Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Year of the Dog

I wanted to write a post on the Lunar New Year and how I'm trying to start anew, but I wake up feeling depressed and sluggish (and hey, I didn't even drink last night!), and my coworkers don't make it any easier to wake up, because I know that all I will hear is a litany of what I'm doing wrong with no appreciation on the side. If I were a waitress, I would at least get tips instead of just criticisms.

Which is not to say that a waiter/waitress' life is easy, since I've been down the food service route and thoroughly hated it. I know my life isn't that bad, but right now I'm miserable, lonely and sleepless with seasonal affective disorder. When will spring come? I keep thinking that one of these days the buds will poke through the frost, that America will wake up from our long national nightmare of these past 5 years and we can all move forward.

In this new year, I will try to be persistent like a dog and dig myself out of this mess.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The power of one call

I normally don't do this to my friends, despite being a political activist. And I normally do ignore entreaties to call your Senator, but -

Sam Alito must be OPPOSED for the Supreme Court.

I did not spend my time working for Kerry thinking that he was going to be the greatest president ever. I worked for him because I am only 24 and I knew that if he got another term he would appoint 1-2 Supreme Court justices. If Alito gets on that bench, it will take the rest of my life to overturn whatever awful decisions he will contribute to. I worked my butt off because I know it will already take a good 30 years or so to reverse the horrible policies of the Bush administration, and if Alito gets on the Court, it'll be a good 50 years worth of hard work to reclaim our country. I would like to leave a better legacy for my kids.

So I called my Senators yesterday, and left a comment. It was short and it took 1 minute each. I said, "I would like to leave a comment for the Senator. I am a constituent of the Senator's. I hope that Senator_____ votes no on Alito and votes to filibuster him. Alito is a dangerous right-wing ideologue who will overturn many of the civil liberties that we as Americans cherish. Thanks."

Sometimes they didn't even ask for my name. Then I told my partner to call, and watched while it happened.

I normally don't think calling makes much of a difference, despite being an organizer, but lo and behold today's Sun Times: Durbin to vote against Alito, filibuster possible

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced Thursday he will vote against Judge Sam Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court. And he said so many other senators intensely oppose Alito that they may have enough votes to sustain a filibuster against the conservative jurist.

"A week ago, I would have told you it's not likely to happen," Durbin said. "As of [Wednesday], I just can't rule it out. I was surprised by the intensity of feeling of some of my colleagues. It's a matter of counting. We have 45 Democrats, counting [Vermont independent] Jim Jeffords, on our side. We could sustain a filibuster if 41 senators ... are willing to stand and fight.
I LOVE DICK. . . DURBIN that is. He is a great man. This is a far place from where the Democrats were even just a few days ago, when See, the Democrats WANT to oppose Alito, they just need to hear from their constituents that this is the right thing to do. Because the Senate is like high school and they react to peer pressure.

The moral of this story? One person makes one call. Now multiply that one call by 100 people, and you have Senators who are running scared. Hold them accountable, I say. Call your Senator.

Then get your friends to call as well. Because you will regret it for the rest of your life if Alito gets on that bench. (End Asian motherly guilt-trip.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stop breathing

When do you stop breathing?

I'm not kidding here, I want to know, because lately I feel like seeing some of my coworkers is causing me physical problems, for real. Like I stop breathing. I'm so tired of not being open and honest about what I see as fundamental flaws in our organization. And it hurts that I can't because I think I have a lot of valuable insights into ways that we could change for the better. Theoretically, I could just say my piece and be done, but would I have a job tomorrow?

It's not that I stopped believing in the mission, just that I don't think we can live up to it. And it's true that many nonprofits call it a mission because it's a goal or an ideal, a dream of a better place.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Shut In

Shutting Themselves In

This weekend's NYTimes has an article on Japanese youths who shut themselves into their rooms for years at a time, shunning family and peers. They are sometimes high school dropouts, sometimes they are overachievers who burnt out.

The phenomenon is called hikikomori, with about 80% of known cases happening to males. The article quotes the doctor who first realized the phenonmenon, and talks about how it's a byproduct of globalization, how there will be increasing stratification between the highly successful Japanese businessmen and their counterparts who choose to be lackluster.

