Time for a bit of an apology. I’m sorry if you feel that the Angry Asian Buddhist unfairly criticized the Next-Gen Buddhism piece for being white-centric. There was lots of interesting stuff in that article, and I didn’t talk about any of it. Over on Shambhala Sun Space, Barry Boyce very kindly links to my post and explains:
If I had phrased the whole thing in a subtler–yet somewhat blunter–way, I might have asked, “Is White America’s love affair with Buddhism a fad that will die with the Baby Boomer generation?”
Until I read that line, I hadn’t properly understood where the piece was coming from. I thought the article was about young Buddhist Americans, questioning if present institutions are enough to engage them and if these institutions are sustainable. These are the questions that I deal with in the Asian American Buddhist community, and I felt that we had something worthwhile to say. So let me tell you where I was coming from.
Every time I open Tricycle, Shambhala Sun or Buddhadharma, the first thing I do is flip to the table of contents and skim through the names to see which articles are written by Asian Americans. Ironically, when I got a comment with a link to Making the Invisible Visible, the first thing I did was skim through to the articles written by Asian Americans, and soon came to Mushim Ikeda-Nash’s Taking the Path Together:
In 1992 I was visiting a Buddhist friend, and saw a copy of Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry sitting on the table. Intrigued, I picked it up and scanned the table of contents to see which American poets had been selected for inclusion in the anthology’s 358 pages. I remember dropping the book as though it had burnt me. It was an instinctive response, something I didn’t even think about or try to explain to myself at the time. After that I just purposefully forgot the book even existed.
It wasn’t until three years later that I understood why I had been so shocked. In the afterword of Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, editor Walter K. Lew writes that “the 45 American poets [in Beneath a Single Moon]… are all Caucasian, and the book only mentions Asians as distal teachers, not as fellow members or poets of the sangha…. When one considers the relative obscurity of some of the poets included in the book, one wonders how it was possible not to have known of the Buddhistic poetry of such writers as [Lawson Fusao] Inada, Al Robles, Garrett Kaoru Hongo, Alan Chong Lau, Patricia Ikeda, and Russell Leong.”
My heart jumped. That was me! I’m not alone! Furthermore, to set this in context, Lew’s comments also sparked an online s___ storm (to quote Rod Sperry) over ten years ago, so I’m not sure if we can say the Buddhist community is any more harmonious today.
Now I know that I don’t speak for the entire Asian American community. But I’ll tell you what I do know. I’m tired of Buddhist academics who can’t say “Asian” without saying “immigrant.” (My family has been here since the nineteenth century!) I’m tired of white people who denigrate my culture by calling it backward and ritualistic — or alternatively exoticizing it by talking about how “peaceful” and “Buddhist” we are. I’m tired of Asian American voices being underrepresented in Buddhist publications — we have plenty to contribute to the Buddhist community that has nothing to do with being Asian American.
So I was disappointed to see that “Next-Gen Buddhism” had no Asians on the panel and didn’t talk at all about the Asian American Buddhist community. To me it meant that our future was not intertwined with the future of white American Buddhism. And all those emotions came out. Sigh.
Keep in mind most of this week’s discussion isn’t about Buddhism per se. It’s about race issues that happen to occur in Buddhist communities. Barry Boyce helpfully suggested a future panel discussion on young Asian Americans, but we really don’t need to be Chinatowned. Instead of segregating the Buddhist youth discussion, it’d be better to feature a forum with a mix of young Buddhists, say a fourth-generation Asian American, a second- or (1.5-) generation Asian American, a hapa and a non-Asian Dharma brat.
Of course I’ll still be waiting for the day when you have that same panel talk about something that has absolutely nothing to do with culture or race in the Buddhist community.