A Halal of a LAUGH 6 Artist in exile 8 Speaking OUT 10 Way of the sword 12 fast as lightening 13 highlighting our locks 14 Asian Americans on television 16 The Groove of Asia 18 Boy Wonder 22 With a single Stroke 26 resonating with the past 28 art on your sleeve 30
Letter from the Editor DEAR READER, When I first began pre-school, you would never hear a word come out of my mouth. Some kids cried each time their parents dropped them off. Other kids had difficulty mastering the whole potty training thing. But for me, I was extremely shy and known among the other pre-schoolers as the girl who didn’t talk. My mom was surprised when my teacher called and said she could never get me to say the answers to her questions or respond to regular conversation. Pointing a finger and nodding my head were my main forms of communication. “Really?” my mom told my teacher. “Because at home, Patricia won’t shut up.” I eventually got over my shyness as I became more comfortable with everyone. But by this point, everyone was so used to me not talking that I felt it would be way too awkward to start now. And so, I went on in silence. The thing about expression is it requires risk. In expressing ourselves, we say, “This is who I am,” and we subject a piece of ourselves to the possibility of scrutiny. Expression is personal. Other people may not like what we express, and sometimes, what we intend with our expression doesn’t come across the same way to others. Expression makes us self-conscious because it’s an immediate outward projection of who we are, and we often seek self-validation in the reactions to our expressions. These pages showcase how Asian Americans express themselves in different ways and for different reasons. Whether what we express is radical or ordinary, what’s important is finding something we feel is worth expressing — to the point where nothing can hold us back.
SINCERELY, PATRICIA POTESTADES EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EDITOR@SPARKS-MAG.COM
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A Ha lal of a Lau gh HOW AMERICAN MUSLIM COMEDIANS USE LAUGHTER TO BREAK THROUGH STEREOTYPES BY Antara sinha
vents in the 21st century have painted a bleak image of Islamic culture in the non-Muslim world. Modern conflicts and tensions have provided fodder to a pervasive image of Muslims as humorless people leading austere lives under a tyrannical religious doctrine. Between being represented as religious fanatics, heavenly virgins and quirky foreigners, modern media often forgets about Islam’s literary legacy spanning centuries, which has translated into a modern-day community of diverse Muslim comedians who use laughter to demolish persistent stereotypes. Sarra Tlili, an assistant professor of Arabic language and literature at UF,
6 • Expressions
instructs a course on humor in Arabic literature. Her class hosts an extensive curriculum spanning the pre-modern era and has a weekly focus on topics — such as “Mujūn: Love, Wine, Sex, and other transgression,” and “Food, Gluttony, and Avarice” — incongruous with media’s representation of Islamic culture. “A good body of it is very, very offensive and very, very obscene,” said Tlili. Tlili admits certain types of humor are frowned upon in Muslim culture, including spiteful mockery and malicious humor at another’s expense. But even the holy book of Islam, the Quran, acknowledges laughter to be innate and inseparable from human
life, she said. “It’s like an instinct. Like, the same way that you get hungry or you want to sleep, you also want to laugh and that’s just part of being human.” The lack of three-dimensional representation of Muslim Americans has led other members of the community to create content that they feel provide a more accurate and personal perspective. Aasif Mandvi, most recognizable for his role as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” said in his autobiographical book, “No Land’s Man,” that one of the first roles he auditioned for was a snake charmer.
... EVEN THE HOLY BOOK IN ISLAM, THE QURAN, ACKNOWLEDGES LAUGHTER TO BE INNATE AND INSEPARABLE FROM HUMAN LIFE.
During the audition, he was asked if he owned a turban or if he actually knew how to charm a snake. Experiences like this inspired Mandvi to create the play “Sakina’s Restaurant,” allowing him to create South Asian and Muslim characters with narratives that acknowledged their heritage but also had lives outside of the formulaic stories created by writers who were ignorant to the authentic Muslim American experience. Mandvi also took part in a comedy special titled, “The Muslims are Coming,” a series of stand-up performances by Muslim American comedians who tour the American heartland and counter negative prejudices. He successfully raised more than $37,000 in a crowdfunding campaign for a series titled “Halal in the Family,” a sitcom that satirizes ‘90s TV shows by portraying an “all-American Muslim family.” Aizzah Fatima is an actress and creator of the comedic play “Dirty Paki Lingerie,” a one-woman comedy show portraying the nuances and complexities of being a Muslim woman. During one of her first auditions when breaking into the entertainment industry, she recalls
OF US NEED “ MORE TO BE TELLING
being asked to read for the part of “Terrorist number two’s girlfriend.” “I just felt like the material out there was just crap,” Fatima said. Frustrated by the lack of complex roles, Fatima wrote her play to explore multiple Muslim American stories through comedic monologues. Characters in “Dirty Paki Lingerie” are as diverse as a second-generation girl from a Muslim family who loves the TV show “Dora the Explorer,” a feminist hijabi woman who struggles to reconcile her faith with her sexuality, to a concerned Pakistani mother looking for a husband for her daughter in the “Urdu Times.”
very American. They wouldn’t really talk like that, would they?’” Fatima said. This prompted Fatima to emphasize the accent even more to prove her point. “You know what? This is what America looks like, right? People cover their hair and they talk like this – they are American.” When she started performing, Fatima said she had a clear intent. She wanted to clear up a host of misunderstandings surrounding the American Muslims as a monolith of thought and educate her audience about a real Muslim experience.
Fatima meticulously interviewed Muslim women from different walks of life in the process of creating her characters. She made each of the monologues a fusion of the various experiences and stories she recorded.
More recently, Fatima has also felt the need to create a space for Muslim Americans to have a dialogue with each other, a touchstone to relate on and a medium in which they could see themselves.
When a journalist came to observe a rehearsal for “Dirty Paki Lingerie,” Fatima and her writers were toying with the idea of giving a hijabi character a Valley Girl cadence in her speech.
