Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Wiki Assignment

Wikipedia search: Read and examine the following terms in Wikipedia.

Questions to consider:
  • How is the information organized?
  • What's in the introduction of the wiki?
  • What are the headings?
  • Is there any media?
  • How is this wiki page related to other relevant wiki pages?
  • Are there any information 'gaps' on any of these wiki pages?
  • Are these pages kept up-to-date?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chinaman Music

Richard Hsu and Steven Song

John Chinaman according to Moon is the equivalent of a Jim Crow for blacks. “He” embodies the stereotypical Chinese immigrant; but more importantly he is the complacent representation of the Chinese immigrant that can be criticized and abused (in the music) with all the gripes and complaints that the white population has against the Chinese.

In this song, John Chinamen is seen—as a virus or bacteria invading a healthy cell in the body. The extended lyrics also show how John Chinaman is a pest to those around him like in the gold mines. John Chinamen is also seen a “leech,” living off the fruits of the land—and in the last stanza, is threatened to not do anything to ruin what America stands for.
Its appearance in the Irish song book shows the integration of Chinese motifs and representations in the predominately white society—and music. However, by being in such a visible medium, these innaucrate and often racist views of Chinese immigrants become engrained in the minds of Americans as well as society. This creates the push towards exclusionism of Chinese, and Asian immigrants.

The historical context of the song appearing in an Irish song book is important because many Irish Americans were angry at the Chinese for crowding the job market and taking the jobs they felt belonged to them. More specifically, because of the labor laws at the time, male Chinese were forced to take jobs as clothing washers, a job held typically by Irish women. So the negative portrayal of the Chinese makes sense economically because the Irish wanted to paint the image that the Chinese were inferior.

The Geisha song IS a yellowface performance. According to Moon, who would also agree with us, the singer uses a high-falsetto voice. Speaks in gibberish that makes no sense—musical intruments also are used like the gong and random concerto of noises that don’t really go together—symbolizing the “noise” that Americans view Chinese music as. Moon would also point out how during the non-gibberish parts of the song, when the performer were using English, it still had undertones of mocking the way the Chinese speak. This manner of speech is still a stereotype that exists today.

Not My Cup of Jo, But I Can't be Mad

John Chinaman , My Jo

This is obviously not a love song or a loving song for that matter. John Chinaman according to Moon is a character created by Americans to make fun of Asian immigrants exaggeration accents, the inability to pronounce English words properly, and he’s also feminized.
John Chinaman is the thorn in the railroad workers sides. Arriving in large numbers, the Asian immigrants impose on the railroad works by not only bringing much man power, but by having a better work ethic and sense of responsibility to the quality of their work –outshining white railroad workers who as the speaker said at the beginning were more likely to get drunk and strike than the Asian workers.
This difference seems to be recognized especially in the line that says

“Here's blessings on your head, John
And more power to your tail.”

But at the same time, the song is tainted with jealousy. This song reflects the feelings of the time.

To apply this to today’s culture, with Asian students capturing the majority minority in top schools, there may exist tension between other minority groups such as there is here in this Scots-Irish song and the Asians.

This song was published 12 years before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, so during this time, Chinese immigrants were flooding into the United States. The song makes it seem as if America was the best thing that happened to these Chinese saying that

“You used to live on rice,
But now you purchase flour, plums
And other things that's nice.”

“The Geisha, Chin Chin Chinaman”

I am not impressed. But I probably would be if it were 1892. Powers’ imitation of Chinese language was probably quite funny because it’s half true. European immigrants have probably not encountered such a different intonation and pronunciation of words. Asian dialects sound very distinct from Western dialects. Moon would probably say that this was an expression the inferiority some Americans felt towards Chinese. While I can easily condemn this for being wrong, unsympathetic, and down-right racist-which it is in a sense, I can also say that this is just an avenue of expression. If an Asian American were the one singing it, would it be wrong, then? As I see it, this is an interpretation. Both songs are expressions of feelings and interpretations. It's the ideas of a few individuals. This becomes problematic if this is the only expression of Asians seen though, which is was at the time. There definitely needs to be a balance between the positive and the negative.

John Chinaman and Yellowface

According to Moon, John Chinaman became the “common image of Chinese immigrant men” (32). This image is perpetuated in J.W. Conner’s version with such references to Chinese men’s laundry businesses and queues (called “tails” in this context). Although not overtly negative throughout the lyrics, the tone on the other hand, proves to be so. The play on the expression from the original song, “John Anderson, My Jo” to “John Chinaman, My Jo” is a sarcastic and condescending switch used to underscore feelings towards the Chinese. Obviously, the composer did not intend for the Chinaman to be literally understood as a “jo” or “sweetheart,” as seen in the first stanza where the lyrics tell how blest would one be if only the Chinese stopped “invading.” While the next stanza criticizes the Chinese men’s washing abilities, followed by another on food, the last serves as a warning to the Chinese not to become too complacent or greedy, another characteristic associated with the Chinese. Compared to other lyrics from different versions of this song, found in Yellowface, the lyrics of Conner’s rendition seem less violent and more ominous, as if violence need not be spoken outright but rather be understood as a potential future for any bold Chinaman.
The historical context of appearing in an Irish Song Book can be explained by the economic competition that existed between Irish and Chinese laundry services. Typically women ran Irish laundries and men ran Chinese ones, yet both speak to the difficulty of finding work in a white male dominated workforce. Since jobs were scarce for both of these minority groups, there was a real sense of threat for each side. As Moon notes at the end of Chapter 3, “In a certain sense, songs about conflicts between the Chinese and Irish were just as much a commentary on the role of the Irish in the United States as they were depictions of interethnic struggle” (56). In this instance, the lyrics show the strong-arming of the Chinese by the Irish while simultaneously showcasing the growing power of one minority group over another.
James T. Powers’ performance of “The Geisha. Chin Chin Chinaman” would most certainly be categorized as a yellowface performance by Moon. First examine the title of the piece. The repetition of “Chin” emphasizes the difference in names between Americans and Chinese, particularly that the Chinese names all sound the same or are gibberish-like. The performance, although only heard and not seen, is still a “yellowface” performance because according to Moon, “Yellowface became a way for performers to comment [on the Chinese]…by inscribing stereotypes onto the performer’s body…The most common device for distinguishing between Chinese and American on stage was a combination of pidgin English and gibberish” (40, 42). The vocal performance then, falls into this guideline, since there exists no audible words except for a string of syllabic sounds and noises strung together in what is to be the Chinese language. This lack of proper pronunciation fosters the idea of the Chinaman’s “otherness,” his unassimilated nature, and ultimately his inability to assimilate. Moon states in her book that such yellowface performances were one way to circulate ideas of Chinese difference and inferiority, leading to support of anti-Chinese attitudes (47). Powers’ performance qualifies to do just this by utilizing and exploiting one of the most well known differences that exists between people of different cultures: language. Without communication, it is impossible to convey true intentions, feelings, and beliefs. By not allowing the Chinese to have a voice (or one easily understood) in these songs, it was a way for Americans to exert cultural hegemony over them.

