Monday, April 16, 2018

Democracy and diversity in action

Tonight I attended a city council meeting and listened to nearly three hours of audience comments about a proposed Islamic Center. It has been a controversial issue and a petition on has garnered over 1,000 signatures in opposition of the center.

These are some of the comments on the petition I found disturbing:

When I arrived at City Hall for the meeting, the parking lot was full and the room was packed, requiring an adjoining space to be opened up to accommodate the overflow. I've never seen the parking lot this full, even on Election Day. While I looked for a seat, a Chinese couple moved their chairs and invited me to squeeze in next to them. They spoke Mandarin to each other and their friends around them.

The meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance. As I stood and looked around the room, I saw that the attendees were quite culturally diverse. It reminded me of a mini-version of San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium where I participated in an oath ceremony to become a naturalized U.S. citizen years ago. 

After we sat down, I heard a thwacking sound next to me. The man who scooted his chair over to make room for me was loudly slapping stickers onto his chest and forehead. They were white stickers that said "NO!!!" in red and blue. Behind me, other people were passing around sheets of stickers, peeling and affixing them to their clothes.

After a brief overview of audience comment procedures from the city's law director, one by one, residents took turns stepping up to the podium to share their thoughts about a plan for an Islamic Center in a residential area of single-family homes. 

The first to speak was a member of the Solon Rotary Club expressing support for the center and attesting to the character and commitment to community service of one of the center's board members, Masroor Malik. 

The next speaker was a woman who felt that the city did not inform residents about the proposed plan. Many of the residents opposing the center were immigrants, speaking with heavy accents. They expressed frustration that the city did not notify them about the proposal. They anticipated heavy traffic. They were worried about declining property values. A few were concerned about clearing trees and wanted to preserve wetland and green space. 

Some of those opposed to the center emphasized that they were not opposed to having a mosque in the city; they just didn't want it in their back yard - literally. Many of them said they appreciated diversity but just did not want a "monstrosity" in their neighborhood. A few of the residents practically shouted into the microphone, expressing deep anger that was surprising and a bit scary.

Some of those who spoke in support of the center included area church pastors. One resident likened the situation to one his family faced when looking to build a Mormon church.

"For those who are uncomfortable with this, for whatever the reason might be," he said, "just think about the opposition - what that might be doing to divide our community more than it needs to be. We're all citizens of this town, this area, and we should be supporting each other as well as we can."

A few members of the Islamic Center's board spoke too, including Malik.

"It's somewhat disheartening that some people don't know about the project," he said, explaining that the board has been working with the city for a long time on the proposal. He offered to explain the project to anyone who had any questions about it. Other members of the center spoke too, inviting residents to meet with them to learn more. 

After the audience comments, city officials stated that while some residents felt that the city did not properly inform them of the proposed plan, all policies and procedures were followed. A traffic study was completed also. 

Finally, the mayor offered closing remarks, recalling that when he moved to the city 25 years ago, he was part of the first Jewish congregation here. After first meeting in the rabbi's house and then renting space for many years, the congregation built a synagogue in a residential area of the city. Members of area churches came over to welcome them. 

"One thing that struck me was the outpouring of love and warmth that we found in this Solon community. The first people who came to welcome us were the Christian congregations - all the churches," he said. He expressed hope that the Muslim community would soon be able to say the same thing some day and feel welcomed too. 

It was fascinating to hear so many opinions tonight expressed by so many voices. It was remarkable to see so many people at the city council meeting, and I wonder if we will see more civic activism regarding other issues.  

For this particular issue, I understand the concerns the residents expressed about not being notified. But democracy requires an educated citizenry and we have to make sure we are informed and involved.

I am in favor of having an Islamic center in our city. I have only been in a mosque once, for a funeral service, and although I was an outsider, I felt welcomed. In every house of worship I have ever entered, regardless of religion, language or culture, I have found a place of peace and beauty, where people come together in faith and harmony. We need more places like that.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On being an Easter basket case though I have lived in North America my whole life, I am still perplexed by certain American customs and traditions. I've mastered most holidays, like Halloween and for the most part, Valentine's Day. And I thought I knew Easter too, but I was wrong.  

As the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants who are not particularly religious, I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter not as holy days, but mainly as American commercial holidays. For Christmas, our family exchanged brightly wrapped gifts, decorated a tree and hung stockings. My sister learned the true identity of Santa Claus when she caught my dad hurriedly stuffing McDonald's gift certificates into her stocking. For Easter, my sister and I embarked on indoor egg hunts, searching for foil-wrapped chocolate eggs my dad hid all around the house. When I was in high school, though, he was tired of the routine and instead of hiding a whole bunch of eggs, he half-heartedly plunked a single bag of chocolate eggs in one spot where it was easy to find - pretty lame, I have to say.

