Author Archives: theinvazn

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azn-canadians, making a scene.

the middle eastern unrest in context

posted by brazn

A demonstrator faces a police line. (Credit: theatlantic.com)

To say that the recent unrest in the Middle East has come as a bit of a surprise is a wild understatement. This is perhaps in equal measure due to it truthfully having escalated seemingly overnight, and the fact that we take the Western foreign policy narrative that tells us that the Middle East is supposed to run through dictatorships as gospel. This narrative, as much informed by realpolitik as it is racism, has lulled us in the Global North into adopting a sense of cultural relativism that ultimately clouds our perception. The recent unrest seems to not only have shaken long-oppressed citizens from their submission to the status quo, but also challenged our own perceptions of what the people in the Middle East want.

Over the past many decades Western think tanks, diplomats and policy analysts, and politicians have worked hard at creating, perpetuating, and reinforcing a narrative that allowed not only the extension of influence to the far corners of the globe, but one that also did so in as benign a way as possible. And it’s monumental; by all accounts they should be proud because no one even bothers to question it anymore. It is a common truth that the Global South, a collection of resource rich or geographically important political backwaters, simply runs better when governed in the ‘old’ style. No democracy, only dictatorships; that’s just the natural order of things. This view tends to hold a particular rigidity in political thought about the Arab Middle East. Crazy Islamists need an especially strong fist to keep them in check and that’s why in every ‘post’-colonial state from North Africa to the Eastern frontiers of Afghanistan, it is a messy collection of tribal chiefs, presidents and monarchs who seem to rule in perpetuity. Apparent exemptions might include Iraq, a place were a ‘functioning’ democracy was installed, but one need look no further than the rhetoric of alarmists who feared a Shiite and Kurd resurgence upon the ouster of the Ba’athist Saddam Hussein in 2003. Saddam had kept them repressed for decades and upon his removal, they would flow out of the woodwork.

That was, of course, until some twenty-six year old street vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire in front of a government building in the middle of last December. His act, brought on by the desperation of poverty and humiliation at the hands of a corrupt government, has done more to burn down the edifices of Western-backed dictatorships and the false beliefs that supported them than anything else in recent memory. A little poetic, perhaps, that the work of thousands of people at the top levels of government, millions of man-hours of analysis, countless billions of dollars in foreign aid, and regime after regime of oppressive dictators came undone at the hands of one downtrodden, impoverished young man in a North-African country that seldom registers on the Western psyche.

The rest speaks for itself. Since December, the streets of the Arab world have been flooded with discontented youth who have known nothing but the stifling status quo: excruciating poverty, soaring unemployment despite an educated workforce, highly inflated prices for basic necessities, and paralyzing government corruption. Following their example, the rest of civil society has followed them into the streets. Large protests have also happened in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, as well as smaller ones happening all across the Arab world. Just under a month ago, the Tunisian president after more than two decades in power fled the country after resigning. Just a few days ago, Hosni Mubarak, the draconian president of Egypt stepped down after three weeks of continuous protests. Other long-time ‘democratically-elected’ leaders have announced substantial changes in cabinet make-up, social and economic policy, or a commitment to not run for re-election.

In each of these cases, broad swaths of citizens in cities around each country have come out demanding change. They are tired of stagnant, fraudulent governments buttressed through foreign aid and clandestine intervention. They are speaking out against rising food, fuel and commodity prices that have been an effect of the global economic collapse (that was, by the by, caused by an avaricious American speculative bubble). They are demonstrating because of their ongoing torture and exploitation. They are clamouring for freedom of speech, press, the right to peaceful assembly, and for free and fair elections. They have in one resounding, clear and unified voice made a demand for democracy.

Within the course of a month, then, the picture of the Middle East has changed. The very place where we were told democracy would never take root, and if it did it would lead to Islamist, anti-Western governments, we are now seeing and hearing the raw and unfiltered voice of the people. In Egypt, we have seen amidst state sponsored violence, people have remained largely peaceful; despite the effective removal of all telecommunications, citizens have gathered at mosques and churches to organize and assemble. Even the removal of emergency infrastructure (state police, fire brigades, etc.) has done little to stem protests as groups of young men and women have taken to the streets to set up neighbourhood patrols, security checkpoints, and assisted in preventing the looting and destruction of the nation’s rich historical artefacts. We have seen doctors, lawyers, factory workers, unions, civil servants and public works employees, parents, children, men, women, the rich, the poor, the young and the old all band together over weeks of continuous protests.

