We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.









Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dragon Boat Racers Feel the Need for Speed

Rhythmic counting and collective chanting pulse through the 40-foot long canoe as the swift movements of eighteen rowers slice through a back bay of Long Beach, California on a crisp February morning during a Chinese Association Dragon Boat practice. The coach, doubling as caller, announces in a low, but solid voice, “Power, ten, NOW!”—to which paddlers respond with a low, exhale-like grunt. The caller continues to chant, “two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, ready, and…” Paddlers, who have been rowing according to the counting pace set by the caller, respond, “Reach!”

“What??”


“REACH!”

This procession of words and numbers is a Power-10 call, where each word, number, and sound represents a stroke. The caller and paddlers don’t chant too loudly because residents along the back shore of Mother’s Beach have complained about noise, but that doesn’t stop these people from dominating the water.

CADB, or Elements, on the water in San Francisco, Nov 2008
Dragon boat is a sport involving 22 people in a long, narrow canoe, with 20 rowers, a steersperson in the back, and a person sitting or standing in the front, calling to keep pace. Come competition time, a dragon tail and head is attached onto the canoe traditionally built out of teak wood, complementing the scales painted on the body of the boat to complete the image of a dragon-boat. UC Irvine is privileged to have such a well-established team on campus to practice this unique sport, which has Chinese roots but as observed through the years, draws all for its superb side-effects of team-building and physical conditioning, to name a few. Dragon boat racing existed for centuries in southern China as a folkloric ritual. Like all myths, there are many variations of the exact origin, but one of the most popular legends tells of Yu Quan. He was a renowned poet-scholar of the Chu Dynasty and loved the Chu State, but observed its crumbling at the hand of Emperor Huai’s corrupt misjudgments, and as a result, threw himself into the Miluo River because he could no longer bear to witness the destruction of what he once loved. This caused great despair to the many who loved Quan—they took the water in boats, racing to rescue him with no luck, and threw zhongzi, traditional bamboo leaf-wrapped rice dumplings into the river in hopes of feeding the fish so they may possibly recover his body.

This tale provides the foundation of the sport of dragon boating as we recognize it in present day, as well as the festival that goes along with it, called Duanwu Festival. During the festival, dragon boats race against each other, a vestige of what once was. On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar calendar by which most East Asian cultures live, festival-goers feast on zhongzi, a heaven-on-Earth combination of sticky rice, peanuts, pork, mushrooms, dried shrimp, and dried egg yolk (as a special treat) all wrapped up in aromatic dried bamboo leaves and tied up with string. By the solar calendar, that’s around the beginning of June. But for CADB, racing is a year-round custom. As soon as the school year begins in mid-September, the team seeks out recruits during O-Week, or week zero on the university registrar’s academic calendar. That’s precisely when 8th generation coach Justin Chi, also known as Chi, was first drawn into the sport. He recalls, “I saw the video for recruiting [during O-Week of freshman year] and thought it was pretty cool. Everyone looked really strong, they were all in sync, and was just something I’ve never seen before…it was whatever in the beginning, but I eventually kept going out because of the people.” Similarly, third year Yvonne Lau thought that initially, dragon boat would just be something new to try. She says, “I didn’t really expect to get so involved with this new sport, but I ended up falling in love with the people on the team and the atmosphere of practice.” The team holds mock practices the first few Saturdays of Fall Quarter, allowing students to come out and test the waters to see how they feel about the sport, and just as essentially, being a part of the team. New member initiations include throwing those who have raced for UC Irvine the very first time into the water. “But of course, that’s all for fun. We strongly discourage hazing or excessive peer pressure,” 8th generation Chi emphasizes. After the introductory practices, however, it’s time to buckle down to prepare for the first fast-approaching race in San Diego in late October. As races loom, Sunday practices become mandatory in addition to the usual Saturday trips down to Mothers Beach. The next race after San Diego is barely three weeks following, in San Francisco. There is a break until the Tempe, Arizona race in late March, and another short break until May, when “Baby” Long Beach happens. The big, “Summer Long Beach” as it is most commonly known as, which takes place in on July 30-31st this year, is the final competition for the 2010-2011 year until a new generation—as CADB names its years of existence—starts in the Fall, like clockwork.

The team has a documented win-loss record dating back to summer 2005, when they won first place in the College Division at the Viewsonic Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival. In the years after that, they’ve placed first at Arizona in 2008, California Dragon Boat Association College Championship (an annual race in northern California) in Division C, and again at “Summer Long Beach” in Division B. The team has a total of fifteen other placements ranging from second to fourth. Their fastest documented race time is just less than two minutes, which Chi admits is “like impossible for [the] team, honestly.” He goes on to explain what could have allowed the team to achieve this time—“It’s ‘cause…the distance wasn’t done properly, the lanes weren’t set up correctly, so our time wasn’t accurate. But honestly, I really don’t care about time; it’s just all about how the boat feels. It’s all relative.” As recently as the last school year, Elements was driven by a mindset completely different from the kind that the team currently lives by. Chi proudly states, “Finally, last quarter, we got to a place where it’s not all about winning and that was a huge attitude problem—people had the mindset of ‘win or quit.’ It was a disease. Last quarter, we came together, we didn’t come out on top but people enjoyed the race.” He works hard to maintain this outlook, but as with every other aspect of dragon boat, it’s got to be a team effort. Everyone must share this feeling to sustain the positive, but dedicated attitude that attributes to a healthy foundation of any team effort. Yvonne Lau’s beliefs reflect this. “
I just love the feeling of working out in general. It always feels great to see the improvement from both myself and from my teammates over several weeks of practice.” She says of competitions, “All races are the same to me because we’re basically going through the same motions that we do during practice. The only differences between races are the category we race in, such as college division, mixed division, genders, etc. or the length of the race—sprints of 250 meters or the typical length of 500 meters.” But Yvonne draws us away from the technical aspects of competing. “My favorite times with the team are during races because they’re just really amazing experiences with bonding with the team and spending time with them. My personal most memorable one was during my first year with CADB and second race with them at Tempe, Arizona…it was just something that I’ve never experienced before since it was such a different environment and it felt like taking a vacation with the team. We bonded so much during that race and had so many memories from [it].” When asked about some more disappointing moments of racing, she said, “We’ve had race pieces here and there that were disappointing, like when the boat feels heavy throughout the race.” Despite this fact, she still loves “the positive and encouraging atmosphere of dragon boat because everybody is working together to haul one huge boat at the same time.”

Spotted on a rower’s life jacket is the succinct quip, “Shut Up and Paddle,” adequate enough to portray the attitude of the team—not because paddling and ultimately winning is their primary goal, but because paddling is what brings the team together. Toiling hard to earn something together is what this student-run constituent of Chinese Association at UC Irvine is about—the team sacrifices their weekend mornings until noon, they strive to achieve their maximum physical and personal potential, they have grown closer all because paddling drives them to. CADB, or Elements, was founded in 2003 by Kevin Lee, who was a freshman at the time. He attended a high school the San Francisco Bay area, one that was very reputable in the sport of dragon boating, a sport that he was unsurprisingly very involved with. Lee decided he’d go through Chinese Association, which he correctly assumed would be a good foundation because of its establishment of basic resources such as advertising and financial help. Not uncommonly, Lee advertised largely through word-of-mouth in the infancy of his new organization—asking friends of friends of friends to come out to meetings and practices just to check things out. He managed to get a boat together to race that first year, which is some accomplishment to recognize, since it entails gathering 21 others, training them, and building up their little or nonexistent skills, preparing them for competition. Eventually, in 2004 or 2005, the 2nd or 3rd year of the group, Kevin decided to appoint two captains, giving birth to the development of the constituent’s modern-day hierarchy. Currently, CADB offers an internship program called Dragon Boat Officer-in-Training Program, more commonly known as DBOT. Next tier up are team captains, and at the top of pyramid is the position of coach. CADB, whose official team name is Elements, is a constituent of Chinese Association (CA) at UC Irvine, only one of three, others including Chinese Association Martial Arts (CAMA) and the ever-popular Chinese Association Dance Crew (CADC). No doubt exists that this unique branch of CA has long since created a respectable name for themselves and for UC Irvine, just as their sister constituents have.

CADB boat runs dryland drill at 'Summer Long Beach', Aug 2009
There are already dozens of other dragon boaters set up and getting their routine started with team talk and group stretches arriving at Mothers Beach on a clear, blue, Long Beach day. CADB lags a little as they set their belongings on the grass, letting the morning sink in. Sunblock is getting sprayed and smeared on as the Dragon Boat Officers-in-Training, also known as DBOTs, round up the group to start stretches. Meanwhile, the Captains Nick Tom, Patrick Ng and Megan Wu and DBOTs Jackie Chu, Karen Chen, Sandy Wong and Allison Mok form a huddle with Chi to make last minute adjustments to their practice scheduled planned for the day according to how the previous day’s practice ran, number of paddlers in attendance, and specifically who as well—size and skill are taken into consideration when making arrangements as well. “Well, he says he prefers not to sit in the mid-strokes..” “Is she going to be here today?” “Oh, she’s on her way actually so we can keep her there.” These on-the-spot rearrangements demonstrate only a fraction of the challenges of holding a team together. Obviously, the team can’t race if it fails to fill boats, but that is hardly ever a problem. More apparent is the difficult task of getting people to understand that practices are mandatory. Chi states, “It used to be harder in the past, but now people have become more dedicated. One thing I’ve incorporated is just accountability.” And it seems to be working, because no one appreciates extra drill sets thanks to absent team members. As for teaching the sport, he also says, “it’s tough ‘cause you’ve got to train this whole boat of newbies. What I try to do is lead by example, try to show my passion for the sport…hopefully they make sense of what they see.”

