29 07 2010

The Asian American Writers Workshop has just announced what their calling Wordstrike, or a boycott of Arizona by writers (and mostly writers of color), in protest of the racist / xenophobic SB 1070. Some of my favorite writers and/ or writing teachers, including Jessica Hagedorn, Junot Diaz and Chris Abani, have signed on. I’m also heartened by these images of the protests happening in Arizona right now. I also stumbled across the video below on Twitter last night, which was ironic given that I’m in San Antonio right now at Macondo workshop in San Antonio, home of the Alamo. It’s a great video that draws the connections between pro-slavery, white supremacist forces and the anti-immigrant forces at play in Arizona and elsewhere. I love how it illustrates how African-American and Latino folks have more in common around this issue and its history than not. Now I wish someone would make a good short video relating this racist Arizona law and others like it to the plight of Asian and other immigrants in the US.


Yes, I am Thinking and Saying Things, Just Not Here

9 07 2010

Oscar Grant mural in downtown Oakland on 17th and Telegraph

As a person of color, a writer, an activist, as a long-time resident of Oakland and someone who is Bay Area born-and-bred, I have some strong opinions and feelings about yesterday’s verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial re: the murder of Oscar Grant. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to blog about it now because I have other writing to do, but if you’re interested in finding out more about what I think, please visit my Twitter feed, which is the main way I’ve been communicating with folks about what’s happening here.

And special shout out to Max Elbaum, fellow activist, writer and Oakland resident, whom I ran into at the rally last night downtown. He told me he's been following my blog (not sure which one) so just want to give him special thanks!

The Karate Kid Remake: More than Just a Kid Flick

20 06 2010

So I saw the new Karate Kid movie tonight, per my partner’s request, although I would’ve gone to see it eventually anyway—albeit probably at a matinee, to pay some respect to the boycott of the film called by Aly Morita, the daughter of the late, great Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita (who played the iconic and inimitable Mr. Miyagi in the original version of the film). But I didn’t really agree with the boycott anyway, which I’ll get to in a minute, and I’m glad I went to see it on a Saturday night, since there were tons of little kids of color (mostly African-American but some Asian-American too) in the theater who were super-excited to see the movie.

That in and of itself says something about the importance of this film, and made me glad that I didn’t buy into Aly Morita’s call for people to boycott the film in theaters (she says it’s OK to watch it later on Netflix, I guess to decrease its box office impact). Tonight at the theater, I was especially moved by two young Black girls—probably between the ages of eight and ten—who waited with big grins on their faces in line, practicing ‘karate’ kicks high into the air, emulating the image of Jaden Smith doing his split-kick in the movie’s promotional materials.

As a woman of color and a sometime martial artist, this made me happy. Even though I was well into womanhood when I saw the amazing women-only fight scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they affirmed my desire to practice martial arts, and more than that, to define myself however I wanted to as a woman. And that women could be damned good martial artists, too.

Of course, there had been many other movies (mostly Chinese) that showed women kicking ass before, but this was the first that had such huge commercial success in this country, and that makes a cultural difference, if only because of the sheer number of people that then see these images. In many ways, that’s the real power of this ‘Karate Kid’ remake, which has been the top-grossing movie in the US since its release last week.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Great Day for Writers of Color: Congrats Geoffrey Fletcher!

8 03 2010

Geoffrey Fletcher Accepting His Oscar

I was already pumped last night watching the Oscars because I knew that Mo’Nique was a shoo-in (and deservedly so) for the Best Supporting Actress award, for her portrayal of Mary Jones in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. But I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled when, before Mo’Nique had her turn on the stage (where she KILLED it, by the way, on so many levels—but I’ll let the rest of the blogosphere write about that)—‘Precious’ screenwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. What a win! Not just for Fletcher, who has now made history as the first African-American writer to ever win an Oscar, but also for Sapphire, whose novel Fletcher adapted for the film. She looked ecstatic when Fletcher won—I saw her in the audience, standing up and applauding with the rest of the ‘Precious’ crew, who all wore some shade of sapphire, I’m guessing in her honor, and I have to say as a writer I could feel her joy. Even if it wasn’t ‘her’ award per se, it was originally the story she wrote, and without that story, ‘Precious’ wouldn’t exist.

As for Fletcher, he seemed as surprised as everyone else was when he won, and his acceptance speech was one of those sincere, spontaneous and emotional speeches that make the Oscars worth watching. And while his award isn’t getting nearly as much press coverage as Kathryn Bigelow’s first-female Best Director win for ‘The Hurt Locker’, as a writer of color, I feel the impact of Fletcher’s win—for a movie about Black folks directed by a Black man, based on a book by a Black woman—more than anything else.

