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Hot Gway and Obama February 23, 2008

Posted by peterong in Asian American, Lower East Side, racism, Rants.
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Time Magazine wrote an article called “Does Obama Have an Asian Problem?” and as I read through this I realized how I felt both a sense of embarrassment as well as relief that some of the issues that it brought out. One part of me felt it like it was an airing of Asian America’s “dirty laundry.” What struck me was the question, “could it be that Asian Americans are not voting for him because he is black?” When I read that, I was caught off guard and not sure what to make of that question from a national publication. Perhaps race does play a part in the way we vote or want to see our leadership but I suspect that the Time article was trying to be provocative and not making a real investigative approach but rather it was a story looking for an issue rather vice versa.

But one quote that got me was this:

Alan Shum, 24, an analyst for an investment fund in New York City, cast his vote for Obama. But he also thinks his elders might have a problem doing the same. “Voting for a black candidate is just not something that would jump out at them,” he says. “Chinese people are really racist at times.” He points to the colloquial Chinese for “white” and “black,” which append both words with “devil.” “The vernacular tells you a little about something,” he says. “Chinese people can be very, very insular as a culture — very superior. We look down upon any race that isn’t Chinese.” (more…)

Strange bedfellows: CBN and Tim Keller February 22, 2008

Posted by peterong in racism, Tim Keller.
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Thanks to Karis blog, I found out that Tim Keller was featured on Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) here. I remember when I was a kid, I would stumble on CBN and always amazed at the on air healings that Pat Robertson would pronounce. I would always wait for him to say, “Oh I see a chubby Asian boy, with a rice bowl haircut, he has been praying for a miracle, to have the one Asian girl in his elementary school like him. I see the heart of that young girl grow fond to him. I can sense that she is falling in love with this oriental boy” (I wouldn’t be surprised if he said that after his insensitive on-air remark here). It is strange that Tim Keller would allowed to be interviewed by CBN here given his reticence towards giving interviews. But it was an even portrayal of the movement that Redeemer is trying to accomplish. I am thankful that he is gaining a broader audience and the challenge of bringing an orthodox view of Christianity to urban dwellers. It reminds that there is a yearning for this city, that is so fast and so temporal for something deep and rooted in hope in the midst of our tragic idols. Thanks to DJ for sharing this link to Tim Keller’s recent sermon on Job here.

Stayed Tune…for my review of “Reason for God” by Tim Keller.

If you would like to join me to discuss the book at a Friday brown bag lunch at Bryant Park Area in New York City email me at peter at palmny dot org. It will be a good time for us to meet folks from Living Faith Community Church and friends who are interested in talking about faith matters. If you are interested in visiting the church I will preaching this coming Sunday on “A People Worthy of the Gospel” Philippians 1:27-30.

Poor Race August 30, 2007

Posted by peterong in Asian American, New York Ministries, racism, Reflections, Social Justice, Uncategorized.
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black-youth.jpg

“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardship.”
W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

Taking some time out to think about the panel discussion that I participated at the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York City. It was a panel discussion entitled “Do Faith-Based Mentorship Programs Work?” As I prepared and sat on the panel of such esteemed faith community leaders, I soon came to knowledge that I was the only non African American on the panel. As I heard their concerns for the African American youth (particularly of African American males.) They spoke of recidivism of incarcerated youth and the cycle of crime and the absence of adult male presence. As I sat there, I shared a picture of the immigrant Chinese and challenge them to look beyond the Asian American community as what Tim Tseng once said as “foreigners” or “model minority.” It was a provocative exchange that left me a bit concerned about my limited view on implications of race in the complex workings of justice and mercy.

In my years serving in Chinatown and the Asian American church there has been an underlying ethnocentrism that borders on racism. We love to send missions trips to “East Asia” and where there are “East Asian” presence. But I believe that we are not racist by culture but the issue was one of leadership and vision. I think that as a culture, we tend to live in our circles and worship the culture more than Christ but it is inherent for us to practice tribalism for the sake of comfort. It is too easy to label Asian American churches as “racist” and not going through a deeper evaluation that we all have tendencies to create huddles. But the gospel challenges us to make intentional steps towards one another. In the Ephesians church, there were those who wanted to create huddles but Paul challenges them to engage. Pastor Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church,  expounded once that we are not to only “tolerate” those who are foreign to us (spiritually, racially, economically, etc.) but to enter in and love deeply for what they have to contribute to our understanding of the gospel and the yet to be redeemed world. Rob Bell in his book Sex God, says this:

