Pooja and Robbie: Chindian Couple in Singapore Vlogs on Love, Life

If you’re looking for a new vlog to watch on Youtube, check out Pooja and Robbie, a Chindian (Chinese and Indian) couple who does videos highlighting their multicultural family backgrounds (Indian, Chinese, Singaporean and American) and culture.

In a Q&A about their interracial relationship, Robbie talked about how, when the two of them are in public, people often don’t assume they are a couple due to stereotypes — something I’ve also experienced with my husband.

Pooja also meets Robbie’s Chinese grandma, who shows how to prepare a special tofu dish that has been a tradition in the family. Watching this brought back memories of spending time with my mother-in-law in her kitchen, learning how to cook all kinds of specialty foods, including my favorite flatbread.

Subscribe and watch Pooja and Robbie on Youtube.

P.S.: Are you a Youtuber with a channel you’d like to recommend? Or do you know of a good Youtube channel you’d like to see featured here? Let me know in the comments — or contact me today about it.

Fighting Against Racism Starts With Recognition – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just published my latest column titled Fighting against racism starts with recognition. Here’s an excerpt:

Imagine that, while riding the bus, a passenger approached you and told you to “go back to your country”.

That’s what happened to a friend of mine during her brief stint living and working abroad in the United Kingdom, a time that shattered the idyllic notions she once harbored about the West.

The animus behind this and other similarly racist encounters she experienced had shocked her. She had never thought people could be capable of behaving like that in public.

Her story, however, didn’t surprise me-and not just because I had seen many reports over the years on racism in the UK, or that I had read Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge’s award-winning deep dive into race relations in her country.

Rather, it was because I had lived a version of it in the United States with my husband Jun, when we resided there for nearly eight years. That period served as a painful education in just how widespread racism and discrimination was in my own country. I saw the many ways, both covert and overt, in which people treated him worse than his white peers.

I shouldn’t have needed an education like this to realize that the scourge of racism and discrimination still thrived in the US. And my friend shouldn’t have had to spend time in the UK to discover the truth there.

The protests that have emerged in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other people of color have made it impossible to ignore what has been dubbed the pandemic of racism, an epidemic that didn’t begin in 2020. It has infected societies like the US and the UK for hundreds of years-and it is not a relic of the past that has magically disappeared.

You can read the full piece here — and if you like it, share it!

‘Au Crépuscule’ (At Dusk): Knight in Making in Novel by Sabrina Mailhot – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my post ‘Au Crépuscule’ (At Dusk): Knight in Making in Novel by Sabrina Mailhot, which introduces a debut novel written in French by a fellow woman in the WWAM (Western Women, Asian Men) community. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Some literary dreams come years in the making, such as for Canadian author Sabrina Mailhot and her newly published debut novel “Au Crépuscule” (At Dusk). Written in French, the story first began as a class exercise and later grew into a passion for her, which eventually found publication, with the encouragement of her husband, who is Chinese.

You can head on over to WWAM BAM to read the full post. And if you like it, share it!

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Cooking!

Author Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang recently kicked off a project titled Creatives in a time of Covid 19, and I was thankful she reached outto me for an essay about how I’ve been creative during this time. She just recently published my piece, titled When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Cooking. Here’s an excerpt:

The shiny new pressure cooker propped up in the corner of my kitchen in Beijing, China had become the latest cooking gadget I was swooning over before Chinese New Year’s Eve in 2020, when my husband and I would prepare a dinner to mark the holiday.

Days before this paramount holiday, as I was beginning a flurry of online searches under the keywords “pressure cooker vegan recipes”, news surfaced that Wuhan was going on lockdown because of a novel coronavirus outbreak.

Days later, the rest of the nation was urged to stay at home, avoid gatherings and wear masks due to the virus.

Most restaurants had already closed for the holidays, but my boss nevertheless urged us to avoid those eateries still doing takeout. “It’s safer to cook for yourself,” she said.

