Apr 23, 2008

The Formation of Damnation: Testament

The new Testament drops next week, but they have (graciously, awesomely) put up the whole album for free streaming on MySpace this week. They totally convinced me through this awesomeness to buy the CD on the spot directly from them. And you know, I'm through about half of the songs and this album RIPS. I am really excited to get my copy and play this thing to death. It sounds like a very good mix of their old style and the newer, more aggressive stuff they'd been playing since.

Testament are the best of the best. No one else has this much talent and ability to change tempo so effectively. I think having a real singer on the mic, instead of just a screamer/Danzig wanna-be, makes all the difference. And Alex Skolnick writes leads that fit. I really hope I can catch them after the bar this summer, if I don't go away. They're on tour with Priest, Motorhead, and Dio-Sabbath.

If you listen to metal, buy this album.

5/02/08 Update: So I put in my order the day that I put up this post, and I actually got my CD in the mail on 4/30, which was a day after it was available in stores. That means the Testament crew popped it in the mail on 4/28. On top of that, they gave me the original CD in full shrink wrap plus an extra copy of the booklet that was signed by the band (the signatures were the pre-sale promotion through the website, but I didn't expect the extra booklet). Damn cool. Wish I could say that the album was my favorite, but it just isn't. I'll do more of a breakdown once I'm through finals, but I realized a few things about the band through looking at the booklet (I think I haven't owned a real Testament CD in a long time, so I haven't really looked at the lyrics). It isn't the slam dunk I was hoping for, but you should still buy it.

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Apr 22, 2008

Choose One? False Choice.

This post will not be news to the few and faithful readers, but I'm going to post again to pile on about how annoying it is to be around otherwise fairly smart people who have been wholly co-opted by this false set of "choices" presented to us in the corporate duopoly (hat tip, Chedda) in which we reside.

Basically (stop me if you've heard this one before) I was at a nice dinner with some folks, as a bit of a send-off before we graduate. Somehow, the Pennsylvania results came up, and someone asked me who I was supporting. When I said "still deciding between Nader and Mckinney," I got dumped on. "ohhh - you're voting for McCain" and "We saw this with Bush in 2000." I wanted to be quiet, I didn't want to engage. But it's just not easy.

"My people come from a country with 500 political parties, so I'm okay with breaking out of the so-called two-party system we have here." End good night out with decent people. This is why it's getting harder and harder to mix "progressives" with "radicals."

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Apr 11, 2008

Where Are the South Asians: "Vincent Who?" Preview and Critique

I just caught wind of this new documentary, directed by Tony Lam and produced by Curtis Chin/Asians Pacific Americans for Progress, called "Vincent Who?" which looks at the legacy of the murder of Vincent Chin and the activism that galvanized some Asian American communities afterwards (it was 25 years in 2007). Here's the preview:

Okay - so I have some issues with this, and I'm hoping that they won't play out the same way once I see the full film, but I'm not hopeful. First, for Asian American activists of any color/ethnic configuration, Vincent Chin's story represented a senseless murder that underscored the sometimes severe anti-Asian sentiment that remained in the United States (i.e. passing new laws to get rid of racist old laws didn't get rid of Asian as foreign and other sentiments). The film "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" really captured the spirit of the time; the pain on his mother's face still haunts me, and the images of Asian activism around this particular hate crime were very important for me to feel connected and understand the injustice involved.

But the raising of Vincent Chin's story to this level of importance also does the same thing as focusing heavily on the 1960s and 1970s APA activism (I Wor Kuen, I-Hotel, Third World Student Strike, Basement Workshop, the Internment reparations movement and various other things): they shut out the importance, activism, and organizing in newer immigrant communities. Vincent Chin's story is the touchstone, but Navroze Modi, Balbir Singh Sodhi, Rishi Maharaj, and the many Southeast Asians who have been senselessly murdered are forgotten.