“The temptation is always to avoid things that are difficult and complex. To go around them rather than through them. ” (Italics mine)

So often in our journey is one sidestep after another. To avoid the unknown out of fear. I am afraid to admit that I have ignored this issue for a great deal of time. As I have been serving the Asian American community, I have sidestepped the issues of race in the larger context. But God has a great way of reversing that…

This past weekend, the members of OneHouse met with New York Faith & Justice and had a profound conversation about injustice on both the international and domestic urban context. Lisa Harper, the Director of NY Faith & Justice, opened up the conversation by saying, “if we do not solve our problems here, we are going to transplant the problems overseas.” We talked about justice and the issues of churches being mostly silent on it and how the Asian American church could be perceived as “racist” because of our lack of relevance to underserved communities outside of Asian communities.

During the conversation, my heart was burning as I saw how God has yearned to bring His Shalom into the realm of the affluence of the Asian American church. Beyond our minor church buildings but to the streets, to reclaim our humanity through engaging with those who are blessed (beatitudes blessed: the poor). As we shared over a meal, we learned that we have so much more on this journey to learn. To learn that there are brothers and sisters in our communities, who share the same subway seats who we have not exchanged a single hint of a prayer for one another. What if there is something to be said of Asian Americans and our role in this conversation…to be at the table to share a meal and our hearts for those who are literally disconnected because of our fear. I confess I have been guilty of this. It has been easy for me to send a check to help a family thousands of miles from me. We said how “paternalistic” our motives are and how we are seeing that we are “helping” but not connecting with the humanity of it. So the question is, what am I praying for here in my zip code? What am I am understanding about the issues concerning the neighbors here. How do I work out the gospel in the city? I have ignored that Chinatown is populated by Latinos, African Americans and now with the new influx of the Caucasian hipsters in the Lower East Side. When we become unconcerned we have unleashed chaos into the gospel pursuit of redemption to those things that are broken.

As I remembered a sermon on Jonah (you can download it here) by Steven Ro, Living Faith Community Church pastor. I walked away with the sense that justice is an act of expressing a merciful God. Pastor Ro said a God whose “…mercies extend to the end of the world…to even to the enemies of God.” When we live out justice, it reflects mercy of God. It shows that we are living in a continued message that God is compassionate. Jonah’s understanding was God was only compassionate to the religious people. But through this story of Jonah, it shows that God is not tribal, filled with judgment, not unconcerned, but rather a God who is inclusive, holy pity, and committed concern through compassion.

We are so distorted in our narrow vision and it is this blind spot that will forever mute our faith to nothing more than a spiritual ethnic club that says neither of God’s broad vision for redemption or His profound intent of moving us towards connecting with our disconnectedness.

the haunt April 29, 2007

Posted by peterong in Asian American, Immigrant Church, Korean American, racism, Rants, Reflections.
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Mourners visit the Drillfield, where 32 stones are set out for shooting victims. Laura Stanley places flowers on the site of the 33rd stone – the killer’s stone. DELORES JOHNSON/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

There seems to be a twilight of thoughts in regards to the VT incident and as much of the discussion around the Asian American blogs have give a perspective of how Cho’s ethnicity as an Asian American has made an impact in the APA Christian community. DJ Chuang’s summary of what is being said and preached on in the Asian American church gives an overview of the sermons by Asian American regarding this tragedy.

But I think that it was a moment of exploitation for the Asian American community to make this an Asian American issue (as much as the media kept echoing “South Korean” and “Korean” as a descriptive) but later rescinded that as the Asian American community called the media on it. I realize that that Cho was Asian and came from an immigrant family background but as the story unfolds, there is little to nothing to attribute to what happened on that horrible Monday. His ethnicity did not play a major factor or added to any meaning to the motives of Cho. So, what we did (and we seem to always do…) is to make it into an opportunity to speak (or should I say “vent”) out on issues that have little to nothing to do with this. But it fueld the unwanted attention of Cho’s ethnicity and yet we wanted our cake and eat…don’t identify him as Korean! But let’s all explore this…I don’t know how to reconcile that…

But what I find interesting is the “collective shame” as reported in several media outlets as Time magazine and the Associated Press. In one interview on ABC, it was quoted…

“How your child turns out is a reflection on you,” said Katherine Moon, a Korean-American and associate fellow at the Asia Society. “Their son has, in effect, killed them too. The Cho family has been destroyed — obliterated by their own son. You don’t recover from this,” she said.

