SPRING 2018 | VOLUME 1 | ISSUE 1
EXPLORING IDENTITY IN THE MODERN WORLD
BROUGHT TO YOU BY
With a 72% growth rate from 2000 to 2015, AsianAmericans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States, and approximately 30% of Asian-Americans are 24 or younger (Pew Research Center; US Census Bureau). YALA was born from the realization of the necessity of a national platform to unite those struggling with their seemingly disparate identities as AsianAmericans and youth seeking to use their voices. Born at the turn of the century, the current youth of America are uniquely positioned to set a new precedent for the America we aspire to become. This is our platform, and these are our stories; watch closely as we change the world.
THE PRESENT. THE FUTURE?
OUR MISSION To spark youth civic engagement, provide a platform for the narratives of AsianAmericans, and foster intersectional allyship, thereby cultivating a new generation of active community leaders.
AN AMERICA POWERED BY EMPOWERED YOUTH.
IN THIS ISSUE
A SPOTLIGHT ON DAVID FUNG OF THE FUNG BROS 1/2 of the Fung Bros duo
reflects on his identity and Youtube career.
THEY CALL HER YU A poem about a Chinese girl and her beautiful city of
YALA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Justin Thach Jacquelyn Kim Kripa Solanki
EDITOR'S NOTE It's hard to believe that YALA operations started one whole year ago! In light of this big milestone, the YALA board has spent a lot of time reflecting on the lessons we've learned in the past year and analyzing how we can best apply those lessons in this new year of operations. When YALA was first founded, we knew that we wanted to provide a platform for young Asian-American voices to discuss a wide range of topics spanning from advocacy, news, and artistic content to dialogue about Asian-American LGBTQ+ issues. Thus, we began publishing pieces on Medium, an online publication platform. However, after reflecting upon our progress with RISE over the last year, we realized that we needed more consistency and creative freedom with our content. Thus, we endeavored to design our own publication, to be published at increments throughout the year. Our current goal is to publish one issue for each season. However, with our active recruitment of more content producers, we hope to be able to publish even more frequently! This issue is shorter than we anticipate future issues will be as it was put together by only myself, but with our new YALA Fellows and content producers/editors, we hope to share even more content with you in each future issue! We hope this first issue gives you a taste of what's to come, and we thank you for your continued support of YALA.
A student's reflections on her and her parents' respective
developments of career aspirations.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JERARD LOUIS: INDIE MUSIC ARTIST A Filipino-American singer and
songwriter on being Asian in the music scene.
THEY CALL HER RIYA A poem about an Indian girl's transition to America.
We've got a lot of exciting stuff planned, and we hope you'll join us for the journey and all that's to come! Onward! Jacquelyn Kim All photos used in RISE were released under a Creative Commons license, except for those taken by YALA photographers and labeled as such or used with the permission of an interview subject. The views and opinions expressed in each piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Young Asian Leaders of America.
Cover Photo by Nathan Jiang (New York City, NY)
A SPOTLIGHT ON DAVID FUNG OF THE FUNG BROS BY CLARA PARK (NEW YORK CITY, NY)
The Fung Bros are a comedic YouTube duo comprised of Andrew and David Fung, two Chinese-American brothers who were once regulars at the basketball courts in New York City’s Chinatown. Apart from their comedy, they are also known for their immensely popular YouTube videos centering around the Asian-American experience, including things like “18 Types of Asian Girls,” “Things Asian Parents Do,” and the “Asians Eat Weird Things” music video. Their rise to Internet fame was one of the first of many Asian-American breakthroughs in American entertainment, and we corresponded with David Fung to discuss The Fung Bros’ success and the unique experiences and challenges that come with being a prominent Asian-American in entertainment.
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Could you tell us a little bit about you and your brother, Andrew? We’re brothers from a city called Kent, WA. We are YouTubers but really we’re comedians and cultural commentators at our core. We just happen to know how to do some other stuff as a way to spread our message. We know you guys just moved — have you noticed any differences between New York City and California?
WE WANTED TO BE IMPACTFUL IN AN ENTERTAINING WAY BECAUSE WE’VE GOT TO A LOT TO SAY ABOUT THE WORLD AND OUR LIVES. There’s a ton, but the easiest way to say it is that NYC is a super-dense urban jungle and LA is a vast beachdesert-suburb hybrid. So many pros and cons of each — it’s just about personal fit, the time of your life, and your goals. How did you guys become YouTubers? Were your plans initially different from how your careers turned out? We wanted to be impactful in an entertaining way because we’ve got to a lot to say about the world and our lives. I think it’s a constant process to get the ball rolling on the exact trajectory you want, but you’ve just got to be satisfied it’s in the right direction.
