spring 2006


How Asian American artists preserve traditions and challenge perceptions

spring 2006, v.v, issue no.2
cover graphic by Cecilia Yang


6 11 15 24

Art in the API Community............................................................................3 Unexpected Directions.......................................................................4
What does a middle-aged, straight Taiwanese man, know about gay cowboys?

Rediscovering 19th Century Asian American Artists.........................6
The Asian American Art project at Stanford

communicASIANS is published quarterly by the Asian American Activities Center (A³C). Views expressed in communicASIANS are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the A³C. communicASIANS welcomes all signed letters of opinion, which are subject to editing for length, accuracy and grammar.
Asian American Activities Center 545 Lomita Drive Stanford, CA 94305-3064

No Artists in My Family.......................................................................8
The search for Asian American artists

Far*East Movement.........................................................................11
Revolutionizing the Asian image in music

Stories for the Dead........................................................................12
Stan Lai, playwright and director, challenges students in creativity and acting


Social & the Aesthetic......................................................................14
Exploring the world of traditional Filipino American music & dance in the Bay Area

Tremors in the Himalayas.........................................................................15
Earthquakes strike South Asia and Stanford and the world responds

Avian Flu...................................................................................................16
What you should know

API Heritage Month..................................................................................18
Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month originates from a bill

Mark Liu & Linda Lee: Spencer’s Gift & the Return of Racist T-Shirts.....19 Kimi Narita: Finding What I’ve Got............................................................20 Linda Lee: Beyond the Painted Smile......................................................22 Stephanie Nguyen: Of Goodbye and Clippy the Paperclip........................24



Over the years, CommunicASIANS has written about many API issues ranging from politics to sexuality. But you may have wondered as you picked up the magazine and saw the cover of this issue, why art? Why have an issue devoted to art when there are other seemingly more important API issues? Questions like these are the reason why art should be discussed. Art surrounds us daily in so many forms that we often forget to stop and really think about the different perspectives behind the art. The articles in this feature examine these perspectives and ask questions. How does being Asian American influence an artist? What is being done to preserve this rich yet underrepresented history? Because art is not a topic of general discussion in the API community, I was worried that it would be difficult to find writers. The strong response of writers who were interested in contributing to the feature on art and Asian Americans pleasantly surprised me. The enthusiastic and varied responses reinforced that students are interested in the arts and how Asian Americans are involved in preserving the traditions yet challenging stereotypes. My goal as CommuncASIANS’s new editor-in-chief is to find new ideas and perspectives that make you want to read this magazine. The purpose of CommunicASIANS is to explore issues affecting the API community. The issues are diverse: ranging from art, politics, stereotypes, social challenges, and more. My hope is that you are able to learn something new, to challenge social norms and or just to get you thinking in a different light and to inspire the readers to enact change in our society or in your personal lives. As editor-in-chief, I can also tell you how hard many people worked to create this product. I hope that these efforts are apparent in the quality of this magazine. My heartfelt thanks goes out to all the writers and the editors and their long hours of writing, editing, layout, and everything in between. And to you, the readers. You did not have to open the magazine. But you did. I hope that a question piqued your interest and that you will continue on to read the articles and view the photos. I hope that new questions will arise and you will start to wonder about the future issues of the API community. While the ink on these pages has just dried, I am already looking forward to the next issue and the ideas you have. I highly encourage you to take any thoughts you might have and develop them into an article for CommunicASIANS. E-mail me at if you are interested in writing an article, have comments or criticisms, or just want to say hello.




“Why art?”







2 communicasians

rt in the API community
“Light Hearted” by Anh Tran




he modes of art among Asian American artists are as diverse as their intentions. A film director strives to make great movies by infusing his personal experiences and fresh perspective into the scenes. Student artists face the challenge of resolving their own passion for art with the pressure for a practical career. Hip hop musicians live their dreams of making music while in the process improving Asian American representation in the music industry and dealing with issues like the “model minority.” A playwright uses his experience to guide student actors as they explore their own feelings and perceptions. These are just a sampling of the wide range of artists and their stories. But the broader story does not end here. Others strive to preserve the works and histories of Asian American art of the past, while some work to understand the art of the present. Whether one is making the art or understanding the art, one fact is apparent: art is thriving in the API community. Within the following pages, delve into this exciting world of art. ■


communicasians 3



Unexpected Directions
What does Ang Lee, a middle-aged, straight Taiwanese man, know about gay cowboys?
t may seem as if the last person that could direct a movie about two young gay cowboys and their love affair on the open range would be a middle-aged, straight Taiwanese man. But Ang Lee is not your average director. Ever since he first read the story of Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx four and a half years ago, he was determined to make the book into a film. “When I first read the story, it gripped me,” he told the New York Times. “I had tears in my eyes at the end.” But first there were obstacles to overcome. “I was on my way to do ‘The Hulk,’ so I went ahead doing that,” said Lee to the Hollywood Reporter. “But the whole two years those 30 pages of Brokeback Mountain kept haunting me. I just couldn’t forget it. It refused to leave my mind.” After Lee finished The Hulk, he asked the original screenwriter if Brokeback had been acquired by a producer yet. To his delight, he found that it had not and quickly obtained the rights to produce the film adaptation. Many critics were skeptical of Lee’s abilities to direct such a Western story, especially since he had just finished directing The Hulk, a flop in the box office. The only movie he had made that garnered American critical acclaim was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), a


by Francie Neukom traditional Chinese film. Although he had lived in New York City for 25 years, he still claimed not to quite understand American culture. But he saw this as an advantage in making Brokeback. “I love exploring authentic American territory: Civil War fighters, comic book heroes, cowboys,” he said in a recent interview as part of a press junket. “I know all of these are cultural icons, but I feel like when I look at them, I see the ‘other side of the