I think that in the arena of “collective shame” is one that we can discuss and see how we can enter into a reclaiming of the gospel’s power to redeem this aspect of our culture. To deconstruct this “shame-based” gospel into one of redemption and forgiveness…One of the moving picture of this tragedy was the memorials that were made for each of the victims and there was one for Cho (see article here, here and here). How forgiveness among the community who lost the most…What most of the Asian American bloggers and minister who wrote about it seemed a bit removed and wanted to chime in as a opposed to reflect on this on a collective mourning of lives who were cut short on the threshold of so much hope. But instead we aligned and obssessed our thoughts and fueled the collective shame of the killer. That was what seemed most easy to do and so hollow.

As the bell chimed 33 times this past Monday…the community did what seemed impossible…to forgive and not react in ethnic shame or outrage towards this lost young man but built a memoria and rang a bell one more time…to remind us of the loss that day. To cry. To read each profile of the victims and pray. To send a regards to the community. To celebrate the brilliant lives of these short lived people…To join in sorrow…to be part of the loss and the recovery….Instead we clustered into a cloistered parlor and speculated on the dispassionate ramifications of this on the Asian American community.

This was what moved me most and we lost an opportunity to gather at memorial stones…to acknowledge those who were lost…instead, we made this a moment of validation for our ethnic rants irregardless of its relevance or lack of.

I think L.A. Times Op-Ed by Gregory Rodriguez echoed what my sensibilities were to not be lured by the ethnic trap that this was so easily done. I have posted the whole content here as an closing thought…

Gunman was one of us

The Virginia Tech killer is a reflection on all of us, not just a single ethnic group.

Gregory Rodriguez

April 23, 2007

WHAT IF YOU don’t have anything in common with your brother? What if you live on different continents? What if you’ve never even met the man? Are you still his keeper?

In a diverse nation such as ours, there is always that expectant pause after a major violent tragedy, between the moment we hear the news and when we’re told who did it. In that time, we tend to look around the proverbial room and wonder from which group the perpetrator came. Last week, the point of origin was South Korea, and Seung-hui Cho’s ethnic “brothers” in Asia and the U.S. grappled with their relationship to him.

Of course, a murderer’s ethnic, religious or racial background is relevant only if he is acting on what he thinks is a tribal imperative — like the Armenian teenager who gunned down the Turkish consul in L.A. in 1982, or the 2001 plot by Jewish Defense League leaders to bomb the office of Arab American Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).

But even when ethnicity or race add little to the understanding of motive, there is still the “need” to know. It’s scary to think that everyone and anyone is capable of murderous rage. So if the bad guy can be pigeonholed based on skin color, origin or class, the fear can be focused, one group at a time.

Such profiling is silly for lots of reasons, not least that we live in a country that exalts individual over group identity. Not long after Timothy McVeigh slaughtered 168 people in Oklahoma City, I caught myself profiling a potential threat outside the Federal Building in Westwood. I saw a working-class, blond white male with a mullet cut running toward the building, and I jumped.

Although I understand the unfortunate tendency to consciously or unconsciously ascribe responsibility by group, I still don’t think governments and ethnic organizations should endorse this sort of stereotyping. After the Virginia Tech killer’s identity was released last week, the South Korean president and many Korean American associations did just that.

Even though 23-year-old Cho was a permanent resident in the U.S., South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun felt obliged to issue at least three messages of condolences for an act that occurred far away from the Korean peninsula.

Here in the U.S., Korean American organizations issued cravenly self-serving condolence statements to the victims of the massacre. In a news release, one organization promised that “the Korean American community will join the efforts of others in tackling the root causes of these senseless school shootings that continue to endanger our children and young adults.” In L.A.’s Koreatown, there was a candlelight vigil held, well, in clear daylight.

Although part of this ethnic reaction is driven by fear of a backlash, South Korea’s famously defensive nationalism also plays a role. Hunkered down in the shadow of China and Japan, South Korea has always felt a need to watch its back.

Ultimately, though, any reaction that reinforces primitive notions of racial or ethnic collective responsibility is headed for absurdity. That includes the scramble on the part of Koreans to express special outrage over the murders, and the mainstream’s desire to move Cho to a convenient margin. Late last week, U.S. news outlets tried to draw connections between Cho’s menacing self-portrait with a hammer and South Korean film director Park Chan Wook’s gory 2005 psycho-drama, “Oldboy.”