Song Analysis

According to Moon, “John Chinaman” is a fictitious individual who embodies all the stereotypes of Chinese immigrants in America during the 1850s and 60s. Moon “plays on differences such as religious practices, eating habits and English proficiency,” to highlight the differences between the two cultures -- Americans being the preferred culture. "John Chinaman" is not an accurate depiction of a Chinese immigrant. Certain traits are blown out of proportion and others are minimized -- resulting in an inaccurate depiction.

In the beginning of the song, a narrator gives a brief history of Chinese immigrant men in Central Pacific America. The narrator states that the Chinese immigrant workers of the railroads in the West were met with some apprehension. Strobridge, the construction boss for Crocker, a famous railroad tycoon, thinks that the Chinese men are too small and too weak for such intense labor. But Crocker argues, “They built the great wall of China, didn’t they?” The narrator suggests that Chinese men are less inclined to strike or get drunk, implying that they are perfect employees in comparison to the Irish immigrants.

Recruited in California and then in China, Chinese immigrant's pay rose as their tenure increased. Unfortunately, they had to pay for housing and food while other white workers did not have to pay for the same amenities. Working three shifts a day, the Chinese men dominated the Central Pacific work force of 10,000 men. Ironically, no records of the songs sung by the Chinese railroad workers have endured. The only songs to survive are the ones written and sung by white men.

In the song “John Chinaman, My Jo,” John Chinaman is portrayed as a man who is helpless. The woman who sings the song tells of the many Chinese immigrants who are “invading us.” She suggests that she will be blessed when they stop. Her lyrics strike a derogatory tone as she sings to John Chinaman stating that he will be thanked and praised for his work but “Don’t abuse the freedom you enjoy.” There are only two verses to this song but her intention is quite clear. She is pleased that they have helped to construct the US infrastructure but that the Chinese immigrants should remember their place and be cautious not to overstep their socially constructed “rights.” Thus, John Chinaman is portrayed as part of a silent minority with little say in what he can and cannot do.

The song “John Chinaman, My Jo” appears in Conner’s Irish Song Book in 1868. The significance of its inclusion in this historical context suggests that Irish immigrants were unhappy with the fact that Chinese immigrants were taking all of “their” jobs. As stated at the beginning of the song, these Chinese immigrants would work for less pay, would be less likely to strike and would not complain. Irish immigrants on the other hand, would get drunk and be more confrontational. By comparing the Chinese immigrants as a workforce to their Irish colleagues infers Chinese superiority. Having Conner, an Irish author, include a song about Chinese immigrants in his songbook reinforces this concept.

The song “The Geisha. Chin Chin Chinaman” preformed by James Tyrone Powers can be categorized as a yellowface performance. Yellowface is usually classified as the practice of East Asian characters portrayed by predominantly white actors in theater, music and television. They display oriental characteristics and stereotypes.

For Moon, this song can be classified as yellowface because he is a white American Broadway performer, using Chinese impersonations to represent Chinese culture. Power uses Pidgin English and gibberish to suggest the Chinese immigrants inability’s to speak proper English. Powers makes up words that sound like the dialect based on the suggestion that Chinese do not pronounce “L” or “R” properly. (Moon 42-43) The song's lyrics are degrading as it is based on stereotypes and essentially makes fun of the way Chinese immigrants speak and sing. Yellowface was a defensive technique, which implied that white Americans would never let the Chinese fit into American life. Americans wanted to demonstrate how inferior they found their Chinese colleagues and to counter the suggestion that Chinese immigrants were not “appealingly exotic.” (Moon 47)

Examples of Yellowface

By Cera Chen

According to Moon, John Chinaman is a character that appeared in various forms of entertainment, notably songs. He was a stereotype of the Chinese male population and was used to emphasize the differences between American and Chinese men. He is portrayed in a negative light in the song “John Chinaman, My Jo.”

The song is based off of “John Anderson, My Jo,” which is essentially about how the female narrator loves John Anderson. There is a sexual undertone to the song as conveyed by such lines as “And we’ll sleep thegither at the foot.” However, in the John Chinaman version, the term “Jo” becomes less endearing and is used in a more demeaning manner. There are no sexual connotations in the second version and the narrator does not express her love for John.

Instead, the narrator suggests that John Chinaman needs to leave before his people out number “us poor Yankees.” The negative connotations associated with such words as “invade” supports Moon’s idea about how some of these songs conveyed that Chinese people did not belong in America. The use of the word “tail” in reference to John Chinaman also supports another one of Moon’s points about demasculinization of the Asian male. In this case, it is also slightly dehumanizing as well.