IN RESPONSE TO CRITICISM:
I JUST TRY AND EAT THE WATERMELON AND SPIT OUT THE SEEDS. Who inspired you to become YouTubers? Honestly, I would say that the other L.A.-based Asian YouTubers were certainly inspiring to use the platform, but the people who probably drove a lot of the desire to be funny were Dave Chappelle, the Wayans Brothers, and Jim Carrey. Chappelle has a lot of messages and the Wayans are low-key political, but they’re often not thought of in that light. How has your content been received, particularly as you grew more well known? Positive and overwhelmingly love overall, but obviously we get criticism a lot too, especially online. And that’s fair, I just try and eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds. Sometimes there’s no watermelon though, it’s all just inedible. My art hasn’t been executed at the 100% level, or even close to the level I wanted yet so I understand the criticism.
How do you deal with some of the difficulties that come with pursuing a career in the arts while coming from an Asian cultural background? You just gotta work really hard and sacrifice to push through barriers. Certain fields have more obstacles than others so make sure you really, really love this game if you’re going to choose this world. Asians are often stereotyped as not funny, not attractive, and unwanted in the entertainment industry, so how have you dealt with these stereotypes? It’s true that the mainstream entertainment narrative is quite negative towards Asians, particularly Asian males. However, you’ve just got to keep pushing; maybe you ignore it or zone in on your craft, or maybe you’re ultra-aware and woke and it fuels your drive forward — everyone will choose a different method and no path is guaranteed success nor failure. It’ll be unique to each person. What do you think about the lack of Asian-American representation in the media? I think it’s something that deserves more attention from the community, because there’s a ripple effect in society that a lot of people aren’t aware of that is driven by the media.
As someone who makes comedy videos for a living, how do you discern the line between being comedic and being offensive?
How has your Asian identity impacted your career choices? For me, my parents are like lower-middle-tier “modelminority” style parents, which means if “tiger parenting” is ranked from 1–3 with 3 being the highest, our parents were like a 1.9. So my theory is that if your parents are a 3 or 1 obviously that’s a drastically different Asian experience which will lead to different results. But we’re like a 1.9 so I’d say it for sure affected it by keeping the material pretty clean and “church-safe,” but not strong enough to stay away from the industry as a whole.
Image from Fung Bros Youtube Channel
One of The Fung Bros' most popular video series is "Things Asian Parents Do," and their Youtube channel has garnered over 300 million views since May 2011.
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Is it funny? The line is blurry though and as a comedian you’ve got to know your own limit. Anyone can say what they want but they’ve got to deal with the consequences.
If you could meet one Asian celebrity, who would it be and why? Bruce Lee, RIP. He’s probably the only legendary Asian-American in history that is categorically revered by all groups.
...you’ve got to make tough decisions that seem like imperfect choices...
If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why? I’d like to talk to Obama. I read his books and saw his vision. What do you think about the spread of Asian popculture in America? For example, K-pop boy-band BTS winning the Social Artist Award at the Billboard Music Awards? I think it’s important to get Asian faces out there and you gotta take it step by step. I think the BTS win is a step in the right direction. What do you think about some of the racist backlash that resulted from BTS winning at the Billboard Music Awards? Well I think that any progress in this arena will be met with some opposition, so people should expect it, as hard as it sounds, but work to make progress despite it. Don’t let it hold you back from working hard and being productive. Have you experienced any racism or stereotypes in the industry you’ve chosen?
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For sure, there are a lot of racial stereotypes that have micro and macro impact. Not everyone you meet is going to view you as a stereotype but some really will put you in a box. Some people like to think about it a lot and some people like to try and be blind to it as possible. For me, I think I used to be hyper-aware of it but I think more focusing on doing what you do is probably more effective. Not saying you need to be blind to it because that’s wrong too, but you just need to rank it as a lower priority to being productive.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. To learn more about the Fung Bros, visit their YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/FungBrosComedy. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter, @fungbros!
