Why the debates don’t matter

I can’t help but be cynical and think the debates won’t end up mattering too much. Those of us people living on the prosperous edges of the country along the Acela corridor or California coast have too much faith in that facts and reason are convincing when they are not important to a lot of people. We also underestimate the narcissism of those voters on the left who’d rather risk the republic than vote for Clinton because they believe she’s just the lesser of two evils.

Note this is not factually true, but it doesn’t matter.

Tribalism and fear usually win out. Nice coastal liberals are usually shit in a fight and haven’t woken up that hardcore Trump supporters are a danger and need to be stopped with our votes and will. There’s no convincing of deplorable people. Their poverty and lost of an imagined past is no excuse. There’s no demographic blue wall and the belief that things will turn out okay and that your fellow citizens are smarter than that been has proven wrong over and over again in history and of late, look at what’s happened to the UK and Philippines.

You can call it the remnants of third world survivalism or being hood or whatever signifier you want, but I haven’t had enough cycles of generational safety and prosperity in my story to let my guard down and be complacent of such things. To realize that people will be violent bullies because bystanders do nothing. That such instability is a possible cycle of ruin that can spread like a virus.

You ever wonder why gun control can’t be solved? Because you have a fragmented coalition of people who otherwise outnumber those who won’t give an inch, but those devotees are united in an identity and narrative that no amount of facts or policy vision will convince. Only a more determined and united coalition can stop them. One cohesive identity group of only a sub-sect of gun owners continues to nullify lives in this country because they are one narrative and one voice versus a large vague cacophony of appalled people.

Clinton’s fragile coalition of American others have no binding narrative, nothing close to the Hope message of Obama or even Bush’s folksy everyman cloth. This has been the failure of the campaign, to confuse policy and facts with a binding narrative against a fascist mad man who has precisely that.

People like me care about policy points, facts, and numbers. The rest of this country, whether you think it is okay or not, needs a narrative of a villain and a hero. A national culture to believe in and to belong to. Only one candidate is offering that, and he’s offering it to people who would at best consider my existence as stealing their job and at worse who cheer on George Zimmerman. A page out of a very old playbook as America plays out its remix of Weimar Germany.

Some people are uncomfortable with calling so much of the country deplorable. I’m sure some of these people would be polite to me on the road and aren’t bloodthirsty racists in the put on a pointy white hat sense. I don’t question that some people supporting Trump as an expression of valid grievances with the government, in the way that even non-White Britons voted for the Brexit because of real unhappiness with the EU outside of immigration policy. However, going along with racists to get your piece on the agenda is the definition of complicity.

Those of us the other side, people who aren’t interested in voting, you are even more complicit. There’s a material threat here to fight. I use to like to say, at the end of the day this election isn’t really about you and me, it’s about the vulnerable. Not people like us who go to the farmers market to buy organic on weekends. I would actually venture to say I’m wrong, and he and his supporters are a material threat to all of us. History’s worst atrocities happened because of a determine and united group, even if smaller than the others, with a sense of aggrievement, false victimhood, and people to blame.

Give your money. Give your time. Go vote. Don’t give me some bullshit about living in a non-swing state, do you not realize there are other items on the ballet that can actually affect your life more than the the president? Get it together America.

PS: Also, maybe unlike a lot of you, I know what my life could be like if I wasn’t American. Maybe the American dream is more out-of-reach than it use to be, but there’s a reason why immigrants come here, want to become American, and succeed beyond our wildest dreams. If you don’t like how things are going, do something other than wax poetic about “not compromising for the revolution.” That is some bullshit excuse to avoid the hard work if what it actually takes to make change and you know it.

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I am not a skittle.

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On Monday, in a building that’s less than a fifteen minute walk from my apartment, the UN General Assembly convened to tackle the world’s worst to-do list, in particular how to handle the refugee crisis.  That same day, Donald Trump’s son referred to refugees as poisonous skittles. Now that same administration is poised to take power.  

I’m here speaking today as someone who is a person, a proud American, and not a piece of candy.   

I’ve been following the refugee crisis probably more than the average American, and I’m reminded of a lot of writing that’s been haunting me in the last few weeks, such as the above New York Times article on refugees in Denmark.  It’s pretty terrible, for pretty much everyone involved, clearly some worst than others.  

As much as we’re having problems with Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism in the United States, it can pale in comparison to a lot of Europe.  This was quite vivid to me especially since I was just in Copenhagen and London shortly before the Brexit vote.

