Thursday, February 08, 2007


Strange weather. It may seem like I'm obsessing about this, since I started off last ish of this mailblog with a discussion of the freakily warm temps we've had here in New York--but as I write this, the thermometer says the outside temperature is 75 degrees, 12 degrees over the historical high for early January. Meanwhile, friends and colleagues out West have experienced creepy, Act-of-God type extreme meteorology: torrential storms and flooding in Seattle; multi-foot blizzards in Denver; crazily intense wind gusts in Los Angeles that knocked out power and telephone lines.

And it's not just happening in the U.S.: Indonesia's suffering under raging storms that have sent 12 to 15 foot waves crashing against coastlines, in one case sinking a passenger ferry with hundreds of probable casualties. Australia is experiencing its worst drought on record, while in central China and India, unexpectedly icy temperatures have led to dozens of deaths.

It's hard to escape a feeling of impending...something. Some kind of fundamental, seismic shift in the way we live and interact with the world around us. At the very least, things are becoming less predictable. At the worst, we're moving into an era where we can no longer consider nature a benign or even neutral party. Already, scientists are calling 2006 one of the ten hottest years on record, with 2007 likely to be number one with a bullet.

Which is why I'm wearing the same outfit today as I have for most of this past week: A t-shirt, shorts, and a vague sense of foreboding.

Okay. On to this week's Asian Pop, which is a complement to last column's look back at the best of 2006:


ASIAN POP: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, January 4, 2007

In part 2 of his year in review, Jeff Yang looks at the tragedies, travesties and absurdities that made Asian Pop lovers gasp and flinch in 2006 -- and offers some New Year's resolutions for the individuals and institutions behind them.


This roundup of 2006's worst and weirdest is full of craziness: Redneck wrestlers. Gwen Stefani. Rosie O'Donnell. Flying People Fatigue. Lame remakes. The return of yellowface. Toys that suck. The Sony deathwatch. Connie croons goodbye, Desi guys gone wild, yellow fever redux, jerky senators and subway jerk-offs, and lastly, sad passings and farewells.

Not making it in under the wire were a couple of stories I caught in today's New York Times. The first is one of those tiny stories with a huge and savage tail. At the end of last year, Toys 'R' Us announced a heavily hyped contest to bestow a $25,000 savings bond on the first American baby born in 2007. Doctors and hospitals were encouraged to submit candidates (with the winning hospital getting a $10,000 grant to be used for prenatal education programs). But when Yuki Lin, the midnight daughter of two restaurant workers from Brooklyn, NY, won a draw to break a three-way tie, contest officials declared her entry invalid--because her mother is not currently a legal resident of the U.S:


First-Baby Sweepstakes Fuels Immigration Debate
Published: January 6, 2007


The stipulation of legal residency was made in the fine print of the contest rules, and of course, Toys 'R' Us is perfectly within its rights to enforce it; most contests, though not, it seems, state lotteries, have similar legal residency requirements, though the argument has been made here that the winner wasn't Mrs. Lin, but her daughter, who is undeniably a U.S. citizen. (Except to the woman whose baby ultimately was awarded the prize, who declared herself and her child "100% American" and stated that "the baby of an illegal alien is an illegal alien," even if the law says otherwise. (Heck, Mexican American U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admits that he himself may be the grandson of undocumented immigrants.)

Coming on the heels of last year's dramatic protests and abortive reform debates, one wonders how much more frequently we'll be seeing this kind of issue rear its head. Well, one doesn't wonder; one is absolutely sure that--like 60-degree days in the dead of winter--we'll be seeing a lot more of these issues arising.

Which brings us to the other interesting Times story today: "The Asian Campus," the cover feature of this week's Education Life supplement. It explores something that Californians have been aware of for almost half a decade now--in the wake of the repeal of affirmative action laws, Asian Americans have become an increasingly dominant force at U.S. elite colleges.

UC-Berkeley, considered by many to be the best public university in the nation, and perhaps the world, is currenlty 41 percent Asian, a proportion that's over three times higher than the percentage of Asian Americans in the California population, and almost 10 times higher than the percentage of Asians in the U.S. And Berkeley is just one example among many; along the bottom of the article runs a ticker-style strip recounting the Asian American percentage on top college campuses across the nation, from 13 percent at Princeton to 27 percent at Wellesley, 17 percent at University of Texas - Austin, and 27 percent at M.I.T.

This poses a dramatic challenge for the redress of historical discrimination: Black and Latino top-university enrollment has suffered significantly over the past five years. But it should be noted as well that the net effect on white enrollment has essentially been zero--suggesting that the elimination of race-based affirmative action has been exacerbated by the preservation of other kinds of questionable preference (such as preferences for athletes and the children of alumni, who are said to have a "thumb on the scale" giving them a 20 percent greater chance of admission at most schools).

And this is ultimately unfair to Asian Americans as well. If college admissions are to be a true meritocracy, why protect certain classes of applicants who are mostly white and mostly privileged? Legacies make up an average of 10 to 20 percent of admissions; at Ivy League colleges, legacy applicant pools range from 75 percent to 90 percent white.

But even eliminating legacy preferences won't resolve this situation on its own. Nor are there easy and good solutions that don't penalize groups or individuals in fundamentally life-changing ways. But there aren't easy, good solutions to anything, really; other than on late night infomercials, "good" almost always goes hand in hand with "difficult and painful."

That said, I'm intrigued with what's happening at these, uh, Historically Asian Colleges. Critics have said that Asian grads of places like UC Irvine (majority Asian American), Berkeley, and UCLA (the "University of Caucasians Lost among Asians") are not being prepared for the real world. They also say that Asian American students spend all their time in libraries, don't contribute to "student culture," and tend to seclude themselves into ethnic clusters, refusing even to interact across ethnic lines, much less racial ones.

Based on my own experiences visiting these campuses, I pretty much wholeheartedly disagree: That depiction of Asian Americans is at best a generalization and at worst a rationale for outright discrimination.

I also think that spending four (or so) years in an environment where you're part of the "mainstream"--as opposed to an outsider, an exception, an alien--is incredibly empowering to this generation of Asian Americans. And when I say generation, I mean generation: 8 in 10 Asian Americans attend college, meaning that for Asian American Millennials, this four-year period of normality is essentially the norm.

I predict that this will be the most important generation in Asian American history--with more leaders, more outstanding achievement, and more social progress for our community than any preceding it, including my own (which I'm largely writing off; all in all, we've been like a lull between the pioneering generation of the 60s and 70s and the emerging one of the 00s and beyond).

I'd love to hear from those of you who attended or are attending heavily Asian American colleges, to get your opinions on the experience. In fact, I'd love to hear from all of you, just to get your thoughts on this topic.

Until then, Happy New Year--and talk to you in two weeks!


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