Bao Phi

Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991. A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has appeared on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, and a poem of his appeared in the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. Read more about Bao Phi.

Posts about Politics


Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: December 20, 2011 - 8:31 AM

 My family and I were among the first wave of Vietnamese refugees to come to this country, and the State of Minnesota, in 1975.  Among the many stereotypes we endured from non-Asians was that we ate dogs and cats – there was an article printed in a local paper on how we were kidnapping pets and eating them.  I was in grade school when a young white classmate randomly decided to tell my entire class that she believed Asians ate dogs, and I remember she wrinkled her nose in disgust as all the other white and brown kids murmured.  I remember several of them looking at me and some of the other Asians in class.  Good thing she’s not talking about me, I thought naively.

Of course she was talking about me, though if she had asked me, she would learn that my family had a dog and cat that we loved as pets.  All of us kids cried for days when they died of old age many years later.  Of course she was talking about me, though I don’t have a doubt that if we were less fortunate in escaping Vietnam, and had to endure the starvation of the late 70’s, I am sure my family would have been lucky to eat a cat or dog if we could find one.  And that would have absolutely nothing to do with race or culture.


Years later, as a young adult, I see that the local restaurant Chino Latino plastered billboards all over town with signs that read “As Exotic as You Can Get Without Eating Dogs,” an “edgy” campaign that won national awards.  One man’s edgy is another man’s racism, I guess.   Professor Cathy Choy writes about seeing one of their billboards in her excellent essay, Salvaging the Savage: On Representing Filipinos and Remembering American Empire (Screaming Monkeys, Coffee House Press, 2003), and delves into the colonial roots of these racist beliefs.  At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Filipinos were on display as if they were specimens in a human zoo, and newspaper accounts highlighted their dogeating rituals in a sensationalist attempt to sell tickets, banking on American disgust at Filipino “savagery.” 

It’s been theorized that the name “hot dog”, for the popular wiener-in-a-bun that has become a staple at ballgames and picnics, actually came about because of the sensationalist depiction of Filipinos at the World’s Fair – and opportunistic food vendors there.   Digging deeper, I find out that Europeans such as the Germans and the French have also eaten dogs as a part of their history and culture – and yet no one goes around accusing the French and Germans of eating Fido. 


I was disappointed, but honestly not surprised, when WCCO ran an investigative report by James Schugel about a New York City market owned by Asians sold Minnesota-bred dogs as meat.  A call was made, and allegedly, the first question that was asked to the market worker was whether or not he spoke English well.  His answer was, “no.”


Now, as others have pointed out, a responsible journalist would have, at that point, asked the person to spell things out.  Instead, the journalist asked if they sold dog meat for people to eat.  The person, who thought he said “duck”, said yes.


Relying on a simple exchange with one worker who’s grasp of English was shaky at best, WCCO ran the story.  It has since been pulled, but questions remain about how a story like this would make it on air without fact-checking, among other things.  The market in New York was raided, but of course, they found no dog meat, just duck.


Community groups such as Community Action Against Racism and Asian American Journalists Association have asked for an apology and an explanation.  While WCCO did meet with AAJA, that meeting is confidential - WCCO has not responded to community inquiries.  This is especially curious, as the story they decided to ran was loaded with racial stereotypes, ended up being completely false, and was damaging to people's livelihoods.  Sure, everyone makes mistakes – but usually the decent thing is, you apologize and explain yourself, especially if your recklessness has caused undue harm to another person – and I hope I’m not alone in thinking this, but especially if you let racist sensationalism over-ride process and professionalism, not to mention common sense, and hurt a business and an entire group of people with your actions.


What few people are talking about, is the effect of this article on the Asians who work and own the market in New York.  Even though they obviously did not find dog meat, few seem to understand or empathize with the humiliation and shame that happens when a raid happens, what effect that can have on your psyche and your livelihood.


“This is just one example of how stereotypes of whole communities of color are perpetuated by the media,” remarks Margie Andreason, community activist and member of CAAR.  “It’s a privilege for white folks to not have to think about the impact  stories like these influence perceptions of neighbors, colleagues, teachers, and policymakers. All mainstream media cares about is a sensational story, even if it is based on a bias from the start and then leads to being untrue.”