What are your ambitions for the future? We just want to continue making art with a statement. I know that not everyone likes every video, especially since there’s a huge variety on our channel versus most others, but we’re just being true to our art in that moment. A lot of the creative process is just pushing forward and learning the lessons from the videos that failed. Lastly, what would you say to any young AsianAmericans who struggle with their identity? I think you’ve got to make tough decisions that seem like imperfect choices, depending on your goals. So for example, if you’re Asian and you want to be an artist — but all your Asian friends are going into corporate or medicine fields — you’ve got a choice to make. Do you want to hang out with the friends at Happy Hour or do you want to put in work at the studio, whatever studio that may be? And it’s not an easy choice, because most Asian-Americans have a lot of pressures on them — valid ones, often — to be more conventional. If you want to be unconventional then you’ve just got to accept that the pool of Asians who want to be like you is probably pretty small. But you’ve got to want it bad enough to stomach that. Focus on your own forward drive engine instead of the winds that may blow against you. The winds exist for sure, but you can’t not have encounter after encounter with the wind because that’s outside of your control. When you do have an encounter with those winds, you can make your engine stronger, more efficient, and more advanced.
THEY CALL HER YU
EMMY SONG (ROCKVILLE, MD)
On some days, Yu is rain, making a menace of already gray Beijing skies. It makes her world smaller, small like her family’s apartment, because in a city of 21 million, finding one’s own space is hard enough. She is at home where streetside vendors shake flimsy umbrellas in her direction, where wet underwear twists around clotheslines, where rain trickles through her straight black hair like doujiang down her throat in the mornings. She finds solace in the rain. Occasionally, Yu is the vibrant jade bracelet passed down through her family. A physical representation of her ancestors’ dream to create a better life for their descendants. Encircling her wrist, she imagines it is a handcuff, chaining her to the desk where she studies and recites. Sometimes, it is her motivation to find a better future in America. Most of the time, it is her yueding to her family, her own steady rock, standing behind her unfailingly. Other days, Yu means meeting, as in taxicabs crossing paths with bicyclists and pedestrians, millions oblivious to their intersecting lives. As in crumbling gray apartment buildings, stacked next to skyscrapers As in ancient gardens and folklore a subway ride away from modern architecture. As in the gentle melody of Mandarin, meeting her ears with its familiar and lively dance as she gazes out to the city, her city.
a part of the Journeys series
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crammed like salmon into concrete blocks.
JOB EXPECTATIONS BY JESSICA ZHANG (FREMONT, CA)
Photo by Nathan Jiang (New York City, NY)
The looming decision of which college to attend and major to pursue has prompted me to reflect on my formative years to find the underlying passion that will drive my future career choices. However, reminiscing about those innocuously carefree times has reminded me of one central and commonly repeated question. Adults all around me often ask, to some varying degree:
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN MEDICINE, ENGINEERING, LAW OR BUSINESS?
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Growing up, these were the only options ever presented to me, and I felt inclined to select one of the four and imagine my life as if I were one of my role models in these industries. These jobs weren’t presented simply because of a practical aspect, in terms of college-level education or pecuniary prospects. Rather, they were presented because every single prominent adult I conversed with on a familiar level worked in one of these professions. The society I grew up in respected these, and only these, career choices. To understand why my community of expatriates from Asia seeking educational and job opportunities consisted densely of these workers, there needs to be more historical context.
Employers also had to prove that hiring and sponsoring that immigrant wouldn’t take a job or chance away from a possible American and that those specific skills could only be fulfilled by recruiting talent from abroad.
In the long process of immigration to the United States, one can apply in four major ways: through a relative sponsor, with an employment offer, as a refugee, or by lottery. he most easily accessible way for people from Asia, where having familial connections isn’t the norm, is to apply for a highly technical job in those aforementioned professions.
Fields that had a shortage of college grads with the necessary skills, like computer science, sought workers from outside the United States. The dot-com boom, a period of heavy investment into Internet companies from 1995 to 2000, of Silicon Valley brought a massive influx of computer scientists and engineers from Asia.
Being an immigrant seeking citizenship was a long and arduous journey for most. My parents both went to school in the United States with student visas, so finding a job right out of college and securing work permits weren’t as hard. However, this contrived system dictated what opportunities they had in terms of choosing their major in college and what they wanted to do as a job in the future. My mom interned at many different companies and workplaces that had a significant shortage of workers at the time and, as a result, paid very handsomely. She tried her hand at physical therapy, dentistry, and computer science and eventually settled into a comfortable job in the mixture of medicine and sciences. However, one regret stays true to this day. My mother wishes that she could’ve studied her true passion, something outside of the realm of the four pillars of success: music. The distinction she detailed was one of privilege and enjoyment. Although she truly loved piano and could’ve dedicated the decades of her life to playing, she was never given the opportunity to become great. Enjoyment doesn’t pay the bills, so, instead, she sacrificed her dream for the possibility of her kids achieving their own. She laid the foundations of money that enable the freedom that the American dream promises.
