Jae Jin is not your typical musician. A Baltimore resident for almost 11 years now, he recently transitioned from healthcare management into a civic and social organization doing work in the inner city focusing on providing human services and social work for individuals with barriers. After graduating from Johns Hopkins with a degree in public health, Jae decided to forego an MD/MBA program and instead dove into social work and community engagement. On the side, he sings and plays guitar and piano, a talent that got him a credited primary role on one episode of Netflix’s House of Cards. You can check him out at http://jaejinmusic.com, for any booking requests contact email@example.com
Can you talk a little about what’s led you towards this path? Can you give us a little background? What do you do besides music?
I’m perfectly content not being a doctor/lawyer or making big bucks. I’ve tried working long hours for a higher pay. And instead of doing that, I decided that I would do what makes me happiest and to also pursue my passions in writing and music. I suppose it’s every Asian mom’s worst nightmare to decided to forego an MD/MBA program and instead take a low paying job in social work. It also doesn’t really make me a “good catch” on paper with the ladies but hey, I like to think that I’m pretty much dating music instead…
How did you fall in love with singing and music?
I fell in love with music the moment I was capable of hearing, and it’s been an onward process where I’m still falling in love every day and will do so till the day I die. As an artist/musician, I’m not only a creator but also a consumer. I consume the world I live in and through the people I am surrounded by. I do this because it’s a perspective thing. I don’t look at music as a means to make big bucks, or to be famous or something. This means long hours oftentimes spent in solitude working at getting better at writing, at playing instruments, and just studying all sorts of music. You need to be willing to meet people where they are at and connect with all types. It means connecting with the barista at my coffee shop or even through the stories I hear about the brokenness that exists in my City through the work I do. It wrecks me every day but in its proper perspective, you gain insight and an appreciation for people and the world. It’s about hope.
Who could you list as your major influences?
Musically, my influences span across a wide array of genres and time. If you want to make great music, you need to be able to do that. Back in the day I would only listen to specific genres and artists that I liked, but you realize you need to find the silver lining in every single form of music whether you like it or not. That’s the beauty of art. Aside from music, my faith has everything to do with why I choose to give up the world and its empty promises. It’s the things that you cannot buy or hold in your hands that truly give you peace and joy.
You’ve been making music for years. What makes this year so special?
I wouldn’t say I’ve been making music for years. I’d say I’ve been attempting to sing songs and play notes. Over the past year, I’ve had some things happen in my life that have gotten me to the point where I’m boldly going to take steps to share my original music for the first time and to do a lot more with music. These days I’ve been practicing so many hours on piano and guitar, and will literally write songs upon songs and throw away pretty much 99% of it. I know I need to put the work in to get to a point where, once inspiration hits, I’ll be able to create something beautiful. I’m also keeping an open mind and continuing to connect with all sorts of people. That’s pretty much how all of my opportunities have come about. Through people.
What does your family think of your venture and focus on music?
The one thing I am certain of is that my parents love me. Because of that, I believe parents are very risk-averse. They kind of know that I love music but I keep what I do with music from them. It really does kill me to not be able to share all that I’m doing with music because I love them, but they just don’t understand and it’s a bit foreign to them to be able to do something like music for a living. They also know that the music industry has its negative sides. And that concern is perfectly fair. The way I see it, I’m going to continue to work hard, stay passionate, and be happy in my day to day life. And in the end, I know my parents love me and are happy if I’m happy. And yeah… I’m happy!
What’s the hardest thing about working in music? And the best thing?
Well easily the hardest thing is that if you are actually committing to grinding hard and cultivating something related to music, it’s going to take many, many hours. It means your music and art isn’t simply a hobby or a pastime, but a lifestyle and a business. You need to work at it hard each and every day beyond a simple 9-5 mold because you understand that true success arrives in years (and possibly more) rather than in months or weeks. The other challenge is the superficiality of doing something like music. I’m glad that I’m a lot older and I’m deciding to make something of this, because I’m not going to be sidetracked by the attention or small steps. I’m not really interested in living a party lifestyle or popping bottles in the clubs. I would much rather meet a milestone, and then start working toward the next thing. Of course this doesn’t mean I’m not having any fun. I am a people person and need to be around people. It’s just I’d rather find more chill avenues to connect with people over good libations. Again, to each his own.
Recently, you had a cameo in the Emmy award winning Netflix show House of Cards. How did that happen?
Like everything in life, when you surround yourself with good people and continue to work hard, sometimes luck finds you. I know that the show was holding auditions but I really wasn’t interested in that. I actually ended up having an actor buddy of mine out in LA (who has been pushing me to do music for many years) set up a private meeting where I got to sing for the producers. The next thing you know, a few weeks after that I’m heading to the shoot in a credited, primary role. The experience was an amazingly wonderful one. I got to meet some amazing individuals, some of whom were so nice to me. The day the Season 2 was released, I had show creator and writer Beau Willimon reach out to me to thank me. I got a chance to meet and talk to him and he’s seriously got an amazing story. Go check the link for some background on the guy. And he’s humble enough to take the time to reach out to someone like me. I’m really grateful to him, Kevin Spacey, and the casting directors for their roles in getting me on the episode. I’m really thankful to have had such an awesome opportunity to have a tiny part of a great show.
