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From our Director of Photography, Seng Chen:
I'm a procrastinator. If there's a way to avoid something until the last second, I'll do it. The more important it is, the longer I'll put it off. On a last minute assignment, I'll procrastinate to protest of the lack of preparation of my taskmaster. Don't they know how long these things take? Once you factor in an appropriate amount of time for reading catalogs and watching TV instead of doing work?
But there are some things that have deadlines, real ones. The assignment might go away and you might be none the worse for it- because no one really, really expected it do get done - but you know you should have and could have done them anyway. Because they aren't about getting around your responsibility, they have an affect on other people's lives.
Eddy Zheng is in danger of being deported to China. Why should you care?
So I just got in from my doctor's appointment today. I'm totally healthy. In spite of that, I'll be taking 9 months of antibiotics, using steroid cream, (prescribed!) and getting a series of three shots. And wouldn't you know it, all of the above conditions are related to my Asian-ness.
Warning: this blog contains waaay too much information about my health. proceed at your own risk.
Got a chance to see Making Tracks, the Asian American rock musical, at the San Jose Repertory Theatre this past weekend before it ended its run.
I was impressed with the scope of the story and delighted to see an accurate portrayal of Asian American history that really tugged at your heartstrings. Anyone whose family has come from someplace else to the gilded shores of America can identify with this story.
Making Tracks is a groundbreaking work of Asian American theater and the anti-Miss Saigon, though its narrative maybe too much for those who haven't taken an Asian American studies class. Some reviewers have noted this. About half the audience I saw the play with was non-Asian and maybe many of the Asians Americans have never heard any of the history, but most of them took part in the standing ovation at the end. I think there was enough in the story for the uninitiated to understand the history, and the great performances and music also pulled in the audience.
The story covers six generations of a family and encompasses the major events in Chinese and Japanese American history -- from the Gold Rush and building the railroad, to picture brides, World War II and the Japanese internment, to the struggles of Asian Americans to find themselves in today's American society.
One quibble is that other Asian groups are left out (there are some minor references to Filipinos, and most of the actors are Filipino), though the themes resonate across ethnic and racial lines.
Another minor quibble is that in a couple of the songs, the Mandarin pronunciation for "America" (mei guo) is sung by the characters even though they're supposed to be Gold Rush-era Cantonese immigrants. This reminds me of the Fruit Chan movie Dumplings, set in Hong Kong, where Bai Ling's character speaks Mandarin and everybody else is speaking Cantonese. What's with the dissing of Cantonese?
But I digress. Making Tracks was worth seeing and hopefully there will be a national tour, as the producers want.
I probably shouldn't let this shit bother me, but almost every week it seems the New York Times, or some denomination thereof, pubishes something to piss me off--on the Asian front--thereby yanking me back from the brave new world of post-Asianness I am trying to swim to.
Last week it was a photo essay in the New York Times Magazine.
From guest blogger Alex Nishikawa.
Though I am far from being a native in this city, I still notice the gradual decay of culture. I've bore witness to it as I've been a "hella" nor cal-er since day one. And I wonder, why does such a thing irk me so? Is it the "back in the day" nostalgia that's starting to creep in? The cliched fuzzy haze of old age memory...I don't know. I wonder, like Del Shannon, as I wander about the Richmond and my ever so hallowed Clement Street, echoes and shadows of what it once was are becoming more the norm rather than the rarity. All that's left are vestiges...I wonder, as I wander about the Sunset, and notice that the sounds of Cantonese being uttered are slowly being drowned out by valley girl english desperately trying to veil itself as hip. Trying hard, but trying to look like they're not trying too hard.
"Absorbing attention is a must. You don't want to be overlooked. Yeah, but you don't want to be looked over too much."
I've long since given up hope for the salvation of the Mission. Though the prospect of urban renewal from within is appealing, I doubt it will ever happen. I won't even begin to discuss what the 3rd Street light rail extension is already doing to the China Basin/Dogpatch/HP area. This city is on the way to becoming an oversized gated community.
On a Saturday evening, early spring, I take a stroll on Irving and I notice the sad homogeneity of the bulk of the populace. I try to write it off and place the blame on the fact my MUNI stop is precariously close to one of the culture killers; Starbucks. That's probably the case. But from time to time I see folks who actually look like they belong here; folks who look like they're from here. This city. Not the ubiquitous plastic UCSF students who seem to uncontrollably ooze out of every orifice this side of the city has to offer up. I suppose Irving west of 19th Ave is still legit. It still serves as a refuge since the fragrance alone seems to repel a lot of the would be gentrifiers. A melange of decaying matter both plant and animal that oddly comforts me. Yet is so alien and foreign, so exotic, that outsiders never allow themselves to become insiders.
Still I sit upon my stoop with a coke and a bag of chips to watch the great Coronet Theatre fall for the sake of another parking lot or a multi-plex. Long gone is the Alexandria. And the Four Star is in peril.
