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What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity

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What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/09/maga ... ntity.html
When Michael Deng, a college freshman, joined an Asian-American fraternity, he was looking for a sense of belonging and identity. Two months later he was dead.
“Asian-­American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking Asian-­American, nobody sits down to Asian-­American food with their Asian-­American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of Asian-­America. Michael Deng and his fraternity brothers were from Chinese families and grew up in Queens, and they have nothing in common with me — someone who was born in Korea and grew up in Boston and North Carolina. We share stereotypes, mostly — tiger moms, music lessons and the unexamined march toward success, however it’s defined. My Korean upbringing, I’ve found, has more in common with that of the children of Jewish and West African immigrants than that of the Chinese and Japanese in the United States — with whom I share only the anxiety that if one of us is put up against the wall, the other will most likely be standing next to him.
Discrimination is what really binds Asian-­Americans together. The early scholars of Asian-­American studies came out of the ‘‘Third World Liberation Front’’ of the late ’60s, which pushed against the Eurocentric bent of the academy. When Asian-­American-­studies programs began spreading in California in the early ’70s, their curriculums grew out of personal narratives of oppression, solidarity forged through the exhumation of common hardships. ‘‘Roots: An Asian-­American Reader,’’ one of the first textbooks offered to Asian-­American-­studies students at U.C.L.A., was published in 1971; the roots of the title referred not to some collective Asian heritage but, the editors wrote, to the ‘‘ ‘roots’ of the issues facing Asians in America.’’

The project of defining Asian-­American identity was largely limited to Ivy League and West Coast universities until 1982, when Vincent Chin, who worked at an automotive engineering firm in Detroit, was beaten to death by assailants who blamed Japanese competition for the downturn in the American auto market. When Chin’s killers were sentenced to probation and fined $3,000, protesters marched in cities across the country, giving rise to a new Pan-­Asian unity forged by the realization that if Chin, the son of Chinese immigrants, could be killed because of Japanese auto imports, the concept of an ‘‘Asian-­American’’ identity had consequences.

‘‘His death was this great moment of realization,’’ Christine Choy, a Korean-­American filmmaker and former member of the Black Panther Party, told me. ‘‘It galvanized a lot of people who said they can’t stand by anymore and let things go without any sort of legal or political representation.’’
‘‘Who Killed Vincent Chin?’’ a 1989 documentary directed by Choy and Renee Tajima-­Peña, was shown in Asian-­American-­studies classes across the country. Over the next decade, a rhetoric took hold that argued for a collective identity rooted in both the death of Vincent Chin and the debates over affirmative action, but it still felt strange to those who had grown up Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino. Whether expressed through scholarship or private, daily conversation, this vocabulary was imprecise and cloistered within the academy. By the early ’90s, when the Los Angeles riots thrust Asian-­Americans onto the national stage, the brio of ‘‘Roots’’ had mostly been supplanted by a shy, scholarly neurosis that sought to figure out why Asian — particularly Korean — businesses had been targeted by rioters, but lacked the platform or the confidence to ask.
Sometime after midnight, the brothers gathered for the Glass Ceiling, one of the fraternity’s most hallowed rituals. Also known as the Gauntlet, or just the ‘‘G,’’ the ceremony varies from chapter to chapter, but it typically plays out in three stages: First, a pledge is blindfolded and separated from his assigned ‘‘Big,’’ an older fraternity brother, by a line of brothers whose arms are linked together. For the most part, this line signifies the barrier between glumly accepting America’s vision of emasculated, toadying Asian men and the great promise of success and masculine fulfillment. As his Big calls out his name, a pledge, or ‘‘Little,’’ crosses his arms across his chest and walks toward his Big’s voice. He soon runs into the line of brothers, who call him ‘‘chink,’’ ‘‘gook’’ and whatever other racial slurs they can muster. The verbal abuse lasts for 10 minutes or more. In the second stage, the pledge is instructed to push through the wall of brothers, who in turn shove him back toward his starting spot. The third stage isn’t much different from the second: The pledge is still wandering blindfolded toward his Big’s calls, but instead of being pushed, he is knocked to the ground or, in some chapters, even tackled. Once the pledge educator determines that the pledge has had enough, he calls for a halt and may ask, Why did you not ask your brothers for help?

I did not know to ask, the pledge responds.

Ask your brothers for their help, the pledge educator instructs.

The pledge asks for help. His brothers form a line behind him and, in solemn unison, guide him to his Big.