“More of us need to be telling our stories,” said Fatima. “Tell your story because in the absence of you not telling your story, other people will tell it for you, and that’s how you will be remembered.”
“The journalist said to me, ‘Oh, but somebody who covers her hair – that’s
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Artist in Exile
HOW AI WEIWEI INSPIRES CHANGE THROUGH ART BY Anupa kotipoyina
olitical dissidents and exiles occupy the halls of Alcatraz Island. Among them are revolutionary figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Edward Snowden. These prisoners don’t herald a reopening of America’s most famous prison. They’re the work of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose project features the portraits of political dissidents from around the world reconstructed by thousands of Lego bricks now occupying the infamous California prison. Their portraits are one of seven art installations by Weiwei in the former federal penitentiary, and they mirror the conditions of the artist: trapped. Since 2008, Weiwei has been followed, assaulted and interrogated. His art has brought him nearly three months of imprisonment by the Chinese government. He’s known for his production of irreverent and iconoclastic art, which include: smashing a Han Dynasty urn, a series of photographs erecting his middle finger in front of major landmarks like Tiananmen Square and more playful projects like filming his own version of Gangnam Style in 2012. Weiwei designed the Alcatraz installations remotely while held under country arrest by the Chinese government. The irony of his project is not lost on the artist, who named the exhibit “@Large,” describing an escaped prisoner and referencing the role
he is an ambassador for Reporters Without Borders.
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the Internet has played in his own activism. While his art is internationally acclaimed, his social-media use is what has garnered his broad audience. Between 2006 and 2009, he took to his blog daily, creating more than 2,700 posts to share his thoughts on a variety of topics, including critical views on government policy in China. When his blog was shut down in 2009, Weiwei took to social media and now has more than 80,000 Twitter followers. In response to the government surveillance cameras surrounding his home, Weiwei installed the WeiweiCam, a self-surveillance system of four cameras that streamed 24-hour live footage of Weiwei’s house. The stream started one year after his detention at the Beijing Airport by Chinese authorities. It received more than 5.2 million views in 46 hours before officials ordered Weiwei to shut it down. The act of putting himself under even more surveillance with his own camera is not only ironic, but also symbolizes measures for increased transparency he believes the Chinese government should make. UF professor Sean Macdonald, whose research focuses on modern and contemporary Chinese media, admires the way Weiwei kept a light on the issue.
for 12 years, He lived in New York, where he studied at Parsons The New School for Design and the Art Students League of New York.
His name is a banned search term on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter.
He believes that the Chinese government emphasizes having the best interest of their citizens, and Weiwei’s activism questions whether that commitment holds true. “Dissidents in countries with as much control as China often inevitably find themselves catering to an outside audience,” Macdonald said. Weiwei connects with the West not only as an audience, but also as he engages with their political and social issues. Han Zhao, a UF history major, grew up in China but only learned about Weiwei when he moved to the U.S. Weiwei’s activism makes him a controversial figure in China, so his website and social media platforms
He explained that people have a tendency to assume or exaggerate the extent Non-Western cultures are looking to the West for inspiration in modern and contemporary art. As the diversity of men and women featured in the portraits and sounds of “@Large” illustrate, dissidence has been a theme throughout history and across cultures. It is a language everyone speaks. Weiwei is particularly adept at speaking this language, in no small part due to his family background and childhood. His father was the famous poet Ai Qing, who, like Weiwei, was celebrated by the government for his art before being severely reprimanded for the direction his work took. Their family was sent to a labor camp when Weiwei was 1 year old as part of the Cultural Revolution’s persecution of artists and intellectuals. As a young child, he saw his father humiliated and physically beaten. His father even became suicidal. Though China has come
Dissidents in countries with as much control as China often inevitably find themselves catering to an outside audience.
are banned from being accessed in China. Zhao now follows Weiwei on Twitter and thinks that Weiwei’s challenge toward his government’s practices is especially important. Although his messages are often censored, Zhao believes WeiWei can still show the rest of the world a different side of China.
a long way from the Cultural Revolution, criticism of the government is often still a criminal and dangerous endeavor, and many high profile critics have been silenced. As he continues to fuel conversation about contemporary issues, both Chinese and global, Weiwei has shown the world that he feels it is his responsibility as an artist is to do more than produce objects for aesthetic appreciation. Weiwei has proven that his voice will not be an easy one to stop.
Macdonald echoed Zhao’s sentiment that Westerners have a shallow understanding of China.
He has very little involvement in the actual production of his works. Instead, workers actualize his concepts.
He is a heavy metal musician.
He had never used a computer before 2005, But from 2006 to 2009, he maintained a blog in which he heavily criticized the Chinese government.
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Speaking Out MAKING RHYMES AND CHANGING MINDS WITH SPOKEN WORD
BY Jasmin Miranda
he first poem I wrote was about a classmate of mine who was shot and killed on campus that year.”
