Tuesday, February 28, 2012

many questions, no answers.

To think, "It could never happen here" is something we tell ourselves in times of distress in order to seek comfort and assurance. But safety and security are, unfortunately, things that are never guaranteed to us, and we should not take for granted the days we have that involve peace.

Yesterday morning, 17-year-old T.J. Lane opened fire at Chardon High School in the small community of Chardon, Ohio. Five students from the school, whose population is just over 1,000, were shot, and two have since passed away. (Update, 1:06 p.m.: a third student has reportedly just died.) Lane was a student at a nearby school.

It's unfortunate that it takes tragedies like this to urge people to reflect on larger issues at hand. Are there enough social services in our secondary schools to help and support our troubled students? What happens outside of the schools affects them as much as what happens inside of school too, and we have to ask ourselves whether teachers and administrators understand that and are adequately prepared and equipped to handle that. How can we ensure the safety and well-being of our children if we ignore the problems that affect their daily lives and, in turn, affect their performance inside the classroom. As it was noted during Jenny's and my reporting for NPR: it would be tough to be an expert at calculus while family problems tore apart the rest of life. While students are spending the majority of their days in school, they spend just as much time--if not more--dealing with problems at home, which inevitably trickle over into their school lives.

The shooting at Chardon High School recalls horrific memories for many of shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech. We have to ask ourselves also: what do we do? How do we respond?

Unfortunately, there is no answer to this that could address every person who feels compelled to act out with such violence. A Chardon student expressed this morning on the Today Show that he wished it would go away, and that it would be best to stop talking about it and hope that it dies down. It's an understandable desire--to wish it all away, but I think we need to talk about it (not sensationalize, but really talk). These tragedies are never easy to "make sense of," but what discussions can achieve are communal healing, messages to society to take note of what we may be ignoring, and an examination of how we treat others. After all, we have to remember: this wasn't a gunman; he is still a child.

And, unfortunately, there is no way to know if your child is safe when you send him or her off to school in the morning--which is terrifying. Just listening to the emotional addresses by the Chardon superintendent and the county sheriff, you can hear how deeply this shooting has hurt the community. Even in what feels like the safest of places, there is no way to know if you'll be safe. There's no way to know if the people you love will be safe. Joan Didion notes the uncertainty best in The Year of Magical Thinking: "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

Hug your kids. Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents and cousins and friends and partners. If there's one thing we should all remember, it's to never take our loved ones for granted.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

will you be my role model?

I love YouTube. There, I said it: an official endorsement. I don't care if it's sometimes littered with crap and offensive vlogs: I love that it gives your Average Joes and Janes a platform to express their opinions, show off their talents (shout out to Kris!), and provide you a window into their worlds (that sometimes involve cute kittens and puppies).

What's even better is when YouTube opens the door to a conversation that deserves some discussion, and there's a topic that's been surfacing in the media lately thanks to Jeremy Lin and the Linsanity craze: where are the Asian Americans?

The "invisible minority" label has never been more apparent. What we see is an astonishing lack of representation in the mainstream media and, more unfortunately, an unconscious anti-Asian sentiment that runs beneath the conversation. Saturday Night Live covered it best last week during the show's cold opening during a mock game recap in which three anchors made plenty of jokes about Asian Americans, but when one anchor tries to make a joke about African Americans, he's immediately stopped.

If you take a sweeping look at Asian American characters on network television, you'll be hard pressed to find a character that doesn't fit a stereotype (Sandra Oh is the definition of the "overachieving Asian" stereotype--at least, she was before the Grey's writers began writing her OOC storylines2 Broke Girls has taken heat for its portrayal of Asians with Matthew Moy's character; Jenna Ushkowitz and Harry Shum, Jr. are the definition of "invisible" in Glee, and Shum's character even came packaged with your typical--albeit well-written and acted--"strict Asian dad" storyline this season).

Back to my original YouTube praise: enter Wong Fu Productions, an independent production company started by friends/dormmates Wesley Chan, Ted Fu and Philip Wang in 2003 at UC San Diego. They've worked with big names in the APIA community, from Glee's Shum to Far East Movement, and they have over a million subscribers on their YouTube channel.

I've always been a big fan of Wong Fu (see Spencer the Bear!) and was excited to see them take a stab at a television pilot on their YouTube channel: "Home is Where the Hans Are" is a four-part webisode in which a Caucasian guy comes home after an extended period abroad to meet his new stepfamily...who turn out to be Chinese.

"The idea of HANS was among a few that we pitched them, but the concept came about because we thought, why has there not been a show on tv with an Asian family?" Wong Fu writes on their website. "There are African Americans, Hispanics, why not Asian? Without getting into the politics, we decided to create a story that melded the two cultures, in an effort to make seeing Asians in not such a strange light as the general TV audience might see it."
The best part of "Home is Where the Hans Are" is that it doesn't try to ignore the fact that the Hans are Chinese (if you listen carefully to the dialogue, there are mentions of customs that might seem odd to those not familiar with Chinese customs, i.e. red envelope money), but it doesn't blow up stereotypes. It's nice to see Randall Park as Andrew not play a "high expectations Asian father." Even with Patrick, the youngest son, you don't feel as if he's boxed into the "smart Asian kid" stereotype at all. Ellen and Patrick are peers I recognize--in myself and in my ABC friends.

Autographed Wong Fu print, a Christmas present from Na in 2009!
"Home is Where the Hans Are" is not without its flaws (some of the more cliche lines led to awkward transitions and exchanges), but it's a series I'd love to see taken further. With the rise of the Lin phenomenon, second-generation APIA kids are finally getting the chance to see someone "like them" achieve mainstream success, which gives them a role model they may not have had before. I know how much I would've liked to have had an Asian American role model growing up in the media that wasn't so obviously boxed into a stereotype (Power Rangers, anyone?), and how much that would've helped me to really embrace and appreciate my cultural background.

Friday, February 17, 2012

a brief note.

We interrupt the usual commentary and ranting to bring you something short, sweet and simple:

It is strange to live in a city that is so densely packed with people, yet feel so incredibly isolated on the subways, in Starbucks, at the poorly-designed Trader Joe's on 72nd. I find the more I spend sitting on a packed and dirty train, the more I withdraw to connect in a different way, one that I've always cherished and loved: letter writing.

Writing letters on the subway is much like writing in my diary on family road trips. The writing is uneven and it is obvious to the reader when you've hit a bump in the road. The thoughts in it are rambling and loose, and it's less about the noise around you distracting you as it is about the noise around you inspiring you.

"There's a man across from me reading a leatherbound text," I scribbled in a recent letter. "I wonder how many times he's read that book." And then the observation launches into a deeper connection, and it feels natural, candid, real.

I used to think exchanges like this were lost without snail mail as abundant as it once was. But email exchanges, I've found since relocating across the country, can be just as rewarding and deep, as can instant messages--as evidenced by a recent chat with Jason as we worked and pondered life, the universe and everything.

What all of these things represent is a mutual need to share with one another the details of your life beyond "what did you eat today?" and "how much coffee have you had?" Perhaps there is no need to share these details anymore since we give them up so freely on Facebook and Twitter.

Anyways, carry on.