Even before the coronavirus, I preferred my own kitchen to dining out. Yes, part of it was my fussy vegan palate, which the Beijing restaurant scene could never entirely please. But cooking had also long served as a creative ritual that comforted and grounded me through ups and downs, as I tapped into the power of a delicious meal, which could redeem an otherwise mediocre or even disastrous day.

So as the virus threatened Beijing, I turned to the kitchen.

And since the virus is still threatening Beijing once again, you can guess where I’ve found my sanctuary these days. 😉

Head on over to Rhiannon’s Tumblr to read the full post. And if you like it, share it!

‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng To Become TV Series

The best-selling debut novel by Celeste Ng titled “Everything I Never Told You”, a dark story centering on a family with a Chinese American father and white mother living in 1970s small town America grappling with an unimaginable tragedy, will be developed into a TV series, as reported by Variety.

Back in 2014, when Celeste Ng first came out with her novel, I had the honor of interviewing her for HippoReads. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about the novel:

Everything I Never Told You touched me on a personal level. Naturally, I was drawn to the family at the heart of the story. I write about Asian interracial relationships and am married to a Chinese national, so it was refreshing to read a book featuring an Asian father and a white mother raising mixed-race children. More importantly, Everything I Never Told You perfectly captures the insidious nature of race-based discrimination in America and reminds us that Asian Americans are not in any way exempt (despite the pervasive “model minority” stereotype about Asians which I previously debunked on Hippo Reads). While Celeste Ng set her novel in the 1970s, my husband (who lived with me in the US for nearly eight years) also faced discrimination similar to what the novel’s father, James Lee, suffered in the story. When I was reading Everything I Never Told You, I felt as if the Lee family’s sorrows could easily have been my own. It was an incredibly cathartic experience.

If you haven’t yet read “Everything I Never Told You”, you can find it at bookstores including Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

The Humble Power of ‘Sleeping on Sticks and Tasting Bile’ – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily recently published my latest column titled The Humble Power of ‘Sleeping on Sticks and Tasting Bile’. Here’s an excerpt:

The year 2020 has unleashed a tsunami of suffering that continues to engulf much of the world, undoubtedly reverberating throughout the lives of everyone across the globe.

In my own personal sphere, I have seen loved ones get furloughed from their jobs under the threat of more permanent layoffs, known friends who contracted COVID-19 (including one hospitalized in serious condition), and watched a restaurant where I marked one of my most memorable evenings with friends close its doors for good. And given that experts have forecast a gloomy outlook for the rest of 2020, it would seem that the global misery wrought by the coronavirus has only just begun.

In trying times like this, I have sought spiritual refuge in stories of resilience amid adversity — such as the tale of Goujian, the king of Yue during the Spring and Autumn period who inspired the Chinese saying woxin changdan, or sleeping on sticks and tasting bile.

It all began when Goujian saw his nation defeated by the Kingdom of Wu, whose king, Fuchai, demanded that Goujian become his royal servant. So the Yue king not only lost his crown but also found himself thrust into the lowest rungs of the palace of his enemy, a prisoner to the whims of a man who had destroyed his country. The demeaning work required of Goujian included mucking out manure as well as acting as a kind of personal stable boy to the monarch, from feeding the king’s horses to leading them whenever Fuchai wanted a ride.

And if you really want to talk about taking crap from someone, consider Goujian’s most legendary deed during his three years serving Fuchai: He tasted the Wu king’s excrement to diagnose illness in a move to gain the monarch’s trust. As repulsive as it sounds, it so deeply moved Fuchai, who saw the gesture as proof that Goujian had wholeheartedly submitted himself in service, that the king set him free.

You can read the full column here and also listen to me read a recording of the piece. And if you like it, share it!

‘The Half of It’ Film: Friendship, Flirtation, Family in Smart, Queer ‘Cyrano’

The latest YA rom-com movie on Netflix, “The Half of It”, offers a smart and queer rendering of the classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” tale in a story that features interracial friendship and flirtation, along with the challenges that face many Asian American families.