Troy Osaki, a law student at Seattle University is a spoken-word artist. He started performing in open mics and poetry slams in high school and later represented Seattle at Brave New Voices, a festival in Berkeley, California, which celebrates young poets like him. Known as the oral form of poetry, spoken word is a storytelling technique intended for a stage that references current events and addresses issues relevant to a contemporary audience. Amidst the commentative tumult of social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, spoken word represents a smaller circle of people who use word-of-mouth to express themselves to an audience. “Spoken word is a gateway to a reality that we rarely hear of,” said Alexander Cena, a spoken-word poet with more than 17 years of experience. Cena, who works as the director of Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs (APIA) at UF, was first exposed to spoken word in 1997 when a Filipino student group from a local high school visited the Asian culture club at his middle school. “One student’s poem was titled ‘My Mother is a Loser’ and it was a monologue about all the things she perceived about her mother being weak,” said Cena. He remembers seeing how his own mom cried because she was touched by that piece. “The poem allowed me to see my mother as human for the first time rather than just this parent,” he said. photo/xiaoxi zheng
Cena explained that the student’s personal poem about her own family resonated with the audience
in a way that allowed the audience to empathize with the experience as their own. He believes the role of a spokenword artist is to call attention to a story and give it a place to exist. “I’m realizing that our words are not necessarily just for us, but we are also charged with speaking for a generation that isn’t speaking for themselves,” he said. When Cena was teaching in D.C., he worked with a troubled student who was really into hip-hop. Cena introduced him to spoken word and told him to take all his anger and frustration and put it into a poem. According to Cena, the student went from being mad at the world and being involved in gang-related activities to being the student who showed up first and stayed to play board games with him after. “He graduated high school a year early. One poem redirected his life, and that one poem I heard in middle school redirected my life,” said Cena. Alex Dang, a poet currently on a spokenword tour in the U.S. called Love and Whiskey, believes spoken word can be used as a tool for a specific cause. “Considering the power that it has on social media and on YouTube, it has a level that can reach a wide audience,” Dang said. “It combines storytelling and writing and performance and all these unique perspectives and it all happens under four minutes.” Spoken word creates an outlet for discussion on major issues, but its not a requirement for a poet to be an activist. The words of a spoken-word poet are intended to embody the poet and his beliefs. “Your poems are your résumé, if somebody wants to check your poem – like your résumé, they have a right to,” said Cena. “That’s something that I feel is missing. I don’t feel like people are checking people anymore, people just spout out a lot of textbook.”
...WE ARE ALSO CHARGED WITH SPEAKING FOR A GENERATION THAT ISN’T SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES.” Famous Asian American Spoken-Word Artists Dante Basco From California Aside from acting in hit movies and lending his voice to Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Basco is also passionate about spoken word. His topics include his journey and obstacles in pursuing a career path in which Asian Americans are heavily underrepresented. Beau Sia From Oklahoma Sia is a renowned spoken-word artist who has been featured on television and broadway. In his pieces, he discusses Asian American issues, adding a comedic spin. Kit Yan From New York Yan is a transgender Asian American slam poet. His performances draw inspiration from his family and his love life as a queer and transsexual person.
Kelly Zen-yie Tsai From New York Tsai is an advocate for social change in the Asian community. She strives for equality for women and expanding the arts. Her pieces focus on ethnic and gender disparities.
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Way of the Sword BY paul burns
he University of Florida’s kendo club is a small but dedicated team, with members seeking something greater than what most sports provide on their own: expression. Kendo, a modern Japanese sword martial art, originates from the first kenjutsu schools of ancient
I can act very differently in the kendo world than on campus. Usually, I’m a very shy, reserved person. Japan, where soldiers learned swordsmanship. However, during the Shotoku era, the iconic wooden swords, or “shinai,” were introduced, and swordplay transitioned from an instrument of war to a tool of personal development. The team’s president, Nancy Chen, a-third-year UF computer science and engineering major, views kendo practices as an outlet, which allows her to meet other practitioners, attend tournaments and further grow as an individual. Luckily for her teammates, Chen tries not to hit too hard, as it is common for hard swings to leave bruises despite the martial art’s iconic armor. “I can act very differently in the kendo world than on campus. Usually, I’m a very shy, reserved person,” Chen said.
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“I enjoy all the advice I get, and I enjoy giving advice to beginners.” One such beginner is Alexander Soto, a UF aerospace engineering sophomore. Soto began practicing kendo at the beginning of January and enjoys kendo because it takes him out of his comfort zone. “It’s way harder than I initially thought it would be,” he said. “But I spend a lot of time just doing work, and one thing I’ve noticed is that even if I have a bunch of stuff due the next day, the two hours I’m in here really help de-stress me. And even though it’s piling up in the time that I’m here, I just feel better about it afterwards.” Soto does not see kendo as his own form of expression, but he does recognize it in other people. “One of the things that they do is they shout with every hit that they make. And at first, you laugh a little
bit, because it seems kind of silly, but there’s a stone-cold look in their eye as they do it,” Soto said. “Seeing them take it seriously has driven me to do the same.” photo/absinthe wu
Fast as Lightning KARATE IS A COOL SPORT Y’ALL YOU KNOW IT I KNOW IT
BY vincent trang photo/cole kraft
bout 40 years ago, movie legend Bruce Lee inspired American interest in martial arts with his lightning-fast moves and toned physique.
was about five years old. Based on his own combined experiences in both martial arts, Ferrer said he believes taekwondo and karate teach the same ideals and techniques.
But for Treya Nash, a 20-year-old music composition major at UF, and member of Gator Karate, she recalls first becoming inspired when she saw the 2012 first place winner in the Shukokai World Tournament.
“It involves hand-to-hand combat techniques from punching, kicking, making use of the whole body to defend yourself and, in turn, counter(ing) your opponent.”
“When you see her do it, it’s incredible. She has this complete sense of selfcontrol and power at the same time,” Nash said. “That’s something that has always really impressed me.” Though karate is sometimes viewed as a violent sport, Nash disagrees with this perspective. “Some karate communities are very strict on what their members are allowed to do. At Gator Karate, if we went around and beat people up, our sensei would be very upset with us and stop teaching us.” Karate is a martial art involving a variety of techniques, including blocks, strikes, evasions, throws and joint manipulations, according to Shotokan Karate of America, a nonprofit organization that has taught traditional karate since 1956. “It teaches self-discipline, improves your physical capabilities and your selfcontrol, promotes an active lifestyle, hones your mind to focus better and, most importantly, teaches you a lot of respect,” said 20-year-old John Ferrer, a former karate instructor. Not only is Ferrer an expert in karate, but he’s also skilled in Taekwondo, which he started practicing when he
Attaining a black belt does not make someone a master, it proves that the wearer is competent in the style’s basic technique. “I’m only a 20-year-old. Even if I am a black belt, I’m still young and I still have a lot to learn, and there’s always room for improvement, whether I’m teaching or learning.” Karate has not only touched the life of Nash and Ferrer, but has also impacted the life of 18-year-old Jenny Prasad, who practiced Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate for six years. Okinawan GojuRyu is a specific style of karate that incorporates circular movements as well as hard and soft techniques.
