Over the past few weeks, mainstream news media have been giving coverage to Asian Americans (and Asians in America) at a rare level.
Case in point: The Oct. 3 Economist article (http://tinyurl.com/qhb785v) titled “The model minority is losing patience,” about long-simmering problems of admission policies at top universities and Asian Americans who feel they are being turned away, despite stellar academic records and community involvement.
Case in point: The Oct. 8 New York Times opinion Q&A (http://tinyurl.com/q2bz9cr) titled “The Invisible Asian,” a transcribed dialogue between George Yancy and David Haekwon Kim on Americans of Asian heritage.
Case in point: The Oct. 10 New York Times op-ed (http://tinyurl.com/o66hyc7) by Nicholas Kristof titled “The Asian Advantage” that leads with the question: “Why are Asian Americans so successful in America?”
Case in point: The Oct. 12 New York Times article (http://tinyurl.com/pm4wxac) titled “Hazing and Drinking Deaths at Asian American Fraternities Raise Concerns.” The article’s headline pretty much encapsulates its subject matter, but the twist is that it looks specifically at hazing deaths within the Asian American Greek system (instead of college frats and sororities in general) that are out of proportion to how many Asian American frats that exist compared to Greeks overall.
Case in point: The Oct. 10 L.A. Times article (http://tinyurl.com/qdqvymz) titled “A Boxer, Lawyer, and Big Dreams.” The feature article was about the relationship between a Mexican American attorney named George Gallegos and a 7-foot-tall Chinese immigrant named Taishan Dong with dreams of becoming a boxing champion.
It’s gratifying, in a way, when The Economist and The New York Times give serious coverage to issues facing Asian Americans, even if some of the respective conclusions may be up for debate. My perception of how The New York Times has covered Asian Americans over the years has been, essentially, benign neglect on their part.
For example, in May 2011, when Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal repudiated his WWII-era predecessor, Charles Fahy, for deceiving the Supreme Court with regard to cases stemming from Executive Order 9066, The Los Angeles Times covered it on its front page — but not The New York Times, to its detriment.
To me, it was the business-as-usual East Coast bias, overlooking stories that didn’t happen in that part of the nation, despite that paper’s reputation for being a national newspaper. And that was an important story.
Maybe, however, business as usual isn’t business as usual anymore, since the blunt-force calculus of high numbers of Asian Americans getting college degrees and filtering into the greater American power structure, society and workplace, including journalism, is making such a difference that even The N.Y. Times can no longer ignore the changes.
Too bad the same can’t be said for Hollywood’s movies. In the latest instance, another major studio movie — 21st Century Fox’s “The Martian” — performed race-change casting surgery, changing two real-life characters that were, respectively, of South Asian and Korean ancestry in the script’s source material, to black and white, respectively.
In the case of the former, the name of the Indian character, Venkat Kapoor, became Vincent Kapoor. Is this really all that different from my satirical, tongue-in-cheek column from a few weeks ago (http://tinyurl.com/phcx289) in which a couple of fictional Hollywood producers trying to adapt Michael Lewis’ “Flash Boys” into a movie and change Brad Katsuyama to Brad Katz so actor Jonah Hill could play the part?
That this can happen at a time when television shows with Asian Americans in leading and ensemble parts is higher than ever is perplexing and infuriating. These decisions are deliberate, deliberate as Volkswagen deciding to cheat air pollution standards in their “clean diesel” cars with software. That it could be unapologetically perpetrated by one of the great movie directors, Ridley Scott, makes the disappointment that much worse.
Comfort Women Revisited Dept.: I usually never know beforehand whether something I write will strike a nerve and evoke some responses. My columns on cord-cutting (http://tinyurl.com/otn45ad and http://tinyurl.com/o7bpevp, for instance, elicited lots of emails asking for more details. I didn’t expect that.
But before I wrote my last column (http://tinyurl.com/nsk79oq), in which I opined that it’s wrong for city councils and the like in the United States to spend taxpayer money to build monuments to so-called comfort women on public lands, I thought it might elicit some responses. I was correct.
My stance is simple. Awful as they were, the Holocaust or Turkish genocide of Armenians or the “killing fields” under Pol Pot, as well as the comfort women issue, didn’t happen in the United States, nor did Americans perpetrate them. While I’m not against privately paid for memorials or museums on private land, I don’t believe tax money and public land should be used for any of the above.
Not only that, when I go to a public park, I go there to not be reminded of the horrors of this world. Rather, I go for a respite from all that, whether it’s to read a book in the shade or play catch. Memorials to crimes against humanity have their place — just not at a public park.
That said, I am sympathetic to the comfort women issue, insofar as I think it’s a subject that needs to be put to rest by having multiple governments or educational institutions conduct fact-finding hearings or studies, with or without Japan’s cooperation. (Do I think Imperial Japan probably committed some of what it is accused? Yes. Do I think that anti-Japanese interests of Chinese and Korean origin are manipulating and exacerbating the situation for their own agendas? Yes.)
Anyway, if you go to the provided link for my last column, you can read two of the three emails I received on the matter. I have no idea whether the names of the writers are legit and who they may represent — but I do find them interesting, to say the least. One, from someone going by the name Hyung-Sung Kim (who also sent me the same thing via email) basically said the comfort woman issue is mostly fabricated and exaggerated. One quote from that email: “Westerners must realize that North Korean and Chinese operatives are using the comfort women issue to drive a wedge into U.S.-Japan-South Korea security partnership.”
The other email (that also put the same material in the comments section under last column) came from Ignatius Y. Ding. This writer disagreed with my stance that U.S. taxpayer dollars spent on comfort women memorials is wrong — but added that none of the memorials were or would be paid for with tax dollars. (The news coverage from San Francisco I read, however, said: “In a unanimous vote, the 11-member Board of Supervisors passed the resolution to build the memorial on public land … ” and “The city has not yet approved a budget for the memorial …”
Sounds like taxpayer money on public land to me.
It’s a can of worms that I opened — but my opinion hasn’t changed. Don’t waste time and don’t spend taxpayer money to memorialize something that wasn’t caused by Americans and didn’t happen here on American soil.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2015 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.