Nobody saw this coming

This story was originally e-mailed in The Slant on July 28, 2017.

Remember that one time when a band named after a racial slur got the Supreme Court to strike down a law preventing offensive trademarks? Wait, was that just last month? Time goes by so slowly.

Anyway, if you thought people wouldn’t take advantage of this new Wild West of trademark law, you’re in for some shenanigans.

Don’t tell me …

Yeah, people did try to trademark the swastika! Not to mention the n-word, and something the New York Times just calls “an epithet for people of Chinese descent.” And under the new provision, these trademarks can’t just be thrown out.

It’s not like people didn’t see this coming. What The Slants called “a win for free speech” and “marginalized communities” turns out to be a lot of the former and not much of the latter.

Even the Trump administration recommended against striking down the law. Which … tells you something.

It’s gonna be okay, right?

Attorney David Bell says this situation is “a slippery slope, where you get more and more companies thinking, ‘This is okay.’”

He also says, however, that he didn’t think trademark filings were “high on [the KKK’s] radar.”

Instead, it’s on the radar of Steven Maynard, a 50-year-old white man in Virginia trademarking the n-word for use on his clothing, hard liquor and beer. Maynard, who we cannot stress enough has probably never been called the n-word in his life, said the point was to turn “hate into hope” and remove the racist connotations of the slur.

“If you suppress it, you give it power,” said the very white non-Black man.

I mean, if you can’t trust an old white guy on race issues, who can you trust?

Death Note producer realizes the power of words

This story was originally e-mailed in The Slant on July 21, 2017.

Three weeks ago, you might have seen the first trailer for Death Note, Netflix’s adaptation of the Japanese phenomenon about a dude with a magic notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. (It’s manga, is what we’re saying.)

We already know Death Note stars Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley and Keith Stanfield, who are non-Japanese folks playing Japanese characters. But nothing hit as hard as producer Masi Oka telling Entertainment Weekly in April that he tried to find Asian actors, but “couldn’t find the right person, [and] the actors we did go to didn’t speak the perfect English.”

C’mon, Masi. You can’t use Wite-Out on a Death Note.

Masi plays with take-backsies

With Netflix’s trailer bringing Masi Oka’s comments to light again, Oka spoke with BuzzFeed News to set the story straight.

“I meant specifically Asians, actors from Asia who don’t speak English as their first language,” said Oka. “I made the assumption that people would understand I was going outside the United States. And I’m not saying Asians can’t play Asian Americans, or Asian Americans can’t play Asians. I specifically wanted to open it up to make it a global property.”

That explains why the series is set in Seattle.

But they’re in there somewhere

Paul Nakauchi plays Watari, who is to Keith Stanfield’s L as Benedict Wong’s Wong is to Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One.

And at least according to IMDB, AANHPI fill several extra roles.

Oh well. At least we know we’ll get a good series. After all, says Oka, “Everyone had a chance, and it might be a cliché, but the best actor won the part.”

We’ll let that one stand.


Where I ponder if I believe in a thing called love, expect answers to open ended questions, and use humor as a defense mechanism.

The topic this week is mixed-race couples.

Y’all, this is a Real Thing that people Freak Out about. This is on my mind because I watched The Big Sick last week. I highly recommend it—I laughed and cried through the entire movie, which was only slightly embarrassing.

The film tells the real-life love story of Kumail Nanjiani, Pakistani-American comedian and costar of “Silicon Valley.” Nanjiani falls in love with a (dun dun dun) white woman, much to the dismay of his more traditional Pakistani parents.

Thus he faces an inevitable cultural dilemma that many POC encounter when choosing a life mate.

Could I make that sound more clinical? Probably not.

The movie took me on an emotional roller coaster. And it left me with several unanswered questions, all of which I’ll definitely answer in this short segment (lol).

I suppress the urge to “woohoo” when I see interracial couples in real life. Then I suppress the other urge to ask said couples about navigating these sometimes tricky waters.