While all this is happening, the pledge is supposed to be thinking about his parents and the sacrifices they made as immigrants, the humiliations they faced and the oppressive invisibility of Asian lives in America. The pushing, the tackling and the racial abuse are meant to be the physical expression of their struggle. That final walk, in which the pledge is shepherded to his Big by all of the fraternity’s members, is intended to teach him that solidarity with his fellow Asians is his only hope of making it in a white world.
Asians are the loneliest Americans. The collective political consciousness of the ’80s has been replaced by the quiet, unaddressed isolation that comes with knowing that you can be born in this country, excel in its schools and find a comfortable place in its economy and still feel no stake in the national conversation. The current vision of solidarity among Asian-­Americans is cartoonish and blurry and relegated to conversations at family picnics, in drunken exchanges over food that reminds everyone at the table of how their mom used to make it. Everything else is the confusion of never knowing what side to choose because choosing our own side has so rarely been an option. Asian pride is a laughable concept to most Americans. Racist incidents pass without prompting any real outcry, and claims of racism are quickly dismissed. A common past can be accessed only through dusty, dug-up things: the murder of Vincent Chin, Korematsu v. United States, the Bataan Death March and the illusion that we are going through all these things together. The Asian-­American fraternity is not much more than a clumsy step toward finding an identity in a country where there are no more reference points for how we should act, how we should think about ourselves. But in its honest confrontation with being Asian and its refusal to fall into familiar silence, it can also be seen as a statement of self-­worth. These young men, in their doomed way, were trying to amend the American dream that had brought their parents to this country with one caveat:

I will succeed, they say. But not without my brothers!
Until he pledged Pi Delta Psi, Wong said, he did not know how badly his people had suffered. He did not know about the death of Vincent Chin. He did not know about Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 Supreme Court case that upheld Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order to send Japanese-­Americans to internment camps. As he immersed himself in Pi Delta Psi’s misshapen yet still revelatory history of Asian-­American oppression, he grew increasingly frustrated with the gaps in his New York City public-­school education. Wong said the omissions were unfair. ‘‘I didn’t understand why we wouldn’t focus on a certain ethnic group or why we would ignore it,’’ Wong said. ‘‘Sometimes, it felt like things that happened to Asians were less important.’’
I'm At The W, But I Can't Meet You In The Lobby, Girl I Gotta Watch My Back, Cuz I'm Not Just Anybody, I Seen Em' Stand In Line, Just To Get Beside Her, That's When We Disappear, You Need GPS To Find Her, Oh That Was Your Girl? I Thought I Recognized Her."
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Um, this is of course a tragedy, as is the death of any person. But perhaps you could elaborate as to why you are posting this article?
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CheapScotch wrote:
Aug 11th, 2017 10:24 pm
Um, this is of course a tragedy, as is the death of any person. But perhaps you could elaborate as to why you are posting this article?
It was a major story in the NYTimes. You got a problem?
I'm At The W, But I Can't Meet You In The Lobby, Girl I Gotta Watch My Back, Cuz I'm Not Just Anybody, I Seen Em' Stand In Line, Just To Get Beside Her, That's When We Disappear, You Need GPS To Find Her, Oh That Was Your Girl? I Thought I Recognized Her."
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Corner3 wrote:
Aug 11th, 2017 11:05 pm
It was a major story in the NYTimes. You got a problem?
Not a problem, just a question: why are you posting this article in RFD?
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Well-written piece.

I understand that the members of the fraternity were trying to do good, but they failed Michael Deng terribly. There's a difference between having a mission, preaching it, and doing it. Their "brother" needed help, and they didn't respond with the appropriate urgency.
“Asian-­American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking Asian-­American, nobody sits down to Asian-­American food with their Asian-­American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of Asian-­America.
One could compare and contrast the writer's words with how meaningless (or meaningful) it is to have an "African-American" or "black American" identity. I disagree with his stance...even while recognizing that individuals and particular families may have their own differences. I'd add that this story is additionally and specifically a male Asian-American incident...females don't haze so physically as far as I'm aware. There is a masculine aspect to this tragedy, trying to toughen up each other, creating a physical struggle metaphor for a sociopolitical one.
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peanutz wrote:
Aug 11th, 2017 11:59 pm
Well-written piece.

I understand that the members of the fraternity were trying to do good, but they failed Michael Deng terribly. There's a difference between having a mission, preaching it, and doing it. Their "brother" needed help, and they didn't respond with the appropriate urgency.