I just dive in. And that makes my perspective rare and fresh

moon’—the side that nobody sees. I didn’t grow up here, so I don’t know the metaphors, the subtleties. I just dive in. And that makes my perspective rare and fresh.” Larry McMurtry, award-winning author and co-writer


of the Brokeback screenplay, also saw Lee’s foreign outlook as an advantage. “One of the things that Ang brings to all of his projects is his deep sense of being a double exile, an outsider’s outsider,” McMurtry told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It allows him to connect with, to find his way to, other exiles and outsiders.” Even critics have found his foreign status a benefit for the film overall. “He knows how to handle the subtle inner feelings in an Eastern way while retaining the American way of telling the story,” movie critic Liang Liang told the Associated Press. “In this way, the emotions presented have transcended the levels of a gay story and become universal.” Lee feels that his Asian background has had a deep affect on his filming career. “Who I am, how I was brought up, I use that a lot in my work,” he said, “I feel that deep inside of me, there’s a mistrust of depending on things. Everything changes. It’s kind of Taoist. At a certain age, every Chinese person thinks that way.” Various Stanford students have not found Lee’s cultural background to be distracting from the overwhelmingly Western story either. “[Lee] brings an element of beauty that doesn’t exist in American Westerns, the story being a focus on nature rather than merely the setting being in nature,” said sophomore Dawn Maxey, who saw the movie a week before it opened. “Had the director been typically American, I think the focal point of the movie would have been elsewhere.” Sophomore John Maas, who has seen it twice, hesitated to characterize it as a Western. “I wouldn’t call it a Western at all,” he said. “Of course it happens to take place in the West, and its visual language is that of the West, but in the end, that matters less than the love story. Calling it a Western is like calling You’ve Got Mail a techno-thriller—it

4 communicasians

[Art ]
misses the point. Proulx’s story, after all, is not really a Western story—it’s a love story. Love is universal and accessible to every culture.” Sophomore Tiffany Morris, who saw the film two weeks ago, agreed with Maas’s assertion. “Ang Lee seemed to want to capture both the beauty and undeniability of love between two people and also the tragedy of a world that tries to thwart it,” she said. “What made the movie good was not its ‘cowboy’ quality but the ability of the director to show the conflict between pure love and society. Perhaps with this movie Ang Lee is broadening the definition of a Western by forcing viewers to see the common links between his and other Western films.” And Lee has tried to link his own personal experiences with the setting of the film. Although the story’s setting in rural Wyoming may seem drastically different from Lee’s Chinese homeland, he found commonalities. “I think the American West really attracts me because it’s romantic,” he said. “The desert, the empty space, the drama. Same with China.” His home country has lauded him as “the glory of Taiwan,” and he received a hero’s welcome last month after Brokeback received four Golden Globes, including Best Drama. However, his movie was quite controversial when it first opened in China. “They had never seen men kiss before,” he said. “That was the first one, and you could hear the collective gasp from a thousand people, and then they settled down and watched the movie. They loved it.” Although Lee enjoys making traditional Chinese films, he has appreciated this break from directing them. “Chinese films exhaust me,” he said. “Psychologically, it’s a burden because I’m Chinese, and you spend a lot of energy in the production, making things happen. There’s no question that American actors are the most comfortable with the cameras.” Nevertheless, Lee has hinted that his next project will be “something Chinese.” ■
communicasians 5

photos courtesy of,,, and



Brokeback Mountain (2005) Hulk (2003) The Hire: Chosen (2001) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Ride with the Devil (1999) The Ice Storm (1997) Sense and Sensibility (1995) Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) The Wedding Banquet (1993) Tui Shou (1992)



Rediscovering 19th Century Asian American Artists
The Asian American Art project at Stanford
he Asian American Art project at Stanford University seeks to recognize the achievements of Asian American artists who were active from the mid-19th century to 1965. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 limiting Chinese immigration into the United States to Executive Order 9066 interning Japanese Americans during World War II, the political and social history of Asian Americans has been painful and bleak. Rediscovering the work of the Asian American artists’ that lived through these challenges defies the myth that creativity played no part in their lives. Their art expresses emotions and feelings of this history in ways other
6 communicasians


by Reid Yokoyama

sources cannot. One of the most poignant examples is found in the work produced by Japanese American artists during WWII. In the oil painting Untitled, Jack Yamasaki uses sharp structural angles and a lack of color to reflect the desolation and hardship of life at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming internment camp. Asian American art, with its expressive cultural meanings, contextualizes historical moments for a clearer understanding of the past. “The work of Asian American artists is significant, perhaps one of the most significant cultural contributions by Asian Americans to this country” said Gordon Chang, Professor of History. “This field of research

has been neglected by Art History and Asian American Studies, either because researchers have felt it’s too hard to study or not important.” It may be shocking to realize that the first exhibit of Asian American art was showcased only eleven years ago in October 1995. The exhibit at San Francisco State University was called, “With New Eyes: Toward an Asian American Art History in the West.” It featured approximately 100 objects, a small sampling of the breath of art produced by Asian American artists. The exhibit was a catalyst for a larger scale study of Asian American art. As a result of the exhibit’s success, Mark Johnson, Director of the Art Gallery at San Francisco State University, and Sharon Spain, the Asian American Art Project Manager, received a grant from the National Endowment for the

[Art ]
(Left) Jack Yamasaki, Untitled, 1942, oil, from Ayumi: a Japanese American anthology (San Francisco: Japanese American Anthology Committee, 1980) p. 284. (Center) Teikichi Hikoyama, Pines of the Shore, ca. 1922, woodcut, private collection, San Francisco. (Right) Chiura Obata, Setting Sun, Sacramento Valley, 1927/1928, color woodcut on paper, printed by Tadeo Takamigawa, Tokyo, private collection, San Francisco. (Below) Professor Gordon Chang, from “A Personal Journey,” Stanford Today Online, Nov/Dec 1996.