Anyhow, I have a few questions about Easter. I am a bit confused about the Bunny and the Baskets. I know that the Easter Bunny is kind of like the Santa Claus, except instead of depositing toys and treats into a stocking, he/she does it in a basket. I get that. But the baskets are meant for children only, right? Not for adults?

Today I was doing some Easter shopping with a friend and noticed that she was not just buying things for her children.

"Hey, what's going on?" I asked. "Are you buying Easter stuff for your husband?"

"Yes, we all get Easter baskets," she replied.

"What?! Easter baskets for everyone? For adults? Is this a thing?" I asked. As we strolled down the street of shops, flurries in the air turned into large snowflakes. It's spring in Cleveland, after all.

"I don't know if it's a thing," she said, "but in our family, we all get Easter baskets." Snowflakes landed on our heads as I looked at my friend quizzically. 

This is my same friend who makes Valentine's Day a family celebration, not a day focused solely on romance. For Valentine's Day, she makes sure everyone in her family gets sweet treats. She is very inclusive in celebrating special occasions. It's one of the reasons we are friends.

Still, I was puzzled. From polling friends over the years, I have learned what typically goes into a child's Easter basket: at least one chocolate Easter bunny, plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, small toys or gadgets, books, maybe some socks. For some reason, at our house for my kids, the Easter Bunny also delivers toothbrushes and toothpaste. 

So I understand what a child's Easter basket is all about. But what goes into an adult's Easter basket? The same thing? Does everyone in your family get an Easter basket? If so, what's inside? 

What does your family do for Easter?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Fresh Off the Boat" features fresh faces - finally

"It's been a long time..." as Rakim and Timbaland would say.

It's been a long time indeed since I've seen people who look like me on prime time network TV.
Meet the Huang family from "Fresh Off the Boat"
Image credit: Center for Asian American Media

Tonight was a milestone moment for me in watching the premiere of "Fresh Off the Boat," a sitcom featuring the Huangs, an Asian American family finding their way in Florida.

The show is based on the memoir of Eddie Huang, a Taiwanese American celebrity chef and hip hop aficionado. Huang has expressed some criticism of the show, which I understand, yet I am still rooting for the show to be successful. I enjoyed reading his memoir and was looking forward to the show premiere, wondering how they would bring his story to life.
Image credit: Random House

It was more than 20 years ago that we last saw a prime time comedy featuring an Asian American cast. "All-American Girl" starred Korean American comedian and actress Margaret Cho but was short-lived, canceled after only one season. At the time it premiered, I was a journalism graduate student and the editor of the university's Asian American magazine. I contacted the producers of the show to learn more about it and received a press packet asserting that "extra measures were taken to ensure the show's authenticity, including the hiring of two Asian American writers."

Asian American Voice cover
Autumn 1994 cover of The Asian American Voice
I devoted the cover of our autumn 1994 issue to the premiere of the show and the university's Office of Asian American Student Services sponsored a viewing at a campus cultural center. Some students loved the show. Taehyun Kim, an undergraduate student then and now a mass communications professor, attended the viewing and expressed appreciation for the Korean dialogue on the show. "It was hysterical!" he said.

Others felt uneasy.

"It's hard for me to watch this," said Elayne Chou, a graduate student then who is now a psychologist and executive coach. "I have a lot invested in it."

One student questioned the name of the show: "I thought this was patronizing and placating. It's like saying to the mainstream - it's okay! We're just like you!"

Twenty years later, I am watching a show called "Fresh Off the Boat," which directly addresses cultural conflicts in its first two episodes. Young Eddie Huang, played by the talented Hudson Yang, wears a Notorious B.I.G. t-shirt to school and finds seemingly like-minded schoolmates to eat lunch with – until he opens his container of his mom's homemade noodles and is banished from the table. The show uses the word "chink" right off the bat. Wow.

So far, the show is covering a lot of familiar terrain for me - the hardworking Asian immigrant parents, the struggle to assimilate, the emphasis on academic achievement, the strange (but delicious) homemade lunches. Some of these experiences were quite painful for me growing up in the midwest, as one of a handful (if that) Asian American students in school. But I found myself laughing throughout the show. And I can't want to see more. 

Did you watch the show? What did you think of it?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Decision 2.0: LeBron is Back!

LeBron James is back.

