Saturday, June 28, 2008

No wonder it seemed long

Two weeks ago, I was surprised by a message left on my answering machine. I had just come home from work and was tossing a few groceries into the refrigerator as I listen to the mystery messages. The bridal store was calling. I figured it was simply an update of my predicted gown delivery date. Part of me wondered if there was some change I'd have to worry about. Instead, I was happily surprised to hear they had received my gown and would be shipping it to me shortly.

Wow! That's six weeks early! I was pretty impressed and rather anxious to see the gown. And sure enough, just four days later, I eyed a long, cardboard box resting against my front door. I dragged it into the kitchen and took a photo with my digital camera to mark the momentous occasion.

Given that it was dusk and I was standing in dim, fluorescent light, I must say I was a little horrified by the color of the dress. I had ordered ivory thinking that it would simply look off-white. On the floor of the kitchen, however, it looks more cream than white. The yellowness was a big disappoint, and I questioned whether I had made a major miscalculation.

On the other hand, I was still very happy with my choice. I love the style of this dress, chiffon, beading, embroidery and all. It's more princessy than I would have imagined myself choosing, and yet, it was the most beautiful thing.

I immediately went upstairs to try it one. I was surprise to find that the gown was much longer than I had been led to believe it would fall. Since the skirt section has beading, we had very carefully discussed how it would be altered without destroying more embroidery than necessary. The plan was to remove the bottom trim and bare chiffon areas, but the length would stop just below the begin of the embroidery. In this case, with more than four inches dragging on the ground, I saw that the embroidery would have to be cut into. What had gone wrong with the calculations?

I fretted for many days over the dress. I love it, but felt like I was going to be in for some tough decisions and alterations more complicated than I had imagines. Thinking this might take more time, I immediately set up a consultation with an alterations person for the following weekend.

This past Wednesday, I got a random call on my cell phone. I didn't recognize the area code. The woman on the phone said she was from the bridal store. In my mind, I figured she was following up to check that I had received the gown. You know, good customer service.

"Hi, this is xxxx from the bridal store. How are you?"

"Good, and how are you doing?"

With some hesitation, "not so good this morning. I wanted to ask if you have your gown?"

"Yes," now feeling suspicious and curious, "I've tried it on twice but it's actually sitting in the box right now."

"Oh good. I'm afraid there's been a slight error. It's hard to believe, but you and another woman both happened to order the same dress in the same color during the same week. The only difference was the length of the gown, she ordered the standard size and you have the shorter length. I'm afraid I made a mistake and sent you her gown. When the other woman called about her dress, the manufacturer said they'd already sent the dress to me. That's when I realized I had made the mistake. Since hers is a standard length, it was much faster to make. Your gown is considered a special order."

"Oh, okay. I guess that explains why it seemed a bit long."

Awkward pause. "I wanted to ask if you've done anything with your gown such as alterations?"

"No, not yet. I was actually going to take it for alterations this weekend."

"Thank goodness. Can I ask you to send the dress back to me?"

"Uh, sure."

"I'll go ahead and send you a UPS shipping label and you can use that to send it back."

"Okay, that means I'll probably drop it off at UPS on Saturday."

"Oh, great, that's wonderful. I really apologize for the mistake. I'll call and double check on when yours is expected to arrive."

Once I hung up the phone, I couldn't help but laugh. I mean, what else are you supposed to do in this kind of situation. It was nice having the dress early, but the length was certainly not ideal. She's just lucky I took good care of the dress and hadn't altered it yet. Who would have imagined this could happen!

I dropped off the dress after running some errands this morning. It's kind of sad not to have it here. I really want to see my dress. At least I got to match up my shoes before sending it off! :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Loving Day

The never ending saga for Asian men is interesting to read here. I know I've had many male friends complain, complain, complain about how unfair the dating world is for them. Even here on the West coast where the Asian density is significantly higher than the national average, it seems Asian men struggle to earn an image that accurately describes their capabilities and personality.

Yul is probably one of the few "pure" Asian men who was able to publicly break the mold. Most of the "Asian" men who end of earning any sex symbol status are usually happas. It's really sad how much the American expectation and stereotypes have affected the confidence and self-esteem of good-hearted, caring men.

I am definitely not a "sexy" Asian female (though Tim would say otherwise ;)). I would have to agree that American culture and Hollywood have definitely promoted the exotic female personna and it's not always a good thing.