This film's preview tells me two things: first, the question is posed to a lot of South Asian students as well as other Asian students. They're as ignorant of Vincent Chin as anyone else, it seems, and I think the point should be that they should know. But second and more importantly, the people who are interviewed about the impact of the case and the resulting activism only includes (in my quick review of the preview and the written materials) one South Asian, who's on the WEST COAST (and who I've never heard of). Anti-Asian violence has been a huge deal in South Asian communities, and organizers and activists continue to use the lessons of the Vincent Chin advocacy to guide their ongoing work. But they are ignored in this new documentary. People who have no direct connection with the case are asked about how it affected them. I know a lot of people that it affected who committed their time and work to fighting anti-Asian/anti-immigrant/anti-gay/anti-black hate crimes. But they aren't included here (or at least, don't have any marquee presence, and I would think some of them would).

This just makes no sense to me at all - it seems like a glaring mistake that could have easily been rectified. I will wait to pass final judgment, but it was a great opportunity, I can come up with a long list of names of people who could have been interviewed, and I can't understand why, if the purpose was to show ways that APAs now are affected and could still be connected to this story, that step wasn't taken. Shut out again, even when hate crimes against South Asians have risen tremendously in the years after 9/11. I'm not whining here, just asking what gives, and wondering why there aren't more truly representative efforts out there by non-South Asians in things that are very obviously relevant.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm not saying it's deliberate, but is that an excuse?

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Apr 7, 2008

Taiyo Na: Love is Growth

I heard about Taiyo Na through the feedBACK collective, APA poets and musicians who came together in the late 90s at the Asian American Writers' Workshop and even put out a cool CD with some of their work.

Taiyo Na has finally finished his debut album, which started out as a wholly hip-hop joint, but now fluidly integrates soul and a range of other kinds of music into the vibe. I heard him in an interview on Asia Pacific Forum (where, incidentally, I first learned about Blue Scholars, who I can't even imagine my life without at this point). The album was put out/produced by Issilah Productions, one of the many projects of former Queens laureate (and damn good singer/scribe herself), Ishle Park. Man - there's talent oozing out over all the boroughs!

So check out some of the tunes, and show the brother some love - I've ordered up my copy, and have been listening to the tracks on his MySpace patiently until the disk arrives. You should too. I mean, the man wrote a love song to his immigrant moms. That's keeping it real.

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Hipsters and Metal, Again?

Okay - so it seems like Metal Inquisition has found a hipster (or it may be streetware of some other kind) clothing line that has co-opted a classic death metal band's logo. See the post here for details (and the picture for the visual evidence).

A few things about this post, briefly.

1) I thought it was hilarious (again). But it also combines that whole "hipsters suck" thread with something I'd been thinking earlier: metal isn't supposed to be cool. It's supposed to be a close-knit, kind of brooding space (though some people are very giving if you're in it).

2) I thought the pictures and commentary were golden.

3) I actually really liked the race analysis that they had at the end of the piece (36 Mafia sporting Maiden shirts still has some redeeming and understandable side to it - given all the appropriation that happens the other way around with black culture). I'm telling you - these folks have more smarts to them than they let on.

4) Chuck Billy got cornrows?! WTF?!?!

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Apr 6, 2008

Support the Fight for Asian American Studies at Hunter College

I'm writing this in response and in support of the righteous students and organizers at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, who are organizing and pushing to protect and expand Asian American studies at their school. I stand with these students and urge any reader here to check out their information (here's an article to start) and see how you can be supportive of their cause. I'll post more information up as I get it about how allies and supporters around the nation can show them love and let them know that we stand with them in this struggle. Though some of the private schools in NYC such as NYU and Columbia have been able to maintain and expand Asian American studies program and initiatives, the City University sites at Hunter and Queens College have not had the resources or the support from Administration to do as well. They are struggling, and with them, students from families throughout NYC, many of whom grew up in the city and know the communities well, have fewer opportunities to connect those communities to larger struggles in the way that only solid and resourced Asian American studies courses and programs can do.

I came up through public schools, up until this stint in graduate school. The fight for Third World Studies and curriculum came out of righteous struggle in public schools, with the partnership of the broader community, recognizing that we needed our peoples' struggles to be represented in the classroom for a lot of reasons. It is really serious if history is taught devoid of the specific activist and organizing legacies that have been at the root of social change, from the hard-fought labor victories that gave us the 40 hour work week, benefits, minimum wage and the right to organize to the civil and immigrant rights gains that the conservative movement is trying to roll back.

