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Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016) By Grace Yia-Hei Kao

Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016) By Grace Yia-Hei Kao
In a few days I’ll be heading to Chicago to attend another conference—PANAAWTM to be exact. PANAAAWTM stands for “Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry.”  As I’ve explained in a previous blog, PANAAWTM’s deepest roots can be traced back to two groups of women: 1) Asian American women in theology and ministry in the West Coast who, with the help of Bishop Roy I. Sano, had begun meeting together in the late 1970s for mutual support and encouragement, (2) women on the East Coast who had come predominantly from Asia for graduate school in theology or to work in ministry who, through the assistance of trailblazing feminist theologian Letty Russell, also began to come together in 1984 to “explore common interests and the possibility of forming a network.” Though I have only begun to attend PANAAWTM for the past five years, it has now become a part of my regular conference circuit. It’s frankly so different from the other annual conferences I attend. How so? First, consider its more intimate size. In the past several years that I’ve attended, I’ve spent a long weekend in March with approximately just 50-70 other participants – a far cry from the hundreds that regularly turn up to the Society of Christian Ethics in January or the thousands that show up in droves for the American Academy of Religion in November (the two other guilds to which I belong and in which I actively participate). The small conference size facilitates the ability for us attendees to get to know one another in light of the more relaxed, “family feel,” atmosphere. Second, consider its “niche” target audience—women academicians in theology and related fields (e.g., Bible, ethics) and women in ministry (whether ordained or lay) who are of Asian heritage. The all-women—and all Asian—constituency is really quite unique for conferences and unparalleled in my personal life that going to PANAAWTM has consistently felt to me like moments out of time. And to be clear, these are no ordinary women — the women who attend are bona-fide, groundbreaking leaders in their fields of study or other areas of influence. These are women who are or have been “the firsts,” who are continuing to upend the status quo in accordance with feminist values, and who will not be content with any secondary class treatment or any attempt at marginalization they receive in whatever segment of society (viz., family, church, academy, nonprofit sector, business world). Third, consider its unusual format when judged from the standards of either an academic conference or a more standard, church-style retreat. PANAAWTM meetings in my judgment have always blended really creative and beautiful opening and closing rituals, sessions devoted to formal presentations (on research or community activism), informal sessions dedicated to personal or professional development, and then special fun times of celebration that usually involve a gift exchange, an auction, and either singing or dancing or some other form of merrymaking. PANAAWTM for me is the space in which I both serve – and am served – by others. It’s where I can build more personal relationships with my colleagues  and also learn from the example of our senior scholars of their tireless service and dedication to PANAAWTM (e.g., in the ways in which they keep PANAAWTM running even with our modest budget as they fundraise and contribute honoraria they receive from speaking engagements to provide scholarships for students to attend). It’s also where I can do my part in helping to equip and train the next generation by leading workshops (n.b., past topics of mine include public speaking, work/life balance, publishing) or serving on panels in various capacities (presider, presenter, respondent). This year’s conference theme...
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Ringing In the Lunar New Year with LGBT Activism

Ringing In the Lunar New Year with LGBT Activism
On Sunday, February 10, the Tet parade in Little Saigon, Westminster (CA) went on as planned. Several thousand people turned up to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year, or what Khanh Ho, Assistant Professor of English at Grinnell College, has likened to “Mardi Gras, New Years, and Christmas all rolled into one.” Deliberately excluded this year from marching, however, were LGBT groups. I was saddened to have read that they were being denied the right to march because of their perceived incompatibility with Vietnamese values. I had become sadder still when I learned that it had been an Interfaith Council that had first pushed for their exclusion. I work at a progressive institution that takes seriously the value of interreligious partnership and cooperation; I also serve as one of the co-directors of our Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. So let me reproduce below the letter that we co-directors, under the principal authorship of my colleague Duane Bidwell, sent to the parade organizers in response to their planned exclusion of LGBT participants on cultural grounds. —- To Mr. Neil Nguyen and the Little Saigon 2013 Tet Parade Committee: We are grateful for the opportunity to appeal to you as leaders and elders of the Little Saigon community. We ask you please to welcome the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations by permitting its members to march in the 2013 Tet Parade, as they have done since 2010 with much community support. We write as a Christian pastor who studied with the late Ven. Buddhapalo, sponsored a Buddhist monk granted asylum by the U.S. government, and adopted a Vietnamese child; a second-generation Taiwanese American who has written a book on international human rights; and a lesbian bible scholar who has taught many Vietnamese students. The Lunar New Year, Tết Nguyên Đán, is a special and sacred holiday in Vietnamese culture and tradition. It emphasizes the unity and cohesiveness of family, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a part of Vietnamese families. LGBT people worship