The movie’s “Cyrano” is Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a Chinese American high-school student who has parlayed her brilliance into a side hustle writing papers for her peers. She’s also a closeted lesbian, and remains shyly distant from other students (some of whom mock her with racist epithets as she bikes home), apart from taking their cash for homework. So of course, when Paul, the inarticulate but lovable oaf of a white jock (Daniel Diemer), has a crush on the high school’s “it” girl Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), he goes straight to Ellie to help woo her with a letter.

Except for one problem — Ellie develops a crush on Aster too.

Once Ellie reluctantly jumps on board (her own family’s financial situation pushes her to accept), the blossoming interracial friendship between the odd couple of this straight white football star and Asian lesbian and literary wonder drives the story as much, if not more, than the disguised flirtations between Aster and Ellie-as-Paul.

The hardships facing some Asian American families also factor into the story in “The Half of It”. Ellie’s dad, who had arrived from China with a distinguished engineering education, is shunned because of his English and can only land work overseeing a lowly train station in a small town in Washington state. Ellie fears leaving him, especially when she’s the one calling the electric company to learn their payment is overdue and the power will be cut soon.

“The Half of It” delivers many heartfelt moments that transcend the usual boundaries in terms of culture and sexual orientation, and shines with a diverse cast.

Catch “The Half of It” on Netflix. You can watch a trailer on Youtube:

Or, if you’re based in China, view the trailer here.

What do you think? Have you seen “The Half of It” yet?

‘Before Bruce Lee, There Were Just No Asian American Heroes’

The PBS series Asian Americans, in the episode titled Good Americans, gives screen time to that legendary actor and martial arts fighter Bruce Lee, highlighting his importance in American culture when he emerged in the 1960s.

Writer Jeff Chang, who is currently at work on a biography about Bruce Lee, had this to say about Lee’s rise to stardom in Episode 3 of Asian Americans:

Jeff Chang: The culture is waiting for this moment to shift on its axis. We needed to have at that particular moment somebody who epitomizes the search for truth, for justice. We needed to have somebody who was going to stand up for us.

Before Bruce Lee, there were just no Asian American heroes. For Asian Americans, there was a sense of, finally. Finally there’s somebody up on the screen who is as strong as we are. Somebody that embodies the kind of power you know that we’re capable of.

The celebrity Randall Park of Fresh Off The Boat surely spoke for millions when he put into words just how much Bruce Lee meant to him growing up:

Randall Park: I first saw a Bruce Lee movie when I was a kid, super young, and I remember just being mesmerized by this guy. And I don’t think it was because he was Asian, because he had an Asian face. It was just because he had so much charisma and confidence. I was obsessed with him. I watched his movies over and over again and afterwards wanted to fight my brother, because I wanted to be him.

You can watch the full (but brief) segment on Bruce Lee at the end of Episode 3, Good Americans, for the PBS series Asian Americans (available only to viewers in the US for free streaming until June 9, 2020):

Filipino, Mexican Farmworkers Marry, Join 1965 Grape Strike in California

The PBS series Asian Americans highlights an unusual marriage in the mid-20th century: A Filipino man and Mexican woman who met in the fields as farmworkers tied the knot. More than a decade later, in 1965, along with their entire family, they joined the Delano Grape Strike.

Lorraine Agtang, daughter of the two, tells the story of her parents and family in Episode 4, Generation Rising, of Asian Americans:

I’m half Filipino, and half Mexican. My father met my mother working in the fields, and he didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t speak English, and so my father learned how to speak Spanish so that he could get to know her.

I was born in a labor camp a mile and a half from Delano. It was a two-bedroom barrack bunkhouse. We all slept together. There were seven of us, and then my mom and dad.

The bathroom was out back, which we shared with two other families, so, uh, you get to know your neighbors well.

Such a pairing was exceptional at the time among the community of Filipino men who served as farmworkers, as explained in the series:

Narrator: Very few Filipino women were able to immigrate to the US, and Filipino men were barred from marrying white women. As a result, an entire generation is forced to live out their lives as bachelors deprived of family.