The fact that this song appeared in the Conner’s Irish Song Book in 1868 suggests that this was during a time when both Chinese and Irish peoples were discriminated against. Also during this time, both groups worked on the railroads and there was competition between the two to get jobs. As a result, both groups were probably prejudiced against each other. This song displays some of that animosity since it was originally an Irish song that became a satirical one. Also, it was published in an Irish Song Book, so it was probably an Irish person who re-wrote the lyrics.

The clip of “The Geisha” is a yellowface performance in that it mocks the way that Chinese people talk, sing, etc. Moon would describe the language in this piece “pidgin English and gibberish.” It is almost impossible to discern what the performer is saying, but he does add some English words. When the performer speaks, he does so using a Chinese accent, using certain consonants instead of others. He also uses certain intonations that might be from Chinese and rhythmically attempts to imitate the language as well.

When the performer begins singing, both he and the accompanying instrument sing in pentatonic scales, a reference to music in Asia. Also, the performer sings one or two lines imitating the way that Chinese opera singers sing with a high falsetto and slides.

I feel that this performance’s purpose is to satirize the way that Chinese, or Asian, people speak and their culture, which was what yellowface was all about.

Listenning response

By: Huong Pham

John Chinaman, according to Moon, is the Chinese version of Jim Crow or Zip Coon. A figure that in the eyes of Americans at the time personified the inferiority of an immigrant group. Chinaman had a different religion, ate different foods, and was not good at English. From this description of the Chinaman, people wrote songs that kept
reminding people of the differences and denying any prospect of the Chinaman ever integrating with the American people. This is evident in the song, "John Chinaman, My Jo". The first two stanzas of the song speaks of how many Chinese immigrants came to America during the 1850s and 60s. The singer seems almost resentful that so many are coming which mirrors the attitude that some Americans believed that the only reason the Chinese were coming was to steal all the gold from the gold rush. The next stanza seems to be praise for the Chinese who have somewhat integrated into the American way of life but then all of the sudden in the last stanza, the singer warns the John to not abuse the freedoms that he has as if to say, "We may put up with you, but we can still put you out whenever we like because this is our country." I was lulled into a sense of ease when I first listened to the song but then was rudely awakened when I heard the last stanza as it is a clear warning to the Chinaman and juxtaposes the sweet melody with its harsh message.

In reading the lyrics to the Irish song, "John Anderson, My Jo", it seems much more hopeful and sends a message of, "We will get through this together." Like Chris mentioned, the Irish potato famine was happening when this song was written and many of the Irish were emigrating to America at the same time as the Chinese. They would have felt just as outcast and Americans were just as inclined to not want to lose their jobs to a different group of foreigners.

As for the performance of "The Geisha, Chin Chin Chinaman", I would say that Moon would most definitely call this a Yellowface performance. Like the use of the term "Chinaman" was similar to "Jim Crow", the term "yellowface" was reminiscent of the term "blackface". Yellowface became a way for performers to inscribe stereotypes of inferiority on the Chinese. As Moon says, the yellowface performers borrowed from "Ching a Ring Chaw" which lumped the Chinese into the lower class along with African Americans.

Close Listening/Analysis Reactions

According to Moon, John Chinaman seems to be anyone from the emigrating from the Orient to the US. In this song, he is portrayed as almost a child, or lesser-than-human (or Yankee human, at least). The song attempts to give the advice and the reactions from the Yankees: warning, almost threatening them to "not abuse the freedom you enjoy." In lieu of referring to the Chinese with human pronouns and identifying words, the lyrics of "John Chinaman, My Jo" only refer to the Chinamen as "John" and in how they affect the "poor Yankees," the more human subject of the song. In relation to "John Anderson, My Jo," the John Chinaman version seems to receive the same type of reluctant blessings, yet, only with an added distinct warning,.
The significance of including 'my Jo' seems only to add a tiny air of friendship for the Chinaman (as we most all immigrants to the US, especially the Irish in these times: which brings us to the historical significance. Taking into account the major years of the Great Irish Potato Famine (1840s, 50s), many new Irish immigrants to the Western world were in the midst of establishing their own cultural identity within the US at this time. Therefore, one possibility for the creation of these types of relations could have been in a desire of the Irish people to include in themselves a self-identification that was truly "American;" putting down foreigners who pose as a threat to them in the job market.

* Is this a yellowface performance? How would Moon interpret this vocal

I believe that Chin Chin Chinaman's performance in "The Geisha" is undoubtedly a
yellowface performance. According to Moon, stereotypes appeared mostly in lyrics and
dialogue, as well as the sets; also, these dialogues often relayed contemporary social
and political attitudes that were similarly found in newspapers, poetry, and popular fiction.
Reading a brief synopsis, I find the play to exude all of these qualities of what
could be considered a 'yellowface' performance: the social ideas that even a lowly
British sailor is more important and more eligible a bachelor than a nobleman of the
orient is a direct reflection of the part of popular culture's fear of inter-cultural marriage
and relations. Listening to the vocal performance, (although I know almost nothing of
Asian languages), it seems as if Powers exaggerates his accent/speech while singing:
also uncovering some of the same asian stereotypes that persist today (i.e. the pronunciation of really = rearry).

Listening to "Chinaman" Songs

All audio recordings are located in the Audio folder in Resources on the class Collab site. You can work in pairs if you wish.

