Monday, November 28, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 28: 'Tis the Season and My Place in the Asian American Movement

So this is what I bought on Black Friday. That's 8 pounds of butter in the pic, boom. This actually looks pretty small compared to previous years. I think I've finally learned to winnow down the varieties so that I don't have quite so much going on. There's a few things not shown here, I guess, like the dried cranberries (which I already had) and oranges (for the peel).

I've never gone grocery shopping on Black Friday but I'm going to have to make a habit out of it. Not only was it not crowded, at Smart & Final practically everything I bought there was on sale, I guess as a remnant of the pre-Thanksgiving sales. And, the nothing was sold out, unlike the times when I've shopped two weeks before Christmas and find some things like pecans and macadamia nuts sold out in some stores. Good, better, best all in one.

Today's Reading

This was posted last week but I didn't read much over the weekend so I just saw it last night. I haven't really wrapped my head around it all but I want to start putting down some thoughts.

Jean Quan and the Death of Asian America

As a once-devoted student of Asian American Studies, the title caught me by surprise. Hasn't Asian American Studies grown on college campuses nationwide in the last 15 years?Granted, they are likely underfunded and struggling like any other ethnic studies and liberal arts departments, but the fact that there are majors and minors in Asian American Studies at many campuses seemed to indicate some type of recognition of Asian America.

But then again, here I am, merely a once-devoted student and not an active participant in the movement today. What made me retreat? Some of it was personal, because I was immersing myself in the activism and was finding it difficult to balance my personal life with the community life. But part of it, and I feel it more nowadays, is I don't feel very connected to the local Asian American or Japanese American (JA) communities in LA.

As a first-generation immigrant, I never quite felt part of the JA community here. I didn't play basketball, I didn't have families who had been incarcerated in US concentration camps during WWII. I think I was always looking for a place to belong and the JA community seemed like a natural place - I mean, they looked like me, right? So I learned about camp, redress, social justice and economic development in the JA and Asian Americant context and that was my life for a few years.

I definitely don't regreat any of that work and am proud to have participated in it. And I'm thankful of many people and organizations that accepted me. But now that I've stepped away from it all for a few years, and have gotten some exposure to non-minority communities and cultures (ok, yes, White), I feel like maybe I was too one-dimensional.

I've gone through business school, which is kind of the antithesis of the community work I've done in the past, I think. But now that I've studied from the business perspective, I feel like I can't just unequivocably stand behind labor unions without seeing compromises made from both sides. Even in college I was wary of the "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality that progressive student activists tended to espouse but even more so, I feel distanced from some of the hard-core Asian American activists today - I feel like I'm just not "down" enough.

I may be touching on the issue of class and assimilation. As minorities improve their economic status, do they consciously or unconsciously shed their cultural background and traditions to be accepted by the mainstream?

I wonder if that is what Jean Quan is dealing with as well as the political situations she must maneuver. Is that what all of Asian America faces now? I guess that's what this article's author refers to as "embourgeosiement".

Some Asian American communities, though, seem to almost retreat among themselves and build up their own economy. I'm thinking of the San Gabriel Valley or Westminster, where Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian Americans create what seem to be self-sustaining economies. Little Saigon seems to thrive with a strong cultural identity, yet Little Tokyo needs Starbucks and Yogurtland, or gourmet Asian fusion food or bars, to attract people. I think this is partly why I feel more comfortable going to the San Gabriel Valley or Westminster than to Little Tokyo.

I know there are young Asian Americans addressing issues of social justice, cultural sensitivities and awareness, and other important issues today. I don't think Asian America is dead. I'm not sure there ever was a single Asian America. I think we are all struggling to define it still. It's always been a challenge to define Asian America - other than our race, various groups can be very dissimilar, in experience, politics, class, and of course language and culture.

Well this has certainly been a stream of consciousness with no epiphanies or solutions. I'll just have to keep thinking.

I did read a couple of weeks ago about the renaming of Frank Ogawa Plaza to Oscar Grant Plaza and felt marginalized by the OWS movement. But I'll have to write about that another day.

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