Eyelid surgery

Sep 12 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism


As if Julie Chen's revelation that she was pressured into eyelid surgery to advance her career--a decision for which I don't blame or judge her--wasn't rough enough, it was disheartening to hear her say "many of us [Asians] are born with too much (emphasis mine) fat on the top of our eyes." I'm dismayed by the extent to which a certain standard of beauty/image is engrained in our minds.

Video [5:03]

7 responses so far

My other other name

Jul 24 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism

I have another persona and his name is Wayne. “Who is Wayne?” you ask. Wayne is the one that orders the pizza. He is the one that calls to make the restaurant reservations. Wayne likes his burgers with sauteed onions and peppers, but no cheese. Wayne gets his doppio over ice with one pump of classic syrup.

Yes, Wayne is my Starbucks name.

But, Wayne is more than just avoiding the inconvenience of having my name butchered. Wayne is for anonymity during those transient interactions with strangers. The exchange of pleasantries with the supermarket cashier. The recounting of his trip to Vietnam to his barber. Answering surveys for the free schwag.

Wayne is also for when I don’t feel like deciphering what someone means when they ask, “Where are you from?” Where am I from? Do you mean where was I born? That’d be two towns over. Did you mean where I grew up? Right down the road.

No, I know what you mean. “Where are you from from?”


This isn’t one of those “things only white people ask me” situations either. My Vietnamese mechanic in San Diego thought I was Mexican until I started speaking in our native tongue...and even then. The Dominican cashier at my neighborhood butcher listed off five Latin countries before I let her know that she was on the wrong side of the planet--let alone continent. The joys of racial ambiguity. Where are you from? The question could mean three different things to me, but always seems to mean the same thing to the people asking. This isn’t to say that I hate when people ask. It’s just not always the conversation I want to have. Nope, Wayne is low key and incognito. He doesn't quite pique people’s interest or invite questions the same way that Việt does.

But above all else, Wayne is escape...escape from a joke that’s plagued me my entire life.

No, my last name is not Nam, nor is it my brother’s name.

11 responses so far

Racial disparities in accruing debt during graduate school

May 09 2013 Published by under Issues in Science

According to a new report from the American Institutes for Research, black and Hispanic STEM PhD students are more likely to accrue larger amounts of debt during grad school than their non-underrepresented minority (URM) peers (read: white, Asian, & biracial). The Chronicle of Higher Education article is a little clunky in trying to summarize a report that compares debt incurred by graduate students in STEM programs versus those in social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) programs. I suggest reading the actual report itself.

Figure 5. Graduate Student Debt for STEM Phd Recipients by Race-Ethnicity and Gender- 2010

The report also found that these disparities existed regardless of the source of funding (institutional vs external) or the time it took students to complete their PhD studies.

Other factors that may be worth exploring include the distance that students travel to attend graduate school, spending patterns during graduate school, the family commitments of PhD students during graduate school (e.g., marital status and number of dependents), and salary expectations after leaving graduate school. If graduate students’ spending patterns during graduate school are related to the expected financial pay-off of their PhDs, then differences in graduate student debt may be related to differences in students’ inflated estimates of their future salaries.

I'd add socioeconomic and debt status upon entering grad school to that list. Identifying which factors contribute to debt could help us better position students to shoulder less of it.

As graduate programs make more of an effort to recruit underrep'ed minorities, however, I wonder whether these disparities will become greater or smaller...

6 responses so far

The problem with impersonating Jay-Z in blackface

May 01 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism

I've shared my thoughts on yellowface here on this blog before, so you'll probably have an idea of the level of my disappointment after watching this video of 4 Asian frat bros clowning out to Justin Timberlake's "Suit and Tie."

As reported in the OC Weekly:

The video was created as promotion for the fraternity's annual "installs" event, which celebrates the entrance of new brothers. It was posted on YouTube with the disclaimer: "No racism intended. All fun and laughter."

