Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Asians in Libraries

There's a viral video going around lately. Search YouTube for "Asians in Library" and a ton of re-posts come up. You may want to watch it before reading this post, or just read the transcription below.

I transcribed her rant because I like things in text format. Here it is:

Okay, so, here at UCLA, it’s finals week. So we know that I’m not the most politically correct person, so don’t take this offensively, I don’t mean it towards any of my friends, I mean it towards random people that I don’t even know in the library. So … you guys are not the problem. The problem is, these hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every single year, which is fine, but if you’re gonna come to UCLA, then … use American manners.

So, it used to really bug me but it doesn’t bother me anymore, the fact that all the Asian people that live in all the apartments around me, their moms and their brothers and their sisters and their grandmas and their grandpas and their cousins and everybody that they know that they brought along from Asia with them comes here on the weekends to do their laundry, buy their groceries, and cook their food for the week. It- seriously, without fail, you will always see old Asian people running around this apartment complex every weekend, that’s what they do. They don’t teach their kids to fend for themselves. You know, they don’t also teach them, is their manners. Which brings me to my next point.

Hi. In America, we do not talk on our cell phones in the library! Every five minutes, I will be- okay, not five minutes, say, like, fifteen minutes, I’ll be, like, deep into my studying, into my political science theories and arguments and all that stuff, getting it all down, like, typing away furiously, blah blah blah, and then all of a sudden, when I’m about to, like, reach an epiphany, over here from somewhere, “Ohhh, Ching chong ling long ting tong! Ohhh!” Are you freaking kidding me? In the middle of finals week. So being the polite, nice, American girl that my mama raised me to be, I kinda just gave him what anybody else would do, that kind of, like, [grimaces, makes “shh” gesture], you know, “it’s kinda- it’s a library, like, we’re trying to study, thanks!” And then the same thing, five minutes later, but it’s somebody else, you know, I swear they’re going through their whole families, just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing- I mean, I know, okay, that sounds horrible, like, I feel bad for all the people affected by the tsunami, but if you’re gonna go call your address book, you might as well go outside, because if something is wrong, you might really freak out if you’re in a library and everybody’s quiet, like, you seriously should go outside if you’re going to do that.

So, thanks for listening, that was my rant. I just, even if you’re not Asian, you really shouldn’t be on your cell phone in the library, but I’ve just never seen that happen before, so, thank you for listening and have a nice day.

There are a lot of opinions about this video that are already out there in the world. (And by "the world" I mean "the internet.")

Her recent open letter to the Daily Bruin included, according to the Huffington Post:
In a statement to the Daily Bruin campus newspaper, Alexandra Wallace said she has chosen to no longer attend classes at UCLA because of what she called "the harassment of my family, the publishing of my personal information, death threats and being ostracized from an entire community" in the wake of the three-minute video.

"In an attempt to produce a humorous YouTube video, I have offended the UCLA community and the entire Asian culture," Wallace said in the statement, her second apology of the week. "Especially in the wake of the ongoing disaster in Japan, I would do anything to take back my insensitive words. I could write apology letters all day and night, but I know they wouldn't erase the video from your memory, nor would they act to reverse my inappropriate action."
Sigh again.

So. I'm sure it's quite apparent from my blog, but I'm very proud of my Korean heritage. It's how I grew up, it's what stares back at me whenever I look into a mirror. Being Asian-American is something that no white American will ever understand- just as I won't ever know what it feels like to be white or black or anything other than what I am.

My first reaction to this, of course, was anger. A moment of flashing red rage, even. But then I calmed down and let my blood pressure stabilize (something I have to do quite frequently as of late) and I realized: this girl, for as ditzy as she is while speaking, says things that Asians say (shout) to each other. That I say to my sister. That my friends and I discuss.

That doesn't make it right. She doesn't know what it's like to straddle two cultures and try to appease both sides. She's a blond white chick that's grown up in one country with one culture, speaking one language and never feeling any cultural conflict.

It's like the 'n' word. If you're not black, you don't say it. Would Alexandra Wallace walk up to a Chinese person and call them a chink? Would she use the 'n' word if a black person was talking on the phone in the library? No. (Well ... I hope not.)

Can Asians be rude? Unquestionably.

Can Asians talk on the phone like nobody's business? Absolutely.

Did this girl take the right approach for her problem? Definitely not.

Her little 'shh' and “it’s kinda- it’s a library, like, we’re trying to study, thanks!” isn't an actual action. She had the balls to make this video and put it on YouTube, inviting a world-wide audience. She didn't have the balls to walk up to someone and say, "excuse me, could you, like, take your phone call outside? I'm stressed from finals"?

If it bothered her so much, she couldn't study at home? I find, for non-confrontational people, that avoidance is generally the answer. If you're passive-aggressive, making a YouTube video really isn't the solution. Going home and having her political science epiphanies in the silence of her room would've been so much easier. And it wouldn't have driven her out of UCLA, a school that I'm sure she wanted to attend and worked hard to attend.