and provide leadership at Little Saigon temples and churches. Many are deeply spiritual, recognized as devout practitioners of their religious traditions. We acknowledge the concerns of the Vietnamese American Interfaith Council in Southern California, and we are aware of the complex social, political and cultural issues that surround the full inclusion of the Partnership in the Tet parade. Yet there is great diversity among Vietnamese Americans and among their religious communities. As a whole, Vietnamese Americans understand the pain of exclusion and living “in between” cultures. The ability to live with this ambiguity is a gift of courage—a gift that Vietnamese Americans offer to the nation as a whole. Perhaps one of the community’s challenges is living with that ambiguity in ways that honor emerging experiences and voices without imposing restrictions similar to those that have hurt Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in the past? You remain in our prayers as you reconsider your choice about including the Partnership in the parade. It is a decision to be made with imagination, concern for harmony, and respect for tradition; it must be linked to the past but work to secure a future of unity and cohesiveness for the community as a whole. If we as religious scholars can be helpful to you in this process, please do not hesitate to contact us. We hope to see GLBT people marching proudly in the Tet parade, promoting love, support, good will, prosperity and justice for everyone. With respect and gratitude, Rev. Duane Bidwell, Ph.D.       Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Ph.D.        Carleen Mandolfo, Ph.D. —- To reiterate, we (and the many other LGBT supporters who had engaged in letter...
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Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths

Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths
Sharon A. Suh and David K. Kim, co-chairs of Asian Pacific Americans and Religion Research Initiative (APARRI) recently sent an important e-mail, which I will reproduce below in full: Dear APARRI Community, We would like to announce the release of the Pew Forum Report, “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faith.” The report highlights significant findings from one of most extensive survey of Asian Americans and religious life to date.  The Pew Forum site also includes useful charts and graphs that are presentation-ready. Many former and current APARRI members participated on the project. Janelle Wong served as Special External Adviser and the external advisory committee for the religion report included Joaquin Jay Gonzalez III, Jane Naomi Iwamura, Khyati Joshi, Rebecca Y. Kim, Pyong Gap Min, Jerry Z. Park, Sharon A. Suh, Fenggang Yang and Min Zhou–all former attendees of APARRI conferences. Janelle Wong, Sharon Suh, Khyati Joshi, and Jane Iwamura participated in the Pew Forum call that introduced the report. Blogs about the report were written by Khyati Joshi (for Huffington Post) and Fenggang Yang (for the New York Times (China Edition).  Sharon Suh was quoted by the Washington Post.  Jerry Park and Janelle Wong wrote a blog for the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/is-the-gop-about-to-have-an-asian-american-evangelical-problem/2012/08/03/a01c5772-dd8b-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_blog.html). Janelle was also interviewed by NPR http://m.npr.org/news/U.S./158168493?page=6). As many of you know, the first Pew Report, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” drew heavy criticism from Asian American advocacy groups and Asian American Studies scholars. The external advisors for this second report worked closely with Pew to contextualize the findings on Asian American religiosity and provide a more nuanced presentation. APARRI helped foster the scholarly foundations and collegial connections that allowed for this successful effort.  As a follow up to the study, please keep an eye out for an additional meeting at the American Academy of Religion in Chicago, November 17, 2012 (Time and Date TBA)APARRI Scholars Analyze and Interpret the Pew Report on “Religion and Asian Americans: a Mosaic of Faiths.”  Date: Saturday, November 17, 2012: This panel presentation will include analysis and interpretation of the recent report on Asian Americans released by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life (July 19, 2012). The panel will begin with an overview of the study by Cary Funk (Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life) followed by discussion and analysis of the study by current APARRI members who also served on the external advisory committee to the Pew study. Speakers from APARRI will include Janelle Wong, Sharon Suh, Khyati Joshi, and Jane Iwamura who also participated in the Pew Forum press call that introduced the report and David K. Kim as moderator. The external advisors for the report worked closely with Pew to contextualize the findings on Asian American religiosity and provide a more nuanced presentation. APARRI helped foster the scholarly foundations and collegial connections that allowed for this successful effort. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ APARRI is the largest interdisciplinary research collective in the United States focusing on religion in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Annual APARRI gatherings bring educators, researchers, and students from the social sciences, the humanities, and the theological disciplines together with leaders of faith communities to share current scholarship and build networks. Multi-ethnic and inter-religious, APARRI fosters perspectives which emphasize intersecting histories and shared contemporary civic concerns.  APARRI is widely regarded by members of the American Academy of Religion and other scholarly associations as the central resource for critical and innovative work in Asian American religious studies. Take care, Sharon A. Suh and David K. Kim, co-chairs APARRI Managing Board This blog was originally posted on Feminism and Religion—a blogsite dedicated to exploring the “f” word in religion and the intersection between scholarship, activism, and community....
