The ban is back

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

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the executive order banning visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen will be reinstated. Visitors who don’t have an immediate family member or legitimate business tie could be blocked from entering.

While President Trump frames the travel ban as protecting the safety of Americans, many see it as a validation of Islamophobia, which has rapidly emerged from the shame shadows since Trump’s election.

Still, some might even call the ban presidential. After all, President Chester A. Arthur signed something kinda like it back in 1882: the Chinese Exclusion Act. History repeats itself.

But … some of us are trying?

Meanwhile, in Rockville, Maryland, city officials took a different tack. Leaning into diversity, Rockville displayed the 193 flags of the United Nations downtown. But the gesture was met with protest: specifically, against the flags of Iraq and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which defeated South Vietnam in 1975.

For many Vietnamese residents, the presence of the flag reminds them of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, evoking memories of pain, struggle, and loss. That’s why other cities with a sizeable South Vietnamese diaspora, including San Jose, choose to fly only the South Vietnamese flag.

Lesson learned

Now, Rockville city officials are reconsidering which flags to display, and more importantly, they’re thinking about what counts as inclusive and what might do the opposite. Fine line there.

tl;dr: While the president’s banning visitors, Marylanders are learning how to make everyone feel included. Maybe we can award an A for effort.

Chery Sutjahjo, editor



We swear we’re not named after them

This story was originally e-mailed in The Slant on June 23, 2017.

“Slant,” that old-timey AANHPI slur (and very good e-mail newsletter title), has been in the news for a bit. Which is weird, because in 2017, our insults have moved beyond what you’d find in Nana’s slang dictionary.

Turns out, it’s because of The Slants: an Asian American band that was unable to trademark their name in 2010, because it was a racial slur.

The Slants took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, and this week, the justices struck down a law preventing potentially offensive names from being trademarked.

So … is that a good thing?

While The Slants call the case “a win for free speech” and “marginalized communities,” the National Congress of American Indians is less happy about it. Because of a certain football team called the Washington Redskins.

“This is an issue we have always believed will not be solved in a courtroom, and this ruling does not change some clear facts,” said the NCAI in a statement. “This is a word that was screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands.”

Sounds complicated

The Slants say it’s about being able to choose when to use potentially offensive language, or to reclaim it. But what happens when a non-AANHPI names his chicken shop “Chink-fil-A”?

Justice Kennedy writes that “mandating positivity […] might silence dissent and distort the marketplace of ideas.” Implying that people will check themselves before they wreck themselves, which is the clearest evidence that Justice Kennedy has not been on Twitter lately.

The moral’s the same as so many others: causes have effects which have ripple effects. And in The Slants’ case, it’s tough to say it’s a win for marginalized communities.

No conviction, redux

This story was originally e-mailed in The Slant on June 23, 2017.

Last year, officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile, a Black man pulled over for broken brake lights. And last week, Yanez was found not guilty on all counts.

Yanez joins other officers who face no convictions for the deaths of Black people at their hands. Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray… should we keep going? ‘cause we could.

This feels familiar …

Ain’t that the truth. This week marks the 35th anniversary of the death of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man beaten to death by two white men in Detroit.

That incident galvanized a Pan-Asian community to protest the lenient sentences Chin’s killers received, creating the AANHPI community as we know it.

But hate crimes continue to occur. This week in Virginia, a Muslim-American woman named Nabra Hassanen was beaten to death after leaving a mosque. And the cops called it “road rage.”

In situations like these, it’s easy to silo ourselves based on race. To cherry pick the causes we support, the news we read, and the voices we escalate. But when all people of color are facing injustices, that just won’t fly.

Why #BlackLivesMatter for AANHPI

Remember the model minority myth? Government and media highlighted AANHPI success stories, basically saying “these guys can do it– why can’t you?”

That resulted in Black communities being told to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” like AANHPI allegedly did. Except that completely ignores the massive differences between the two groups’ origin, integration, and current experiences in America.

Adding AANHPI voices to the #BlackLivesMatter movement builds solidarity, and tells the Black community that AANHPI refuse to be complicit in injustice.

