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Posted on Sun, May 29, 2011 : 6:12 a.m.

The importance of ethnic new media for filling out the conversation

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

wang memday parade 2010 038.jpg

Huron High School Color Guard and Drum Line at Ann Arbor's 2010 Memorial Day Parade | photograph Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

As my children scurry around excitedly before our neighborhood’s annual Memorial Day Parade—decorating their bikes, finding bags for the candy the Girl Scouts will throw, thinking about doughnuts in the park, planning to barbeque with friends afterwards — I remind them to be respectful, that Memorial Day is not just about the parade, that it is actually a very somber occasion, one that honors the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedom in America, and that although we do not glorify war, their great-grandfathers and grandfathers were all in the military.

Yet, every year when parade organizers ask if I want to bring a group of Chinese School kids to march or lion dance in the parade, I hesitate. I worry. I agree only if I can get a big group of parents to walk with the kids, as security, just in case someone thinks people who look like us do not belong.

Of course, I know that people who look like us do belong. My grandfather trained in Texas (with Connie Chung’s dad!) and flew alongside General Chennault’s Flying Tigers during the Sino-Japanese War. Another friend’s father was a South Vietnamese medic during the Vietnam War who took care of wounded U.S. servicemen.

All Asian Americans take pride in the achievements of the celebrated all-Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment and 100th Infantry Battalion, the two most highly decorated units during World War II… while their parents were locked in concentration camps in the dessert. A Chinese American from Oakland, California, was the first person drafted for World War II.

Actually a very high percentage of Chinese Americans were drafted during World War II because women were not allowed to immigrate then, so Chinese Americans at that time were almost all single men with no dependents. Filipino World War II veterans fought for 60 years to finally obtain their veterans benefits. Asian Americans of all ethnicities continue to serve in the U.S. armed forces, including four-star General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

But there is not always time to explain. The other person may or may not be willing to listen. The other person may or may not understand. It takes longer than a soundbyte to fill in all the gaps.

This is why I write for ethnic new media.

I want to write about the stories, people, and issues that are not always included in the mainstream narrative. I want to talk with those who have the same background understanding that I do so we can get on to more interesting conversations. I need to trust that my news sources can see. I want to be challenged by different points of view. We all have a lot more in common than we realize.

When Taiwanese American scientist Dr. Wen Ho Lee was arrested for espionage in 1999, the evidence cited all made sense to the mainstream media who did not challenge it (The New York Times later apologized). To them, it made sense. To me, none of it made sense. I scoured newspapers from around the world, but no one asked the questions I knew needed to be asked. This is a danger of an undiversified media (and education and business and government). The federal government apologized, too.

This month, Senate Republicans used a filibuster to block a vote on the nomination of UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. One of the many crazy arguments against him was that this son of Taiwanese immigrants wants to turn America into Communist China. Sigh. Where to even start?

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Wed, Jun 1, 2011 : 2:48 a.m.

@fredmax--Parallel example: I do not let my daughters walk around campus or downtown Ann Arbor or downtown Detroit alone after dark. I don't even let them walk the dog in our quiet neighborhood alone after dark. Because they are girls. I don't think I am "demonizing" all men by being protective and cautious and teaching them to be alert. I know Ann Arbor is safer than Detroit, and our neighborhood is safer than campus, but it only takes one bad guy... @Elaine F. Owsley--Unfortunately, the mainstream media often does look a lot like the "White Entertainment Network" you describe. Women and people of color are greatly underrepresented. Newsrooms and editors are largely Caucasian and male. There are lots of statistics, here are some anecdotes. There was a big furor when Miss Rima Fakih became the first Arab American (technically Caucasian) Miss America last year. Some conservative groups are boycotting the movie Thor now because an African British actor was cast as a fictitious comic book character based on a mythical Norse god. Avatar the Last Airbender changed the races of all the leads to Caucasian except for the villain. Prince of Persia was changed to a Caucasian lead. Akira is casting only Caucasians for all the leads of this story that was originally set in Neo Tokyo. Even when the movies are based on true stories--for example, the Hispanic wife of the main character in Beautiful Mind was recast as Caucasian. More info at


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

>>I agree only if I can get a big group of parents to walk with the kids, as security, just in case someone thinks people who look like us do not belong. Are there any examples of recent or local incidents in this context involving Asians? My ethnic origins do not allow me to blend in as "white", at least as far as my physical appearance goes. However, I simply do not understand the threat you feel from the general populace. I don't have a degree in multi-culturalism; is it possible to write on this topic without having to demonize someone?