Ordinary and extraordinary people, far beyond the few known individuals like Dr. King and the others chosen by the mainstream to represent these mass movements, committed their lives and risked everything to move things forward. By ignoring or simplifying this context, the people - specifically the oppressed and powerless - are expected to stay in their place and play by the rules in place. They do this without knowledge that there has always been a strong and present resistance in the United States, and one that has made progress, even if it hasn't reached the revolution.

The prominent narrative in America is that the founding documents were all we needed to get the "freedom" and "liberty" we live with: the importance of peoples' power, and movements, are frequently undercut or actively contradicted. Why else would labor unions, which were so critical in so many ways, suffer from mediocre celebration and membership (though I'm not saying internal corruption is not also a factor).

This is even more pressing for communities of color and immigrant communities. Feeling powerless, they often don't know that there have been generations of struggle led by immigrants -- in the fields, in the factories, and on the streets -- that have changed this country. Asian American community contributions are one such place for these histories, which still remain hidden within the canon of American civil rights and resistance thought, literature, and studies.

While I think that Asian American studies can be a space that is self-indulgent, detached from the real community connections that it should have, and far too theoretical when there's a world outside for it to engage, it is also a space for reflection, revelation, and resistance. Asian American studies that engage the local communities, and that open up a dialog with those communities -- literally, and through the texts and pedagogy -- are our only hope to moving beyond simple identity politics to something more transformative.

I applaud the students at Hunter for saying "hell no!" and for holding on and fighting for Asian American studies. Hunter has had a long and difficult tradition with its Asian American studies programs, and I know there are some alumni out there who were part of earlier struggles, and should plug back into what's happening on campus.

To the students, your struggle is our struggle. Your struggle is a struggle that many of us forget is still going on at campuses where it matters. Your organizing is not in vain, nor is it lost on those of us who believe in the struggle and in the cause. It's not just about finding ourselves in the curriculum - it's asserting that we belong there, that our stories and community members should be in these institutions, and we should have the ability to learn from the past so that we can be connected to those struggles as we move forward.

Keep ya head up, and let us know how we can help.

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Apr 5, 2008

Territories and Taboos: Tibet in Asian America

I've recently gotten a fresh taste of the minefield that is Asian American homeland politics, at least how they play out on the seemingly innocuous setting (yeah right) of a law school campus. Basically, I visited a school where they decided to have a discussion about what has been going on with the uprisings in Tibet/China over the last month. If you haven't been following, Tibetans have been rising up with a lot more fervor recently, in the months leading up to the Summer Games in Beijing.

The school didn't even have a group representing the growing independence/freedom movement, which is at odds with the Dalai Lama's message of a middle pathway towards nonviolent conflict resolution with China. I have a particular, inexplicable draw to thinking about the Tibetan people. I almost always feel a sense of kinship with the Tibetans I meet, even though I can't speak Hindi, and most of the ones I meet come from India and know the language (among others) very well.

That Tibet remains an occupied land, that China will not hear of the independence or even the true autonomy of the region, and that there will only likely be more violence and bloodshed, even with the world community paying more attention aren't even my key points here. I think Tibet is quickly becoming the premiere fiery issue for the neo-nationalists from China in the United States. It's a funny thing to see people who may have been oppressed by the state in the past, singing its praises and confronting pro-Tibet sympathizers.

That's what happened at this event - there was an organized group of Chinese students (couldn't tell if they were foreign students, long-time residents, or folks who have adopted (or countered) the politics of their parents) who dogged the speakers, made long speeches about the brutal, archaic feudal system in pre-occupation Tibet, and challenged the accounts of people from groups like Amnesty International. It was incredible, actually. I was pretty surprised - these are students who generally sit just at the periphery of noticeable student activity or speech. Something's riled up this feeling, and I wonder what it is.

