New Ways To Fight For Social Justice

February 21, 2009 at 8:14 am | Posted in Ford Fellow, Youth | Leave a comment

Days of student sit-ins and large protests are not long gone but are few and far between. While we often associate fighting for social justice and civil rights with images from the Civil Rights era, images of homemade posters and signs, folks walking hand-in-hand, groups of unarmed civilians faced with billy clubs, tear gas and shields, we are now well into a new era of expression and protest.

Especially with the latest presidential election—where hip-hop artists and spoken-word poets invaded television screens and your personal computers—it is obvious that there are new ways to fight social justice. The mass media has taken on a new turn, where messages are no longer most-effectively delivered through television or radio, but through the Internet.

Take, for example, the “Yes We Can” video released onto Youtube in early 2008. The video has over 1.3 million views and is a conglomeration of different voices found across Hollywood, and likely America. The voices range from that of Will.I.Am, John Legend, and Kate Walsh from “Private Practice;” there’s even a message communicated in American Sign Language.

While music has long been used as a way to move people (think Bob Dylan), spoken word has taken up popularity with shows like Def-Jam and poets utilizing the free World Wide Web to get their art form and message across the globe. Look at Kelly Tsai’s video, “Black White Whatever,” which addresses the necessity of breaking from the usual black-white binary used to discuss race relations in the US.

Or what about the movie “V for Vendetta,” starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, based on the graphic novel? It’s not just a movie where you can see Natalie Portman shave her head, but it’s also a movie that calls upon citizens to evaluate their individual roles in society. Of course, you may have missed that message if you only thought that the movie was simply a movie—nothing more, nothing less.

Our generation is not simply drawn to media that challenges us to think about this, that, and the other related to our status in society and in the world–we demand it. We crave for spoken word poets like Talib Kweli, hip-hop artists like Common, actors and actresses, directors and filmmakers, theatre groups like Second City, to name a few.

Surely performance art is not everyone’s forte, but it does scream the message that you need to find where you fit in, where you can best fight for social justice. Not everyone is able to pick up a microphone and move a nation, but there is something that you are good at that will contribute to the cause.

Into technology? Help non-profits utilize the Internet, Excel, and other programs to become more efficient, effective, and relevant.

Like to cook? Volunteer at a soup kitchen or look for groups like “Cooking with Kids” to give some time to growing minds and tummies.

See yourself being in school forever? Participate in research, look for faculty members that inspire you to use your academics for the betterment of society, and become one of the professors who has that crazy adjunct-tenure position.

Bottom line – there is a place for you. That place is doing what you do best with the purpose of “doing good.” If you are still having trouble, let’s chat.


Remembrance Plaza: Hurt, Heal, Hope, Honor

February 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Generations of Americans came to the former site of the Pinedale Assembly Center in Fresno, Calif., on Monday, to remember and respect the legacy of the Japanese American community during World War II and the subsequent redress of injustice.

The dedication capped off the three-day Tri-District JACL Conference, which featured panel discussions with former internees, the coram nobis legal team and those involved in the legislation of H.R. 442, seeking redress for the internment of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Excerpts from Secretary Norman Y. Mineta’s Keynote Address:

  • They came from all walks of life, but they all shared the common experience of having their lives disrupted and their freedoms removed simply because of their race.
  • It required willingness to confront the mistakes of the past and force some to confront their own life awareness of what happened here, and it took more than 45 years.
  • Forty-five years in which we slowly but steadily educated our fellow Americans about our story. Forty-five years in which we saw the ranks of our allies and friends continually grow, our numbers stronger each and every year until the day the Congress of the United States formally apologized for those injustices that we had faced with president Ronald Reagan signing that apology into law.
  • I have had many moments in my life for which I am grateful beyond my ability to adequate describe…September 17, 1987, it was on that day after years of work as part of the Japanese American community and our friends, that the United States House of Representatives took up the bill to redress the injustice of the internment.
  • The debate lasted much of that day and it was not easy for many of us to watch. The House at that time had a number of members who vividly remembered the opening days of World War II and a number who defended the internment as a necessary action as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, something that we all recognized was a great threat to our great nation.
  • But as I look back on that day, I have to say that I am glad they were there because it gave us the opportunity to actually respond to those arguments and to respond to those fears. It gave us the opportunity to have an honest debate about the internment, and at the end of that day, it gave us the opportunity to vote.
  • September 17, 1987, is significant for another reason. It was the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution of the United States of America. History will record that the United States House of Representatives observed the bicentennial anniversary of the Constitution by debating the meaning of the Bill of Rights, and history will also record that in doing so, this time, the House voted to get it right.
  • This memorial is about much more than what happened here in Fresno, it is about much more than what happened in the 1940s, this memorial also tells the story of what happened after.
  • Pinedale was like Santa Anita, a kind of weigh station. The memories that were forged here in 1942 are bitter ones, of that there is no doubt. They must be remembered, as others have mentioned, and thanks to this memorial they will be. But equally importantly is the understanding of how far we have come as a nation. There are many people who even to this day look at the commemoration of the internment and the injustices that we suffered as a people as somehow unpatriotic, less than American but what those people do not understand that nothing could be further from the truth.
  • This country has made light-years of progress beyond where it was in 1942. It is progress that all of us are deeply, deeply proud, but progress cannot be properly understood without reference to the past. In other words, you cannot understand how far you have come if you do not remember where you have been.
  • And this memorial tells the story of a community that has suffered terrible and heartbreaking discrimination but it reminds us all as well of what happened next. It tells the story of a people who never stopped loving their country, and who never stopped working to make it the nation that it could be.
  • It reminds us of the fact that Americans of Japanese ancestry are one of the smallest minorities in this great country, and that redress for injustice of the internment, could not have been accomplished by our votes, and our voices alone. It was accomplished by the dedicated support of our fellow Americans from all walks of life: white, black, Latino, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhism, men, women, gay, and straight. All of whom came to see us as fully American and who then poured their hearts into the effort to redress the wrongs that were done so long ago.
  • Many of you who are here today will visit this site in future years and your children will visit this site as well, and when they do so, remind them that while this memorial reflects on a time of great injustice, it’s most fundamental purpose is to show how far we have come. As I said, you cannot appreciate where you are if you do not understand and remember where you have been.