One could compare and contrast the writer's words with how meaningless (or meaningful) it is to have an "African-American" or "black American" identity. I disagree with his stance...even while recognizing that individuals and particular families may have their own differences. I'd add that this story is additionally and specifically a male Asian-American incident...females don't haze so physically as far as I'm aware. There is a masculine aspect to this tragedy, trying to toughen up each other, creating a physical struggle metaphor for a sociopolitical one.
I don't think Jay Caspian Kang was saying that having Asian American identity was "useless", just that the demographic itself is "meaningless." It's useful because as he says, we're intertwined through discrimination and it's political useful because in America, we face many of the same difficulties. Though, the term Asian American in the political realm is becoming more problematic as the population of Asians grow and the problems they face are very different. The Koreans and Chinese face different racial issues than Indian and Pakistanis who face different issues than Filipinos and Pacific Islanders.

Knowing what you know about Asian American fraternity hazing, would you let your kid ever pledge?
Last edited by Corner3 on Aug 12th, 2017 2:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I'm At The W, But I Can't Meet You In The Lobby, Girl I Gotta Watch My Back, Cuz I'm Not Just Anybody, I Seen Em' Stand In Line, Just To Get Beside Her, That's When We Disappear, You Need GPS To Find Her, Oh That Was Your Girl? I Thought I Recognized Her."
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I don't like the article. It paints an emo story by extrapolating from a few facts. People pledge without ruminating about the back history of american social relations, just like ppl don't get initiated into gangs thinking about their family history, neighbourhood's history, etc. It is usually primarily about wanting to belong to something biggervthan urself, about being in something rather than out, about the power of connections/belonging to a tight group, etc.
Last edited by Becks on Aug 12th, 2017 6:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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CheapScotch wrote:
Aug 11th, 2017 10:24 pm
...perhaps you could elaborate as to why you are posting this article?
OP is asian.
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Corner3 wrote:
Aug 11th, 2017 11:05 pm
It was a major story in the NYTimes. You got a problem?
NY Times is trash, it's owned by Carlos Slim, a corrupt Mexican oligarch. He's turned the paper into his own personal blog. So according to you: if it's on Carlos Slim's blog, you'll come and regurgitate it here on RFD?
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KhalidA wrote:
Aug 12th, 2017 7:05 pm
This guy should have focused on his studies instead of wasting his time at fraternities.
Most of the elite universities have Asian American fraternities/sororities: Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Columbia, NYU, Penn. For schools like Harvard that have no fraternities, but have extremely active Asian American social orgs such as The Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association. Especially the Asian American target schools, it's a part of being an Asian student at a good school, even if you don't pledge likely you'll be recruited or end up at an event if you go to one of these schools.
Becks wrote:
Aug 12th, 2017 6:52 pm
I don't like the article. It paints an emo story by extrapolating from a few facts. People pledge without ruminating about the back history of american social relations, just like ppl don't get initiated into gangs thinking about their family history, neighbourhood's history, etc. It is usually primarily about wanting to belong to something biggervthan urself, about being in something rather than out, about the power of connections/belonging to a tight group, etc.
At a lot of the schools with very active Asian American frats/sorities, Asians are the majority or close to it on campus (Berkeley, UCLA, University of Toronto being good examples). I think when given the choice between choosing a non-Asian focused frat that's going to have a decent % of Asians in it, versus pledging to an Asian focused one, they're considering American social relations at least some. Because even at a non-Asian focused frat at Berkeley, at least 30-50+% of the frat will be Asian.
I'm At The W, But I Can't Meet You In The Lobby, Girl I Gotta Watch My Back, Cuz I'm Not Just Anybody, I Seen Em' Stand In Line, Just To Get Beside Her, That's When We Disappear, You Need GPS To Find Her, Oh That Was Your Girl? I Thought I Recognized Her."
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Being ABC or CBC, is a horrible existence. Not able to go back to their ethnic country because of poor language skills and lack of understanding of the culture, and will never be accepted into Western society because Asian are always perpetual foreigner. YTs don't care if you're Chinese Japanese Korean fob ABC CBC, we're all the same to them.