Anti-Western and anti-Israeli ideology has not driven these protests, and neither has a sense of religious fundamentalism. Nor can we say that it was only Arab men who demonstrated, as we saw the sisters of the nation came out in full force with just as much as stake. The only thing negative in tone about these protests was the desire to remove parasitic leaders and malignant governments; rather, a firm and constructive desire to rebuild the nature has fuelled these demonstrations. These protests have effectively undone every rationale that the Western foreign policy establishment has used to buttress repressive governments.

Those willing to read just between the lines of the Western narrative about Middle Eastern politics have always been able to detect the racist veneer that justifies the unconditional support of dictators; Western citizens, though, whether they see the façade or not, materially support the oppression of those in the Global South through their tax dollars used for foreign aid. Recent events in the Arab world have all but removed the flimsy stereotypes that suggested that people in the Middle East are necessarily Islamist and harbour anti-democratic sentiment thereby posing a threat to life in the Global North. It becomes all too clear to us now that those who live on less than two dollars a day under constant fear of the state are more interested in the basic dignities of life that should be afforded to every human being. Decades of lies have created the assumption that we in the West are inherently different from those in the Middle East. Tunisians, Egyptians and now Algerians, by simply reclaiming their nations, are proving in many ways how wrong we were. It is high time to take the example that they have set for us and knock down the doors of government to demand that the lies that perpetuate misery and oppression end.

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hot azns: the cheapmunks

posted by notmyname

Suhana, Mehak and their band: two Pakistani girls singing Destiny’s child to guitars and the tabla, with a Bollywood song thrown in. It’s basically all-around wicked.

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fyi: rogers doorcrasher

posted by theinvazn

are you an azn in toronto? were you offended by maclean’s “too azn?” article?

rogers owns maclean’s and has refused to properly respond to the inflammatory piece, so we’re gearing up to give ’em a big surprise.

CAN SOMEONE SAY FLASH MOB?!

not this

not this either

something more like …

this is what shows up when you google "azn mob"!

so this saturday, meet at college subway station’s food court at 11 a.m. bring friends, allies, your hardass azn parents and your outrage! feel free to rsvp on facebook.

see you there!

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free canada!

posted by andrea

It pains me that this submission is purely a rant. A straight-forward rant with few complexities and structure. But here goes …

Not long ago, there was, and possibly still is, a pretty heated debate on this year’s Nobel Peace Prize award receiver, Liu Xiaobo, for his long and non-violent diplomatic struggle for fundamental human rights in China. He is, however, put in jail by the Chinese government for “inciting subversion of the state power”. Many criticize the Chinese government for violating human rights, and generally the lack of free speech for residents in China. I’m sure one can find tons of information on this issue on the world wide web, so I don’t wanna get into this. But today, I am not ranting against this, instead, I am ranting against the delusion Canada is creating to citizens, residents, and immigrants that similar violations don’t happen in this “democratic” stolen land.

Throughout my years in Canada, I have definitely heard many people saying they like residing in Canada because it is a liberal, democratic country. Well, here I am, saying “bullshit”. Numerous G20 activists have been arrested. Alex Hundert and others were discouraged from speaking to the media. Aboriginal issues are constantly being ignored by the government. Hate crimes, including racism and homophobia are still prevalent. Murder-by-suicide rates on queer youth is a fact in Canada (and don’t begin the “but gay marriage is legal in Canada…”, because if you do, you miss the point).

In my humble opinion, Canada government is engaging in similar levels of human rights violations and information control to the public as the Chinese government. So, my questions are: why do most people hold different perceptions regarding equity and human rights towards China and Canada? Why are people more reluctant to affiliate with the Chinese than the Canadian government? Because, to me, they are both, fucked up.

All I want to say is, back the fuck off. If I see another “Free Tibet” shirt or if some white dude comes over to hand me a “Free Tibet” flyer, I might blow up and engage in very violent behaviour. Somewhere along the lines you’re sticking your head in places where it shouldn’t be. Because, if you are going to criticize, do it locally. Don’t point fingers at countries you don’t know shit about.

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do i wear a poppy?

posted by andrea

Do I wear a poppy on Remembrance Day? Or, do I remember? According to Wikipedia, Remembrance Day is a “Commonwealth holiday to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war.”

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Habour, Hawaii in 1941, Executive Order 9066 was ordered by the president of United States to “relocate” members of the Japanese ancestry to “internment camps”. More than half these people, were American citizens, born and raised in America, they simply happened to look like the soldiers who bombed Pearl Habour. According to George Takei (an internment camps survivor), there were no trial and no charges laid upon the Japanese-Americans, they were all, just taken without much justification.