Not Fun and Games

February 5, 2009 at 5:51 am | Posted in Ford Fellow | Leave a comment

Yesterday a photo of teen pop star Miley Cyrus and her friends pulling back their eyes was made public. This photo marks yet another group of individuals who probably didn’t think before they made the gesture–remember the Spanish Basketball Team? Comments left on articles reporting the photo and press releases denouncing such actions, cited similar reasons for why Miley Cyrus and her friends should not be “punished”: they are just kids having fun, doing what everyone else is doing.

On any other subject, I would stay more neutral and ask thought-provoking questions. However, on this subject, I am putting my opinion on the table.

Personally, I’m tired of these reasons. It makes me sick to think that people out there seriously believe that these things are okay.

Fun and games” is not a valid reason to denigrate a group of people for a physical trait over which they do not have control. Being young and thoughtless doesn’t make it okay to participate in such racial gestures. Sure, 16-year-olds do a lot of stupid things: underage drinking, speeding, jumping into freezing lakes and rivers, sitting on rooftops, etc.

Should she apologize? Um, yes!

She’s a public figure, a role model of sorts. If her fans see her participate in this behavior, they may think it is okay for them to do it. OR if her Asian American fans see this, they’ll feel like they stick out, like they don’t belong. Does anyone remember the controversy over her scandalous photos last year? How many parents were mad at that? She’s just being a kid, right? YES, there are 16-year-olds that you and I know who take stupid pictures like that and often, they get reprimanded for it. Why should Miley Cyrus be any exception? If anything, she should feel more responsibility to uphold a positive image for young girls.

Just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t make it right. Speaking to your common sense, just because everyone else is jumping off a bridge, would you too? What if everyone was smoking pot, would you take a hit? Or beating up a poor kid because of his or her skin color? What about denying admission or aid to a group of people because they are “model minority” or because every other higher education institution is also doing it?

Maybe other people do not understand because they have not experienced it – so let me tell you about my experience. As a child, I remember being harassed by my “fellow” classmates who pulled back their eyes and called “ching, chong, chink” to my face. These experiences hurt – I wished my eyes had a double fold and were not almond-shaped. I wished that I wasn’t Chinese so that no one would make fun of me. Growing up, I never saw any Asian representation in teen magazines and saw, on multiple occasions, random people pulling their eyes back at me. These experiences caused personal identity issues, lower self-esteem and almost a sense of self-hatred. Of course, I don’t think that I am unique in this experience. (Note: Good thing I didn’t see any of the Spice Girls pulling back their eyes…otherwise, who knows where I would be.)

It still makes my blood boil when people blatantly say that whoever is upset needs to “get over it.” To that, I respond: YOU get over it. YOU who have had the privilege to live a life represented by the majority and the popular. YOU who think that minority experiences are invalid because in America we are all Americans. YOU who think that pulling back your eyes is equated to being “stoned.” YOU get over it and see that these experiences are not acceptable – these gestures are not tolerated.

Call to action: I read some comments that basically said “I’m Asian (or part-Asian) and I’m not offended.” Well, great – good for you that you didn’t have to experience such harassment. But speak for yourself and not for the entire group. Realize that individuals in your generation and generations before you have suffered severe consequences from these thoughtless actions. Speak for them that this is not okay, even if it doesn’t personally offend you.

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