“John Chinaman, My Jo”: The lyricist of “John Chinaman, My Jo” used the tune of an originally Scots-Irish song called “John Anderson, My Jo.” Listen to the recording at least once. Read both sets of lyrics, and compare/contrast them. Note: "Jo" refers to "sweetheart."
  • Who is “John Chinaman” according to Moon? How is "John Chinaman" portrayed in this song?
  • The song appears in Conner’s Irish Song Book published in 1868. How is this historical context significant?
“The Geisha. Chin Chin Chinaman”: This was performed by New York Broadway actor James T Powers [] between 1890-1908. Listen to this recording at least once.
  • Is this a yellowface performance? How would Moon interpret this vocal performance?
Due: 5pm, today [1/27]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama his relations to Asian-America

"Calling Obama the first Asian American president doesn't obscure or invalidate his other identities — black, white, multiracial, transnational, pancultural. If anything, it simply highlights the fact that his diverse heritage uniquely invites those around him to project on him a full spectrum of hopes and dreams." In Yang's perspective, calling Obama an Asian-American is undoubtedly less concerned with his direct heritage, but rather it is more attentive to his moral values, childhood experiences, and upbringing.

Regarding my own paternal grandfather, whose family took residence in a small house for 6 in a town of New Jersey; my grandfather's children (including my father) have remarked often on the type of disciplined upbringing that they experienced. Both of my grandparents created the same dynamic consistent with other hardworking families, hoping to instill favorable work ethic in their children and prepare them for their future. For instance, my grandfather particularly enjoyed the practice of reading the newspaper at the bottom of the stairs every evening, posed perfectly to see hopeful escapees wanting to play outside. Rather, they would oftentimes be sent straight back up the stairs to get started on future assignments, extracurricular responsibilities, or chores. I believe that Barack Obama reflects an experience similar to many families, including those of modest work ethic and many ethnicities, but where are the boundaries drawn in defining one's cultural identity?


According to an article in Hello Magazine (a British news provider, dealing with much of pop culture from around the globe) on January 16th. , sources indicated that multiple family members of President Barack Obama that were influential in his upbringing would be attending the grand ceremonies, coming to see him from three seperate continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. His sister Maya, a sibling who grew up with him in Hawaii and Indonesia, shared in his (proposed) Asian-American style upbringing, attended along with Obama's Granny Sarah (of Africa) and stepmother Kezia (from Britain). His guests, connecting him to various places around the world, show his diverse upbringing as well as his influence from Asian and African cultures and represent Barack's different ethnicities and cultural connections. Considering his proposed (and televised) images, these connections only further coincide with a major point in the Jeff Yang's article: the inclusion of how people, with many drastically different cultural identities, choose to identify with Barack, showing his perceived cultural identity as one of many characters.

The music included in the inaugural proceedings were scarcely variant from past inaugurations to the untrained ear, with the usual marching band parades, nationalistic themed songs, and presidential fanfare: however, there was almost no relation to Asian-America. Instead, the presence of Aretha Franklin seemed to further mold Barack's identity as the first African-American President rather than one who is primarily Asian.

From parts of the President's upbringing, Jeff Yang bases his opinions on Barack's identity as an Asian American in these experiences: “He was born and raised in Hawaii, the only majority-Asian state in the union; he spent four formative years in Jakarta, the home of his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro, where he attended local schools and learned passable Bahasa Indonesia.” Although Barack spent four years at a school in Asia, I personally have difficulty in wanting to follow suit, which would include referring to anyone who travels to or works in other countries as one of many (perhaps drastically different) cultural identities. Saying this, it is somewhat clear that my views give importance in maintaining the concept of one's cultural identity in their heritage and primary upbringing, as I feel it plays a distinct importance in the establishment of one's cultural identity and especially how it is perceived by others. Describing Obama, Lu includes "He's basically a human Rorschach test, African Americans think, and rightfully so, that this is a guy who understands their experience. But it's similar if you talk to Latinos and Asian Americans, or to our 22-year-old field organizers. People see in him the qualities they want to see.” Providing example for Obama's seemingly present relativity to Americans of many ethnic descents, the quote also subverbal hints towards an answer to what may be of true importance to the majority in electing leaders: whom they may relate to and their growing inattentive nature to one's ethnic heritage.

Considering the derivative article from which Jeff Yang used in conceptualizing this idea, it seems just as easy to dub Bill Clinton (a white man) as a President with African-American relation (through hobby and circumstance), but Toni Morrison's evidence showing Clinton to characterize “almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas” falls short in proving him to be truly African-American. In considering the concepts and relations of both articles, the two fell short in convincing me that Barack's identity is that of “the first Asian American President,” but rather reinforcing the thought that he will be noted in history for being the first “African-American President,” largely due to his skin color and major heritage. Both articles, however, did present interesting perspectives on how cultural identities may be perceived in the future, perhaps when the world has become a more global society.

Chris Ambler

Obama is…Asian…African-American…a Bicycle?!

By Jalisa Logan and Maynard Malaxi

Guest Star Dorian Mariana on the Asian Pacific Forum jokingly said that considering Obama the next Asian-American president was like calling Obama your new bicycle. While we can all agree that Obama is not a metal structure on wheels, Mariana’s ultimately argued that it’s Obama’s experiences that have connected him to the Asian community which doesn’t make calling him the next Asian American president as farfetched as it sounds. This essay explores the relationship between Obama and the Asian American community while looking at how the music of the Inaugration portrayed Obama’s stance on race.

While calling Obama Asian-American is ethnically incorrect, Jeff Yang’s article entitled “Asian Pop- Could Obama be the Next Asian American President?” fosters an Asian association supported on the basis that Obama grew up in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia, and has a step father and sister that are both of Asian descent. It’s important to note that this connection is fortified by the fact that it occurred in the influential time of his childhood which is a time of molding, shaping, and nurturing. Obama is not strictly considered Asian by association, but rather Asian by apt occasion. Once clay has hardened, it’s not easy to influence it, much like people as they enter adulthood. Because Obama had this experience throughout most of his childhood, it’s easier to draw legitimate connections.