It seems like everyone in Cleveland has something to say about the return of the NBA star to northeast Ohio, including me. I wish I could say I am unequivocally thrilled he is coming back, but my feelings about the situation are, well, complicated.

I watched The Decision, the live ESPN television broadcast four summers ago, when King James told the world he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Miami Heat. Half an hour into the televised show, he announced the words Clevelanders would remember forever: "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat." 

It felt like a punch to the gut. I cursed him, his plaid shirt, the Miami Heat and all things Cleveland sports-related. When Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wrote his infamous letter to the fans denouncing James and promising Cleveland an NBA championship, I was moved by Gilbert's passion (but bewildered by his font choice, use of caps lock and misuse of quotation marks). I declared on Facebook, "I am LeDone with Cleveland sports."

I wasn't angry that James chose to leave Cleveland. I was angry about the way he chose to leave. Breaking up with us on national television? It was humiliating. It was heartbreaking. My son, seven years old at the time, wanted to stay up to watch the show with me but it was past his bedtime. The next morning, I told Nico what LeBron had decided to do. Nico had been enamored of the NBA star and as a kindergartener, had even lobbied to name his future brother LeBron James. When told the bad news, Nico wailed and used the strongest language he had in his vocabulary then: "SHUCKS!"

So we donated Nico's LeBron Cavs jersey to Goodwill. We treated him like so many other Cleveland sports villains my husband and I grew up despising: John Elway, Michael Jordan, Art Modell, etc. We booed LeBron whenever we saw his face on TV.

But then.

The King decided to return. This time, instead of televising the announcement with great fanfare, he opted to make the news known through an essay in Sports Illustrated. Well, that's one way to score points with this writer/writing instructor. Bonus points for not using Comic Sans using a respectable font. The tone of the essay sounded sincere, humble, mature. Also, as someone who recently moved back to Cleveland after spending two years in California, I could relate to LeBron discussing leaving home and wanting to return. I was softening. Then, I read the last few words of the piece:
"Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get. 
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. 
I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home."

That's when my eyes started leaking.

Welcome home, LBJ. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day is for White People?

Today is Valentine's Day! Happy Valentine's Day!

So, quick question: Am I supposed to do something special for my kids today? Like a Christmas stocking or Easter basket sort of thing?

I always thought of this occasion as a school thing, not a home thing. Aren't you supposed to decorate shoeboxes with doilies, construction paper and glitter at school? And then pass out store-bought Valentine's Day cards - perhaps Star Wars themed - at school?

This all started when I called a friend who said she needed to run "Valentine's Day errands" this afternoon. Say what?

"But it's already Valentine's Day," I said.

"Yeah, but I wasn't ready. So now I have to go get some chocolates and supplies to make the boys their Valentines for when they come home," she said.

Huh? Parents making Valentines for their kids? I'm befuddled. I understand romantic couples celebrating Valentine's Day with dinners at fancy restaurants, champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, diamonds, new cars and all that stuff you see on TV. And I know kids hand out Valentines at school. But are parents supposed to make special Valentines for their kids? I'm so confused I'm not even sure if I should be capitalizing Valentines and/or using an apostrophe. This whole thing is so weird to me.

I'm the daughter of Asian immigrants, so maybe I'm feeling that whole "I love yous are for white people" thing. Plus, our family just celebrated Lunar New Year and the boys got their red envelopes, so can't they just take that money and buy themselves some candy?

What does your family do for Valentine's Day?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cleveland sports, the Ohio BMV and forward progress

The process of registering my car in Ohio after moving from California has been a tale of misery, heartache, frustration and false hope. Growing up as a Cleveland sports fan has prepared me well for this emotional roller coaster.
I'll get you, my pretty!

The process is taking months. I've been to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles multiple times. I've phoned and faxed the Bank of America, who holds our car loan, even more times. I've asked, pleaded, cajoled, begged - all to get different answers from everyone I have encountered. I know I am not the first person to move from one state to another and attempt to register a car accordingly. But it sure feels like it.

At my last trip to the BMV, I was told that my husband needed to be present since both of our names are on the car loan papers. So on Saturday, my husband accompanied me to the BMV once again. The woman behind the counter asked us what color our car was. "Silver. I mean it used to be silver. Now it's really dirty from the snow and sleet. You know, the wintry mix and all," I replied, at the same time my husband merely said, "Gray".