Congratulations, Geoffrey Fletcher, and thanks for giving all the rest of us writers of color something to be hopeful about and proud of today.

Favorite Writers: James Baldwin

28 02 2010

This is the first in a series of posts that I will write occasionally—when I can’t think of writing anything else—about some of my favorite writers, my literary influences I guess you could say. The first on this list—though by no means my ultimate favorite writer, as it seems impossible to me to have only one favorite writer—is James Baldwin, since I will be leading an online discussion of his first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain, as part of a Goodreads group I started called Literary Fiction by People of Color.

Strangely enough, considering how many Ethnic Studies classes I took in college, I have just recently discovered James Baldwin as a writer. The first time I read his work was when I bought a copy of Notes from a Native Son many years ago. It’s Baldwin’s first collection of non-fiction essays, titled in response to Richard Wright’s novel, ‘Native Son’, one of the seminal texts of the Harlem Renaissance and of African-American literature overall. I have to say, I didn’t take to Baldwin’s non-fiction very readily. Perhaps it seemed too dated to me at the time, although now when I go back and read it I can see how we can still draw lessons from it even today.

So I left Baldwin alone for a long time after that, convinced that he was one of those ‘great writers’ that I just didn’t like. It wasn’t until Chris Abani recommended I read ‘Giovanni’s Room’, Baldwin’s second novel, while I was in workshop with him at VONA a few years ago that I gave Baldwin another try. I loved Giovanni’s Room, and learned a lot from it about writing. It’s a perfect gem of a book, and Baldwin was only 32 when it was published, and already a literary sensation.

I’ve always identified with writers who pushed the envelope of what was socially acceptable to write about at the time, and Baldwin is a shining example of a writer who challenged conventional values by writing gay or sexually ambivalent characters long before this was seen as socially acceptable, even in literary circles. (Some might say it’s still not very socially acceptable to do so, but all things are relative).

He also wrote about race and gender relations, with a stylistic subtlety and precision that I’d venture is yet to be matched. And not only did he write about controversial topics, but he did so with such elegance and technical control, with such compelling emotional weight that the controversial aspects of his work would, over time, seem to me almost background notes to his literary mastery. To narrowly categorize any writer as merely ‘Black’ or ‘Gay’ or ‘Female’ is often an act of ignorance, but to do so to a writer like Baldwin is almost a literary crime.

Feel free to join the Goodreads discussion if you’ve read the book before, or if you’re interested in reading more literary fiction by people of color. The group is 300+ members strong now, and reads a different book every month. Hope to see you there.


16 01 2010

I’ve been doing what many millions of people all over the world have been doing these last few days–donating money, educating myself about the crisis and trying to do the same with others. As someone who lives in ‘earthquake country’ (California lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur), as well as someone who has long admired and respected Haitian culture and political movements, I feel doubly moved by this tragedy and have been thinking about it constantly.

My first conscious contact with anything having to do with Haiti was when I was a dancer in my high school company in the late 1980s. My dance teacher taught Dunham Technique, a dance technique pioneered by the late, great Madame Katherine Dunham, whose travels to and cultural studies in Haiti and other Caribbean nations strongly influenced this new style. It’s a challenging, rigorous and beautiful technique and is often used in conjunction with teaching Afro-Haitian dance, which I’ve studied as well, and love.

Then I encountered Haiti again around 2001, when I wrote an article about the progressive Haitian publication, the Haiti Progres, which had had an important role in breaking news from a lefty perspective about President Jean Bertrand Aristide and other major events in that country. I interviewed the editor of the journal (whose name escapes me now) as well as well-known Bay Area Haitian-American activist Pierre LaBossiere about the paper’s role as a ‘movement’ paper that still maintained a critical voice when needed on Aristide and his Lavalas political party.

I was moved by the editor’s courage in tackling political journalism that could, in some cases, get him targeted for assassination. I’d never before talked to a ‘real’ movement journalist from a country where a real street protest and political movement exists. I admit, I was a bit lefty ‘star-struck’. (There’s the geeky writer in me again!)

But Haiti has an even greater importance in the world–it was the first Black nation in the world to throw off the chains of colonial rule, and the second country (after the United States) in the Americas to do so. The rebellion that resulted in this overthrow of the French was essentially a slave rebellion, as Haiti had been a colony of over 400,000 African slaves–the largest and most successful slave revolt in world history.

The Haitian revolution also inspired other important liberation movements in the Americas and Africa, such as the Bolivarian movement which sought to create a free and united Latin America, and has also inspired more modern revolutionary movements in nations such as Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. So as a person of color and an activist, Haiti occupies a special place of honor in my mind and heart, as well as a remarkable place in history.

So please give what you can to help Haitians rebuild their country, and keep them in your prayers. Feel free to post articles or links for places to donate and stay updated.