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Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America

William Wong

Publication Year: 2001

"For three decades, William Wong has been America's most energetic and entertaining chronicler of the Asian diaspora and its effects on politics, culture, business, sports, dress, diet, and language. Like other great humorists, he exposes the painful absurdities that plague each new wave of immigrant families as they enrich the national character, from Wong's own adventurous parents to Tiger Woods. Some of these pieces offer surprising insights on geopolitics and others explore the legal and social consequences of racial discrimination, but my favorites are the playful essays, including the classic 'So That's Why I Can't Lose Weight.' " —Jay Mathews, Washington Post reporter and columnist, and author of Class Struggle Who are Asian Americans? Are they the remnants of the "yellow peril" portrayed in the media through stories on Asian street gangs, unscrupulous political fundraisers, and crafty nuclear spies? Or are they the "model minority" that the media present as consistently outranking European Americans in math scores and violin performances? In this funny, sobering, and always enlightening collection, journalist William Wong comments on these and other anomalies of the Asian American experience. From its opening tribute to the Oakland Chinatown of Wong's childhood to its closing tribute to Tiger Woods, Yellow Journalist portrays the many-sided legacies of exclusion and discrimination. The stories, columns, essays, and commentaries in this collection tackle such persistent problems as media racism, criminality, inter-ethnic tensions, and political marginalization. As a group, they make a strong case for the centrality of the Asian American historical experiences in U.S. race relations. The essays cover many subjects, from the personal to policy, from the serious to the silly. You will learn a little Asian American history and a lot about the nuances and complexities of the contemporary Asian American experience. If there is an overriding theme of these stories and essays, it is the multi-faceted adaptation of ethnic Asians to the common American culture, the intriguing roles that they play in our society, and the quality of their achievements to contribute to a better society. Bill Wong's high school journalism teacher took him aside during his senior year and told him he would have to be "twice as good" to succeed at his chosen profession. Succeed he did, and "twice as good" he is. As Darrell Hamamoto remarks in his Foreword, "'Chinaman,' Chinese American, Asian American; any way you slice it, Bill Wong is one straight-up righteous Yellow Man." "One of the advantages of having a writer of Bill Wong's talent around is that we don't have to depend upon intermediaries and go-betweens to give us insights about issues affecting Asian-Americans. He is often entertaining, and ironic, but underneath it all is a serious mind devoted to shattering myths about one of our fastest growing minorities." —Ishmael Reed, author of The Reed Reader "It is about time that America meet William Wong—an icon in journalism whose experience as a second generation Chinese-American has given him a unique lens through which life in America can be examined. For almost two decades, his columns in the Oakland Tribune and other San Francisco bay area newspapers have captured a different kind of reality about some of our most important social, cultural, and political moments. Wong's readiness to share his family, his community, and his conscience allows readers to cross a bridge into the world of Asian America. Whether it is an analysis of the 1996 campaign finance scandals or a perspective on how parent pressures and bi-cultural conflicts can play out in a young Asian American teen's life, Wong's skillful weaving of humor, irony, and poignant portrayals of the circumstances make each story linger long past the final sentence of his essay." —Angela E. Oh, Lecturer/Former Advisory Board Member, President's Initiative on Race "...an anthology of Wong's best writing from the last decade and a half, covering an impressive array of topics and tone." —Asianweek

Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-x

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Series Foreword

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pp. xi-xiv

As an admirer of his work for many years, I had the opportunity at last to meet Bill Wong at a 1997 conference organized by Professor Ling-chi Wang of the University of California at Berkeley held at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco’s Japan town. The gathering had been called to ponder the implications of the so-called campaign finance scandal, which involved...

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pp. xv-xvi

In addition to the individuals I name in the introduction as being influential on my writing career—high school teachers Blanche Hurd and George Stokes, editor Bob Maynard and his wife, Nancy Hicks, and editor Roy Aarons; editors Richard Springer and Patrick Andersen; publishers Gordon Lew and John Fang—many people have helped me, in one way...

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pp. 1-9

In 1948, when I was 7 years old, my family moved from our crowded rented house in Oakland’s Chinatown to a spacious five-bedroom split-level house in a predominantly white neighborhood less than two miles away. I was still too young to be of significant help at my parents’ restaurant, so I stayed home more than my older sisters, who were practically held hostage...

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1: Hometown: In the Shadow of San Francisco

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pp. 10-29

Walking along the west side of Webster Street between 7th and 8thStreets in Oakland’s Chinatown, it’s easy to miss the storefront in the middle of the block. Other stores catch your eye: the ones selling produce and fruits in boxes that bulge onto the sidewalk, another displaying roast ducks, chickens, and glistening maroon-colored strips of oven-...

