Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Angry Asian Man notes how adoptions from China have fallen and he asks: "what drove the trend of all these children adopted from China. Was it simply the fact that it was so easy, with so many children up for adoption?"

I would say this played a huge role in it - China had a large, available supply of babies with relatively easier procedures compared to other countries. It may seem cold to frame transnational adoption in market terms but supply and demand play a fairly substantial role in explaining trends, especially within an international context. I know there are some folks out there with far deeper knowledge on transnational adoption to chime in!

Call Me Ishmael

Listen to this: http://www.wnyc.org/news/articles/128940

He has a point. Why don't we call each other "people, people, and people" or address each other by our names?

The question above closes Beth Fertig's report featuring students attending the International High School in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. She had asked the students to consider Amsterdam's classification of all non-European origin as black. She asks them how they refer to themselves as "Americans"?

The students answered the way I have answered in the past. Why can't I "be both"? Asian (more specifically Chinese) and American. I can call myself "Chinese American." But older now I wonder if the description holds any more meaning than just calling myself "American"? What about my children? Physically, they appear Chinese or East Asian but their native language is without question English.

How about the comment one of the students interviewed makes: "We have the right to be called Americans?" I have never thought of being called "American" as a right. Born in the US as the child of new immigrants, I inherited my citizenship and my American surname. Both my parents and my grandparents were naturalized. They had to work towards their citizenship. Perhaps this is an exercise of the cliche about the differences between earning something and just being given it. You are said to appreciate the former much more.

In middle school I clung desperately to the habits I thought made me "American." I preferred hamburgers over rice, Coca Cola over Chrysanthemum tea. In college being American was no longer a medal of pride to me but a badge of shame. I was defiantly Chinese and I wore it on my sleeve.

In addition to the friends I still keep in touch with today, college was a very important step in the development of my "Americanness" (for lack of a better word). Two incidents from that time remain with me:

  1. "You don't look American" - Crossing the American-Canadian border at the Rainbow Bridge, a border guard made this comment after asking me to get out of the car and hand him my driver's license. I was with friends. We wanted to go to the Canadian side of the falls to kill some time, take in the new spring air, and grab dinner. My friends were White. I was the only Asian.
  2. "You don't act Chinese" - At a party. Talking to a girl. She was cute and smart and I thought we were really starting to click. She made that comment and I just lost interest.

Reading Rice Daddies posts from Metrodad (especially the section, "Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is"), Soccer Dad on Texas Representative, Betty Brown's recommendation that Asians change their names to more familiar Anglo names for the convenience of non-Asians,  and bigWOWO on Disney's current desire to reassert itself as a "cultural force" among boys (the Newsweek article he posted about a Black family adopting a White girl also got me thinking), about the world my children will inherit.

In the news, we are told about the national debt our children will inherit and we are told about what will happen if we don't literally clean up our act in terms of environment. But what kind of society will our children inherit? I am not as naive as to believe that the issues of race and culture in America will ever go away. I can even convince myself that their presence is a catalyst for ongoing conversation and reflection on identity. However, it is no less worrisome.

It would be unfair to deny progress has been made. Surfing network TV there is a greater chance of catching a glimpse of an Asian face speaking English than there was let's say 30 years ago. There is also a greater chance that the Asian face you might glimpse does not know kung fu and is not plotting to take over the world. That Asian face you might glimpse on network TV might even be more than comic relief. This is all progress and I don't want to diminish it. But recent posts from fellow Rice Daddies remind me that as an ethnic community there is still progress to be made.

As we enter Asian American Heritage month, I can't help but wonder What is American? And how does it differ from Asian American? Why is it assumed my perceived Asian habits? mannerisms? beliefs? culture? fall outside of the bucket of characteristics that make something or someone simply American? America as melting pot and mosaic, doesn't my "Asianness" make me uniquely American? Why do I need the surname?

