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what makes bad tv better? hot femmes of colour. yeah.

Emily & Maya <3 Pretty Little Liars

I love teen tv. I used to try to pretend like I didn’t and there were points in my life where I sincerely believed I hated it. That was just me trying to resist the “evils” of mainstream culture.

To be honest, most of it is evil (heteronormative, capitalist, racist etc.). But I love watching it.

To be able to forget my own struggles for a little while and indulge in the world of white girl problems is a weekly pleasure that distracts from my everyday life. Also, there’s so much fun in critiquing that shit, as evidenced in this post.

Growing up, I saw the presence of lesbian women on tv as, well, non-existent. I didn’t really know lesbians existed outside of late night naughty television on showcase. I didn’t know of anything other than something referenced as “butch” and ‘bisexual’ I came to understand as a term for femme women who were either confused, being taken advantage of, lost or actually gay but in denial. There were barely any examples of lesbians or bisexual women existing outside of stereotypes, if they existed at all. When they did, they were always white.

The O.C. … remember that shit?

Forward to 2010.

Not only are there homos on tv, but there are actually queer women of colour! Queer FEMME women of colour, like ME.

This both excites and confuses me.

I mean, who is interested in portraying queer women in this particular way? Where are the masculine women? The only female ‘same-sex’ loving I see happening on TV is exclusively between femmes, why is this?

It would seem that femme visibility on tv is still for hetero-male consumption. If straight guys can’t enjoy it, it can’t be on tv.

But seeing these beautiful, fierce, intelligent, femmes of colour on tv not just making out but dating and forming relationships with other femmes (sometimes even other femmes of colour!) is so wonderful, powerful and affirming that I don’t even care that it’s not ‘for me’ because ultimately it is. They’re femmes dating femmes.

I think because I rarely see femme/femme of colour relationships in real life and because my queerness is constantly denied to me as a femme, I’m so intrigued by these tv relationships where this isn’t an issue. The femmephobia that exists in queer spaces, both white and of colour, is so complicated. I get that there is anger and resentment because we ‘pass’ as straight and aren’t subject to the same forms of homophobia/bullying/harassment as androgynous, genderqueer or butch women. I don’t think that phobia is okay, but I understand it.

What I don’t understand is queers playing into homophobia through denying femmes our sexualities by constantly questioning our authenticity, labelling us as a threat or placing definitions of legitimacy for what constitutes queerness onto us. That shit is so damaging and hurtful, especially for queers of colour who have more difficulty in identifying with ‘LGBT’ or even ‘queer’ as terms which have been defined by white folk and are grounded in whiteness. Same thing goes for markers or readers of queerness/queer identity which folks of colour do not have the same access to as white queers. It creates spaces for the constant interrogation I receive from other (mostly white but not always) queers about my politics, relationships and sex life which is forced onto me both because of my femme identity and as a result of being of colour.

That’s why seeing Santana on Glee being so unapologetic (“Only straight I am is straight up bitch”) about being a lesbian is so wonderful to me. There’s no questioning her attraction to other women, she won’t allow for it and neither do the writers which I find really interesting. Same thing goes for Emily on Pretty Little Liars. These homos are homo in and of themselves, not because their lives are horrible or they’ve been traumatized. They’re not experimenting with women through a few episodes only to date men exclusively and never talk about sexuality again once that storyline is over (as has been traditionally the case with lesbian and bi female characters). It has nothing to do with being edgy or controversial.

Their storylines are inherently gay. And I love it.

I love it because it’s so huge! To see a queer femme of colour on some of tv’s biggest shows is a huge victory (not that visibility alone is the be all end all or that it in and of itself changes the discrimination we face). That type of acknowledgement is still lacking from so many queer spaces/organizations that I participate in. Forget the representation bit, I know that it’s token in so many ways and that these characters don’t explicitly ever talk about race, but the presence of these characters themselves acknowledges my identity and experiences as real.

Seeking that type of acknowledgement from the mainstream is dangerous, I know, but I don’t think that I’m seeking it (feel free to challenge me on that). I rarely expect anything positive/awesome/anti-oppressive from the tv shows I watch. It’s just a pleasant surprise in the middle of getting my fix of drama, fashion and pop music. It’s like oh, hey, you know that I exist, well that’s new.

It’s huge because I feel like if I had these characters when I was a teenager, shit would’ve been a lot less confusing for me.

I wouldn’t have had to look to hetero/white folks on Dawson’s Creek. I would’ve seen myself in Emily, Maya and Santana.

That other younger queers of colour have the potential to do so is exciting to me.

The day I’m able to see queer folks of colour (of all genders and sexualities) on both mainstream tv and in alternative media, where we already represent ourselves, will be a fantastic day. I eagerly await seeing masculine women, butches, trans folk, gender queer and gender non-conforming people featured in horrible teen dramas.

Until then, I’m going to envision some type of amazing cross-over drama where Emily transfers to Ohio and becomes a Cheerio. Or, I’ll just keep watching and waiting.