We recognize that Obama’s experience gives him the unique ability to perhaps empathize with the Asian American community. But while he may be able to speak on behalf of the Asian American community, the fact of the matter is that his skin color screams African American to the world, which automatically makes him a member the African American community by default. His lack of real-world experience as a true, physically featured Asian American invalidates his ability to claim any type of Asian American experience. It seems perhaps superficial, but someone who doesn’t have the look, cannot always claim the “experience” because the world does not give the benefit of having the experience.

The importance of the surface aspect of the appearance of race at the Inauguration on Tuesday was exuded by the rainbow of ethnicities of performers during the performance of “Simple Gifts” composed by John Williams. Asian-American cellist YoYo Ma’s participation may not have been an anyway an expression of his Asian roots musically, but superficially, he helped to collectively portray an image of diversity and unity with the other minority artists. The artists were perhaps skillfully chosen as to delineate something that Obama adamantly stands for and so naturally represents.

Much of the music before the actual inauguration catered towards the celebration of African Americans and a young generation of supporters. Performances and appearance by Beyonce, U2, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Fox and Tom Hanks during pre-inaugural activities reached out to a young generation of people, while the Inaugural Ceremony performance of “Simple Gifts” and Aretha Franklin’s “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” pointed towards an older, traditional, more mature audience of supporters and viewers.

Overall, Obama is a figure that represents something different to everyone. Whether it be a beam of hope. A father. A politician. A lawyer. A civil rights activist. A lover. A basketball player. So, we can call Obama the first Asian American. We can all Obama the first Latino president. We can call Obama our new bicycle. Heck, we can call him ice cream. It’s all in how you perceive this man through your own eyes. When it comes down to it, Obama’s ability to empathize with a variety of people is what gives him so many labels. His childhood makes him Asian. His struggles make him Latino. His skin color makes him African American. His strong frame and desire to steer our country into the right direction makes him a bicycle. The fact that he has melted so many hearts can make him an ice cream cone. Obama becomes what you see him as.

Second Try

From Kelly Isom

Is Obama the first Asian American president? Writer Jeff Yang defends this position, arguing that because of a series of personal experiences Obama underwent and his ethnic background, his ties to the Asian American community confer on him a type of honorary API status. Critics chastise Yang for his reductionist view and tenuous connections relating Obama to the Asian American community; and, while I agree with some of the critics’ claims, I find Yang’s article and its provocative title not something to be taken literally, but rather food for thought. As Yang concludes in his article, “The important thing to note is that this isn't a case of ‘either/or,’ but ‘and.’” Obama’s inaugural ceremony reflects this exact sentiment, demonstrating that what defines Americanism is not limited to traditional binary categories of black and white or citizen and immigrant but rather a combination of all such ideas and their shades of grey.

At the inaugural ceremony, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill, and Gabriela Montero performed John Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts,” incorporating the iconic American melody popularized by Aaron Copeland “Appalachian Spring,” which as Charlotte Higgins noted in the UK Guardian, “[is] a melody so American as to be almost a cliché.” What is interesting about the song “Appalachian Spring” is its representation of Americanism, as NPR reports, “Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’ captures the essence of an ideal America, one of open fields and endless possibilities.” This American dream has been propagated throughout US history, with ideals such as rugged individualism and examples of ordinary men reaching incredible success like J.D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and for today’s audience, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, both college drop outs. Obama encapsulates the “self-made man” image as well, coming from a single parent, working class home, while openly admitting his faults along the way to success, which included drug use of pot and cocaine. The cohort of musicians chosen to perform exemplify this ideal of unlimited social mobility with transnationals like Perlman and Ma, an African American such as McGill, and even non-US citizens like Montero. The projection of this eclectic group embodies the true melting pot quality that is not only characteristic to the US in general, but also specifically in this case to President Obama, whose own racial identity is a mixture of black and white.

Jeff Yang’s title serves as an attention grabber, with the body of the article loosely connecting Obama to the Asian American community. Obama’s experiences are not uniquely particular to the API community, but rather to almost any immigrant in the US, which if taken literally, can include all people present (with the exception of Native Americans). From grade school on, we learn of the plight of the Pilgrims, then the colonial experience and Revolutionary War as well as slavery and the Civil War; but, always in the background is the story of immigrants in constant flux from Europe and Asia (the former more so than the latter). Obama’s experience of social ostracism and feelings of awkwardness are nothing new and nothing to be condescendingly relegated to the Asian American community, rather his experiences encompass what any newcomer feels in a world not their own – differences. Mina Yang conveys how such perceived differences affect Asian Americans in their pursuit of classical music, “Asian Americans acknowledged that their race affects how others view them…the myth…[they are] the work machine without imagination or soul” (14-15). In the classical music world, a supposed purely Western product spread through imperialism, this genre preaches to be colorblind. Yet, as Mina Yang details in her argument, the situation is more complex, with Asian and Asian Americans utilizing this markedly stamped bourgeoisie tool for social mobility, only to find they possess the mechanics of the art form and not the heart, as assertion often made by Western critics towards Asian and Asian American individuals. Yet this claim is unfounded, according to Yang and would better serve the world if, “By acknowledging rather than denying the significance of race…perhaps [classical] music can finally shed its heavy burden of universality and become once again a relevant and dynamic practice, responsive to the rapidly changing conditions of an ever more connected world” (23). The classical music performed at the inaugural ceremony attempted just that, a collaboration between cultures and people who share as many commonalities as they do differences.

Jeff Yang uses his title to grab readers, but I feel his message is lost along the way. Sure, the body of his article is a bit weak, but his conclusion is strong. Too often the race question is boiled down to our compartmentalizing tendencies for binary divisions, an effort to make sense in a chaotic world. Yet the media often neglects to report that Obama is as much Caucasian as he is African American. Why must one ethnicity dominate over another? Is it due to his skin color, a readily identifiable feature? Unfortunately, I believe so. The same applies to Tiger Woods, who shares not only African American roots, but Asian roots as well, a lost aspect of his identity over which his mother has expressed concern and irritation. Why must it be “either/or” – why can’t it be “and”? I believe this is Jeff Yang’s true question, still without a satisfactory answer.