For instance …

  • What stereotypes must we confront in this intersectional world of lurve?
  • Is dating a person of a different race harder for men or women?
  • What do passers-by think when they see interracial couples? Why?
  • In the world of social politics, would it be better for POC to date within their own race?
  • Why do people have so many opinions around this?
  • Is love even a real thing?
  • And most importantly: what would my parents think?

From personal experience, I know I am particularly conscious of these questions when dating a white person. I am in general uncomfortable with dating, but it definitely intensifies in these circumstances.

I think my self-consciousness originates from the knowledge that I am a minority. Am I in some way giving up some of my identity and power by succumbing to the dominant group? And why do I keep thinking about it?

I know I have not done much other than promote a (deserving) movie and ask a lot of questions. This is, of course, an ongoing exploration, hopefully supplemented by my own anecdotal evidence. Stay tuned for part two, which may or may not be related: Things People Think About Asian American Women That I Have Had To Confront.

Hitting the bamboo ceiling in law

This story was originally e-mailed in The Slant on July 21, 2017.

On Tuesday, Yale Law School and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association released a study on Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) representation in law.

According to the study, AANHPI make up 10 percent of top law school graduates, although they make up only 6 percent of the US population. But AANHPI make up only 2-3 percent of the federal and state judiciary.

Basically, the growth of AANHPI as leaders in law has been slow and disproportionate. Meanwhile, 58.2 percent of students at top law schools, 82.4 percent of the federal judiciary and 80.2 percent of the state judiciary are White Americans, who make up 76.9 percent of the U.S. population.

Something tells me it’s not just in law…

As many other reports note, it’s like that in most other fields.

It’s not surprising that AANHPI have hit bamboo ceilings in many professions—like in techentertainment, or politics. Many of those studies attribute it to a couple of reasons: that the nature of AANHPI culture is “risk averse,” or that the so-called introversion and quiet disposition of AANHPI prevent them from acquiring soft skills, such as networking.

And of course, implicit biases towards AANHPI not being seen as the “leader type” or “the right fit” get in the way.

But those are all old generalizations

You gotta wonder whether it’s these studies that project and perpetuate these stereotypes over and over again—or whether they’re actually true.

Even if older AANHPI cultural influences do play roles in underrepresentation, how much of it is still relevant with millennial AANHPI in modern-day America?

Ironically, that might be a question best answered with a study.

Where does Ranch 99 get its bok choy?

This story was e-mailed in the 7/14/2017 issue of The Slant.

If you’ve ever thought about selling your garden strawberries at the local farmer’s market, you probably got as far as “lugging crates in your Camry” before giving up entirely. (Personal experience.)

But for farmers, growing, marketing, and moving produce is a daily reality. And farmer’s markets are notoriously tricky, since it can take several trips to ship goods back and forth, and there’s never a guarantee that everything will sell.

Enter the Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement (APIFM).

More than home economics

Based in Los Angeles, APIFM’s a non-profit that helps AANHPI farmers grow and distribute cultural produce.

From chrysanthemum greens to daikon, vegetables from APIFM’s partner farms have emerged in Asian grocery stores, like Ranch 99, and smaller outlets, like liquor stores. And, of course, farmer’s markets.

For non-English speakers, that’s invaluable, especially because APIFM teaches government regulations alongside irrigation techniques. After all, complying with 32 city ordinances isn’t exactly top of mind when you’ve got a day of hard work ahead.

That’s why your parents love APIFM

Organizations like APIFM, by definition, help niche farmers, who just so happen to grow niche cultural produce. That keeps the bitter melon and durian in stock, which keeps the AANHPI diaspora feeling close to home.

That might not sound interesting if you’ve got a Ranch 99, a Zion, and a Mitsuwa within 10 miles of you. But for AANHPI who don’t have specialty stores nearby, APIFM is a godsend.

Aside from helping farmers distribute straight to the corner stores that these AANHPI do have nearby, APIFM subsidizes vegetables and fruits for low-income families, and even offers cooking and nutrition classes at lower rates.