Well, actually, the "what" is easy: it's a reactive nationalism, either one that's been there all along, or one that is awakening in light of what they may perceive is "China-bashing" by the world community. It's the "why" that's puzzling. The people have little/nothing to gain from taking such an adversarial position - people are saying that the government is to blame, not the 1+ billion Chinese people. But the feelings seem to run quite deep, and the resistance to hearing anything to the contrary seems to run even deeper.

China benefits from this nationalism, of course. As the governments of nations like China and Indian recognized long ago, their expatriates are the P.R. foot soldiers for nations that are slowly rising up. Make good impressions. Don't rock the boat. Decrease the level of mistrust/unfamiliarity that has kept us foreign and dangerous. We want a piece of the action, and it's up to you to bring it. This "duty" to serve as ambassadors of the sending nation is more than just suggested, sometimes. But I won't go there right now either.

I just wonder what this sharp reaction from Chinese Americans to the Tibet issue means for folks who want to work in the community. Is Tibet quickly becoming the new Kashmir (which you can't really talk about with people in South Asian communities whose politics you don't explicitly know)? Or even the new Taiwan? It feels like the relationship of occupation, cultural oppression, and interference make it closer to Kashmir, or even, as a speaker mentioned, the West Bank. And so we're back to Palestine/Israel, again.

But in a community that spends a tremendous amount of time caring about things overseas, are Asian American community workers being forced not to talk about foreign affairs in order to focus on domestic social and economic justice issues? And if this is so, isn't this denying a piece of our consciousness, and the opportunity to change hearts and minds with each conversation, that we should be taking? How can we stay silent about Tibet when we're talking to well-off Chinese Americans about human rights violations against Asian Americans in the United States, when we know that they have a set of misconceptions about the situation overseas that run so counter to the life ideology that brought you to this work to begin with?

Or is this the place where it helps to have people in the coalition that is Asian America who aren't speaking from within a specific group (i.e. having a South Asian talk to Chinese Americans community members so we don't immediately turn them off somehow). I know there's a way to play the differences - will have to think/write about that more later.

I'm just saying: Asian countries need to get their acts together. It's becoming more and more difficult to navigate the delicate sensitivities people have about these issues without just saying "Yo, this is where things are at. Deal with it!"

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Apr 4, 2008

Sites I've Been Reading

Finally got my act together and updated some of the links I have to the left over there. I'll do better when I have more time (and maybe even update this site that looks like it's fresh from the late 90s). Here are some sites I've been checking out regularly that you should too:

1) The Cheddar Box: My man has been coming over and sharing the love on my infrequent posts - but you should see what the strong and conscious brother is writing, thinking, working, and living in ATL. And his site is definitely better looking than this one.

2) Boston Progress Arts Collective and Boston Progress Radio: I don't know where I've been, but Boston is where it's at. With the Asian American Resource Workshop, Asian American Movement 'ezine, CAPAY's youth organizing, really deep community development work in Chinatown, and Boston Progress Arts Collective (BPAC) - a fierce Asian American collective of artists and activists who run a community bookstore, have a 3 years and running monthly spoken word/poetry event, and now this nifty radio station and blog that features Asian American artists (it's the best thing to write to, let me tell you).

I don't know - the combination of real creative work, community, and DIY spirit warms my heart, hearkens back to the days I read about with storefront operations and community service activities by folks on the West Coast in the '70s, and certainly with the Basement Workshop in NYC. And this is BOSTON, people - never will I disrespect the city again, scout's honor. If there's a way, way East Bay... it may be Boston. Much love to the people out there. I know there probably aren't a lot of South Asian cats that pass through and call it home - but it feels like home to me, and like a place that would embrace me as a brother. Anyplace that values the power of words, beats, life (rice?)... without taking it so seriously that they can't laugh a little... well, bruh, that's community.

3) Metal Inquisition. This site is one of the funniest I read - if you're not a metalhead, it may not make much sense, but they're pretty funny even still. If you listen, or used to listen, to any metal, you'll appreciate it even that much more. Check it out. But don't stay too long, you may tear out your eyes (or at least become unable to tear them away).

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