An Elements rower signs a paddle
at year-end banquet, May 2009
At the previous day’s practice, the coach and team captains added another element to the team’s pre-practice rituals. Other than slathering on sunscreen and stretching out, the team gathered to have a pre-practice discussion—basically, a heart-to-heart—where they talked about recent issues such as shortage of paddlers, the freshman who left to pledge a fraternity but is coming back to help fill up a boat, and falling behind schedule in terms of where the team needs to be with working towards the Arizona race. But today, the team heads down to the waterline to get ready to fill up the two boats they’ve been assigned for the day. After several quick sets warm-up strokes, Justin, who is also caller, states, “Paddles above your head, turn to face your partner and get a really good stretch.” The paddlers all know what to do next; heads bow down as everyone leans forward together, laying their paddle across the back of their teammate in front of them and wiggling it to the left and right. A faint tap-tap , tap-tap is heard throughout the boat as all paddlers gently strike the back facing them with their paddle in an effort to loosen each other up to prepare for the arduous workout that lay ahead of them. “Paddles in hand! And take it away.”

These small, but significant gestures of camaraderie are demonstrated outside the boat as well, but on a larger scale. The team goes on a retreat once a year—in the past, they have gone camping, paintballing, and indoor rock-climbing. Socials such as ice skating or game night are held as well and at least part of the team almost always goes out to grab a bite after practice. The team is comprised of about 100 members, with 50 active paddlers. Although it is composed primarily of Asian students, CADB has had rowers of all kinds of heritages, including foreign exchange students. The team isn’t predominantly Chinese or Asian merely because dragon boat is a sport with Chinese roots; in fact, Justin Chi states, “It’s really funny because we have had no emphasis on culture… I just want it to be seen as a family." Megan Wu, one of three team captains, reflects on what she loves about the team. "..this team means so much more to me than just any team-related or social club. This team is my family. I feel like we have all become this kind of odd strange cohesive unit. Everyone on this team has their own unique quirky personality, but it’s that we are able to accept each other for exactly who we are. This team has become my support system, knowing that I can always come out to practice have a good time and leave everything on the water makes me feel better about any situation. And from joining this team, I’ve been able to make some of my closest friends. I would have missed out on so many life changing experiences, if it wasn’t for CADB." Understandably, her words may be mistaken for a warm, gooey cliche, but Wu draws her feelings from reminiscing her days of being on a very close-knit swim team, and to her, it's definitely not the same. "It’s knowing that when you’re paddling in the boat that everyone else is right there with you, doing the exact same thing at the exact same time...the feeling that all 22 people in the boat are working towards one common goal. I think what’s special about this team is not that we get together every weekend to practice, but that we spend time with each other off the water.” Yvonne agrees that “
[The] most memorable moments with CADB are at retreats, races, and the random times we hang out with each other. I love how we randomly have all these inside jokes with each other.” One of the most rewarding things about UC Irvine's dragon boat team is undoubtedly the friendships to be had with dozens others who are all connected by one common interest—and that is paddling.

Tension has built up to a near-unbelievable amount at this point of the set. The coach has been calling starts for a while now; he demands prior to practicing a mock-start for the fifth time in a row, “SURGE out of dead water, explode, really explode!” They say that breakfast is the most important meal, providing fuel for an individual to properly begin the day. The same holds true for starts—strong ones are crucial to a solid overall race. The 40-foot long canoe carrying 22 people adds up to a bit of tonnage, and for paddlers to swiftly haul all of that out of inertia and into sailing rapidity, it takes consistent fine-tuning during practice. Customized, polished, sleek paddles dig into the steely February water, their wielders holding them still but are at the ready to plunge them into the soon-to-be choppy surface. Just as quickly as the start began, it is all over in a matter of seconds. Practice is over, triceps are burning, and the boat glides toward shore. Chris, a third-year, is satisfied, saying, “Practice was solid. It really tested endurance.” Joyce proclaims, “I’m going to kill Nick. That was one of the worst.”
But as Chi loves to say, “Pain is now, but Glory is forever.”

------------------------------------
Reporting Notes:
-76-minute long interview with Justin Chi, Coach of CADB
-Follow-up interview with Justin Chi
-Brief interview with Megan Wu
-Brief interview with Joyce Lee
-Brief interview with Yvonne Lau
-Observations at practice
-CADB Elements Team Website: http://db.cauci.com/
-Team Youtube videos (09-10 Orientation video, 1 practice clip)
-Wikipedia articles: “Duanwu Festival”, “Dragon Boat” – facts verified by checking with other sources
-SmithsonianMag.com Article: “The Legends Behind the Dragon Boat Festival”
-Facebook page: “CAUCI Dragonboat"

Bike Hipsters Rule the Roads, Coolly

By: Logan Payne 


A line of bicycles extends down Ring Road, with as many as 50 bicyclists pedaling past Starbucks and down the small hill between Starbucks and Aldrich Hall. Although some riders in the procession ride everyday bikes -- like mountain bikes and rusty old road bikes -- a lot of bikes whizzing past are decidedly eccentric, sporting colorful parts and bullhorn handles and no brakes. One rider is dressed in a pirate costume complete with knee-high black and red socks and a pirate coat; his bike consists of a frame welded on top of another frame to make a bike that is twice the normal height. One rider has a boom box attached to the back of his bike like a camping trailer, fist pumping to the music that blasts out of his speakers.

These are the Irvine Ridazz, pronounced rid-ahhs, led by UCI student Travis Reilly, who favors bicycling in pirate garb.The Ridazz are a group of students who meet up once a week to go on 20-30 mile bike treks to various eateries in Orange County. Travis and I set up a meeting at Phoenix Grill for a Monday evening, for which he a rrived wearing a blue plaid shirt, faded black skinny jeans, and tattered black Vans. But that’s not what made him stand out; rather, it’s his massive head of long, blond, curly hair and thick sideburns that line the sides of his face. A true hipster.

The Ingredients of a Hipster

During our interview we talked about how bikes and their owners have helped to define the “hipster” culture. For those who aren’t familiar with this group of people urbandictionary.com defined the term well: “Referring to young people of around 18-30 years of age, who drink cheap beer (most often Pabst Blue Ribbon), wear extremely tight jeans, pairing these with a plaid shirt/v-neck and a cardigan along with Nike hi-tops/Vans/Keds and eschew public transport and instead choose to ride fixed-break bikes.” Sound familiar? Other than the beer (I didn’t venture into the realm of favorite alcoholic beverages during the interview) Travis embodies nearly every single aspect of this definition. Travis loves to ride fixies, just like most of the other Ridazz. Does Travis consider himself a hipster? “I’m slightly, I definitely am.” Another aspect of this self-described hipsterness is Travis’s ability to grow strange facial hair. There are many months of the years where men, and maybe some women, refrain from shaving their facial hair and allow it to grow out as much as possible. Usually Travis had a full on beard but in September he shaved it off to “impress mommy” in his senior portraits. Travis is not only a hipster, but he’s also a fourth-year Earth Systems Sciences major here at UCI and getting ready to graduate. Travis also has a girlfriend, she called during our interview and they hashed out what they wanted to make for dinner. Once we got around the subject of bikes, the interview was off and...pedaling.

Bikes With No Brakes

Fixed-gear bicycles, or fixies, are bikes that operate with no brakes. Yes, no brakes. In order to stop you push down on the pedals, which causes the rear wheel to skid and prevents the bike from moving any farther. On these bikes, the rear cog, which is the connection to the rear wheel, is locked. Therefore, coasting is not an option with this bike, when the wheels move the pedals do too.

Fixies are considered to be the “epitome of hipster transport” as Travis eloquently puts it. A couple of years ago, when fixed gears were more popular than they are today, people were buying them to look hip and trendy. Many people sunk thousands into their construction, otherwise known as “builds” of their very own fixed gear. However, a few years later, Travis has observed an overall decline in the amount of fixies being ridden around. When Travis got into fixies in the summer of 2008 they were still “super underground.” A year later, the fixed gear boom occurred they slowly became a popluar fixture, they were even seen in the music video for a 30 Seconds to Mars song, “Kings and Queens.” DC Shoes, a skate and shoe store located in the Spectrum, even had a matte black fixie on display in their storefront window.

Why Would Anyone Want To Ride a Fixie?

“Because they’re fun to ride,” Travis said after I asked him why he rode fixed. He continued on to say, “they’re retarded really, they don’t make any sense…I like it too because it brought me back to when I was ten years old and had that BMX bike with the coaster brake and you’d go down the street as fast as you could.” The general consensus when I asked some members of the Ridazz was that it was fun.

Conan Thai, last year’s leader of the Ridazz told me, “because they’re fast.” While at UCI, Conan was a Studio Art major with an emphasis in photography. These days Conan is a full-time photographer shooting fashion photography for a living. Conan’s hipsterness is seen through his straw fedora that tops his head and his tiny brown skinny jeans that he wears to our interview. When asked if he considered himself to be a hipster he replied, “so many people call me a hipster and I don’t know what to do. I ride fixed gears and I take photos, I don’t know if that makes me one. I guess it depends on your own definitions.” Did I also mention that he was wearing a messenger bag?

When fixed gears came out and began to gain popularity, they caught on because they looked cool and they had relatively low maintenance since the bikes don’t have gears. They also gained speed due the colored parts that could be snapped on to them, which added a customizable element to them. However, aside from looking cool and being simple, riding fixed also brings back memories. For both Travis and Conan riding fixed brings them back to childhood. Travis stated, “remember when you were 10 and all you wanted to do was ride your bike, it felt so cool. You could go wherever you wanted, I mean wherever you wanted was like one block of your street, but you know, it was kind of cool and fun.”

The Ridazz

Created by Steven Ma in 2005, Irvine Ridazz at first didn’t really go far. It wasn’t that they didn’t have a lot of people, the ride literally didn’t go far. The group still met up at the same time every week at the flagpoles, but instead of riding to various eateries around Orange County, the ride circled around Ring Road. During these rides, they did things like high-fiving contests to see who could garner the most high fives from strangers and they even had a superhero themed ride where everyone came dressed as a superhero. Eventually people got tired of circling around Ring Road so the ride began to venture off-campus. The ride grew by word of mouth and whenever a group member saw someone else riding, they would tell him or her to come out. In addition to juggling school, relationships, friendships, and work the Ridazz still make it a point to meet up every week to ride with each other. Conan put it this way, “[riding] complemented [all of] it. I mean it’s part of being in college, you start riding bikes.”

