Monthly Archives: February 2010

Vancouver Olympic Inclusiveness, Except for Asians

Many of you probably watched the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Much has been made of the ethnic and cultural inclusiveness of these Olympics, particularly as the first Olympics to include indigenous groups, as a reflection of Canada’s long and rich history of cultural diversity.

The Olympic Torch at the Opening Ceremonies © Richard Heathcote

But has everyone been included appropriately? As reported by the Associated Press, the Asian Canadian community in Vancouver feels particularly left out, especially considering that they make up 30% of Vancouver’s population:

The Olympic opening ceremony celebrated Canada’s aboriginals and French speakers, but gave little hint of Vancouver’s huge, dynamic Asian population. Dismayed civic leaders are pleading for a different story at the closing show.

“It was a slap in the face,” Indo-Canadian activist Sukhi Sandhu said Thursday, referring to the opening show’s cultural segment. . . . Sandhu and his allies have called on the Vancouver Organizing Committee to ensure that the closing ceremony convey more of the character of greater Vancouver, where Chinese and South Asians comprise 30 percent of the area’s 2 million people. . . .

VANOC’s CEO, John Furlong, addressed the complaints this week, saying it was a “complex challenge” to portray Canada’s ethnic mosaic. He indicated it was too late to modify the closing ceremony, but suggested that by the end of the show there would be no doubt “who we are and who is here.” . . .

[T]hree French-Canadians were among the final 13 people given prestigious roles in the final stages of the ceremony, either helping carry the Olympic flag or assisting in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Sandhu and other critics were outraged that none of the 13 was what Canada classifies as “visible minorities” — Asians, blacks and other nonwhites.

“Why not Donovan Bailey? Why not Daniel Igali?” asked Sandhu, referring to the Jamaican-born Canadian sprinter who once held the world 100-meter record and the Nigerian-born wrestler who won an Olympic gold medal for Canada in 2000.

Alden Habacon, founder of an online magazine called Schema that covers multicultural trends, said he took note during the opening telecast when the Olympic flag emerged “carried by an all-white cast of Canadian heroes.”

“Don’t get me wrong — I love all of them,” he wrote. “The point is, if you were watching the opening ceremonies on television, you wouldn’t even know that it took place in the most Asian city in North America. Have any of the producers been to a high school in Vancouver?”

To give credit where credit is due, I was impressed by the amount and ways in which Canada’s indigenous groups were included in the opening ceremonies. I found their performances to be very majestic and inspiring, although I have to admit that I was a little uneasy that perhaps they were being put “on display” like some kind of museum artifact. Also, I appreciate that it can be difficult to ensure that all racial/ethnic/cultural groups are included appropriate, especially in such an ethnically diverse country as Canada.

Having said that, unfortunately, this apparent oversight on the part of Vancouver’s and Canada’s Olympic organizers seems to be another example of Asians — whether they’re in the U.S., Canada, or any other White-majority country — being treated as invisible minorities, in ironic contrast to their status as “visible minorities.”

Asian Americans certainly know this feeling of exclusion or ridicule too well and it is sad to see that in a country like Canada that, in many cases, prides itself on being more racially/ethnically tolerant than the U.S., these dynamics of marginalization toward our Asian Canadian counterparts apparently operate in much the same way.

Connecting Toyota and Asian Americans

As I’m sure almost everybody has heard about, these past few months have not been good for Toyota. Due to a variety of quality control issues, accident reports, and several fatalities involving many of their models, Toyota has recalled over 8.5 million vehicles worldwide, one of the largest mass automotive recall in history. With each passing day, new media scrutiny, and every piece of bad publicity, Toyota’s reputation continues to plummet.

In looking at the larger sociological context of Toyota’s struggles, there are a couple of questions that come up. First, as many observers have wondered, to what extent are Toyota’s problems due to them basically becoming too arrogant and viewing themselves and their products as invincible? That is, Toyota (along with several other Asian automakers) have weathered the current recession and in fact, the past several years, much better than U.S. automakers such as General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford, mainly by producing many high-quality, fuel-efficient cars. But did Toyota’s success make them complacent? As one example of this criticism, AutoBlog reports:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has absolutely blasted the Japanese giant, calling it “a little safety deaf” and noting he was upset that NHTSA officials had to fly to Japan “to remind Toyota management about its legal obligations.” That’s just the tip of the spear stuff, too. Check out the shaft:

Since questions were first raised about possible safety defects, we have been pushing Toyota to take measures to protect consumers. While Toyota is taking responsible action now, it unfortunately took an enormous effort to get to this point. We’re not finished with Toyota and are continuing to review possible defects and monitor the implementation of the recalls.