What saddens me is that so many people seem to be utterly content with what is happening. Either they ignore it, or welcome it. I suppose there's not too much of a difference. The sources of the rich cultural fabric that make this city so strong, so vibrant, and so appealing, turn a blind eye to every mom and pop that falls. Whenever a lease is lost, and quickly gobbled up by a conglomerate which can afford to dump product onto the market. In their rush to continue their upward mobility, the sources of diversity don't care to see what's happening...
What's got me gurpin so? Perhaps I'm part of the very problem I loathe so much. Maybe that's what is really irking me.
"From the inside up, and the upside down, who qualifies to try to judge me now?"
One of California's most powerful Republican House members, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, is clashing with the Bush administration, which opposes his proposal to authorize $38 million in federal funds to preserve the camps where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. The National Park Service says they have nothing against the idea, but that it's just going to cost too much money. Click here for the full story in today's SF Chronicle
Fiction writer Lan Samantha Chang, whom we talked to in issue 4, has been named the new director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the most pretigious creative writing program in the country. Awesome. Not only is she the first Asian American, but she's also the first woman to lead the workshop in its 70-year history. Associated Press story here.
Sorry about all the action alerts (especially when it's not on my blog day) but there's a spate of scary legislation being voted on right now. I just received an action alert about the bankruptcy bill currently before congress. It's being voted on tomorrow (Wednesday) so call your representative tonight and leave a message. Below I've pasted what moveon.org says to do, and below that I've pasted a NYTimes article on the bill.
Today the Senate is expected to vote to limit debate on a bill that toughens the existing bankruptcy law, probably ensuring the bill's passage. A solid bloc of Republican senators, assisted by some Democrats, has already voted down a series of amendments that would either have closed loopholes for the rich or provided protection for some poor and middle-class families.
The bankruptcy bill was written by and for credit card companies, and the industry's political muscle is the reason it seems unstoppable. But the bill also fits into the broader context of what Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, calls ''risk privatization'': a steady erosion of the protection the government provides against personal misfortune, even as ordinary families face ever-growing economic insecurity.
The bill would make it much harder for families in distress to write off their debts and make a fresh start. Instead, many debtors would find themselves on an endless treadmill of payments.
The credit card companies say this is needed because people have been abusing the bankruptcy law, borrowing irresponsibly and walking away from debts. The facts say otherwise.
A vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States are the result of severe misfortune. One recent study found that more than half of bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. The rest are overwhelmingly the result either of job loss or of divorce.
To the extent that there is significant abuse of the system, it's concentrated among the wealthy -- including corporate executives found guilty of misleading investors -- who can exploit loopholes in the law to protect their wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.
One increasingly popular loophole is the creation of an ''asset protection trust,'' which is worth doing only for the wealthy. Senator Charles Schumer introduced an amendment that would have limited the exemption on such trusts, but apparently it's O.K. to game the system if you're rich: 54 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against the Schumer amendment.
Other amendments were aimed at protecting families and individuals who have clearly been forced into bankruptcy by events, or who would face extreme hardship in repaying debts. Ted Kennedy introduced an exemption for cases of medical bankruptcy. Russ Feingold introduced an amendment protecting the homes of the elderly. Dick Durbin asked for protection for armed services members and veterans. All were rejected.
None of this should come as a surprise: it's all part of the pattern.
As Mr. Hacker and others have documented, over the past three decades the lives of ordinary Americans have become steadily less secure, and their chances of plunging from the middle class into acute poverty ever larger. Job stability has declined; spells of unemployment, when they happen, last longer; fewer workers receive health insurance from their employers; fewer workers have guaranteed pensions.
Some of these changes are the result of a changing economy. But the underlying economic trends have been reinforced by an ideologically driven effort to strip away the protections the government used to provide. For example, long-term unemployment has become much more common, but unemployment benefits expire sooner. Health insurance coverage is declining, but new initiatives like health savings accounts (introduced in the 2003 Medicare bill), rather than discouraging that trend, further undermine the incentives of employers to provide coverage.
Above all, of course, at a time when ever-fewer workers can count on pensions from their employers, the current administration wants to phase out Social Security.
The bankruptcy bill fits right into this picture. When everything else goes wrong, Americans can still get a measure of relief by filing for bankruptcy -- and rising insecurity means that they are forced to do this more often than in the past. But Congress is now poised to make the bankruptcy law harsher, too.
Warren Buffett recently made headlines by saying America is more likely to turn into a ''sharecroppers' society'' than an ''ownership society.'' But I think the right term is a ''debt peonage'' society -- after the system, prevalent in the post-Civil War South, in which debtors were forced to work for their creditors. The bankruptcy bill won't get us back to those bad old days all by itself, but it's a significant step in that direction.
And any senator who votes for the bill should be ashamed.
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