Community members still seek an apology and explanation from WCCO.  Read more about it here:


Thanks to Juliana Hu Pegues, Margie Andreason, and Boa Lee for contributing to this essay

The race card and stacked decks

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: September 22, 2011 - 12:18 AM

 A few hours after they accuse you of playing the race card for merely mentioning the word race, the powers that be execute a Black man, Troy Davis, though there seems to be ample room for doubt that he was the one who committed the crime.  Nevermind, for the time being, your opinions on the death penalty and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Instead, if they want to talk about facts, let’s examine some facts:


In 1982, two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, murdered Vincent Chin with a baseball bat in a racially motivated hate crime.  They blamed “japs” like Vincent Chin for the declining American auto industry, though Chin was Chinese American and had nothing to do with the auto industry.  This act was witnessed by two off-duty police officers.  Ebens and Nitz, to this day, have not spent a single night in jail for Vincent Chin’s murder.


In 2006, Officer Jason Andersen, an officer with a troubled record, shot and killed Hmong teenager Fong Lee.  Officer Andersen claims Lee had a gun.  There has been inconsistencies regarding the case, including lack of forensic evidence linking Lee to a gun reported on the scene, video footage analyzed by a video expert stating Lee did not have a gun.  Officer Andersen was acquitted of use of excessive force.


In 2009, Oscar Grant was executed point blank by Officer Johannes Mehserle, while he was prostrate.  He was unarmed.  The murder of Oscar Grant was witnessed by dozens and caught on cell phone cameras.  Officer Mehserle was sentenced to two years minus time served.


A few hours ago, Troy Davis was executed for allegedly murdering an off-duty police officer.  7 of 9 key witnesses against him disputed or recanted all or parts of their testimony.  Some asserted that they had been coerced by police. The murder weapon was never recovered.


My people, we know that they accuse us of playing the race card because they always stack the deck in their favor.

If you look at this logic, it’s clear who is really playing the race card.  Our unfortunate history, and our struggle, tell us this.


But this is not about them.  They get to voice their opinion all the time. Their comfortable hate already takes up too much room.  They are the only ones responsible for their hearts, their souls.  Let this space not be about them, but something else.  Dare I say – let this small space, and any small space that you may have, dear friend, be a space for us.  Take a breath.

Like you, I don’t quite know what to do, or feel.  It’s a sad night, in a history thick with sad nights.  Forgive me, all I have is this, my thoughts and my writing.  And this little space.  But it’s yours.  

The Spin on Your World

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: September 20, 2011 - 11:43 AM


I was 17 when I got hit by a car.  I don’t recall seeing my life flash in front of my eyes.  I did see the world spin.

I had borrowed my older brother’s mountain bike to go riding with a friend of mine by the Mississippi, and then dropped by Cedarfest to hang out with friends and see some of them play in bands.  I was riding the bike home when the car came out of nowhere on Franklin and hit me.  I was about 4 blocks from my house.


I seem to remember grunting in surprise, and the world tumbling, lopsided and fast, in every which way.  Then a thump as I landed in the street.  Then the squeal of tires, and a crunch, which I would later realize was the sound of the car running over my brother’s mountain bike as the driver took off.


On the asphalt, I remember being dazed and feeling strangely fine – wondering what just happened.  There was some bewildered curse words in there too, which I won’t print in this family friendly paper.  A Native American woman was the first to find me, reassuring me that someone had called an ambulance, that I was young and handsome and that I’d be fine.  What a strange thing to say, I thought to myself.


On the ambulance ride, I was sad that my brother’s bike was ruined by the driver.  Then the adrenaline wore off and the pain set in.  And there was my father cursing me on the hospital bed for being careless and my uncle urging him to take it easy, my militant sister wondering if I was hit on purpose and if it was racially motivated. 

All in all, not a fun experience. 


Let’s not make a big deal out of it, but the difference in a couple of seconds, a couple of feet one way or another, and that could have been the end of it all for me.

For being struck by a car in a hit and run I was relatively lucky.  Small fracture in my collarbone, muscles bruised to the bone, some scars that are still faint on me to this day.  But no serious permanent injury, and I had health coverage through my dad’s work – and I was introduced to the dubious modern miracle called doctor prescribed pain medication.  To top it off, my brother was pretty cool about his mountain bike getting run over.


The driver was never caught, though I doubt anyone looked too hard for him or her.