say, ‘Show me a karate move,’ and I tell them I can’t. I can do a form but that’s not exciting enough for them.” Like Ferrer, Prasad has her own reasons for why she does karate and what it means to her. “At first, I wanted to do karate because I wanted to try something different. Eventually karate became something I stuck with. I made friends through it. It makes you feel good and it makes you connect your mind and body together. It’s cool, useful and fun.” Overall, karate does not involve simply what we see in the media. Through the perspectives of Nash, Ferrer and Prasad, karate inspires and acts as a
FEEL “ ITGOOD,MAKESANDYOUIT MAKES YOU
According to Prasad, the purpose of karate is to teach self-discipline and to get one’s mind and body in shape. It is a way to improve oneself. Prasad said she understands that many people think karate is more violent than it is. “Anytime I tell somebody I do karate, they say ‘Oh, you can beat me up’ and I respond ‘yes,’ but I wouldn’t because that’s not what karate is. I could if you attacked me, but obviously you’re not going to,” Prasad said. “People often
CONNECT YOUR MIND AND BODY TOGETHER. method that promotes self-control and self-improvement. A lot of people practice and can bond over karate, which becomes essentially a part of who they are — another way of expression.
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Highlighting our Locks AN EXPLORATION OF ASIAN AMERICAN HAIR BY bryan baquiran
leach-blond mohawks and lilac purple curls are part of a wave of experimental hairstyles among Asian Americans. Within the past decade, young Asian Americans have crafted a hair culture that fuses the need for expression with cultural backgrounds. For many Asian Americans, their hairstyle plays a major role in sculpting their identities.
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Ladies and their Locks
“There’s nothing that says ‘strong woman’ more than being in touch with your femininity. Hair can help us do that,” said Frances Velasco, a 26-year-old Filipina hairstylist from Miami. Her background in beauty comes from studying cosmetics, strutting on runways and styling hair for pageant contestants. “These days, many Asian American girls tend to go for a lighter hair color, with ombre and balayage,” Velasco said. She believes the practice of hair dying serves a greater purpose for Asian girls beyond aesthetics. In Velasco’s eyes, the popular practice of Asian girls bleaching their hair blond
isn’t to conform to western beauty standards: it’s a personal choice to deviate from Asian beauty norms. Velasco feels that hairstyling has provided a sense of empowerment for the Asian American community, serving as a platform for artistic integrity and individualism. “A lot of girls do see hairstyling as an art form. There’s something fun about getting dolled up. The Asian culture is very traditional, and a lot of us grew up in a very rigid household. Many young Asian girls are always trying to find new ways to break out and express themselves,” Velasco said.
Guys Get Groomed Too
“When I see an Asian guy cleanly slick his hair back with a nice comb, I can tell that he has his life together,”
said David Nguyen. He’s a 22-year-old hair model in El Monte, California, who has modeled for companies like Johnny B. Haircare in Los Angeles. Nguyen has been styling and dying his hair ever since he was 10, and he’s been surrounded by people who share the same passion for hairstyling. According to Nguyen, many Asian men are modernizing old-fashion hairstyles with examples like a hardpart pompadour, a Bravo redux or a quiff haircut. Nguyen has also noticed the growing trend in long hair and the man bun. Nguyen relates the man bun to a taboo topic of Asian American masculinity. “It’s funny because hairstyles like ponytails are supposed to be for girls,” Nguyen said. The man-bun is reminiscent of Asian historical hairstyles and reminds people of Asian fighters like sumo wrestlers or samurais. “A lot of Asian masculinity, throughout time, was sculpted by these images,” Nguyen said. “The fact that Asian guys are rocking a man bun nowadays shows that they could be embracing their masculinity through a haircut that America may see as feminine.”
Nguyen notes that many Asian Pangilinan believes that Asian American men are picky about their Americans are heavily influenced hair products, and meticulously pick by academics and networking. For their hairstyle as a way to capture a Pangilinan, Asian American students specific look. Gravity-defying spikes must look presentable, and a haircut is and angles can be common looks a way to achieve that positive image. influenced by Asian pop “That’s why a lot WHEN I SEE AN ASIAN GUY culture. of Asian guys go for the cleanCLEANLY SLICK HIS HAIR “The fact that cut looks, like BACK WITH A NICE COMB, I Asian guys try the comb over to incorporate or pompadour,” CAN TELL THAT HE HAS HIS that is almost Pangilinan said. LIFE TOGETHER. like them showcasing Many Asian their ethnic background.” American students like Pangilinan and Go showcase their hairstyles and Talking Style in the Streets receive support from older people UF undergraduate students Alexandra who advocate for Asian American Go and Mark Pangilinan are a part of expression.
the group of young people who pay close attention to hair as a form of expression.
“Something that I’ve heard a lot is ‘All Asian people look the same!’ I think an underlying reason for why I want to dye my hair is because I don’t want someone to perceive me as looking exactly like another person,” Go said. “I think hair dying is even a way to fight that stereotype.” Pangilinan believes changing hairstyles is more than just a fashion statement. He thinks that some Asian Americans feel hairstyle plays a vital role within achieving career opportunities.
Former UF Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs director Leah Villanueva said although she enjoys hairstyling as an outlet of expression, she emphasizes the importance of the purpose behind hair trends. “If folks are changing their hair because they don’t like how they already look, they might need to work on themselves internally first,” Villanueva said. “When it comes to young Asian Americans experimenting with their hair, I say ‘Go for it!’ as it’s for the sake of wanting a new look.”
