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As he usually does on his commute to work, Jordan tuned in to 93Q Country radio station on April 12. At about 6:45 a.m. Jordan heard the three KKBQ morning hosts discussing the spy plane incident and how the release of the 24 U.S. Navy crew members came down to just two words: very sorry.
Apparently, one co-host said, the Chinese did not understand the meaning of "very sorry" and instead preferred "velly solly."
Minutes later, the station aired a mock commercial about a nursing school called "Zoo Vet School" where one could get a nursing degree in just three days. The fake ad featured the thickly accented voice of a native of India who supposedly ran the school.
"Well, he won't be going the wrong way anymore," a co-host allegedly cracked. "It was like they were picking on Asians that morning," says Jordan, who asked that his last name not be printed.
Ironically, shortly after 7 a.m., 93Q Country broke for news, airing a segment on City Councilmember Gordon Quan's concern over Asian bashing in light of the spy plane situation.
In the wake of the international tension between the United States and China, a group of Asian-Americans in Houston formed a coalition against ethnic bashing. They worried that a backlash of anti-Asian sentiments, egged on by local radio stations, could lead to discrimination and violence.
In early April, Rock 101 KLOL aired a skit about banning Chinese buffets. A traffic reporter on The Mix 96.5 suggested the same thing. And on KPRC-AM, talk show host Chris Baker read panda recipes. According to one listener, he ranted about kicking the Chinese out of universities, research facilities and even Enron Field. The three stations are owned by Clear Channel Communications.
"I'm not of Chinese descent, but I am of Asian descent," Jordan wrote to Cruise in an e-mail. "Some people think we all look alike. Therefore regardless of whether or not I'm Chinese I could still be subjected to anti-Chinese bashing because 'we all look alike.' "
Cruise apologized to Jordan and told the Houston Presshe spoke to the morning show hosts about the insensitive fake accents. "We certainly weren't trying to offend anyone," he said. Listeners felt genuinely angry about the hostage situation, he added.
"I think everyone was afraid of seeing a photo of another serviceman dragged through the streets."
While Cruise has been quick to offer apologies, other offending stations have dismissed complaining listeners as humorless sissies.
Corbin Russell, a 26-year-old Caucasian who often listens to Rock 101, says its show featuring Grego and Pruett crossed the line on April 4 when it advocated a boycott of Chinese buffets until the U.S. air crew was returned. The next morning, the jokesters told listeners they were broadcasting from a mobile unit outside the Chinese embassy on Montrose, chanting, "Down with the dim sum!"
Russell, who pointed out that Americans -- not communist Chinese -- own the buffets, dashed off an e-mail to the show, reminding them about the Japanese-American internment camps of WWII.
"I said, 'What you're doing is tantamount to cross burning. These people are Americans, and you're basically crapping on the blood, sweat and tears of Americans of all origins who make America the place it is.' "
Grego (he refused to give his full name) defended the show, saying it is not news but entertainment. "If people can't see the joke -- that it's ridiculous for a boycott of food to result in the release of hostages -- then they need humor school," he said, chuckling.
Jana Stone, then a traffic reporter for The Mix, made a similar remark on April 9, says listener Bruce Kao. When DJ Paul Christy reminded her that Americans run Chinese restaurants, she reportedly told him not in her neighborhood.
Kao says he heard that exchange while on his way to the first meeting of the Coalition Against Asian American Bashing. It was started by Rogene Gee Calvert, who heads the Houston chapter of the Organization for Chinese Americans and the Houston 80-20, a political action committee.
"They say, 'Lighten up, we bash everyone,' " Calvert says. "But since the American [missionary] plane was attacked over Peru, have we heard humor about sending Peruvians back to Peru and boycotting South American restaurants? It doesn't follow."
Calvert says that such jokes are not funny on the receiving end, especially in light of a poll just released by the Council of 100, a national Chinese-American group. The survey found that 150 years after Chinese immigrants first came to California, one in four Americans holds "very negative attitudes" toward Americans of that ancestry, and a third question their loyalty to the United States.
"We may have three generations here in America and have people running for office, but because we always look different from other Americans, we will always be considered foreigners and have to prove ourselves over and over again," Calvert says.
Calvert has written to Ken Charles, director of AM programming at KPRC-AM, KTRH and KBME, about inflammatory remarks allegedly made by Baker.
Charles said about the panda recipe segment, "If the panda American anti-abuse group wants to call and complain, that would be fine." He said Baker never made any racist comments about Chinese-Americans, and said Baker clearly differentiated between them and Chinese nationals. Charles said the radio host talked about the possibility of the United States stopping Chinese citizens here from enjoying American freedoms while their government held Americans hostage.
Wan Ooi, a microbiology professor at Houston Community College, says he heard the show. Baker mentioned Taiwanese-American Wen Ho Lee, and said Chinese people were spies and that they should be kicked out of universities and Enron Field, Ooi says. Baker did not give any tips on how to differentiate between Chinese-Americans and Chinese nationals, Ooi says.
Ooi says Baker may have had the right to be angry, but he attacked Chinese race and culture -- not just communist China.
According to Ooi, Baker played gong music in the background, urged the boycott, made fun of the Dallas Mavericks' new center, Wang Zhizhi, and even dissed Bruce Lee. Callers who complained were labeled as commies, he says.
The National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, based in Washington, D.C., complained to Charles and the FCC. But Charles said the group must have confused it with another station. "We want an apology," Charles said. "We've been slandered by this group." Charles said a man claiming to be from a group called the National Asian Professional Legal Defense called on behalf of the consortium and apologized on air last Friday. Vincent Eng of the consortium said they've never heard of the other group, and their president, Karen Narasaki, has not issued any apology.
Ooi, an ethnic Chinese, earned his doctorate in Houston in 1975 but could not return to his native Malaysia because of violent anti-Chinese sentiments there. He stayed in the United States because it seemed more tolerant.
Then last month he heard a talk show host advocate punching the Chinese ambassador in the face.
"I told myself I have to be careful driving home and not get into an accident, because what if the other person was angry," Ooi says. "He might punch me in the face! How can someone make a distinction between a Chinese and Chinese-American when he is so angry?"
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