Asian Australian voices

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0
Ninja | Photo by Kim Tairi
Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

Just recently, the lovely Katherine Firth (@katrinafee on Twitter) asked what I’d suggest if she wanted to read more from Asian voices in Australia on various sociopolitical issues.

Specifically, she outlined the genres of text she was interested in as “Sociology/ reportage / special editions journals / activist polemic”.

I started crafting a few tweets in my head, and thought of several links and articles straight away, then realised that it was probably much more useful – and user-friendly – if I just blogged it!

At first, when I thought about what Katherine had asked for, I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t think of what might be the best places to get started or which articles to read. I’d been immersed in Asian Australian Studies perspectives on everything for so long, I had to take a deliberate step back to see how a (savvy, highly intelligent, research-oriented) newcomer might most usefully find a way into the diverse and multi-voiced material that’s out there.

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Conversations in contrast

pineapplecrush-TK
Photo by Tseen Khoo

I was at an event at the Immigration Museum recently.

There was a savvy panel of Asian Australian intellectuals and creatives from Peril magazine and Asian Australian Democracy Caucus.

They generated a fantastic critical race conversation and covered big, exciting territory about nation-state identities, exclusionary processes, dispossession, and everyday racisms and their consequences for senses of community.

Most of the people in the room were activist inclined and on board with the debates – not always in agreement, but willing to take on the issues and talk about them.

There were several white audience members – mostly older and male – who were deeply uncomfortable, if not openly hostile, to the presentations taking place in front of them.  Continue reading

2 gigs in two weeks!

  1. Excited to be presenting a workshop on “Getting started on social media” for the AASRN with Tom Cho next Monday night (16 Feb 2015). It has already proven to be good fun and highly educational for me because I’ve never worked with Tom on this kind of thing before. We google-doc’d and Prezi’d together throughout the last week, and it was a very good experience.I’ve never used Prezi before – EVER – so learning about the new app was useful. I have had a few bad experiences with Prezi (that nausea everyone talks about) and wasn’t sure about it. Now that I’ve played with it a bit more, though, I think it has huge potential and people just need to rein in their enthusiasm about any given presentation’s visual mobility!We’re hoping that this session, focussed on helping Asian Australian communities to engage via social media, will be the first in a series of activist/lobbying/outreach events that will get Asian Australian research, topics, and debates out into the broader public sphere. These kinds of processes should also create conversations and further networks within Asian Australian groups that will generate more cultural and political activity. And, to me, this is always a good thing.
  2. The second gig is at ACMI in Federation Square and I’m chairing an amazing panel of Asian Australian creative talent. “Growing up Chinese in Australia” (TUES 24 Feb 2015) is part of the China Up Close festival, and features William Yang, Annette Shun Wah, Benjamin Law, and Juliana Qian. After the panel is the Melbourne premiere screening of Yang’s Blood Links. I have fan-girled these people for varying amounts of time, in different ways, and being able to participate in the event is just dreamy.

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Nhu “Ned” Kelly – P.M. Newton’s novels

PMnewtonjI’d been wanting to read P.M. Newton’s The Old School for a very long time. Ever since it came out in 2010, actually.

My buddy, Rodney, who is quite the afficionado of Australian crime fiction, had mentioned it to me and I was immediately taken with the idea of a Vietnamese Australian detective in 1990s Sydney.

It took me till 2013 to read The Old School (thanks, @oanh_1)and I included it as part of my AWW 2013 listing. The impending publication of Newton’s second novel with the same lead character – Nhu “Ned” Kelly – spurred me to get a hold of the first. I inhaled the book, with its fast-paced narrative and tough, adeptly attuned characterisations. Then I eagerly awaited the second.

Beams Falling sat on a library shelf one weekend, tempting me with its new-bookish allure. I snatched it up immediately.

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Placeholder Post

No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Best intentions and all. Life’s totally overtaken my blogging schedule.

I started a new job at a new institution recently, and my new commute is 3 hours a day. While I thought this would mean OMG so much writing time, it has not come to pass. On a swaying bus, the best ‘work’ I can do is checking emails + tweeting from my various accounts (AASRN and Research Whisperer, mostly).

I’m keeping this here as a placeholder until things settle down. I’ve started dozens of posts, but never saw them through. Poised over the keyboard, thinking I needed to write something insightful and worthwhile shunting out into the world, I usually balk.

So, if you’re looking at this blog because you’ve found me via one of the hats I wear, here are some shortcuts for finding the kind of stuff you might be interested in:

Meanwhile, as I’ve been saying for about five years, I need to start shedding some roles…

Top 10 Asian Oz childhood foods

This post is inspired by this article on Foodbeast that floated my way through Facebook: 16 things that taste just like your Asian American childhood.

I browsed through it with glee, loving these kinds of walks down memory lane. Even if it wasn’t necessarily my memory lane.

Oddly enough, I encountered quite a few of the items in my adult life rather than my childhood.

I didn’t have my first Pocky stick, for example, till I was 27 years old. I was in Canada doing research for my PhD, visiting one my favourite Canadian authors, and she offered me a Pocky stick. It was the start of a long and fond relationship (for me and Pocky sticks, that is; the author’s pretty damn cool, too, it must be said).

Some of the food items did strike a chord, and reminded me of my Brisbane childhood, the trips to Fortitude Valley, and the evolving Asian grocery shops and malls through the 1980s and 1990s.

The items from the Foodbeast list that populated my childhood as well are: haw flakes, shrimp-flavoured chips, and pork floss (aka ‘pork sung’ in the Foodbeast listing). There were, however, many others that loomed large for our family. I’m not sure if they were unique to us, or whether they reflected a broader pattern of Malaysian-Chinese consumption.

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Just a bit of fun

Created by the STARS program at Ohio University (Source: angryasianman - http://blog.angryasianman.com/2011/10/were-costume-not-culture.html)
Created by the STARS program at Ohio University (Source: angryasianman – http://blog.angryasianman.com/2011/10/were-costume-not-culture.html)

I’m a bit slow and only now catching up on the “crying racism” frenzy that was generated by Mia Freedman’s recent piece, “The boy who cried ‘Racist’“.

I’d seen a few tweets fly by about how white people shouldn’t tell minorities how they should be feeling, or set themselves up to be arbiters of what constitutes racism.

When I clicked through and finally read Freedman’s piece, I understood what everyone was going on about.

I also did the unthinkable and read (some of) the comments.

Apart from chuckling at Delta tragics who refused to countenance any besmirching of their idol, there was a fair array of opinions being expressed. Including a fan of Andrew Bolt who – unfortunately for Freedman –  was on her side.

What I want to talk about in this post, however, isn’t whether Delta or Freedman are the anti-Christ. Nor whether the blackface depiction of Seal was ‘intended’ to be racist.

I want to engage with the concept, expressed in the comments, that dressing up is ‘just a bit of fun’ and, by implication, harmless.

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Asians seeking Asians – and underachieving

Dare to dream (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Dare to dream (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

It’s a notorious phenomenon in Asian Australian and Asian American communities:

We don’t tend to register to donate blood, organs, or stem cells as much as other communities.

Particularly in the case of stem cells (bone marrow), this is a life or death situation.

The likelihood of a non-Asian donor matching with an Asian patient is much lower than that of an Asian donor and an Asian patient.

This is an instance where the grey areas of identity and belonging do not hold: for bone marrow donations, Asians need Asians.

You can find out why HERE (American site, but still relevant to Asian Australians and others).

Why am I writing about this at the moment?

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Flavour’s in the fat

A hoard of bittergourd (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
A hoard of bittergourd (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

So, I got some stick for declaring that I liked sweet and sour pork some posts ago, when I wrote about being a “Bad Asian“.

It made me feel like writing this post that you’re reading now – a post that is a paean to all the ‘bad’ food that I like. Because I’m appropriately exotic and relatively well-travelled, people want to assume that I’m culinarily sophisticated. I’m afraid not.

While I do draw the line at Chiko Rolls (I’ve only ever eaten half of one in my entire life – I couldn’t finish it), I have a simple palate. Just as I constantly disappoint people who expect someone with a PhD in English to be au fait with all the ‘classics’, my affection for things like sweet and sour pork, and char siu bao, is viewed with some regret.

I wouldn’t be the one leading the way to food adventures, Andrew Zimmern-style.

Something that our family – and many other Chinese Malaysian families – specialise in is lots of ways to eat pork-belly. Before various blood pressure and gall-stone scares, you can guarantee that there would always be a slab of pork-belly in our freezer. Always.

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Bad Asian

Sweet and sour academia (from Thesis Whisperer’s tmblr, “Refreshments will be provided”)

When I was chatting with the lovely people at Radio National’s Life Matters program the other week, I realised that what I really want to say about national belonging and cultural citizenship was this:

Having full cultural citizenship as an Asian Australian should mean that it’s fine to be a ‘bad’ citizen, as well as celebrating those deemed ‘good’.

‘Asian’ shouldn’t be the first point of categorisation, and the heaviness of migrant expectation and stereotyping of migrants shouldn’t curtail a person’s liberty to be, say, a slacker.

Or to ‘Anglicise’ their name (sez she, who has a coffee name of “Jen”).

Or – (hushed tones) – to be monolingual.

We’re not all economic ‘bridge-builders’, heart-surgeons, and superhero Senators, though I’m hardly complaining that we can be those.

Where is the liberty and comfort of feeling at home with mediocrity or failure?

And I’m talking here both about the bar being set by the broader community as well as the one cultural communities set for themselves. That ‘Model Minority myth‘ cuts both ways.

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