A Danish man actually tried to harass my friend and I when we were in Copenhagen asking, “why refugees get this and that?” and gibberish about some grievance about perceived allocations of resources.  We were kind of glib about it, but it was still troubling, which I wrote about awhile back about the irony of him going after two well-to-do vacationing Asian Americans descended from a recent refugee past.

Today I feel the call to speak again, echoing the words of the this year’s Pulitzer Prize author of The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen:

Today, when many Americans think of Vietnamese-Americans as a success story, we forget that the majority of Americans in 1975 did not want to accept Vietnamese refugees. (A sign hung in the window of a store near my parents’ grocery: “Another American forced out of business by the Vietnamese.”) For a country that prides itself on the American dream, refugees are simply un-American, despite the fact that some of the original English settlers of this country, the Puritans, were religious refugees.

Today, Syrian refugees face a similar reaction. To some Europeans, these refugees seem un-European for reasons of culture, religion and language. And in Europe and the United States, the attacks in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., have people fearing that Syrian refugees could be Islamic radicals, forgetting that those refugees are some of the first victims of the Islamic State.

Because those judgments have been rendered on many who have been cast out or who have fled, it is important for those of us who were refugees to remind the world of what our experiences mean.

People tend to have different frames of reference for who they identify with and who they humanize more.  This refugee situation has been particularly troubling for Asian Americans because it feels so familiar.  

Migrants pulled an inflatable boat crowded with Syrian refugees arriving last month from the Turkish coast on Lesbos island, Greece. From the NYTimes.

My family didn’t enter the United States as refugees.  We came as immigrants.  But our story of being in America came as a result of my grandparents fleeing China to Taiwan as the losing side in the Chinese Civil War who would have imprisoned, tortured, or slaughtered had they stayed.  We waishengren Taiwanese are not technically refugees.  However, many of the psychological wounds in experiences of our families who left their homes unwillingly to never see anyone or anything they knew again resonate on for our people.  Many felt that Taiwan could never be a place they could belong and left to the United States, bringing our story to this part of history I’m living in.  

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Fleeing China. Photo taken from China Times

As an Taiwanese American growing up in San Gabriel Valley and later attending a UC campus, I grew up around Asians who were refugees from the Vietnam War, eventually living with Hmong roommates in the dorms of a school that over-indexed for Asian Americans from these backgrounds.

As we Asian Americans converge with the histories of our peoples and our stories blurring into a shared collective memory, this narrative of unwanted people in boats cast fleeing destruction and persecution cast adrift in subsequent cycles of loss, alienation, discrimination, and suffering in strange lands is a potent arc in our story, one we see tragically being repeated now. 

Our psyches continue to bear witness to this history.

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Fleeing Vietnam.  Photo taken from Canadian Encyclopedia

Today, many Americans consider Vietnamese Americans a model minority, conveniently forgetting how unwanted they were and how hard they many have it and still have it. Some of them even consider themselves the good immigrant and shirk away from the Syrian refugee crisis.

For many Westerners, people in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, this idea of refugees continues as a faceless mass on dinghies in the sea or heartbreaking pictures of children, as those to be pitied or praised from afar but not to be dealt with as actual people. We don’t like to remember that the United States turned away Jewish refugees, including Anne Frank.

These pasts rendered not real.  People abstract.

It’s important for those us of who have these experiences to show our existence for those who cannot.  For those of us who see those adrift in the Mediterranean and see our own past staring back, we have to be real to counter the ignorant and the political opportunists that dehumanize other people.  

The St. Louis: A boat carrying Jewish Refugees refused by the ports of Cuba, Canada, and the United States. A quarter would eventually perish in Nazi death camps. Picture from Wikipedia.

As Nguyen writes:

We can be invisible even to one another. But it is precisely because I do not look like a refugee that I have to proclaim being one, even when those of us who were refugees would rather forget that there was a time when the world thought us to be less than human.

Many former Southeast Asian refugees are helping Syrians.  I continue to advocate that the United States and Canada, despite imperfections, are much better suited to give refugees an accepting home.  

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This picture of a gay Syrian refugee with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Pride and Aatish Taseer’s articulation of his love for America they day he got his green card paint a more vivid picture than any empirical example of success in re-settling people why these places have been and continue to be more prepared to integrate people than parts of Western Europe.  

It is important for those of us who have memory and can bear witness as real people living in the West must continue to hold values sacred, to articulate humanity, and also to fight, we have to fight, against the tide of bigotry, intolerance, and inaction. These battles have to be refought every generation. There is never a moment which these values are safe, especially now. 

To Start:

Let’s not get crazy over the fried chicken terrorist guy #chelsea

I posted most of this on Facebook first after feeling dismayed at Twitter (think we’d all know better by now) compared to what I saw in New York City being out and about on Saturday night.