Humanities to begin studying Asian American artists in California from the 1860s to 1965. Upon the discovery that Asian American artists were also active in major cities outside of California, such as Seattle and New York, the project has broadened to become the most comprehensive study and interpretation of the American history of visual art created by individuals of Asian ancestry. Now in its tenth year, the project is nearing completion. Four years ago, the project moved to Stanford with assistance from the Stanford Humanities Lab and Professor Chang. The archives of original files are the largest of its kind anywhere, stacking over twenty feet high. According to Spain, “the artist files include a variety of materials: artist interviews, newspaper articles, records for exhibitions, examples of artwork, photos of the artists…basically anything we can get our hands on that relates to a particular artist.” Over one hundred Asian American artists are detailed in the archives.

artists in California between 1890 and 1960. The project also has an international scope and will feature an essay by Kao Mayching, Professor at the Open University of Hong Kong. His piece is entitled, “Chinese Artists in the United States: A Chinese Perspective.” In addition to essays, the book will include biographies of 160 Californian artists, serving as a directory of their education and exhibitions. It is complete with a timeline of the hisThe fruits of this project will culminate in tory of Asian American art juxtaposed with the publication of the novel, Asian American major events in Asian American history. Art: Starting from Here along with an exhibiThe project has been assisted by curators tion at the De Young Museum in San Fran- at the Smithsonian Institution Archives of cisco to open in Fall, 2007. American Art, San Francisco State Univer“Asian American Art: Starting From sity, UCLA, and Stanford. Perhaps, more Here” will include essays from ten writers ap- important to the project’s success is the work proaching Asian American art from different of many undergraduate students of these regions and disciplines. For instance, Karin schools. “Student input in the book has been Higa, Senior Curator of Art at the Japanese significant,” Professor Chang says. “They American National Museum in Los Angeles, have interviewed families, artists, and tracked down sources.” Over the last decade, more than fifty student interns, many of them Stanford students, have con“The work of Asian American artists tributed to the success of the is significant, perhaps one of the most project. Spain adds that, “the significant cultural contributions by project would not be where it Asian Americans to this country.” is today without this important student involvement.” -Professor Gordon Chang Professor Chang hopes that student interest in Asian American art will spark fuwrites about Japanese artists in Little Tokyo, ture uses for the project. He envisions use Los Angeles during the interwar period. Val- of the archives in future Asian American art erie Matsumoto, Associate Professor of His- courses and research at Stanford. Thus, this tory at University of California, Los Angeles, project will ensure that the legacy of Asian covers the history of female Asian American American art will continue. ■
communicasians 7


The Search for Asian American Artists

No rtists A in My
“Dancing” Anh Tran 8 communicasians


“Self Portrait” Anh Tran


by Larissa Co and Jillian Wong

hinatown: a mixture of Eastern and Western influences spring up in these neighborhoods in cities across the United States. The culture that is created at these intersections is vibrant and distinct. The art that grows from this culture is just as rich and textured. However, one may ask: when one considers the depth of the culture, why are there not more Asian American artists who pursue art as a living? We interviewed two Asian American artists from Stanford to find out what has hindered an Asian artistic Renaissance. Anh Tran is a junior studying Architecture. Although she originally planned to pursue a Biological Sciences major, she eventually realized that art is an important part of her identity. Anh sketches, paints and does photography—hobbies she has had since she was young. However, she wanted to obtain a science degree because she thought it was the more practical thing to do. After reflecting on all of her options, Anh finally decided that Architecture would allow her to be creative and still have a stable career.

[Art ]

The Artists

Amy Lee Senior Art major

Anh Tran Junior Architecture major

Practicality was something that Amy Lee, a senior, was also considering when she first came to Stanford. Because she always knew that she was interested in art, she wanted to major in Product Design. Amy believed that this major would allow her to use her creativity to create commercial products for other people. Eventually, she realized that she had deeper themes in her art that could not be conveyed through mainstream design. Her interests led her to become an Art major, where she has been able to explore varying media from painting and filmmaking to installation art among other projects. Ahn and Amy experienced similar hesitation to major in an artrelated field. They both agree that practicality is a strong Asian value that played into their decisions. Ahn says that even though her parents are not as conservative as some Asian families, she still sensed their resistance to her becoming an artist. “My family couldn’t un“Thousand Legs” Anh Tran

derstand why I was giving up biology. To them, it just didn’t make sense”, she says. Ahn doesn’t blame them for their point of view; she sees it as a cultural norm for Asians, who are expected to study hard and pursue engineering, math or science. Similarly, Amy is still struggling to convince her parents that art is the path that she wants to take. Her parents live in China, and still hold very traditional values. She acknowledges that many Asian parents still do not view art as a legitimate profession since it does not assure success and stability. Both artists say that familial pressure and strict Asian values contribute to the lack of Asian American artists today. Ahn thinks that most Chinese families, like hers, believe that “art is something you do for yourself instead of a profession.” At the same time, Asian artists like Ahn and Amy draw from their rich culture in some of their work. When Amy travels to Beijing to visit her parents, she goes to the art

“Lips” Anh Tran
communicasians 9



galleries there. The first time she went to an exhibit was the first time in her life she appreciated Chinese paintings. Ahn adds that most of her Asian-inspired paintings are food or family related, because these are two things she associates the most with her culture. For instance, she made a photo series on Lion’s supermarket, an Asian grocery store which she says is an appropriate icon for her own personal culture. Living in the United States, Asian American artists like Ahn and Amy, are exposed to a mix of “Light Hearted” Anh Tran Western and Eastern values that affect their artistic influences and so do not see themselves as purely traditional Asian artists. Amy says that growing up and living in both Asia and the West has caused her

art to always have been a mix of identities. The term “Asian American artist” leads to different interpretations by the two artists. “I feel like I’d owe it to the Asian American community to call myself an Asian American artist,” Amy says as she points out that there are not enough of them out there. At the same time, she clarifies that she is not doing identity work, or creating art with the sole value of emphasizing her Asian identity. Ahn, on the other hand, says that Asian influence does not have a huge impact on her art. Growing up in a suburban neighborhood, she feels that she didn’t have much exposure to Asian artwork. She wants to explore this side of her culture, but she just has not had the chance to. Clearly, there is more to Asian American art than just being Asian. To Amy, her Asian roots exert a less obvious, deeper influence in the fluidity of her paintings, just as her culture is a mix of Western ideas on the surface and more subdued Eastern values. Will art eventually serve as a medium for describing the uniqueness of Asian American culture? Ahn thinks so. She says that hopefully, as each generation is exposed to other cultures, Asian American parents will allow their children to become professional artists. Artists like Ahn and Amy are definitely going to lead the way. ■
Amy Lee