I had briefly heard of the Loving verdict on interracial marriage. At first I thought it was just some story. After all, how strange is it that the person in the legal battle had the last name "Loving?" Given everything that's been happy with gay marriage rights in California, how come this example has not been more often mentioned as a landmark shift in legal acceptance and change in attitudes. How long would an expert say that it trly took for general society to accept what the law had already made part of "normal" society?

Opening the box

By Jeff Yang
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where race meets sex, angels fear to tread. Jeff Yang dives into Asian America's favorite taboo topic: interracial romance and the "gender divide."

I remember when, the week before I left for college, my parents sat me down to tell me about the facts of life. The lecture wasn't about sex — my father, a physician, was prone to oversharing the grosser aspects of human anatomy, so I was horrifyingly aware of the mechanical aspects of reproduction as early as elementary school. No, the wisdom they sought to impart related to the Theory of Dating Relativity. Which is to say: The more similar your partner is to you without actually being a blood relative, the better.

Children of close family friends? Perfect. If that's not possible, try someone whose parents are from the same hometown. Taiwanese is better than mainlander or Hong Konger, Chinese of any type is better than other Asians, but if you must stray outside of Greater China, focus on East Asia before Southeast or South Asia ... and so on and so on, in an ever-expanding series of concentric circles.

My parents weren't being racist (or at least not maliciously so): Their beliefs were shaped by the reality in which they were brought up, and the culture to which they'd immigrated. They'd seen the challenges faced by people in mixed relationships, and they wanted my sister and me to have an easier life. Things weren't easy for mixed couples in the 1970s, particularly among immigrant groups, where social networks were critical yet fragile, and most community support systems were contingent on "insider" versus "outsider" status.

But have things changed? With last week marking the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the landmark June 12, 1967 Supreme Court decision that upheld the right for men and women of different races to marry, it seemed like an appropriate time to explore that question.

Statistics support the notion that interracial relationships are on the rise in the Asian American community: Mixed couples represented over a quarter of all marriages among Asian Americans in 1980, and over a third of Asian American marriages in 2006. And interracial couples with Asian partners are increasingly depicted in movies, TV and other popular entertainment, to the point where their racial differences are often not even germane to their characters' storylines.

What many commentators have pointed out, of course, is that both the numbers and popular culture reflect a reality in which only half the Asian American community — the female half — are players. Call it the doubletake test: Seeing an Asian American woman with a non-Asian man is no longer noteworthy, but an Asian American man with a non-Asian woman still turns heads. That gender gap is reflected in interracial marriage statistics as well: According to the U.S. Census' 2006 update, 19.5 percent of Asian American women outmarry, compared with 7.2 percent of Asian American men. And that, to some, speaks volumes about the sexual desirability and social status of Asian men in America.

As blogger Dialectic wrote on the popular Asian American online forum TheFighting44s (where four out of the top five most popular posts relate to interracial relationships): "If heterosexual white male patriarchy and what it did in the world were not so powerful, I think it would be fair to say that Asian American women and men would be 'out-dating' or 'out-marrying' at similar rates, and that we wouldn't elevate whites, denigrate ourselves, or worry about whether we're sexually and personally worthy of others to nearly the same extent that we do now."

Lover of another color

That's what makes it so intriguing that a small but thriving subculture has emerged (where else?) online, of non-Asian women whose expressed romantic preferences are for Asian men. They're represented by communities like, a social networking site dedicated to celebrating "AM/XF" relationships — romances between Asian men and women of any background.

The site is no recent novelty; it's been around since 2004, and, having expanded dramatically from blog to forum to full-fledged social networking community, now has over 6,000 active registered members and a constant flow of lurkers. According to Tom C., the site's owner, about 60 percent of the site's 30,000 unique visitors per month are Asian males, with the rest being "females who admire them." The site isn't unique — Tom admits that there is a surprisingly large number of online communities dedicated to similar interests — but AznLover is among the oldest and largest, and distinguishes itself, its members assert, by not being focused on making romantic connections.

"It goes without saying that relationships happen here," says Tom. "But AznLover's real mission is to help debunk the common stereotypes associated with Asian males, to provide community between people with similar issues, questions and curiosities, and to foster interaction between females of all races and Asian males, so that they realize that, yes, they too are 'sought after items.'"