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Government “Apologies” for Historical Injustices: Why They Matter

Government “Apologies” for Historical Injustices: Why They Matter
“I rejoice in this most recent admission of institutional racism. I am not naïve enough to believe that this public acknowledgment, like previous ones to other racial-ethnic groups, was untainted by political calculations. But I am also not Kantian (so I reject the view that anything done out of mixed motives accordingly lacks moral merit).” On June 18, 2012, the United States issued a rare mea culpa to a racial-ethnic group for the wrongs it had committed against them. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution expressing “regret” for “the passage of legislation that adversely affected people of Chinese origin in the United States because of their ethnicity.” H. RES 683 chronicles six decades of federal legislation aimed at or against persons of Chinese descent. The most famous of these was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—the first and only federal law in U.S. history that barred a group of people from ever immigrating, becoming naturalized, or voting for no other reason than their ethnicity.  (It was not repealed until the passage of the Magnuson Act during World War II.) Lawmakers also acknowledged in the earlier (and longer) Senate resolution SR 201 that this framework of anti-Chinese legislation: (1)  resulted in the persecution and political alienation of persons of Chinese descent; (2)  unfairly limited their civil rights; (3)  legitimized racial discrimination; and (4)  induced trauma that persist within the Chinese community. Both resolutions named these federal statutes as contravening the nation’s founding principle of equality and as having legally enshrined the “exclusion of the Chinese from the democratic process and the promise of American freedom.” The sponsor of H. Res. 683, Representative Judy Chu, at a 6/13/12 press conference.                                               Chu is also the first Chinese American woman ever elected to Congress. While exceedingly rare, this wasn’t the first time that U.S. lawmakers have expressed regret to a racial or ethnic group for historical injustices committed against them and/or their descendants. African Americans, Native Americans, native Hawaiians, and Japanese Americans have also received national “apologies” (for slavery and Jim Crow segregation, “many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect,” the “illegal overthrow” of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and forced relocation and internment during World War II, respectively). I rejoice in this most recent admission of institutional racism. I am not naïve enough to believe that this public acknowledgment, like previous ones to other racial-ethnic groups, was untainted by political calculations. But I am also not Kantian (i.e., I reject the view that anything done out of mixed motives accordingly lacks moral merit) So the feminist in me rejoices in these resolutions not only because the feminist movement has struggled (and still struggles) with racism, but also because the best feminist analysis has always been an intersectional one (e.g., anti-Chinese bias was based on class and not just race, Chinese men were and still often are feminized–even emasculated–by the white mainstream). And the Christian in me appreciates how difficult it is for either individuals or institutions to deal with the sin of racism; and how truth-telling and genuine remorse for wrongdoing are crucial ingredients for restorative justice. And the American, specifically Taiwanese American, in me has hope that a bipartisan, public admission of this ugly history will, to use the words of Senate resolution SR 201, allow “the public and future generations” to “acknowledge and illuminate the injustices in our national experience and help to build a better and stronger Nation.” Postscript 1: While my reaction to these resolutions has largely been positive, I would be remiss if I didn’t...