Although we weren't able to complete Ohio registration for our car that day, we were able to walk out with a temporary tag. After leaving the BMV, Vic and I crossed a snow-slushy parking lot and made our way to our dirty-gray-silver car. I held the cardboard temporary tag above my head like a WWE championship belt and whooped. Vic told me not to celebrate prematurely. "It's not a touchdown yet," he said. "Don't be Leon Lett."

"I know that," I snapped. You have no idea what I've been through to get this far.  I've actually made forward progress. I know it's not a touchdown. I'm just trying to get a first down."

Vic and I sat in the car, in the middle of a suburban strip mall parking lot on a cold, dirty-gray-silver Cleveland December afternoon and looked at each other, silently realizing what years of growing up as Cleveland sports fans has done to us. We are irreparably damaged.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tribute to my tee ball team

Tee Ball Indians: the cutest team in the league
Photos courtesy of Kelvin Li

Dear Tee Ball Indians:

It's been a week since our Little League's closing ceremonies and I am still thinking about our team. The trunk of my car seems strangely empty and quiet without all of our team equipment inside, without the sound of bats and helmets clanking.

This was the first time I managed a team (OK, I did manage some intramural teams in grad school, including a pretty successful volleyball team and a horrendously awful innertube water polo team) and it was an unforgettable experience. 

I hadn't planned to manage a Little League team. Last year, I had been an assistant coach for a tee-ball team but most of the time, I monitored the dugout and coordinated snack duty. This year, there was a shortage of managers so I was talked into leading a team, with the promise that I'd have great coaches supporting me. I was reluctant and fretted that everyone would learn weird baseball skills from me, kinda like this: 

The league made good on their promise, though, and not only gave me three great assistant coaches (thank you, John, Nirav and Ramki!), but a whole team of wonderful families. 

Tee ball Indians, your parents were energetic and enthusiastic and helped everywhere needed. Some of them shared their own baseball skills and coaching knowledge. One day, I enlisted one of the dads to help with coach pitch practice. I asked him to use the hard balls instead of wiffle balls so you all wouldn't be thrown off by the speed of the pitches. Almost immediately, his own son nailed him You Know Where with a hard line drive. Do you guys remember that? I'm sure he does.

Some of your parents served as base coaches and helped with awkward batting stances and throwing motions. Other parents helped keep the batting lineup organized and kids safe in the dugout, not easy to do with 11 five-year-olds! Many of them joined us in our raucous Freeze Tag warmup at practices. By the way, you guys never stayed in bounds when we played Freeze Tag - just sayin'. 

Your parents took photos, invited friends and family to expand our cheering section at our Saturday games, erected a tent to keep our team cool on sweltering summer afternoons, and perhaps, most important, brought SNACKS! 

Tee ball Indians discuss game strategy.
And let's talk about you, Tee Ball Indians! In the beginning of the season, you wore nametag stickers, but by the end, we all knew each other's names from loudly cheering at our games ("Here we go, Nolan, here we go!") week after week.

At first, many of you did not know what to do after hitting the ball off the tee. When told to run home, some of you ran from third base straight into the arms of your moms, never crossing home plate.

Later in the season - no more tee!
Earlier in the season - hitting with the tee
Some of you started off tentatively, while others swung wildly at bat. Halfway through the season, when we introduced coach pitch, you did well without the tee. You improved dramatically and I will be looking out for at least one of you to make the Majors!

I'm so proud of this team and how much you developed over the season. In the beginning, you often fidgeted, plucked and threw blades of grass at each other, sat down in the outfield and complained about playing certain positions. I remember when one of you, playing second base, showed his belly button to every opposing player coming his way. 

Good game, Indians!
By the end of the season, you were more focused and made some good plays. Did you hear how loudly we cheered for you? You hit the ball hard, ran fast and showed grit and determination. One of my favorite moments was when the sole girl on our team, spunky and unmistakable with her pink batting helmet and sparkly shoes, tagged someone out at first base. After she did it, she smiled sweetly and tickled him too!

With everyone's support, we met our goals of learning about baseball while having fun, being safe, and doing our best. Good job, Tribe!

Our league's closing ceremony was a lot of fun, even though it was a blazing hot day. I loved running the bases with you all, high-fiving all the other coaches and older kids in the league. I loved seeing you all running through the tunnels the big kids made for you with their arms overhead. I loved seeing the smiles on your faces when you held your trophies.

I enjoyed our team picnic afterward, when you presented me and the other coaches with the best coaches' gift I've ever seen. I'll always treasure the beautiful framed collage of baseball cards featuring all 11 of our Tee ball Indians players. Thank you for signing it with your name and team number. I'll never forget you!

Great season, Tee ball Indians! Way to go, Tribe!