My father was in college for almost an entire decade. He studied biochemical engineering and math in college because company sponsorships were almost guaranteed if he graduated with either majors. However, after four long and grueling years in school studying these topics and work experience, he reevaluated his potential life journey and found that business was where he wanted to be. Finally, he ended up applying to graduate business school to study accounting, finance, and dimensional analysis. He feels fortunate to have switched because business is truly his forte, but he started off his career and accumulation of experience later than he had wished. Nevertheless, he was able to achieve his goals and decipher 10-K balance sheets, cash flow statements, and income statements all day long and analyze them. Although my mom will never fulfill her version of the American Dream, that same drive and passion to achieve her goals was passed down to me, and I feel a responsibility to achieve my own version of the American Dream: becoming a writer. Writers must invest long periods of time, with no guarantee of success, especially when embarking on a hefty goal such as a published book, before possibly reaching readership. It’s such a creative process, yet it requires the admiration and approval of others. Writing is always a work in progress, and writers can often get frustrated with writer’s block or fixing structural flow. Despite all these obstacles, through writing, I have found a creative outlet and matured with abstract ideologies, which have contributed to my unique and quirky, yet eloquent, personality. I have also met an entire community of people who love expressing themselves, and we can relate to each other with prominent plot lines or fallible figures in these books. We imagine ourselves participating in discussions about Victorian Jane Eyre books or dystopian novels about dependence on artificial intelligence until 3 or 4 am in informal settings at college. Therefore, I may not know what I intend to major in just yet, but I have realized that I want to be in a lively, albeit sometimes rowdy, community that challenges and encourages my creativity as a writer. Although my not having chosen a major yet is an unsettling thought to my parents, I’m sticking to my passion to avoid regrets further down the line.
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Enjoyment doesn’t pay the bills, so, instead, she sacrificed her dream for the possibility of her kids achieving their own.
It’s also harder for Asian women if they have kids because they become her obligation. Instead of a gift to the world like my mom treated me, I felt like a burden to her shoulders. She, like in many other families, became a housewife to take care of domestic duties. Thus, to this day, I remain grateful for the things I take for granted, like the opportunity to pursue my passions directly because I have the mental and monetary support of my mom.
Growing up, most of the ethnically Asian kids in my school participated in band or orchestra. We were told things like “it’s good for your brain” and “you’ll need it to get into college.” However, past middle or high school, music and other creative pursuits were often replaced by studies. Careers in music and the arts were often treated unstable and looked down upon. Yet, this still hasn’t stopped a few Asian-American independent music artists from breaking the mold. In recent months, the media company 88 Rising has shaken the music industry with their Asian artists (e.g. Joji Miller, the Higher Brothers, and Rich Chigga), changing the way ethnically Asian musicians are viewed by Americans outside of the KPop idol image.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JERARD LOUIS: INDIE MUSIC ARTIST BY CHRIS STONE (NJ) How do you think being Asian might affect how people perceive your music?