Elaine F. Owsley

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

I continue to amazed by the growth of ethnic focused media and entertainment. What if we had a White Entertainment Network, or a Miss White America. Wasn't the whole civil rights issue to create a oneness in our country - no "blacks only", no "Latinos only" - no racial divisions? Do modern day heirs of that effort now want to break down what their forbears fought so hard to establish?

Macabre Sunset

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

We act as though assimilation is an evil word. It isn't. Because assimilation means absorbing the culture of the assimilated, as well. It means change. It means progress. Memorial Day honors Americans who died in all of our wars. To me, that includes all Americans and their various heritages. However, soldiers are the ultimate assimilators. There's no room for individuality in the army. That would mean risk for the entire platoon. I think a Lion Dance would be inappropriate - it has little to do with a war memorial. But a group of Chinese-American children with traditional paper figures or kites memorializing their ancestors might be very welcome.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

argoc--The parade organizers asked us to participate in order to be more inclusive and representative of all Americans serving in the armed forces as well, as the communities they serve. You're right, the Memorial Day Parade is not any sort of parade, which is why we need to approach it with consciousness and care.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

mb111 and braggslaw--Our country has a long history of ethnic media. Some of the oldest newspapers in our country are German American newspapers and Italian American newspapers and African American newspapers which offer coverage of issues and perspectives left out of mainstream media--either because mainstream audiences are not interested in those stories or because mainstream staffs do not know these communities. There is also a long history of ethnic in-language media for immigrant populations who may be in the process of learning English but still need to know what's going on. Ethnic Media is hardly &quot;self-segregating&quot; so much as it is serving communities unserved by the mainstream. (as a parallel example, Ms Magazine and Mother Jones and Organic Gardening and Highlights Magazine also offer stories not covered by the mainstream, but that does not mean they should not exist--they simply serve different communities.) As journalism struggles to survive, ethnic media becomes more visible in how it serves its communities. New America Media's Richard Rodriguez explains it better <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 2:56 p.m.

If I saw the Lion Dance in the Memorial Day Parade I would probably think it did not belong. If there was Appalachian clogging I would think it did not belong. That's not what Memorial Day parades are about, and I am baffled by what the parade organizers were thinking when they came up with this idea.

John B.

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

... and this is why she is concerned. QED.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

DF Smith--I love our annual Memorial Day Parade. Our family goes every year. I know all the organizers. I know it is perfectly safe and perfectly delightful. However, it is still a public event. More than just neighbors go. Anyone in the world can go and anyone can be offended about anything. It only takes one person. I prefer to err on the side of caution when I am responsible for other people's children (I don't take other people's children downtown after UM football games either, on the off chance that they might encounter someone more than a little bit drunk), especially in today's political climate. AND we still participate, we still go, despite worries.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

Oh by the way Ethnic issues, as all issues eventually do, boil down to who is getting the money The multiple cultural industry is big business


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

@ Frances I agree that we need a full conversation but I am a bit troubled by various groups choosing to self segregate - in this case ethnic media. We have seen that self selecting insular activity has led to problems (e.g., some islamic communites in France). Our nations history is based on being a melting pot. While we need to understand our differences, it is our commonalties that are critical.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

As an Asian myself, i think you are being totally paranoid, and irrationally so, when you assume that kids doing the Lion Dance in my neighborhood's Memorial Day Parade will be &quot;attacked for not belonging&quot;. I am sad that in your quest to increase understanding, you end up insulting all the good people, both Asians and non-Asians. who live in the Glacier Hills neighborhood.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

Thanks for your comments. I agree, we need all voices for a full conversation, including folks of different genders, ages, socioeconomics, religions, education, political persuasion, other persuasions, experience, race, ethnicity, etc. The tricky part is looking around the room and figuring out--and valuing--who is missing from the conversation.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 11:46 a.m.

People are free in this country to choose to consume whatever media they want. &quot;Ethnic&quot; or not... Different does not mean better...different means different. People can choose for themselves if it is better.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 11:06 a.m.

Good piece. Unfortunately like any attempt at a critical discussion of racial/ethnic issues on this site it'll probably draw a bunch of offensive comments that end up being removed.