Power Rangers Brings Asian American Poverty Front and Center

By the time the Power Rangers craze first swept through in the early ’90s, I was just starting college, paying $290 a month in rent for a studio apartment in the Whittier neighborhood of South Minneapolis with a bed that pulled down from a wall, going to see Hong Kong flicks like Swordsman II and The Bride with White Hair Fridays at midnight, organized by Asia Media Access. I was still into nerd shit, but honestly the Power Rangers seemed, to me, corny and commercial. I thought it was funny that the Black Ranger was Black, the Yellow was a Vietnamese woman, and the Pink Ranger was a white woman.

My love of all things nerd grew in Phillips: Minnesota’s largest, poorest, and most racially diverse neighborhood, not all that far from my college apartment. As refugees from war with not a lot of money to spare, I learned to walk to the Franklin Avenue library where reading and checking out books was free. Comic books were less than a dollar, and watching television shows like Robotech and Dungeons and Dragons just meant having the discipline to wake up in time. I had friends of all colors and genders and backgrounds, and bullies of all colors and backgrounds. Things were difficult for us since my family were among that first wave of refugees that became the first large visible concentration of Asian American people in Minnesota. But there was also joy, and love, and friendship to go along with all the pain and conflict.

Flash forward to 2017.

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KidLit: Recommended Reading on Justice and Understanding

Originally posted at The Writer’s Block

At a time of great unease and injustice, those of us who are parents of children have a challenge ahead of us. Most of our kids will be exposed to the happenings of the world, and well they should. At the same time, what books can we read to them that will help them understand, and provide tools they will need to survive, thrive, and engage? We reached out to several Minnesota writers with children to compile this list of suggestions. This is by no means definitive, nor complete.

This list was compiled by Kurtis Scaletta, Shannon Gibney, Lana Barkawi, Kathryn Savage, Molly Beth Griffin, Sarah Park Dahlen, Bao Phi, and Lorena Duarte Armstrong.

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Now or Later: We’ll Need to Deal with That Death on The Walking Dead

This essay contains spoilers for both the television series and the comic book.

I don’t have cable. So I usually have to wait until the day after to watch The Walking Dead. As luck would have it, I’m in a cheap hotel with complementary AMC with my daughter when the episode “Thank You” airs. Six years old, my daughter is in the bath and complains about the sound from my television show — the two things that she fears the most, while awake and in her nightmares, are racists and zombies. Our compromise is that I turn the sound down and the captions on. And then I watch one of my favorite characters in pop culture get deluged in zombie claws, teeth, blood and guts.

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A Ghost Among Zombies: The Curious Omission of Glenn of The Walking Dead

Years ago, before the TV show existed, a fellow Asian American comic nerd suggested I check out this series called The Walking Dead. I read through the first trade paperbacks and have kept reading, (admittedly begrudgingly the last couple of years) ever since. I was impressed that there was an Asian American male character, Glenn Rhee, a pizza delivery driver and weed dealer who seemed like a good hearted, normal kid.

When the show rolled around, I wasn’t feeling it at first, but I did like the actor they selected for Glenn, Steve Yeun. Of course, anyone paying attention to the show knows by now that Glenn is a fan favorite regardless of race and that the actor, Steve Yeun, is considered a hottie. Those of us Asian Americans on pop culture watch, of course, also appreciate the added layers: Asian American men are seldom portrayed as likeable, desirable guys in Western pop culture.

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Here I Am: Celebrating Diverse Experiences in Children’s Books

Originally posted on The Loft’s Writers’ Block

One of the most serious jobs I have as a father is to get my daughter hooked on books. When I was a little boy, my father taught me how to walk to the Franklin Avenue library and back to our house, which cut down on my begging for toys and the Atari 2600 while keeping me out of gangs and other trouble in our neighborhood. It was in books that I learned that other worlds existed, and indulged (perhaps too much) in fantasizing I was someone else, somewhere else. In my dreams, I often imagined myself as white because all the characters in the books, the myths, the comic books I liked so much were almost always white. They were so unlike myself and my family: poor, alien, shouted at in the streets as Americans of all colors blamed us for the sorrow and hurt of the Vietnam War. So in my dreams I made myself white, too. Handsome, brave, heroic, perfect. Call it a nerd refugee survival mechanism.

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An Open Letter to The New York Times’ Critic Manohla Dargis about Big Hero 6

It’s too bad that in making its first movie based on a Marvel comic Disney didn’t decide to take a real leap into the future, say, by making Hiro a girl…

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Dear Ms. Dargis,

I was born in Vietnam shortly before the tanks rolled into Saigon and my family was forced to flee. Raised in South Minneapolis’ largest, poorest, and most racially diverse neighborhood, my father taught me to walk to the library and got me hooked on free books. Later, I would learn to run there, mostly to avoid the myriad groups of bullies wanting to beat me for whatever reason they could conjure that day, and I would read books and comics to take me far away from who I was and where I was. It is safe to say that the majority of my boyhood was spent imagining that I was anything but who I was.

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Have Anarchy and Eat it Too — The Purge: Anarchy Doesn’t Quite Make It

Many of us nerds were bullied as kids, and subsequently we dreamed not of a world without violence, but some sort of payback. Slicing up our tormentors with lightsabers or adamantium claws. Slow motion punching the jock bully in the jaw, hopefully while beautiful women were watching. As we grew older, some of us questioned this desire for retribution, our conditioned response (particularly in straight males) to strike back. But what do we do with these contradictory feelings, our questioning of violence as power against our catharsis when we see the bad guy get his comeuppance?

The Japanese cult classic film Battle Royale looms large in the minds of pop culture nerds ambivalent over our negative reaction to violence and our desire to see stylized versions of it. Battle Royale is almost meta in its questioning of this contradiction: a future Japan is made safe by telecasting, once a year, a brutal contest wherein a random class of young people is set in a trapped zone with weapons, and only one person is allowed to leave alive.

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Why Did I Watch the New Transformers Movie?

I’m out of town, and there’s a movie theater a block from my hotel. As a father, I don’t get to the moviehouse often unless it’s a kid’s movie.  So over the weekend, I figured I’d treat myself to a movie. What’s the worst that can happen? The answer to that question: the theater is only showing Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Even seeing Optimus Prime in his G1 truck mode can’t make up for the three hours this movie steals from your life.

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Ready for the World: The Magic of Princess Mononoke & Spirited Away

Around 1987 or ’88, I was in junior high and in a funny stasis where my nerd creativity was beginning to grow out of my bookishness (I routinely wrote awful Dungeons and Dragons-type short stories) but before I collided head first into confronting issues like race, violence, and poverty that was all around my world and in my school (I had no idea that my misplacements in advanced math and ESL had to do with my race). Add this to adolescent hormones and — well, to keep it short, it was rough on many different levels.

For whatever reason, one of our shop class teachers wheeled a TV and VCR into class one day and decided to show us a movie called Warriors of the Wind. Some of my friends were absolutely crazy about it. I thought it was cool, but honestly, I didn’t get it.

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