10 communicasians

[Art ]
teners around the world. Aware of their broad audience range, Far*East Movement’s lyrics have multiple missions. Inspired by “the current state of our people and [Asian American] dreams and aspirations,” Roh asserts that their music is very much based on emotions and real issues. Using their lyrics not only as a form of musical expression, Far*East Movement also writes about issues and struggles pertinent to Asian Americans. Infused in their music are messages dispelling the “model minority” myth and other lesser known concerns about being Asian American. “Everything,” says Roh, “is an inspiration.” At the end of the day, what drives the boys of Far*East Movement is their genuine interest and passion for their music. However,

Revolutionizing the Asian Image in Music

EAST FAR Movement


by LiMin Lam

photo courtesy of LiMin Lam

eet Far*East Movement: smart, talented, connoisseurs of hip-hop and R&B, and Asian American. Forming the dynamic hip-hip trio, the emcees Kev Nish (Kevin Nishimura), Prohgress (James Roh), and J-Splif (Jae Choung) share a common passion for lyrical composition and new-age rhythm. Undeterred by the low representation of Asian Americans in the music industry, Far*East Movement joins other Asian American artists such as Vienna Teng, Ken Oak, and Kai in forging a new image for Asians in music media. However, being Asian American pioneers in the hip-hop scene is not an easy task. “It’s hard […] because people don’t take you seriously. People always ask what language we rap in,” says James Roh. However, Roh is an optimist. He is still confident that the time has arrived for Asian Americans to be heard. “People are curious about the Asian experience these days,” says Roh, “So it’s only a matter of time before our music gets heard.” Already their audience is expanding as Far*East Movement has been featured in magazines such as URBAN and Hapa Magazine and has performed at both national and international shows. Furthermore, streamed via the internet, their videos and songs continue to reach thousands of fans and new lis-

music wasn’t something they always seriously considered as future careers. For instance, like many other second generation Asian Americans, Roh’s parents dreamed that their son would become a lawyer. Recalling his first year in law school, Roh disclosed that “as every semester passed […], I realized this was not what I wanted to do.” While his fellow law students “lived and breathed” law, Roh realized that his heart was with Far*East Movement and his co-emcees. Given Far*East Movement’s determination and breadth of talent, it will only be a matter of time before they make it big in the music industry. Their previous collaborations with Ruff Ryders’ Jin the Emcee, TQ, and Ken Oak, have earned them a reputation for being stylistically true and lyrically brilliant. Defying common Asian American stereotypes, Far*East Movement’s unique style has made them an internationally renown and popular L.A. underground hip-hop group. Their politically infused messages and bona fide lyrics have set the stage for a new generation of Asian Americans in hiphop and music. And, for the record, all of the songs on Far*East Movement’s self-titled debut album are in English. ■ For more information, visit their website at
communicasians 11




tories for S theDead
Stan Lai, renowned playwright and director, challenges students in creativity and acting

by Solina Tith tan Lai, or in Chinese Lai Sheng-chuan, is one of the most renowned and influential playwright/directors in Asia. To date, he has created 24 original plays. Lai’s most famous work, The Peach Blossom Land (1986), was made into an award-winning full motion picture in 1992 and has been performed worldwide, including 50 productions in Beijing alone. Furthermore, he revived the lost art of “crosstalk,” in his work That Evening, We Performed Xiangsheng. In addition to creating critically acclaimed plays and films, Lai also has experience as an arts educator and scenic designer and often helps conceptualize set designs in his own plays. Most recently, his epic seven-hour play, A Dream Like a Dream received top awards at the 2003 Hong Kong Drama Awards and is described as a “play within a play” because “the story [beginning] with one character and leading into another” (Taipei Times). Multiple actors play the role of Gu Shiang-Lan, a prostitute in Shanghai during the 1930s who is diagnosed with an incurable disease. As she confronts her impending death, ShiangLan revisits the diverse roles of her life, including her role as a wife, painter, and survivor of the Cultural Revolution. In addition to the interesting subject matter, two unique qualities make the play especially engaging. First, new characters are constantly introduced throughout the play. Second, multiple scenes take place simultaneously as a 360degree stage surrounds the audience. Moreover, the seats rotate so that the audience can see the actors in any direction. Lai acquires inspiration for his plays from many different sources. For instance, he integrated the following experience that a friend vividly described to him into A Dream Like a Dream: One morning, I woke up and went to the kitchen to make breakfast. I cracked an egg over a pan and immediately found myself back in bed again. I went to the kitchen again to make breakfast. After cracking an egg, I immediately found myself back in bed again. This happened six times. The seventh day I cracked the egg and the egg cooked. Since that day, I have lived my life. I wonder what if the egg had cooked on the 5th day? This story about cooking the egg demonstrates how Lai is not a stranger to integrat-


Stan Lai at the National Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan 12 communicasians
photo by Michael Ting

[Art ]
photos courtesy of Solina Tith

Stan Lai during a workshop sponsored by the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford

ing surreal elements in his theatrical work. Lai seamlessly blends both imaginary and realistic aspects of personal experiences in his work. Lai brought his talent as director and playwright to guide students in a workshop sponsored by the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford (IDA). IDA was started in 2001 as a way to support students, faculty, and artists by fostering an environment of cultural awareness at Stanford and its surrounding communities. IDA hopes to increase the opportunities for students to study non-western artistic practices. To date, sixteen artists have been invited to teach workshops in a variety of art forms, with an emphasis on race and diversity issues. As a participant in Lai’s IDA workshop, I worked alongside other students and Lai to develop a play, Stories for the Dead, which was performed at Stanford from March 15 to 17.

pants and I developed our own concepts of the “inbetween” by incorporating our unique perspective as students growing up in the United States. Lai also primarily uses improvisational techniques to create his plays. With Lai’s direction, we used improvisation to freely integrate our own personal feelings, experiences, and perceptions into scenes. Stan Lai and the students in his IDA workshop The product was a play develop the play Stories for the Dead about the challenges of Working with Lai has taught me much growing up in the United States of Amerabout theme development and creativity. For ica, addressing issues such as American instance, Bardo, meaning “in-between” death family dynamic, parent-child relationships, and rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism, was chosen violence, individuals’ interactions with the as the underlying theme. However, work- community, socioeconomic divides, and isoing with Lai, I realized that the Bardo theme lation. was simply meant to guide our creativity and Stories for the Dead asks the question: to what extent are Americans aware of the unique challenges they face as a society? Thus, by integrating surreal elements in a thought-provoking, witty and entertaining manner, the play forces the audience to challenge their perceptions of true reality in America. From this experience I have learned that art is a window through would be applied very loosely to the devel- which communities can become more aware opment of the play. In fact, we were initially of serious social issues and is a way of inspirunsure if the play would even include scenes ing social change. ■ of death or rebirth. Instead, Lai placed more emphasis on how our own personal experi- For more information about the Institute for ences of Bardo could be incorporated into the Diversity in the Arts at Stanford, visit: play. As a result, the other workshop partici- is a window through which communities can become more aware...


