Friday, March 13, 2009

never perfect

If you get a chance, you should check out this film.

I caught it last year when it screened at my school. It deals with the subject of double eyelid surgery in Asian and Asian American communities, and questions the larger idea of cosmetic surgery and the various reasons why people, and especially women, undergo these procedures. My favorite quote, and the quote I find most telling, is when Mai Anh says, "Some critics might say, 'You're abandoning your Asian heritage.' But what Asian heritage am I abandoning?" It's interesting to me the ways in which race becomes tied to the body in popular discourse, how physical markers become evidence of an imagined or real racial heritage, e.g. skin color, eye shape, hair texture, and how those markers effectively drive certain cosmetic surgery procedures. Also, as one interviewee states, "I don't think it's as simple as people want to say, 'She wants to look white.'" How can we negotiate the different and complex reasons why Asian women undergo double eyelid surgery, and how accurate is it to say because they want to look white? Is that singular reason appropriate, or does it mask a wide range of historical and political factors that are often ignored in the wider dialogue about race in America? What does it mean that a huge number of Asians living in Asia undergo eyelid surgery, where they are the dominant racial group, as opposed to Asians living in America, where they are not? The film, I think, really addresses the issue from a multifaceted point of view and attempts to find a more holistic answer than the tired, "She wants to look white" excuse.

For more information as well as screening dates, check out the website here.

Sidenote: the director of my university's APA program makes a cameo!

Weight ≠ Health

I had a revelation. Weight does not equate to health. Skinny is not healthy and being big is not unhealthy. If you’re "fat" by body mass index tables and you eat healthy and are active, you’re much healthier than an inactive "skinny" person. Weight is not the determining factor, LIFESTYLE is. But unfortunately, in this society, losing weight = good, and gaining weight = bad. My sister is constantly obsessing about weight, always feeling the need to reach a specific weight and calling high caloric foods "disgusting" and when she eats them, she’s "naughty." She even has a picture of a skinny, tan woman/model on her mirror to be her goal or ideal body image. Funny thing is that the body type that all women strive to be is only reached by 5% of the women. It’s crazy! There are so little women with that body type but they’re overrepresented on TV.

My mom tells my sister to go to the gym even though she herself doesn’t go. It’s because my sister is bigger than my mom, but just because she’s bigger or a different body type doesn’t mean she’s unhealthy. If anything, I think my sister is pretty healthy. She eats well and exercises regularly.
One of our classmates said she went to Mexico, got sick and got the stomach flu. She ended up losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks. She came back and people told her she looked good! She needs to get sick, vomit and have diarrhea, to look "good"?
What is this obsession with weight and with scales? It’s an obsession!...this need to count calories and exercise to offset the calories that we ate. That shouldn’t be at the forefront of our minds. Our goal shouldn’t be to be skinny or lose weight but just to be healthy, to enjoy exercise, and to have fun.

I went to a Body Positive event, and they were trying to share this concept of Health at Every Size. Genetics determines a huge proportion of your body weight. If you’re trying to lose or gain weight, your body will fight with you to keep your weight the same.

Watch This: Pecah Lobang clip

"Teng’s award winning documentary not only focuses on Natasha’s struggle to honestly live her life, but explores why Malaysian society has turned repressive on transwomen through interview with a religious scholar, a physician who conducted sex change surgeries, a sociologist, three attorneys and an outreach worker."

Source: Racialicious

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interactive map of immigration history

Check out this NY Times interactive map of immigration history in the United States and find out where certain populations are located:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let's talk about Mental Health

what is it? why is it important? what are mental health trends in the API community?

what is it?
real briefly. mental health practictioners have hardly agreed on a definition, but let's suffice to say that the Surgeon General says that mental health "refers to the successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity."

and to understand mental function, we need to understand the mind.
Daniel Siegel, in his work with many health practictioners across disciplines says, "the mind can be described as patterns in the flow of energy and information. The great thing about this definition is that it allows for you to look at how the flow of energy and information happens within one brain, as well as how energy and information flow between brains or among many brains, as in a family. You can see how the mind actually emerges not just from within one's skull, but the human brain is actually an extremely social organ."

why is it important?
so in lay people's terms, our mind, as something that develops through our brain's interactions with other people's brains, is the avenue through which we experience the world. Our mind processes information about the world, and drives our behavior and relationships.

often, the focus on "health" excludes mental health, but mental health is essential to one's health. in fact, the connection between mind and body is ever documented via science. have you ever said to someone that your stress level or emotions caused you to get sick?

