Category Archives: diversity

You don’t know Tracy: The mythologizing of Sandra Cantu

Sandra Cantu was buried yesterday. Today is the public memorial.

Don’t you think it’s time to let Sandra, the Cantus and Tracy rest?

Wherever you are in the world, if you’ve been following the Sandra Cantu story in Tracy, Calif., maybe you should  figure out why it means so much to you.

The Sandra Cantu story breaks my heart-in more ways than one.

I’m sorry, of course, for the little girl and her family. I have a family and daughters. I was a coach of many youth teams including little girls Sandra’s age. I knew how dear those girls were to their families. And  I took my responsibilities seriously, protecting and caring for them  as if they were my own.

Sandra Cantu could have been my prized center half-back.

I’m also sorry for Tracy, the town. Just a few years ago I got to know it  like few others.  As a bureau reporter for the major  San Joaquin county paper, Tracy was my beat. I liked the feel of the little city of about 75,000,  primarily  a bedroom community for San Francisco and Silicon Valley. But there was also a core Tracy built around the ranches and orchards. It made for one of the most diverse communities in America. At the base were the ranchers, mostly from old Italian and Portuguese families. Mix in blacks from the South who came west in the ’40s and ’50s; Latinos and Filipinos who have worked the farmland.; Add to that all the new ethnic and economic refugees (the teacher/firefighter families)  from the Bay Area seeking more affordable homes and simpler lives, and Tracy is about as reflective of the New America as it gets. Continue reading You don’t know Tracy: The mythologizing of Sandra Cantu

Be like Jackie: The Politics of Pigment

Just as you remember to pay your taxes today, do remember to pay homage to No.42. Jackie Robinson.

He’s one of the reasons most of us don’t have to pay the tax for being a person of color in this country.

Robinson, of course, broke the color line in baseball.  Breaking the color line in anything is no small feat, whether 62 years ago or today.

Most of us do it in some way in our lives, some more, some less remarkably than others. Look around you. In your office.

Are you the only Asian, Black or Latino in the room? Continue reading Be like Jackie: The Politics of Pigment

Opening day a struggle, but Giants’ Lincecum still pride of Filipino American ball fans

Tim Lincecum, or as some Filipino Americans call him, “The Preak,” had a tough go yesterday.

During the first inning when runners reached second and third base, I told a friend of mine, “Oh that’s his white half screwing up.”

Hey, the guy’s half-Filipino, we’ll take credit for the good stuff.

Sure enough, Lincecum got the next batter to swing at a pitch, and struck out the side.  “The Filipino part is still working today, ” I said.  But not well enough. After three innings, the Preak was out of the game.  The Giants still won and that’s what counts.

This year the Giants seem like the most Filipino friendly team in the major leagues.  With Sayang Lincecum  getting his Cy Young tonight ( how’s that for you Tagalog punsters), and with the Manny Pacquiao event on Filipino Heritage night on April 21st, the Giants seem to have discovered what ethnic marketers have known for some time:  Ethnic pride and diversity develops customer loyalty and profits.

I know Gary Radnich (the KNBR talk host and a former colleague of mine from my KRON days)  has expressed how puzzled he is about a boxer being feted at a baseball game. But Pacquiao is the great Filipino-American symbol. A fighter, a champion.  Being in a market with one of the largest Filipino American populations in the country, this  is just a great  p.r. opportunity for everyone. Of course  Pacquiao is  pimping his upcoming  fight, but the Filipino community remains one of the less heralded communities in America. This shines a little much needed light on them.

The Giants great success with a losing team  has always been the fact that they’ve always  approached the business as being more than just baseball.   It’s about the park, and the people who come to it 9 innings at a time, to live their   life vicariously through the achievements of their team. Recognizing the ethnic demographics in the greater community is a great formula that can make  baseball fans for life.

When I’m at a game now,  I see so many Filipino families:  a  mom, dad, two to three kids in tow, all with their gloves. And their garlic fries.