What’s next for you, career-wise and music-wise? What can we expect in 2014?
2014 is going to be a great year! Just last weekend, I had a show in DC where I performed all of my own originals for the very first time ever. Personally it was a big step and this year, I’m starting to get booked for many more opportunities and shows so I’m hoping this is just the very beginning. I don’t really want to let too much out of the bag, but there are some pretty great things currently in talks and I’m really just enjoying the journey.
Is there any advice you’d give to someone pursuing music or considering careers?
Your twenties are an important time to struggle to find yourself. It has taken me nearly all of my twenties to figure out how to be real with myself, to not worry about what anyone else is doing, to not worry about expectations others have of you, and most importantly to be happy and do rewarding work. The formula I’ve come to find is that the more you live outwardly and for others, the happier you are. And if anyone wants to talk about it or ask me anything, please feel free to link up with me on Facebook or Twitter! I interact with everyone, so it won’t be a blind follow.
Look out for an interview with him this week!
For the past few weeks, we’ve convened a conversation about romance across racial and cultural lines. Some of the most eloquent accounts we encountered came from a Bay Area junior high school teacher named Noah Cho. We asked him to expand on some of his experiences in this essay.
It’s an odd feeling, as an adult, to look at a photo of your parents and feel perplexed by it. As a young child, I believed that most sets of parents looked like mine — a Korean man, a white woman — and it never registered to me that other parents looked different, or that their love could be something culturally undesirable.
But as I have moved through 32 years of looking at myself in the mirror, a time in which the vast majority of interracial couples I have known have looked nothing like my parents, I have come to see their love as something rare. Most men in interracial couples I have encountered do not look like my dad. They do not have his skin tone, or his combination of dark hair and dark eyes. My mom often tells me stories about when she began dating my father in suburban New Jersey in the 1970s, and I could only infer from her stories that her predominantly white community felt confused and unsure why a white woman would find an Asian man attractive.
I learned, slowly, painfully, over the course of my life that most people shared the opinion of my mother’s community. I know this, because I look like my father.
When I look in the mirror, I do not see someone that I understand to be handsome by Western standards. I look mostly Asian, and like so many other heterosexual Asian males before me, I have internalized a lifetime of believing that my features, my face, my skin tone, in tandem, make me unattractive and undesirable.
I am certainly not the first heterosexual Asian male to arrive at this realization, and I do not doubt I will be the last. I know where my insecurities originated. I know that a lifetime of being a pop-culture nerd has placed me at the center of a media universe that has repeatedly sent me the message that a male that looks like me is incapable of dating anyone that doesn’t.
Hearing my mother’s friends imitate my father’s accent after he died, making it ever more exaggerated, high pitched and feminized, reinforced this.
Overhearing female friends from every background and race discuss how they would never date an Asian man reinforced this.
“I wanted, desperately, to look whiter, because I wanted to know what it felt like to be attractive. … So, at the age of 18, I dyed my hair blond and placed green-tinted contacts into my eyes.
Seeing no one in my life that shared my cultural makeup and background until college reinforced this.
And even when I made friends who shared my racial makeup — an Asian father, a white mother — I didn’t look like them. A good friend of mine had a Chinese father and white mother, but he was tall, his hair lighter, his eyes more of a hazel color than the burnt coffee that inhabited my face. His skin was paler, whiter and his voice deeper. From my narrow, image-conscious point of view, it seemed like everyone was attracted to him. And no one was attracted to me.Courtesy of Noah Cho
I tried to “fix” this, once. I wanted, desperately, to look whiter, because I wanted to know what it felt like to be attractive. I wanted to know how my friend felt, how being closer to whiteness, and therefore beauty, could make me see myself as handsome. So, at the age of 18, I dyed my hair blond and placed green-tinted contacts into my eyes. I was trying to make myself look more like my mother, even though I have always and will always look like my father. But in the end, no amount of bleach I put in my hair could alter the tone of my skin or the shape of my eyes. I may be half white, but no one will ever see me that way.
It is not a fun thing to feel unattractive. My wife, who is Japanese and Chinese and has been my partner for 10 years, tells me that she finds me attractive. It breaks her heart that I won’t believe her. It breaks mine that I can’t.
I wonder, though. If I had grown up now, I wonder if things might have been different for my self-image. I grew up in Orange County, Calif., in racially diverse, but segregated Anaheim. Koreans stuck around Koreans, Latinos around Latinos. I didn’t see myself, or my parents, in the couples walking around Disneyland or the faceless strip malls that dominated my youth.
Since moving to the Bay Area a few years ago, I’ve started to see my parents more often. I saw them, young and vital, walking down Market Street holding hands. I see them having picnics in Golden Gate Park or waiting in line at food trucks in Oakland. I see them in the faces of the parents of the students I teach. And then I look at my students and I am surprised to find that occasionally I see a face that looks like mine, born from love like my parents’.
I am even more surprised to sometimes see my students fawn over the images of K-pop stars and hear them practice words in Korean, and for a moment I am struck by the thought that had I been born 20 years later my appearance might have made me an object of desire in this country. But then I look in the mirror again, and I see not the slim faces and chiseled body of those stars. In that moment, I understand that there is likely no standard of beauty, in either of my parent’s countries of origin, that would make me feel like I could possibly be desirable.