When the Ridazz started out and last year when Conan Thai headed the rides, an average of eight riders would come out to ride. These days Travis finds it difficult to get people to come out and ride with them, he gets about four or five out for every ride and half of them don’t even attend UCI. In order to accommodate more people’s schedules, the ride has become a two-day affair with rides occurring every Wednesday and Thursday nights. However, the rides rarely get new people out and I was the first girl to go on a Thursday night ride this year.

Riding with the Ridazz

Imagine riding an average distance of 20 miles, in the darkness, through streets with cars whipping past and the wind blowing hard into against your face. That’s exactly what the Ridazz do every Wednesday and Thursday. It’s not that they crave the danger of riding through dark trails and streets, they just like to ride.

Before we took off for the ride, I met with some of them at the Pub a couple of hours before we left. The members were surrounded by girls and constantly saying hi to people they knew. After sharing a couple of pitchers amongst themselves, seven o’clock came and we made our way to the meet up spot- the flagpoles. When one of the Ridazz and I got there we met up with four other members. The leader of this Thursday night ride was Trent Armstrong, a third year Informational Computer Sciences major, who told us that we would be riding to Kean Coffee in Newport Beach, 6.2 miles away, which would make for a 12.4 mile ride roundtrip. We walked back up the steps, hopped onto our bikes, and took off down Ring Road. It was fast. We sped down past the Cross Cultural Center, weaved through the trees in front of the Student Center, and around the planter in the Humanities area. As we made our way down Ring Road one of the Ridazz, Josh “JKeez” Kim let out whooping sounds, which the other Ridazz enthusiastically returned.

Once we got to the start of Back Bay Trail, across the street from the Mesa Court dorms, all I could see was complete darkness. Aside from the small light affixed to the handlebars of Trent’s bike, it was pitch black. After a couple pedals in, we went down a small hill that catapulted us into more darkness. We pedaled down the asphalt trail the outlines of bushes barely visible, with the faintest smell of standing ocean water. During this time I was keeping pace with them, maybe it was because they were going a little slow for me. I had never ridden farther than the distance it takes me to get to campus from my apartment, so this was the farthest ride I had ever gone on in my lifetime. We suddenly got to a very tiny, steep slope that curved sharply and that’s when I had to get off my bike and walk it up. One of the riders, Dante Calvelli, was nice enough to hang back with me as his friends sped up ahead. We went up more hills, passed more bushes and crossed a bridge constructed with wooden planks that made the ride extremely bumpy. Finally, we got to Newport. At this point, I was set on turning back and riding back to Irvine by myself but Dante said to me, “hey, we’re almost there. You can make it.” So I kept pedaling. After a small hump, the rest of the ride was flat as we rode down Irvine Avenue passing by strip malls and small homes. When we finally got to Kean’s none of them seemed exhausted and as we were parking our bikes I asked if we were going to lock them up. “Psssh, no one fucks with us!” said Josh “Jkeez” Kim. We sat at Kean’s for about an hour, drank some coffee, ate some sushi, and chatted. During this time the guys chatted about many things, from South Park to Trent’s ability to grow facial hair to Josh’s Midwestern slash East Coast accent.

Bike Culture at UCI

Bikes at UCI have a somewhat complicated presence, the campus both welcomes them and restricts them. Bicyclists are not allowed to ride on Ring Road during the hours of 8:30 am to 5 pm and I have seen a few incidents where an on-campus policeman was giving a ticket to someone who violated this policy. However, bikes are still have a significant presence on campus. Many people use bikes as their primary method to get from class to class and bike racks are always crowded with bikes. Parking and Even the rails that surround the on-campus Starbucks have bikes wrapped around it. Transportation has about 500 registered bikes and they conduct quarterly bike collections where they impound unregistered bike, which numbers up to about 200 a quarter. When walking through the park, bikes often speed past pedestrians and sharply stray when a pedestrian walks into the designated bike lane.

Even with this abundance of bikes, Travis has a hard time getting people out for the weekly rides. He always gives a detailed Google map of the route he plans to take, and he’s always open to suggestions. The goal of Irvine Ridazz for Travis is to show people that riding is fun, for him biking takes a huge part of his life. He works at Bike Religion, the on-campus bike shop, runs the Ridazz, and has a whopping total of 8 bikes. For the Thursday night Ridazz that I rode with, riding was a way for them to meet up with each other, have fun, and go on a good ride. Conan put his love of bikes this way, “It makes me see things a different way. I mean, when you’re in a city you’re either on foot, in a car, or on a train, or on a bike. With bikes, it shows you something you don’t always get to see…you see potholes, you see stoplights, you see buildings, you see cars. You appreciate things for where they are.”


Boba Culture in Irvine Is More than Just a Trend

By Annum KhanAdd Image
"I don't know what part is more interesting, the fact that you have something to chew while you drink, or that when you drink something with whatever you chew, it gives a totally different impression of the drink..."

A group of local college kids walk into Cha For Tea, laughing and talking amongst themselves. They see others they know already inside they happened to bump into and exchange hellos before ordering their boba at the counter. The workers go 'tap tap' on the register's keypad and take down their order. The college kids crowd the waiting area for their drinks. When their names are called they grab big fat straws at the counter, stick them in their drinks and take a seat outside to drink their boba since inside is always too cramped.
There are about eight well known boba shops near Irvine, in the surrounding Orange County area but the most well known for UC Irvine students is Cha For Tea and Lollicup. Cha For Tea is conveniently located across from the campus at the University Town Center, connected to UCI by a cemented bridge used by many students on a daily basis while Lollicup is a few miles down in the popular Diamond Jamboree plaza. Tea Station is another teahouse located on Culver Drive, parallel to Jamboree where Lollicup is located. Geographically, these boba shops surround downtown Irvine creating a rather unexpected culture for tea catered to young people.
At Cha For Tea, the crowd keeps coming, usually students in and out at all odd hours. Another group of local high school kids walk in shortly after and place their order at the register. They start to rearrange tables to sit together and enjoy their tea inside. Workers call out the kids names one by one, signaling them to get their drinks at the counter. A worker mixing drinks calls out "Christopher" five times before the preoccupied high school student gets up to grab his milk tea boba.
The worker behind the counter mixes drinks with energy and takes commands from another employee shouting from the register. This worker does not seem annoyed at his job, with the ongoing crowd of customers and shouts of "order in" coming his way. He seems genuinely happy to be making a constant array of drinks and when he mixes boba into tea within a plastic shaker, he does so with flexing, energetic arms. He does this consistently until his shift ends and it is time to go home but if he feels tired or bored of making drinks, one could never tell from his face.
The boba shop is small for all the people it houses every hour but rather cozy. It is painted yellow with green tiles covering the one wall behind the counter. The employees are always enthusiastically asking customers to try samples when they aren't taking orders or clearing tables. Wooden arches dangle from the roof with accent lightening within creating a contemporary atmosphere that welcomes the young crowd often, especially for a late night sugar fix. 'Ten Ren Tea' gift bags decorate the shop on various shelves. Trendy music plays in the background. Many UCI students come in and out as displayed by their apparel. A couple sits side by side, snuggled up to each other at the back table of the shop enjoying an entree of orange chicken. People come in and out with boba in hand. And the workers say "Hello! Welcome to Cha!" at every group or customer that walks in.
The store manager, Steve Ngo, has been working at Cha 4 Tea the year it opened back in 2000. He started working for Cha part time as a college freshman back then and decided to stay with the company instead of using his ICS degree elsewhere. He explained that boba, also called tapioca, is made from tapioca and sweet potato starch. He also shared that boba is made by boiling it in water but wouldn't disclose any other details because the process is a company's secret. The milk tea boba drink, also known as bubble milk tea, consists of the liquid and small gummy boba balls that fall to the bottom of the drink. At Cha, like at other boba shops, the drink is sold in a clear, plastic cup so one can see the boba and different colors of the tea that range from green, mode, and orange along with a thick, bright colored straw perfect to sip up the boba and tea at the same time. "I think for the kids, its just fun to have something to drink and chew on it at the same time. Also boba absorbs the tea flavor from your drinks very well, so it just goes very well with the sweet tea beverages," Ngo explained about boba as a drink.
Calvin Lie, a UC Irvine student, goes to Cha about three times a week because he prefers the chewiness of their boba. He actually has to limit himself to going only three times a week because he feels there is a self limiting principle involved, and its not cheap. The average drink at Cha is five dollars, equivalent to a meal at In-N-Out. For Lie, coming to Cha has a lot to do with the stress level of his classes because the boba drink gives him a sugar rush helpful for studying. "Its like a snack and drink at the same time. What I particularly like about the milk tea boba is that it tastes different with the boba itself. When you drink it, you start with milk and tea which is not so sweet and then you chew and suddenly their is a burst of sweetness." Lie is a commuter who lives in Alhambra where there is another Cha location but he says the Alhambra location cooks their boba differently. Overall, Lie likes Cha's boba because it is chewy and sweet. What he hates is the boba that is hard on the inside. He has also tried to cook boba himself three times. "It much better to cook boba in large amounts because it is a long process," Lie said. You have to boil it for two to three hours and you need to keep pouring water and sugar while cooking. He still has not gotten a satisfying texture to his boba.
Boba drinks are a trend that started about a decade back and some believed it was a trend that would die out. The San Diego Business Journal published an article in 2004 describing the unique trend as a passing fad but it is still popular today, in the states as well as in Taiwan where milk tea boba originated from. In Irvine, boba is very much a part of young people's lives to nearby UC Irvine and high school students. On the UCI campus, numerous clubs and organizations sell boba drinks from Lollicup, a nearby boba shop that caters to UCI student fundraisers. Lollicup has a chart hung on the wall inside the shop entitled "Battle of the UCI Clubs" that monitors how much money various UCI clubs have fundraised selling boba, creating friendly competition and community involvement. Lollicup specializes in coffee as well as tea drinks but not food like Cha For Tea. Their specialty is with various drink options from slushies and snow to to yogurt and "mochaBlast" options. They also offer several "add-ins" besides boba for their drinks such as jellies, red bean, whipped cream, and milk or egg pudding. Lollicup seems to be much more accessible and community friendly than the typical boba shop due to their fundraising options for UCI student clubs and also because of the shop's atmosphere. Though it is fairly smaller than Cha For Tea, Lollicup has an open kitchen behind the counter where any customer or employee can see the "Simple Reminders" whiteboard hung on the wall for all workers. Many come in just for a drink or spend time inside watching the news on the TV while enjoying their drink. Ngo at Cha For Tea believes that even if boba becomes less trendy, people will always come back for Cha's tea that is grown in Taiwan and sold here through the Ten Ren Tea Company. "It's possible that boba can loose popularity, but we truly believe in the quality of our teas, enough so that even if customers no longer enjoy boba, customers will still come back to enjoy all the teas we brew from them. We are the biggest tea distributor in Taiwan. We grow our own tea, so we have confidence that customers will continue to enjoy the quality tea beverages we provide them without boba," Ngo said.
The true origin of milk tea boba dates back centuries to the growing of teas such as Oolong, black and green tea in Taiwan but the transformation from this traditional drink to a sweeter, milkier, and boba filled one started in the 1980's in Taiwan and made its way internationally in the 2000's. Tea Station is a boba shop in Irvine that stays true to the traditional style tea grown in Taiwan with their numerous options such as original Oolong, but they keep with the boba culture with their milk tea options as well. Ngo explained, "Cha for tea is based off our parent company Ten Ren Tea, Inc. It has been a family company for over 70 years. The younger generations immigrated to US, so they were able to open up retail stores in the states selling only tea leaves."
Ngo also explained the intricate process of brewing tea sold at Cha. Fresh Green Tea leaves are gently brewed under a specific temperature. Then flavoring is added, depending on the type of flavoring the customer prefers, and then it is iced down by shaking the tea in martini style shakers. In Taiwan, the process of icing down the boba drink is done with a machine instead of by hand according to the youtube video, "Making Bubble Tea in Taiwan." Ngo further explained that depending on the types of tea you are brewing, just like brewing coffee or beer, brewing at the right temperature will determine the aroma and bitterness of the tea. There are different brewing temperatures as well. For instance, green tea is a delicate tea, so you will need a lower temperature water. The food at Cha is also cooked with specific kinds of tea flavoring. For instance, Cha's curry chicken combo uses Jasmine tea and Pu-Erh tea is used in beef stew. There are health benefits in adding tea in cooking because it helps with digestion according to Ngo.
Whether people come for these health benefits or just for a sugar rush like Lie, Cha is always busy from 9am to 1am serving boba hungry customers constantly in the little jam-packed teahouse. But maybe they coming for a much more simple reason as Lie expressed, "I don't know what part is more interesting, the fact that you have something to chew while you drink, or that when you drink something with whatever you chew, it gives a totally different impression of the drink; the difference can make it really nice or really bad." But Lie chews it over in his head, "Its something nice to have."
###
Reporting Notes:
Interview with Steve Ngo-Cha For Tea Manager-2/1
Interview with Calvin Lie-UCI student- 3/1
Observation: Cha For Tea, Lollicup, Tea Station
Background info/Research:
Interviews with random people-not quoted in article-various times
http://cat-boba.blogspot.com/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSNXhFAxbY4
Sources from UCI Library research: SDBJ article, history of Taiwan, boba as trend

