Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The 1990s Spawned Modern Asian-American Culture

One of my readers sent me a letter with respect to a blog I posted on dealing with my identity crisis as an Asian-American. I guess it really resonated with him which gives me mixed feelings, but before I go into that, here's his message,
I was reading this post, Identity Crisis For An Asian-American
Your K-12 experience was very much like mine. The main difference is that I visited China at age 11 and after that I was always very aware of my identity and part of me never wanted to integrate, to this day. 
Do you think there is really such a thing as an Asian-American identity? 
When I try to talk about this with my Asian-American friends, they say they just think of themselves as individuals with no racial identity, or they have an identity but they don't care much about it, the portrayal of Asian men in the media doesn't frustrate them. I don't understand how they can be nonchalant as obviously being Asian has shaped their entire life from start until adulthood. 
On the one hand, I'm glad to see that I wasn't alone in feeling this way, isolated and confused at times as to how I fit in this predominately white society, but on the other, I'm sad that America still has a long way to go before it becomes much more integrated to reflect the often mischaracterization of a true "melting pot". I still think it's a salad bowl at best outside of California.

Hell, even our next door neighbor, "Oh Canada!" is more of a melting pot than the U.S. I haven't been to every Canadian city, but I believe my personal experience and sample size (a biased one I reckon) is large enough that it exhausts the majority of the country that allows me to come to that conclusion.

Getting back to the question of whether or not I think there is such a thing as an Asian-American identity...I would have to say I think there is. Asian-American culture is still fairly nascent, but I would contend that our history is punctuated with a distinct AA identity that spawned from the 1990s. You might ask me, "Oh yeah, like what?

Take for instance three notable examples. For those of you born in the '90s, you're probably too young to remember what I'm about to describe below, but walk with me down memory lane anyway.

The Jeans

That was probably the first time I ever saw a pack of AA teenagers all dressing with a similar style - the unforgettable baggy style. Yes, it was the double X-Large sized jeans with the stapled bottoms and if the brand was JNCO, you were fucking hip and rich, because those things cost a whopping $50. One can easily spend $100 on a pair of jeans today, but when taking into consideration inflation and the fact that most teenagers, myself included, were broke as a bum, having $50 to throw around on som jeans meant that you were ballin'. Or, you did what I did and rotated your two or three pairs of jeans with your friends because you didn't want to be caught dead wearing the same clothes twice in the same week.

I used to rock jeans this size everyday. Its how Asian kids dressed in the 90s!

The Hair

It didn't matter what kind of Asian you were. Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, Korean, Laotian, Thai, etc. As an Asian dude, you had one of four types of hairstyles to choose from during this New Jack era: the flaptop, slicked back, parted halfway down the middle or the shaved head with two lonely strands of brown or blonde bangs.

I really wish I had a picture to show you, but unfortunately (or should I say fortunately), I can't find anything online, nor am I inclined to dig up old polaroids and show you. But just to prove a point, I think these oldschool K-Pop videos by Solid (above) and Uptown (below) serve as the perfect examples. Both groups comprised members who were born and raised American and crossed over to making music in their other tongue because as we all know, mainstream America wasn't nearly as progressive as it is today with the likes of Far East Movement or even MC Jin. And even those two are anomalies in this day and age.

Before you go on to argue with me, YES, I KNOW...but we're all influenced by black culture. They are the inventors of practically every genre of American music. 

The Car

Last, but definitely not least, how can anyone deny Asian-Americans of introducing the import showoff culture to the rest of America while reinventing street racing along with it? While most non-Asian teenagers were fixing up their Fords, Chevys or Cadillacs, it was the AA youth that birthed and popularized the hobby of fixing up Japanese cars. (Hyundai was still a laughing stock of a car company). Even AAs joked around with colleges like UC Irvine, once known as "University of Civics and Integras". From the image to the right its quite obvious I was only into the import lifestyle for the cars, not the hideous chicks.

By the time "The Fast and the Furious" hit the theaters, Hollywood was almost a decade behind, and if you were like my friends and me, then you probably thought to yourself after watching the original trailer, "How they are going to make a movie with a bunch of rice rockets and not have any rice eaters?" Thank God Justin Lin has been directing the last few FF movies and at least advocated for Sung Kang to play a significant role in the series!

Despite these examples taken from the '90s, there are some Asian-Americans out there who don't care about an AA community. Perhaps racism doesn't bother them because they don't place their ethnicity as core to who they are. I have a few friends who are like this and they see themselves as unique individuals. I think it's the right approach and a healthy way of thinking to break free from the conformity of racially charged stereotypes. I struggle with this myself even to this day but less and less as I get older. To say such things might seem antithetical to the spirit of my blog, but the overall point I'm trying to make is this.

Though we all have similar ethnic traits such as our hair color, love for noodles and rice along with a penchant for math, kung-fu and fobby accents, we are all unique. Ask Bill O'Reilly. He learned this the hard way. So if you can laugh at the ignorance fueling racism and look past the bullshit, then go right ahead and make your own breakthroughs. And if you want to destroy that kind of negativity in order to rebuild a stage for a brighter spotlight, then keep on Asian brothers and sisters.


  1. Do you think that it will be better in the future? Personally, I don't see any progress being made that will even make a small dent in the prevalent anti-Asian attitudes that are so common these days. I'm curious about your opinion though.

  2. Id agree about the idea of flipping between a community and individualism. Like the word 'Asian' It defines but its such a loose umbrella term. more like a youth popculture of connection between the different East Asian groups than any defined cultural identity.

    Because its not founded in anti-slavery like blacks or anti-terrorism like muslims it doesnt have this 'edge' that ethnics are supposed to have 'earned' in order to have the 'right to be accepted' in the west. That combined with the fact that our nature is largely publicly introspective in contrast to other groups. Then theres the model minority image despite a significant amount of Asians from working class backgrounds, that individuals that actually are model minority , and unfortunately make up the larger portion of Asians do little to challenge , which again has to do with our largely conservative hardwork, less talk attitudes.

    Take the WM/AF agenda that seemingly never ends. This is the first thing that we should unite against, but as far as progress is, maybe we have developed our own 'quiet' way of showing disapproval. And any misogynistic AF slut that can see herself reflected in that cliche, well, they deserve any beating they get. And this cycle will go on until, it just diminishes or becomes 'untrendy'.

    Another example we dont have an 'Asian' day. At Christmas different Asians do different things then - the individualism you mention. No unification combined with lack of 'fight' except movie idols, means that itll continue to go along at its usual pace.

    The 90s IMO set all of the above styles and fashions which sums up more an Asian 'attitude', than any kind of culture,which now is the jokey youtube culture, but I just think it will remain this loose umbrella term that meanders along until something significant happens in the political world that can influence affect how popular culture can allow Asian popculture to breathe and Asians treated fairly develop without the usual sinophobic/anti-east asian agenda BS.

    Anyway at least we have the pro-Asian blogs. Thats probably something that developed from 90s culture -cultural introspection,connection, appreciation, and develop our own kind of unnofficial online digital 'history' for better or worse


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