A University of California, Los Angeles, student enraged Asians last week after posting a three-minute YouTube video that criticized Asian conduct in the library while referencing the Japanese tsunami, and people in the South Bay Area agreed that her comments were abhorrent.
Alexandra Wallace, a third-year political science major, ranted about Asians talking on their cellphones in the library during finals week. Wallace posted the video on the same day of the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan that has claimed at least 20,000 lives.
Wallace’s tsunami comment left Ben Pacho, 25, a second-year journalism major at De Anza College, scratching his head.
“For people tuning in, institutional racism still exists. I was speechless—I had no words. Her cultural insensitivity was staggering,” said Pacho, adding with sarcasm, “I thought, UCLA must be really proud to have her as a student.”
The college junior, who announced after the worldwide furor that she was leaving the college, also said the “hordes of Asian people” attending UCLA lack American manners, because their parents do not teach them any.
Second-year De Anza hospitality and events management major Marianna Rivera, 34, said Wallace had a valid point about people turning off their cellphones in the library, but the way Wallace expressed it against one group was unacceptable.
“I could understand how someone could be irritated by someone talking on the cellphone, but she does not realize the severity of what she did,” Rivera said. “She’s getting a world-class education, but she has no sense of what she did. It’s counter to what an educated person ought to know.”
In her video, Wallace also mimicked a generic Asian language by mimicking a stereotypical “ching-chong,” pseudo-Asian language while holding her phone to her ear. Coming under similar scrutiny and criticism, Rush Limbaugh did much the same in January on his radio show when he mimicked Chinese President Hu Jintao's speech.
As an Asian male, John Tran, a Santa Clara County resident and consultant, was offended by Wallace’s imitation speech and even had a punishment for her.
“She should be expelled from school for her own safety and stupidity,” Tran said.
The video has spurred notoriety, with one copy of the video reaching more than 5 million hits. Many Asians and non-Asians voiced their displeasure on blogs, even creating YouTube video responses of their own.
Sondra Morishima, who writes for a Tumblr website called Generasian, was displeased that racial stereotypes are still alive and well.
“In my mind, it’s nothing more than a grating reiteration of the same stereotypes that have been passed around for years,” Morishima wrote on the Tumblr site. “They’ve become so internalized that they show up everywhere—from policy to talk show hosts to viral YouTube videos.
“It’s easy to call this woman out on her bigotry, because it’s so obvious, but we also need to look at less obvious cues that these ideas persist and how they harm the Asian-American community.”
Steve Peterson, a social networking instructor at UCLA, explained that Wallace’s video had all the makings of a viral video and that posting it toward media-competent college students contributed to the video’s infectious spread.
“Wallace conformed to the stereotype of the ditzy, bleached-blond Californian college girl, which is salient in and of itself,” Peterson said. “Then you add racism, insensitivity to the Japanese tragedies, the ‘ching-chong’ ethnic slur, and … racial and cultural ignorance [and] social media ignorance."
Peterson said the video could come back to bite her a few years down the road.
“The video will still exist, but most likely it will be forgotten by most,” Peterson said. “However, if she eventually decides to run for president or become a Supreme Court justice, it most likely will impact the vetting process.”
UCLA Associate Vice Chancellor Robert Naples said that the comments expressed in Wallace’s video was “beyond distasteful” and is in no way a representation of UCLA’s beliefs.
“We’ll be taking a look at the language that she uses in the video to see if it violates any codes under the student code, perhaps regarding harassment,” Naples said to the Daily Bruin.
University spokesman Phil Hampton called the video “repugnant” and agrees with Naples that Wallace’s video is in no way indicative of UCLA’s view.
“The comments on there are contrary to the values the university believes in,” Hampton told the college paper.
Keith Fink, a UCLA professor who teaches several free speech courses, including Free Speech on Campus, and a discrimination lawyer at the Los Angeles-based law firm Fink & Steinberg, advocates Wallace’s First Amendment rights.
“She did not violate the law,” Fink said. “Punishing her would contravene constitutional mandates.”
Fink added that the law is on Wallace’s side, and her comments, although foolish, are not a valid claim for peer-on-peer harassment.
According to Fink, Wallace's short rant does not meet the severe or pervasive test set forth by preceding cases, nor does it meet UCLA's policy on harassment, which was adopted based on the Davis case.
Tyler Dimich, a fourth-year communications major at UCLA who is from Milpitas, agrees that the law is on Wallace’s side, no matter how distasteful her comments were.
“The essence of the First Amendment is to protect speech even when it is distasteful to the vast majority of people,” Dimich said. “She certainly had the right to say what she said, but that doesn't make what she said right.”
The Daily Bruin also reported that Wallace received complaints and death threats from people all over the country, which left Dimich uneasy.
“To bring violence in personal opinion is invariably too far,” Dimich said.
Dimich, 21, said he feels remorseful for Wallace, but his initial reaction was that she should have put more thought into her rant.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Wow, this student ruined her life in 2:52,’” Dimich said. "If you are going to utilize your right to free speech in that manner, then people can and will utilize their rights to chastise you.”
Although he in no way supports Wallace’s comments, Fink was disappointed with UCLA’s reaction to the incident and warns that punishing her would give the university unlimited power that violates a student’s rights.
“The school missed an opportunity to underscore the important value in free expression—even expression that is distasteful and offensive to most,” Fink said. "When the university becomes simply a hallowed hall where students must bow to the prescribed politically correct orthodoxy of the day, then we all have something to be very concerned about.”