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oN TELEVISION ACTORS AND ACTRESSES WHO MADE IT TO THE SCREEN
BY DANA HATCHETT
JAMIE CHUNG “Believe” Janice Channing Jamie Chung is a secondgeneration Korean known critically for her role in the independent drama, “Eden.” The movie tells the story of a sex trafficking ring. Recently, she has co-starred in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”
JOHN CHO “Star Trek Reboot” Hikaru Sulu A South Korean-born actor, John Cho starred as Harold Lee in the “Harold and Kumar” comedy series and portrayed the iconic role of Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek reboot. He has also played many roles on both film and television and was selected as one of the “Sexiest Men Alive” by “People.”
LUCY LIU “Elementary” Dr. Joan Watson Lucy Liu is a Chinese American actress who starred as one of the main characters in the “Charlie’s Angels” movie series. Liu had her start in television playing Ling Woo in the television series “Ally McBeal” from 1997 to 2002 and became the first Asian American female to host Saturday Night Live in 2000.
BRENDA SONG “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” London Tipton
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Brenda Song, a Hmong and Thai American actress is best known for her role as London Tipton on Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” She has starred in several Disney Channel movies and played roles in hit shows like “New Girl” and “Scandal” as well as the critically acclaimed “The Social Network.”
“The Mindy Project”, Mindy Lahiri
“Parks and Recreation” Tom Haverford
Indian American actress Mindy Kaling is best known for playing the lead role in her show, “The Mindy Project.” Her work for “The Office” earned her a Prime Time Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series.
Indian American comedian and actor Aziz Ansari is best known for playing Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation.” Following the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, he hosted a charity show in the city to support the victims.
SHAY MITCHELL “Pretty Little Liars” Emily Fields Mitchell plays Emily, a lesbian who has trouble telling the people around her about her sexual orientation, in ABC’s hit show “Pretty Little Liars.” She is Filipina from her mother’s side and Irish and Scottish from her father’s side.
DANIEL DAE KIM “Hawaii Five-O” Chin Ho Kelly Kim, an actor from South Korea, moved to the U.S. when he was 2. He is best known for his role as Jin-Soo Kwan on ABC’s show “Lost.” Kim also won awards from the Korean American Coalition for his work, and has appeared in “People” as one of the “Sexiest Men Alive.”
RANDALL PARK “Fresh off the Boat” Louis Huang Randall Park is a Korean American actor known for his role as Louis Huang from “Fresh Off the Boat.” He also played the infamous North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, in the controversial movie “The Interview.”
MAGGIE Q “Stalker” Beth Davis Maggie Q is a half Vietnamese and half white actress best known for her leading role on the CW show “Nikita.” She was rated one of TV Guide’s “Sexiest Crime Fighters.” More recently, she played the role of Tori Wu in the film adaptation of “Divergent.” “The New York Times” calls her one of the leading Asian American ladies in Hollywood.
all photos/courtesy of gettyimages
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The Groove of A
DANCE STYLES PAST AND PRESENT BY anisha dutt and celina Philip Bharatanatyam
Origin: Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India Style: Usually performed to play out Indian mythologies. The dance is made up of two parts: the “nritta”, where dancers purely perform movements to a beat, and the “abhinaya,” where dancers act out the words of the song. Dancer perspective: “In India, we don’t have to superficially impose our culture because it’s always there, but here, it kind of doesn’t exist. They have to go to class to be raised in it.” -Vinata Vedam-Mai, owner of Nrityakshepra Dance and Music School in Gainesville
Origin: Northern India Style: Quick footwork and spins to the sound of the tabla and sitar or drum and guitar. Kathak is also known as a storytelling form of dance and is made up of two parts: pure dance and expressive dance. Dancer perspective: “It’s definitely a progressive dance form. It’s not limiting itself from what it was a thousand years back.” - Vasudha Singh, owner of Vasudha’s Kathak Dance Academy in Gainesville According to Singh, there’s a growing trend of kathak dancers collaborating with flamenco, jazz and ballet dancers due to their common elements. “Kathak has seen a huge transition in terms of how Kathak dancers are collaborating with other dancers around the world.”
Origin: Punjab in India and Pakistan Style: Bhangra began as a folk dance to celebrate farmers’ harvests in the state of Punjab in India and Pakistan. It’s characterized by loud, boisterous movements to the beat of the “dhol,” a drum, and a range of other instruments, such as the “tumbi,” a single-stringed guitar. Dancer perspective: Yash Desai, a 20-year-old biology major at UF and vice president of Gator Bhangra, said that spending long hours practicing together makes the team feel like a close family. “Even people who aren’t Indian, they come to practice sometimes to learn.” photos/Jordan nguyen
Origin: Gujarat, India Style: Sweeping, circular movements to the beat of a “dhol,” or drum with two sides. It is often performed at religious festivals such as Navratri, a nine-day Hindu holiday occurring in the fall. Dancer background: “There’s many traditional forms [of Garba], but Gator Garba is modernizing it a little bit,” -Anjali Desai, the 20-year-old captain and choreographer of Gator Garba. “Being Gujarati, it definitely shows my culture, since it’s a Gujarati form of dance, and I definitely feel that I can express it.”
Origin: South Asia and America Style: Fusion dance mixes different South Asian dances, such as folk, classical and Bollywood, with more Western dance styles. Dancer perspective: According to Christine Vempala, the 22-year-old finance major and captain of UF’s fusion dance team Gator Adaa, it’s a mashup of dance. “It’s basically like who we are, American Desis, so that’s how we put it together.”
Origin: Cambodia Style: Apsara is played by a woman wearing tight-fitting traditional dress whose graceful gestures narrate classical myths or religious stories. Dancer perspective: Chanllyca Chau, a UCF sophomore psychology major, said dancing Apsara helped her express her Cambodian heritage. “Dancing helps me connect to my culture by showing me the artistic side of Cambodia,” she said. “It’s hard to connect with my culture sometimes because you don’t really meet many Cambodians, so I forget about some aspects sometimes. But when I hear the music or see the dances, it makes me realize, as a Cambodian and an Asian American, that there is so much more than meets the eye.”