Yup, that's an Asian dude in blackface impersonating Jay-Z at around 0:54. Also, smart move attaching your names (if, in fact, those are your real names) to this "project." Good luck with that.

asian in blackface

Let's break this video down. If you're Asian and you want to portray JT, then no whiteface, no wig, nor any attempts at signaling "whiteness" to the viewer is required. Putting on a suit and tie and lip syncing the hook is enough. Impersonating Jay-Z, however, is a different story. You'd think dropping a line or two from Hova's verse would do the trick. Nope. Clearly, the answer is blackface. The result? JT gets to be identified as being a singer. Jay-Z, on the other hand, isn't afforded the same artist status. You see, the problem here with relying on blackface--aside from being overtly offensive-- is that it doesn't give Jay-Z his due as a rapper but instead, defines him first and foremost as being black.

jayz and jt

Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles on February 10th, 2013. Lester Cohen/WireImage

[h/t] OC Weekly



6 responses so far

When Oriental is the Right Kind of Asian

Mar 22 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism

I am unfamiliar with Anthony Jeselnik's’s comedy, so I watched this clip with completely naive eyes. It’s a segment from his show, The Jeselnik Offensive, setup as a gameshow called “Which Kind of Asian is this?” in which contestants are brought on stage and tasked with identifying what kind of Asian a person is based solely on their photo and “clues” given by the host. Of course, these clues are really just intellectually lazy Asian stereotypes of the dog-eating, bad-driving, and under-pressure-to-achieve variety. You know, the standard offensive, if not straight-up racist, fare. The gameshow plays on the all-Asians-look-alike trope, so it comes as no surprise that none of the contestants are able to accurately identify any of the Asians pictured.


As AngryAsianMan writes, “But yo, this is not even funny. Not even the yellowface switcheroo part at the end there. What was the point of that?” One might even wonder what exactly was the point of the whole segment. I guess a case could be made that Jeselnik’s turn as an ill-minded host of a racist gameshow is really irony in the strictest sense. Here he's taking being offensive to the extreme in order to illustrate the larger point that, yes, this shit is racist and offensive. But for me--and this is where AngryAsianMan and I diverge--the switcheroo is where the ship really turns around.

Toward the end of the segment, Jeselnik brings out the last contestant who is--surprise, surprise--Asian. After ribbing him a bit for being a movie critic and blogger, Jeselnik shows the Asian contestant this image:


What kind of Asian is this? The worst kind...

For the uninitiated and unfamiliar, this is Mickey Rooney’s egregious, yellow-faced portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, a buffoonish Japanese caricature from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s--comprete with buckteeth, grasses, and the crassic “L for R” mispronunciation:

Being a movie critic, the Asian contestant immediately recognizes this as Mickey Rooney and “correctly” identifies Yunioshi's character as being Japanese. That's when the incorrect-buzzer sounds and Jeselnik informs him that the correct answer they were looking for was “Oriental.” But the gag here isn’t simply, “Hey look! Not even the Asian guy with his innate Asian-dar can tell Asians apart.” For while the contestant is right--Yunioshi’s character IS Japanese--the portrayal of Yunioshi is by no means an accurate depiction of Japanese-ness, but rather a mixture of offensive stereotypes lumped into what qualifies as "Oriental" in the American consciousness. Therefore, to call Yunioshi anything other than Oriental--or the racist notion of Oriental--borders on being complicit in validating those very stereotypes. More than that, by evoking Yunioshi the skit taps into the long history of racism directed towards Asians in cinema that still finds its way into today’s films and which serves only to cement Asian stereotypes in the minds of Americans. It’s a type of racism that says to Asians, “we actually don’t care what kind of Asian you are” and so we’ll continue to carry on the traditions of yellowface, whitewashing, and the “interchangeable Asian.

Either that, or I’m giving Jeselnik WAY too much credit and he’s just being callously racist.

9 responses so far

Will I see more "historic first" inaugurations in my life?

Jan 21 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism

Today, President Obama took the oath of office and gave the inaugural address of his 2nd term, perhaps poignantly on Martin Luther King day. I still remember the disbelief I felt four years ago when Obama was elected president--to be honest, I never thought I'd see a black president. Now just four years later, President Obama's second, and also historic, inauguration has given me the audacity to wonder if I will see any other historic "firsts" in my life*.

