One of the perks of my new place is that I live across the street from Border’s. My cold still has not gone away, so after zipping through Trader Joe’s (also across the street), I made a quick swing by Borders, where I noticed that the new issue of Shambhala Sun is out. The Tenth Annual All Buddhist Teachings Issue. (Wow!)
With my newly-bought Shambhala Sun in hand, I zoomed straight to my kitchen, turned on the stove, cooked up some rice porridge (I was inspired by a friend who assured me that shoveling in onions and pepper would smack that cold over to the next life), and then sat down and started counting the Asians.
My reasons for scouting out the Asian American have been stated, but it’s worth stating again. At a personal level, I like to see readers like myself. Asian + American. (Not just Asian.) At a higher level, I believe the mainstream Buddhist publications need to do a better job at reaching out the greater Buddhist community in North America. On one hand, these publications are (unintentionally) excluding Asian Americans from the Buddhist writer country club. On the other hand, they are sending the signal that there is no Asian American writing worth printing — except, of course, if you happen to be a “real Asian teacher.”
My criticisms have generated a lot of response before, and my favorite comments are the ones that blame the Asians. It’s the fault of Asian Americans because they aren’t submitting their work. Or maybe it’s just the case that there actually isn’t any Asian American writing worthy of a magazine as prestigious as Tricycle or Shambhala Sun. These are valid retorts, but their assumption is that there’s something wrong with Asians, not with the institutions.
A football analogy may help put the issue into perspective. About 70 percent of players in the NFL are black. But in 2002, only 6 percent of head coaches were black. Maybe it was the case that black Americans weren’t applying for the top jobs. Or maybe it was the case that there actually weren’t any black Americans worthy of serving as head coaches for an institution as prestigious as the National Football League. Well, in 2003 a watered-down affirmative action program known as the Rooney Rule was instituted. In short, the rule is that for any head coach position, you have to interview at least one minority candidate. By 2006, the number of black coaches in the NFL had more than tripled.
The problem isn’t the player, the problem is the system. Now I’m not saying that these magazines suck. I’ve genuinely enjoyed reading through the most current issue of Shambhala Sun. I didn’t just buy it to make a point on a blog. I enjoyed Noah Levine’s piece on social action and Karen Miller’s piece on family. But I still can’t get over the point that I’ve been hammering on about for the past few weeks.
Where are the Asians?
If you counted the way that I did, you probably found two. Maybe three. You have the obligatorily distal Asian teachers. There’s Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Tulku Thondup Rinpoche who both offer substantial pieces on Buddhism and how to deepen our practice. But they aren’t Asian Americans. Then there’s Pico Iyer (is he really Buddhist?) — he’s included in a selection of personal stories from issues past.
So I’m still disappointed with the system. I haven’t expected the system to change at all since my first Angry Asian Buddhist rant, and I don’t expect it to change any time soon. But this is an important issue, so it’s worth blogging on about. I hope it gets annoying, and I hope other people will also blog about this issue with me because maybe one day some Buddhist editors in the Old Country (or as the locals call it: the “East Coast”) may decide they want their list of contributors to look less like the white country clubs of the last century and more like change better reflect the Buddhist community.