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Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
“Did you know that…the Asian population grew faster than any other race group in the United States between 2000 and 2010…[and that] Chinese is the second most widely spoken non-English language in the country (behind Spanish)”? I spoke last Sunday at Good Neighbors Church—the English-language ministry of Covenant United Methodist Church in Pomona, California. The occasion? May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the pastor (a former student of mine) wanted his mostly second-generation Korean American congregation to hear from someone who both self-identifies and pursues scholarship in Asian American Christianity.  Through a Q & A format, I shared with them many things: my experiences growing up in a Taiwanese evangelical church (particularly, the role of women therein), some similarities and differences between Taiwanese and Korean churches in the U.S., my community’s response to my nontraditional career path, and how and why my parents finally came around to accepting (and wholeheartedly loving) their Caucasian son-in-law. I will blog about those topics in future posts. For now, however, I’d like to share some facts and figures about Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. in honor of this commemorative month. Did you know… that the term “Asian-Pacific” encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island)? that Asian-Pacific Heritage Month originally began as a ten-day celebration in 1978, became extended into a month-long celebration in 1992, and was officially proclaimed as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in 2009? that the month of May was selected to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. (May 7, 1843) as well as the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad (May 10, 1869)—a feat that was accomplished by a largely Chinese immigrant workforce? The 2010 census also provides a number of important facts and figures about the Asian population.  (Per a 1997 Office of Management and Budget directive, the “Asian or Pacific Islander” racial category was split into two separate categories: (1) Asian, (2) Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.) According to U.S. Census 2010, U.S. residents of Asian descent comprise only 5.6% of the total population, but the Asian population grew faster than any other race group in the United States between 2000 and 2010  (whether persons self-identified as Asian alone or in combination with one or more other races) 80% of Asians live in a household with internet usage—the highest rate among race and ethnic groups Chinese is the second most widely spoken non-English language in the country (behind Spanish). I can think of no better of way of providing even more information about this demographic than by closing with the May 1, 2012 Presidential Proclamation of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month—thereby showcasing three of my loves/loyalties: (1) the Asian/Pacific Islander American community, (2) history, (3) the 44th President of the United States: Generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have helped make America what it is today. Their histories recall bitter hardships and proud accomplishments — from the laborers who connected our coasts one-and-a-half centuries ago, to the patriots who fought overseas while their families were interned at home, from those who endured the harsh conditions of Angel Island, to the innovators and entrepreneurs who are driving our Nation’s economic growth in Silicon Valley and beyond. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month offers us an opportunity to celebrate the vast contributions Asian...
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The Boldness of Grace Ji-Sun Kim

The Boldness of Grace Ji-Sun Kim
“The Grace of Sophia is an openly ‘syncretistic’ work….That’s fairly radical for an ordained Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) clergywoman.” It’s that time in the academic year when classes are winding down and when faculty and students alike are looking forward to the summer. While putting together a final oral exam study-guide for my doctoral students, my mind kept returning to one of the books I assigned in my Spring 2012 Asian American Christianity course—Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (2002). The two things that shocked me about the book when I first read it still do not fail to amaze me now. In the first case, Dr. Kim unabashedly champions a concept that many believe is hopelessly laden with negative connotations—syncretism. In the second, Dr. Kim not only writes from her particular social location (as many feminists and other contextualists are wont to do), but devotes her book (only) to the same niche demographic—Korean North American women. The Grace of Sophia is an openly “syncretistic” work. It adopts an explicitly “multifaith hermeneutics” by “relating Christian biblical interpretation positively to other religious texts and traditions” (p. 24). It affirms that truth and wisdom are found in the “cultures, histories and religions of other people”—not solely in the Bible (p. 26). It offers that when syncretism is done well, the “insights of two or more religions are genuinely integrated without violence or loss of identity on either side” (p. 37). That’s fairly radical for an ordained Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) clergywoman. More specifically, what Kim does constructively in her book is link biblical wisdom (Hokmah, Sophia) to the feminized notions of wisdom in Asian cultural and religious traditions (e.g., prajna, Kuan-yin) as well as to the ancient near East (e.g., Isis). In my view, Kim’s boldness on this first count has less to do with how ultimately comparable or assimilable these models of wisdom are than with her willingness to even attempt to syncretize them. Kim’s second move is no less shocking, particularly when one keeps in mind current realities in the academic publishing world. Kim doesn’t offer her Sophia Christology to all Christians or even to all feminists. She doesn’t even present her findings to all Asian Americans. No, her book is explicitly for Korean North American women, for she hopes to present a model of Christ that can liberate them from their han—from their unresolved resentment against injustices suffered. Why is this move so bold? The answer, in short, is that Kim has deliberately narrowed her target audience. While I don’t know the figures for Asian Canadians (n.b., Kim emigrated to Canada at the age of six), Asian Americans in the U.S. make-up a small minority—5.6% (17.3 million) of the total U.S. population and among that racial categorization, Korean Americans comprise only the fifth largest ethnic group (behind Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, and Vietnamese) at 1.6 million. I don’t know anything about the negotiations she might have had with her publisher, but I can imagine that there might have been pressures to market the book not specifically for Koreans, but at least for Asian Americans (and still much better: for Christian women in general). Even putting aside the issue of marketing are the larger pressures that many of us experience to homogenize our discrete experiences under a pan-Asian umbrella and accordingly minimize our differences. But because I am an Asian American who also takes seriously her particularized second generation Taiwanese American identity, it is precisely because this book was NOT written for me that makes me appreciate it all the much more. Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her...