In fact, as MSNBC reports, Toyota’s apparent initial lack of urgency to respond to the growing criticisms may be characteristic of many large Japanese who have also risen to the top of their industries, only to find that when you’re on top, there’s only one way to go — down:

Toyota is the latest Japanese corporate icon making headlines for all the wrong reasons. News of the automaker’s massive vehicle recalls over faulty gas pedals in the U.S. came just days after Japan Airlines, a once proud flag carrier, filed for bankruptcy, saddled with billions in debt.

Sony has lost its lead in consumer gadgets to the likes of Apple Inc. and has suffered its own quality mishaps. Honda, Japan’s No. 2 automaker, is recalling 646,000 cars worldwide because of a faulty window switch. . . . Taken together, Japan Inc.’s stellar reputation for quality has taken a hit — just as China is about to overtake it as the world’s No. 2 economy and rising South Korean companies compete ever more aggressively.

What went wrong with the economic giant that arose from the ashes of World War II? The problems that confront Toyota, Sony and JAL differ, but experts say their struggles have some common themes: the perils of global expansion, a tendency to embrace the status quo, and smugness bred from success or a too-big-to-fail mentality.

“Arrogance and some complacency came into play, driven by the idea that their ranking as No. 1 producer of quality goods wasn’t at risk,” said Kirby Daley [chief strategist at Newedge Group]. . . . The global economic crisis helped to expose weaknesses, he said. “There was nowhere to hide.”

Clearly, Toyota has a lot of work to do in order to regain customers’ trust and to rebuild their image for making safe and reliable cars. But beyond that, does Toyota’s recent problems affect Asian Americans?

In my classes, I often use Toyota as an analogy and metaphor for the Asian American community as a whole — both have been in the U.S. for a while but early on, were looked upon with curiosity, derision, and even hostility. Toyota and Asian Americans as a whole were seen as strange foreigners who probably had no future in the U.S. and pesky nuisances to “traditional” Americans.

Nonetheless, both were persistent and determined and after years of mostly quiet hard work, were able to eventually establish themselves as mainstream Americans and in many ways, outperform their “traditional” American counterparts. Nowadays, both Toyota and Asian Americans are poised to make unique contributions to American society and its economy as globalization continues to evolve in the 21st century.

But now that Toyota is in a major consumer and public relations crisis, do its struggles reflect negatively on Asian Americans? With racial/ethnic tensions heightened during the recession, will some Americans use these recent events to launch or intensify some kind of anti-Toyota, anti-Japan, anti-Asian, or anti-foreigner backlash movement?

Inevitably, I suppose there will be some Americans with that kind of mentality and motivation. It’s also likely that Toyota’s sales will take a while to rebound, both as a result of this particular crisis and because of the recession in general. But ultimately, and perhaps in contrast to some of my past pessimistic posts about racial/ethnic relations in the near future, I predict that Toyota will recover and become even stronger, just like the recent history and successes of Asian Americans as a community.

I believe this because Toyota has decades of experience and history behind them — they are not new to this industry, and they have weathered recessions before. Let us remember that Toyota is not the only automaker that has experienced mass recalls or bad publicity before. For example, just in the last decade, Ford has recalled over 14.5 million vehicles for various defects and for those who remember, back in the 1980s, Audi’s U.S. sales and overall corporate image virtually collapsed over high-profile allegations of unintended acceleration involving their 5000 model.

To put Toyota’s situation into further perspective, Toyota is firmly established in the U.S. as an American company — it currently employs around 150,000 American workers in their factories, offices, and dealerships. If Toyota were to fail, so would many American workers, families, and communities. Finally, part of Toyota’s culture is built around a collective mindset that focuses on long-term progress and shared participation that has resulted in sustained growth and prosperity through the years.

In other words, Toyota — like Asian Americans as a whole — has accomplished too much to give up now. As a metaphor for Asian Americans, I expect Toyota to learn from their mistakes, overcome the difficulties they face, be patient and aggressive in pushing forward, and continue their long record of success. They still have much to contribute to American society and we as Americans still have much to gain from them in many ways.