Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Unified Voice.

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.

7 comments:

  1. I used to dislike the concept of "Asian Americans." I was proud of my ethnicity, but I didn't like the idea that I should feel some kind of kinship with, say, a Taiwanese and a Filipino just because we were "Asian," an identity that's been dictated to us by White Americans.

    But now, I see that identities can only be self-defined to the extent that the rest of society recognizes it. If Filipinos and Koreans and Vietnamese are all "gooks" in the eyes of American society, then yes, we do have something in common and we should embrace that.

    I think another bothersome factor is that a lot of Asians internalize the idea that Asians are indeed inferior in some way. That is, except for their own super-special ethnicity, which is why they must squabble over the petty narcissism of exaggerated differences. For example, I'm Korean, and growing up, I remember being all too happy to distance myself from the Chinese kids because China was always portrayed as this backwards, poor, and altogether undesirable place. I regret how I acted back then, but I was a kid trying to fit in, and one of the ways was to distinguish myself from one of the least socially desirable groups.

    That also explains why when it comes to IR relationships, lots of Asian families will value White partners above Asian partners of a different ethnicity. Every ethnic group, whether it be Korean or Japanese or Vietnamese or Filipino, seems to internalize White superiority except when it comes to their own group, which is the One Lone Exception.

    But the American experience is changing that. Still, one of the starkest differences between me and Asian-Asians is that I see people like Japanese and Chinese as practically kin, whereas they would consider them archrivals or somehow below them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that some Asians internalize the idea of Asian inferiority - I think that it is a way of deflecting negative attitudes away from oneself, which is human nature but sad nevertheless.

      "I used to dislike the concept of "Asian Americans." I was proud of my ethnicity, but I didn't like the idea that I should feel some kind of kinship with, say, a Taiwanese and a Filipino just because we were "Asian," an identity that's been dictated to us by White Americans."

      This is an interesting point. You have not said this but there is an implied notion that Asia and Asians only started to interact with each other only after white people showed up. But, as you probably know, the Chinese, Japanese, Indians, and others have had communities all over Asia for hundreds of years, and trade between the various Asian kingdoms has been going on for centuries. With this trade came migration. So, in some ways, there is a historical reason, independent of white people, to assume commonality - even without the obvious connection of culture.

      So I view an inter-Asian identity as merely the reawakening of a process that would most likely have taken place naturally if European colonialism had not occurred. "Asia" is a Euro-term, but it can be appropriated by us to describe this process trade, migration, and communication between the region's tribes, kingdoms, and city empires, that existed prior to European interference.

      Delete
    2. The thing with an inter-asian community from a historical POV is that English is the language that unites us. Its also the language of racists or specifically Anglo-imperialism. Given that we still dont see English-speaking Asian rolemodels to this very day in 2014 celebrated in mainstream media, nevermind rolemodels that preach inter-Asian community means that something else in Asian community needs to happen. Like a threat that affects the whole Asian community for us to stick together. Something that can tribally unite the different Asian ethnicities. What would that be. Mein Kampf 2? Rich Asians have it too good, and as long as they do there will never be a common understanding because when you are rich, you have less inclination to care about your skin color because money can buy your way out of it , help you climb the white career ladder, and keep you hidden in FOB circles. There is absolutely no monetary use for an Asian community, and until there is, there will never exist one.

      Delete
  2. Didn't know you were Filipino, that's cool man.

    Pan-Asianism in the early 1900's was about Asian countries uniting against a Western Imperialism. Essentially, a bunch of people gave us each the same kind of shit and saw us as the same, just a bunch of countries to be colonized. It's the same with modern Asian Americans and other non-Asia Asians being cool with one another. We all look alike to them and they give us the same kind of shit. SEA do terribly in class, yet will get that Asian defferimative action on college applications.

    I'd like Asia Asians to have the same kind of love, but on the other hand I respect that they know they are not the same, that "all Asians are alike" that white people spew is weird as hell to them. They are unique, different and individualistic, but also need some level of racial awareness despite not really having to put up with the crap we do everyday. A lot of them have a negative view of Western foreigners that treat them like they do us, but it doesn't seem like they know why to a deeper level.

    Asian male celebrities seem to be great beacons for us because they're usually the ones that have to fight through all the stereotypes the most, especially in sports. I'm sure every Asian athlete has had his manhood dissed in the locker room.

    Asian female athletes I think are more common percentage wise, but unfortunately female athletes aren't that respected, at least athletes in contact sports, which would break the stereotype of Asian women being dainty and super feminine.

    I don't really trust Asian artists too, but to be fair, I don't think they make enough money to do anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I won't say that Asians in Asia cannot understand the Asian-American experience, but I will say that because they may not be inundated with negative racial images and ideas about them, that they may not necessarily have the same emotional response to prejudice, even though they abhor it on an intellectual level. Unless you live in a society in which the culture itself engages in racial harassment of Asians then it is difficult to connect with the kind of emotional and psychılogical distress that such things elicit in those that do.

      But as I said in my comment above, Pan-Asianism or a pan-Asian identity should be viewed as a natural process interrupted by European imperialism, and something that we should expect to occur for various reasons.

      Delete
  3. I agree with your perspective that the future lies in creating a Pan-Asian identity. I despise the regionalism and even nationalism at times that I find ensuing in the Asia-Pacific region. Another reason why we should connect ourselves with ethnic homelands, and then become brokers for pan-unity, dialogue, and peace, using our American identities to foster communication between separate Asian "tribes".

    ReplyDelete
  4. The only way pan-Asian ( in east and west) is something that will happen between Asians is any of the following ( because Asians only do something when there is of a self interested benefit involved)

    - business transactions
    - dating
    - social events based on 'race'

    the last one wont happen because its not enough to break Asians out of our nuclear family shell. So that leaves the first two. We all know the issues of Asian dating, which thanks to white hegemony, means Asian guys can only date in the west if they are on 6 figure salaries. So that leaves the first, business. What kind of business can Asians in the east do with each other that hasnt already been done. And what kind of business in the west involves Asians interacting with each other when most of the Chinatowns ( as an example of an Asian business) have to be legislated by white local authority.

    So those two are out. We are back to the last one - social events based on race. If Asians cared about their skin color, then things like language wouldnt matter. Again its ironic the biggest popular language in China ( and Asia) is English, yet Asians will not unite over this.

    So i repeat, for FOBS to create racial solidarity in the west, it needs to be done over the acknowledgement of speaking English, yes the language of the colonialists. But from the perspective of a way to communicate and let ideas be heard, that is until an East Asian language ever gets developed. Once that is established around social events that celebrate race ( with cultural events of authentic FOB music or even some decent Asian bands that have some edge, rather than white-wannabe guitar players , in any genre. Then Asians can have something to celebrate. I think if music and glitz is good enough, any culture can be appreciated. But Asians really just dont care enough to celebrate, and make an effort to celebrate our yellow skin because race doesnt exist, even though racism against Asians has been going on since 1900s and we are now in 2014 haha

    ReplyDelete