I don't know that this is a new phenonmenon - everytime I used to visit my cousin in Asia, he seemd antisocial, lost in a world of warcraft and computers, unwilling to acknowledge relatives from the U.S. While he was intelligent, he didn't apply himself as much in school, a fact that always disheartened his schoolteacher mom. But there were other factors - my ucle died in a car crash when he was really young, and my cousin wound up with a fairly curved back as a result of the crash. He has a noticeable hunchback, and a sneer to match.

I'm sure this isn't limited to Asians or Asian Americans either - one of my best friends behaves much like this, except that on the surface, he goes to his job everyday and then comes home, where he lives with his parents.

Once at home, he drifts off into a world of tv and LCD screens, listens to his newest CD that he bought on Amazon, and tunes everyone else out.

The reason this article caught my attention is because I am sick and logging multiple hours on the tv and computer as well...while I would never choose to lock myself away like this, back when I went to a pressure cooker school, there were days when I really resented my parents for pushing me so hard that I wanted to quit.

I guess we can look at this as the downside, or the never discussed underside of the model minority stereotype. How can people just opt out of life?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My addiction

"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference." - Reinhold Niebuhr

Hello, my name is ?]\$# and I am a professional organizer. This is my statement of intent, of contempt, of redemption. Take it as you will. I am addicted to the high of winning victories, as small as they can be - of feeling like I've been able to change things somehow for the better.

Those moments are few and far in between nowadays. And this is what organizing means - being able to slough through the slow times, when it feels like not only are you not making any progress, you're retreating on so many fronts, with your legs so shot up that you can't run away fast enough. It hurts so good, so you drink or screw to forget.

Organizing means being in it for the long haul, surviving on morsels of previous victories in dry times, hording them like cigarettes on the battlefront. You remember the battle cry, your comrades falling on either side and pushing forward regardless, regrouping with your men and women to find that you've gained a few feet or maybe a few miles. Then you turn and look at where you came from, the fallen bodies in between, and you take the wrapper off slowly, commemorate your buddies who left this world by taking another hit, another swig. Whisper, "there but for the grace of God go I." Congratulate yourself that you made it to the next round, the next fight.

You buy into it deeper, it stings less this time. You are a soldier on the battlefield of Good and Evil. The lines are clearly drawn, the scene out of Lord of the Rings. Going to battle stirs the anxiety in your soul, because everytime you head out you wonder if you'll make it back alive, with your soul intact. Sometimes you think you will kill yourself.

Lord knows you don't always agree with the decisions that your COs make, you live to serve, and you serve on command. You struggle with the inefficiency of it all - sometimes you are told to go out and claim half an inch. You are told that it is the most important half an inch ever, that it will serve your fellow countrymen who are not at battle the most. Your belief wavers as you watch the same half inch strip switch ownership. You realize you are an ant in the overall scheme, so you hunker down and try not to care but in truth you are addicted to caring about the outcome.

Why remain? Why stay and fight? The people who own you are not necessarily nicer people than the ones who you fight. They don't have a better strategy, and they usually take you for granted. In calmer times you share a smoke with the people from the other side, a consoling word about your roles as bit players in this ridiculous drama.

Some people in your division switch sides. It seems like your side is dwindling. What the hell is going on? you think, that they don't see the difference. There is a difference. There has to be a difference. For this to be worth it, there is a difference. You take another shot, try to drown out the other voices.

Sweet oblivion, you wipe out. It pushes away the nagging thoughts for awhile. At the end of the day, you are your own worst demon because you want to believe. You are a true believer, you have seen wars that have gone well that were fought for the right reasons. Remember them.

A good soldier has unswerving loyalty and no trace of doubt. I have a stockpile of tequila and rum. I have a desire to do good and to do right. I question whether I can do both and remain true to my loved ones, or if when I go home, I will bring the horrors with me. If I go home.