I wait for the day that I can look at my own face, and see something other than disappointed eyes looking back at me. I long for this, as much as I long to look at that photo of my parents, and finally see that it was nothing more than two people, in love.
It started before a friend told me that he wanted to date white women and before another friend told me “fuck white people.” It started before two 14-year-old girls on their way to a birthday party were crushed to death on the Yangju Highway, before George Bush put North Korea on the Axis of Evil, and even before either of my parents was born.
The Korean government turned a blind eye to prostitution at American military bases so the soldiers would stop raping civilians and the Korean people boiled leftover hotdogs, spams, and beans from American military bases to create “military soups,” once known as the “Lyndon B. Johnson soup.” MacArthur was hailed as a national hero and phrases like “even shit tastes better American” were thrown around while, halfway around the world, America did its best to continue its worst by beating and killing its own people.
A decade later, people in both countries held hands and sang “All You Need Is Love” with four British boys from Liverpool, but neither really started confronting the growing hatred towards each other or their own people. And I am their child. I am the child of these two nations with unresolved past, with public love and private hate, with open disdain and secret fetish, and with sons and daughters who grow up to lose their parents.
Before I knew any of this, I knew I had two passports while my parents only had one. I had the blue passport that they didn’t have and was told that being born in Queens was a good enough reason for me to have it. I had no memory of the place because our family moved to Korea when I was three. But whenever New York City came on the news, my parents would call out and say “Look, there’s your city!”
They told me and my brother that Abe Lincoln and Neil Armstrong were part of our history. They told us that we belonged to the strongest nation in the world. History books said the same thing. Hollywood movies said the same thing. Olympic Games said the same thing. And when another Korean found out that I had this blue passport, I saw in their faces that they were thinking the same thing.
In 1998, I liked being Korean. I loved being American.
Sometime that year, Aunt June came from California with a giant bag of assorted candies. I had been saving up lollipops in my candy box for months and had only collected five or six. So when Aunt June came with enough candies to fill the box ten times over, the message I received was clear: Fuck saving, here’s three thousand candies – there’s more of these where I’m from.
Although I could never get myself to like the Laffy Taffys or the Lemonheads and ended up throwing most of the candies away, I wanted to go where Aunt June was from. And while I sat on the sofa opening a bag after another, tasting candies, and spitting them out, mom sat across from Aunt June and listened to her stories. She heard about Aunt June’s white engineer husband, her two story house with a peach tree in the back, and her son who had just skipped second grade. Three years later, Aunt June called my mom and asked if she wanted to send me to America. My mom and I were so enchanted by the illusion of America that we agreed in a heartbeat.
In 2001, I moved alone to Aunt June’s house in California and my dad told me over the phone that my new name would be David. And at this time, I was more ready to be David than any other. Aunt June bought me a pair of Jordans that she called “Nike IIs,” jean shorts with side pockets, and a bunch of polo shirts in different colors. She suggested that I slip a book in my side pocket to accentuate the cool, so I grabbed a yellow Nancy Drew book and slid it in my right pocket. And in the morning of my first class in America, I spiked my new “four on the top, two on the sides” hair with lavish amount of L. A. Looks Mega Hold.
Over the weekend, I watched cartoon episodes on Disney so I’d have something to talk about with the kids. But when I met the kids in Mrs. Drippes’s third grade class at Desert Christian, they carried Pokémon lunch boxes and backpacks. They watched Dragon Ball Z. Jackie Chan was still cool enough to have his own cartoon show and his Rush Hour 2 was one of the highest grossing films of that year. Even Jet Li had a number one movie alongside DMX around this time. When I arrived in America, kids and adults were already consuming Asian culture and other twisted, distorted, and untrue forms of Asianness.
So in 2001, I let others fetishize my Asianness, because I was desperate to become American.
Along with the rest of the boys, I just watched Dragon Ball Z in which the Asian martial arts gods fought aliens by turning supersaiyen. When a character goes supersaiyen, his skin become pale, brown eyes become blue, black hair turns blond, and the strength increases fiftyfold. I watched and enjoyed Asian characters transforming into white gods without being hurt, because that hierarchy made sense. And it made sense to Asian American kids across America, to the Asian kids in Asia, and to the Asian animators who created this visual endorsement of white supremacy. And after all, that’s what many of our parents wanted for us—to become white, become powerful, and become what they couldn’t be.
These were brave parents who packed their bags and moved their families to America or sent their children to live with friends, relatives, and strangers. But these were also scared parents who renamed their kids as Davids, Daniels, Jessicas, and Amys. They gave up on keeping their family together by sending their children to host families, or they left their careers to become storekeepers; dry cleaners; nail salon, massage parlor, and donut shop owners; cooks;, and domestic workers so that their children would have the choices and paychecks that they could never have. They wanted their kids to be able to permeate the white spaces and escape their horizon of Koreatowns, Chinatowns, and ethnic churches.
“If you’re not white, you’re missing out because this shit is thoroughly good. I’m not saying white people are better, but I’m saying that being white is clearly better. Who could even argue?” Louis C. K. says in “Chewed Up.”