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The Power of Feminist Rituals

The Power of Feminist Rituals
“These were very simple rituals and yet they were so powerful.” Jeanette Stokes’ 25 Years in the Garden is on my bedside table. It’s a book I read several years ago with a small group of feminist Christians when I was living in Blacksburg, Virginia. The following passage from one of her essays got me to thinking back to the 2012 PANAAWTM conference (Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry) I had attended just two weeks ago: “Rituals are part of everyday lives: reading the newspaper, checking the weather, waiting for the mail to come, or talking with a family member at the end of the day. Rituals can also mark the extraordinary events in our lives: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a birthday, marriage, anniversary, or divorce” (Stokes, 2002, p. 37). We PANAAWTM attendees participated in two rituals that, while neither “everyday” nor “extraordinary,” were nevertheless symbolically very rich, meaningful, and unifying. As I mentioned earlier in a previous blog, all PANAAWTM participants had been instructed to bring 3 oz. of water “from a source of nature near [o]ur home.” This water ended up playing a large role in our opening and closing worship. During the opening ceremony, each of us was invited to introduce ourselves, say something about the origin of our water, share a prayer or concern, and then pour our water into a large crystal bowl on the altar. One by one, my fellow Asian and Asian American sisters took turns sharing the water they had collected locally—from the tap, the rain, the Hudson River, the River Jordan even (the latter definitely got some “oohs” and “ahhs.”) We laughed together as one sister shared how she was inadvertently offering shampoo-contaminated water (in light of the 3 oz. travel-size bottle she had used to transport it on the plane), while another admitted that she had misunderstood the purpose behind the instructions, which is why she had brought drinking water from Costco. At other times, the mood was more serious and reflective. For instance, many of us nodded empathetically as one student shared her pain and then noted that she had thought of offering 3 oz. of her own tears. After two days of inspirational speakers, workshops, and genuine fellowship over meals, our time together drew to a close. We collectively sang songs, exhorted one another, and then ended in a way consonant with which we had begun: each of us took turns sharing a burden we were leaving behind and a new insight or sense of direction or confidence that we were taking with us as we made our journeys home. As each of us came forward to speak, we washed our hands in the communal water. Each of us remained at the front until the next person came up to speak, and then we dried our sister’s hands with a small towel. That cycle repeated until all had had their turn. These were very simple rituals and yet they were so powerful. I loved the highlighting of individual experience and corporate togetherness, the juxtaposition of solemnity and comedy, and the sharing of trials and triumphs. I also loved how the drying of hands (with the towel) conjured images of Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet. The more I think about these two simple rituals, the more I think how appropriately contextualized they were for me. Culturally, I come from people who take ritual and ritual propriety very seriously (that’s my Confucian heritage). Religiously, however, I was raised among people who do not—the conservative Taiwanese evangelical Christian church I grew up attending was of the “four...
