Asian Men And Forging The Asian-American Identity.
I recently read an entry from the AngryAsianMan blog about a charity drive by Asian-American artist (of Taiwanese descent) and entrepreneur named Martin Hsu who produces a selection of art-related goodies for sale at his online store. The charity drive was in support of the victims of typhoon Haiyan. All sales of his signature "Dragon Boy" t-shirt will be donated to the Doctors Without Borders typhoon relief fund - furthermore, total sales of the shirt will be matched by Hsu and also donated to the fund. Offer ended at Thanksgiving, so those who participated are appreciated.
Aside from the kudos for the generous humanitarian effort, one thing has struck me about this Asian disaster and others like it and the responses of Asian-Americans to them. I'm relying solely on perception here, but it seems that regardless of the particular nation that has been struck by a disaster - Japanese or Indonesian tsunamis, the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, and now Haiyan - Asian-Americans respond, for the most part, as though they have a personal "connection" to those who have become victimized.
This is especially obvious if or when such tragedies have been accompanied by gloating racist outbursts on social or other media, as was the case with the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the Japanese tsunami of 2011, the Sichuan earthquake, and even the Haiyan disaster. In all of these cases, the response of Asian-Americans seemed to suggest a "broadening" of specific ethnic identities and identifications, and a more expansive sense of an "Asian" identity" and identification.
But it is not only in the aftermath of disasters that the "boundaries" of ethnic identification seem to become more permeable. Successful or high profile Asian and Asian-American sportsmen like Manny, Jeremy Lin, Ichiro Suzuki, Yao Ming, and perhaps even Kristi Yamaguchi, have been supported and identified with by all Asian ethnicities in the US who may, perhaps, feel as though they are represented by people who look like them in a mainstream where Asians are typically invisible. As a Filipino, I certainly feel a sense of pride whenever I see Manny in action in the ring, but I also have equal investment in seeing Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin succeed, hoping that his success will have a trickle down effect on the American psyche and create a shift in attitudes towards all Asians regardless of ethnicity.
To me, this represents a rudimentary notion of an identity - a sense of commonality of aspiration and experience that somehow causes a unity of sorts. What is interesting is that there seems to be little expression of commonality between ethnic groups apart from unity in the face of tragedy (and I include racial violence in this category), during protests against racist cultural depictions, and in support for Asian athletes. To me, this is a different way of saying that there seems to be no unifying culture that knits various Asian-American ethnicities together in the same way that support for an Asian sportsman might. Aside from the unifying force of tragedy, it is pretty much only via athletes that Asians (of all genders and ethnicities) have expressed or had the sense of the notion that, "yes, that represents me".
The same cannot really be said of Asian artists or other cultural figures. Certainly, there have been Asian-American cultural figures whose ideas have galvanized sections of the community (sometimes against each other!), but it seems predominantly through athletes that Asians most exuberantly express a sense of commonality. But most interestingly of all, is that it is Asian male athletes who have most forcefully been the source of this unifying force.
In view of my previous post, in which I outlined the apparent discomfort that some within ouır community have with both an empowered, specified Asian male voice, and the exploration of Asian masculinity and male sexuality, this idea of Asian male athletes being the driving force that seems to unite the community presents us with something of a dilemma; whilst Asian athletes - predominantly male - with displays of masculine prowess in their field of competition, have been the figures around whom Asian-Americans feel empowered to claim as their own regardless of ethnicity, there is an apparent counter-current that views Asian masculinity either with some distaste, or a focus on the Asian male voice as an incomplete inquiry unless it defers to other issues simultaneously.
As I suggested here Asian male sportsmen - just like black sportsmen overcoming segregation in years past - are necessarily on the forefront of the fight to shift cultural attitudes and beliefs about Asian men. Coupled with the fact that Asian male sportsmen have - observably - been the fulcrum around which Asians have rallied to raise their voices in support, and with whom many have identified, this idea that Asian masculinity and male voice are somehow threatening or is an incomplete area of discussion in and of itself, can be viewed as being ultimately a handicap on the empowerment of the entire community. Displays of Asian masculinity unify - this is observably true - so it follows that exploration of the Asian male voice, and its empowerment in its own right, is essential to unifying Asian-America.
The interesting thing is that this unifying phenomenon reinforces the commonality of the "Asian" piece of the Asian-American identity - somewhat different from the usual drive to define our American-ness and highlight the "American" half of the label.