First woman president? Hillary Clinton seems poised to have the best chance, but now I wonder if she'll run anymore given her age and health. First non-Christian president? Seems unlikely anytime soon, although some will go to great lengths to argue that we currently already have one. A LGBT president is even more doubtful, but some historians speculate that that title already belongs to President James Buchanan. How about Latino/Hispanic? Surely, one of these Latino American leaders must have presidential ambitions.

And of course, how could I forget a first Asian American president? Does Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have a shot? So far, the closest we've come to sniffing an Asian American presidency is probably the late Senator Daniel Inouye who at the time of his passing was President Pro Tempore of the US Senate, and therefore third in line of presidential succession.

I wonder if America, after Obama's two terms, would be ready for some more history-making so soon. Or will the US suffer from some sort of "firsts"-fatigue syndrome and slip into another era of white dude presidents?

*This also had the unintended and depressing effect of viewing my life in terms of how many presidential election cycles I have left.

13 responses so far

Is there a bamboo ceiling for Asians in science?

Jan 18 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism, Science

First let me say that I've never liked the term "bamboo ceiling." It always sounded a little too culturally forced* to me. And in terms of imagery, it flat out sucks. Glass ceiling? At least with glass you walk away with the impression that you can shatter through it. But bamboo? That shit is hard. Like indestructible hard. Doesn't quite inspire much confidence in breaking through it now does it?

Earlier this month in Nature Jobs, Lilian Gomory Wu and Wei Jing argue that the path to leadership roles in science is impeded for Asians in the US:

In academia, just 42% of Asian men are tenured, compared with 58% of white men, 49% of black men and 50% of Hispanic men. Just 21% of Asian women in academia are tenured, the lowest proportion for any ethnicity or gender. They are also least likely to be promoted to full professor.

Similar numbers exist for industry and the federal workforce they report, and this graph was included in the tl;dr blog post:

The take home: Asians were attaining leadership positions (like PI-ships) at a lower clip than other ethnicities (although, I wonder at what rate do Asians apply or seek out managerial positions, comparatively speaking). Wu and Jing identify several possible reasons for this disparity that mainly derive from the "model minority" stereotype:

hardworking and patient, family oriented, good at maths and science and having a strong work ethic, but also humble, non-confrontational and lacking the passion to be charismatic leaders.

Many of these have been used to explain the relative absence of Asians in company boardrooms, CEOs, and the like, so it's not totally unreasonable for these explanations to apply to the sciences as well. Take, for example, how Eastern ideas of leadership--where Asians are more likely to let their actions do the talking over...well talking--are lost in translation. This can give the impression that Asians are passive or indifferent. Another possible reason is the language barrier, which can be prohibitive in writing successful grants and papers. These issues, of course, are biased towards our foreign-born, transplanted colleagues, of which there are many in science.

In 2009, Asians — defined as people from the Far East, southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent — made up 78% of doctoral recipients with temporary visas who were planning to work in the United States.

Looking at 2008 demographic numbers from the NSF, there were 2,038,000 Asians employed as scientists and engineers: 58.9% were naturalized US citizens while 21.3% were non-US citizens. For comparison, of Black or Hispanic scientists and engineers, only 3.3% and 7.4% were non-US citizens, respectively. That being said, and particularly concerning to me, Wu and Jing also point to the perception that Asians are "forever foreign." Meaning that no matter how acculturated Asians are or become, these standards might still be unfairly applied.

As for solutions, they suggest re-evaluating cultural differences in leadership and communication skills--which basically sounds like cultural sensitivity training to me. Yet, they also put the onus on Asians to "seek training in communication, assertiveness and leadership skills." Soooo...which is it?

And what does it say about the fact that under the Comments section of the blog post it reads: "There are currently no comments"? Now, I wasn't exactly expecting my Asian colleagues to tear it up in the comments (hell, I don't know if anyone comments on Nature blog posts). It's quite possible that neither the article nor the blog post isn't reaching an Asian audience--and without social sharing/altmetrics-like data available, how am I to gauge dissemination? But that no one has voiced any opinion at all certainly doesn't help silence any of the Asian stereotypes.


Ceiling With Mud and Bamboo

Is this my view when I look up?

*Someone recently suggested to me that the phrase be changed to "glass noodle ceiling."

Related Reading:

How committed is NIH to addressing its race problem? Hint: kinda sorta



9 responses so far