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The Joy Suck Club

[whitespace] The stealth Asian shall inherit the earth

By Todd S. Inoue

BACK IN THE '80s, my friend Mike Chow tricked me into going to this Chinese Youth (Chi-Yu) function. It was a social group. Members went to baseball games, baked cookies, had barbecues, dances, church study, the like. Mike's mom bugged him weekly to "at least go once," and he finally relented. At the time, we were the only Asians in our high school clique. His mom was worried he wasn't making enough "friends" (translation: nice Chinese girls), so to lessen the pain, he dragged me along. Being Japanese was close enough, he figured. I'd be good company as long as I didn't bring up Japan's imperialist history.

Driving to the house, buried in an upper-class neighborhood in south San Jose, was daunting. Nice import cars dotted the side of the road as we rolled up in Mike's green, beat-up Pontiac Catalina. We considered turning back a couple times, but Mike's sister--a card-carrying Chi-Yu member--would rat him out.

The mixed sounds of English and Cantonese emanated from the kitchen. I immediately knew it wasn't going to work out. We liked Rush and new wave; they liked Rick James and the Dazz Band. They were clean-cut; we were slobs. They were 4.0s; I was a lifetime 2.8 GPA. They played volleyball and basketball; we played video games and soccer. They were talking about Cal and Stanford; we were destined for community college or CSU. They were perky; we were insular. They danced; we stood.

They thought we were bananas, sellouts; we thought they were bananas, sellouts.

They backed us into corners with wild pitches. "Join! It's only ten dollars! It's a lot of fun!" We claimed a moth-eaten $5 bill and split without signing any documents.

Today, the Chi-Yu crowd has evolved and taken on other forms. As I get older, I get the same exclusionary feeling when I get invitations to Asian American corporate schmooze fests and dance parties. Groups like M Society West are now a method to meet other up-and-comers and make those valuable (Asian American) contacts. Here, business cards are whipped out quicker than Martin Yan's dicing technique.

If it works for them, cool. Unity among our peoples is something we need more of. But such exclusive membership alienates those on the fringe, those who are down but don't own a Platinum Card.

A friend and small-business owner, Windy, was invited to an event presented by the Asian Buying Consortium--sort of a mingling group for Asian American professionals. Standing outside the event, she saw the fake Armani suits, DKNY dresses, cell phones, beepers, all that fake cream marinating inside the art gallery. She kept walking, feeling out of place and out of mind. Windy's ideals were shaped by punk rock and the independent spirit, not by the number of zeros on a bank account. She knew what lay ahead if she stayed. If you don't conform to their standards, you're still a kid, and they treat you like one.

Ever been vibed like that?

There are more disenfranchised, underrepresented Asians out there than we care to think. We're Stealth. We're not catered to. We missed the silver chopsticks. We weren't perfect students, didn't go to MIT or Stanford, and still survived. We might have fucked up a little during the teen years, but we still love our parents (and don't rely on them financially). We make music, own labels, spin records, make films and design Web pages. We express ourselves through legal (zines, books, mags, poetry, Web) and illegal (graf) means. We're down with Asian Power because it's important, not because it's something we're supposed to do.

There's a mass of Asian American kids who go to punk and hip-hop shows who never acknowledge each other's presence, and I've always wondered why. Sometimes they're the only two Asian people in the whole crowd. Is it because it's uncool to have a mixture of ethnic friends? Is it corny to perform the Only Two Asians at the Party Tango?

So, all you Stealth Asians, try this. Next time you're at a punk, hip-hop, metal or indie show and you catch the glance of another Asian eye, don't turn away. Say, "What's up?" Give him or her a pound. Let 'em know they're not alone. You probably have more in common than you think.

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From the April 23-29, 1998 issue of Metro.

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