As a Second Generation dad, one that was born here but whose parents were newly immigrated, I have the same challenges my parents did - What to keep and what can be left out of an ethnic identity? Already, my wife and I struggle with language. We both want our children to speak Chinese. However, she wants them to learn Mandarin. I speak passable Cantonese and she speaks Vietnamese. At home, our native tongue is English.

We also suck at celebrating the holidays. Every year despite our best intentions we miss the Autumn Moon festival. We hang decorations for Chinese New Year but have not always followed its customs most of the time out of pure ignorance and forgetfulness.

There is also the reality that no matter what my wife and I do, our children will have their own ideas about their "Asianness." Regardless of what my wife and I try to impart or instill, they will going through their own "editing process" and prioritize the aspects of their ethnic identity. So I am back to wondering about the "right to be called American" and the significance of applying the label "Asian American."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yes, even the Dharma Initiative had a RiceDaddy

In the scene below Miles Straume (who has traveled back to 1977) witnesses the father he never knew reading to a 3-month old Miles:

Earlier in this season of Lost, the writers finally redeemed themselves for initially handicapping Daniel Dae Kim's character with the inability to speak English. Via the literary device known as time travel, they gave Jin three years of English immersion amongst the Dharma Initiative and a handful of lines he could deliver in full (though accented) English sentences.

On Wednesday night, the positive portrayal of diversity was taken even a step further. In the latest episode of Lost, Miles Straume's back story was fleshed out, giving Ken Leung an opportunity to utilize his acting skills in ways few Asian-American actors ever get to do on primetime network television. We even got to see the tender paternal side of the mysterious Dr. Marvin Candle (Fran├žois Chau), and Miles' mother (Leslie Ishii).

Why is this significant? Let's see... in this episode, we've got:
  • Asian-Americans in recurring major roles on prime time network television
  • Asian-Americans who aren't portrayed as perpetual foreigners with foreign accents
  • Asian-Americans cast in compelling story lines, regardless of ethnicity
  • Asian-Americans in non-stereotypical roles
  • Asian-Americans as human, multi-dimensional characters, experiencing the same joys and sorrows as other human beings
I hope we get more of this on television. Maybe MetroDad's sitcom would have a shot on ABC, even though ABC is owned by Disney.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Call Me Al

This story cheesed me off

A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” [...]

Brown suggested that Asian-Americans should find a way to make their names more accessible.
“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Ridonkulous, though this story -- a favorite of mine as a child and now a growing favorite for young Mace -- might give Brown motivation.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Oriental is a Rug: Five Quick Thoughts on Race


Recently, the Peanut and I were at Whole Foods when an elderly woman approached her and said, "Oh my, aren't you an adorable little Oriental girl?"

Because the lady was so damn old and probably doesn't think she's offending anyone when calls African-Americans "colored people," I shrugged her off and walked away.

Naturally, the Peanut turned to me and said, "Daddy, what's Oriental?"

I have to admit that I kind of stutter-stepped. One thing I love about little kids is that they don't think in terms of race. They don't judge people based on the color of their skin. They judge them on their ability to relate to poop jokes, Dora the Explorer, and farts. As Dennis Leary once said, "Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he fucking hates? Naps! End of list."

Now, for better or worse, I tend to answer the Peanut's endless questions openly and honesty. So I told her, "Oriental is a word used to describe objects from eastern Asia. Like rugs or teapots. Some people of earlier generations mistakenly use the term to describe all Asian people. However, that's generally considered politically incorrect. Does that answer your question, kiddo?"

"Yes, daddy. Can I have a cupcake?"

Proving once again that, in a perfect world, the only color that should ever matter is the icing on your cake.


Last year, we hired some workers to clean out my FIL's store in Dallas. Since we were getting rid of everything, we told the movers that they could take whatever they could salvage and sell it themselves. One woman turned to a mover and said, "Why don't you take it to your Indian friends and see if they'll buy it off you?"

To our shock, the mover replied, "Shit. Injuns ain't nothing but Jews. Those bastards will make $2.00 out of a nickel and rip me off. Hell, I can't even decide who I hate worse. Injuns or Jews."