Scene Shots

A Dream Like A Dream
photo by River Wang

The Peach Blossom Land
photo courtesy of Performance Workshop

communicasians 13



Social the Aesthetic Aesthetic
Exploring the world of traditional Filipino American music and dance in the Bay Area
he stage is completely dark. A piece of music starts filtering through the speakers, filling a university auditorium with music played on gongs. Lights direct our attention both to a man in a pre-colonial getup with a scimitar sword and to his kneeling female counterpart. Neither one is smiling. Pots of varying sizes are scattered around the stage. Throughout the dance, the man struts around the stage, gathering pots to be stacked atop the woman’s head culminating in a tower of earthenware. The man continues to strut as the gongs build to a droning climax and the stage goes completely dark. Applause. “That gong music,” my sister asks me after the show, “sounded kind of like Missy Elliott’s ‘Get UR Freak On,’ didn’t it?” This is my most prominent memory from a show that I saw during my childhood. It was a showcase of historical Philippine dance styles. A troupe of about twenty performers danced short portrayals of various types of Filipinos: unsmiling Filipino Muslims, grim and indigenous Filipinos, lively peasant Filipinos. Since that night, I have been interested in how traditional-seeming performances, such as the one from my childhood, can have such undeniable force in the Filipino community. Are these dances popular because they remind us of historical bodies or because they are compelling fiction?
14 communicasians


[Art ]
PiNoisepop is an annual Asian/Filipino American music festival that takes place in San Francisco.


by Will Gutierrez Performance as a concept has always fascinated me. This summer, I worked at a Filipino community center in San Francisco and was approached by one of our partner Latino organizations. They asked if our center could help diversify the ethnic entertainment of an interethnic neighborhood fair they were organizing, which included lion dancers and danza azteca. Our offering was a group of local youth dancing to the American pop artist Gwen Stefani. Recently I learned that there were plans floating around for a multimillion dollar opera-style Filipino arts space in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. I found this to be an interesting development, considering the sizable low income Filipino population in that area and the recent struggles they have had securing affordable housing. In light of this obvious clash, I wondered: how do communities choose to present themselves onstage and how do these choices conflict with social needs? I am currently completing honors research on this subject in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE). In the process, I am constantly confronting this conflict between social forces and aesthetic forces in the Filipino community. The question that’s driving my work is simple but hard to answer: how are dancing bodies entangled with bodies offstage? ■

Kulintang, a traditional Filipino percussion instrument, consists of eight tuned gongs.

photos courtesy of Will Guiterrez

the news
(Left and below) After the earthquakes hit South Asia, many countries assisted by pledging donations and other aid. Here, people in need of aid wait for helicopter relief. (Bottom) The state of Kashmir suffered the most from the earthquakes. 100,000 people are estimated to be dead.


Tremors in the Himalayas
Earthquakes strike South Asia and Stanford and the world responds
by Jazib Zahir

photos courtesy of Jazib Zahir


arely had the world recovered from a devastating tsunami and hurricanes when South Asia suffered a massive earthquake in the early hours of October 8th 2005. The rumble registered a powerful 7.6 on the Richter Scale ranking it among the largest earthquakes on record. While gentle tremors and aftershocks rippled across the entire region, significant damage was confined to the northern territories, most notably to the sections of the disputed state of Kashmir currently administered by Pakistan where nearly a 100,000 people are feared dead. The aftermath of the earthquake and relief efforts dominated the region’s news, thoughts and actions for months. Entire buildings collapsed in and around Muzaffarabad in Kashmir. The occupants of many homes and schools were killed instantaneously while many others were left buried in the rubble only to be discovered days and even weeks later, barely clinging to life. The Pakistan Army spearheaded relief efforts by mobilizing troops in the area to clear the rubble and flying in supplies via airlifts. The nation was united in its efforts to collect funds and basic commodities to be distributed among the victims. Thousands of working professionals and students in the country cast aside their daily routines to lend a helping hand in the relief efforts. Unfortunately, all endeavors were impeded by the onset of a bitter Himalayan winter. The response of the world to this tragedy has been heart-warming. Several countries pledged billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan. Special mention must also be made of the student group Pakistanis

at Stanford. With support from the Muslim Student Awareness Network and Sanskriti, they prepared special presentations and flyers to create awareness about the tragedy on campus. According to their website, $19,318 has been successfully raised by the campus for this cause. Senior Maham Mela, an active member of Pakistanis at Stanford, points out that, “though the response was understandably less than that to the tsunami and Katrina, the efforts were commendable because this was the first time Pakistanis at Stanford was able to coordinate a project with off campus relief groups as well as organizations directly involved in Pakistan.” It is heartening to see how people have demonstrated compassion through their monetary contributions and support of the relief efforts. Hopefully, the government will use the funds to strengthen the infrastructure and guard against future possibilities of damage. It is also notable that Pakistan and India agreed to open the Line of Control – the disputed boundary line - at five points to facilitate the movements of relief workers in the region. Perhaps the most important lesson for the region is how political boundaries cease to exist in times of need. ■
communicasians 15