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hands-on Help for the Homeless

By Shelby Renee Nesheim

Sitting in a circle in Humanities Hall room 220 sat S.H.O.U.T. members, both old and new. The question to start off this week’s regular Tuesday meeting was “What do you think about Valentine’s Day?” As the question went around the room almost everybody seemed to dislike the day, except for Mary, the club treasurer, who in an almost delusional voice responded “The day just fills me with loving thoughts toward my friends, but then I get stressed out planning everything and it’s a lot of work, it’s like a party in my head”.

“So we are going to make candy roses and Valentine’s Day cards even though most of you don’t seem to like the day” responded Cindy, and the assembly-line like team began to get to work on the piles of pink, red and purple cellophane, kisses, and wire. While one group assembled candy rose bouquets to be sold on Ring Road for Valentine’s Day, another group designed small Valentine’s Day cards to be passed out at Venice Beach that Sunday. Leilani and Cindy, the co-presidents of S.H.O.U.T. ran the meeting while Bianca, the ex-president and now Secretary helped out. “So we are going to meet Thursday night at my apartment to finish everything up. Who can make it?” Bianca asked. No response. “I’ll make everybody margaritas…” Suddenly 8 out of the 10 people in the room raised their hands. Everybody looked around and laughed. “They are only in it for the alcohol” Kyle joked.

S.H.O.U.T. which stands for Student Homelessness Outreach United Together is a club on campus at UCI aimed at helping homeless individuals in the Southern California area. This club is very small, averaging about 15 constant members, however it has a large impact not only on UCI’s campus, but in Orange and Los Angeles County as well. They help the homeless through personal interaction, such as making trips to Venice Beach to pass out food, water, and hygiene bags, spreading awareness about homelessness by holding their annual SleepOut event at the flagpoles, and also through community service by helping out other organizations. “I really want to spread awareness” stated co-president Cindy “and I really want people to get involved, but I feel like it’s kind of hard at UCI because people seem really indifferent about it. I know everyone is busy but I feel like if you really wanted to you could make the time to help out.” However, no matter how indifferent certain students at UCI may seem, Cindy, along with the rest of her S.H.O.U.T. board members never give up helping homeless individuals in any way possible.

On the way to Venice Beach, Kyle’s car zoomed down the 405 freeway heading north and Bianca, being much more conscientious of speed limits, trailed along far behind in her little red Honda. Both cars were filled with S.H.O.U.T. members, mostly new, eager to participate in this annual event. With the sun shining brightly in the blue sky it seemed like the perfect day to spend at the beach. However this beach trip was not being made for pleasure, but rather with a purpose; to help the homeless.

As Kyle, S.H.O.U.T.’s co-vice-president, merged onto the Marina Del Ray Freeway the almost 200 hygiene bags which had been made by S.H.O.U.T. could be heard shaking around in the trunk. “What’s my name” by Rihanna played in the background as Kyle made the turn onto Lincoln Boulevard, and everybody was carefree and relaxed, watching the multitude of used car dealerships and small family owned restaurants pass by the windows. However, upon turning onto Rose Avenue, the scenery began to change dramatically. The buildings began to get older and the fences began to appear taller. All of the windows were covered in thick iron bars and graffiti seemed to cover every surface which faced the poorly paved street. By the time Kyle’s car finally arrived at the beach parking lot it had become obvious why Los Angeles County’s Venice Beach has gained the unfortunate name of being the “ghetto by the sea”.

“Welcome to Venice”, Kyle sarcastically remarked as his car full of new S.H.O.U.T. members stepped outside, only to be met with the musky smell of urine which was wafting from one of the beaches only public bathrooms. A man’s feet could be seen purtrudring from the bottom of one of the stalls, making it appear as though he was passed out, and the entire round restroom was covered in green and black swirling graffiti. This beach, though less than an hour away from Irvine, was an abrupt change from the suburban landscape which most of the S.H.O.U.T. members were used to. The sidewalks were dirty and dank, covered in forgotten tidbits of trash and a dusty layer of sand. The odd smell of trash, oily pizza, and weed filled the air and the sidewalk was dotted with crusty white and black pigeon poop which never seemed to be cleaned up. However, the thing which seemed to stick out the most were the dozens of people covering the small grass patch in between the sidewalk and the sand. These people were lying around on the grass, or socializing in small circles. They were both young and old and wore strange arrangements of tattered clothing. Most carried large backpacks filled with the meager amount of personal belongings they owned, but worst of all, they were all homeless.

While tourists and natives alike strolled along the sidewalk, admired table after table of street art, took in the sun and watched the waves, a whole homeless subculture of Venice had embedded itself in the small grassy strip which separates the boardwalk from the sand. The lucky ones set up tables along the boardwalk selling artwork or small trinkets, and some other’s made their living as traveling street performers doing magic shows or playing guitar, but most would spend their days sitting or laying about in the grass. Most of them were dirty and hungry. Few could afford food, let alone a shower, and they struggled each night to find a place to stay as police patrolled the beach to enforce a midnight curfew.

According to the 2009 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Report conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority there are approximately 48,053 homeless people living in Los Angeles County. However, the problem does not stop with Los Angeles County, as according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, California has one of the highest rates of chronic homelessness in the United States. This was the reason S.H.O.U.T. had driven to Venice Beach: to attempt to help California’s homelessness problem in any way possible. On this trip it was being done by providing the homeless of Venice basic necessities, water, and on this particular occasion, Valentines Cards.

“The Venice Beach trips we do, that was an original idea from Jessica and myself coming from my sophomore year” Bianca informed me “and it happened after I participated in alternative Spring Break with the Center for Service and Action. I got the opportunity to talk to homeless people there and kind of see what other outreach programs did, and one of the ladies I talked to there, she said that one of the best things to get is bottled water”.

During the S.H.O.U.T. SleepOut event held the third week of November during the National Homlessness and Hunger Awareness week, S.H.O.U.T. members made almost 200 hygiene bags. All of the materials used for the bags, including the bags themselves, are donated from local stores and hotels. “We will call hotels and ask for donations of toiletries and some years are more successful than other years. In the past we have gotten like toilet paper, soap, a lot of soap actually, shampoos, and lots of laundry bags, which has been really great so we can actually put our hygiene kits in it.” Bianca stated.