But not Lorraine’s father.

Along with her parents and family, Lorraine also took part in the strike, which she recalls in the series:

Lorraine: I remember we were working, when my father says, “Come on, we’re leaving”.

I says, “We’re leaving? It’s ten o’clock in the morning.”

So we left.

And I remember leaving the field, and driving through the, seeing the strikers, the Filipinos.

A page about a collection of materials that Lorraine Agtang has left to the University of California – Davis offers more information about her and her parents:

Lorraine Agtang was born in a labor camp near Delano, California on 1952. Agtang is of Mexican and Filipino descent. Her mother, Lorenza Agtang, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her father, Platon Agtang, was a migrant worker from Cavite Province in the Philippines, who worked at the sugar fields in Hawaii, canneries in Alaska, and the farmworker circuits throughout Central California. Agtang’s exposure to farm labor activism occurred at an early age, as Agtang and her family left the fields of Chamorro Farms in support of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee during the 1965 Delano Grape Strike.

You can view a clip from the PBS series where Lorraine talks about leaving the fields with her family for the strike:

And, if you’re in the US, you can view the entire episode of Generation Rising from Asian Americans on the PBS site (available for free streaming until June 9, 2020):

Note: Featured photo, with a farmworker, is a screenshot from Generation Rising from Asian Americans on the PBS site.

Moksad Ali, Ella Blackman: 1895 Blasian Marriage in New Orleans, USA

While recently watching the new PBS series Asian Americans, which premiered earlier this month, I learned about a fascinating couple — an Indian immigrant to the US named Moksad Ali, who married an African American named Ella Blackman in 1895 in New Orleans, USA.

According to Vivek Bald, an associate professor of writing and digital media at MIT with an interest in the South Asian diaspora in the US, Moksad Ali represents one of the earliest migrations of South Asian immigrants to the East Coast — people who were mainly Muslim men who hailed from the Hooghly region north of Calcutta and worked as silk traders.

As Bald noted in the first episode in the series Asian Americans:

Vivek: The peddler network in some ways has gone under the radar because that group was so transient. The majority of men who were peddling would come during the summer months to New Jersey to the seaside resorts and then make their way south to winter tourist towns. Moksad Ali was one of the earliest to settle in New Orleans.

Moksad Ali and the other peddlers, in order to sell their goods, they played up their South Asian-ness, their Indian-ness. They played to the fantasies of the exotic East that the tourists who they were selling to expected.

At the end of the day, however, they were dark-skinned men in a deeply segregated society. And the places were they were able to live, build homes, marry and begin families were within African American communities.

In this case, Moksad Ali married Ella Blackman, as Bald described in his book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America:

Moksad Ali settled in New Orleans around the same time as Jainal Abdeen and married a local African American woman, Ella Blackman. Ella’s family had come to New Orleans from other parts of the South in the years before and after the Civil War. Her father’s side came from Tennessee, her mother’s from Virginia. Moksad and Ella married in May 1895, when Ella was seven months pregnant with their first child, Monzure. On Monzure’s July 12 birth certificate, Moksad Ali listed his occupation as “silk merchant” and penned a clear but labored signature in Roman/English cursive letters.

In the series Asian Americans, Vivek Bald also builds on the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman by speaking with the descendents of the couple, including in this exchange:

Robin (Descendant): I can recall my grandmother telling me a story about when they were small that her and her dad and mother went to New York on the train. The kids and the father was all allowed to sit up in the front of the train, but my grandmother had to sit in the back and she said, well, it wasn’t that she looked black. It was the fact that they knew she was black.

I said, well that’s odd because some of the kids’ skin complexion is darker than my grandmother’s. So, I thought that was really weird, but…

Vivek: Moksad was darker than your grandmother.

Robin: Right.

Watch a portion of the Moksad Ali-Ella Blackman story in this clip from the PBS series Asian Americans:

Or, view the entire segment on Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman in the first episode of Asian Americans (video only available to viewers in the US):

What do you think about the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman?