Category Archives: community

The Fall of the I-Hotel (Curtis Choy, 1983)

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

A little over a decade ago, this documentary changed my life.

It was the first time I had seen or heard about Manong Al Robles, longtime community organizer, activist, writer — a pillar in the Fil-Am and API community in San Francisco. He not only narrates this documentary, but is featured in it. He is shown interacting with the elderly Filipino tenants who face eviction from the only home they know: the International Hotel in what was then Manilatown, SF. He is the glue that holds director Curtis Choy’s amazing footage together, in one scene doing a voice-over with his own poetry, in the next scene he’s marching in protest alongside organizers, confronting city officials, blockading police from entering the building on eviction day. Even as the story unfolds toward the inevitable tragedy of the building’s demolition, Manong Al’s presence gave one an impression of hope. Not that idealistic hope that, perhaps, the fight against the city’s “development” plans might somehow prevail.

No, this hope was and still is something greater. Some fights that aren’t won are still victories — as evidenced by the outpouring of community support and internationalist solidarity for the I-Hotel. Though the building was lost, Manong Al and them laid the groundwork for all of us who continue their tireless work to stand up for our communities. The Fall of the I-Hotel, more than a story about a building, more than a story about its tenants or even the fight to save, is a rally cry still heard loud and clear nearly 30 years later.

News that Manong Al had passed away reached me last night as we sat in anticipation for the Pacquiao/Hatton fight to begin. Suddenly, I had realized that, in all my trips to San Francisco, even performing once at Kearny Street Workshop where he was a resident poet, I never got a chance to meet Manong Al, which made the subsequent celebration bittersweet. But as I looked around a room full of cheering Filipinos, I thought of his poetry in his book Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabao in the Dark, where he described nights of kickin it, drinkin, celebrating with the Manongs. I thought about the Manongs who were evicted from the I-Hotel, whose sad faces, captured on film, I can never shake. And I thought about how, no matter what bullshit comes our way, or perhaps because of all the bullshit that comes our way, we live for nights like these.

Rest in Power, Manong Al Robles!

Online Tributes to Al Robles:

Hyphen Magazine: R.I.P. Al Robles
Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.: Al Robles, RIP

Menace II Society (Allen and Albert Hughes, 1993)

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

Sixteen years after its release, its easy to look back and pick apart Menace II Society, even easier to accept it nostalgically as the dope film we all thought it was back then. But the feeling of being in your early teens watching this flick, surrounded by folks who bang (pause) or did knucklehead shit remains, and it’ll always be a classic to me. Moreso these days for being a historical document than a dope film.

There are plenty of memorable scenes in the film affectionately known as Menace. But today, on the 17th anniversary of the 1992 LA uprsising/Sa-I-Gu, I’ll dwell on one in particular: the opening scene. For those not familiar: two young Black men, Caine and O-Dog, stop for some 40s at the cornerstore run by a Korean couple in South Central L.A. The lady spies em and utters the first of the films countless immortal quotables, “Hurry up and buy.” After a tense exchange at the counter, the Korean dude makes a fatal mistake, uttering the second quotable under his breath, “I feel sorry for your mother.” O-Dog turns around and asks “what you say about my momma?” before murdering them and robbing the joint as Caine watches in exasperation. O-Dog grabs the surveillance tape as a souvenir he’d later show to the homies.

A powerful, graphic scene (except for the fact that you can see the filming crew in the mirrors: FAIL). But what did the Hughes brothers intend to say with this? That Koreans are racists who deserve this cinematic execution, perhaps a fantasy retribution for Latasha Harlins? Or to jar and shock the viewer into feeling sympathy for the Korean couple who are merely trying to get by in the same fucked up conditions that the Black community lives in? Does it advocate or justify violence, or does it condemn it? Whatever their intent, this is the effect on others I saw: no sympathy for the Koreans, fanning the flames of Black/Asian tension (to this day: look at the comments on the YouTube clip) and convincing everybody that Larenz Tate is actually a G.

This scene reminds speaks volumes about how much those tensions still remained after April 29, 1992. In retrospect, mainstream media did everything to fuel this tension, which was a very real thing. And still is, even though it’s no longer evening news material. Too much of it bought into that myth that Koreans (and all Asians) and Black folk are just natural enemies like that. I refuse to think so, and though I question the Hughes brothers’ intent with this scene, I still find it telling and deserving of revisiting, to ask ourselves: how far have we really come?

He’s sorrowful…but not sorry

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

My inbox was abuzz yesterday with news of the Pope’s admission that he was “sorrowful” for what happened to residential school survivors; which came as a result of the much anticipated visit to the Vatican by a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations here in Canada.

Sorrowful. But not sorry. Is that an important distinction?

Chief Phil Fontaine says “it’s a very significant statement” and that we shouldn’t be distracted by the fact that it’s not an apology. I already know that Phil doesn’t speak for me; we kind of parted ways with the whole AFN endorsing of the Olympics in Vancouver 2010 issue, but to me it is an important distinction that the Pope did not actually say he’s sorry.

In fact I’m not a huge fan of government apologies at all – but I do understand what it means to so many of our people. Last June, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the historic residential school apology I wrote about it and felt angry – angry that he can make an apology and basically wipe his hands clean of it – which is what the Residential School Payment Settlement represents to me. Yet for so many of the survivors it represented a start to the path of healing, something they had been waiting to happen for so long, and gave them peace of mind that the government appeared to take accountability for its horrendous actions. Particularly when a number of our communities are still actively practicing Christians. Continue reading

Still the “Other”

by Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Following up on revealing survey results it released over eight years ago, this week, the Committee of 100 released a new report on the perceptions of Asian Americans. And it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Here’s the press release (PDF): SURVEY INDICATES THAT ASIAN AMERICANS ARE STILL THE “OTHER” DESPITE CONTRIBUTIONS TO U.S.

The report indicates that, despite a positive trend in attitudes toward Asian Americans, racial discrimination and suspicions still exist. Surprise, surprise. According to the survey — even in 2009 — the majority of the general population cannot make a distinction between Chinese Americans and Asian Americans in general, treating all as one generic, monolithic ethnic group.

Sure, we’ve made strides, and there has definitely been significant progress on a lot of levels. But no matter how you slice it, there are still just a lot of people out there who can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that we are indeed Americans too. In the eyes of many, we’re still apparently outsiders. Most notable in the dat are the misperceptions around:

- Loyalty of Asian Americans: Despite the approximately 59,141 Asian Americans serving in active duty in the U.S. Armed Services, and the more than 300 Asian Americans who have been injured or died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are still suspicions about the loyalty of Asian Americans. Among the general population, 45 percent believe Asian Americans are more loyal to their countries of ancestry than to the United States, up from 37 percent in the 2001 survey. In contrast, approximately three in four of the Chinese Americans surveyed say Chinese Americans would support the United States in military or economic conflicts, compared to only approximately 56 percent of the general population who agrees.

Political Influence: While the Asian American community celebrated the cabinet appointments of members to the Obama administration – Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Veterans Affairs Secretary General Eric Shinseki – there is a significant lack of representation among other federal, state and local elected leadership. There are currently six Asian American members of the House of Representatives from continental U.S. states and two Senators from Hawaii (no Senator from a continental U.S. state), and only one Governor, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. C-100′s survey reports that 36 percent of the general population thinks that Asian Americans have the right amount of power and influence in Washington, while only 15 percent of Chinese Americans believe this to be true. However, 47 percent of the general population believes that Asian Americans have too little power in Washington, with 82 percent of Chinese Americans agreeing.

Leadership in Education Institutions & Corporate America: Although stereotypes around Asian Americans as the “model minority” continue to be perpetuated in educational institutions and in the workforce, the presence of Asian Americans is not matched with representation in leadership.

Education: The report shows that 65 percent of the general population believes Asian American students are adequately represented on college campuses, with 45 percent of Chinese Americans agreeing and 36 percent arguing that they are underrepresented. In reality, there are only 33 Asian American college presidents in the United States (out of about 3,200) and, while analysis shows that among the top sector of higher education institutions – as listed in U.S. News & World Report’s 2005 rankings – Asian Americans are well represented as students (6.4 percent) and faculty (6.2 percent), only about 2.4 percent are represented in the positions of president, provost or chancellor.

Corporate America: Similarly, while Asian Americans hold only about 1.5 percent of corporate board seats among Fortune 500 Companies, 3 C-100′s report found that 50 percent of the general population believes Asian Americans are adequately represented on corporate boards, while only 23 percent of Chinese Americans agree. Forty-six percent of the general population also believes Asian Americans are promoted at the same pace as Caucasian Americans, with only 29 percent of Chinese Americans saying the same.

The full report, available as a PDF, can be downloaded from the Committee of 100′s website here. Next week, C-100 will be conducting a panel discussion in Washington D.C. to address the report findings. It’s Thursday, April 30 at the Committee’s 18th Annual Conference. Panelists will include Congressman Mike Honda; Charles Cook, Cook Political Report; Antonia Hernandez, California Community Foundation; and Ralph Everett, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. For more information, go here.

Bruises: A Litany

by Guest Contributor Fiqah, originally published at Possum Stew

*Trigger Warning*

I don’t know how to tell you this. There’s so much I can’t say.

I didn’t want to write this ever. I wanted to forget today even happened at all. I wanted to continue on with my shit today and ignore the incident guiding my fingertips in a furious, staccato blur across my keyboard right now. I wanted, for just one day (please God please God please please ANY listening God) to Live My Life. Without bullshitting myself with this little daily meditation for guarding the hope that lives in my heart.

But some days, dear reader, I’m weak. And I. Just. Can’t. I’m not Atlas. I’m just Fiqah. My shoulders are really about to give out.

I don’t know how to tell you this. There’s so much I can’t say.

Maybe I should just tell you what happened.

This afternoon, I decided to do a few loads of laundry. After throwing a few lighter necessities into my laundry bag, I headed to my elevator bank, stopping for a moment to be grateful that I live in a building with three elevators. (This is something anybody who has ever lived in a New York City walk-up does after they move into a building with an elevator, by the way, especially when doing errands.) I pressed the call button and waited for the middle elevator to descend from the floors above. When the doors opened, I was pleasantly startled to see one of my neighbors standing there.

“Oh! Hello, how are you?” I chirped, a smile of greeting on my face.

My neighbor, a stunning older Latina woman with pale golden skin, high cheekbones and a riot of sandy curls, nodded curtly to me. I was taken aback: typically, my neighbor greets me with her own dazzling smile in return, warmly, with sustained eye contact. She’s usually TOO nice with her hello, in the overly-solicitous manner that lighter-skinned women of color greet darker-skinned ones, in that way that says, “Please don’t hate me on sight. I’m not a stuck-up bitch. I’m not looking down on you. I’m your sister, too.” (I think this is part of why I like her; having been on the giving and receiving end of this dynamic at different points in my life, I understand. It’s hard to explain to anyone who isn’t a Black woman.) Slightly put-out, I settled slightly behind her into the opposite corner of the elevator, wondering what had crawled up HER butt and died.

That’s when I saw it. Continue reading

From a Mixed Race Child: Tips for a White Parent

By Special Correspondent Thea Lim

The other day in convo with a friend, I burst into tears when he mentioned a couple he knows who are in the process of adopting. As a Korean couple, they have been discussing the potential race of their baby and whether or not having a Korean child is a priority for them.

My reaction was pretty over the top. Maybe it was because I was tired and stressed. Maybe it was because it was close to 4 p.m. and I hadn’t talked to anyone except my cat that day, and I don’t deal well with isolation. But the truth is on an ordinary day, when I hear parents talk about choosing their child’s race, or the politics of having a child of a different race, I immediately clench up.

My mother is English and Irish, and my father is Singaporean Chinese. Neither of them are particularly involved in radical race politics, and I will never know what or how they thought about having mixed race children before my sister and I were born, because (at least at this point in my life) I am afraid to ask them that question.

I often imagine that their thought process was similar to that of Nicole Sprinkle. In her article for the New York Times Magazine, Sprinkle talks about being the white mother of a white/Colombian daughter*:

When I was pregnant, the thought of having an “exotic” looking child based on our combined genetics – Jose’s inky black hair, dark eyes, and round face coupled with my waspy, delicate looks and tiny build – hadn’t really occurred to me.

Sprinkle talks about how this attitude changed after the first time she and her husband experienced discrimination as a mixed race couple:

Would her choices of where to live or travel be compromised by her looks? Or would her mixed genes work in her favor? Not being quite Hispanic-looking enough to make her a victim of racism, but enough for, say, college scholarships? Maybe she’d walk through different worlds at will, be whoever she needed to be for any situation. Nice in theory, but the idea of conveniently shifting identities to protect or promote herself left me cold.