After Bianca’s car finally arrived, all of the S.H.O.U.T. members got out of the car and began to disperse the hygiene bags among them. Kyle and Ivan, the only two men on the trip, were forced to carry a case of water each, and all of the girls carried around 100 bags between the 6 of them, saving the rest for a second trip. With light blue stripped Hyatt bags and generic Albertson’s water in hand S.H.O.U.T. members began the task of dispersing their hygiene bags and Valentine’s Day cards. Kyle, Bianca, and Diem, all wearing their neon orange S.H.O.U.T. shirts led the group, immediately stepping off of the main boardwalk and into the grass. “We should stay in the grass areas, that is where all the homeless are, on the Boardwalk it’s mostly just artists” Kyle loudly announced to the group. At first club members just handed out bags to individuals laying in the grass, even placing a bag and water at the feet of a sleeping man. However, soon Kyle spotted a shirtless man in the distance who was quite ragged looking with ripped pants. “Would you like a hygiene bag and water?”, “Sure, I’ll take that” the man by the assumed name of Sunshine responded as he carefully rubbed a huge scab on his side. The man was dirty, slightly smelled, and his large stomach hung over the waistband of his khaki pants, but worst of all he had a scab which started on his forehead, continued down the entire right side of his body, and ended on his lower calf. He was clearly in pain and as his hand brushed over the healing skin he winced slightly. “Got hit by an Escalade” Sunshine explained with a chuckle “That bastard didn’t even stop, ran right into me and then just took off, but what can I do”. “Have you seen a doctor?” Kyle questioned him with much concern. “Doctor?” he laughed even more, “I haven’t even eaten today, I can’t afford a doctor, think its getting infected too”. Sunshine winced again pointing to an oozing white portion of his scab.

“It is just really sad, because you know that you can only kind of do so much to help people.” Bianca said looking slightly disheartened, “but we do what we can.”

Further down the grass patch a man named Eric noticed that S.H.O.U.T. was handing out bags and came up to ask for one. As he dug through the hygiene bag he found the sample sized Axe brand deodorant which had been donated to S.H.O.U.T.

Eric looked more like a gangster than anybody else on the beach, he was dressed from head to toe in black bulky clothes and wore a black beanie, he had thick black plugs that stretched out his ears and a bandana hanging from his back pocket. When Eric found that deodorant though, his voice squeaked like a little girl. “Axe? Hell Yeah! Gotta stay smelling fresh. Even though I can’t shower I always try to smell good, I don’t wanna be smelling gross now. I always try to take care of myself”, he said with an ear to ear smile. It was amazing that something as simple as deodorant could make somebody so happy.

Techno music blasted out of the Titanic metal sculpture store, and mixed with the out of tune electric guitar being played by one of the street artists. As S.H.O.U.T. continued to walk further down the beach, a very well dressed man wearing designer sunglasses approached the group. “What are you guys doing out here?” he curiously inquired. “We are passing out water and hygiene bags to the homeless.” responded Diem rather quietly. “Like for community service, or for a church or something?” “Nope, just on our own.” responded Bianca, “We are a homelessness outreach club at UCI.” “Really? That’s awesome. You guys should be very proud of yourselves, not enough people care to help. You know what, can I help too?” Rico questioned with a smile on his face. So, Rico began to tag along with the college students handing out bags and water. This was a true example of the awareness which even a small club could spread in a large city.

After passing out the nearly 200 bags, the club had reached the end of the boulevard and was about to turn around when they noticed a man digging in the trash. This man had multiple hats and a helmet atop his head. He wore a neon orange reflective vest and carried with him a walking cane and a large backpack. Bianca carefully approached the man, asking if he would like water or a hygiene bag, but rather than respond he simply stared at her. He then slowly turned around, motioning to the backpack he carried. With a great amount of difficulty, and the help of Kyle, Bianca was able to place S.H.O.U.T.’s last

hygiene bag and bottle of water in his backpack. The man nodded, and then turned back around and continued digging through the trash. His hand shook as he attempted to pick up his cane and he seemed to be suffering from some sort of mental or physical illness. A lady sitting down next to him quietly whispered, “He is here every day, every day I have been here for the past 5 years. He just digs through the trash, he isn’t right you know. Most people don’t help him though, they just stare and walk by. It was very good of you to help him”.

With a mixed sense of accomplishment and sadness the club walked back to their cars. Although they had done a great deal, and helped a great many homeless people, they could only do so much. “You can’t really say like ‘Oh, here is an apartment to have’” Bianca joked, “That’s why we have to try just as hard to raise awareness as we do actually helping. A small club can only physically do so much, but hopefully the biggest thing we do is make other people aware of the huge problem homelessness is.”

Although the Venice Beach trip is a huge deal because it is the only event involving direct involvement with the homeless which S.H.O.U.T. is personally in charge of, when asked what their most memorable moment in S.H.O.U.T. was, most of the board said it was the speakers at the SleepOut. The SleepOut is one of S.H.O.U.T.’s biggest events of the year and is and overnight Sleep Out at UCI’s flagpoles. The SleepOut begins with enterainment, featuring performances and speakers, and ends with all participants spending the night sleeping outside, much like a homeless person often would. The main point of the SleepOut is to spread awareness about homelessness through speakers, but also to give sheltered students a small glimpse at what it is actually like to be homeless. “At the first SleepOut event I went to my sophomore year,” Lani explained, “that was when I heard a speaker talk about his whole experience. I heard another speaker talk about how we should change policies to a better situation in Orange County or California, so it was an educational experience, and I think that’s it, that’s what made me want to be a part of S.H.O.U.T., to contribute to S.H.O.U.T.”.

While the majority of experiences which club members have with S.H.O.U.T. are positive, there have been some scary moments which have resulted from working directly with the homeless. “I remember once me and this one girl ended up talking to this one guy and he looked like he was in his late 50’s early 60’s, and he was Hispanic, and he basically just spoke in Spanish to us, and he kind of started telling us the story of his life, in Spanish. Her and I, we both know only a certain amount of Spanish, and definitely not at the rate he was speaking it at, it was really fast and everything. He would just like tell part of his story and then he would start crying, and then he would start talking again and then start crying again, and we didn’t really know what to do, and basically we kind of just like listened and like we gave him what we had to give.” Bianca said, “Then like another time that we went there was a pregnant lady there, and it was just really sad because she was pregnant, she was eating for two, and when you are pregnant you have to take care of yourself and you know there is all these extra health things you have to take care of. We just didn’t know if she was getting access to health care or what, and so once again we are just like we can give you this water and this food, like of course we gave her extra of everything, but it was just really sad to have a baby grow up and you know just like right off the bat be homeless.”

However, no matter how upsetting a situation may get, S.H.O.U.T. as a whole works continuously to provide any assistance possible directly to the homeless, and to spread awareness to the homeless. Whether it is through their annual SleepOut, small events like volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or trips to Venice Beach, S.H.O.U.T. is continuously making an impact on the community, as well as on UCI students. “Joining S.H.O.U.T. kind of made me feel that yeah there are a lot of people who are indifferent, but there are also people who are really passionate.” Cindy said with a smile, “It has made me more confident and brought me out of my shell a little bit. I love it, and I have made some great friends who I feel I can really count on for the rest of my life.”

Reporting Notes:

Sit down interview with club secretary Bianca Szczesniak (30 min)

Sit down interview with club co-president Leilani Isozaki (15 min)

Sit down interview with club co-president Cindy Le (22 min)

New York Times Article: Cities Are at Odds With California Over Beach Curfews

Personal observation at 3 meetings

Personal observation at trip to Venice Beach

Short interview with Sunny the homeless man

http://ucishout.weebly.com/

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2211102051

http://www.lahsa.org/homelessness_data/reports.asp

http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/2797

http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/526/homeless-facts.html

Poker All-Star Finds Cards More Lucrative Than Studying

By Cristina Paz

Sitting in his office, a room at his newly leased luxury apartment in Irvine, David, a 20-year-old self-taught professional poker player plays multiple hands of online poker on two large computer screens. On the screens are multiple online poker tables; they look just like regular poker tables and David adjusts the view to his liking. He is dressed in his regular business attire: gym shorts, a tee shirt, a baseball cap, and sneakers, which reflect his laid-back, easy going attitude. His work is his play and No Limit Texas Hold’em is the game he is quickly mastering. From the young age of 14 David began playing online poker when he saw that he was decent at live poker and could beat his friends. When a friend told him that he could play online and win lots of money, he decided to try his luck at it.

Going all in [betting all the money you have on the table]

David began playing poker at Fulltilt.com under his dads name since it is illegal to play online poker before you are 18. He has been playing for six years and considers himself a “dinosaur” in online poker. His first time playing online poker he ran $5 dollars up to $200 and eventually lost all $200. His passion for online poker was fueled by this first “big” loss. Little did he know that just a few years later this loss of 200 dollars would seem miniscule compared to the losses he would encounter as a high stakes player. After loosing the $200 dollars, which seemed like a fortune to him at the time, he felt he had to have another chance because he knew he could do better. He told his parents “I don’t want anything for Christmas this year, I just want $50 bucks for this poker website”. He ran those $50 dollars up to the thousands of dollars that he has today.

David continued to play online poker, getting better with each loss and trying to play people that were better than him in order to learn where he could improve his game.

“The better the player the deeper level of thinking they are going to be on, this is why I enjoy poker because you get into mind games with people, you are just trying to get them to play into your little cat and mouse game," he said.

The summer of his senior year of high school he bought his own car, an Infinity G37, roughly a $40,000-dollar car. Not long after coming to college in 2008, Tommy decided that college was not for him and dropped out his second year. He remembers losing the drive to go to class when he knew that he was not guaranteed a secure job after college, even with a college degree. As he kept getting better at poker and he kept making more money leaving the university seemed like the best choice; school just did not interested him anymore.

He recalls being bored and trying to play poker in class: “ The internet connection was so bad in Anthropology in the Social Sciences Lecture Hall, that was terrible because if I had a good game going and was winning I could loose connection.”

His decision to drop out of school was frowned upon at first by his parents until they saw that David was actually very good at online poker and was making a lot of money. He was making more money per year than both his parents combined made per year. He explains that he never saw himself being a lawyer or a doctor and saw that his dad had to go to school for ten years to become an anesthesiologist, “It’s just not for me”.

