‘I wish I would have had the courage to say no’

From the Asians behaving badly files of the Tribune comes this article:  U.S. speed skater admits to sabotage of rival’s skates.

Speedskater Simon Cho used a bending machine to ruin the blade of a rival skater right before the World Team Championships.  Why?  Here’s Cho’s explanation:

Cho, a native of South Korea, said Chun, also South Korean, asked him three times to “mess with somebody’s skates.” Cho said he declined twice.

“The final time, he came to me not only as a coach but as an elder and a fellow Korean,” Cho said. “In Asian culture when an elder asks you to do something very difficult, to deny the request, no matter how ridiculous it might sound at the time … I had a lot of pressure from that.”

Seriously, dude? Asian culture made it tough to deny? This is all kinds of wrong. I think it might stem more from the sports culture of winning is everything, myself. But whatever.

Note for the record that Cho came here when he was very young and grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

Photo by Leon Neal/AFP



They branded that number on Livia Rebak’s arm.  Her son, Oded Rebak, and her grandson, Daniel Philosof, chose to have those numbers tattooed on their own arms.  It serves as a reminder to never forget the Holocaust.

When I was in high school, two of my teachers had these tattoos on their forearms.  But I don’t think I was capable of comprehending at that time. Now I can’t say I “comprehend” it exactly, but the enormity of it is overwhelming.

Slideshow here.

Photo by Uriel Sinai

Ten thousand somethings

The concept:  To install 100 Jesus heads in public venues.

For some years now, the artist  has used the emerging Jesus head as a symbol of our search for peace and self-realization.

Because of the popularity of Western thought, communion, prayer and other Western practices in mainstream culture, the Jesus image has evolved into a universal icon for peace, its cosmic dimension making it an archetypal symbol that crosses religious lines and reinforces its universality. Balancing between its secular face, popularized on T shirts, seen in garden shops, used by rock bands and trendy restaurants and its spiritual dimension the Jesus image, captures a growing societal longing for peace in an increasingly  fragmented world. Thus it is not surprising to see this iconic image appearing in numerous Eastern public art venues.

Yeah, it probably wouldn’t happen.  Because undoubtedly the image of decapitated Jesus heads scattered around the city would raise some opposition.

But decapitated heads of Buddha?  It’s a real thing in the real world.

At first I was a little intrigued by the project.  But the whole Eastern-Western exoticization really bugged me.  Also, every time I heard somebody say “Buddha head” it gave me a little start.  That’s a derogatory term* and I noticed I have a visceral reaction to it.  Especially coming from a non-Asian or a non-Buddhist.

I also find it disturbing that the eyes are downcast and the head is cut off at the nose, has no mouth and doesn’t appear to have ears.  If I were an art therapist, I’d speculate at length about the meaning:  passivity?  powerlessness?  being voiceless?  No arms, no legs, no body … just that “Buddha head.”  For a piece that is supposed to stimulate dialogue, it appears mute and motionless.  It doesn’t appear to be an “emerging” Buddha.  I read this piece of “art” less as a statement of the artist than as a statement about how Buddhists and Buddhism are viewed in the United States.

*explanation of this would take too long.  So I’ll leave it to somebody else.

It feels like cultural appropriation as well.  Yeah, the image of Buddha is used on t-shirts and is treated like kitsch in gardens and home decor.  The head’s desirability leads to a great deal of looting from temples.  Travel in Asia and the headless Buddha is a common sight.   So treating the image of Buddha’s head as a knickknack or even as an art installation (such as the Ten Thousand Somethings project) recalls continued theft of our cultural heritage.

Ultimately, I think what bothers me is the imputation of “Eastern” exoticization that supercedes and overwrites the true meaning in the majority culture.  It’s about somebody creating ten thousand something elses.  Or something.

Edited to add:  Somebody smarter is already on it:  Article 1  Article 2

Where were you?

I looked out the window of my office and saw the construction workers were just standing around in a daze.  The drive home took more than two hours; it normally takes 45 minutes.  The needle was almost on “E” but long lines of cars snaked around the gas stations.  Somebody yelled out his car window “WAR !  WAR!  WAR!”

That evening my best friend called from the other side of the world.

Early the next morning I wrote a letter in response:

I have fervently hoped that I would never see war again during my lifetime, and I maintain that same hope now. I worry that people of Arab descent will be targeted for malice and hatred during the weeks to come. Every time I hear somebody say, “This is just like Pearl Harbor again,” I am reminded, painfully, of the treatment of Americans of Japanese descent during the second world war.

The news only got worse. Later I received a word that a friend’s daughter was missing. He and his family drove directly to the site to lend a hand.


Her name was Faith

Her name was Faith. She died of a lethal head injury in December 2008 which was ruled a homicide. On Tuesday, her adoptive mother Violet Ray was sentenced to life in prison.  The Rays have five other adopted children.

I was actually a little surprised that her adoptive mother was sentenced to life, because the mother appears to be white and Faith appears to be African American or maybe mixed race.  There are only a few other adoptive mothers I can think of who were sentenced to life in prison for the death of an adopted child.*  One was that woman who killed two of her adopted children and put the bodies in a freezer.  The other was a woman of Chinese descent with a child from China.  She received a life sentence.  Her husband, a stay-at-home father, was charged with lesser crimes.  An African American adoptive mother was sentenced to 15 to life for the death of her Chinese-born child.

Previous reports on Faith’s case indicate that the parents passed the homestudies with no apparent concerns.  I tend to believe that it’s pretty hard to fail a homestudy and that privilege and the various -isms work together in the process.

*edited to add for clarity:  There are dozens of adoptive parents who have been convicted of killing their children.  Until the Ray case, I had only been aware of parents of color who received life sentences.



File photo from Ocala.com

Update – Valley Swim Club

Remember this 2009 story (updated here) about some black day campers who had a fully-paid membership to a swim club cancelled because it would “change the complexion” of the club?  There has been a settlement in the case:

Attorneys for Creative Steps said Friday that 73 members of the camp – including 66 children – will share a settlement of $700,000 to $1.1 million, pending approval from a federal bankruptcy court judge.

The settlement money will be culled from sales of the swim club’s assets, and money will be placed in a trust for members of Creative Steps who are minors.

Some of the money is reportedly going to be used for a diversity program. Additional updates as details warrant.


Mourners take part in a candle light vigil for the victims of the Sikh Temple shooting, in Milwaukee. From The Hindu.

I watched the news unfold on Sunday and feel like I have too many thoughts racing through my head to capture.  My thoughts are with the Oak Creek Gurdwara.