mental health is also very important because it involves the realm of emotions. emotions are what alert us to our needs, wants, desires, dislikes, and likes. emotions can also cause a lot of people distress and the inability to regulate emotions is what drives people toward mental illnesses. as many people know, depression has increased in young adults.

what are mental health trends in the API community?
I don't have any statistics on me right now, but as earlier posts have alluded to, API families are often not focused on close relationships or sharing of emotions. sometimes, there's the mantra of "don't talk about family issues to anyone outside of the family." Or there is virtue in not crying, not yelling, not having conflict, etc. Thus, there are many things that young adult API people deal with that get swept under the rug. The most serious of these is sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Sexual abuse within families sets people up to be vulnerable to people outside of the family. So while we look at non-API groups sexually objectifying API women, let's also look within our own community.

In addition, many people are dealing with adjusting to new cultures and worlds. Many of us have tried to have one fit in and one foot out. What has this down to our own sense of self and identity? Do many of us feel split?

Also, if the trend is to keep things quiet, how can people deal with and move on from trauma? Unaddressed trauma gets passed down from one generation to the next. So, what trauma have we carried from our past generations? How will we make sure not to pass it on?


Jessica Yee makes a wishlist for International Women's Day (March 8th). Several items deal with CRUCIAL women of color health issues. Excellent spotlight on aboriginal/indigenous women's health. [Racialicious]

Study shows that pregnant inmates' health needs are often ignored. [Feministing]

What's the leading cause of death for women between 15-19 in low/middle income countries? [Feministing]

Obama reverses Bush ban on stem cell research. [Reappropriate]

APIA Health Forum breaks down Obama's budget proposals in re health and the API community. [APIAHF]


racism and sexual violence against api women

In my experience, the people I've talked to who argue that racism or sexism is not a big deal in this day and age typically have the privilege of not understanding why it matters. Except, as Jaemin Kim argues, “[T]hese stereotypes are dangerous.” The ones that she's specifically referring to are “societal norm[s] to reduce an Asian woman to a sexualized stereotype, a one-faceted 'thing' that is exclusively an object of desire.” (This Wikipedia entry provides a quick intro to stereotypes of API women.)

Kim's article (1) discusses recent cases of race-based sexual violence against Asian women:

“In Spokane, Washington, two white men and a woman specifically hunted random Japanese women in an elaborately planned scheme to kidnap, rape, sodomize, torture and videotape them. Their motivation? According to police reports, the rapists had a sexual 'fantasy and 'fixation' about young Japanese women, who they believed were 'submissive.' ...

During a one month period in Autumn 2000, the predators abducted five Japanese exchange students, ranging from age 18 to 20. Motivated by their sexual biases about Asian women, all three used both their bodies and objects to repeatedly rape - vaginally, anally and orally -- two of the young women over a seven hour ordeal.”

Despite a confession from one of the attackers of targeting only Japanese women, indicating the racial-motivations of the assault, they were NOT charged with a hate crime. Why? Because, according to a detective in Spokane who emailed Kim, “'It was felt that there was no hate involved instead he [the lead rapist] was very infatuated with the Japanese race.' (sic).” Kim states, “We, as a society, were told that it's not a hate crime to rape an Asian woman because of her race” in the case of the Spokane assault.

Underlying these incidents are issues of power, but not in the sense of what the survivor could have done or should have done. Instead, it's the fact that these people could assault the women and the fact that these stereotypes exist, and are still considered acceptable. Finally, in this case, I would add that while these crimes are clearly racially-based, there is also a gender dimension; in this case, Asian women were specifically targeted due to sexual stereotypes about this particular group. While issues of sexual violence are unfortunately often associated with women as the survivors, gender should not be left out of the conversation just for that reason. In responding to sexual violence against API women, it is important to acknowledge these intersections (2). How should we as a community organize EFFECTIVELY in response to sexual violence like this?

(source: Racialicious)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


"Why would anyone need this?" my coworker, a young woman raised by Russian immigrants, asked me, referring to a pamphlet about STIs. "Can you imagine someone coming up here and being like, 'Hmm, let's learn about STIs!'?"

We work in the undergraduate admissions office at my department at school, so what she said isn't that far-fetched--it's not like people are visiting to learn about health. I said, "That's not why we're putting these up, it's just so if people happen to be up here and see these, maybe they'll want to learn more."