the news


vian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is an infectious disease caused by a class of viruses that normally infect birds and sometimes pigs. Avian flu viruses are highly species-specific, but have, on rare occasions, crossed the species barrier to infect humans. Bird flu harmlessly infects wild birds but can infect unprotected domestic birds through contact with infected bird saliva and secretions. Recent outbreaks in domestic birds and some humans in contact with these birds began in Southeast Asia around mid-2003 and are the largest number of infections on record: never have so many countries been simultaneously affected, resulting in the loss of many birds. The pathogen, the H5N1 virus, has proved to be especially resilient. Despite the death or termination of an estimated 160 million birds, the virus is now considered endemic in many parts of the world. Control of the disease in poultry has proven to be extremely difficult due to this extreme virulence. From mid-December 2003 until early February 2006, outbreaks in poultry have been reported in South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, and Romania. Only Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia have announced control of their poultry outbreaks and are now considered free of the disease. In the other affected areas, outbreaks are continuing with varying degrees of severity. The prevalence of H5N1 in poultry poses two main risks for human health. The first is the direct infection of humans from poultry, resulting in severe symptoms. Although there are many forms of the avian flu virus, of the few avian flu viruses that have crossed the species barrier, H5N1 has caused the largest number of cases of severe disease
16 communicasians


by Yi-Ren Chen

and death in humans. Victims’ health rapidly deteriorates, resulting in multi-organ failure and ultimately death. Most cases have occurred in healthy children and young adults, and over half of those infected have died. The second and even greater risk is the possibility of mutations in the viral genome that will allow transmission from person to person. Such a change could result in a global

Despite an advance warning that has lasted almost t the world is ill-prepared to defend itself against a p
outbreak comparable to that of the 1918 avian flu outbreak that was caused by the H1N1 flu virus and killed between 20 million and 50 million people. Human cases have been reported in several countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Iraq, and Turkey. The risk of pandemic flu is serious, as each additional human case gives the virus an op-

two years, pandemic.
portunity to improve its transmissibility in humans. Despite an advance warning that has lasted almost two years, the world is ill-prepared to defend itself against a pandemic. Although a vaccine against the H5N1 virus is under development in several countries, due to the high mutation rate, no H5N1 vaccine is ready for commercial production. Because

What You Should Know

the news



the vaccine needs to match the pandemic virus, large scale production cannot start until the pandemic viral form has emerged. Unfortunately, flu vaccines are produced using chicken eggs and take time to incubate, making it difficult to quickly respond to an outbreak. Current global production capacity falls pitifully short of the projected demand that a pandemic would require. Two antivi-

ral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza can reduce the severity and duration of illness caused by flu. However, efficacy depends on early administration, usually within 48 hours of symptom onset. Another substantial constraint to wide usage is the limited production capacity and price of the drugs in most countries. It would take a decade to produce enough Tamiflu to treat 20% of the world’s population. Fortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many nations are taking steps to prepare for a pandemic. Following a donation by industry, WHO will have a stockpile of antiviral drugs sufficient for 3 million people by early 2006. These drugs can be used near the start of a pandemic in the geographic region of outbreak to reduce the number of human infections. Many nations have also proceeded to vaccinate its poultry and reduce the number of diseased birds. For instance, China has recently embarked on an ambitious plan to vaccinate all of its poultry with 5.2 billion flu shots. These preventive measures will hopefully decrease the likelihood of a pandemic. For now, it is safe to continue eating poultry, as there is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection for avian influenza viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend any travel restrictions to affected countries at this time. However, it is advisable for travelers to affected countries to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and to avoid any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with poultry secretions. ■
Information obtained from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Wayne F. Peate, M.D., M.P.H, associate professor of public health at the College of Public Health and of clinical family and community medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Arizona.
communicasians 17

photos courtesy of Yi-Ren Chen

the news


Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month Originates from a Bill

ay marks Asian Pacific Islander Month, which is celebrated all across the United States. At Stanford, Asian Pacific Islanders currently constitute 24 percent of the undergraduate student population and 11 percent of the faculty. This year, several Asian American groups on campus have planned activities to celebrate the month. In June 1977, Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House resolution that called upon President Jimmy Carter to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Week. The following month, senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both bills were passed. On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration. In May 1990, the holiday was expanded when President George H.W. Bush designated May to be API Heritage Month. He chose May in order to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843. The month of May is also significant because it marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad – which was built primarily by Chinese immigrants – on May 10, 1869. Different events and struggles that Asian Pacific Islanders faced through history contribute to the importance of the month. History Professor Gordon Chang discussed the tension that exists in the concept of API Heritage Month: “Is the month for Asian Pacific Islanders to celebrate their for-


by Jessica Wang

According to [history professor Gordon] Chang, ‘It’s unclear if API Month is meant to be kept offensive or if it is something to highlight more political issues, the struggles Asian Americans face today for greater inclusion.’

API Month
eign ancestry or to celebrate their experience in America? It seems to be a catch-all for anything Asian.” The month is typically celebrated in a variety of ways, ranging from indulging in Asian food and culture to discussions and conferences on current issues related to Asian Pacific Islanders. Yet the primary focus of the Month is ambiguous. According to Chang, “It’s unclear if API Month is meant to be kept inoffensive or if it is something to highlight more political issues, the struggles Asian Americans face today for greater inclusion.” At Stanford, several student groups are organizing events to celebrate the month and promote cultural awareness on campus about API history and issues. “As for AASA events, this year we are planning our annual events such as AASA Fashion Show and Asian Images,” said Asian American Students Association co-president Linda Tran. “The AASA Fashion Show is a

photo courtesy of

charity fundraiser in which the proceeds go to an Asian American organization that works on pressing issues in our Asian American communities, particularly that of sweatshop labor in the garment industry. Asian Images is a panel event of guest speakers that explores the topic of Asian Americans in the media.” Senior Brian Nguyen said that he felt that having a month devoted specifically to Asian Pacific Islanders may be counterproductive to promoting their culture “I don’t really notice if it’s Black History Month or Women’s Month, all the months are the same to me. Different groups shouldn’t be limited to specific months to celebrate their culture. People should just respect each other and try to learn about different cultures. Because once API Heritage Month is over, does that mean you should stop learning about Asian people?” Junior Judy Wang echoed similar thoughts, saying, “API Heritage Month shouldn’t be just a month, it should be all year.” ■

