Americans because we can't do that thing anymore? (Too politically correct, as Donald Trump might say. But rightfully so.)

Besides, here was the all-too-willing Hung glad to extend his 15 minutes of fame under the guise of good clean fun, reveling in his accented, unmusical oddness. 

Only it isn't all that fun. Because it's not just Hung up there. 

Given our relative invisibility, we're still in a U.S. society that believes if you've seen one Hung, you've seen them all--Asian Americans, that is.

At five percent of our nation, around 20 million strong, with a population that is two-thirds immigrant, many with accented tongues, hearts, and minds, to trot Hung out there as a joke in prime time is still offensive.

Maybe even more so than when I first saw him on the show in 2004.

I saw last week's finale on the West Coast and wasn't on Twitter for the East Coast feed. So by time I saw it, I had a three-hour buffer.

But I resisted reacting.

Weren't things different since 2004? I mean, we have "Fresh Off the Boat." And my fave, Ken Jeong, of "Dr. Ken" fame. 

We have Aziz Ansari. There are other Asian Americans out there. Vincent Rodriguez III of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."

We're out there now. 

Sadly, it's still a low percentage of the overall depictions in pop culture.

So to trot out the stereotype of the ineffectual, infantilized, incompetent Asian American to a prime time audience is an homage---to American racism. 

How nostalgic?

Would Fox do a show reprising America's best watermelon and fried chicken jokes of the past? Hosted by Idol's newly slim Randy Jackson? 

Nope. The NAACP wouldn't let that happen. .

But Asian Americans? We're still fair game. The quiet minority. Our Kung Fu irony.

And now, just when you think we've got the pop thing covered with "Fresh Off..." and "Dr. Ken," the pendulum swings the other way, and we're back to William Hung just like that. And in all the other aspects of life in America, too. 

Last year, we had Chinese American scientists again accused as foreign spies. 

We have Asian Americans constantly stereotyped as being overachieving, hard-working, math nerds. Not bad. The good Tiger stereotype. But then somehow that positive leads to the extreme overgeneralization. And everyone gets hurt. 

The Asian math nerds. The Asian English majors. Because it's easier to take the stereotypical shortcut than to bother to find out what Asian Americans are really like as human beings.

But there's William Hung, the engineering student from Berkeley once touted as the next Elvis, to help us laugh it all off? 

And when we don't laugh, people look to our successes as if we don't face discrimination, or hate crimes, or injustices. And then they say we can't take a joke.

As charming as Hung might be to some, his is the image that holds us back, that dares anyone to take us seriously. It's the image that makes people laugh at Asian Americans in non-typical roles in every aspect of society.

They don't think of former Washington Governor Gary Locke. They don't think of maybe California's next governor John Chiang. 

But they remember the enduring stereotype, William Hung.

Fox reprising Hung is how race gets played in America. 

The good guys try to move us forward. The bad guys send us back in time.

It was in 2004, when I wrote the following essay after first seeing William Hung.

We're now a half generation older. Progress? J. Lo is a middle aged woman and twerking feverishly. 

And Asian Americans are fighting this same battle for respect, 12 years later. 

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo, Special to SFGate, William Hung: Racism, Or Magic? (Apr. 6, 2004)

He banged. I resisted. And still do. 

When I first saw Hong Kong-born UC Berkeley engineering student William Hung sing that Ricky Martin song on Fox's "American Idol" last January, I tried to ignore it. 

But, after Hung's humiliation, there came a nice outpouring of sympathy for the rejected puppy dog. 

Here was an accented Asian American with bad hair, bad teeth, bad moves and a bad accent.

And even though he can't sing, America still loved him. 

OK. The glorification of bad is a nice twist. But I figured the joke would die off soon enough. 

It hasn't. And now I'm wondering why America is extending the joke. 

Is there more than just the glorification of bad, something driven by racism?
 
Three months after being told on "Idol" he could not sing, Hung is part of some kind of perfect storm to stardom. 

Hung returns this week with a new CD on Koch Records, a music video on the Fuse Music Channel and all the accompanying national media attention, including a "Today" show appearance Friday. 

For a taste of the Hung hype, get a load of a press release by Alan Grunblatt, general manager and executive vice president of Koch Records, which states, in part, "William is the perfect artist for our culturally diverse society. He is the new Elvis!" 

I don't begrudge a marketer his right to make a buck. But Colonel Tom Parker knew Elvis could really sing and dance. With William Hung, is there any other reason to extend the joke on America except that it plays to a racist image of the ineffectual Asian-American male? 

What is Hung but an infantilized, incompetent and impotent male image? Strong? No. Virile? No. Sexy? The guy's a virgin. 

You can sell that? 

You certainly wouldn't see them glorify a black man who couldn't sing and dance on "American Idol." Nor would they prop up a clumsy, tone-deaf white person. 

Certainly, there'd be no shortage of worthy candidates for Hung-like stardom. Regular "American Idol" viewers know tons of good singers have been rejected and abused by the show's Simon Cowell. 