One of the first posts I wrote for Racialicious discussed mixed race parenting, and I remember being quite moved by a comment Abu Sinan made:

Thanks for the article. As a father of two bi-racial children I try to understand as much as I can about the issues they are going to face here in America.

As the daughter of parents who, for better or worse, never discussed what it meant that my sister and I were mixed race (except to regularly tell us that we were “beautiful” and “special”), I am captivated by parents who want to talk and learn about how being mixed race might be a big deal for their kids, and even further, white parents who can admit that – even though they came forth from their own bodies – their children will have experiences that they themselves can never understand.

Sprinkle goes on to describe her family’s attempt to navigate the hairy terrain of multi-racial experience, and even lovingly accepts the reasons why her husband is hesitant to speak Spanish to their daughter, based on his own experiences of discrimination. Yet despite her initial sensitivity, Sprinkle quickly lost me.

Continue reading

The Divine Nine And Transpeeps – A Long Road Of Understanding Still To Travel

by Guest Contributor Monica Roberts, originally published at Transgriot

blacksororityshields

I was checking out the recent story of transman Devin Alston-Smith and the drama that ensued between him and his local Zeta chapter.

It made me recall a March 2007 post I wrote in which I asked the question are the Divine Nine frats and sororities ready to accept qualified transgender people into their ranks.

Judging by some of the negative responses posted in the comment thread of that story, there’s a lot of Trans 101 education that needs to happen with some peeps in the Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO) world. But before y’all start bumrushing the comment threads assuming I’m going to defend Devin, hear me out first.

I and many of my transsisters and transbrothers have much love, respect, and admiration for the history, traditions and the historic roles that BGLO’s have played in uplifting our race and shaping our communities. I have female family members, female friends and my late godmother who are proud members of their respective historic Black sororities. I look up to them and many of the women in these organizations as role models in terms of my own Black feminine evolution.

But what happened to Devin wasn’t cool, nor is Devin off the hook either. It’s called Zeta Phi Beta SORORITY, Inc. for a reason, and there is the reasonable expectation that if you’re going to pledge ZPB or any sorority you at least be female bodied.

I’m Monday morning quarterbacking here at this point, so I don’t know what Devin’s state of mind was at the time he was asked to pledge or any of the other stuff that went on outside of what’s documented in the article. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, there are hurt feelings and misunderstandings, and ZPB will handle their business as always and sort things out.

But if Devin was contemplating transition, there were two bigger considerations here besides himself, the organization and the transgender community. Continue reading

Defiance: How Jews Depict Jews Within a Larger Context

by Guest Contributor Matt Egan

Starring Liev Schrieber and Daniel Craig, directed by Edward Zwick, Defiance tells the story of the Bielskis, Jews who fought the Nazis in the woods of what is now Belarus. Zwick is Jewish. Schreiber is Jewish and has done a number of Jewish-themed projects lately, including the relatively unsuccessful adaptation of the novel Everything is Illuminated and starring on Broadway as Alan Berg in a revival of Talk Radio. I found Defiance moving, but also entertaining. It swells with action in the best tradition of Hollywood. For some people, this is a problem. The most commonly expressed fear of directors making films about the Holocaust is that they will trivialize and exploit the tragedy. Ralph Seliger complains about historical inaccuracies and that the Bielskis are cheapened as “the image of Hollywood heroes.” My concern is different. There were six Holocaust films out at one time, but given the history of how Hollywood has depicted Jews and the Holocaust – and the way in which I understand antisemitism as shaping that depiction – Defiance was the only one I had any interest in seeing.

Perhaps embarrassed by the number of Holocaust movies out at once, Humorist Joel Stein wrote a satirical column in December for the LA Times a short while back that parodies the common myth that The Jews run Hollywood:

As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment. Yes, we control Hollywood. Without us, you’d be flipping between “The 700 Club” and “Davey and Goliath” on TV all day.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to re-convince America that Jews run Hollywood by launching a public relations campaign, because that’s what we do best. I’m weighing several slogans, including: “Hollywood: More Jewish than ever!”; “Hollywood: From the people who brought you the Bible”; and “Hollywood: If you enjoy TV and movies, then you probably like Jews after all.”

I thought that the piece was funny and subversively camp. However, I’m also concerned he’s playing with fire. It was no surprise to me when the top Google hit for Stein’s piece was a white supremacist website. Continue reading