Ultimately, APIFM’s not concerned about demand so much as it is about farmers. And while it’s a small operation right now, APIFM sees potential to connect more people with cultural produce.

Even if all the Chinese food they know is the orange chicken at Trader Joe’s.

Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief

Could someone call a referee?

This story was e-mailed in the 7/14/2017 issue of The Slant.

Remember Tami Barker, the Airbnb host who canceled a woman’s reservation with a message saying “One word says it all. Asian”?

Well, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing got involved and got creative. Instead of paying fees to those who were harmed, the now-banned Barker will not only pay $5,000, but will also have to take a college-level Asian American studies class.

And participate in a community education panel.

And volunteer with a civil rights organization.

Oh—and say she’s sorry.

It isn’t too late now to say sorry

This is actually the first time an Airbnb host has been penalized for racial discrimination under a new agreement between California and Airbnb, which lets California’s department of fair employment and housing (DFEH) test Airbnb hosts for bias. So break out the confetti!

Until that agreement, Airbnb had repeatedly resisted regulation, with some pretty bold ads being a particularly memorable protest. But DFEH’s regulations aren’t exactly new to housing. In the past, DFEH has sent both black and white applicants to see if a landlord chose one over the other; with Airbnb, they make fake accounts and send fake reservation requests.

“We’re watching,” said Kevin Kish, the director of the DFEH. “But we’re willing to be creative.”

In this case, Kish means sending Barker through a gauntlet of diversity, where she’ll look for all the world like a woman on an equal rights crusade. We can only hope it’ll stick.
Natalie Bui, editor & Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief

Time for a vocabulary lesson

This story was e-mailed in the 7/14/2017 issue of The Slant.

If you haven’t listened to W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu’s podcast, “Politically Re-Active,” now’s a perfect time to start. This week, Bell and Kondabolu interviewed Janet Mock, trans writer, activist, TV host, and New York Times bestselling author. You know, among other things.

Half Native Hawaiian, Mock talks about the “huge, visible, vocal, involved, integrated” trans women community in Hawaii. Her childhood best friend was a trans girl, and people didn’t make much of it because heynot a big deal. What’s more, Mock’s dance teacher identified as māhū.

What does that mean again?

Oh man (or not man)so many things. But at the root, Native Hawaiians use “māhū” to describe people who identify as both kāne (male) and wahine (female), or even neither.

Pre-colonization, Hawaiian society “embraced māhū as caretakers, healers, and teachers,” living in aloha with each other and themselves, whichever gendered and nongendered ways that may be.

Unfortunately, colonizers banned māhū chants, languages, hulu, and their very beings. “Māhū” even became used negatively.

But māhū stayed resilient, and are now reclaiming their once and still powerful name.

Language matters

That Native Hawaiians even had a word for māhū shows how visible māhū were in early Hawaii. And with māhū reclaiming their identities, Native Hawaiians have preserved an open space for trans men and women not just to be accepted, but to thrive.

“When you have a child that’s born māhū, your family’s blessed with someone that can embody all sorts of gender roles and performances and expressions,” says Mock. “Having that space to describe who I was, as a young person, was incredibly freeing and liberating. [I could] be seen and be heard and express myself.”

Isn’t that what we all want?
Natalie Bui, editor

(Loss of) Independence Day

This story was e-mailed on 7/7/2017. For more like this, subscribe to The Slant!

58 years ago, Hawaii became the 50th state to join the United States. But while Americans in the other 49 states might have loved the prospect of a new vacation spot joining the Union, Native Hawaiians had some very valid reasons to not be entirely happy with the situation.

Those reasons are the subject of "The Theft of a Nation," a play that premiered on July 4th on the steps of 'Iolani Palace, Hawaii.

Written, acted and produced by Native Hawaiians, the play follows the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, from the American ousting of Queen Liliuokalani to the annexation of Hawaii five years later.

Yes, this is dripping with irony

It's not exactly subtle, but then again, neither was the coup.

The Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in 1893. The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898. It wasn't until 1993 that Congress passed Senate Joint Resolution 19, which officially acknowledged a) the overthrow and b) how sorry the U.S. was to Native Hawaiians.

Though of course, Congress didn't offer c) reparations.

Any actions to back up those words?

As far as the legal status of Native Hawaiians is concerned, former Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the first U.S. senator of Native Hawaiian ancestry, leads the conversation even after his retirement.

The Akaka Bill, which Senator Akaka repeatedly advocated for, offers status to Native Hawaiians similar to that of Native American tribes. But the furthest it's gotten is a 2014 promise by the U.S. Department of the Interior to hold hearings about tribe recognition, and it's gotten plenty of pushback.

Regardless of what some folks in D.C. think, though, the thespians have made their point: July 4th just ain't fireworks and hot dogs for everyone.

Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief

More like Hawaii-Five-No

This story was e-mailed on 7/7/2017. For more like this, subscribe to The Slant!

Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, stars of CBS’s “Hawaii Five-0,” announced on July 3rd that they will not return for the show’s eighth season this fall. Turns out CBS offered them salaries 10-15 percent lower than that of their white co-leads, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan. Time to write some very strongly worded Glassdoor reviews.

Of course, the CBS PR team was very amicable, stating: “We are so appreciative of Daniel and Grace’s enormous talents, professional excellence and the aloha spirit they brought to each and every one of our 168 episodes.” So at least CBS knows "aloha" means hello and goodbye.

But no worries for the directors. There are plenty of Asian American actors in Hollywood who can fill their spots. Try Emma Stone or Scarlett Johansson for starters!

Like the "Friends" fight, but less, uh, white

It might seem harder to get away with unequal compensation in the entertainment industry, where everyone’s contributions are quite visible. But we’ve seen this before on sets like “Friends” and “Sex and the City.” This time, though, race is kind of the main differentiator. 

According to Hired's 2017 report on the wage gap, Asian men make $0.96 for each dollar white men make, while Asian women make $0.87 for that same vaunted dollar. It's even worse for Latino women and Black women, who make $0.83 and $0.79 respectively for each buck.

And with that in mind …

Major props to Kim and Park for doing what's best for them. Kim himself posted a very thoughtful take on Facebook.

"The path to equality is rarely easy," wrote Kim. "But I hope you can be excited for the future." For Kim, that means producing "The Good Doctor," airing this fall on ABC. That's called a rebound.

— Chery Sutjahjo, editor

If a picture is worth a thousand words …

This story was originally e-mailed in The Slant on June 30, 2017.

… then 80 of ‘em are worth eight years of hard work, 26 cities in 20 states, and 7,500 miles of travel. 

That’s what Bay Area photographer Mia Nakano discovered in 2009. She’d spent years taking portraits in Nepal, but Nakano wanted to do a project that aligned more closely with her identity as an openly queer media maker.

So she launched the Visibility Project, a photography and documentation project focused on the queer Asian Pacific Islander women, trans, and gender non-conforming community.

That’s where the 7,500 miles come in.

Hope she had a This American Life backlog

Right? On June 2, Nakano released Visible Resilience, a book of 80 portraits of participants throughout her eight years of travel, from all over the country. She even developed an educational curriculum, teaching queer Asian Pacific Islander history for students as young as 11. 

Oh, and on the same day her book released, Nakano launched the Resilience Archives, a “digital history tour map” showcasing achievements in the Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ community. ‘cos anyone can do just a book launch.

No rest for the wicked(ly talented)

Visitors to the digital project can scroll through a map and click through milestones in LGBTQ history, getting a digital “walking tour” through preserved workshops, film screenings and other memories.

(It’s almost entirely limited to San Francisco, but as it’s user-generated, anyone can add significant events to the map, so there’s potential to scale.)

After a standing-room-only exhibition in San Francisco, the Resilience Archives are headed to Oakland. But knowing Nakano, that’s probably the start of a long journey. Hope she wears compression socks.