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2: Family: From Agrarianism to Cyberspace

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pp. 30-49

As I wander through Goon Doo Hong, a remote southeastern Chinese village where my father was born and where my mother gave birth to two of my sisters, I am overwhelmed by what I see, what I remember of my family’s history, and what I imagine life was like here for my parents when they were young. It is like Shangri-la, a pristine place untouched by time....

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3: History: From Exclusion to Confusion

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pp. 50-63

Angel Island, a state park just across Raccoon Strait from Tiburon, pulsates with history beneath its natural beauty in San Francisco Bay. The immigration station at Point Simpton on the island’s northeast corner once was a federal enforcement center for the Chinese Exclusion Act of1882, the only piece of federal legislation targeting a specific ethnic group....

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4: Immigration: Huddled Masses

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pp. 64-72

The smuggling of Chinese nationals into the United States is a complicated story that embraces economic inequities across the Pacific Ocean, sophisticated criminality, American xenophobia, and confusion and anguish in Chinese American communities. One shouldn’t blame the thousands who’ve endured appalling and unspeakable conditions in their...

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5: Identity and Acculturation: Visibly Invisible

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pp. 73-106

Let’s see. There’s California and Hawaii and New York and Illinois and Texas and Florida and Washington—states with significant Asian American populations. But where is Asian America? In what state of the fifty that comprise the United States of America does Asian America reside? Skeptics who say nowhere have persuasive evidence to support their...

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6: Anti-Asian Racism: Forever Foreigners

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pp. 107-125

Nine months ago, Patrick Edward Purdy went to Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California, and opened fire at a school yard filled with children and teachers. California Attorney General John Van de Kamp has issued a report on the shooting and possibly why it occurred. The report has generated additional heat in this much-discussed case....

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7: Class: Yin and Yang

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pp. 126-137

During the Congressional debate over welfare reform in 1996, a new villainous image emerged to supplement that of the old welfare queen. This image was of an elderly Chinese immigrant undeservedly getting Supple-mental Security Income (SSI). The foreign-looking senior instead should be supported by his or her middle-class children, not by the U.S. Treasury,...

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8: Affirmative Action: The Myth of Meritocracy

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pp. 138-149

Are Asian Americans part of affirmative action programs? Should Asian Americans be part of affirmative action programs? Those questions, and more, were indirectly raised by an agreement between the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school and the federal government over the school’s controversial admissions policies from 1988 to 1990. The U.S. Education Department’s Office of...

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9: Gender: He Said, She Said

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pp. 150-163

Here is the status of racial-sexual politics as it relates to Asian Americans and white Americans, according to one theorist:• Some white men covet Asian women because they (the men) can’t deal with strong, independent white women.• Some Asian women prefer white men because they (the women) can’t stand the more sexist Asian men. • Some white women feel rejected by white men who covet Asian...

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10: Race Relations: Why Can’t We All Get Along?

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pp. 164-182

From the glitz of Park Avenue, on the east side of Manhattan, to the low-rise earthiness of Church Avenue in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, two different worlds are joined by a thirty-five-minute subway ride. That’s how long it took me on a Saturday morning in late August. In a prosaic way, I was on a pilgrimage—in search of the best-known battleground in a frustrating and protracted dispute between two racial...

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11: Politics: A Seat at the Table

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pp. 183-205

Michael Woo strides confidently, with a smile, into the second-floor dining room of the Silver Dragon restaurant in Oakland’s Chinatown. Gathered around in clusters, some sitting, some standing, are about eighty men and women, most of them ethnic Chinese, most of them middle-aged or older. Woo, a slender, energetic 40-year-old, seems out of place. But he isn’t....

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12: Crime: Bang, Bang, You’re Dead

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pp. 206-218

On a recent morning, I was sitting next to Samantha Vong and Lap Neou on a stage at the Federal Building auditorium in downtown Oakland. Ast hey spoke at an Asian youth conference, I felt as though we lived in two different worlds, despite the fact we are all East Bay residents. Our worlds are far apart in terms of age, ethnicity, education, experi-...

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13: Stars: I AM Somebody

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pp. 219-252

The controversy over the casting of the male lead of Miss Saigon is deliciously chewy. It embraces so many issues that intersect and polarize a society that’s grappling with the realities of multiculturalism. Asian Americans have been at the intense center of this raging theatrical debate. Its lessons, however, go far beyond Broadway. It has dis-gorged a multilayered debate—over the politicization of art, affirmative...

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Publication Credits

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pp. 253-258

...“American Dream, Chinatown Branch” was originally published as “Chinatown, My Chi-“A ‘Manong’ with Magical Hands” was originally published as “Barber George Catambay:From Hair to Eternity” in Filipinas, October 1998, pp. 60–63. Reprinted with permission“Traditions: Old and New” was originally published under Bill Wong’s byline in Asian Week,“‘Rock On, Mr. President’” was originally published as “Rock on, Mr. President” in San...


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pp. 259-272

E-ISBN-13: 9781439903599

Publication Year: 2001