"But why STIs? It's their fault if it happens, because they had sex before marriage, or had unprotected sex."

To be completely frank, here, my coworker is not what I think anyone would define as "liberal". I don't know if I would necessarily call her conservative, but she definitely takes conservative stances on certain social issues, so I'm not completely unused to hearing her say things I disagree with, but that's another story. Anyway, I said, "It's not always their fault. What about rape victims?"

"Rape is sad, but if a woman is raped, then she was probably asking for it."

Hold up. Yes, she did say, "she was asking for it." I'm not making this up.

"Asking for it? Are you serious?"

"Well, I mean she was probably dressing provocatively or something."

"You're totally blaming the victim here."

"No, I'm not! I mean, what if she's a hooker that gets raped? It's like her job, she's choosing to have sex for money."

"Just because a woman 'chooses' to be a sex worker doesn't mean she deserves to be raped. That is not her line of work. It is not her fault if she's raped. I literally cannot believe you're saying this as a woman living in 2009."

It confounds me that there are still people, still women, out there who can honestly believe in the "she was asking for it" argument, that rape victims somehow deserve being sexually assaulted. A woman may dress sexy, yes, but how does that say, "I want everyone to lose all respect for me and take complete advantage of me, ignoring everything I say"?

The fact of the matter is: rape produces an unequal power relationship between a man and a woman, in which the man asserts his dominance over the woman. Essentially, the man becomes an active subject, while the woman becomes objectified, stripped of her humanity. She loses her agency, and thus loses her ability to speak for herself, act for herself, decide for herself. Rape is not just a physical violation, but an emotional and, ultimately, psychological violation.

And in no way is dressing sexy an invitation for someone to violate you in any of those ways.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

white flowers: a personal take on culture and sexual health

Today, while passing by lemon trees and giant aloe plants on my way home from Berkeley Bowl, a patch of white wildflowers growing on a street corner innocently brought me back to 2003, when I was 16 and thought I was pregnant.

My then boyfriend and I decided to start having sex after months of blow jobs and dry humping. Both of us agreed to use a condom consistently and correctly and to have an abortion if it ever came to that. One night, he took a condom out from his wallet, and despite my hesitations, I consented. The next day, during our nightly phone conversations, I nervously pointed out that the condom had been in his wallet, and couldn't there have been tiny tears that would have let sperm pass through. He said something half-assed about checking the condom for leaks. After that, he stopped carrying condoms in his wallet or pocket and we continued to have sex, even though I began to internally panic about being pregnant.

During the two months following that night, I took 6 pregnancy tests, all of which came back negative. However, my period had never skipped two months in a row before. This fact overrode everything I had ever learned, about how condoms were extremely effective when used correctly, that sperm could only live in my body for about a week. I was so anxious that not only did I research Planned Parenthood, but also remedies such as Queen Anne's Lace, which can induce abortion. Queen Anne's Lace is a weed that flowers with a cluster of small white blossoms. Whenever I walked anywhere, I always looked for white flowers.

My parents were pretty obviously absent from this experience. In the end, of course I got my period, but the white flowers always stuck with me because of how messed up it was that I seriously thought about self-inducing an abortion rather than talk to them. Looking back, five years later, I realized my anxiety was not over whether or not I was pregnant—week after week of negative results should have convinced me. Instead, I was terrified of my parents' reaction to me having sex. My parents are middle class Chinese professionals who immigrated here in the 1980s, and retained conservative cultural views towards sex. (However, I am not implying that my experience speaks for everyone with this background.) We rarely talked about any aspect of sexuality. If it ever came up, my mother would vocally send a message along the lines of, “Don't. Or else.” For example, when I told her I had a boyfriend, the first thing she said was that I was not allowed to kiss him or hold his hand, much less anything about sex.

Here, I recognize my lack of judgment and also my immense privileges concerning this situation. I had the money to buy pregnancy tests, my parents would have been able to afford a safe abortion and I would have been physically safe. Regardless of what would or would not have happened, my fears and anxieties were real. However one may feel about this topic, the fact is that some teenagers do have sex; the silence and stigmatization of this issue in our communities does not mean that APA teens magically never have sex until the “appropriate” time. It is extremely hard for many of our parents and families change their beliefs about sex and sexuality overnight. However, it is also crucial to ensure that these beliefs do not bar young women who need health services from receiving them. Starting from a perspective of promoting young women's health and welfare, we need to work together to create culturally appropriate and empowering ways to address sexuality.