It took me a while to get my hands on the latest issue of Tricycle because they hadn’t restocked it at the Borders across the street. I ended up grabbing a copy at Barnes & Noble downtown. I have plenty of things to say about the issue, such as the Big Sit (I have much good to say) or “Why Buddhism Needs the West” (or: David Loy summons the Angry Asian Buddhist). But I thought of something that would be a little bit more fun. I bring you the Asian Meter.
In a previous post I tallied Asian demographics in Tricycle. I was disappointed with the relatively low rate of 15.9% Asian writers, but I got to wondering about how Tricycle compares with Shambhala Sun and its little sister Buddhadharma. I don’t know much about the internal workings of these organizations (and hopefully I never will). But I wonder if there’s any competitive spirit between them, and so I thought I’d compare to see who’s doing the best at representing the Asian folk. For this year’s issues of Shambhala Sun and Tricycle so far, both have featured a measly three Asian writers each. For Tricycle, that’s Ven. Master Sheng Yen and Revs. Taitetsu and Mark Unno. (I’m quite happy to see them there, by the way.) For Shambhala Sun, we’ve got Tulku Thondup, Sakyong Mipham and Pico Iyer. But since Tricycle has more authors (40 versus 27 for Shambhala Sun), the award of “most Asian mainstream Buddhist review” goes to Shambhala Sun, with a (not so) whopping 11 percent. (Tricycle is at 8 percent.)
Congratulations Shambhala Sun!
Why the Asian meter? I admittedly have the chutzpah to imagine that the few people who read this blog might just spread the information, and perhaps over time there will be enough buzz over how ridiculously unrepresentative these magazines are with regard to the community that they might actually try to change their groove.
Today I thought back to when I first moved to rural Illinois before high school. I was stunned by the difference between San Francisco (more than 33% Asian American metropolis) and this small town (population of 8,000 with no sidewalks, street lights or fire hydrants). But I remember one of the more jarring shocks was noticing that all janitorial duties were done by white people. Up until then, I could only remember seeing non-whites doing that sort of work. Discussing this with my father, I was aghast to realize that I’d unknowingly imbibed a discriminatory racial judgment simply by growing up in a city without white janitors. It was the sentiment of “that sort of work isn’t for white people.”
The issue I have with Tricycle and Shambhala Sun is related to the situation of encountering white janitors for the first time. The relative absence of Asian Americans from its pages suggests “that sort of work isn’t for Asian Americans.” We are the silent majority. Whether this negative message is intended or not, it’s the message being sent. These magazines can change their message, but they will have to reach out. They will have to try to change, and to do that, they will have to want to change.
Until then, keep your eye on the Asian Meter.