18 communicasians

all photos courtesy of both Lee and Liu


Spencer’s Gifts Hosts the Return of the Racist T-Shirt and Sparks Asian American Student Activism
(Above right) The first t-shirt design to spark controversy. (Below) Two featured t-shirts on open display at a local Spencer’s Gifts boutique.

by Mark Liu and Linda Lee ore than three and a half years after Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) thought it was hip and marketable to print racist images of Asians onto t-shirts, another company, Spencer’s Gifts, is at it again. This time the shirts have explicit sexual overtones. One shirt reads “Hang Out With Your Wang Out” with the same caricature of a buck-toothed, slanty-eyed Asian wearing a conical hat as its A&F predecessor. Although not as large as A&F, Spencer’s Gifts still has a large reach with over 600 mall locations in the United States and Canada. When the A&F shirts hit the shelves, within a day, Stanford students met to plan what to do about the t-shirts. A nationwide campaign started and students inundated A&F with phone calls, e-mails, and picketers. Much like the campaign against A&F, the movement against the Spencer’s Gifts t-shirts started with college students. Vanessa Au, a graduate student in the Bay Area, brought the controversy to the community’s attention through her blog. Word of the campaign then spread through e-mail, and people responded by calling Spencer’s Gifts and signing an online petition, which collected over 1500 signatures. Because of people’s efforts, Spencer’s Gifts has issued an apology and the t-shirts were pulled.


The appearance of these same moronic tshirts after the A&F controversy begs a few answers. Why did these t-shirts appear again? The campaign against A&F was successful in getting the t-shirts removed and receiving a lukewarm apology from the company, but there were no institutional changes. Few made the connection between the sale of racist merchandise and the institutional and incidental racism within US history. Although Spencer’s Gifts issued an apology and pulled the offensive shirts from stores, images that demean and defame Asians/Asian Americans will (re)appear in the media, unless and until society addresses racism in the fullest sense. This controversy raises another fundamental question. Why do college students react so quickly against racist t-shirts but do not take a stand against the sweatshops that exploit Asian workers to produce the tshirts? Oftentimes, our anger and activism is limited to only what we think directly affects us. Ultimately, the degradation that we feel when racist shirts are made is linked to the degradation a worker feels when her rights are violated and her humanity denied. We share a common struggle with the rest of the world against oppression in all its forms. ■

For more information on this issue, please visit the web site: http://www.wearing
communicasians 19



During spring of my freshman year, I watched from the audience as girls moved their bodies sexily to the addictive rhythm of Britney Spears’s “Toxic.” So this was AASA Fashion Kimi Narita Show? It looked amazing, and I love to dance. Soon after, I found out that I had gotten in. I was thrilled! And then it hit me. What was I thinking? I am not model material. I am 5’5” and a size 12…not a size 2. Self-doubt and misgivings about my body image plagued my thoughts during the first few Fashion Show practices. Instead of squaring with my insecurities, I faked confidence. During practices, I smiled and oozed self-assurance. Under-

Finding Wh
neath it all, I was hoping no one was looking at me and wondering why I was there. In retrospect, it all seems silly. But at the time, as I looked around and saw attractive, thin Asian girls, I could not help but feel inadequate. What gave me confidence was dancing. After much hip-hop experience, I knew I had rhythm and could “shake it.” One of our choreographers created an amazing all-girls routine to Ciara’s “1-2-Step.” We practiced hard every Friday afternoon to get the moves right. Our knees were bruised from going down on them so often on hardwood floors, but I had so much fun. I forgot about my body size at these practices because I was so wrapped up in dancing. However, the feeling of inadequacy sprung up again when the Fashion Show clothes arrived. Aside from modeling in the sets I was dancing in and the finale, I found out I would not be modeling in any other sets. The clothes were too small.

One Student’s Quest to Discover Beauty Beyond Female

20 communicasians



photos courtesy of Kimi Narita

hat I’ve Got
I cracked. That afternoon I cried to my friend who was participating in the Fashion Show as well. I cried about how insufficient I felt compared to stereotypical Asian female body images. I am not small like how Asian girls should be. I am not thin like how Asian girls should be. I am not dainty like how Asian girls should be. After that good cry, I knew I could no longer fake confidence. I wasn’t happy. Instead, I turned to what made me confident-dancing. When I dance, all that body image junk melts away until all that is left is the beat of the music and the movements of the dance. With modeling, there were no flashy dance moves to cover up what I looked like. This was a frightening thought until I realized something. It was all in my head. No one in Fashion Show ever made me feel like I did not belong. Instead, I made lasting friends. No one in the audience ever laughed or sneered



all photos courtesy of Kimi Narita

at me when I modeled. Instead, they cheered loudly. And when I was on stage, with the bright lights and blaring music, I felt sexy for the first time in my life. I felt sexy when I danced, and I felt sexy when I modeled. It took me a long time to realize something very simple: fitting into stereotypes is severely overrated. No, I do not have the body of a stereotypical Asian woman. But now it doesn’t matter as much to me. Confidence isn’t found through trying to fit into those stereotypes but by making the most of what you’ve got. I know this is easier said than done. I am still self-conscious about my body. Feelings of inadequacy spring up more often than I would like, but I get over them easier after having this experience. In the end, being in Fashion Show was a journey that made me feel…good. I could not have asked for more. ■