Obama's Inauguration Speech and Asian America (Mia)

By Mia Stephens

More than 1.4 million people gathered yesterday on the National Mall in Washington DC to celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. Many in the audience claim the new president as one of their own, including African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.

Barack Obama's inaugural address calls for both inclusion and sacrifice. He asks all of us to be "mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors." Many first and second-generation immigrants came to the New World (and later the USA) in search of the American dream. Obama credits the drive, hard work and determination of these men and women with America's prosperity and growth. He believes that the strength of America lies in its diversity and its ability to elicit the strengths of each and every culture that make up America.

Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less… it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up this long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom… for us they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

The reference to immigrants is particularly significant to Asian Americans, many of whose parents immigrated to the US during the 1960s, in search of the American dream. The late 20th century migration saw a new pattern in immigration -- largely from places like Japan and China. A number of significant Asian Americans attended the inauguration or endorsed Barack Obama, including US. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Congressman David Wu, Congresswoman Mazi Hirono, as the highly acclaimed fashion designer, Vera Wang.

Obama is uniquely qualified to cite the accomplishments of our forefathers because of his own unique heritage. In the words of his legislative director, Chris Lu, Obama is "…not only American, [but] his story is the quintessential American story." Many ethnicities in America can relate to Obama because of their similar goal of achieving the American Dream. Lu suggests that it is Obama's multiple identities that make him unique and a true leader, capable of leading such a diverse population.

As cited in Yang's article "Asian Pop: Could Obama be the first Asian American President?" Lu states that the values Obama places on education, hard work and the need for a sense of personal responsibility, resonate with many Asian Americans "who feel they've pulled themselves up by their boot straps, and understand the notion that what we accomplish in life is in large part a measure of who we are as people, and how hard we strive." The role of parents is at "the core of the ethical foundation many of us have inherited, that fusion of post-Confucian philosophy and immigrate ethos" often called "Asian Values." (Yang) This is not to say that Obama is Asian American but that he is a man who is redefining what it means to be multiracial. "He is not deconstructing race, but rather redefining it, the way we all are, those of us who don't fit into old categories." (Hyphen Blog)

Obama was born of a white American woman from Kansas and a black African man from Kenya. He was raised in Hawaii, which is today America's most Asian state. He spent four years in Indonesia with his Indonesian stepfather, where he attended school. His half sister is married to a Chinese Canadian, although both consider themselves to be Asian Americans. Rather than shying from his diverse heritage and unusual upbringing, Obama embrace his heritage. His multiracial transnational experience and a "third country kid," as mentioned on the Hyphen Magazines website, suggests that Obama fits in with many demographic groups like Asian Americans. (Hyphen Blog)

Obama's unique ability to relate to people of both genders and all nationalities should help unite the US. Just yesterday, the National Mall was filled with a million US citizens representing all races, ethnicities, genders and class. Obama's intention is to bring these disparate groups together. He calls for American citizens to reach out, rather than threaten, the citizens and leaders of other countries:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall some day pass; that the lines of the tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its roll in ensuring in a new era of peace.

The musical selection for the Inauguration of President of Barack Obama was not accidental, but rather a carefully selected and designed collection of pieces performed by artists that reflected a stance on "racial relations" for the new presidency. Obama stands behind the principal that although we are all different, we are all equal, and all American. This principle was evident as a quartet took to the stage moments before the swearing in of President Obama. Four talented musicians from mixed backgrounds; Israeli-American Itzhak Perlman, Chinese-American Yo-Yo Ma, Venezuelan-American Gabriel Montero, and African-American Anthony Williams, performed a piece composed by one of America's most notable composers, John Williams (Steinberg). The piece entitled "Air and Simple Gifts" was written specifically for this event, and included elements of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring". The inclusion of elements of this song made this piece stand out as truly American. Copland is considered to be the greatest American Classical Composer and "Appalachian Spring" is his most famous work (Steinberg). The message that we are all equal, and all American was beautifully and skillfully conveyed by these four artists from mixed heritage performing a piece that can only be described as "a new spin on an American Classic."

For Obama, his election is a celebration of "who we are and how far we have traveled." Race and gender have taken center stage and rather than allow xenophobia to infiltrate our society, we encourages American to embrace a new global leadership role, with "duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly…" As the world becomes smaller and the economy more global, Asian Americans will be instrumental in Obama's effort.

Works cited:

Borger, Julian. "Obama Inauguration: Themes of the Inaugural Address." January 20, 2009. [] Accessed 1/20/09.

"Obama the 'Asian American.'" Hyphen Magazine Blog Online. Nov 10th, 2008. [] Accessed 1/21/09.

"Text of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address." [] Accessed 1/20/09.

Steinberg, Martin. "Inauguration Quartet simply Filled with Hope." January 20, 2009. [] Accessed 1/21/09.

Yang, Jeff. "Asian Pop- Could Obama be the Next Asian American President?" SF Gate. July 30, 2008. [] Accessed 1/20/09.

Inauguration response

By: Huong and Cera

Jeff Yang’s article, “Could Obama be the First Asian American President?” brought up some interesting points about Obama’s relation to the Asian American demographic. He says that Obama fits certain “tropes” that are largely related to the Asian American community. For example, he has family members who are Asian, he grew in Hawaii (which is the only state that has an Asian American majority), and he wrote in his book, “Dreams of my Father” in which he relays anecdotes of feeling like an outsider and having to come to terms with being an outsider.