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Origin: China Style: A two-person dance performed with a lion costume, there are two styles of the lion dance: northern and southern. The northern lion dance was used as a form of entertainment in the imperial courts. The southern lion dance is more symbolic in that is it is used ceremonially to ward off evil spirits. Dancer perspective: Ka-Hing Leung, a UCF marketing senior, started learning the lion dance more than ten years ago. The performance now fills her with a very familiar feeling, which she associates with memories she made while dancing in middle and high school. “I think I became more in-tune with my culture after I started learning to lion dance. Lion dance has always been a huge part of the Chinese culture, and I am very proud to have been able to say that I’ve done that.”
Filipino Dances: Rural Suite
Origin: Philippines Style: Sayaw sa Bangko is performed on top of narrow benches, while tinikling has the dancers imitate the tikling birds native to the Philippines by swiftly maneuvering between large bamboo poles. Dancer perspective: Jeff Miraflor, a UCF electrical engineering sophomore, leads Dance Troupe, a Filipino cultural dance group. “When I dance, I don’t just perform the choreography, I imagine myself in the place of our Philippine ancestors. I see where my culture came from, and I can compare it to how we view our culture today. It especially makes me proud to see how, despite the progress that has been made, we still have a strong connection to our roots.”
Filipino Dances: Muslim Suite
Origin: Philippines Style: This suite is known for its mysticism, royalty and beauty, and it is performed in homage to the sultan. Dancer perspective: Janine Beagle, a UCF baking and pastry management sophomore and the leader of Dance Troupe along with Miraflor, enjoys performing Muslim suite. “Muslim suite dances focuses more with their faith, culture and royalty. Their strong practice of their faith, the respect they have for their
culture and the royalty that they inherited from their family are close to how I practice my faith, my passion about my culture and the respect I have for my family,” she said.
Chinese Folk Dance
Origin: China Style: Richard Gunde, author of “Culture and Customs of China,” said dance was used to help lighten the heavy loads and make work seem fun rather than tedious. The folk dances reflected a superstitious belief that in making ritual sacrifices to the gods for the “harvest,” one could convince the gods to provide another bountiful harvest in the following year. Dancer perspective: Celeste Hoeh, a UCF communication sciences and disorders junior, said that learning the Chinese folk dances made her more cultured and knowledgeable. “It helps me connect by learning the difference in the clothing they wore and the way they danced. I now view myself as a cultured Asian American because I am involved in the culture through not only dance, but food, language and other ways.”
Origin: Thailand Style: Ram Thai is a form of traditional dance that was used to tell stories while entertaining and honoring the court of the king and his family. In ram thai, the placement and positioning of the hands is paramount. The flexibility of the dancers’ feet and legs are distinct characteristics, whereas the torso remains relatively static. The costumes used are generally handmade and heavy, demanding even more poise from the performers. Dancer perspective: Thitaree “Mindy” Pongpluempitichai, a UCF graduate, watched her grandmother, Sangkum Russmetes, perform the dance. “Being born and raised in the States, it’s very easy to get swept up in Western culture. However, it’s always nice to see a reminder of Thai traditions at different events, especially cultural events at the temple.”
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Boy Wonder GETTING BACK IN TOUCH WITH HIS CULTURE THROUGH ART BY Allison miehl
A photos/gabe cortese
Chinese tiger with its forked tongue wagging, its eyes ringed with rainbows and its fur glowing a neon yellow, is bound to be intriguing. But an entire body of work with this oldmeets-new design goes beyond intriguing and stands out as something truly special. This is the work of Boy Kong, a 21-year-old artist from Orlando, Florida, known for his take on Asian art. Kong’s subjects— usually animals, sometimes people and often a combination of both— look alive, but just barely. In one piece, a narwhal skull floats over a decapitated merman’s body. Despite being headless, the merman has the illusion of movement in his hand, just enough to signal ongoing life. In another, a legendary Japanese creature pierced by an arrow tumbles through a shadow box ringed with clouds. Though seemingly in its last moments of life, the creature continues to put up a fight. This duality gives Kong’s work a unique dynamic that draws people in and keeps them looking. Kong said that he draws inspiration from his Chinese heritage, but it wasn’t always that way.
22 • Expressions
When he was younger, his parents taught him and his siblings foreign languages, which they opposed. They wanted to blend in, not stand out. But as he grew older, he came to cherish that background more.
“You spend your whole time when you’re younger just trying to fit in,” Kong said. “You forget who you really are and what you’re supposed to be — your journey, your task, your image in life.” Kong, who started drawing for fun around the age of 5, grew up in Apopka, Florida, with his parents and siblings. “We didn’t have much, but art is pretty cheap,” he said. “You just need pencil and paper.” Art remained a hobby until high school, when he developed a newly found desire to stand out rather than blend in and decided, “Embrace who you are. When you embrace that, it’s like a highlighter. You just stand out automatically.” Kong definitely stands out as an artist, with pieces that catch his viewers’ eyes thanks to the exposed body parts and almost glowing hues. “If anything pops, it’s like honey, and then you’re just attracted to it,” he said. “You just buzz over there. That’s how I like to do my works.” Take one unique piece of imagery that recurs in his pieces, for example: guts (as he refers to them). They appear in a majority of his works, but not to symbolize the artist’s desire to uncover his innermost emotions. Instead, they are a way for him to use a particular shade of paint he likes. “I take over with that pink because it just makes me feel good, and I can’t mix a color like that,” he said. Kong’s focus on the aesthetic doesn’t mean his art has no significance. It has the power to bring happiness to viewers, and that’s what he chooses to focus on. He uses bright colors, bold lines and movement to grab attention. “I want to paint whatever is fun — whatever looks cool to me and whatever I feel like,” he said. “Sometimes I start painting something just because I wanted to use a certain color.” Despite receiving full-ride scholarships to several colleges, Kong didn’t go to art school. The expense was too great, so he spent a summer at Valencia College in Orlando instead. Rather than moving away from his hometown, Kong sold paintings and eventually got a gallerist to handle the business end of sales. Today, he sells his work in New York and Orlando. If there is any message or mood he wants to convey to the viewers, it would be one of happiness. That emotion is what drives him to create.
