Monday, February 22, 2010

Hatred, Prejudice, and Freedom of Speech

Today, an old friend of mine in UCSD told me about a certain incident that occurred at his college where one of the fraternities held a frat party called "Compton Cookout" during Black History Month.
The invitation urged all participants to wear chains, rapper-style urban clothing by makers such as FUBU and speak very loudly. Female participants were encouraged to be "ghetto chicks" with gold teeth, cheap clothes and "short, nappy hair." The invitation said the party would serve watermelon, chicken, malt liquor, cheap beer and a purple sugar-water concoction called "dat Purple Drank."
In this college, black students only compose 1.8% of the entire student population and when they protested against the party, a student magazine called the Koala commented by saying that the black students are "the ungrateful n****** who were not thankful for the party that was thrown in their cause". Later, this was taken down and replaced with a less racist but still hostile message: "The Koala would like to condemn the organizers of the Compton Cookout.  If history has shown us anything, you need more black people at your party to have enough black-on-black violence to actually justify the  name "Compton."  Shame on you.  SHAME."

Looking through the website and immediately noticing one of their covers with the title of "Night of the Horny Asians" and a picture of dead Haitian children, I can immediately say that for a student magazine, this has got to be one of the most tasteless, offensive, and insensitive magazines I have seen that is distributed to students, funded by the college administration. People who actually find this funny at the expense of other people's ethnicities and gender infuriates the crap out of me and makes my blood boil. Though I'm growing older and hopefully wiser, I'm still a hothead and it takes a considerable amount of effort to calm myself down and be rational when I come across racist ish like this.

There have been several UCSD students that have mobilized to take action against the Koala magazine and many are in favor of shutting the magazine down completely, while others are requesting that the school stop funding the magazine altogether. As much as I want this magazine to go away from the face of this planet, we are in a country where the First Amendment grants us the freedom to say whatever the hell we want, as stupid/ignorant/hate-filled it may be.

But the First Amendment guidelines aren't so simple. You can't yell "FIRE" in a public facility nor can you publicly declare that you want to assassinate the President. These things will immediately get you in serious trouble. However, the KKK can rally in a neighborhood even if nobody wants them there, anti-abortionists can wave around bloody fetus dolls...and the Koala can make the former statement mentioned above.

While universities and colleges are designed for students to grow and learn in a conducive, open environment, it becomes an issue when student-run publications and organizations can do the opposite and target a specific minority and express their belligerent ignorance and hatred. Do these people have the right to do that and make students (in this case, the black students in UCSD) feel like they don't belong?

In my honest opinion, they do.

Yet when I say that, I am grinding my teeth because as a person of color and as an Asian American, ignorance and prejudice are no strangers to me. When you are a minority group that is underrepresented and have no voice, it is hard for anyone to take you seriously. More often than not, you are chastised and told to have a sense of humor and learn to take jokes. We are in a country that is broiled with systematic and personal racism and as such, the topic of race and racism still ignites strong emotions from people. More often than not, people are tired of talking about race and would like to sweep it under the rug. As easy and convenient that may be, sweeping your mess under the rug will not solve anything because you still have that mess.

If there is something great to be learned from our past, as murky and troubled as it may be, the greatest leaders who have effected change in the face of hatred did so not with anger or violence. They did it with kindness, the kind made of unyielding determination. The haters have the right to say what they want but our responsibility is not to give in to what they want and react with violence or insist that they have no right to express their opinion. Because once we do that, we are setting ourselves up on a dangerous slippery slope. We will be no better than they are.

Not too long ago at the College of William & Mary, the college that I graduated from, a student brought a Serbian nationalist speaker to present a lecture declaring that all Muslims are violent and incapable of love. The fact that the student brought such an outrageous speaker infuriated many of the W&M students. These infuriated students at W&M reacted in the same manner as the students are doing in UCSD; to shut this speaker down and prevent him from talking. Emotions were high and these students did not realize that they were only fueling the fire to what the speaker believed in. And as such, the hard truth of the matter is that this speaker had the right to say whatever he wanted, as hate-filled and ignorant as it may be.

To this day, the matter in which this speaker was dealt with makes me proud to be a W&M alumni.

After much debate, the Muslim Student Association in my college decided that the best response was not through anger but with tolerance and love. They got together and baked heart-shaped cookies and cake for the speaker. In addition, they brought Professor Tamara Sonn, a beloved professor extremely knowledgeable in Islam to be their spokesperson. As the speaker ate the cookies and cake quietly, the meeting began. The speaker made his points about how devoid of love Muslims are and Professor Sonn responded back with knowledge of Islam that exceeded his. It was clear to see that she effectively made the speaker look like a fool for every ignorant "facts" that the speaker provided. While the speaker didn't leave the room a changed man, the victor of the debate was obvious. This was quite possibly one of the most effective counters I have seen when dealing with hatred and ignorance.

If people have the right to use the First Amendment and spread their hate and ignorance, then we must use the First Amendment back to counter their hate with knowledge and love.

Fight ignorance with knowledge. Fight hatred with love.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Vincent Chin and his Unintended Gift

Today, I was able to catch a screening of Curtis Chin's "Vincent Who?" at the UCLA School of Law and to make sure I would make it to the screening on time, I left two hours in advance but thanks to my terrible driving, atrocious traffic at the 405, and my unfamiliarity with the UCLA campus, what should've taken 25 minutes ended up taking two hours.