And this is exactly what our parents thought. So when they saw that their children could perform as white, they encouraged it without teaching us or telling us to love our Asian side. And as the line between performing as white and being white blurred, so did the line between thinking white people are better and thinking that being white is better. In hindsight, our biggest mistake was having believed in the line at all.
In middle school, we grew out of the Dragon Ball Z phase and entered the Jackass phase. To us puberty-stricken Christian school kids, Jackass and its spinoff shows like Viva la Bam andWildboyz—in which white dudes ran around not giving a fuck about others, themselves, and the consequences—were not only funny, but even somewhat admirable. Aunt June had a son named Billy who I looked up to like my older brother, and he incorporated this not-giving-a-fuck mentality into himself in the form of Asian jokes. He was the funny Asian kid in his grade who didn’t care about saying racist jokes about himself and the other Asians. That gave him a pass on saying other racist jokes toward other groups of people as well.
As little brothers do, I learned from Billy and performed this character to my friends. On a daily basis, I told jokes involving Asian parents, bad driving skills, nerds, rice and eggrolls, small dicks, dog eaters, squinty eyes, accents, kung fu, and William Hung. And as long as my friends laughed, it felt great. I invited other kids to do the same with their race or ethnicity. There were only about 60 kids in my grade and soon, these racist jokes became a part of our language. Saying one more of these jokes became easier and easier. With no other Asian, black or Hispanic students to tell us that the jokes were hurtful, we just continued with white students laughing at our jokes and encouraging us on. The worst and most hurtful jokes, we often told ourselves. And we thought not giving a fuck, not being so sensitive, but, instead, being “cool with it” was our way of saying that we were not what we made fun of.
But every once in a while, I secretly feared that I wasn’t so different from what I made fun of. I was scared, despite all my Asian disses, that I was still an Asian boy who joked his ass off to become American and failed. So I overcompensated by over-consuming culture. I read books, listened to music, watched movies, and watched television more than any of my friends. I broke every Accelerated Reader record at my school, watched every movie in the IMDB Top 250 that I could find, listened to whatever album got over 8.0 on Pitchfork, and watched whatever television show that kids talked about in school. I figured that if I knew more, read more, watched more, and listened to more of American culture than any of my friends, no one could tell me that I wasn’t American.
In 2004, I hated being Korean, but I was obsessed with being American.
Around this time, however, my parents sensed that I was slipping away. They saw that I spoke English well, that I had white friends and girlfriends, and that I could become—as they wished—a part of “them.” But they missed being a part of my life. And they feared that they would lose a son and never get him back. They feared that I would lose a family and become lost.
So my parents found an international school in Korea where I could continue studying in English. They called me back to Korea in 2005 and I agreed, somewhat reluctantly, and returned to Korea.
The international school was filled with other Korean kids who had American citizenships. They were also sons and daughters of scared Korean parents who’d given them the most boring and safe American names. And even here, the kids didn’t blend in with other Korean kids, but formed their own community of Asian Americans. We were all fixated on consuming and learning American culture, and didn’t even try to learn or love the people and the culture we lived among.
These confused kids watched the Super Bowl without knowing the rules, called each other “niggas” and “G’s” and said shit like, “You’re from California? I’m so jealous!” Kids made fun of Korean accents, and the teachers sent students to the principal’s office for speaking Korean. The school sponsored programs like Habitat for Humanity and volunteer trips to South Asian countries, when, five minutes from the school, people lived in unauthorized housing, not knowing when the government or the landowners might force them to move out.
In 2005, these Asian-American kids and I were bad at loving our Korean side. And like many of our parents before us, we continued to uncritically accept all things American.
After two years there, I moved to Texas with my brother, to the house of a friend of my mom’s. My brother had stayed in Korea after our family left New York, so he spoke little English and had no idea what America would be like. But he had all the same illusions that I had. He willingly consumed American culture like me and dreamed about going to an American college and living up to his blue passport.
But at Paschal High School, teachers proudly talked about the existence of two different schools within one—one school with kids taking honor and AP classes and another with kids taking regular classes—and they didn’t care that the system separated most black and brown students from white students. They used phrases like “better opportunity” and “academic excellence,” but they didn’t love their students enough to teach or motivate all of them equally. The socioeconomic and racial divide was evident even during lunch times, when one group of students ate 40-cent government lunch while the other group ate homemade lunches or bought lunch from the in-school Pizza Hut vendor.
On my first day of school, my English teacher told me that I looked like “the Chinese kid inDisturbia.” I had no idea what that meant. Then a white student said to me during class: “Your eyes are so black, it’s almost like you don’t have an iris.” A couple days later, the school asked me to take an English proficiency test in which a lady asked “Man is big, bears are bigger, and dinosaurs are?” and “Grass is green and sky is?” My soccer coach, when I told him not to call me Bruce Lee, said “Other Asian kids liked it when I called them Bruce Lees.” Then a kid in my soccer team told me to show him my dick, because he’d heard Asian dicks were small.
When I asked for my college counselor’s help because I didn’t even know what SATs were, she laughed and said “That’s such an Asian thing to ask.” Then, the week before my college applications were due, she went on a vacation without writing my recommendation letter. The office ladies refused to call her cell phone, because we needed to “respect her privacy.” After the due date, she returned and said “Oops, sorry.” When I asked my English teacher if she could check my essay, she returned it the next day, unmarked, except for the comment “interesting.” A couple weeks before graduation, some students asked me to be in a photo and represent diversity so they could get Obama to come and speak.