Ten years ago, I probably would have gotten into the guy's face and baited him into a fight. Racial slights are my Achille's heel. Few other things make my blood boil.

However, I'm a father now. My daughter needs me in her life. Part of that social contract involves me making smarter decisions and recognizing that my life has greater importance than it did when I was a young man.

So I took a deep breath and looked at the mover a little more closely. He was missing two teeth, was carrying a knife in his belt, and literally had a "redneck" tattoo on his bicep. The tattoo looked like it was done at home after drinking a bottle of moonshine. He was a scary-looking dude. Even scarier was his 300 lb. son who looked like the illegitimate love child of Sasquatch and Australopithecus.

So what did I do?

I bit my tongue, said nothing, and cursed myself in silence. I think it's important for people to step up and say something when faced with racism, ignorance, and intolerance. That's a philosophy that I want to pass on to my daughter and my silence made me feel like a hypocrite. I hated myself for not beating the crap out of this ignorant redneck but, as it should be, my family's safety trumps everything.

So instead of confronting him, I shorted him on the cash, spit in his soda, and then slashed one of the tires on his pickup truck.

I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me feel better.


Last week, I was in a restaurant when I noticed a young woman staring at me. As I walked by her, she flirtatiously reached out for my arm and said, "I just wanted to say that, for an Asian guy, you're very good looking."

How the fuck did we reach a point in our culture where that's supposed to come off like some sort of damn compliment?

You know what that comment represents to me? That the stereotype of the emasculated Asian male is continuing unabated and the concept of Asian male masculinity is not being portrayed in America's media, pop culture, or society.

Look at the depiction of Asian males in movies today. For the most part, we're portrayed as nerds, computer geeks, or socially inept geeks. The sole exception seems to be the martial arts experts starring in blockbuster action movies. However, has anyone noticed that, even then, the Asian guy never gets the girl? They can kick ass but they can't get a kiss?

I've mentioned it a million times before but take a look around. There are plenty of masculine Asian role models around us: baseball players Ichiro Suzuki and Kaz Matsui, actors Daniel Dae Kim, Will Yung Lee, John Cho, and Sung Kang, and Survivor winner Yul Kwon.

Aside from being great-looking guys, these men are all interesting people doing interesting work. They're smart, outspoken, and charismatic. Whenever I see them, I'm proud that they're changing the perception of Asian men in America.

So why don't we see more of them?


I recently met two Asian-American women who told me that they don't date Asian guys.

One woman's rationale was that kissing an Asian-American man felt like kissing her brother. The other Asian-American woman said she simply wasn't attracted to Asian-American men.

Over the course of my lifetime, I've pretty much dated women of every color and ethnicity known to mankind. To me, an attractive woman is simply an attractive woman. Race was usually the last thing I looked for in a woman.

On the other hand, there's a certain comfort in having a shared cultural or ethnic background. When I dated Korean-American women, we could always joke about the pervasive smell of kimchi in the house, the extra homework from our fathers, the ubiquitous consumption of SPAM, and our mothers' steadfast belief that you could die from sleeping with the electric fan turned on all night.

Anyway, I don't disparage the two women who refuse to date members of their own race. However, I do find it interesting that their statements seem to be unique to Asian-American culture. I never hear black women say they won't date black guys because it would be like kissing their own brother. And I've never heard a Latina woman say that she simply wasn't attracted to Latino men.

Why is that?


Currently, I'm in discussions with several production companies to turn MetroDad into a network television sitcom. All three companies are major players in the entertainment industry and their interest has resulted in my getting agency representation and a potential book deal. Right now, it all looks very encouraging so I'm crossing my fingers and keeping my expectations in check.

Here's the dilemma...

How strong am I willing to push in order to keep the main character Asian-American? Am I willing to jeopardize any potential deal? Would I walk away from the opportunity on principle? How strongly do I even feel about all of this?