Some who sign up for the site are women already part of AM/XF couples, seeking to become more informed on the cultural and social issues that they're confronting, and to connect with females in a similar situation. Kristina Nicholas of Santa Cruz joined AznLover hoping to better understand her Japanese American fiance: "We'd just become engaged, and I was looking for other women in my situation to gain insight and even support for the challenges that might arise from marrying into a different culture," she says.

Others, like San Francisco resident Elizabeth M., joined the site hoping to make new friends (and more). "I joined the site to find like-minded individuals who understood my love of Asian men," says Elizabeth. "In the process, I feel like I've grown a lot as a person — I've learned from many people's experiences in travel and relationships, I've learned more about different cultures. And I feel like I've made a difference in helping people cross boundaries that most people don't discuss and aren't even aware of."

That includes psychological boundaries, like the ones faced by Melissa Palmer, an AznLover from Detroit, MI who calls herself a "white chick from the whitest-white background imaginable." "My vast knowledge of the Asian male was based on John Hughes movies and influenced by the regional racism toward Japanese at the time, so I'd already made my decision regarding Asian men; I just wasn't attracted to them," she says. "But fast forward to the near present: What started as a friendship with a Chinese male grew into love. One day, it all came flooding out — we admitted to each other that the pull was there. God, I love that day!"

For Asian American men, AznLover feels like a kind of parallel dimension, where their status is inverted: Rather than being exiled to the margins, Asian males are at the center of this particular universe; not just "accepted," but revered. "I love the fact that people on the site acknowledge the beauty in Asian men," says Harry Li, a Malaysian American member living in Texas. "Society still makes women feel self-conscious about saying they like Asian features, or particularly, Asian guys, so even if they do, they won't let their attraction out in public. At AznLover, we all know why we're there — we share a common bond, in that one group has the qualities, physical and otherwise, that the other appreciates."

The politics of desire

Appreciation can be a double-edged sword, of course. Being rejected is problematic, but so is being objectified. "There's a type of privilege in being sexually desirable, but that can come at a cost," says Carmen Van Kerkhove, proprietor of and host of the podcast "Addicted to Race." "Asian women have been dehumanized by being put on a pedestal, and I'm wary of the same thing happening to Asian men. Some guys may roll their eyes and say, it'll take a long time to get to that point, but there's a fine line you have to tread in not trading one set of racist assumptions for another." (That's something that's long been an issue in the LGBT community, where activists have long protested the exotic imagery that pervades the depiction of Asian men — imagery all too similar to how Asian women have historically been stereotyped in mainstream media.)

And objectification, meanwhile, is a two-way street: There's also the question of whether some Asian men who seek to level the romantic playing field are less motivated by racial justice than male entitlement: the desire to jump to the top of the social totem pole by bagging sexual big game. "I do find it disturbing that some of the more extreme views I've seen are focused less on social equality than on Asian men attaining the same set of privileges as white males, whom they see as having the pick of women," says Van Kerkhove.

The "pick of women" generally has its own racial dimension. As Alicia Powell, a 24-year-old, black female AznLover member says, "I think Asian men are brainwashed to want white women. And it's too bad, because I'm attracted to Asian men, and I think black female / Asian male couples are beautiful. It's messed up that many Asian American men dismiss women of other races. But they see stereotypes of black women in the media, and they see white women depicted as glamorous, so that's what they think is right for them."

Honeybee love

If the central concern of Asian American men were truly equality and universality rather than social status, Asian male/black female couplings would seem to be natural, given that the black community has its own gender disparity in outmarriage rates — in the other direction: Black men are twice as likely as black women to have a nonblack spouse. Yet statistics show that "Asian man/black woman" is the least common of all interracial combinations, representing less than 0.01 percent of all marriages in the United States — a total of just 6,000 couples across the entire country.

That's led some people to call for an active love connection between these two underrepresented romantic populations. In April, New York sex, dating and relationships columnist Twanna Hines decreed in a hilarious (and much quoted) post on her blog FunkyBrownChick that it was "time for the Asian American male community to get down with the brown."

"My inspiration for the post was a friend back in Chicago, who was always completely against dating anyone who wasn't black, period," says Hines. "I'd invite her to parties, and because my friends are such a diverse bunch of people, she'd always ask me first, 'Well, are any men whom I'd want to date going to be there?' Which was a code word for black men. Anyway, she called me up, and began the conversation, 'Guess what? I have a new boyfriend ... and he's Chinese.' And it really got me thinking, hey, if even Karen's doing it, maybe she's on to something. Maybe we're seeing the beginnings of a trend."