But the truth is that Cho was an American kid. He had lived in the United States since he was 8, and he was clearly immersed in the dark side of U.S. popular culture. In his video ramblings, he compared himself to the Columbine killers; he spoke English-major English.

All of us knew Cho, and, like it or not, he was one of “us,” not the ultimately elusive “them.” His horrific crimes are not a reflection on Korean people — immigrants or Korean Americans — but rather on the state of our cities, campuses, counties and country. We all were, and are, his keepers.

Remembering Denny’s April 11, 2007

Posted by peterong in Asian American, Asian American Campus, Politics, racism, Rants, Social Justice.
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dennys_syracuse.jpg

Today is the tenth anniversary of the incident where three Asian American and a white student were attacked at a Denny’s after denying service. Syracuse University had a Remembrance Circle in the quad (see blog here and my pictures here).

I went to this event with a heavy heart and with a sense of something more significant that what was presented. When the testimonies of racism were presented they were little more than “oh, it is so hard to be Asian” and “everyone makes fun of us” and yet, I wonder what this whole “fight” against racism is a clutching for identity and dignity that is summed in this mundane and bland expression of “please someone do something about this teasing” which is called “racism.” One testimony that really got me was a Chinese girl who was dating a white guy said she dumped her because his friend told him he should date a blonde. I was like “what???” (more…)

Oh boy…first Pat Robertson…now this… March 3, 2007

Posted by peterong in Asian American, racism, Rants, SHIFT Conference.
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So, just when I thought I got over the whole Pat Robertson, Plastic Surgery and “Oriental” swipe

Here are echoes of Rickshaw Rally which was a horrific vision for VBS which featured a smorgsbord of “oriental” content(the website is still up!) …

here comes another episode but with a glimmer of hope and restoration to this story …well, kind of…there is a book out by Youth Specialties called “Skits that Teach” that has a horrible and just plain sad portrayal of Asians… I got an excerpt from the book from Dr. Soong Chan Rah’s xanga

“Herro, Dis is Wok’s Up Restaurant calling to confirm your order. . . . I think that, yes, you total is 14 dollar 95 cent.”

“Herro? This is Wok’s Up Restaurant again. We have drive and drive, and we can’t find you house. We don’t find you house soon, you pu pu get cold. Pu pu good when it hot.”

(Hostile) “Okay, we drive for long time looking for you house. I tell you, you go outside and I look for you. I am driving a red Rincon (Lincoln) Continental. You pu pu still getting cold. Bye!

“Okay, I drive for long time and I stil not find you house. So I am eating you pu pu! Ruckiry it still warm. I was hungry, so I eat it. Mmmmm . . . this pu pu is good. (Smacks lips a few times) You on my bad rist. You don’t call us anymore. Bye!

I am glad that there was a public apology that was issued by Mark Oestreicher at his blog here. I appreciate his contrition and taking this very seriously.

This pervasive element of “sin of commission” towards Asian American Christians is blatant and so ridiculous that there is no debate…but what is more subtle is “sin of ommission” that I have been thinking of quite a bit since blogging for the Willow Creek SHIFT conference this past week…

As I look through the Willow Creek SHIFT Conference roster, I found that there were not a single Asian American that was represented in the breakout sessions or even in the presenters. As I spoke to one of the organizers they stated that they felt that God brought them the speakers after much prayer and consideration.

I don’t doubt that and want to honor their process…but it makes me pause and wonder…how seriously do they consider the importance of representation of Asian Americans at their conferences…I am sure they consider inclusion from African American and Latino Americans…but did they consider an Asian American representation? Willow Creek are not the only to call out on. But in every major Christian conference (except for Intervarsity‘s venues which express an astounding commitment to the issues of race…just take a look at the sessions at Urbana and you will see such a beautiful and diverse tapestry of ethnic expressions of faith), you will find that it is mostly Caucasian with a handful of Latino and African Americans.

There is language in this…it is stating…Christianity has a face…it is mostly white…but one is to argue that as Asian Americans, we don’t have the kind of leaders that could participate in these conferences as “experts.” To that I have to sigh and say, “really?”

My hope is that there is an acknowledgement of our blind spots in terms of examining white privilege in Christianity…one of the most stirring sermons I have heard about this from Dr. Rah during Wheaton College chapel (you can download it here).

I am not angry…just confused and perplexed…how can we be so easily ignored? So simply looked upon as disposable and/or invisible?