The reality is that no network is likely to pick up the sitcom if the lead character is Asian-American. That's a factor beyond my control. Let's face it. America probably isn't ready for a comedy centered around an Asian-American father raising his daughter in New York City.

On the other hand, someone's got to be the first to try, right? How do we know America won't accept an Asian-American lead character in a sitcom if nobody even tries? I'd like to think that if the material is funny enough, people won't even notice that the character is Asian-American. Is that realistic? I hope so, my friends. I hope so.

We'll see what happens as discussions proceed further. I'll keep you all posted.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of the above. Fire away!

(Cross posted at MetroDad)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Chinese Hunger for Sons Fuels Boys’ Abductions - NYTimes.com

Chinese Hunger for Sons Fuels Boys’ Abductions - NYTimes.com

Good Expectations

When our eldest was our only, our parents told us it was time to leave the city. One of the reasons they used was that all of the "good schools" were in the suburbs. Our parents are not alone in this belief. We also have friends who moved away because of the same belief.

Last year my wife and I got into an argument over a NY1 report about an America's Promise Alliance study that concluded suburban schools have a higher rate of graduation than city schools. We came to an impasse in our conversation about the study.

The comment that caused the impasse: "So suburban schools ARE better than city schools."

We argued the point until we realized we weren't arguing about suburban versus city schools at all! We were arguing the qualities of a "good" school.

In some cases, a school is oversubscribed (meaning more students than available seats) because parents believe it to be the "good" school in the district/zone. The school has gained a positive reputation among parents.  However, I have to wonder how deeply parents are actually looking into the schools? Do they have firsthand experience with the school or were they told by peers that the school is a good school?

There's this great comedy routine I saw once. I think it was in an Abbott and Costello movie. Costello walks in front of a skyscraper and just starts staring up. Shortly a whole crowd has formed. Everyone is staring up. As they are doing this, Abbott fleeces them and they are totally unaware. The skit ends when Costello looks away and goes back about his business. One member asks another member in the dispersing crowd, "What were you looking at?" The other member shrugs and walks away. This is what I think of when I think of parents and "good schools."

I am afraid sometimes it just takes that right parent saying the right word in the right ears to determine the success or failure of a school. I am not denying that graduation rates and test scores also play a role. But a school - an education - is so much more - needs to be so much more especially in a democratic society where the voices of the many drive the actions of the few. In addition to academic success, students need to be trained as responsible civic participants.

I agree with the opening statement of the UCLA National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) report, What Makes a Good School?

For all the changes implemented in the American classroom, parents and the community in general are ill-prepared to measure the quality of the schools that serve them. As consumers of education, parents and other taxpayers have a right to know if their schools are doing a good job.

Their report identifies the following characteristics as being those of a good school:

  1. Strong and professional administrators and teachers.
  2. A broad curriculum available to all students.
  3. A philosophy that says all children can learn if taught, coupled with high expectations for all students.
  4. A school climate that is conducive to learning. A good school is safe, clean, caring, and well-organized.
  5. An ongoing assessment system that supports good instruction.
  6. A high level of parent and community involvement and support.

The word "Good" itself is problematic. One parent's good is not necessarily another's. And then there is the wordplay between "good" and "good enough," where the latter refers to acceptable performance due the dislike the student's parents and teachers may have towards the activity or subject. For example, a parent accepting his or her child's mediocre math scores and saying, "that's OK. I wasn't good at that either."

As parents, we want what's best for our children. Our understanding of "what's best" is determined by our own successes and failures as well as our social values and what we value. Our definition of a good school follows the same rationale.

In the case of my wife and me, it is not so much the characteristics of a good school we disagree on. It is the priority they are given. Academic rigor and good test scores are important but are they more important than social interaction and hands on experiences?

Before we judge schools as good or bad, we must first determine what we want for our children and then determine which institutions best promote our agenda. We must also prioritize the characteristics of a good school to determine which are most essential and which we can live without or compensate for on our own.