For the first time, I started to feel something that I hadn’t felt when I was with other nine-year-olds in California or the confused Korean kids in Seoul. I knew that I wasn’t seen as an American by these people. And I thought, maybe, I had been deceiving myself into thinking that I was something that I couldn’t ever be. The term Asian American didn’t make sense to me. The people who we described as successful Asian Americans seemed to be the ones who successfully grew out of their Asianness and become Americans.
Nobody I knew had ever articulated what being an Asian American really was. Having an accent was a failure. Not speaking their parents’ language was not. Having no white friends was a failure. Having no Asian friends was not. Having a white partner was a success. Having black and brown partners was not. Many Asian American kids ate kimchi at home, loved ramen noodles, had Asian parents, and had exposure to Asian culture and language. Yet, they hid and distanced themselves from Asianness. They tweaked their last names on Facebook to sound white and separated themselves from Asian kids from Asia saying “I’m from New Jersey,” “I’m from North Carolina,” and “I’m just American.”
In 2010, I didn’t feel Korean. And I felt unwanted as an American.
I have taken language classes, econ classes, art classes, sociology classes, film classes, and English classes in college. I have learned to start sentences with “I feel like…” or “I think it’s interesting that…” I’ve learned to define people and their experiences. I’ve learned to use and misuse detached academic words like “diversity,” “privilege,” and “safe space” in my arguments and conversations. But I’ve never been asked to see my relationship to the people we defined. I was never asked to use “love” in the place of these impersonal words we leaned on.
I have written about gay marriages, black cinema, Asian images, woman’s rights, but never about love. And never with love. I have forgotten about that word for so long that I couldn’t remember how I wanted to be loved, how I loved, and how I failed to love. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I haven’t ever loved myself.
When I watched Bobby Lee, Ken Jeong, and Psy, I hated myself as a Korean. When I watched a YouTube video of white guys harassing a Korean girl saying “Why can’t you get plastic surgery like every other Korean bitches” and yelling “We gotta get the boobs in there,” I hated myself as an American. But even before these incidents, I have seen Korea failing to love its own people, America failing to love its own people, and both countries failing to love each other.
About four years ago, my brother went back to Korea, after three years in America. He started having nightmares, so he would stay up as long as he could until his body gave up to sleep. And when he sleeps, he shrieks. He wakes up crying. My mom called me one day to tell me that he drank alone at a bar and punched through five windows. “What happened in America?” she asked.
And a couple months ago, my friend Daniel said to me after watching Louis C. K. perform: “I think white people are just better.” A couple weeks later, I got a call from another friend saying that Daniel went crazy, ran around Third Avenue barefooted, and the police took him to a hospital. I went through two password-protected doors at Beth Israel to see him, and he told me that he ran for his life because he saw “I’m in your area” pop up on his computer screen. He said that when he tried to run away, a man in a red hoodie carrying a knife came to kill him. He said things that I couldn’t even understand, and then started writing down names of white artists that we idolized for years.
“They always knew,” he said.
What the fuck happens in America? What happens in America that my brother spends three years here and starts having nightmares too freighted to forget? What happens in America that my best friend who loved and consumed American culture all his life says, after spending two years in NYU, that white people are just better? What happens in America that makes him run for his life because he thinks someone is coming to kill him?
I couldn’t tell you what. But I can tell you how America failed to love. I can tell you that America doesn’t love its inarticulate. Instead of asking my brother “How can I help?” or “What can I do?” teachers suggested lower level classes and punished with words and grades. College professors did the same. When he turned in essays much more articulate than his speech, they asked “Who helped you?” and “What did you plagiarize?”
Instead of thinking about why all their friends and girlfriends are white, white students ask “Why do they only hang out with other black kids?” or “Why do they only date other Asians?” They say minorities are being exclusive. And in the classrooms, rather than trying to understand and love, we learn to define and patronize other people and their experiences.
America tries constantly to ignore the weak and break the strong. Korea has no love for itself or for the others. We worship, consume, and imitate forms of whiteness, forms of blackness, and forms of Asianness, but we still label them Yankees, niggers, chinks, and Japs. And America and Korea both don’t love their beautiful or the ugly. We define and limit beauty. Korea decided that double eyelids are beautiful, so we put them artificially on those who don’t have them. America can’t love a crooked smile, so our kids live with metal in their mouth for three years.
We’re bad lovers, so we continue the cycle of hate and self-hate. We let the producers of 21whitewash Asian characters. We let Spike Lee remake Oldboy and cast Josh Brolin as its lead. We let shows like Friends and Girls show only white relationships and use Asian and black actors and actresses to play interim lovers. We let SNL go thirty-nine years without casting a single Asian comedian. We make talented Asian actors come to America and play ninjas and yakuzas. We cast Asian actors and models with stereotypical Asian faces and un-stereotypical Asian bodies. We fetishize them by giving “sexiest man of the year” or “sexiest woman of the year.” And we ignore Baldwin’s warning that we could “lose our faith—and become possessed.”