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My First Experience at a Women-Only Conference

My First Experience at a Women-Only Conference
“This ain’t your daddy’s conference!” I knew that I was going to be attending a totally different type of conference than I had ever been to before when I received the following instructions on additional items to pack: (1) my own mug with which to drink coffee or tea (“we will go green in this conference as much as possible”), (2) 3 oz. of water “from a source of nature near your home” to be offered during “opening worship,” and (3) a small, modest, pre-owned, homemade, or inexpensive “earth-honoring gift for exchange.” When this blog goes live, the second day of the PANAAWTM Annual Conference will be in full swing at San Francisco Theological Seminary. PANAAWTM stands for “Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry.” Its deepest origins can be traced to two sources: (1) Asian American women in theology and ministry in the West Coast who, with the help of Bishop Roy I. Sano, had begun networking among themselves in the late 1970s,  (2) a small group of women who, under the assistance of trailblazing feminist theologian Letty Russell, also first came together in 1984 to “explore common interests and the possibility of forming a network” (n.b., these women had come predominantly from Asia and were either pursuing graduate theological education or working in ministry in the United States). Today, PANAAWTM’s goals are as follows: To facilitate the development of theologies in our own voices; To provide a group in which we are able to support one another and exchange ideas; To support our ministry and leadership in our churches, our educational institutions, and the larger society; To increase our contribution to the development of Third World and other liberation theologies; To participate actively in the feminist theological conversations in the United States and Canada. My attendance here this weekend will mark not only my first time at PANAAWTM, but also my first time ever participating in an all-women conference. On top of that, I’ll be sharing these experiences with fellow attendees who are also all of some Asian heritage and heavily and unabashedly steeped in feminist theology, liturgy, ethics, and other scholarly/activist/spiritual pursuits. Simply put, this ain’t your daddy’s conference! The opening panel, which was open to the public and held at the Chapel of the Pacific School of Religion (a longtime supporter of PANAAWTM), was amazing. The 2012 theme is “Abundant Life and Unjust Prosperity” and each panelist spoke out her expertise and passion. Gale Yee (Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies, Episcopal Divinity School) began with the provocative bumper sticker pictured below, explained the true meaning of shalom, and then proceeded to describe how Jesus came to liberate people from material, not just spiritual, poverty. She invited us to reconceptualize Mary, the mother of Jesus/God not as the white, upper class, royal looking “lady” of many portraits, but as a dark-skinned, poor, and racial-ethnically/religiously/and politically oppressed outsider. Nadine Cruz (Consultant on Pedagogies of Engagement in Higher Education) spoke soberly about disturbing trends in the academy—the commodification of “service-learning” and disvaluing of indigenous and nonWestern forms of knowledge chief among them. She also explained why she is ambivalent about the popular rhetoric in the U.S. of the 99%.: from her vantage point as someone who has come from the Philippines, the majority of the world is the 99% while the U.S. as a whole represents the 1%. Still, she offered us two case-studies of peoples who have acted courageously with “moral brilliance” and discussed (especially during the Q&A) the importance of creating spaces to begin to imagine (not simply move hastily to strategize) what genuine alternatives to empire could look like. Rita Nakashima Brock outside of...
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“Passing” for White to Get Into Harvard?

“Passing” for White to Get Into Harvard?
“[G]rowing numbers of Asian Americans are not taking a ‘wait and see’ approach about whether elite colleges are discriminating against Asian Americans on account of their race, but have been acting under the assumption that they have been and still are.” Asian Americans and Harvard University have been in the news and on my mind recently. The bigger story has been about the “Linsanity” surrounding (Harvard grad) New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin who continues to take the NBA by storm. The smaller story, though one that also made national headlines in early February, is of the recent decision by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate a complaint that Harvard and Princeton Universities discriminate against Asian Americans in admissions. According to Daniel Golden of the Bloomberg News who first broke the story: “Like Jews in the first half of the 20th century, who faced quotas at Harvard, Princeton, and other Ivy League schools, Asian-Americans are over-represented at top universities relative to their population, yet must meet a higher standard than other applicants based on measures such as test scores and high school grades, according to several academic studies.” In one widely reported study, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade reviewed data at ten elite colleges in his co-authored book No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life. He found that Asian Americans must score 140 more points than whites, 270 points more than Hispanics, and 450 points more than African Americans out of a maximum of 1600 on the math and reading sections of the SAT to have the same chance of admissions at elite colleges. To be sure, these and other findings of test score disparities are not sufficient to establish that these schools are in fact discriminating against Asian Americans in a way that would violate civil rights laws. Indeed, since official statistics from the College Board have long revealed that Asian Americans have the highest SAT scores of any racial group, we should not be surprised that Asian Americans as a group at top institutions have been outscoring their white (and other) counterparts on the SATs. Not surprisingly, officials at both Harvard and Princeton have denied that they discriminate against Asian American applicants. They’ve each reiterated how competitive their respective admissions process is and affirmed that every applicant is assessed “holistically” on a “case-by-case” basis as they take into account a variety of factors. I’ll leave it to the Office for Civil Rights to complete its investigation before I render judgment on the existence of any such “Asian [glass] ceiling” or quota. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am an alumnus of Harvard University (Ph.D. 2003) who has since Fall 2011 been volunteering my time interviewing applicants for undergraduate admissions to the College. Still, my interest in withholding judgment until the facts come in has more to do with prudence, in a “boy who cried wolf” kind of way, than any desire to avoid tarnishing Harvard’s (or Princeton’s) reputation. Acting “As If” Discrimination Exists What I’ve discovered since that story first broke is that growing numbers of Asian Americans are not taking a “wait and see” approach about whether elite colleges are discriminating against Asian Americans on account of their race, but have been acting under the assumption that they have been and still are. There have been multiple stories, articles, and blogs about a rising trend among unknown numbers of Asian American applicants suppressing their racial identity. A Dec. 4, 2011 Associated Press article entitled “Some Asians’ College Strategy: Don’t check ‘Asian,’” noted that some believe so strongly that the “system” is rigged against them (i.e.,...