We believe that where this is an interesting argument, it seems to not hold up under closer scrutiny. The “tropes” of Asian America that Yang says President Obama fits into can be said to be common to all minorities in America. Any person who is not part of the majority will at some point feel like an outsider and the need to come to terms with their personal identity. By becoming the first president from a minority group, he is in a sense representing all minority groups and so is by de facto the first “Asian American” president. Furthermore, the tropes that Yang mentioned as being “Asian American” such as hard working, an emphasis on education, and high academic expectations could be seen as stereotypical since these are qualities that can apply to people of any race. Yang seems to be trying to shove Obama into the “Asian American” mold.

Labeling Obama as the first Asian American president, or even the first African American president, is counterproductive because it emphasizes a division between Americans. In his inaugural speech, Obama briefly mentions the progress of minority groups within the American society but his main focus seemed to be unity and moving forward together as a nation.

One way that the inaugural ceremony portrayed unity within American society was in the performance of “Air” and “Simple Gifts” arranged by John Williams. The performance featured Yo-Yo Ma, a cellist of Asian descent, Anthony McGill, a clarinetist of African descent, Gabriela Montero, a pianist of Hispanic descent, and Itzhak Perlman, a violinist of Jewish descent. We found that the performance was very moving and beautiful since it was a modern arrangement of two classical pieces. There is no doubt that each performer is virtuosic and their individual sounds blended well together. However we thought that this particular grouping of musicians was slightly contrived as to feature the four most prominent minority groups in the United States, plus women. The presence of Yo Yo Ma brings up an interesting blending of east and west. He is known for playing classical western music but he is of eastern descent so him performing at the inauguration suggest the idea that no one is limited by their heritage or racial identity. The presence of musicians from minority groups conveys that Obama is racially conscious.

In addition, Aretha Franklin was chosen to sing “My Country ‘tis of Thee”, a traditional American song. Instead of singing the tune in the traditional manner in which most people are accustomed, she sang it in her signature, blues – jazz style. Interestingly, these musical forms are most closely related to the African American population and were prominent during the civil rights era. 60 years ago, she would not have even been considered to be part of the inaugural event but yesterday, she was a main feature. Therefore, this shows how far America has come in integrating minority groups.

Yesterday marked a historic occasion in American history. While yang would argue that an Asian American president took office, the majority of Americans would associate Obama with the African American demographic. Yang brings up and interesting idea that was along the lines of what Toni Morrison said about President Clinton being the first Black president but we believe that over emphasizing the division between racial groups in America only prevents unity.

Inauguration Response

Richard Hsu and Steven Song

Barack Obama is not an Asian American. However, we believe that Obama represents the diversity that incorporates ideas that Asian Americans identify with. The article written by Jeff Yang is interesting because it introduces the novel idea that attempts to label Obama as a vanguard of Asian progress. However, we believe these ideas and claims are not fully developed. Some of the arguments such as the fact that he was raised in Hawaii or that he has had interactions with Asian communities, do not convince us that this makes Obama an Asian American. We can see that through Obama's inauguration speech that he fully embraces the idea of unity in amongst the diverse US population, with no specific association towards race.

Yang points out several Asian American individuals that have ties to Obama’s life such as his brother-in-law and a few appointees to Obama’s cabinet. We feel that this doesn’t indicate Obama as being influenced by his personal experiences with Asians, as Yang claims, but rather he looks at the bigger picture and puts a greater emphasis on merit. We substantiate this claim by noting another prominent Asian American in Obama’s cabinet, Steven Chu, who was appointed energy secretary. Steven Chu is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, who is certainly qualified for this position. Obama’s decision to appoint an individual who would best meet the needs of the nation, rather than a politician was lauded by the scientific community. It is evident that Obama values merit over politics such as the color of one’s skin.

The musical presence of Aretha Franklin at the Inauguration ceremonies bolsters the public’s perception of Barack Obama as an African American. Aretha Franklin sang a soulful rendition of “My Country ‘tis of thee.” Her performance took a historical melody and infused it with styles reminiscent to Mrs. Franklin’s renowned manner of singing. This pairing of traditional and contemporary musical approaches represents the progress and equality that Obama symbolizes not only to African Americans, but also to the entirety of minorities in America. We understand this to be an opening of doors to all individuals.

The only representative of the API community was Yo-Yo Ma in his moving performance within an eclectic ensemble arranged by famed composer John Williams. This troupe of talented of musicians include: Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Venezuelan-American pianist Gabriela Montero, Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman, and African-American musician Anthony McGill on the clarinet. The musical brilliance displayed by these ethnically diverse individuals mirrors the goal that Obama seeks to accomplish within the United States; just as four people with entirely different cultures can create such a moving piece of music on stage, Obama hopes to bring together our multicultural nation into a harmonious composition of differing backgrounds and ideologies.

The music played during Barack Obama’s inauguration was steeped in tradition and ceremony. It contained the traditional musical aspects of prior inaugurations—silver bugles adorned by crested banners blaring presidential riffs. It seems that there were hardly any deviations from past inaugurations. We understand that Barack Obama has been an advocate of change. Specifically, this change that Obama is championing is one of wide scale socio-political transformations. It is more apparent that the inclusion of the key performances by Aretha Franklin and the quartet, including Yo-Yo Ma, symbolizes Barack Obama’s overarching theme of unity in such a diverse nation such as the US.

Jeff Yang and those who agree with his opinions may consider Obama Asian American if they want to. However, it is our point of view that Barack Obama embodies so much more than a single racial label. In light of today’s events, in addition to Obama’s messages we firmly believe that our new President stands for the union of disparate factions: a mash-up of ideas, beliefs, values, and race.