And boy, do they love “The Preak,” who is half-Filipino.

The good half.

Jiverly Wong and Binghamton’s legacy: The birth of the immigrant on immigrant hate crime?

Add Dolores Carbonilas-Yigal to the list of Filipino-Americans to fall prey to massive American gun violence. The 53-year old from Cebu province was one of the 14 who died in that senseless gun attack on an immigration education center last Friday in Binghamton, N.Y.The students of varying ages and ethnicities were learning English on their road to citizenship and truly understanding what it means to be American. Unwittingly, they were to meet it head on. America has become a gun-infested nation plagued by senseless gun violence.

These things are difficult to comprehend. More so if you are Omri Yigal, the bereaved widower, who met his wife the old-fashioned way—as a pen pal. Dolores Yigal recently arrived from the RP and was learning English in order to get a job working with children.

Yigal’s violent death comes just about ten years after the death of another Filipino American, Joseph Ileto, a 39-year-old postal worker in Los Angeles who was gunned down in August, 1999. Ileto’s shooting was only slightly more easy to comprehend. His death was due to the unadulterated hate that emanated from a white supremacist named Buford Furrow, Jr.

On Aug. 10, 1999, Furrow, long a member of an established white supremacist group, shot Ileto on his way to attacking a day care center at the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center.

Prosecutors said Furrow told investigators that Ileto was a “good target of opportunity” to kill because he was a nonwhite and worked for the federal government.

Furrow has expressed no regret for any of his crimes and plead guilty to all counts against him in 2001.

But even with Furrow in prison for life, the beat goes on.

If the white supremacist Furrow represents the anti-diversity idea of death to all non-whites, ten years later we find a new twist.

Omri Yigal and the other immigrant victims in Binghamton last week were murdered by one of them, a fellow immigrant from Vietnam identified as Jiverly Wong AKA Voong.

Who needs white supremacists fearing competition from non-whites? Hate? That’s so old school. This is the new reality, where there’s plenty of competition among everyone in the new moderrn and diverse America.

And plenty of guns to take out your frustration in the middle of an economic downturn.

Exclusive interview on NBC’s “TODAY” of Jiverly Wong’s sister a great “get,” but…

The interview shows the difficulty in communicating when English isn’t the language of your source. In the end, it only reveals how with its vast resources the mainstream media doesn’t really know what to do with what it gets.  The interview was painful and awkward, and given the time constraints of live  TV, barely got skin deep on this story.  It needed a translation that only the ethnic media could provide.

But hey, it’s TV. As Don Henley wrote in “Dirty Laundry,” his rock lullaby to TV news, “Get the widow on the set…”

Of course, Meredith Viera was appropriately sensitive and gently probing in her interview of a woman identified only as “Nga.”  Not revealing her name nor location was the price TODAY paid for the exclusive, but identity has been everything in the story. Is it Jiverly Voong or Wong? By allowing Nga her anonymity, they essentially made the story somewhat generic.

This could be about any Asian American immigrant with poor English who had an extremely bad day.

Nga did contradict the notion by some that the acts by her loner brother were predictable. She  said the family members were “surprised and shocked to hear the news.”

When asked if her brother was depressed about losing his job last year, Nga said,”No, I didn’t see that he was very depressed from losing his job. And he was very frustrated from his English speaking skill.”

Clearly, she said he wasn’t depressed. But her diction contradicts that. What did she mean? Live TV doesn’t get at that.

But then came the most revealing answer.

“He didn’t share any of his past and feelings and he kept all his frustrations inside and didn’t want to share with anybody in the family,” Nga said. “And I think this pressure increased his frustration and I’m so sorry that he acted in such a terribly inappropriate way.”

Nga also said she was upset with a police investigator’s use of the words “coward” and “selfish”  to describe her brother. “(The investigator) did not know him. I can see my brother lost his rational thinking. Of course, I’m upset to have him thought of in that way.”