We lose our faith in ourselves and lose our faith in our ability to love.
And instead, we partake in phony performances and dialogues of love. Drake singing “Shout out to Asian girls, let their lights dim-sum” is not love. A commercial saying “White, black, brown, yellow, purple, green, we’re all the same” is not love. I want to hear our pop culture honestly try to articulate love. I want to stop reading buzzwords like “safe space” that generate the false illusion of safety and the false sense of invasion. I want to see us love and fight for each other when no one is watching.
I have learned to perform love without loving, I hurt the people that I love. I wrote about them in stories and essays and talked about them in classes and meetings, but I failed to love them when I was alone. I didn’t return my mom’s calls and responded to her five paragraph texts with two sentences. “Sorry, I’ll call when I’m not busy” or “I’m working on an essay” were my responses to her love letters. I didn’t tell my friend to stop taking drugs until he was in the hospital. I didn’t listen to my dad’s stories when he was drunk. I didn’t tell my brother that I loved him. I never even asked how he was holding up. Yet I asked them to love me in all those ways. And, in all those ways, they unreasonably do.
This is a crazy-making environment, but some of us never go crazy—even if we want to. And it’s because we have people who love us too much to let it happen to us. We have people who give us calls, who miss meetings to talk to us, who fight for us, and who try to interpret our jumbled utterances and understand our quietest groans. We have people trying to love us in ways that won’t be on posters and t-shirts and in ways that won’t be written in emails or spoken about in meetings.
In 2013, I thought about love and talked about love. I tried to love, failed to love, tried again, and failed again. But the people who loved me unreasonably kept me sane and kept me trying.
In 2013, I could have been an orphan. But I remained a child of Korea. I remained a child of America.
Now it’s my turn to love.
David Byunghyun Lee is a junior at Vassar College
“This is a really beautiful Korean spa in Los Angeles called Aroma Spa & Sports. Korean spas are wonderful, and they hold a special place in my heart. I have been going to the jimjilbang since I was a little girl in Korea. You can have a bath and a scrub and a sauna and usually a meal and other spa treatments if you like, and aroma is special because there’s a huge swimming pool, a state of the art gym and a golf range on the top floor.
I went this morning, had a gorgeous swim in the pool, then went downstairs to have a soak, scrub and sauna. As soon as I walked into the locker room, I felt uncomfortable. I guess I should mention here, Korean spas are, uh — well, clothing optional is not the right thing to call them. It’s more clothing non-optional, in that everyone is naked…”
"Their intolerance viewing my nakedness –- as if it was some kind of an assault on their senses, like my ass was a weapon - made me furious in a way I can’t really even express with words -– and that for me is quite impressive. This bitch always has some shit to say.
I guess it comes down to this -– I deserve better.
I brought the first Korean American family to television. I have influenced a generation of Asian American comedians, artists, musicians, actors, authors -– many, many people to do what they dreamed of doing, not letting their race and the lack of Asian Americans in the media stop them. If anything, I understand Korean culture better than most, because I have had to fight against much of its homophobia, sexism, racism –- all the while trying to maintain my fierce ethnic pride. I struggle with the language so that I can be better understood. I try to communicate my frustrations in Korean so that I can enhance my relationship with my identity, my family, my parents homeland.
I deserve to be naked if I want to.
P.S. I saw a heavily tattooed Korean man in the gym area, and I doubt he was asked to cover up at all.”
Use the hash tags #18millionhearts and #APATownHall !
1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a Korean American born woman with many passions in life. I have always been pretty ambitious since I was a child, and would like to believe that many of those goals have been accomplished only to make many more new ones. I love to explore new experiences and enlighten the rest of the world of any new discoveries especially when it comes to food and adventures.
2. What do you do?
I am currently President of VNV short for Visualize & Voice Corporation. It is a positive street wear brand made for both women and men. Currently we have over 20 different designs for tees and tanks, but I plan to expand the brand to other types of apparel in the near future.
3. What inspired you to create VNV?
There are many things that have contributed to creating VNV. I believe there was a necessity for any clothing brand to be unique in the industry, as well as a need for attire that was able to provide our generation of trends with more positive and healthier messages on a daily basis. Our world relies on strong visual imagery from everywhere, and it made sense to create a brand that would be aesthetically pleasing and beneficial for our growing youth. It couldn’t hurt to be more exposed to something inspiring or motivating that could help plant seeds of healthy thoughts, potential aspirations, confidence, and visions of future dreams for the people who are going to be the leaders of our future.
4. You say that it’s inspired by fallen youth culture, what do you mean by that?
Since 2006 I have been able to submerge myself into a culture I had not expected to be in. It had already been almost 2 years since I graduated from Carleton College, but I had befriended many students in the capital district because Albany happened to be a college town. Although I had adapted to my new surroundings (having been originally from NYC/NJ) and met some amazing characters, I have realized there were many downfalls to the environment, vibe, and overall mood Albany had been notorious for: 1) Kegs and Eggs incident which gave Albany a bad reputation all over the nation 2) tighter police enforcement leading to cancellation of events like Fountain Day 3) deserted downtown streets 4) cold and long winters.