Dropping out of school is a risky choice, and would seem foolish to many, especially those who say that poker is just luck. David’s response is that, “Poker is definitely skill... Even though luck affects your short term, so like on any given week I could win a bunch or I could loose a bunch, but over the whole year I’m expected to win, if I put in enough volume. This is not saying that you are not going to loose “loosing happens, it’s going to happen." People that go broke in online poker are bad at bankroll management, which is where you want to have enough money to cover your losses.”

Since he is no longer in school, his schedule is completely up to him. A typical work day consists of waking up at about 1 or 2 pm, going to the gym, getting food, playing poker for about a 3 hour session, stopping to take a break and getting dinner. This is part of what he likes about playing poker as a career-- the freedom.“ I can travel while I work and if I do well I can potentially pay for the trip (with the earnings he made on the trip).”

He has a program that logs the amount of hours he plays and last month, February 2011, he played 122 hours of online poker. David only plays games with buy ins of a minimum of $2,000 dollars. A buy in is how much you must pay in order to play a game of poker. His average buy in is $10,000 dollars and his hourly wage averages from about $500 to $1,000 dollars an hour. The most he has ever bought in for was $40,000 dollars. These buy ins are more than most people make in a month’s salary. Although he has bought in for $40,000 dollars in the past he will never play for that amount again because he has learned that it is much harder to win money than it is to loose it.

One would expect David to be very money conscious, since he gambles daily, and to be scared of losing large amounts of money but he is not. He says, “I’ve never had a real job and some people might say I don’t know the value of a dollar or I have no respect for money but any kid who has a lot of money at a young age isn’t going to know what that means. A young kid has nothing to loose, they would’ve never made this money at a young age, if they weren’t playing poker. To them its just numbers on a screen. That’s kind of how you want to look at it you don’t want to care about the money ever. You want to care but you don’t want the money to affect your decision-making.” People may tend to overanalyze things or play differently if they are scared of loosing. A friend recalls David telling him, “I just lost 20 grand in a game yesterday." He was in awe but to David it was no big deal; he just brushed it off and played again the next day.

On the other end of the spectrum you don’t want to spend all your money carelessly. According to David it is typical of younger players to splurge and buy in for large amounts of money either because they want to show off or are being careless and not playing according to the rules of good bankroll management. “You want to leave ego at the door that is important.” An extreme, but common example, of a young online poker player loosing a lot of money is the case of blogger Kenanknows at www.nutblogpoker.com who lost $450,000 dollars in cash last year. Kenan Knows wrote:

“The time has finally come. The warning signs were there, but I didn't bother to care. I am now busto [short for bust, as in he busted or lost in poker]. I don't know what to make of what happened, or how I should react. I can honestly say that poker has become a passion for me in the last few months and to have it taken away by my rotten luck and stupidity is beyond words. When I was indulging in the hookers and the blow poker always lurked in the back of my mind. None of these supposedly thrilling, visceral activities that I've experienced recently have come close to how I feel when I've got 10 tables of 25/50 up. My story, not one that has not been heard before will be a blip on the radar to almost all who read this, but this is sadly the world to me. Tho I've been put through the ringer and hung out to try I still think I am one of the better high stakes regs out there and think that I belong.”

This is an extreme but typical reaction of a young poker player who has lost all the money he has earned. He didn’t have much to start off with and to loose it all is devastating but he knew it would eventually happen because he was not playing according to the rules of bankroll management. He also would have never made this money in the first place, had it not been for online poker.

David understands that it is easy to get caught up in winning and want to bet lots of money. He tries his best to play smartly and never bets more money than he has. He also knows when to stop. If he is having a bad day and losing consistently he will stop playing and may not play for a few days, he does this because it is easy to want to keep playing “just one more game” and lose a whole lot of money in a few short hours. “You want to have enough money to where you can sustains any swings of bad luck that you may have and not go broke.” Of course he knows that he will loose at times, this is just part of the game but he has learned some important rules in order to avoid loosing everything he has worked to hard to gain.

Fish [a bad poker player]

“The most important key to being a successful poker professional, not necessarily meaning you are the best player, but the best professional meaning you will win the most amount of money at the end of the day is game selection,” ge said. In online poker you wan to play in games where your expected value is highest, your expected value is the probability of you winning. For example, “If me and a couple of your girlfriends played a game, that’s a great game for me to play because no one knows what they are doing it would be like stealing candy from a baby. But if I played with five of my best friends, poker nerd friends, that would be a lot tougher. So you want to play the game where your expected value is the highest, in this case I would want to play against your girlfriends.”

The way this works online where you don’t know if you’re playing against a poker all star or a group of teenage girls is that you choose your game wisely, you look for fish. Fish are people that are bad at poker and you enter those games. The problem with playing a fish is that many times there is a waiting list to play at the tables with fish because everyone can tell they are bad and want to get in on the game.

Clearly this strategy has worked for David because he is able to support himself financially and makes more a month than most people twice his age make in a year. He has also made a name for himself in the community. When mentioned at school most people in the Greek system know who he is or have heard of him, with reactions of “oh ya that guy he is awesome” or “he is so lucky, I’m going to start playing poker.” For now David knows that he enjoys playing online poker but does not want to pursue it as a career. He hopes to become an entrepreneur and open up various businesses in the future with the money he has won. The key to his success is that he is constantly trying to improve and he loves what he does: “I still love to compete it’s really fun for me, it is a big grind, but again I enjoy competing.” He views his life now as an adventure “I just try and be as appreciative as I can be for where I’m at and what I’ve been given." He knows that he will always play poker, even if just for fun, but is certain it is not what he wants to do with his life. Resting on his coffee table is a hint -- a book titled Millionaire Real Estate Investor.

SoCal Muslim Artists Establish Narratives in Post-9/11 Era

By Sahar Jahani

“Look at this media-that’s the same garbage they get day in, day out. And no Muslim does anything-we just sit and complain. Why don’t we go out and tell them how it really is?”

(The Domestic Crusaders, Act I-Scene V)

The Showcase

February 12th, 2011-It is Saturday night at The IMAN Cultural Center in Culver City, CA and the Talar-e-Iran Hall is packed with a multitude of eager faces waiting for the program to commence. An overwhelming majority of the room reflects a demographic that is often under-represented at Islamic institutions: Young, urban, Muslim hipsters and working professionals. They have come to witness and experience an unprecedented occasion, “The Domestic Crusaders West Coast Book Tour and Culture Show Extravaganza” hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), highlighting the publication and success of the premiere play about Muslim-Americans in a post 9/11 era.

Wajahat Ali, the playwright responsible for this critically acclaimed literary work of contemporary American society, an effort that Toni Morrison claims is “Brilliant. Moving. Shapely. Clever. Funny,” acts as the MC for the night. In his crisp, black suit and white button-down shirt, he takes on the stage to introduce the first performer. May Alhassen christens the stage with her passionate renditions of excerpts from the Hijabi Monologues- derivative of Eve Ensler’s provocative play about female genitalia- that hopes to dispel the many misconceptions associated with the head scarf and the treatment of women who choose to wear it. The head garb that she dons specifically for the stage is a bright red color that parallels the tones of her culturally accented tunic. The oblong shall is pinned in the back and wraps around her hair bun in a sort of Afro-ethnic fashion, revealing large hooped earrings that extend halfway down her neck. Alhassen takes to the microphone and raises a finger, prompting the audience to join her in a countdown: “One!” yells the room in unison, marking the first earth-shattering detail she will be revealing about herself, not as a hijabi but as a normal person, with flawed human tendencies:

“Really tall people freak me out, my gaze ends up in weird places I’d rather it not be, you laugh but try talking to someone’s armpit or waistband and then get back to me…3! I cuss a lot, a whole lot, not like sailor status but definitely more than my grandma would approve…6! I had a cat I named sexy because it was funny and because she was and how hilarious is it to make a vet appointment for 'Sexy'…” She pauses for a beat and becomes solemn, concluding the list on a serious note, “sometimes I feel like I’m a bad hijabi, like I’m not as much as people expect, Muslims and non-Muslims, not as refined or as delicate or as nice, or as sane. Whatever, it’s a piece of fabric, not a magic wand.”

Alhassen, a PhD student in American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, was just one of the many Muslim artists showcased during the culture show. Her act was followed by performances from Def Jam poet and spoken word artist Mark Gonzales, Islamic vocal group ‘Noor’, and scenes from the actual The Domestic Crusaders play. But perhaps the most received routine of the night belonged to standup comedian and aspiring actor Hasan Minhaj, who dressed the part of a suave, young comedian in a dark, black jacket, white pants and raised, black hair. Although he has performed for far larger audiences and with more at stake, Hasan seems uneasy before taking the stage, pacing back and forth at the end of the hall. But when his name is called, he takes on the stage like a storm, a whirling cyclone of never-ending humor that is sharp and witty. The jokes resonate with the audience well; Hasan knows how to play the Muslim crowd. He draws upon current events, politics, “mosque culture” and his identity as a South Asian Muslim living in America:

“You know I love board games and I think the hardest thing about being Muslim is not being able to play Jenga on 9/11, you know what I mean? Because the last thing I want to do is look like a jerk!" He jokes, continuing on with 9/11 politics, "there's just some things white people can enjoy that we can’t, like going to the beach and running through sandcastles, like I can’t really do that, it would be like ‘Daddy! Look a brown man destroyed our building!’ You get it I’m screwed! So yeah, the next time people complain about getting their Netflix late, I’m like really? I can’t buy sugar and envelopes at the same time!”