So next time you read a story about violence against the Black community, maybe hit that retweet button and throw in #Asians4BlackLives.

Chery Sutjahjo, editor

583,000 square miles of ocean

E-mailed in The Slant on June 16, 2017.

That’s how much space Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument encompasses, and that’s also how much space is being reevaluated as part of President Trump’s review of national monuments.

If all goes as the president and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plan, Papahānaumokuākea will likely meet a similar recommendation as that for Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, which is facing a reduction in size from its 1.3 million acres.

What’s at stake?

Papahānaumokuākea, which encompasses open ocean and ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, is the world’s largest marine protected area. It’s home to a lot of endangered species, including the Hawaiian monk seal, the green sea turtle and the world’s oldest animal: a 4,500-year-old black coral.

But beyond that, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are considered a sacred place by Native Hawaiians, who pass down a history of ancestors traveling to and from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the main Hawaiian Islands.

In Hawaiian tradition, life emerges from and returns at death to Papahānaumokuākea, and Native Hawaiians still conduct traditional ceremonies there today.

Wait, this sounds familiar now

You might remember President George W. Bush creating the monument in 2006, and President Obama expanding it by 4x last year.

You might also remember the uproar around Obama’s expansion, in particular among Hawaii’s fishing industry, which in the past has relied on now-protected waters for its livelihood.

Fishing, of course, is also an important part of Hawaiian culture, and so just as in 2016, both pro-expansionists and anti-expansionists invoke Native Hawaiian traditions to argue their side.

What are the two sides?

Pro-expansionists argue that over-fishing and pollution have damaged Papahānaumokuākea too much to consider reducing its size again, and that its expansion will be good in the long run as fishing populations replenish.

Opponents argue that the fishing industry is hurt enough as it is, and restrictions on commercial fishing are too great for fishermen to make a living.

In other words, it’s more complicated than it sounds, culturally and economically. Not to mention the whole “buffering the monument from climate change” bit. Which is a whole other problem.



You. Trapped in a box. Stuck in space.

E-mailed in The Slant on June 16, 2017.

Sounds like a great time to Dr. Jonny Kim and Lieutenant Colonel Raja Chari, America’s next top astronaut candidates.

Along with 10 other recruits, they’ll train for two years at the Johnson Space Centre. Then, they’ll join 44 other active-duty astronauts in being the only people in the country who can operate an escape pod in the event of the planet’s spontaneous combustion.

So if you wanna make some new friends, I got some ideas for you.

These guys sound kind of accomplished

Uh huh. In fact, beating 18,288 other candidates (a 0.066% acceptance rate) is just another day for our next Asian American astronauts.

Following being a Navy SEAL, combat medic, sniper, navigator, point man and Harvard Medical School graduate. (That’s Dr. Kim.)

Or being a fighter pilot with 2,000 hours of flight time, plenty of medals and a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. (That’s Lt. Col. Chari.)

W-wait a minute

If your resume suddenly feels super light, so does acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot’s. Says Lightfoot, “It makes me personally feel very inadequate when you read what these folks have done.”

In other words, if you’re feeling kind of small, you’re pretty much on the level of a NASA administrator. Which sounds like a win to me.



You know who grows your pot?

E-mailed on June 9, 2017.

Because it might be the Hmong of Trinity County, California.

Ever since California legalized marijuana, there’s been a “green rush” of farmers looking to turn a profit. And it just so happens that the Hmong are really, really good at it.

As the New York Times reports, the Hmong were noted for their opium-growing skills in Laos. Now, Hmong immigrants who find it difficult to assimilate are turning to the now-legal marijuana farming industry.

Puts a whole new meaning to “melting pot”

Trinity County is still 85 percent white. So Hmong Americans still kind of stand out.

But Debbie Miller, superintendent of the local school district, welcomes more Hmong Americans to schools, where enrollment has declined.

And Hmong Americans have won the local barbecue contest and put on their fashion pageants at school.

But it’s not all about weed

Since so many Hmong are flocking to Trinity County, it’s also been the site of surprising reunions.


Classmates have found each other at stores. Old army buddies bump into each other at gas stations. Even distant cousins have found each other in the farms.