Basically, it was difficult to find people who were actually proud of living in Albany or going to school in Albany. It dawned on me that it might not just be Albany that may experience these sentiments in their perspective locations. All of our 18-21 years old’s all over the country some commuting from home, and some traveling far from home experience discomfort from what they are used to in their hometowns. The whole experience could only be made better by the very people living in it to change what needs to be changed if we all wanted to see any change. There were plenty of college towns all over the nation that have plenty of traditions and things to be proud of that also give their students something to be proud of when they are residing there temporarily. Hence, I observed this over the course of my time here and I wanted to be a part of a bigger movement. Possibly a positive revolution for the students here and for Albany as a city. VNV was created in Albany, and was inspired by the culture here, but it would speak for the rest of the world also.
5. Who do you name as your role models and inspirations?
I have never considered anyone specifically my role model, but there have been many individuals who have inspired me by challenging my views, and shedding light upon new perspectives that I had yet to discover. For that I thank that I have God in my heart, a mother who sacrificed everything to make sure I was educated and properly raised, a father who has supported me until I became self-sufficient, friends who are the brothers and sisters I never had, and relationships I have been in that have been a reflection of who I was at the time.
6. Where do you see VNV in five years?
In 5 years, I see VNV participating in all major trade shows, and known in NYC and other major cities in the country. I have released over 20 designs just within the 1st year, which means by then I foresee having at least 100 designs ranging in tees, tanks, outerwear, and accessories. I plan to hire employees who will be able to do administrative work, market, sell, and design for me. I also hope to be on track for my own brick and mortar store.
7. What about yourself? Where will you be in five years?
As for myself, I see myself creating new goals because I would have already knocked out all the ones I have set for myself this year, haha. I would like to be traveling a lot to market my brand, speaking at events to younger people to spread the brand’s mission and motto, and participate at fundraising and volunteering events to support organizations through VNV’s profits.
8. What has been your greatest obstacle?
My greatest obstacle has been myself. I truly believe that we all can be our worst enemies when it comes to life. There will be many people who judge and talk about you, and because of what you hear or the environment you are in you are unable to move forward or be optimistic about any tasks you have set for yourself. You have no one to blame, but yourself for not having accomplished the things you wanted to. Don’t let anyone stop you, not even yourself to go anywhere but forward. There is no point moving backwards so that is not even an option. Standing still or being stagnant will get you nowhere, so force feed yourself something positive to hurry up and get you to moving forward towards whatever you may want to do.
9. In a male-dominated business, how do you gain the upper hand?
Honestly, I used to always fight for the upper hand during my younger years. But, I have learned that it isn’t always about getting the upper hand especially against the opposite sex. I am not a feminist and I don’t quite believe in complete equality because I believe men and women are both made so differently that we both possess specific talents that we can always share.
However, the society we live in does not allow for things to be any easier for women when it is already dominated by men. For that reason, I have learned to take less risks and strive to be completely, ethically, morally, and consciously by the books. We can’t be blamed if everything was done correctly and there was no room for any criticism, but to be so rigid aka a perfectionist. Unfortunately, we might sometimes have to work harder to even gain any respect to prove that we have the strength and endurance a man would easily have over a woman biologically. I have also learned to have ownership of anything you do, which means to learn everything from the bottom up and not relying on anyone to help you. Always be professional when it comes to business, and treat everyone with the same kind of respect you would demand. Finally, to be comfortable with rejection because men probably deal with that all the time. Any kind of constructive criticism or a plain rejection of your product or even YOU should not discourage you to be who you are and believe in the things you are proud of because you will never please every single person in this world.
10. What advice do you give ambitious young Asian women?
I guess this would be a continuation from question #9 but I would like to tell our ambitious young Asian women that it is okay to feel discouraged at times because it is that much harder for a female minority who is young and inexperienced trying to be successful in this world. However, there are many advantages as well as rewards because you would have worked that much harder than the average person for your dreams. Rest assured times have gotten better, and the Asian community is more accepted if not in more demand in the media and in the workplace. Our work ethics and wits have been acknowledged even as a stereotype. Be grateful for the ambition in your heart and the fact that you possess these dreams. Embrace challenges, overcome any hurdles one by one, build bigger dreams as you achieve your goals, always be optimistic and positive enough to share the wealth of your vibes to any dark clouds around you, and have faith that no matter what you do in life that as long as you are thankful for what you already have, there will be no permanent failures in life. If anyone would like more in-depth advice please feel free to contact me and I can enlighten you to have a happier perspective on life.
A born and raised Queens boy, Jake Choi is the hottest name on everyone’s lips these days. You may have seen him in the Superbowl Best Buy commercial alongside Amy Poehler, College Humor originals, or the new show Golden Boy on CBS. Jake took the time to answer some questions for Fascinasians:
1. How would you sum up your background and childhood in less than ten words?
I was very confused of my identity and insecure.
2. Have you always wanted to be an actor? How did your family feel about that when you told them?
No I actually wanted to be a professional basketball player. But when I stopped pursuing basketball, I didn’t know what to do. My friend actually suggested that I give acting a shot based on my personality. My family wasn’t too against it or for it. They just wanted me to be happy.
3. What ethnicity are you? Do you think this has held you back or helped you in any way?
I’m Korean. I don’t think it has held me back or helped me. I guess it really comes down to how you play the hand your dealt.