Hells yeah.

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english vs. korean

posted by eunac

Technically, Korean is my “first” language although I am American born and raised. Before I went to school I learned Korean from my parents. In fact, watching my home videos from when I was a baby, I’m amazed at how much better I was at Korean then than I am now. Luckily, in middle school I was intensely interested in Korean culture, so I can communicate in, write in, and understand Korean fairly well. That being the case, something has always bugged me about English. We all know that in Azn culture, it is extremely important to show respect towards our elders and our language reflects that. There are formal and informal ways of saying the exact same thing. In English, however, that isn’t really the case. We say, “How are you?” to both our friends and our elders in the exact same way. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m simply stating that as a person who has grown up with Korean culture, it’s odd for me. I always feel like I’m being rude when I ask an older person a question and simply use the word “you” instead of… I don’t know, something more formal. However, I’ve noticed that in America the relationships between older and younger people are more easy-going than in Asia and the language could be a big factor into why that is. Perhaps youngsters feel more at ease with elders because we essentially speak in the same way to them as we would someone our own age. All I know is that I don’t necessarily feel comfortable when my friends’ parents tell me to call them by their first name or when I’m asking a teacher a question and I keep using the same “you” that I would use with a friend – it just seems rude to me, and that definitely ties back in with the culture and language differences. I often wonder why English doesn’t have more formal language. I’ve studied Spanish and French in school, and I know that those two languages have the same kind of formal language that Korean has (and I’m also sure that many other languages have formal language as well). So why doesn’t English?

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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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“the invazn” on cfrc!

posted by jroselkim

A bit of self-promotion here – but the invazn was featured on Kingston’s independent radio station CFRC’s “The Massive,” a program dedicated to anti-racism/anti-oppression issues, news, and underground music. One of the DJs hosting the show is a good friend, and she approached me after reading my piece “does it get better?”, and asked me if she could read it on the show. Of course, I said yes.

To access the clip, type in “2010/12/20” and “1900” in the time slot, on the CFRC Archives page.

My piece “does it get better (for women of colour)?” gets read out loud at 24:05 minutes. The rest of the program is great too, with other great spoken word clips on living as a woman of colour, and of course, awesome political music. Thanks again, The Massive! It was such an honour to hear my piece read out loud.

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ed lee to become the first azn-american mayor of san francisco

posted by kltw

As of 4:30 PST this afternoon, the Board of Supervisor for the city and county of San Francisco tabbed Azn-American Edwin Lee to be the interim mayor in the wake of the departure of the current mayor, Gavin Newsom, for the seat of Lieutenant Governor.  Ed Lee will be the first Azn-American mayor of San Francisco, who, along with the newly minted mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, signify the remarkable gains for Azn-Americans in Bay Area politics.  Both these mayors come from activist backgrounds, with Lee working with the Asian Law Caucus to fight for tenant rights in the 80’s and Quan fighting as a part of the Third World Liberation movement for the creation of Ethnic Studies.

Though Lee has a history of fighting for grassroots communities, his work as the city administrator has often put him in line with business interests and pitted him against organized labour, all factors which made him a key ally for the moderate, pro-business Newsom.  Only time will tell if his mayoral legacy will match his long term track record of protecting marginalized communities, or his more recent work as the city administrator.  In any case, it is exciting to see people of colour in major positions of power.

That is, enjoy it until we dismantle this hedgemonic hierarchical system.

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a christmas dinner unlike any other

posted by jroselkim

This is what Christmas dinner looked like at my parents’ house this year:

It’s called 감자탕 – a potato stew with…well, potatoes, cabbage, Korean chili sauce and beef, stewed together for almost an entire day. Yes, it’s delicious.

I remember feeling vaguely envious of my “white” friends, who got to eat turkeys and other “traditional” Christmas fare when I was in high school. I also know that my 16-year-old brother is going through a similar cycle of embarrassment, as he begins to escape family dinners in favour of A&W burgers. Part of me feels like giving him a stern lecture, but the wiser part of me knows that it will only drive him away further. What’s a sister to do, but just watch a younger sibling grow up and hope that he will one day realize that there is a world outside of this white suburbia?

What did your Christmas dinners look like?

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all white … what’s the deal?

posted by missmsian

Did they?!

(Photo courtesy The Daily Mail)

I feel like I’ve blogged about skin lightening before. Oh, wait … I have.

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invaded: november

posted by missmsian

I’ve been putting off a recap of Azns in North American media for November because I know I’ll have to bring up the ‘too Azn’ controversy and, frankly, I’m tired of it.

Azn invazn

In case you missed the whole shebang, Maclean’s published a story on Nov. 10 that Azns (they meant Chinese) were taking over campuses, creating ethnic ghettos (their words, not mine) and destroying fun for boozy white kids.