These camps involved barb wires, machine guns pointed to the face. Let’s face it, they were nothing but concentration camps. These Japanese-Americans were held there throughout the war, in which, many decided to join the U.S. Army Force. In 1944, the 442nd combat team, an Asian-American unit, which consisted mostly of Japanese-Americans suffered over 800 casualties in the “Lost Battalion”. The 442nd had a casualty rate five times higher than average. While these soldiers were in war, their families were still held in “internment camps”, facing daily discrimination and struggle to survive. When they came back to America, discrimination continued and many towns overtly expressed the need to “keep their homes free of Japs.”

Canada was not better, the government relocated Japanese-Canadians to similar “internment camps,” stealing their rightful claims to properties, freedom, innocence and dignity. Similarly, many Japanese-Canadians also served in the war, only to find out later that they would be repatriated or resettled back to Japan, or East to the Rockies. Both were lands that they knew nothing about.

Though I can never be sure, these Canadians and Americans also had a high chance of suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivors’ guilt, etc.

At the same time, many Chinese-Canadians (after the ridiculous history of the “Chinese Exclusion Act”, 1923) joined the army but the Canadian government was unwilling to send these people to action because they didn’t want them to ask for enfranchisement after the war. In my opinion, since the Chinese came in so handy (and disposable) when it comes to explosive during the building of the CPR, they made a terrible decision.

Knowing these unsettling histories, I went to the Veterans Affairs Canada website, specifically, to the “Whom do we remember” section. Not surprisingly, none of the above was mentioned, and I only saw pictures of white faces. I, hereby, am in no way making statements that European-Canadians shouldn’t be remembered for their efforts and sacrifices. However, it is disappointing that the Canadian government doesn’t seem to remember other ethnic Canadians who made the same sacrifices and experienced the same sufferings.

So, no, I do not wear a poppy, not because I refuse to acknowledge the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers and civilians, but because our government doesn’t.

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hot azn alert: harry shum jr. and racism in glee

posted by mshehe

Harry Shum Jr. plays Mike Chang (the “Other Azn”/background dancer/football player turned chorus member) on Glee. As usual, most of the show’s main characters are white and the Azns (Mike Chang included) are left as background dancers/singers who utter a few words here and there.

The show premiered its second season last week and I was excited to find out that it will be developing some supporting characters, one of which will be Mike Chang! Harry Shum Jr. is a talented dancer and rising star, and has starred in Step Up 3D, Stomp the Yard, You Got Served, and as a silhouette in iPod commercials. His dancing career also includes being one of the lead dancers for Beyonce and Mariah Carey.

In last week’s episode of Glee, we saw a relationship developing between the two Azn characters. While it sucks that they are stereotyped as the token Azns (who got together working at an Azn camp teaching tech-savvy Azn kids), at least they are getting more screen time. Hopefully we’ll get to see another side of Mike Chang, and see the screenwriters break him out of his silent, quiet Azn-boy shell. Yes, I know some find the show very offensive, but for now, let’s just appreciate Harry Shum Jr. for showing us Azn men can dance, and can look hot!

and more

and even more …

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“dude, you have no qur’an”

posted by theinvazn

“i was like, ‘dude, you have no qur’an’ and ran off.” credit to the unshakeable @raza_syed for this amazing vid.

so, dear readers, we gonna make this a meme or what?

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the “where are you from?” dilemma

posted by notmyname

The other day, someone I had never seen before in my life came into my office and the first thing she said to me was, “Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?” is unfortunately a frequent question that racialized persons recieve from a curious many. Often, the implication of the question is that the person in question cannot possibly be from the Western world because they obviously look different as they are from a different race and, thus, different place of origin. The implicit understanding often is that only White people are from Canada/USA/UK/etc. The problematic nature of these probes (though perhaps innocent) is something that has been widely covered.

However, what made the instance with the woman in my office different was the fact that the woman asking the question was racialized herself. She was on a student visa and did not have a very strong grasp of English. After first cheekily responding, “Toronto” to her question, she inquired further with a “Where in Asia are you from?” While this question is also abounds with problematic assumptions, it turned out that her and I were “from” the same country. She came into my office to seek help, and the rest of the time, she spoke her first language (which I happen to understand due to my ethnic background), which made me more accessible to her.

This happens a lot with fellow racialized people. They ask me where I am from regularly, and I always respond as I would with White people: I am from Toronto. But the motiviations behind their query are perhaps different, as many seek to find commonalities with me, a stranger/potential friend, and similar backgrounds and experiences lend to this pursuit.