4. Have you ever been offered a demeaning or racist role? How did you handle that?
Yes a few times. I had to politely turn them down.
5. What are you most proud of?
Hmm…. maybe landing the Best Buy commercial since the role really was open to any ethnicity.
6. Do you identify as more Korean-American, Asian-American, or just American? What’s shaped your sense of identity?
I identify myself as just a human being. But if I had to choose, I’d say Asian American. There’s a rich Asian history and culture here in America and I’m very proud to be a part of it. But we’re all really one and the same. It’s not about what color you are, what nationality, or religion. As long as you are comfortable with yourself, that’s all that matters.
7. What are the five most recently played songs on your iTunes?
Lauryn Hill - Ex-factor, 2NE1 - I love you, John Legend - Coming Home, The Weeknd - Enemy, Lupe Fiasco - Hip Hop Saved My Life
8. What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?
I think my biggest accomplishment is not quitting what I love doing even when I had hit rock bottom.
9. What changes do you hope to make in the community?
I would just like to help mold the image of how Asian Americans are viewed and cast in the entertainment industry and media. The stereotypes have been slowly disappearing but you still see it a lot on TV and film. Which is why I refuse to audition for any demeaning or stereotypical roles.
10. And last but not least, the question that’s on everyone’s mind: are you single?
No comment :)
This was for a project in my photography class. We had to choose historical photos from our culture and then find text to go with the picture and put everything together in the style of Carrie Mae Weems. The text of each photo is either directly quoted from an actual person, modified from a primary source, or created entirely by me.
Theme of the entire piece: ”Even if my fingernails [tear] out, my nose and ears rip apart, and my legs and arms crush, the pain of losing my nation is more brutal.” - Yu Gwansun
This piece explores the painful history of Korea and Koreans - Japanese occupation, Korean War, Korean Diaspora, and the L.A. Riots - and how in each case, our nation lost bits of itself (dead student protesters, dead soldiers, orphan children sent overseas, and loss of a purely Korean identity in exchange for a Korean American identity).
1) Dark purple. Mothers grieve for their sons killed in a demonstration, 1960. I solely created the text. While I am not sure if this picture is connected to the Japanese occupation of Korean from 1910-1945 and the consequent student demonstrations reacting against it, I interpreted the picture to represent the sorrow of Korean mothers who have lost their sons and daughters to the struggle against Japanese occupation.
2) Olive green. The color of peace is contrasted jarringly with the image of a machinery behind a young Korean girl and what it seems to be her baby brother. The word “South Korea” is on the baby and “North Korea” is placed on the young girl to show how families were split by the civil war. Text is based on a NY Times article that quoted Ri Kyong, a North Korean refugee. I modified it slightly.
3) Blue. A photo of a young Korean orphan. He represents the nearly 200,000 children who have been adopted overseas [often into white families] since the Korean War. This connects to the broader Korean Diaspora. Text is directly from adoptee Andy Marra’s wonderful and heartfelt article on going to Korea to meet her biological mother for the first time.
4) Red. My least favorite aesthetically because I had to really contrast the picture in order to highlight the redness so the picture is unclear. It is a photograph of Korean storeowners on rooftops, guarding their livelihoods. Text is a merging of two quotes from this NY Times article of April 1992. While this photograph is not of Korea directly, it is about immigrant Koreans in America and the long history of emigration from Korea. The L.A. Riots showed how isolated Koreans were from other people of color who resented their so-called “model minority” success and isolated from the police forces that abandoned the Koreans in their time of need. After the L.A. Riots, Koreans realized the importance of structuring a Korean American identity and getting involved in politics and activism, especially working closely with other communities of color.
jee-shots is my photography blog and this was a project I started for a class, but it got personal.
There will be four sessions at KASCON XXVI.: (1) [ROOTS] Engaging the Past; (2) [IDENTITIES] Breaking Down the Walls; (3) [PASSIONS] Grasping the Present; (4) [VISIONS] Imagining the Future.
I. [ROOTS] Engaging the Past: Taking a comprehensive look at our history as Koreans as well as Korean Americans and how this historical heritage impacts our present.
II. [IDENTITIES] Breaking Down the Walls: Taking a critical look at the identities that we occupy and build, and what it means to examine ourselves as individuals and as members of communities that intersect, working with/against each other to produce the unique experiences each of us live. Topics include:
III. [PASSIONS] Grasping the Present: Viewing how Korean Americans are making inroads into industries today in entrepreneurship and their various other professional fields and industries. Does being Korean or Asian American influence where we stand in social and economic institutions today? Is it limiting? Is it empowering? What are the effects of our successes and of our failures?
IV. [VISIONS] Imagining the Future: Envisioning a future that we create with our own hands, through establishing a clear sense of our identities and our goals, both as a group and as individuals. Anexploration of visions, goals, and hopes, diverse and sometimes disparate, and the bigger picture they create of a living, evolving community. Topics include:
Speakers include Maria Yoon, John J. Kim, Curtis Chin, Pauline Park, Iris Shim, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Keish Kim, Franny Choi, Steven Choi, Christine Yoo, Karen Chung, and Mark Ro Beyersdorf.