The article said elite U.S. schools like Harvard use unofficial race quotas to keep ambitious students of Azn descent out, in order to maintain their white heritage, and essentially suggested Canada do the same. The magazine published a second piece on Nov. 25 claiming they actually meant they wanted Canadian campuses to maintain merit-based admissions. Durrr.

The only good in this is that many groups committed to anti-racism have mobilized against not only Maclean’s (and the Toronto Star) but a lot of the discourse on Azn presence in Canada. Victoria city council passed a resolution condemning the Maclean’s article. Vancouver city council is set to vote on a motion demanding media accountability and ethical reporting in relation to the Maclean’s and Star pieces this week. Toronto city council is voting on a resolution that Orientals work like dogs next week. Just kidding. Or am I … ?

New eats

West Vancouver, how ya enjoying Osaka Supermarket? Recently opened by T&T Supermarket Inc., this store boasts 80 kinds of Japanese noodles … yum! The only slightly confusing part of the Vancouver Sun‘s story: “Osaka Supermarket will provide the ethnic Chinese food that has made its parent T&T Supermarket chain so successful, but it’s character will be Japanese-themed, as befits its name.” Huh? Do all Azn foods look the same too?

Soft white people

Edmonton now has an anti-racism program aimed at white people, teaching them how to recognize (and presumably choose to give up) their white privilege, much to the distress of, well, white people. Don’t call them racist, okay?! Their feelings are hurt. Boo hoo.

Celebrating David Lam

You may remember him as the first Azn-Canadian lieutenant governor, a highly successful real estate businessman, a philanthropist or founder of Vancouver’s dragon boat festival. But to Tung Chan, he was a friend and hero, and so we use Chan’s words to describe this powerhouse, who lost his battle to prostate cancer on Nov. 22:

“When he became LG, he showed the way to all of us, that you can maintain your cultural identity, you can continue to promote the good values of your heritage while maintaining and not compromising your Canadian-ness.”

An Azn Cosby Show?!

In a similar vein to ‘Azn Jersey Shore,’ U.S. producers are working on a show tentatively titled “The Chin Chens,” about a Chinese-Vietnamese-American family a la Cosby. Errr … thoughts on this?

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does it get better?

posted by jroselkim

I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up lately, especially growing up as a minority identity after watching Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project unfold. If I were influential enough to start a similar campaign for young girls of colour everywhere, would I be able to confidently tell them that it will in fact get better when they get to be 18, 22, or 35?

The truth is, life gets more complicated as one’s racial consciousness awakens, and the burden of being a visible minority never gets lighter.

In a way, perhaps it has the potential to get worse as we learn the ways of the world, about concepts like institutionalized racism. How can I express the feeling of betrayal and hopelessness I felt when it became crystal lear that racism is so embedded, so naturalized within society that we are trained to not see it, to self-hate and hate others for not being a blank slate?

How can I describe the fear I felt at reading about hate crimes targeted towards interracial couples that happened in Canada as recently as this summer?

How can I articulate the shame I felt about having an egg-and-ketchup sandwich at the age of 12, when these things mattered all the world, and couldn’t help but hate my own mother for trying, trying so hard, but failing to be “Canadian” like other mothers? How can I express my guilt and sadness for hating my parents for where they came from for so long?
I can’t.

So how should I go on, and how should we all go on? I have no answers, and I cannot, with good conscience, look at a camera and say confidently that life will get better.

But I can say this.

Dear young woman of colour,

I apologize that I have no real words of comfort for your future.

But please know that I understand:

every ounce of shame you’ve shed for feeling different
even though that person only was curious,
only had good intentions when he or she reminded you of your otherness.

I know

that you may question your motive for being attracted to someone who is
outside of your race
because if you may wonder
does he/she like me for me?
or my skin colour?

(and you’ll never know, or at least, never trust the answers)

And your friends and family may wonder out loud:
is she a traitor to her culture?
does she just want to move “up”?

And maybe you just want to give up because it’s easier
to follow everyone’s expectations;

you may not know what makes you happy anymore,

amongst mixed messages that say you should be both

obedient and integrated

but still

separate.

So,
I don’t know if it gets better

as you grow older, as you grow into the othered consciousness

that you express mostly through self-deprecation,

uncomfortable smiles

and distractions.

And I’m sorry that we may fail you in battling racism
that difference is (still) more or less a dirty word.

But please know that there are allies. Others who feel the same way as you do.

Of course, nobody feels the exact pain that you had. Do not let anybody tell you that they know exactly how you feel, and prescribe a solution.

More importantly: do not let anybody tell you that your emotions are not real. Never ever succumb to those that want to rationalize your legitimate hurt. Because if they succeed in doing that, they succeed in taking your history away. They succeed in quashing the uniqueness that makes you powerful, just so they could sleep better at night.

And please know that while life may not get so much better, it does get better when you can find your voice, and others like yours.

I still make do because other stories from women of colour opened my eyes to tell my own.

And your stories will inspire others that come later to continue fighting, and hopefully exist in a society where our skin colours, our cultures, and our languages are no longer a burdern

but just a part of you.

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