All of this made me think about the fine line between asserting oneself as a Canadian to combat the inherent “Whiteness” of “being Canadian” and having internalized racism and needing to be legitimized by the state/citizenry to affirm my status as a Canadian citizen by birth and NOT as an immigrant. I am from Canada, I was born and raised here, which perhaps affords me some greater right or ownership to the country, hence the need to distinguish myself as a Canadian citizen before any Azn country. Perhaps we also insist on being from Canada also because there is a sense of inferiority affixed with being an immigrant, which is an extremely perilous nationalist narrative.

So whereas the “Where are you from?” question may affirm citizenship/origins as exclusive to White people, it can also be an exercise in nationalism. How mind-boggling.

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update: what does it mean to be azn?

posted by theinvazn

two months ago, i put out a call for azns to respond to the question: what does it mean to be azn?

if you’ve been following our “being azn” tag, you’ve seen guest writers and regular bloggers negotiate mixed identity, the ‘banana’ label, body image, mother-daughter relationships, sexuality and so on.

i’ve said before that this question reaches into unsettling territory. what you may not know is that half of these writers asked to post anonymously and a few later changed their minds and asked to be identified. 

one person told me she didn’t want her thoughts on racism, self-esteem and identity to be the first result in a google search of her name. another writer mused in her post, “who would have thought the girl who was scared to be azn for the first half of her life would announce her ethnicity like this?” she had submitted her entry with the note, “i’m admitting that i’m azn.”

i’m humbled by their vulnerability.

our “being azn” posts have consistently received the highest number of views, comments and ratings, outdoing posts that contain more popular search terms like “blackberry” and “karate kid.”

i think this speaks of a need for a space to explore azn identities. as i was reading and crying my way through mshehe’s account of a conversation she had with a salesperson in china today, i realized (trying not to sound like a conceited dick) that i’m really glad this blog exists. so thank you, readers and writers, for making this happen.

if you want to respond to the big question, “what does it mean to be azn?” in a few lines or with a full blog post (which, actually, can also be a few lines!), contact theinvaznbegins@gmail.com.

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being azn: thin azn women

posted by mshehe

I’m 5’3 without shoes, and wear sizes XXXS – M depending on the store. I grew up in North America (New Jersey and Toronto, to be specific) and have always felt tiny.

What’s funny is that although I was small by North American standards, every time I visited my grandparents in China, I was greeted with: “Wah, fei jor wor!”. That essentially translates into: “Wow, you got fat!”. Of course, grandparents love to fatten up their grandkids so they genuinely meant it in a good way. However, I couldn’t argue with the fact that I was still bigger than the other girls I saw on the streets. It seemed like everyone around me was super thin.

In most parts of the developed world, there is pressure for women to stay thin. However, is this pressure heightened in Azn cultures?

In street boutiques in China, clothes are one-size-fits-all. That is what girls use to benchmark themselves against – if you can’t fit into one of those dresses, you’re too big. If you turn on the television, actresses from drama series are almost always a size 0 or 2. The ideal beauty is tall, thin, fair skinned, thin, has shiny hair, and … oh did I mention thin?

Diet ads are everywhere, from subway stations to shopping centres, and I don’t mean diet and fitness programs. These are full-on diet pills (often harmful) and slimming centres. During my trip back to China this summer, I was approached by a girl on the street advertising $500 diet pills. Our conversation went something like this:

Girl: Hi there, would you be interested in our diet pills?

Me: (politely) No thanks.

[Girl keeps talking and conversation goes on for 5 min.]

Me: Seriously. I don’t think I need to diet.

Girl: Why not? Everyone does it. But honestly, I think you do. Your arms and legs have a bit of fat you could get rid of with these pills. They will make you so much prettier. Only $500!

Me (offended): Miss. Did you listen to anything I just said?

Needless to say, I left. This conversation was offensive and amusing at the same time. I was surprised she was so open in commenting about my weight even though she was trying to get on my good side to sell her product.

Hence, what I did realize this summer is that there isn’t the same stigma associated with talking about weight. In Canada, it is kind of taboo to comment on someone’s body. The same can’t be said in China. When having dinner with a family member or friend you haven’t seen in a while, you can be assured that they will make a comment on whether you got skinnier, fatter, or stayed the same. So after they make the verdict that you are fat, they will spend the entire dinner convincing you to eat more. While they are just trying to look out for you, this does make you more conscious of your weight.

So would I say that Azn women have more pressure to be thin than other ethnicities? Slightly. (1) There is the stereotype that all Azn girls are skinny, and (2) the fact that everyone around you in Asia seems to be skinny.

In fact, the magic number in China seems to be 110 lbs before you need to start losing weight.

What do you think? As an Azn, do you feel more pressure to be thin?

*Note: My opinions are only based on my background (Chinese) so I don’t know if this is just a Chinese thing.

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