In recent times, the social and political climate of a post-9/11 America has drawn Muslim-Americans into the media spotlight. In an attempt to define their own narratives and create a voice for a silenced minority whose identity was also hijacked on that fateful day in 2001, Muslim-American artists have emerged in high numbers in the past years, especially in Southern California. This is a period of time that Edina Lekovic, the Communications Director at MPAC suggests marks a “renaissance of new voices” in comedy, writing, film, poetry, music, etc. The talent showcased at the culture show illustrates a microcosm of the type of creativity that is redefining a generation and their stories. Filmmakers Justin Mashouf, Lena Khan, and Qasim Basir along with comedians Azhar Usman, Maz Jobrani, and Ahmed Ahmed, as well as musicians like Lupe Fiasco and Anas Canon are just a few notable names who have established a presence in the media and entertainment industry. These figures are at theforefront of shaping the contemporary Muslim-American narrative in their respective fields. The issues and topics they touch upon are as diverse as the artists themselves. In his d├ębut feature documentary, Warring Factions (2009), Mashouf, a half-Iranian, half-American b-boy dancer travels to Iran to explore hip-hop culture in his father’s native country, while simultaneously grappling with issues of identity and politics among the seemingly disparate worlds that he comes from.

At the domestic level, Basir’s new dramatic film, Mooz-lum (2010), based off of his own childhood experiences, follows the story of Tariq Mahdi, an African American Muslim who wishes to distance himself from his native identity after being raised in an ultra-orthodox family. The protagonist is conflicted by the ideals of his strict upbringing (his father wants to become a “hafiz” or memorizer of the Quran, theMuslim holy book) and his identity as an American youth going to college. Although the narrative takes place after 9/11, the film is not a typical 9/11 story. In an interview with NPR’s Michel Martin, Basir explained, “we are approaching 9/11 from a different perspective, a perspective of Muslim-Americans so that people can see that it was also a fearful situation for Muslims here, it was an awful situation, it was something that hurt us all.” Mooz-lum addresses some heavy and oftentimes controversial issues regarding post 9/11 sentiments towards American Muslims. In one scene, a group of White fraternity boys surround two Muslims girls spewing hateful remarks spawned by ignorance and xenophobia:

Unidentified Actor #2: (as character) We're getting revenge.

Unidentified Actor #1: (as character) Revenge on who?

Unidentified Actor #2: (as character) Terrorists.

(Soundbite of shouting)

Unidentified Actor #1: (as character) There are no terrorists here. Who you talking about?

Unidentified Actor #2: (as character) I'm talking about them.

Unidentified Actor #3: (as character) Do you honestly think you can come into my country and kill my people and get away with it? This is payback time. I am the law today. Tonight, you’re going to be punished by me.

The attitudes expressed in Basir’s film are not sentiments that one would be hard-pressed to find in real-life. The types of reactions that many Americans had towards Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent after 9/11 was the basis for many Muslim-American media projects that attempted to redefine the stereotyped representations of Muslims in Hollywood. Lena Khan, a UCLA film school graduate, spearheaded one of these projects by creating a music video for Kareem Salama’s western themed song, “A Land Called Paradise,” which features real Muslims and their statements to the world. The video illustrates a montage of various individuals revealing their habits, personalities and characteristics that could be part of any human experience: “Broccoli is my personal jihad,” writes a boy on a poster, followed by him cringing at the sight the green plate his mother has placed in front of him. In the following scenes, other Muslim-Americans are portrayed doing everyday things, trying to break the stereotypes associated with issues such as arranged marriage. The camera frames a couple sitting together on a red sofa, flipping through their marriage pictures, on the back of one of the photos, there is a statement that reads, “my husband and I fell in love.” The following image is of a woman in a long, black conservative looking “abaya,” or robe, holding two pink-stripped, signature Victoria’s Secret bags that state, “I shop here too.” The objective of the video seems obvious; to portray Muslims of all backgrounds and personality types as individuals, as humans, and not simply defined by the faith they adhere to.

According to Reza Aslan, a panelist at the culture show and a Harvard Divinity school alumnus, these types of narratives and projects are essential in the Muslim-American plight against racism and xenophobia. “You can’t reframe peoples’ perceptions through information or data,” said Aslan, “what does change peoples’ minds are relationships, and relationshipsare formed through the arts and literature; they allow people to see each other beyond simple representations of ethnicity, nationality, and religion and see them instead as just human beings.”

In January, while discussing the “Ground-Zero mosque” debate on her web series, CBS news anchor Katie Couric suggested that Muslims should create their own version of The Cosby Show because the program helped to improve the image of African Americans in the 1980s. While The Cosby Show was effective in combating major stereotypes about African Americans in the media, it negated major issues present within the Black community and simply defined the African American narrative as that of the suburban White narrative, “the norm.” Thus, questions of exactly how the American-Muslim identity should be presented in mainstream media arise. Will the immersion of Islam intomedia narratives diffuse certain aspects of the religion so that the “Muslim” narrative can be more relatable to broader audiences? Do Muslims need their own version of The Cosby Show in order to be accepted into American society? And will the assimilation of Muslim figures into movies and television programs really change the American perception of Islam? The following stories of various Muslim artists in the southern California area wrestle with some of these themes and attempt to answer these questions.


“Tired of this goddamn heat…Goddamn media. Same nonsense every day! Blame Islam. Blame Muslims. Blame immigrants for everything! Tired of the daily propaganda!”

(The Domestic Crusaders, Act I-scene III)

The Fake Gallery

February 12th, 2011-It’s 11:30pm and Hasan Minhaj has arrived in time for his second stand-up gig of the night at the dimly lit satire art gallery/quasi-comedy club on Melrose Avenue, The Fake Gallery. A stage has been set up at the center of the two-story building facing a mere four rows of chairs that are barely occupied. The black-draped walls are spotted with eccentric pieces of artwork one would be hard-pressed to find at the LACMA or Getty. The left-side wall is covered in large, juvenile paintings of brightly colored marine animals and birds, as well as an image of a dancing cartoon man with three penises. On the opposite side of the room hang large, blank squares in the formation of a color palette; browns, reds, greens, purples and pink shades all with curious names like “Brownversusboardofeducation,” “Red Coat,” “Pink Eye” and “Purple Nurple.”

“Now you know what a bad show looks like,” he states in starkcontrast to the routine gigs he secures at The Laugh Factory. Regardless, the room eludes an intimate feel; the audience members seem to know each other, as if they have convened at this venue on several Saturday nights. The owner of the gallery, Dan, rushes back and forth between the stage and the makeshift bar in the back, introducing the comedians onto stage. The comics are all inimitable characters, each branding a unique act and personality: The shaggy-haired hippie who reads lines off a notebook, the insecure girlfriend, and the rich Jewish kid from Beverly Hills, to name a few. Hasan is one of the last performers to take the stage. He has changed into a grey leather jacket of a less formal tone. He takes out his iphone and begins the set by playing a voicemail from one his stand-up friends ranting about a gig that she was denied. Nothing from this act resembles his earlier performance at the Cultural Center, in fact the explicit material about watching humans have sex with animals and selling crack cocaine would probably bar him from any Islamic institution for life. Stand-up comedians have to be able to read a crowd, Hasan explains later on. The same material that is performed for a Muslim audience would not be received well in an average, secular setting. Hasan doesn’t shy away from controversial topics or what would be Islamically inappropriate issues because, he explains, they are part of the human experience.

“I don’t want to brand myself as a ‘Muslim’ comedian,” says Hasan, “not because I am not proud of my heritage but because I want to be able to convey my universal truth and I want my comedy to be relatable to everybody.”

Hasan believes that the advancement of Islam in America depends on Muslims embedding themselves into mainstream society, rather than remaining isolated in their own ethnic enclaves. He admits that he has not always practiced Islam perfectly; he has dated girls in the past and he does use curse words, “so why not be myself in front of the audience?”

Whether he has categorized himself as a Muslim entertainer or not, others have certainly tried to place labels on Hasan, especially the Muslim community. He admits, at first, the people in his hometown of Davis, CA were not supportive of his career choice. Hasan has even received hate mail from Muslims that accuse him of committing “haram” or sinful acts, and depicting Islam incorrectly. But now, most Muslims have embraced Hasan’s humor with open arms, a sentiment that was apparent at the Culture show.

It is evident that perhaps the key to Hasan’s success is embedded in the versatility of his content. So, where does he get his inspiration from? For Hasan, it’s all about observation and dramatizing or satirizing real-world events. He will start from an organic premise, like a current event, news about a celebrity, or something he saw at the grocery store and then heighten it to a point where it’s crazy or wacky. Hasan’s facebook statuses often demonstrate this technique:

“In Libya hundreds have been shot dead in protests against Gaddafi's 42 year dictatorial regime, but it's important we realize Carmelo Anthony is going to the KNICKS! YEAH priorities.” Another post reads, “50 cent is coming out with his own line of headphones. Hopefully he uses them to hear how shitty his last album was.” Hasan emphasizes that not every joke he makes is based on his ethnic background and hopes that his humor reflect who he is as a person: “Everything I talk about is a lens through which I see the world.” Drawing from pop-culture, sports and world news allows the comedian’s humor to be relatable to the average American. By not simply limiting himself to a niche audience, i.e. the Muslim community; Hasan has achieved some of the most prestigious levels of standup comedy.


“Inshallah, my son will become the best of doctors-everyone will see and take notice.”

(The Domestic Crusaders, Act 1-scene V)

From Pre-Med to Stand-up

Born and raised in Davis CA, a predominantly well educated college town, Hasan Minhaj is the eldest of two children raised in a South Asian, immigrant household. As a child, he does not recall being the class clown but admits to being observant and opinionated. This type of personality is what gave Hasan the platform to pursue comedy.

“When I was in college, my friends used to say you always make stories sound more dramatic than they really are. But that’s exactly what stand-up is,” says Hasan.

As an undergraduate at UC Davis, the future entertainer was on the track towards medical school but soon discovered a passion for acting and comedy. He started making YouTube videos with friend and aspiring filmmaker, Imran Khan. “Thank Allah It’s Jumma,” “Who Wants to be an MSA President?” and a PSA spoof about jaywalking are some of the videos that went viral, inspiring Hasan to transfer to UCLA and complete a minor in dramatic arts. After watching a Chris Rock special called “Never Scared” and recognizing that so many people actually listened and respected the opinions of comedians, Hasan began thinking about a career in stand-up. As the funny Muslim videos started gathering a fan-base among young college students and within the Muslim community, Hasan started working at small comedy gigs and shows on the side.