Things aren’t exactly easy for the farmers, especially with large-scale competition and a labyrinth of English-language regulations.

But for now, Hmong make up 1,500 of Trinity County’s 13,000 people. Says one Hmong resident, “If they allow us to grow, the Hmong will stay.”




Hold onto your wallets

E-mailed on June 9, 2017.

Because AAPI are making their way back to screens big and small.

Here's the roundup.

Starring neither Johansson nor Stone

Crazy Rich Asians, the upcoming film based on the 2013 Kevin Kwan novel, is looking * chef's kiss *.

In fact, it's set to be the first major studio-backed live-action Asian American film since Joy Luck Club.

You got actress and mega-activist Constance Wu. Awkwafina, straight off the playlist of your coolest friend. And, oh, Michelle. Yeoh. Herself.

So yeah, I'll be at Walgreens, replacing all the Entertainment Weeklys with Crazy Rich Asians zines.

Best quality heart

Speaking of Joy Luck Club, you might know Amy Tan and Ellen DeGeneres are developing a TV series on the real F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Which makes this oral history of the film adaptation from Susan Cheng at Buzzfeed News extra timely.

These days, Joy Luck Club provokes a range of reactions, from "sobbing in fetal position" to "spontaneous projectile vomiting." Tan's from an older generation, so the resonance can be hit or miss.

But the oral history's worth a read. Cheng managed to track down almost the entire creative team behind the film, all with nothing but positive memories.

It's a bit long, so if you're busy, the pictures alone are worth a look. Especially, of course, Russell Wong with his watermelon.

And they're coming to any screen near you

A Nielsen study shows that AAPI households adopt newer viewing technology faster. So, yeah, we're dirty hipsters.

Way up from the general population, 98% of AAPI homes have HDTVs. 51% have Apple TVs, Rokus, Chromecasts, or TV-connected smartphones. And 73% have tablets.

So movies and TV aren't the end-all be-all anymore. And with media like YouTube or Instagram, AAPI creators have a chance to distinguish themselves … and find a built-in audience.




Okay Google, navigate to the nearest pancit

E-mailed on June 2, 2017

Vogue discovered Filipino food this Thursday, and by “discovered,” we mean it in the Christopher Columbus sense.

But the article brings up some fun stats you might be interested in, courtesy of Bloomberg and a little Google Trends sleuthing:

  • Google searches for “Filipino food” have doubled since 2012
  • Searches for “lumpia near me” have increased 3,350 percent
  • Hawaii searches for Filipino food the most, followed by Nevada and California

Hawaii knows their Filipino food

Still, Filipino restaurateurs are cautious about entering higher rent markets, because they just don’t have confidence that their cuisine will stick.

“[Filipinos] came here for the American dream and it’s not, ‘This is our food, and it’s in your face’; it’s very much ‘Oh, did you like that?’” says Filipino American chef Carl Foronda.

If these trends are any indication, though, we can only hope more Filipino chefs will put their food in our faces. Because that’s where our food-holes are. You know, to eat it.

Asian Americans run the country

E-mailed on June 2, 2017

Okay, that might be a little optimistic, but AAPI are definitely getting a little closer than before.

Congress has 12 Asian American representatives and 3 senators, and 1 Pacific Islander representative and 2 non-voting representatives.

And from Robert Lee Ahn running in California to a rising Asian American electorate in Georgia, it’s time to pay attention.

Don’t Asians only make up 5.6% of the U.S. population?

Yeah, but when that 5.6% is getting more and more Democratic (capital D), that’s pretty troublesome for the other side(s).

In fact, according to a recent poll, 47 percent of Asian Americans now identify as Democrat, up from 35 percent in 2012.

And when you look at just 18- to 34-year-olds, a whopping 77 percent identify as Democrat, versus 12 percent identifying as Republican.

Now the Democrats just want them to vote

As promising as this sounds to the Democratic Party, Asian American voters are also the least likely to vote.

As NPR reported in February 2016, Asian Americans speak a whole bunch of languages, which makes it difficult to leverage them at the voting booth.

So sure, in theory, the Democrats could get a good 4 percent of Americans on lock next election. But in practice? They better brush up on their Rosetta Stone.