“Mainly, it comes out of pure happiness… I feel like that’s the most effective for me.” He wants to share that emotion with the viewers, adding, “The feeling of happiness—I like showing that in the piece.”
said Austin Le, president of CASA.
Kong has shown that his art has the power to do good, too. In 2014, Kong collaborated with the Chinese American Student Association (CASA) at UCF on a project called “Hong Kong Strong.” The campaign aimed to show support for protesters in Hong Kong rallying for democracy.
“Art lasts,” said Nguyen, “And art is an amazing medium to spread your message through. People look at art and they see a message.”
“Our main goal with the Hong Kong Strong is to show that there is support—not just over in Hong Kong, but over here in America,” said Vu Nguyen, historian of CASA. The organization sold T-shirts bearing Kong’s design and reached their goal of raising money and awareness for the protests. “[Kong] is a growing artist within the community, and what better way for him to put out his name even more?”
Besides knowing him personally, the CASA officers chose to collaborate with Kong because of his ability to make a difference as an artist.
trusted paint brushes on the wall. After several hours in the heat, it became pretty uncomfortable. “It hurt my back and it was hot, and I was like, ‘F--- that,’” he said. This prompted him to start working with spray paint to speed up the process. Now, Kong’s murals are some of his most distinctive works.
While Kong’s primary medium is paint, his creations include woodcuts, lion heads, and more recently, murals. They can be found on the sides of restaurants and businesses in the Mills 50 District of Orlando.
Through his unique take on culture and inspiration, Kong became an artist who gets to do what he loves every day. He pursues happiness by taking risks without dreading what would happen if he failed.
A few years back, Kong was asked to do a mural piece at Miami Art Basel, an annual event that takes place in Basel in Switzerland, Miami and Hong Kong. It showcases modern and contemporary art from around the world.
He said there’s one thing that holds people back from doing the same: fear. Overcoming that fear was part of what made Boy Kong who he is today.
He had no experience with murals before, so he started by using his
“It’s all about the fear. People stop at the fear and they never become who they are completely because of that fear. But without it, anybody could achieve their goals.”
With a Single S CONTINUING THE ART OF CALLIGRAPHY BY thalia su
n 14 strokes, calligrapher Peter Lau effortlessly brushes “fèng,” the Chinese word for phoenix. But even after 65 years of practice, he still views his work as a learning process. “If you want to write a better anything, you use many, many years (before) you can get it,” Lau said. After practicing the art of writing for so long, Lau has accumulated a wealth of experience. However, he emphasizes that even without the experience, those who apply themselves can learn how to write calligraphy in a short amount of time.
before writing, and calligraphy has become a form of meditation for her. Silong combines her knowledge of calligraphy with her current interest in Chinese painting. For both disciplines, she holds the brush properly, loosely and vertically. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, brush lines can appear differently, depending on the speed of the stroke and angle of the brush. Kyle Luo, who graduated from the UCF in 2009, said she feels that painting is more fluid compared to calligraphy.
Lau teaches this philosophy at the Asia Trend Youth Enrichment and Senior Services (YESS) Center of Orlando. He considers it a way of paying his respects to his mentor and high school principal, Mr. Wong, who provided Lau with the resources to learn calligraphy.
Her mother, Bih Yueh Luo, teaches calligraphy at the Chinese School of Chinese American Association of Central Florida. She began learning calligraphy in Taiwan as early as third grade. Over the years, Bih Yueh noticed that calligraphy can sometimes be overlooked.
One of Lau’s students, Yoshiko Silong, has been around calligraphy since she was young. In Japan, she watched girls perform calligraphy by sweeping their brushes across large pieces of white paper. It was then that she became interested in learning the art form.
“It’s interesting at first for a lot of people,” Kyle translated for her mother. “But because it’s writing and you have to write it in a proper fashion, sitting up straight, people believe it to be boring.”
“I need more focus when I draw,” Silong said. She often needs to calm herself
26 • Expressions 10 • Expressions
Nowadays, calligraphy is viewed more as a hobby. Eastern culture has adjusted to using ballpoint pens or computers. Today, calligraphy is used for signs and for holidays like the Lunar New Year. Fewer people write on paper.
“It has slowly, slowly, slowly become one of those rare art styles that no one really learns,” Kyle said. Chinese letters are transitioning from the traditional to simplified style, which makes words faster to write. Many argue that losing the complexity of traditional makes the letters less beautiful in calligraphy. For example, “yi ge,” which means “one of something,” is traditionally written in 11 strokes. In simplified, the phrase resembles an upturned arrow. “I understand that simplified is being used so that writing is faster and easier,” Kyle said, “but if you start forgetting (traditional), you forget history, and eventually, you’re going to forget how to read traditional.” Despite its diminishing popularity, Chinese calligraphy and painting still hold applications in the modern world. Silong suggested that the disciplined aspect of calligraphy and painting could help people with busy lives, while Bih Yueh noticed that calligraphy helped her students with their concentration. For Lau, teaching calligraphy is a way of keeping his culture alive. According to the YESS Center, Lau has performed calligraphy demonstrations in Orlando for the Dragon Parade Lunar New Year Festival and Asian Cultural Festival,
Stroke Orange County Libraries, Universal Studios and Hilton Grand Vacations events. Though people can now use computers to write, Lau believes that traditional calligraphy is still irreplaceable. “It is one of our Chinese legacies,” Lau said. There is no art in the printed, digital form of Chinese, she said. There are always small differences in brush strokes, from day to day. No letter or day is the same, because the feeling is different. “She says that when she writes calligraphy, her expression goes onto the paper,” Kyle translated for Bih Yueh. “If she’s happier, her writing’s a lot prettier. If she’s angry, her words will be smaller (and) will not be as proper as (they) should be.” It seems paradoxical, but although no character is drawn exactly the same, each character has to appear exactly like the one before, as it has been written for thousands of years. Striking this balance between spontaneity and control can take a lifetime to perfect, but Kyle stresses the importance of learning the craft. “People should learn because then it will just be missed in the future,” Kyle said. “And people will stare at the words and say, ‘I wish I could do that.’”