In the end, what realy was accomplished was a way for the family to express its sorrow. “My family was very shocked to hear the news. They were very sorry for all the victims and their families.”

That doesn’t get to why, he did it.  But Nga’s answers hint at what is common for many Asians.

We keep things inside. We don’t share, nor seek help. When there’s a transgression, we don’t express.  In some cases, we don’t know how. So we endure. We don’t fight.  We take it, and take it , and take it.

And then it’s too late.

Immigrant Rage goes beyond Binghamton: There’s a lot more Jiverly Wongs out there

“A gunman invaded an immigration services center…” So begins the lede sentence to the New York Times story about the massacre in Binghamton, N.Y. at the hands of Jiverly Wong.

For most of Friday, officials kept Wong’s identity a closely held secret until it was leaked. But why the reluctance to fully reveal these facts: Jiverly Wong, 42, an Asian American immigrant, opened fire on a citizenship class in Binghamton, N.Y., shooting 13 people and wounding 4 others before taking his own life.

What were officials afraid of? Whipping up some ethnic stereotype? (Crazy murderous Asians, anyone?) Or creating a backlash against Asians and Asian Americans? Whites didn’t fear a backlash when a John Wayne Gacy or a Jeffrey Dahmer appeared, why should Asians now?

In this sad tale, race and ethnicity are what makes this story. It’s not a generic mainstream thing. The Wong rampage is about the violence that can stem from the very real and specific cultural schizophrenia that results from the psycho journey that is immigration.

In a country of new immigrants, we need to do more than check for green cards and passports. We need to check with people’s mental health.

Wong was just another Asian American immigrant lost in language and communication, culture and society, and it all contributed to what we saw on Friday.

There are a lot of Wongs in America. And they need help, before it’s too late.

We just don’t hear about them much because, of course, mental illness is so stigmatized in the Asian American community, that not even the drugs to remedy it can make it seem cool or attractive. Culturally, Asian Americans prefer to deal with these issues quietly, away from mental health arena. Besides what are the chances of finding someone trained in language, or with the cultural awareness to recognize and deal with the most troubled situations? Not so good. In normal medical situations, finding doctors and nurses who can communicate with immigrant patients with normal needs is hard enough.

What do we know of Wong? That he lived in Inglewood, Calif from 2000-2007, according to the Times story. That he worked as a delivery driver for a sushi company. A Vietnamese doing sushi deliveries. Seen one Asian, seen them all.

Paulus Lukas, the H.R. person for the sushi company told a reporter Wong had few friends and wasn’t social. “I cannot point to anybody here who really knew him because he was not outgoing,” Lukas said in a report. Or maybe Wong just felt trapped in his own immigrant’s hell. I wonder if his medical records show he sought any help or counseling?  Or if as his co-workers observed, he was merely seen as a quiet person who kept to himself. Nothing unusual. In fact for an Asian American, that sounds “normal.”

In the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter and the perpetrator of the biggest shooting spree in modern American history, his parents didn’t  know what to do with all the signs they were getting.

They turned to a minister.

That didn’t work.

Part of the problem goes to the identity of the perpetrators. In both Wong and Cho, were two men in need of addressing a certain mental anguish that comes with being an Asian American, caught in a void between cultures. When those like Wong and Cho have trouble identifying themselves in this new society, that’s when trouble begins.

In the end, both men chose to go out American-style, violently, guns ablazing, perhaps the only part of our modern culture to which they could truly and deeply relate.

Both incidents show that diversity sprouts new and unique problems in every arena. Now the two biggest shootings in recent American history are at the hands of Asian Americans. That should be an alarm to those APAs in public health, especially in the mental health area. There should also be a concern to  community folks and activists who may have sorely neglected the need to talk about such things as violence in general, domestic violence, and specifically, guns.

Guns as the answer? Not in the old country. Only in the New America.