One of the staggering things about this rant, to me, is that it didn't take place in a school with a relatively small Asian population. At UCLA, Asians outnumber whites, 37% to 32%. That's a domineering Asian population, and one that has existed at UCLA for a long time. UCLA, USC, and UCI- these schools are heavily Asian, and while a racist rant wouldn't fly anywhere, I would think that one would have more foresight than to rant against the biggest racial group in one's school.

As I said, I do see some of her points. I went to my cousin's university while I was in Korea, and I was struck by how many people talk on their cells in the library (yes, we went to the library, he's a dork and I'm a nerd). I also know how some Asian parents are, having grown up with predominantly Asian people. Yes, Asian families can be quite coddling and over-protective.

However, most of the Asians I know didn't stay in their dorms or apartments during weekends. We all high-tailed it out of there and went home. Even the kids I know now, that are in college, go home for weekends (if they're close enough to, and most of them are). If their college isn't close enough to home, then obviously, their parents don't go visit them on weekends, either.

I think one of the worst things about this is actually in her open letter after the rant went viral. She says "In an attempt to produce a humorous YouTube video, I have offended the UCLA community and the entire Asian culture."

"Asian" is not a culture. Ask any Asian person what their culture is. They won't say "Asian." They'll say "Korean" or "Chinese" or "Japanese" or "Thai" or .... you get my point. We are not one people, the "Asian" people. Just as "Europeans" aren't one culture. We speak different languages, have different customs, and go to war with one another. That single sentence showed her ignorance and her complete unawareness even more than her (horrible) imitation of an Asian person talking on the phone.

That tsunami? It didn't impact all Asian people. It took place in Japan. Japanese people are living it. Vietnamese people aren't calling their families in Vietnam to make sure they're okay from the tsunami, I promise.

She didn't receive any form of discipline from UCLA for this video, and on one hand, I know why. Free speech is one of the rights that Americans are most proud of. But the right to free speech doesn't stop a thoughtless person from getting beat up, getting threatened, or getting driven out.

I can say from first-hand knowledge that Koreans are fiercely protective and proud. We don't always get along with each other, but if an outsider starts poking or harassing one of us, we all leap to defense. We're quick to anger, jump easily into frays, and consider the failing of one Korean as the failing of all of us (remember Virgina Tech?). The victory of one is a victory for all (Kim Yu-Na, Jang Mi-Ran). An insult to one is an insult to all. Alexandra Wallace insulted an entire continent's worth of people. That kind of thing does not go unnoticed.

It depresses me that a really young person, born in the United States in the 1990's, could have made that video. I don't know what else to say. It's depressing that she thinks she's "being the polite, nice, American girl that my mama raised me to be" because what does that say about the state of the American youth? And if this is the American youth, with all the advantages and freedom of this country, what is the youth of the world thinking, doing, reading, abusing, watching, learning, saying?



william March 23, 2011 at 5:40 AM  

my co-worker shaun showed it to me and the rest of the native english teachers at the school (all four of us) in his little office. while i was watching it, i was slightly offended, but then i was like, eh.

the rest of the native english teachers at my school are white. i am the only 'asian-american.' do i think this girl needs to be kicked out of UCLA? no. am i offended by the video? not a whole hell of a lot.

i was asked by my colleagues what my opinion of the video was. i shrugged and said, "she's just being an american. and half of what she says is true. should she have posted her opinion on youtube? probably not the smartest thing to do."

do asians coddle their kids? yes. are asians loud? yes. do i hate foreign exchange students or students studying abroad? hell to the yes. they are so obnoxious.

i have no argument here. just stream of consciousness.

the girl is ignorant. she represents a good portion of what americans think of asian people. i don't think very highly of the common american.

i think maybe she would understand how wrong she is if she replaced everything bad she said about asians with derogatory things about black people. i'm sure she wouldn't have said the same things about black people. cuz black people are scary. asians, eh, not so much.

don't feel bad. there's a reason why in chinese, and i suspect korean too, that we refer to white people in america as 'americans.' until we see ourselves as americans, i don't think we'll ever truly belong to america. that is how i feel.

jeanny March 24, 2011 at 6:40 PM  

It's her ignorance that really just annoys me. I mean, come on.

Race shouldn't still be such a lightning rod. Aren't we all over this crap already??

Ugh. Kids these days.

Special Movies March 26, 2011 at 1:59 PM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Amanda March 29, 2011 at 3:40 AM  

Did you at see the song "Ching Chong!"? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zulEMWj3sVA)

As for the free speech argument, I'm not sure it flies. The First Amendment protects you from Congress trampling on your rights and last time I checked, UCLA isn't Congress. Of course, I'm not a Supreme Justice, so maybe they'd interpret the Bill of Rights differently.

Anyhow, she's stupid. And if she hasn't seen rude people with cell phones of every stripe and color, maybe she needs to get out more.

jeanny April 4, 2011 at 6:47 PM  

I think we all agree on one thing- she did something stupid.

My anger's died down to annoyance now, but I'm still incredulous that she made this video.

Of course, I'm also in disbelief that most of my co-workers, who are adults that are older than me, regularly mix up "their" and "they're" ... and how whiny men in their 40's and 50's can be. I work with children. I know you guys know the feeling.