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Participating in Beauty Culture

Participating in Beauty Culture
“I…liked how we were neither dogmatic in our judgments (i.e., no one played the role of feminist fashion police), nor laissez-faire in thinking that ‘anything goes’—after all, feminists were the ones who had popularized the slogan the ‘personal is political.'” At the most recent Society of Christian Ethics annual meeting, I got into an impromptu late night discussion with several women friends about why some of us participate in “beauty culture” and how we feel as feminist Christian ethicists and moral theologians about our decisions. Each of us shared why we have chosen to wear make-up (or not), keep up with fashion (or not), dye our greying hair to mask the signs of aging (or not), or put in the effort to maintain a certain physique (or not). We also addressed what role our own mothers and larger communities have played in our decision-making processes. Since it is certainly not my place to reveal what others disclosed behind closed doors over wine, let me expand upon a few things I shared that night. First, I told them that when I used to work at Virginia Tech (2003-2009), I had noticed and been a little self-conscious about the fact that I was the only faculty member in Women’s Studies who regularly wore make-up. My self-consciousness stemmed from multiple sources: (1) I was a new member of the faculty who simply didn’t know what the conventions of dress were among my female colleagues (and thus I didn’t want to over- or under-do it), (2) I had grown-up with a mother who, because of her own youthful indulgence in vanity before she “gave her life to Christ” (as she describes it), repeatedly cautioned me away from caring too much about my physical appearance, (3) I received implicit (although occasionally explicit) judgment from older, second-wave white feminists who held very strong views about what attempting to beautify oneself meant—internalized misogyny and an acquiescence to patriarchal capitalism. In short, whether a woman put on lipstick, donned heels, or cared about clothes was used as a litmus test for how “feminist” she was. Second,when the conversation turned to plastic surgery, I started talking about how popular blepharoplasty (a.k.a. “double eyelid surgery” or even “Asian eyelid surgery”) is among women of Asian descent both in the U.S. and in East Asian countries. (Truth be told, several Asian male celebrities have had it as well including martial artist Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame.) I told them that these surgeries nevertheless remain controversial in Asian American communities given concerns about increasing numbers of patients going under the knife to emulate Western standards of beauty and accordingly “erase” a distinctive marker of ethnicity. As many others have done, I compared these debates about Asian eyelid surgery to internal debates in Jewish communities about rhinoplasty (“nose jobs”) or to analogous ones in African American communities about chemically straightening hair. For the record, as can be seen in any photo of me, I was not born with double eyelids. I’ve never had my eyelids surgically altered, nor do I do any of the common non-surgical things that some Asian women do (e.g., use special tape or glue) to transform my monolids into doubles. Admittedly, there was once a time in junior high when I envied those who were lucky enough to have been born with large (i.e., double-lidded) eyes. Fortunately, that time has long passed. I do, however, continue to wear make-up on a regular basis and put effort into how I externally present myself to the world. But just as I resented those who automatically questioned my feminist credentials because I wore make-up, so too have I not reflexively assumed that persons of Asian descent who’ve undergone blepharoplasty...
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