The difference here? Hung is Asian American. And the accented-foreigner gag is still considered acceptable shtick in modern comedy--at least when it comes to Asian Americans. 

Can I get an "Ah so"? 

Intentionally or not, Koch and Fuse are updating a classic anti-Asian image--that of the Mickey Rooney character in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," complete with buck teeth, bad hair and bad accent. Rent the movie and cringe. 

If they wanted to do a remake, they could just hire William Hung. 

It wouldn't be so bad if we saw positive images of Asian-American males in the media. But, for the most part, we've been invisible, and the images have usually come with martial-arts enhancements. 

Bruce Lee's combative persona has been the most virile and most enduring icon for Asian-American males. But the stereotypes that predominate are the sinister and inscrutable or ineffectual and effeminate. 

One thing can be said for those who seek to exploit William Hung: He has not been asked to demonstrate any karate moves or threaten the American way of life. 

So, where's the outrage? Even the Asian-American community seems to be taken by Hung.
 
"As Asian Americans, we look through this racial lens, and we see this guy who embodies all the stereotypes we're trying to escape from," said James Hou, a documentary filmmaker who explored Asian-American male sexuality in "Masters of the Pillow." 

Hou even saw the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" link. But he doesn't want to suppress Hung's voice, nor his desire to be a singer. 

"As an Asian-American male, I think he's honest with himself," said Hou, proud, in a strange way, that some dorky-looking Asian American with a Hong Kong accent and no singing talent is making it happen. "I respect what he's doing." 

And what about Hung's exploiters? 

"I think the motivation is greed," said Hou. "I think it would be racist if they didn't make any money off of it, and they just wanted to make fun of him." 

Hou's Faustian money-makes-it-all-right pragmatism surprises me, especially because he called Hung a "sideshow act" and admitted that the singer embarrasses Hou's pals. 

"But if he turns into a mega-star, if he's really successful, I think it's going to be positive," said Hou. "With money comes power and fame. This guy has the potential to make hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Ask William Hung if he's exploited."
 
Spoken like a guy who wouldn't mind trading places with Hung.
 
But one man who doesn't have Hung envy and who sees the racism is Shaofan Li, Hung's civil-engineering professor at UC Berkeley. 

Li has all the answers, especially when you are looking to solve the differential equation for beam deflection. 

Li, who said he is very concerned about his student, added that Hung scored an 80 (out of 100) in the first midterm in his class. That merits a grade of B, so Hung's no dummy. But Li knows Hung is capable of an A--in engineering, not singing. 

"I hope it comes to an end," he said last week of the Hung hype. 

More than Hung's grades, Li is concerned for the young man's well being. To him, the racism is clear. 

Li said he sees how people ridicule Hung, single him out and extrapolate his virtues, or nonvirtues, to the entire racial class. 

"I can see that some people are malicious," said Li. "I'm not stupid." 

But understanding why the public likes Hung is more complex. "He doesn't have singing talent," said Li. "But he does have a unique personality." 

Li then described Hung as if he were some borderline messianic, cultlike figure. In watching Hung perform, Li notices how his student deals with the criticism and racism. 

"Every time he faces the negative, he's oblivious," said Li. "Other people would become insane. He doesn't. He takes it, absorbs it and turns it into a positive. He does it without thinking, naturally. Like Forrest Gump. Stupid is as stupid does." 

But the cluelessness is just his approach--he's a lamb, not a lion. And it really is too bad he can't sing or dance, because, as Li described it, Hung's trying to turn this negative situation into a positive one. 

From Li's perspective, Hung is dealing, at the same time, with both the negative and positive forces that stem from his predicament. 

"I learn from him," said Li, who marvels at how Hung never gets upset in the face of adversity. 

"You don't want to criticize or make a big deal of your critics," said Li. "You want to awaken [their] conscience. That's what Hung did. If he gets upset, he only hurts himself." 

That would make Hung like some kind of Zen master who always turns the other cheek. 

So, maybe there's something for us to learn from this experience, even if the entertainment value of his talent is minimal. 

But still, Hung's professor hopes the civil-engineering student returns to his natural environment--his college studies--soon. 

Does the student get it? 

On the "Today" show last week, Hung played up his innocence and his extreme earnestness. 

"I hope people will see me as a serious singer," he said, "and take my singing seriously."
 
Oh, boy. They have him believing the hype.
 
Hung doesn't see himself reinforcing stereotypes with the lame dancing and the accented rhythmlessness of it all. He's proud of his badness. 

"They're laughing at him--I know that," said Li, touching on the racist nature of the exploitation. "And, if it stretches out, the negativity will dominate. Someone has to draw the line. Prolonging the process will make it a big debacle." 

I'm with the professor. The joke has gone on too long. And it's worse when the participant is so willing.

*     *     *
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: Harvard admits record number of Asian Americans, and a majority-minority class of 2020
April 4, 2016 12:54 PM

I went back to Harvard last October, and there were Asians and Asian Americans everywhere.

I even saw a Vietnamese sandwich truck at the foot of the Science Center, just outside the gates of Harvard Yard.

Of course, it was outside.

You might be able to "pahk yah cah in Hah-vahd Yahd." 

But not your big banh mi truck.

harvardbonmetruck.jpg
In the yard, there were Asian tourists galore, fawning all over John Harvard's statue, just to be near that lucky gold toe that's supposed to be good luck if you touch it when you apply for admission. 

HarvardToe.jpg

I saw one Chinese family at the foot of Widener Library, who were hoping that their daughter would return as a freshman someday.

But on this day, I think they just wanted her to take their picture in focus.

Harvardparents.jpg

Of course, they were the real winners in the equation: the proud parents of a future Harvardian.  

Welcome to the 21st Century Harvard, where Asians abound.

Last Thursday, the fat and skinny letters went out.

If you got a skinny one, my condolences. At least you're thin in something.

But if you got a fat one, the one that comes with a certificate saying you got in, what I call the pre-diploma, then congrats.

This year, Harvard admitted more Asians than ever.

Overall, there was a record number of applicants--39,041. Pity the one who was late and could have been the 39,042nd.

Of the pool, 2,307 students were admitted.

Asian Americans made up 22.1 percent of the freshman admits, a record for the entire school, not just the orchestra's string section.

By my calculations that amounts to 509.85 Asian Americans. (The fractional Asian is probably not a whole half-Asian Hapa.)

The stats also revealed a record for African American students--14 percent admitted. Latinos were at 12.7 percent (last year, it was a record 13.3 percent); Native Americans were at 2.2 percent, up from 1.5 percent. And Native Hawaiians were slightly off, to .4 percent of the class from .5 percent last year.

Add up all the figures, and my arithmetic show that's about 51.4 percent, making it a minority-majority freshman class. 

No big deal, right? We already have a few minority-majority states, like California, New Mexico, Texas, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. Now here's the model for the modern Ivy. 

Gender-wise, women were 48.4 percent of the class. About the same as last year.

Still, overall the demographics have improved. When I was a student in the late 20th century, Harvard was still separate from Radcliffe.

Gender equity? Not quite there in the 1970s.

And race?

It was about a decade after the Civil Rights Act, and Harvard was still trying to get it together on black and white issues.

As for Asians? It was about nine years after the racist quotas on Asian immigration were lifted with the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.

America's race profile at the time the reforms passed looked like this:

Whites: 75 percent
Blacks: 4 percent
Hispanics: 8 percent
Asians: Less than 1 percent

So "old school," right?

It took some time before things were much different at Harvard. The only Asians I ever encountered were mostly foreign patricians. Sometimes they'd talk to a son of a fry cook. Most of the time, I worked dorm crew.

Imagine how things have changed.

In my day, it also cost $5,000 a year to attend the school.

That's right, $5,000.  

It now costs in excess of $65,000 to attend Harvard.

How's that for inflation?

One thing I liked about Harvard is that if it admits you, they will make sure money isn't an issue. My parents, a retired cook and a housewife, never made more than $10,000 a year. I couldn't have gone to Harvard without the school's generosity. Or without working 2 to 3 jobs myself. 

Harvard likes to say the school costs the same or less than most public universities for 90 percent of American families. If you're from a family with an income less than $65,000, you pay nothing toward your education at Harvard. The school says that's true for about 20 percent of its students.

Great.

But don't mistake Harvard for being Cal State Stanislaus in Turlock.

All this warm and fuzzy Harvard news may not be an accident. Currently, Harvard is under attack from all different sides. One group of mostly Chinese students says Harvard discriminates against Asians and Asian Americans and blames affirmative action. Another group that is helping out the litigious Asians wants Harvard to offer tuition-free schooling to everyone, in order to open up the school's records.

So here's Harvard gushing about how its brand of elitism is really quite equitable. It has awarded nearly $1.5 billion in financial aid to undergraduates since 2005, and look at all the minorities the school's letting in! Why, it's practically a public school!

We'll see how that plays in court. 

In the meantime, as a visiting alumnus, I'm encouraged by all the changes.

In October, seeing Asians everywhere made me feel like I fit in. 

sierra katow.jpgAt the Lampoon, I met the humor organization's female VP, Sierra Katow, a rising young Asian American comedian who made a splash last summer on NBC's "Last Comic Standing." In October, she presented Jimmy Fallon an award on the Lampoon steps. But typically Asian, the Southern Californian is a computer science major just in case she doesn't become the second coming of Tina Fey. 

Now that would be a nice footnote in Asian American history, fully appreciated if Harvard had a real Asian American Studies department some day.

In the 1970s, I had to go from California to deep in the history stacks at Widener to find out just how Asian I was.

If I were there today, I'd be able to see it even outside, all over campus and maybe next to the banh mi truck. 

*     *     *
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.



Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 1 comments

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