I remember being pretty angry at whoever hit me, then took off.  I remember feeling guilty that I made my mom cry and my parents take off from work to see me. 


Now that I’m older, I drive carefully, because over the years I’ve also thought to myself how terrible it would be to hit someone with a car.  What a terrible thing to live with – that you are responsible for tons of metal and rubber, this symbol of modern times and years upon years of science and engineering and progress, propelling it towards something as fragile as another living being.  That something many of us take for granted everyday could mean grievous harm, and even death, to another.


A friend of mine sent me the article about the tragic death of Anousone "Ped" Phanthavong, in a hit and run.  Days later, it was revealed that the True Thai cook was killed by someone driving a vehicle owned by former Minnesota Viking, restaurant mogul, and sports broadcaster Joe Senser.


Recently Anna Prasomphol Fieser, co-owner of True Thai, recently wrote an impassioned and frustrated blog posting about the case, which you’ll find here:


(thanks to Leslie Ball for originally posting this a while back)


I’m glad that the Star Tribune did the right thing and eventually published Anna’s blog.   I don’t have much to add – I think Mrs. Fieser’s blog entry is an important alternative perspective and has a lot of insight.


As a community member, I’ll be watching this case with great interest.  Here, in this specific blog entry, I am not going to write about any theories or inconsistencies. Nor debate the legal aspects, of which I am not knowledgeable enough to contribute to a reasonable discussion.   What I am very interested in, is how this case plays out.   

Race and class may have nothing to do with the unfortunate tragedy of a man, successfully turning his life around, only to be killed in a tragic accident close to the place where he worked, the killer for whatever reason speeding off into the night dragging his body to paint an exclamation point in red on the asphalt.   Race and class probably have nothing to do with the tragedy itself.


We have yet to see if race and class have anything to do with public perception, media coverage, and how this case plays out in the judicial system.  Unfortunately, not every case gets the same treatment.  All these things are impacted by race, class, gender, in ways obvious to some and not-so-obvious to others.  Those who know, know.  You don’t need me to explain a thing.  We can hope for better, but not expect it.


Above all else, I hope the family members of the late “Ped” Phanthavong can find some peace, and some justice, if that is possible, in however and whatever shape it takes for them.


I Got My...

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: May 19, 2011 - 10:26 AM

 I was going to write something for Asian Heritage month, then I got this link to the new video from the dynamic team up of Magnetic North, Taiyo Na, and Jin - and all I have to do is post this. 

Derek aka Direct from Magnetic North worked on this for 2 and 1/2 years, a labor of love low on budget but big on community and love.  Pretty amazing.  It's like an Asian American family reunion of artists, activists, writers, bloggers, dancers, martial artsts, cooks, comedians, ice cream makers, designers... I aim to watch this once and a while, and every time I watch it, I'll make it Asian Heritage month whether it's May or not.

There are so many inspiring (and fun) people in here that it'd be a disservice to try and name them all.  But I have to give a special nudge to Yuri Kochiyama, who has worked for so long for social justice and inspired so many of us.

Thank you Direct, T-Vu, Taiyo and Jin.

Celebrating Courage

Posted by: Bao Phi Updated: March 17, 2011 - 12:50 PM




There is a lot to read, and worry about, in local and world news.

Today I want to celebrate courage.  Real courage.  The story of the Fukushima 50 humbles me.  Here is one link to their story.  I wish them the best.  I wish them luck.  I cannot imagine what it is like to be in their situation.


I also want to give props to Rep. Mike Honda, who recently made a bold stand and statement against the hearings against Islam led by Peter King, drawing parallels to what happened during to Japanese Americans during World War 2.  It would have been easier to just "go with the flow" or stay silent, especially as a politician.  It is brave to make a stand, especially one that can make you unpopular with the status quo.  Thank you for inspiring us, Mr. Honda.


(Thanks also to Angry Asian Man for posting this, keep up the great work brother!)


Last but certainly not least, a student by the name of Alexandra Wallace recently put up a Youtube of herself delivering a racist, ignorant screed against Asians and Asian Americans.  Sadly, some of the responses, though perhaps justified in their anger, can be seen as counter-productive, sexist, and ignorant.  However, my buddy and all-around awesome performance artist Beau Sia responded with his own video, a persona poem that digs deeper into the root problems.  Bravo Beau!





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