Why did I really want to make it to the screening on time? Back when I was at the College of William & Mary, my professor and mentor, Francis Tanglao-Aguas, showed his class the documentary "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" Before watching this movie, I had no idea who Vincent Chin was.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Being honest with one's own racism

Everyone's a little bit racist
Doesn't mean we go
Around committing hate crimes.
Look around and you will find
No one's really color blind.
Maybe it's a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.

- Avenue Q

Two days ago, as I was driving through downtown L.A. with my friend, I locked my doors randomly when we were going through Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. My friend looks at me and asked, "Eddy, did you just lock your doors when you saw those two thug-looking black people walk across the street?"

"...Fuck me. You're right, I DID lock my doors right after I saw them."

"Eddy, you're so RACIST."

"Damn. This is something I need to think about."

And so for the past two days, I have been thinking about the issue of racism, one of the few topics in the world that can reduce the most rational and sensible people into furious and blubbering savages. In this day and age, it has become uncool to be racist and whenever anyone implies that another person is racist or has racist intentions, the other person will react in such violent force and defend how non-racist they are.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Being a "kyopo" in Los Angeles Koreatown

UPDATE: So apparently I'm not moving to K-town anymore as a friend of mine in LA needed a roommate in her area in Santa Monica. I gotta be honest, about a ton's worth of stress was lifted off my shoulders when I learned that I didn't have to live in a rough, overly crowded neighborhood while being oh so lonely in a boarding house.


I have taken the initiative upon myself to live in Koreatown for at least the next 3-6 months and experience the unique Korean-American lifestyle that is offered here. Today, my friends took me to the K-Town area to check out this permitted boarding house called the Prime Guest House where you get your own furnished room and includes cable tv, utilities, bathroom, shower, heating/AC, laundry services, and they even make breakfast and dinner for you. Granted, it has many disadvantages (you obviously can't host parties here and they are very iffy with having a guest stay over) but it's the perfect place to at least get acquainted with the chaotic lifestyle that is downtown Los Angeles. Being in the boarding house felt like I was in Seoul and when you step outside and smell the Korean BBQ cooking right down the street, you can't help but feel like a piece of Korea is here with you.

I like it that all I need to do is move in there with my body and my luggages. While I can easily find a roommate here in Los Angeles, there is a part of me that calls for the need to move into this boarding house by myself and be surrounded by Koreans. If I really think about it, I think my body is telling me that I need to experience the Korean immigrant lifestyle, to at least get a feel what it's like for the men and women who come to America to start a new life. I know that I want to be here because I want to badly reclaim the Korean language and the only possible place I can do that in LA is here in K-town.

I know it's gonna be lonely, though, living in this area.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The HanSarang Movement

Han Sarang.

It is a Korean word that means "One Love" and it is a word that's been a part of me for the past several months.

This blog is taking a new direction with the new name change. From "Asiamerican Pride" to "The HanSarang Movement", the change reflects a bigger idea that is more than just being proud of my Asian American heritage and writing about solely Asian American matters. But at the same time, by using a Korean word for "One Love", I am maintaining my roots as an Asian American  and the passion I have for APA activism.

As such, the blog will still be heavily focused on APA matters but will slowly expand its horizons to include all international matters that deals with the beauty of what it means to be human as well as the ignorance, prejudice, and hatred we as people face because of our differences that makes us so beautiful. It is a fight that will always be a part of me but I know that there is a much bigger picture at hand, the desire to truly understand others in their own light and terms, and to pursue social justice for all. I know I am tackling on even bigger things but it's time to step up my game.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The City of Angels

It hasn't quite hit me that I'm actually here in Los Angeles now. After what seemed to be a lifetime of waiting, 2/1/2010 arrived and I took off from my home of Williamsburg, VA. In the weeks prior to that momentous day, I got rid of the things I didn't need and packed my entire life into two suitcases, a guitar, a violin, and a backpack. I said aloha to my dear friends, as I don't believe in "goodbyes" since "goodbye" is a word that has only one singular meaning in the English language. But if there is a goodbye, it is to Williamsburg, VA.

Who would've thought that this quaint little town would be responsible for making a pivotal turning point in my life? It was here where I met the people who have become my pamilya, my aa'elah, my family. It was these people that showed me how to love myself, my skin color, my ethnicity...the people who have inspired me to love others fiercely and to fight for what is right. I will forever remember that it was here that I found my salvation and my life-long passion, and that is something I will never forget.

It was unusual that I did not feel frightened or nervous about coming to Los Angeles. As soon as I arrived at the LAX airport and even during the hours before that, I had a very strange feeling that I was meant to come to this place. Heavier than the luggages I brought with me, I brought with me the passion to fight for a more just, accurate, and humane depictions of people in media representation, and to forever learn and appreciate the differences that makes us people unique yet never forget the common ties that we all share. What better place than Los Angeles, the city where people of all backgrounds come to make their dreams come true, the melting pot that led to the high boiling eruption of the '92 LA riots...the utopia and dystopia of America.

There are so many things to do here. There are so many people to meet. Already I have met like-minded individuals in this city who feel the way I feel, who fight the battles that I am fighting right now.

But right now, I'm gonna take it easy and enjoy my very first In N' Out burger.