IF SHE’S HAPPIER, HER WRITING’S A LOT PRETTIER. IF SHE’S ANGRY, HER WORDS WILL BE SMALLER [AND] WILL NOT BE AS PROPER AS [THEY] SHOULD BE.” Expressions • 27
Resonating with the Past GETTING IN TUNE WITH THEIR TRADITIONS
BY Rikki Ocampos
n a time when music can be made with synthesizers and computers, some people are turning to traditional Asian instruments to learn ancient arts. By embracing traditional and folk music, these students learn to embrace their respective cultures as a whole. An instrument steeped in Japanese culture and the Shinto religion, taiko drums provided an outlet for peace and discipline for UCF business student Jason Seymore. At 15, he attended a world peace initiative festival. There, he discovered the art form through a performance by a group of students
28 • Expressions
from New Orleans only a few months after Hurricane Katrina struck the area. “The sound hit me like a ton of bricks. It blew me away,” Seymore said. After that kind of performance, he told himself, “I have to learn, I have to know how to do this.” Inspired by the students’ sound and tenacity to overcome their hardships by performing after losing everything due to the hurricane, Seymore was determined to learn the art form. Two years later, through a friend, he met his current sensei at his local dojo.
From there, he traveled from Tampa to Orlando every Sunday to learn the art of taiko drumming. He eventually moved to Orlando to pursue taiko full time. He now works to move up the ranks in the Orlando Taiko Dojo as a performer and instructor. With what he has learned, he hopes to open a school for Japanese culture in New Hampshire and bring awareness to an area he finds is lacking in Japanese culture. This school – a “hozonkai” – is a preservation society for Japanese culture, a place he said he hopes people
will come and learn more than just taiko drumming. Seymore plans to bring many Japanese art styles, such as flower arrangement, calligraphy and music, to the small state. All this appreciation for culture can be traced to his undying love for taiko drumming. “Tradition is the author of the music we listen to today,” he said.
Chinese heritage, Yeh was drawn to the guzheng’s expressive sound and dedicated her time to practicing the art. With 21 strings, the guzheng was no easy feat. She devoted time to practice, and thanks to all her efforts, she was
Both Seymore and Yeh represent an attitude of musicians practicing classical Asian music. Similar to those who study Western classical music, they both find it possible to better comprehend the connection between music and culture. Music serves as a way to explain and to describe nature, war and feelings – all of which are uniquely different to each culture.
is the “ Tradition author of the music
According to Seymore, any understanding of modern music must start with understanding its traditional roots. He said he believes that appreciating traditional music before modern music is akin to understanding the author before reading the novel. While Seymore embraced a new culture through an instrument, Fonda Yeh learned to embrace her own heritage.
able to perform in Asian festivals even as a teenager. Yeh felt connected to her Chinese heritage and is thankful to her father for encouraging her to pursue the art.
Yeh, a 21-year-old UCF alumna, picked up the guzheng – the Chinese zither – at the request of her father at age 10. Seeking to connect to her
“The sound of the zither was so beautiful and soulful. I could connect with the music and my culture,” she said.
we listen to today,
These musicians are paving the way for future Asian classical musicians with their fresh attitude and approach. Every performance is an opportunity for someone to take an interest in a Chinese or Japanese classical instrument and to start a new generation interested in tradition and music. They are the force behind the drum and the soul ringing from the strings.
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Art on Your Sleeve BY Nicole Dan
he smell of tea and eucalyptus fills the air as 21-year-old Jeena Kar, a UF religion senior, creates an intricate floral pattern using a dark brown paste as her wink and a hand as her canvas. She attends to her art with an almost meditative focus. The paste is henna, and Kar is the artist. Henna is a plant, whose leaves are blended into a dark brown paste. The paste leaves a temporary tattoo-like stain when applied to skin and left to dry before being peeled off. This plant and practice has been used for centuries for body decoration, hair color and medicine and originated from Southern Asian, Arab and North African cultures, according to HennaARt Connection. It’s traditionally used as body art to celebrate holidays, such as Eid and weddings, or as an accessory. Today, henna paste is often sold in triangular tubes, but can also come as a powder that is brewed into paste. “All of your artwork is going to be monochromatic. You can only work with shadows, so there’s this restriction that makes you think differently,” Kar said. “You’re present with them in a different way, and I really enjoy that.” While sometimes expressing one’s culture can result in being seen as an “other,” Kar said she has not experienced this in college.
“Usually I just get curiosity,” she said of other people’s reaction to her art. Although, she said she acknowledges that she lives in a “liberal bubble.” “It’s different here than out in the real world,” Kar said. Kar was initially drawn to practice of applying henna through her interest in art and drawing. At UF, she decorated many students at campus events like the Arab Student Association fair, but she also decorates her friends and other people in the community, as seen on her Facebook page, “Designs by Jeena.” “I feel like I’m sharing my culture,” she said. “I want people to learn about it.” Alessia Salimbene, 18, was introduced to henna through a friend’s family, and often had her skin decorated with henna when she visited. As a freshman studying acting at UF, she said she appreciates the freedom to explore body art without making any long-term commitments. “I think it’s a really amazing way to express yourself without the permanence of a tattoo,” Salimbene said.
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