I don’t mean to downplay the people who were injured by the blast or the threat of international terrorism, but it makes sense to proportionalize reactions to proper context and not overblown fear.  A lot more people die in the United States to different kinds of violence and other causes that are preventable, which I personally think we should be a lot more worried about, other than terrorism by what appears to be a disaffected amateur.  I resent the politics of fear.  Let’s not let terrorism work and give into the psychology of fear.

 

 

To which this dude was like:

 

To which I am like:

 

 

People going about business as usual, out drinking, shopping, and enjoying the fall weather evening. There are lots of extra security precautions this weekend in general because of the UN General Assembly, but everyone is just going about their lives.

Basically NYC in a nutshell here. I’ve never met a people who were more “Meh, whatever. Get on with it.” about just about anything. And it’s delightful.

“And another neighbor nearby, Graham Mills, 52, seemed almost relieved that the wait for this was over. “It was only a matter of time,” he said. “There’s kind of this New York spirit that’s like, whatever. Let’s get on with life.”

I would hardly call it indifference, but I think everyone here is kind of glib about the inevitability about this sort of thing.

No, seriously, it’s actually weird to open Twitter, Facebook, and the national news and see people freaking out juxtaposed with people literally outside eating pizza drunk and milling about.

I hope everyone injured will recover soon and that proper investigations and actions will be taken. I use to literally work a block from the explosion and hang out there all the time still, so I am personally sad and angry someone who lives, works, or was just nearby got hurt.

There are sirens going outside my window right now, and they have been for hours. One of those terrifying amber-alert sounds about a suspicious package on 27th street just shook my phone, and I probably won’t be able to fall asleep for awhile now. I think anyone here would be lying if they didn’t feel a sort of malaise, but after meeting so many old-timers who remember New York from the Bronx-is-burning bad old days and those who lived through 9/11, you get taught can’t let this sort of thing subvert your values or terrify you from living your life.

 

What’s up with like the White hipster people and hating on higher ed? I’m genuinely curious.

Can someone explain to me this trend of people, especially in my personal experience, a lot of White folks and privileged Asian people from both sides of the political spectrum, who distain higher education, grad school, etc, outside of a the financial perspective?  I can’t help but sense more dumbing down of Americans here, and this country can’t afford to be anymore fucking spoiled and stupid people. I am not the first one to feel that this advice incredibly dangerous to give to vulnerable groups.

It seriously makes no sense to an Asian person, me, who is kind of rough around the edges. You can’t learn everything in school, but there’s plenty of experience you can’t get elsewhere too. Part of the reason why I did it was for most people of color, we can’t walk in a room and expect to be taken seriously. This is a real thing. As an Asian, it’s almost expected to be extra educated. Way worse for other people of color by the way. I still get a lot more benefit of the doubt for being a light-skinned East Asian and can ‘talk white’.

For a lot of lower and middle-class White people too, it might also be one of the few tickets for upwards mobility (not to mention coming in contact with people of color in an intellectual setting designed to mix people together as well. There’s only a certain class of White people (and Asians for that matter) who can hustle their way up the socio-economic ladder without the connections of a degree. Surprise! It’s not coal miners from West Virginia.  The Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are overwhelming from well-off resourced families. Drop-out provision does not apply to Debbie at Wal-Mart greeting people in a rural town.

To me, higher ed isn’t a certification so you can get X job. It’s to teach you how to think from multiple perspectives. As someone who was very much raised and influenced by classic Chinese thought (德之不脩,學之不講,聞義不能徙,不善不能改,是吾憂也。), I look at education as the cultivation of self. Also, growing up in an Asian neighborhood and then going to what was than a UC that still had more of a working-class culture at the time, I was surrounded by other scions of refugee families who more or less had this mantra, “People can take away your wealth, your home, the clothes off your back, but no one can take away your education.” This is what happened to them.  Their intellect and will is what helped people rebuild their lives.

Yes, education is too costly. The social contract of education is inherently broken for that reason. People now expect it to be an ROI-driven proposition – I was totally like this to a strong extent at USC, but I also excelled in my coursework and outside of it. I never expected because I had that piece of paper with the name attached to me that it would get me something. The work I did, my intellectual capacity, and what I brought to the table that was useful to the places I wanted to work was what got me the job, and a lot of the work and intellectual capacity was developed at USC. I really like how Philip Guo wrote about it.

I don’t know why people do expect a job because of a degree. I am speaking as someone who is on a hiring committee and has interviewed well over two dozen people this year. It does get a lot of people through the door though, but by no means is a guarantee.

Note: Education isn’t just happening in school for the cultivation of self and creating better citizens to function in a complex world. You can’t just be a marxist bookworm and be unable to apply your skills in the real world. I’m playing looking at you Phd students in a basement expanding human knowledge but am also very worried about your financial future.

School is one of the few places where people from different backgrounds, both in the traditional senses as well as the professional and intellectual sense, can come together to build wisdom for sake of it. Nothing else. Wisdom and intellect is what makes you the money from education. It also powers people to more fulfilling lives.

So why the hate? I feel like there’s something about it beyond anger that people are ill-prepared for the job market or the staggering burden of student debt that I sense. Aside from those valid points, what else?

(Full Disclosure: I got told over and over again not to go to grad school.  I walked out with not only a much better paygrade but a much more fulfilling work-life situation.  So I’m biased as hell and maybe just defending – though I’ll say the key was combining my practical experience from working with deep learning from education. But I’m way more alarmed by the lack of intellectual capacity in this country to interpret data, and bemoan what I perceive as the disrespect given to education by people who should ostensibly know better.)

Awkward Post-Colonialisms and Contemporary Friends Between Taiwan and Japan

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Living in NYC, I am all about taking advantage of the cultural institutions and opportunities around me.  Being Taiwanese-American, I’m more than generally supportive of Taiwan’s new fledging efforts at cultural diplomacy rather than dollar diplomacy.  I believe that the future is in investing in soft power, to build up Taiwan as a brand and identity as recognized as the way French, Italian, Japanese, and and now South Korean culture have been successfully exported the world over.  All the ingredients are there, it’s all in the investing resources and execution at this point.

Shameless plug – I once did a brief study on this conceptually in grad school.  

All this is why I was delighted to go to several Tea Ceremony events this weekend in NYC by Taipei Cultural Center, one of which is springboarding this articulation here.  I’m also just a aficionado of tea and tea cultures and art(茶藝 for you Chinese reading folks) in general.  

I went to the Tenri Culture Center, “a non-profit organization with a mission to promote the study of Japanese language and the appreciation of international art forms,” where they showcased a traditional Japanese and Taiwanese Tea Ceremonies.

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This is me realizing I’m terribly underdressed, sweaty, and out-of-place.

My life being a consistent crash into different worlds and identities would of course this weekend involved me walking into this place after hanging out earlier in the West Village buying The Fire This Time and then walking in neon adidas with my hipster backpack in a crowd of impeccably. dressed Japanese people and Upper East Side types.  Out-of-place as usual, but dgaf as usual, sat on them tatami mats to participate in the Japanese ceremony.  I’d seen the Taiwanese tea ceremony and have done it myself many times, but it was cool to see Lin Ceramics Studio out, true craftsman that Taiwan is rightfully proud of.  

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Taiwanese Tea Set from Lin Ceramics

They did a demo of both, the Japanese in full beautiful kimono regalia and explaining the symbolism.  The Taiwanese representatives did something similarly except we have no long-standing agreed upon national dress for such things, so we basically are just minimalist craftsman hipsters everywhere forever now.  The Taiwanese speaker, Rita, kept trying to tell everyone that the Taiwanese tea ceremony is about being chill and enjoying the company of others more informally after the relativeness formality of the Japanese one, which totally vibed with me.  

It seemed like the event it was a huge hit to a relatively diverse crowd, good amount of Japanese, Taiwanese, and the kind of white people in dresses and hats who come to these events “oh look at this exotic eastern delicacy” to which I made sarcastic remarks to because I got no chill like that.  There’s one thing to appreciate another culture, it’s another to cross into creepy orientalism.  

(Man, I should totally just film videos of myself in Europe or something acting like the way ignorant White people do with Asian culture or being an Anthony Bourdian type archetype, who is not ignorant and snarky as a fuck about it, that would be a hoot, except I’d be both angry woman of color and ugly fat American at the same time.)

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Group photo between Japanese and Taiwanese representatives and tea masters.

Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the strange relationship now between Japan and Taiwan.  Former colonial master and now political ally and cultural friend.  I won’t get into this so much here, there are much better writers who’ve articulated this issue.  Taiwan and China problems aren’t going way.  I’m more reflecting on my own thoughts about the contemporary relationship and the complexity it took to get to this cultural moment.   

Taiwan has largely crossed the tensions of post WW2 martial law into years of a vibrant multi-party liberal democracy but is still in the early chapters of defining its modern self now, with much difference between the generations and demographics.  One of these fault lines of course is the relationship to Japan.  First, it’s really hard to deny the continuing relationship and closeness of that relationship as time has gone on.  A lot of Taiwan’s modernization efforts, like many Asian countries, followed the line of Japan’s, down to the shopping experience department stores and many industrial operational procedures are set-up.  There’s general genuine affection and understanding.  It’s complex.  

Do we have to have forgiveness and how to we articulate questions of power?  It’s hard and weird thing.  I personally see no contradiction in support efforts for proper apologies and reparation for World War II crimes (eg. I’m really supportive of the film The Apology), not forgetting, and not letting go of that fact that Japan tries to whitewash its history.  At the same time, I don’t see it as a part of my identity to hate Japanese people, especially people born in our time period.  Don’t get me wrong though, while they while not directly responsible for their ancestors crimes, they have the responsibility to remember.  The contrast to modern day Germany’s reckoning with its past is astounding.  For the record, I feel similarly both about the United States lack of reparative justice for slavery and for crimes by the KMT.

However, the oppositional identity has been part of a nation building project and even a distraction to field away domestic problems, one that politicians from both the east and west would no doubt pull the strings on its people like puppets for depending on the situation.  There are plenty who still talk of an inevitable war again with Japan.  Unlike many (and perhaps like many Taiwanese of my generation), I don’t feel any level of bloodlust towards modern Japanese people and find it appalling and dangerous that so many do.  I will admit I do have more of a psychological distance from it as someone who spent most of her life in the West.

There’s also the awkward question of how you feel about Japan depending on what section of Taiwanese society you come from but also the practical concerns of now.  49er Taiwanese fought suffered dramatic losses against the Japanese.  There is still crazy deep blue talk radio in Taiwan lamenting about Japan’s influence on Taiwanese people.  Then there are those who remember the Japanese era fondly as an era of relative refinements compared the brutal suppression by the KMT that followed.  Then again, I’ve met indigenous people in Taiwan who have pointed out footbridges to me in the valleys and gorges in central Taiwan, saying that the Japanese forced them, saying specifically to me “our Taiwanese ancestors,” but really it was the indigenous people that paid the great cost in deaths.  Then there are the years that followed, where Taiwan modernized together, with Japan being the modern Asian that all Asian countries followed the model of to some degree, especially when you speak of the four Asian tigers.  

When I think of my own family, who fought tooth and nail with the Japanese.  The 49er Taiwanese members of my family suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese. Dead and tortured broken bodies.  In Taiwan, they worked closely with Japanese people in efforts to modernize Taiwan.  Our family homes are full of Japanese finery.  My mother would talk about tea sets and wrappings at an Isetan department store as ones she recognized from her childhood when my grandparent’s Japanese friends would come to visit.  I spent a lot of time playing as a child in LA’s Little Tokyo because of the familiarity with that culture.  We still go to certain stores we know there to buy certain things.  Yet there’s also a distrust and subtle hatred.  It’s also no secret that some Japanese tourists and Japanese people still have an attitude of colonial superiority to Taiwan and vis a vis a Taiwanese inferiority complex some have to Japan.  My mother said once when we were on a trip in Japan “we look at each other with complicated feelings.”  The interpretation of Japan and our history is deeply complex.  

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I grow up admiring beautiful Japanese finery like this.

All that aside to give some color again, China is growing in power in Asia to the fear of all of its neighbors and against a Taiwanese identity that continues to grow stronger.  

I’ll say this now, I maybe a waishengren/”49er Taiwanese”, but I’m probably basically the last of my kind.  Being Taiwanese in a modern sense – identifying with values, customs, and history – overrides my Americaness or not being able to speak Taiwanese.  

Common enmity can make strange bedfollows.  China and South Korea’s articulations of modern identity and even levers pulled for social cohesion have to do with its struggle and crimes against the Japanese.  Others also suffered horribly, Indonesia, the Phillippines, Vietnam, the Pacific Islands, and on and on, but their identities perhaps ultimately are more defined in its postcolonial struggles.  I have wonder if Taiwan’s identity would have been very different and the Japanese regarded less favorably if the KMT had not be so violently repressive.

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The characters mean “giving tea” as a manner of communicating hospitality.  You’ll find pots of tea on the side of the road in the Taiwanese countryside for people passing by with these characters.

I find that as we forward now as friends, we can’t deny these complex relationships of power and history.  If we don’t talk about them in a thoughtful if not totally imperfect and critical way, there is no real way to move on and have transformative justice and a better future for all of us.

In the meantime though, I’m happy to break bread and drink tea with our former enemies as friends moving forward, as long we we move forward together more as equals with mutual interest and respect.  I’d pull up a chair for China too should they decide to be peaceful about it, but maybe that’s why Japan and Taiwan are at the table together at all.

With fondness.