I ask myself why have I been spared when I know that all I need to do is leave the path. No bombs will explode, no requiems would be sung. I can continue to support my comrades from a cozy perch at home. I can tell others of their plight.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Year's treat

I know I haven't blogged in a month, but. . .

For the irreverent and wicked-tongued: David Lat to replace Wonkette!

The Filipino American blogger of Underneath Their Robes fame who had blogged anoymously as a sassy, chatty female attorney who went by the handle "Article III Groupie" (self-unmasking here; backstory here) has quit his job as an assistant US attorney in New Jersey. While penning as "Article III Groupie", Lat gushed over current Chief Justice John Roberts: "Judge Roberts is lookin’ super-hunky tonight, much younger than his 50 years. . . . The adorable dimple in his chin is making A3G dizzy."

He left Newark behind to replace Ana Marie Cox, the similarly vivacious and politically vicious (actual female) blogger behind Wonkette. For those of you out of the loop, Wonkette is the DC vixen (now with book promo) who dishes the daily dirt on our nation's capitol and delivered the Washingtonienne sex scandal scoop. (This is a Washington Post link, for not safe for work links, go google elsewhere!)

Suffice it to say that Washingtonienne, as a female hapa Senate staffer who was involved with multiple men in positions of power in DC (some in exchange for cash), raised numerous issues about power, class, gender and (I would argue implicitly, about race or at least exotic beauty) in our nation's decisionmaking nexus. She caused a big whoopdedoo, and a minor work stoppage at cubicles everywhere when her blog URL raced across computer screens in DC like defenestrated cats from the 5th story.

Methinks this will raise the hackles and catfight level back up to where it used to be at Wonkette - I did sorely miss the guttersniping and gossipy attitude. Here's a drink to continued premier snarkdom under David Lat.

Although, given his meteoric rise from Harvard to the US Department of Justice and now his move to best blog celebrity impersonating a woman, this definitely begs the question of: "What the hell do his parents think?!?!"

Learn Chinese . . . American history

I saw this article off of one of the Asian American email lists that I belong to about how there is an increase in the numbers of Chinese language courses being taught here in the United States, and a rise in interest in having more AP Chinese courses. I have a different take from angry asian man on this one.

The first thing I thought was 1) what about learning Chinese American history and culture? and 2) why didn't this stuff count when I was in high school so that I could have further polished my resume?

Don't get me wrong - I think that Chinese is a beautiful language. It's particularly meaningful if you study calligraphy and the ancient scripts - being able to know exactly what pictographs a word is derived from gives me the same kind of joy as when I can trace an English word back to its Latin roots. There is meaning and simplicity, tranquility behind the seeming madness of a character that seems chaotic and opaque at first glance.

The article describes how Chinese classes were originally filled with adoptees from China, or Chinese Americans, and now have racially and ethnically diverse enrollments. But I think that regardless of our background we could all benefit from not simply learning the language itself, but also the contributions and the culture of the Chinese Americans who came before us, the ones who maybe mostly spoke Chinese when they were building America's railroads.

The picture above refers to the infamous golden spike ceremony on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah, which marked the joining together of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad lines, thus creating the first Transcontinental Railroad in the US. This railroad traversed the land from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Sacramento, California. This was the railroad that brought together disparate parts of the Union during the Civil War and eventually allowed for white homesteaders to mark their territory in virgin (i.e. American Indian-owned) lands spreading all the way to the promised land of California.

Why infamous? And why does this photo tear at the heart of Asian American history?

Because like in many versions of American history, and particularly school textbooks, the Chinese American laborers were not included in the photo despite their many hours of hard labor. This photo happens to be one of the most famous and enduring of that pivotal point in American history, yet there is no commemoration of the labor that went into it, no acknowledgement of the full history.

No doubt it's useful to know Mandarin Chinese if this is going to be the "Chinese century" but Chinese Americans are never going to get the proper cultural or political respect in this country if people do not understand our history of struggle within the United States. I took Chinese language courses which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite or maybe because of my parents, but what really made a difference in my life were the Asian American history courses that I took. I'm glad I'm able to communicate with my grandparents, but I'm also incredibly proud of our history in this country - our collective histories.