Saturday, September 09, 2006


I don't own a television, so whenever I'm back in Detroit, I typically get my fill of TV. Last night, I was watching the investigative journalism show 20/20 that airs on the ABC television network. One of their pieces was entitled ‘Hollywood’s Stereotypes: Does What We See On The Screen Affect What we Think Of People?’ When I saw this, I thought to myself 'Hmmm...Intriguing. I wonder what they have to say.' Let me tell you, after watching it, I found myself feeling rather upset, both at the media and at myself. Let me quickly summarize:

Italians = Gangsters and Mobsters
Arab Americans = Terrorists
Asian Americans = Doctors, Nerds, Kung Fu Specialists

One of the actors they interviewed was Daniel Dae Kim, one of the cast members on the TV show 'Lost'. Something he said, albeit absolutely hilarious, was also absolutely spot on. And I quote:

"Hollywood stereotypes Asian American actors, relegating them to certain roles. We've been portrayed as inscrutable villains and asexualized kind of eunuchs."

After this piece, my mind was cluttered with all these questions.

'Whenever I use my FOB accent, am I setting my people back for the sake of a cheap laugh at my expense?'

'Does my joking perpetuate this stereotyping? Is it possible to take a joke too far where it becomes more offensive than funny?'

'How am I making active steps in breaking free/redeeming us from the stereotypes the media has portrayed us to be?'

In lieu of this, I think back to the conversations I've had with my good friend Gideon on the need to redeem our Asian American culture and heritage from this incessant habit of stereotyping. Case in point: Chisai Jackson, a musician who has performed at the FRWY. From what Randy has told me, when he used his real name, he couldn't get his foot in the door. But when he started using the name 'Chisai Jackson', things started happening, except when he met with different exec's, they couldn't understand why he, as an Asian, didn't "sound" Asian, and didn't have an "Asian name". (Please don't take this as a knock on Chisai. I don't know him, nor have I heard much of his music, but I am simply commenting on the way things seem to work in our day and age.) When Randy told me this story, seriously, I started fuming. WTF?!?!?!?! Now Asians have a particular sound to them? And what sound may that be? Something NOT white?

As I was working a papers on Worship and the Trinity, I started thinking about this again, which led my thought to the FRWY. I love this community. The people, the vision, the willingness to experiment and rethink what a Christ follower could look like in Hamilton, as well as the refusal to remain status quo. On that note, it's "fun" being the token Asian, but I'm sure that I didn't sign up for an Alpha Course photo op. If being a missional community means to reflect the community at large, a la, Beasley, then is it too much of a stretch to say that our definition of being missional is incomplete when we have a token anything? I mean, if all we have is a negro and a chink in a sea of whiteys, then we've got a long way to go. But here's the problem: I don't know where to start. Am I alone on this one? I really hope not, cuz I'm starting to feel really lonely.


**EDIT** After feeling like I shortchanged Chisai's story, I found this interview on his MySpace. It's him telling his story. It has seriously inspired me. Check it out.

Get this video and more at MySpace.com


At 6:06 PM, Blogger Al said...

What a powerful post Kevin. For the record, I don't think you are a "token" anything. I think you are an awesome human being and I love the fact that you are a part of our community and I am actually really sad of the prospect of you not being around when you're studies are complete.

You said "If being a missional community means to reflect the community at large, a la, Beasley, then is it too much of a stretch to say that our definition of being missional is incomplete when we have a token anything?"

I would love nothing more than to see our little community reflect Beasly's demographics more. I'm short on answers and this probably isn't the place to try and work it out. You are not alone.

You may think that you are a "token Asian". I think your presence just might make our community look more inviting to other Asians. Do you know what I mean? We have to start somewhere, but yes we have a long way to go.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kevin. It's easy for this whitey to not even give these things a second thought because I feel like you are just as a vital piece of our community as ANYONE else.

BTW, I want you know something else. The night we were helping the Goodyears' move, I made a joke with you Do you remember? I imitated one of those poorly dubbed movies. Kev, even though it was light hearted, I've thought of it many times and regretted it ever since. If that has contributed to these feelings you're having, I'm very sorry.

Thanks again for your candidness and transparency.


At 11:50 PM, Blogger confessions of a social hermit said...

hey man,
i'm trying to think of a way to clearly articulate what i want to say w/out it sounding funky and offensive...
i think stereotyping starts w/ things like that show...
when ppl start to point out what's different...and they over analyze what it means...
not to sound too cliche, but i have a variaty of friends from all walks of life, and you'd literally have to point out their backgrounds/religions/colour/etc.
i think we need to stop wondering if the messeges we send are pc and how the world perceives them and start just enjoying ppl for who they are...
(like the examples that asians are kung fu dudes and stuff... i'm sure some are... ) just like jews are always accountants and lawyers... some are... who cares what this means and how it reflects...
and as for making a change... you have to start off small and work within your community and just let the love flow!
(i know this sounds a bit jumbled.. but it's been a long day..)
stay cool
the hermit

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Jaci said...

I don't see you as a token anything. I don't see you as Asian or American or anything else really - just as Kevin, a cool guy who makes people laugh and forces people to think. I also agree with Al - it's gonna suck when you are not here. We all make jokes that are probably inappropriate at times and point out racial and cultural differences, but in some ways I think it's better than being so scared no one will talk about it for fear of being politically incorrect or hurting someone.

As for changing the name, it reminds me of all the women over time who have felt the need to submit things for publication under a man's name to be taken seriously (and I am so not women's lib - just a parellel I saw). That has change over the years and it's no longer necessary for the most part, and I hope some day Chisai won't feel the need to use a stage name for any reason other than he likes it.

Hope the loneliness goes away, and good luck with the last 4 papers!

At 9:28 PM, Blogger Rich said...

I think to truly appreciate the humour in others you must first learn to laugh at yourself.

That being said, I dont think there's such thing as a 'token' really. You are who you are. wether or not your family is from asia, mexico, or the box beside jackson square; it only makes a difference if you believe it makes a difference.

You are who you are and you are; in addition to being my favorite mexican, a truly wonderful person. You have every right to be proud of yourself, your family, and your heritage.

Screw anyone who thinks different.


ps take up any hobbies lately?

At 11:25 PM, Blogger Kev Chen said...

Al - Bro, you're such a great man. I totally saw your joke as that, a joke, and I absolutely loved it!! Thanks for the hugs and encouragement.

Noa - Thanks for your mad wisdom. Sometimes I to tend to over analyze things to the point of being irrational. Thanks for being the voice of reason. :)

Jaci - Thanks a ton for the kind words. And hopefully I won't need to change my name either. But if I do, perhaps Chewie Robinson will be my first choice.

Rich - Thanks for seeing me as me and encouraging this Mexicasian to be real. And no, I haven't 'hobbied' lately, but if I do, rest assured, you'll be on my mind.


Post a Comment

<< Home