By Ch ris Oliver As an Asian-American, I feel as though my ethnic
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background tends to make people stereotype me. “Oh of course you’re good at music, of course you play piano, of course you sing. Asians are supposed to be good at that kind of stuff right?” All of which are things I’ve been told in the past, and I think that in a way these stereotypes diminish all of the work I’ve put into music. I was never naturally talented at music, I used to spend hours working on my guitar playing and on my voice just to be half as good as my peers. How does your Asian heritage influence your style? I would like to say that my Asian heritage influences my music style. However, I don’t entirely believe that it does. Growing up as an Asian American, I’ve been surrounded by both Asian and American music, and, without a doubt, my sound is entirely influenced by the American music I grew up on. Although, Asian-American artists such as Daphne Loves Derby have been a massive influence on my writing style. Lyrically speaking, I think I draw a lot of influence from Filipino culture. In the Philippines we have a word called “Hugot,” which means to “draw from within” or “get you in your feelings” as we’d say in English. I grew up watching a lot of Filipino media with my mother, and Filipino media tends to be very “hugot”. The lyrics that I write are very heavily inspired by Filipino artists like Up Dharma Down who inspired me to embrace the beauty in my native tongue and make my music as “hugot” as possible. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jerard is a New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and a first generation Filipino-American. Like many other first generation immigrants, Jerard spoke Tagalog at home as a child, later taking English Second Language (ESL) classes in elementary school. English, being a dominant tongue, eventually caused him to lose fluency in Tagalog for a while, but he noted that “for the last year I’ve been speaking in full Tagalog at home and with my internet friends.” I spoke to him about to get his own perspective on growing up as an Asian-American artist. Are there any stereotypes you regularly find yourself subjected to due to your culture, and how have you learned to face them? As an Asian male, I feel as though people perceive me as automatically feminine. For a while, I wished that I could be more masculine and attractive in masculine/Eurocentric standards. I realize now that my femininity is a central part of who I am and that, regardless of my race and gender, I shouldn’t have to feel confined to my gender roles, and I should feel free to express my racial-gender identity however I see fit. Korean fashion has always inspired me to embrace my own femininity. Seeing other Asian men wearing makeup and embracing their slender figures really helped me to forget Western gender roles and Eurocentric beauty standards and find beauty in my own body. Do you have any Asian American music artists that you personally look up to? I’ve always been a huge fan of Daphne Loves Derby. Kenny Choi was one of a handful of Asian-American artists in the emo scene back in the day, along with My American Heart, and seeing him go against societal expectations for AsianAmericans really inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone and be myself. Do you have any words of encouragement for other young Asian Americans who are also interested in pursuing music? To all the young Asian-Americans interested in pursuing music, don’t ever let the world tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t ever let your peers tell you that you can’t achieve great things, and don’t ever let yourself believe that you aren’t capable of greatness. One of my largest regrets in life was never believing in myself and suppressing my own dreams and goals to fit the needs and desires of others. To learn more, follow Jerard on Instagram @JerardLouis.
THEY CALL HER RIYA
RHEMA MATCHA (NEW YORK CITY, NY)
They call her Riya, and her mother’s smooth hands, with quick flicks of her wrist, tightly package the silky locks into a braid. Legs sprawled on the floor, back leaning against her mother’s warm chest, hearts beating in sync. Riya’s resting eyes open to a yellow washing over remnants of the starless night. The beaks of baby birds open widely to scream. The milk man’s metal cans clatter and clang. The maid knocks, and Riya sprints to the living room, hastily sliding into a chair next to her younger brother. She shoves a spoon of grainy upma in her mouth, savoring the slight sweetness of semolina freshly roasted. The shouts of her friends from beyond the red wooden door reach her ears. Riya runs again, giving a quick sloppy kiss on her mother’s cheek. Her friends are rowdy in the rickety rickshaw, donning the same uniform. There’s barely room, but she squeezes in the yellow, two wheeled vehicle. Legs touching, packed lunches crushed, mingling breaths. It’s alright — in fact it’s habitual, and it’ll be her last. Tomorrow her family will go to America, this time for good. New York City — it seems sleek, clean, freshly cut, and refreshing. Riya tries to think of more adjectives, but her thoughts are drowned out by the swerving, honking cars, motor bikes weaving through, buses packed with office workers dominating the roads, and chattering women carrying baskets of groceries on their shoulders. New York City — a breath of foreign, fresh air — can wait for tomorrow. Hugs, tears, consoling words — they all fly past Riya. She’s beyond heartbroken, and will miss the warm fun of India. Hyderabad has always been her home: the same maid with crescent moons for eyes. The same smell of burning chapatis on the charcoal black tawa. The same familiarity of friends and family. The humid, heavy air, the clouds of dust, the thick sarees — all will be gone. Riya zips her suitcase, closing up as many memories as she can in the small, black bag. It will be gone. a part of the Journeys series
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concrete walls that withstood the harsh downpour of monsoons. The same
CONSCIOUSNESS IS POWER. CONSCIOUSNESS IS EDUCATION AND KNOWLEDGE. CONSCIOUSNESS IS BECOMING AWARE. TOMORROW'S WORLD IS
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YOURS TO BUILD. Yuri Kochiyama was a life-long activist for social and political change through her activism in support of social justice and civil and human rights movements. Her experiences in an internment camp and her friendship with Malcom X shaped much of her activism, and she was actively involved in various movements for ethnic studies, redress and reparations for Japanese Americans, African Americans and Native Americans, political prisoners’ rights, Puerto Rican independence and many other struggles. (Paraphrased from http://reappropriate.co/2014/06/in-memory-of-yuri-kochiyama-familyucla-asian-american-studies-center-issues-statement/)