“I did not realize how popular the YouTube videos were becoming,” reflects Hasan, “The Muslim community was finally being served a product that resonated with them. But I found that the videos were just serving that niche audience and I wanted to reach all types of people."

Hasan aspired to be like big-name comedians who are not categorized as “Black, Christain or Muslim,” they are simply entertainers that convey universal truths. Hasan began shedding the image he had created for himself as a “mosque super star” and began writing content that was just funny, irrespective of religious undertones. “I said to myself that being a successful comedian will inadvertently help me be a better Muslim comedian,” says Hasan, “and the best comedian I could be at the time was in San Francisco."

After graduation, Hasan moved to the city and juggled a day-job at a start-up company while working the 8-comedy club circuit at night. There, he climbed the ranks and ultimately became a regular performer, a big fish in a small pond. Hasan’s big break came a year after, when he competed in and won the 94.9FM Comedy Jam, a landmark achievement that truly solidified his career as a stand-up comic. However, working the San Francisco comedy scene while simultaneously balancing a full-time job was taking its toll. He needed a final push to take that ultimate leap of faith and truly pursue comedy full-time. In 2009, Hasan was encouraged to compete in the Standup for Diversity campaign sponsored by NBC, which was looking to showcase a diverse group of comedians on a 70-campus college tour for a whole year. On a whim, Hasan flew to Baltimore to audition in front of the network executives, slept in his car for the night and then flew back. He was invited to perform at the LA showcase and finalized the tour deal with NBC. It was financial security and a full-time stand-up job that propelled Hasan to move to Los Angeles and pursue a comedy career inthe big leagues.

Since then, Hasan has appeared on E!‘s ‘Chelsea Lately’ and is a regular correspondent on Yahoo!‘s ‘OMG the 411’. His debut album ‘Leaning on Expensive Cars and Getting Paid to Do It’ was released in February 2010. He is now working on a MTV reality show called “Disaster Date,” which is scheduled to air on March 14th, 2011.

“I won’t allow other people to create my expectations. And I won’t be a slave to others’ expectations of what I should or need to be.”

(The Domestic Crusaders, Act I-scene V)

The Rebel with a Camera

Sunday, February 13th, 2011-M. Hasna Maznavi moves around the suburban living room, which serves as the set for today’s shoot, with a purpose. Her long, black, curly locks sway back and forth as she prepares a Panasonic HD camcorder, ensuring the battery is charged, the memory cards are placed inside, and the camera mounts on the tripod at an even angle. She sports a grey, cotton long-sleeve shirt with a phrase that reads, “I’m so popular, I get stopped at airports.”

The crew, a group of about ten USC film students, work around each other to prepare the set. One individual is in charge of the sound system, while the camera operators, including Hasna, take care of the visual equipment, and others work on make-up, wardrobe, direction and script supervision. David Freedman, a petite, orange-haired man whose wearing a plain t-shirt and red shorts acts as the “show runner;” he calls all the shots.

As a camera operator, Hasna must ensure that she follows her assigned characters on screen while the production coordinators give commands from the large monitor behind the set. The scene involves a group of five movie reviewers who will be discussing, critiquing and commenting on the latest Hollywood release, “Gnomeo & Juliet.” The Ebert and Roeper-esque webisode series titled “Just Seen It” is the newest Freedman creation, one he hopes to be pitching to broadcast networks in the coming year.

“Just Seen It” is one of the multitudes of projects that M. Hasna Maznavi, a recent graduate of the USC Film and Television production program, is collaborating on. In addition to being a camera operator, Hasna has also guest reviewed

for the show twice. She is an aspiring screenwriter and a candidate for the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship program and works regularly for fellow aspiring filmmaker Dugan O’Neal, whose works resonate an ethereal serenity of music and utilize unconventional filmmaking tactics to produce stylized products. All of these collaborations however, are on a volunteer basis. Hasna lives with her parents in Cerritos, CA and works part-time as an English tutor at various schools in Orange County. An adamant believer in pursuing dreams, Hasna attests that she won’t settle for a stable office job until she has exhausted every avenue of the industry.

Hasna is youngest of four children with a clear rebellious streak; her older brother is a financial analyst, her sister a lawyer and her third sibling a doctor- the holy trinity of professions. This drive to remain unbound and free of convention began in Hasna’s early adolescent life. A shaky start to high school however only propelled Hasna to improve her grades and behavior in the coming years, yielding her an acceptance to one of the top institutions in the country, UC Berkeley.

In college, Hasna pursued a dual degree in Mass Communications and Studio Art, but was unsure of what career she should undertake after graduation. After interning for the Council on American Islamic Relations, and realizing what a major impact the media plays in shaping peoples’ perceptions of religious and ethnic groups, Hasna flirted with the idea of studying film. All doubts were obliterated however on a fateful Friday, when at congregational prayers, the Khatib, or lecturer spoke about the need for more Muslims to take on professions in the media and entertainment industries.

“It was like everything at that moment clicked,” reflects Hasna, “and I realized that film is a medium that combines all my interests; arts, politics, writing, and so I applied to film school.”

Like Hasan Minhaj, Hasna, an American-born Muslim raised in a Sri Lankan household, aims not to simply create the Muslim superhero characters on the big screen rather, she hopes to tell “human stories, to represent Muslims as human beings, because when you try to sell Islam, even with the slightest hint, it really comes through as fake.”

The greatest challenge for Hasna has not been being Muslim in the film industry. In fact, she admits that often times her unique background and Muslim-American identity have given her an advantage, particularly when applying to film school and trying to get her stories told. She recalls that at USC, for every showcase during the year, any time a Muslim entry was submitted, it was almost always chosen to be made.

However, Hasna admits that there are some aspects of the industry that are not always compatible with her lifestyle and religious values. Hasna is a devout Muslim who abstains from alcohol. She recalls a time when this became an issue when she was offered a job to work as an assistant director on a Heineken music video. Although the video did not explicitly advertise the brand, it subliminally promoted alcohol consumption. Hasna decided to take the job because she did not play a creative role in the making of the video. “Whether you are on that set or not,” says Hasna, “videos like this will continue to be made but if you play a creative role in promoting this type of material, then that’s where I draw the line." Hasna acknowledges that there are a lot of challenges and drawbacks to being a Muslim film director but to avoid falling into the “Cat Stevens syndrome” of spending ten years in creative solitude, Hasna has set rules for herself: She will never ask an actor to do something that she would feel comfortable doing on screen. For example, Hasna says that she will not ask actors to kiss each other or perform sex scenes on screen because it is not something that she would feel comfortable asking others to do. "You can tell a story without necessarily showing physical contact", she explains, "and the stories I am interested in telling are compatible with Islam."

Other issues that Muslims face is debunking the various stereotypes that Hollywood has time and time again ascribed to Muslims. The problem with mainstream media is that it fails “to provide a range of Muslim characters. It doesn’t matter that there is a bad Muslim character, as long as there is another Muslim character that shows the range of the Muslim Identity,” explains Hasna, “Right now the image of Islam is monolithic, even though there is no such thing as one image of Islam.”

Hasna has already tried to dispel these sentiments in her works. During her time at USC, she wrote and directed an episode of Seinfeld for one of her production classes, but with an Islamic twist. All the characters were Muslim, including a Black, hijabi Elaine, an Iranian Kramer and an Arab George and Jerry, illustrating the wide diversity of Muslim-American culture. Other projects that Hasna has produced include a short film called “Forbidden Love,” an almost entirely silent video about a college student struggling to find a place to pray on campus. The protagonist is an unconventional Muslim girl with piercing on her lips and nose. She is invited to pray with a group of Muslims in the quad area of her campus but expresses discomfort at the thought of praying so publically and opts to find a more private location, failing at every attempt. Eventually, she resigns to praying at the initial location, but is joined by other Muslims who pray with her. Th

ese are just some of the narratives that Hasna hopes to be able to express. She says that Muslim artists need to be honest with themselves and about their flaws: “The more honest you can be without trying to be mainstream, the more potent your material will be.”

More interestingly, Hasna points out that Muslims themselves often propel the stereotypes of Muslims on TV and in films. For example, when the comedian Ahmed Ahmed was finally cast in a non-terrorist role on Ashton Kutcher’s reality show, Punk’d, the Muslim community back-lashed, complaining the he was on a “haram” show that placed Muslims in un-Islamic situations.

“These types of criticism are indicative that the larger Muslim community has lost the spirit of Islam,” offers the filmmaker, “We are so fixated on details and rituals, we have made Islam into an idol and we are reducing the religion to ‘haram’ and ‘halal,’ permissible and impermissible. When you define yourself by what you are not, that means that you do not know who you really are.”

Hasna concludes that Muslims limit themselves by putting insane amounts of pressure on people in the media, yielding significant amounts of setbacks for the Muslim-American narrative, “God will guide us if we have good intentions and if there are setbacks then we know we have done something wrong. In the end, any representation is better than none at all, we just have to go for it and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be.”

Reporting Notes:

Attendance at the MPAC Culture Show (2 hours)

Attendance at The Fake Gallery standup show (2 hours)

Attendance at the "Just Seen It" shoot (2 days)

Attendance at Hasna Maznavi's improv rehearsal (2.5 hours)

3-hour interview with M. Hasna Maznavi

2-hour interview with Hasan Minhaj

Informal interviews with representatives from MPAC and CAIR

Dugan Oneal’s videos: http://vimeo.com/10237021, http://vimeo.com/9811768

Hasna’s standup routine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-OqEUYoPcI

Fact check: http://www.arcassociates.org/about.php

Fact check: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Secret-City-Comics-Society/148503458541504

Fact check: http://www.nationalcomedy.com/

Fact check: http://www.nickwriting.com/

Fact check: http://www.lfla.org/aloud/

http://www.duganoneal.com/

http://www.domesticcrusaders.com/media.html

http://www.npr.org/2010/09/20/129993971/film-mooz-lum-confronts-public-perceptions-of-islam