Maybe Hines is right: Small but vibrant informal social networks are springing up, like the "Black Woman and Asian Men Interracial Connections" group on Meetup; "Asian Men that love Black Women" on Facebook; and the Yahoo group "Asian Men Who Love Black Women" — which suggests in its introduction that "As the number of (available) Asian women and black men declines, the Asian man is left without a pool of wife material. The black woman is in the same category. It is only natural that the two should seek each other out to form a loving relationships."

Pop equals hot equals sexy

Ultimately, however, it's hard to see these disparities as being anything but temporary — and local. Any sexual imbalances that exist due to the unique alchemy of sex, race and class in the United States fade in the face of a globalized world; one in which the playing field is different, and so are the players and rules. In the Caribbean, for instance, intermarriages between black women and Asian men are relatively common. In fact, asserts AznLover member David Nghiem, a globetrotter who recently completed an epic bicycle trip across the entire length of Latin America, "Outside of the 'anglosphere' — North America, England, Australia and New Zealand — things are completely different. Asian men are in general seen as dateable, sexy and interesting. Most of the world has their own media, in their own languages and subtleties, and Hollywood's attempts to spread stereotypes about Asian men and their sexuality literally stops at the anglosphere's edge, simply because the rest of the world doesn't understand it and doesn't care."

There are, after all, billions of Asian men in Asia, and in the pop culture coming out of Japan, Korea, China and India — the pop culture that increasingly rules the universe — their sexual desirability is hardly in question. As the balance of economic and social power shifts outward beyond America's borders, the political aspects of race and romance inevitably become secondary to the personal. Which points the way to a new Grand Unified Field Theory of Dating, if you will, which I'll have ready for my sons when I send them off to college: Date whoever the hell you want, and stop worrying so much about what it means.

Susan Del Vecchio, a 31-year-old AznLover member in a long-term committed relationship with a San Jose-based Vietnamese American she met on the site, agrees. "I think people overthink and overanalyze the nature of romance," she laughs. "I grew up in a little 200-person town in Missouri, where there wasn't an Asian person for hundreds of miles. But even as I was growing up I found myself preferring guys with dark hair, who had certain kinds of features. Once I got out and started to see the world, I narrowed my tastes down, and by the time I hit my 20s, I found myself only going out with Asian guys. It was a purely aesthetic choice: I just think Asian men are beautiful. And if you don't, too bad. As I used to say back in my dating days, 'That just means more men for me!'"

For interracial couples of all backgrounds and combinations, June 12, the anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision, marks the day that made the consummation of their love possible. It's no wonder, then, that there are those who think it should be a day for rejoicing. Ken Tanabe, a graphic designer and biracial issues advocate living in Brooklyn, has been working for the past four years to do just that.

"My father is Japanese and my mother is Belgian," says Tanabe. "I first encountered the Loving case purely by accident. I was Googling something unrelated and it came up; I couldn't believe I had never heard of it. I was a good student, yet I never learned about it in school. And to me, the case was up there with Brown v. Board of Ed. The laws that Loving v. Virginia struck down could have easily prevented my own existence."

Inspired by the grassroots efforts that led to the creation of Juneteenth — June 19, Emancipation Day, now a holiday in 29 states, including California — Tanabe decided to build a campaign to establish June 12 as a holiday — Loving Day — remembering that landmark case, and celebrating freedom of the heart. Loving Day events have sprung up across the country (Tanabe has created a free celebration kit with materials to help people plan their own, downloadable as a .pdf file at the Web site), but the largest is still in New York: Last week, over 1,000 people attended the festivities, presided over by renowned DJs Spooky and Rekha and sponsored by Asahi beer, Zipcar and Puma.

But Loving Day isn't just about having a party. "Things are getting better for interracial couples and multiracial individuals," says Tanabe. "However, social acceptance might not matter that much to you if your best friend or your mother is threatening to cut you out of their lives. We hear a lot of those stories: Racism against couples often occurs behind closed doors. The Loving Day Project is about counteracting the prejudice you might not immediately see."

That prejudice extends far beyond interracial couples, as those fighting for the full legalization of same-sex marriage know. Those advocates will also readily affirm that Loving v. Virginia is a critical precedent in the road map guiding that fight as well. Love knows no color, no shape or size, no age or gender — in fact, love knows nothing but love. Which maybe makes Loving Day something all of us should celebrate.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Black Asians

I know I've been terrible about blogging lately. I hope everyone is doing well out there. This one I just had to thrown down because it's an absolutely fascinating look at how different racism can be regarded and treated by other societies. Discrimination will always be there, but this only proves how difficult it is to justly correct the problem. As much as I think people who have historically been denied rights deserved such judgements, the people who will take most advantage of this are new immigrants who have no appreciation for the rights they now have to advance themselves.