Beyond the Painted Smile
All of a sudden everywhere I turn, it’s all about the geisha. Especially with the recent release of Steven Spielberg’s Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), the cinematic rendition of Arthur Golden’s Linda Lee 1997 bestseller of the same name, images of the geisha seem to be appearing everywhere. Preceding the release of this film, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum featured a popular exhibit titled: “Geisha: Beyond the Painted Smile” from June until September 2004. All over San Francisco, pictures of the geisha were pasted onto billboards, buses, and taxicabs. It was rare that you could escape her “painted smile.” According to a press release put out by the museum, “geisha have been a powerfully evocative icon of Japan and a source of fascination around the world since the late nineteenth century.” Undeniably, the geisha has indeed fascinated people throughout the world and continues to do so. Unfortunately, perceptions of the geisha often serve to reinforce notions of Asian American women as submissive sexual objects. Although many, myself included, do not know what a geisha is, what she does, or who she is supposed to be, there do exist some negative perceptions of the geisha as a prostitute and highly sexualized woman. These images of the geisha as beautiful, sexualized, and subservient have in some cases been projected onto Asian and Asian American women. Within film and other media forms, Asian American women have been typecast into two contradictory roles – the overly sexualized dragon lady and the docile servant. The “exotic” Asian American woman is expected to be both docile and kind while keeping her sexual secrets hidden. While the recent release of Memoirs of a Geisha has re-sparked notions of Asian American female exoticism and sexual objectivity, some Asian Americans continue to resist these ste-

all photos courtesy of Linda Lee

the resistance of sexualized

22 communicasians



reotyped images. Centered on the Geisha art exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Scott Tadashi Tsuchitani, a 3rd generation Japanese American artist, attempts to contest negative images of Asian American women by reappropriating the Asian Art Museum posters of the geisha. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2004, Tsuchitani says, “When I first saw those images throughout the city, it annoyed me. It kept bugging me, and at a certain point, I realized I can stop getting upset about it and make art out of it.” Tsuchitani’s art consisted of a spoof of the postcards and flyers used to publicize the art exhibit. His postcards consisted of an image of Tsuchitani himself dressed as a geisha whose face is partially hidden by a fan and plastic-framed glasses and a line reading, “Orientalist Dream Come True: GEISHA – perpetuating the Fetish.” Here Tsuchitani is using his art to comment and criticize the way Asian/Asian American women have historically been viewed as a fetish, or highly desired. Although the Asian Art Museum argues that their show concerning the geisha was an attempt to contest the popular ideas that the geisha was or is a prostitute, as opposed to a highly trained and educated entertainer and partner, Tsuchitani argues that the plastering of images of the geisha all over San Francisco simply fed the public curiosity and never completely demolishes stereotypes attached to the geisha. For Tsuchitani, other Asian American activists, and many Asian American women, who might not identify as activists, the image of the geisha is not a flattering one, but one that reduces Asian American female identity to that of a sex object.


photos courtesy of Linda Lee

In attempt to resist such simplification of the Asian American female, Tsuchitani, although he is a man, reinterprets the image of the geisha used by the Asian Art Museum by making it his own and poking fun at the delicacy an image of the geisha is supposed to provoke. Furthermore, Tsuchitani does not just make art but tries to share his art with people. Tsuchitani reminisces, “On the closing weekend of the “Geisha” show, my friend S. and I plastered Japantown [in San Francisco] with dozens of mini-posters, and then proceeded to plant five dozen glossy inserts in the information booth inside the Asian Art Museum itself.” The work that

Tsuchitani does is not simply meant to be consumed by art connoisseurs, but are pieces meant to provoke and destabilize one’s perception of dominant, normative culture. Art is not just for the viewing pleasure but can also have a very particular political function. Therefore, in thinking about more recent images of the geisha, such as in the recently released Memoirs of a Geisha, one must rethink and examine closely the ways in which these characters are portrayed. The Asian community must openly discuss and question these social norms. It is then that we can truly appreciate the work of Scott Tsuchitani and the way art is used to resist Orientalism and other forms of social stereotypes. ■ For more information about Scott Tsuchitani’s work, see his blog Memoirs of a Sansei Geisha: Snapshots of Cultural Resistance at
communicasians 23



all photos courtesy of Stephanie Nguyen

For the past week, I have postponed all social meetings, school work, and measures of personal hygiene in order to write an awe-inspiring, revolutionary farewell to the Class Stephanie Nguyen of 2006. But now that the end of the week has arrived and I am starting to receive threatening e-mails from my TAs demanding my reasons for missing mandatory sections, I have come to the sad realization that I spent most of my week either staring at a completely white screen or occasionally checking And by occasionally, I mean every five minutes. But please understand my difficulty. How could I possibly begin to sum up the last four years of my life into a single page? How do I even begin to describe all of the amazing Stanford traditions I have experienced, the articulate and passionate people I have met, or the knowledge I have learned both inside and outside of the classroom? In other words, how do I describe the Stanford University

experience? In total desperation, I even succumbed to asking for help from Clippy, the annoying paper clip in the lower right hand corner of my MS Word program. Clippy: What would you like to do? Me: Discover what is the Stanford University experience. Clippy: (Blinks twice.) Do you mean: “College graduate resume” template? “Request for graduate school recommendation” template? Me: (Bangs my head on keyboard.) And so, for lack of better direction from Clippy and in order to economize my 500 word limit, I have decided to make a list of my top five memories in the Stanford Asian American community: 1. Watching so many different communities at Stanford come together to support a greater cause, whether it be the Tsunami relief effort in Southern Asia or the Bone Marrow Typing Drive in honor of Professor Gordon Chang’s daughter, Chloe Chang.

Take advantage of all the opportunities that Stanford can offer while we have them. You have the rest of your life to worry about ‘the real world.’

24 communicasians

2. Going to Castro St. at 2 O’clock in the morning for a late-night “Pho Run.” 3. Watching the ASAA Fashion show for the first time and being blown away at the amazing dance, choreography, and design talent at Stanford. 4. Turning 21 only to be carded the next day at a rated “R” movie. (I guess they are right when they say Asians look young.) 5. Getting literally “screwed” for Screw Your Sib and then being able to exact revenge a year later. =) To the Underclassmen: Don’t worry if you have not yet had similar experiences– you still have time create your own Stanford memories. Stanford has so many resources and surprises waiting for you, so go out and make your own memories. To the Seniors: I hope that these were some of your favorite memories too. Unfortunately, we only have the next two months left together. Listen to some wise advice I heard from an elder: Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. So, take advantage of all the opportunities that Stanford can offer while we have them. You have the rest of your life to worry about “the real world.” See you at the next Senior Pub Night! ■

communicASIANS spring 2006

Non Profit Org. U.S. Postage Paid Palo Alto, CA Permit No. 187

Published by the Asian American Activities Center, 545 Lomita Drive, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-3064 (650) 723-3681

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