Y (^_^) Y

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama and Asian America

Connecting Barack Obama to Asian Americans is a somewhat unexpected task, considering Obama’s racial significance as a president is primarily placed on his African roots. In Jeff Yang’s case, this is the goal of his controversial article titled “Could Obama be the first Asian-American president?” In this article, Yang connects Obama to Asian America in a number of ways. Warner Todd Huston summarizes a few of these connections in an article claiming Yang’s conclusion is unfounded; these points include that Obama was born in Hawaii (the only Asian-majority state), lived in Jakarta for a few years, has an Asian American half-sister and brother-in-law, and he hired a legislative director of Chinese descent. Huston summarizes only a paragraph of Yang’s points, leaving out Yang’s specific arguments about Obama’s sense of alienation as a child and his parent’s stances on guilt and hard work which are shared by many Asian American’s parents. Yang also connects Asian Americans to Obama through several supposedly shared character attributes: moderation, humility, patience. Ironically, a quote from Obama’s elected Asian-American, Chris Lu, sums up the true meaning behind Yang’s article: “People see in him [Obama] the qualities they want to see”. For those of us not content to consider Obama simply as a symbol of a nation, not a symbol of race, apparently we are fortunate in having a president whose background is ambiguous enough to be open to any sort of generalized conclusion, as in Jeff Yang’s article. Although I find Huston’s response to Yang’s article unnecessarily vituperative, I confess that Yang’s argument seems to grasp at straws for its own sake.

After viewing Obama’s inauguration, I am able to further consider his relation to Asian America. A multitude of races were present for his ceremony; in fact, while watching MSNBC, I noticed that every shot that focused on three or less individuals in the crowd included minority groups (this means that any time the camera only centered on one person, they were non-white). Drawing from this observation, I believe that Obama received a plethora of varied cultural support (considering that he is the first president from a minority race, this is no surprise); at the same time, I believe MSNBC wanted to heavily emphasize the significance of Obama’s election as the first African American president. The various cultures present for the inauguration support Jeff Yang’s argument that Obama is an icon for any group to project their beliefs, hopes, and dreams onto. Judging from the inauguration, however, it is clear to me that Obama is no more Asian American than he is Latin American or white. Obama made many blatant statements regarding his identity chiefly as African American, as did several speakers during the ceremony (it was pointed out that Martin Luther King Jr. III was present, perhaps for obvious reasons related to race). That being said, there was no direct representation of Asian America from Obama or other contributors, aside from their relationship as minority cultures in America. The only obvious Asian American present on the inaugural stand at any point was Yo-Yo Ma, which brings us to briefly consider the music of the inauguration.

The music played during the procession of the inauguration was mostly nationalistic march music played by military ensembles. Most of the pieces were likely traditional for the ceremony, and had little to no direct relation to Obama. After a few initial speeches, Aretha Franklin came forward to sing “My Country Tis of Thee”. The tune itself is a traditional nationalistic song for America. Aretha Franklin is also symbolic, treasured as a historic American artist and as a point of pride for African American artists as well. Again, any conception of Obama’s relationship to Asian America is bested by his apparent pride in the African American tradition. Later in the ceremony, a four-piece ensemble came forward to play a John Williams arrangement titled “Air and Simple Gifts”. The ensemble featured a Caucasian piano player (a female artist), a Caucasian violinist, an African American clarinetist, and Yo-Yo Ma, a famous Asian American cellist. The arrangement was based on “Simple Gifts”, another nationalistic, race-ambiguous piece of music. To me, the fact that Yo-Yo Ma was chosen to play cello is no more significant than the fact that John Williams arranged the composition. Both of these individuals are modern celebrities in the world of music; if you asked someone with little musical exposure to name a modern cellist or composer, you would be hard pressed to get a different name. Still, the variety in race and gender of the ensemble may well be intentional and indicative of Obama’s desire to bring together the various races that live in the U.S.

Jeff Yang convinced me that he is able to relate to Obama as an Asian American, not that Obama is the first Asian American president. I view the title of his article as intentionally controversial and misleading. Obama himself seems most focused on his African American ancestry, but at the same time, this is secondary to his position as a symbol for all people within our nation. The musical content itself may draw from European musical ideals (consider the instrumentation of the Williams piece, or the history of many of the tunes we take for granted as American nationalist pieces), but in a modern context, this is certainly subservient to their role as memorable pieces of “American” patriotic music. Yo-Yo Ma’s appearance could be taken as some sort of acknowledgement of Asian American culture, but Yo-Yo Ma himself would likely disagree, as his first priority is to deliver the music, not to fulfill someone’s cultural construction fantasies (this is based on Mina Yang’s description of some of his beliefs in “East Meets West”). I cannot help but conclude by pointing out that making cultural claims towards Obama and his inauguration come off as self-serving; that is, they seem to place the unbiased position of the president’s role as secondary to petty issues of cultural claims.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Presidential Inaugration Assignment

Instructions: Work in pairs. Both people have to do all the readings (pdf's and websites) and watch the Presidential Inauguration. You may do so in the presence of each other.

Yang, Mina. “East Meets West” [posted on Collab]
Read: Yang, Jeff. “Could Obama be the first Asian American president?”

google search “Obama first Asian American president” and read 2 responses to Yang’s article. If you can’t find anything substantial, read these: Consider these questions:
  • After your research, what is Obama's relation to Asian America?
  • Who's present at the inauguration? Which groups of people do these individuals represent? How are race and ethnicity represented at the inauguration?
  • Who represents Asian America? How does he/she do so? What does the presence of this API individual(s) reflect in terms of Obama's attitude and policy regarding race and ethnicity?
  • What music is used at the inauguration ceremony? How does this music reflect or inflect Obama's view on racial relations?
Write: 2-3 page response to the musical representations at the inauguration and the related media, with the emphasis on Obama’s perspective on race and Asian America. Only one response per group.

Due: 9pm Wednesday Jan 21.
Post your response on this blog [] using