'ABC cannot retreat, they cannot fight back. They are stuck in purgatory'
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Corner3 wrote:
Aug 12th, 2017 2:22 pm
I don't think Jay Caspian Kang was saying that having Asian American identity was "useless", just that the demographic itself is "meaningless." It's useful because as he says, we're intertwined through discrimination and it's political useful because in America, we face many of the same difficulties. Though, the term Asian American in the political realm is becoming more problematic as the population of Asians grow and the problems they face are very different. The Koreans and Chinese face different racial issues than Indian and Pakistanis who face different issues than Filipinos and Pacific Islanders.
I wasn't saying that he said the label or identity was "useless", I was specifically disagreeing that it's mostly meaningless.

It's no more or less meaningless than any other generalized group identity, in my opinion. Let's say we broke down discussions into groups such as "The Koreans and Chinese" and "Indians and Pakistanis" and "Filipinos and Pacific Islanders"...you're still not going to be accurately reflecting each individual, or family, or community in each of these subgroups. You can do state identities, "Texans", or even go national, "Americans", or "young males", or "college students", you'll run into the same pitfalls and shortcomings of addressing every facet of every person who it might apply to. That doesn't make it meaningless, in my view.
Corner3 wrote:
Aug 12th, 2017 2:22 pm
Knowing what you know about Asian American fraternity hazing, would you let your kid ever pledge?
a) I've been led to believe that not all initiation rituals are brutal. b) I'd hope that if I were to become a parent, by the time they've gone off to college I'd have taught them enough to make decently good decisions of their own. And that this is not a decision that comes down to me "letting" them. LOL

I wanted to add another thing...maybe this is splitting hairs but some racial (or gender, or group-identity-politics) discussions veer into uncomfortable territory for me because I think there is a fine distinction between individuals thinking of themselves as individuals who can belong to any multitude of generalized groups or broad labels...and individuals who define themselves by those labels.

We like to say that racism is wrong, or sexism, etc. because it's wrong to apply stereotypes to individuals, but people often label themselves, or build their identities around their group associations. I'm not sure if this is increasing due to contemporary aggressive identity-related sociopolitics, but it's definitely louder than I'm used to. I'm not completely on board with all aspects and permutations of it.

For example--the writer alludes to it--one of the accused reached out to him as an "Asian writer" and asked him to write something from "Asian perspective." But what the heck does that have to do with the members' gross negligence of a friend's medical situation? What is the "Asian perspective" on that?

Or, the "Black Lives Matter" movement vis-a-vis say, Affirmative Action debate. "Stop treating me badly by seeing me as a black person,", says one mission...yet the other debate involves grouping people into racial categories and giving certain unequal benefits out of it.
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Swswswish wrote:
Aug 12th, 2017 11:35 pm
Being ABC or CBC, is a horrible existence. Not able to go back to their ethnic country because of poor language skills and lack of understanding of the culture, and will never be accepted into Western society because Asian are always perpetual foreigner. YTs don't care if you're Chinese Japanese Korean fob ABC CBC, we're all the same to them.

'ABC cannot retreat, they cannot fight back. They are stuck in purgatory'
Why can't you go back? Just do what white people who go there do: learn the language, find a job, and do your best to integrate when you get there. It's the same thing your family did here, so you could do it there if you really wanted to. I disagree with your 'none of us will ever be accepted here' doom and gloom statement though. With the exception of Europe and the poor parts of the US, it's far easier to be accepted in the west than it is to be accepted anywhere else.

I find the concept of the 'model minority' to be a good thing to aspire to, but it's hardly an indication of how we should act. Trying to 'find an identity' as described in this article just seems to be code for 'develop a stereotype you think you should live by'. That's foolish. It shows that the people who seek that 'identity' still see themselves as the 'other' inside while complaining about exactly that on the outside. We are no different from anyone else here, which means that all aspects of this society are open to us. The only thing that says we need to act one specific way is the law, just like in the countries all our families came from, and that means we can do anything we want within the law just like any other citizen here.
Could HAVE, not could OF. What does 'could of' even mean?
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Swswswish wrote:
Aug 12th, 2017 11:35 pm
Being ABC or CBC, is a horrible existence. Not able to go back to their ethnic country because of poor language skills and lack of understanding of the culture, and will never be accepted into Western society because Asian are always perpetual foreigner. YTs don't care if you're Chinese Japanese Korean fob ABC CBC, we're all the same to them.

'ABC cannot retreat, they cannot fight back. They are stuck in purgatory'
Er....I'm pretty sure its better than being Black. Even 10 yrs after earning STEM degrees from Ivy universities, my black friends are instantly viewed as thugs and need to change that perception from the first step.
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