Oct 6, 2006

Asian American Awards/Recognition Dinners.

When minority groups in the United States run out of "firsts" to recognize - like "first congressman of xyz origin" or "first Australian American to kick a soccer goal 3 times in a row," I wonder what we'll do at our award dinners and ceremonies? Will we become more creative about our selections, and less biased towards the celebrated "trailblazer" who we reimagine as a civil rights leader for her individual achievement, when really it could just be characterized as a personal triumph that wasn't done in view of advancing justice for the race at all?

Asian Americans are notorious for these dubious awards. Some folks really have done amazing things, and I'm not so put off in the recognition of their achievements and life work. But others have fallen into the spotlight very much by accident, or when one is less forgiving, mainly for some ulterior motive. The first CEO of a major corporation who happens to be Asian American suddenly makes the rounds as the honoree or award-winner from different organizations. I used to get tired of seeing the same old faces all the time, or seeing folks who I didn't recognize, and once I read their bio, really didn't care much about anyway.

Maybe we honor courage nowadays in people who were the first to do something, because, we reason, they must have faced some kind of difficulty as an outsider. Not to belittle that, but if you're different looking, but you do the same thing as everyone around you, you're not so extraordinary, as much as the people who make you suffer are subordinary. Maybe giving you an award for sticking it out (in the military, in a nontraditional occupation) is more sticking a thumb in that guy who tried to keep you down's eye than it really is a recognition of your particular achievements. I would be more impressed if they gave an award to that desi woman with PETA who keeps throwing tofu-cream pies in the faces of people with too much power and not enough humility.

Where is the creativity in these awards and accolades? Clearly some of the folks who are recognized deserve the recognition. Someone like Dalip Singh Saund, for all my questions and (I think, still valid) attention in past posts, still earns my respect as someone who should be recognized because of what he did, and when he did it. Maybe not as a champion of South Asians in the United States, but certainly as an American who happened to be of South Asian descent who broke through another barrier. I know the question will easily, and rightly, be "what's the line for so-called authenticity?" And I don't have an answer to that.

But I just feel so frustrated with most mainstream Asian American civil rights/policy/social service groups that award the same people over and over again, or the same kinds of people over and over again. If it's all about the money anyway, just make that clear and let firms and other companies compete for the recognitions directly with the amount of money that they donate. But back-dooring it, by honoring people who you think will buy a table at a "platinum" or "lotus" level, well, that's just boring, dishonest, and false advertising. Especially when the people sometimes don't know much about your organization or our community, and it's clear from their acceptance speech. I mean, I went to an event recently where the honoree spoke for 15 minutes about the work his group did, but each time he mentioned the sponsoring organization, he had a different variation of its name, until the reference degenerated completely into "[executive director]'s group."

I have to say, I've had much more fun and been less annoyed at arts organization events. At least there, even if I don't agree with the choices, it's clearer why they are being honored: they are artists, and it's an arts organization. Voila! Synergy between idea, mission, and execution! And if we're going to honor trailblazers - has anyone given Bruce Lee an Asian American award? That brother -- whose long-tarnished image as a stereotype/cliche was (I'm convinced) created by the white entertainment-industrial-political complex because he scared them all to death -- was off the scale. And he wasn't afraid to say "no, I'm not going to play that masked sidekick anymore."

Speaking of Bruce Lee, some groups still push for more Asian Americans to be on TV and in the movies. They're succeeding, but for each East Asian American woman I see as a news anchor, or increasingly, in commercials for everything from cell phones to cars, I see 2 South Asian or Arab American men portrayed as ignorant, illogical, unassimilable sight gags with bad accents - or even more likely now, swarthy terrorists. Thanks for the media advocacy. Can you do some screenwriting workshops too, while you're at it?


While I'm in the complaining mood... I am sick - absolutely sick to tears - of Asian American organizations having dinners and other events that don't recognize vegetarian or halal diets in their menu selection. Is it that hard to understand that everyone can eat vegetarian food, but vegetarians cannot eat all the meat that are featured front and center at these events? And if you're going to have meat, can you at least cut out the swine and cow? Oh no! But you can't do that! So I end up eating garnish and bread rolls. Sometimes I can't even do that, because the garnish has been sitting with the fish, or the beef, or whatever else. I can't believe I used to complain about the steamed (soggy) and paltry vegetarian "option" I used to get thrown together for me at some dinners. That was something, at least. Witness me now with 3 desserts at each of these events, and diabetes at the age of 45. When they say getting your just desserts, I didn't think they meant dinner for me would just be desserts.

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