In South Africa, Chinese is the New Black
WSJ, June 19, 2008

A high court in South Africa ruled on Wednesday that Chinese-South Africans will be reclassified as “black,” a term that includes black Africans, Indians and others who were subject to discrimination under apartheid. As a result of this ruling, ethnically Chinese citizens will be able to benefit from government affirmative action policies aimed at undoing the effects of apartheid.

In 2006, the Chinese Association of South Africa sued the government, claiming that its members were being discriminated against because they were being treated as whites and thus failed to qualify for business contracts and job promotions reserved for victims of apartheid. The association successfully argued that, since Chinese-South Africans had been treated unequally under apartheid, they should be reclassified in order to redress wrongs of the past.

Jacob Zuma, President of the African National Congress, with Hu Jintao in Beijing last week (Reuters)
This is not the first time the classification of Chinese in South Africa has changed. In fact, the racial status of Chinese-South Africans has often shifted with the nation’s political climate and its international relations.

The first significant group of Chinese came to South Africa in the early 20th century, before a formal system of apartheid existed, to work in the gold mines. They were not encouraged to settle permanently and by 1910 almost all the mine workers had been repatriated. Those who remained struggled with racism and lived in separate communities based on language, culture and socio-economic status.

As apartheid became enshrined in law with the ascendancy of the Afrikaner government in the late 1940s, the Chinese were classified as “colored,” forced to live apart from whites, and were denied educational and business opportunities along with the right to vote. But after South Africa established an economic alliance with Taiwan in the 1970s, Taiwanese immigrants were welcomed as “honorary whites,” and other Chinese in South Africa began to be treated more like whites. Although they never attained the formal “honorary white” status of Taiwanese, Koreans and Japanese in South Africa and couldn’t vote, Chinese-South Africans were no longer required to use segregated facilities, and in the early 1980s they were exempted from some of the discriminatory laws that applied to other non-whites.

After apartheid ended in the early 1990s, the legal status of Chinese has remained in a gray area, though they’ve generally been lumped together with whites and denied the post-apartheid benefits available to other non-white groups.

South Africa has seen waves of immigrants and investment from China since 1994, and today there are as many as 300,000 Chinese living in the South Africa. But the new court decision is unlikely to benefit most of them or trigger another mass migration– it applies only to those Chinese who were South African citizens before 1994 (and their descendants), a much smaller number of around 10,000 to 12,000.

-Sky Canaves

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One at a time

As I was driving home the other day, a Honda Civic driving in front of me reminded me of a commercial which I absolutely love. It really spoke to me because I feel like someone read my mind.

If you haven't seen the commercial or don't have time to watch the link, here's my quick synopsis. Guy1 is oblivious because he's too busy either on the phone with a business associate, driving around town, or just too preoccupied to bother with properly disposing of his trash. Meanwhile, guy2 is a laid-back dude sporting a messengar bag and jeans. He apparently has a similar daily route and notices guy1's trail of litter. Guy2 starts picking up after guy1 day after day - coffee cup, burger wrapper, to go bag, etc. Finally, one day, guy1 is confused by the discovery of a tree sculpture on top of his car as he comes out from the convenience store. Guy2 casually walks past, hops into his Civic, and drives away.

I can't tell you how much it irks me to see photos of Long Beach Harbor covered in a layer of fast-food containers after the first winter rains, a log jam of cigarette butts in the gutter at the bottom of highway exit ramps, and mice that scurry along searching through the trash that collects along the tracks of the subway. For years, I've dreamed of having one wish, a wish to make people live one day with all the trash they've ever carelessly tossed for someone else to clean up. Yes, my dream would be for everyone to wake up one morning with all their trash magically piled up in their living rooms. I don't know whether it would truly impact people who don't give a crap, but it would make my day to give them a bit of hell.

The sad thing about all this is that it's not the Civic that made me think of the commercial. Unfortunately, it was the sight of a cigarette but being flung from the driver's window that sparked the thought. Heaven forbid the car get dirty, so let's trash the town instead. People are truly just thoughtless aren't they?