Asian American Arts Alliance

This Side, The Other Side, No Side

During the past Town Hall event organized by the Asian American Alliance, I had the most interesting conversation with a new friend, a Chinese American painter, about an issue seldom spoken of or even taken into account seriously even within the Asian American community.

My new friend was not selected to an art exhibition of Asian artists not because the curators did not like her work, but rather because her work did not address Asian issues, themes, or any cultural motif.

 What has appalled me is the way how the curators expressed their message in such a straightforward way, as if it were the way it was supposed to be.

Comes to think of it, by not selecting the artist’s work for its relevance with the Asian motif in an exhibition exclusively of Asian artists poses a serious contradiction, and it also reflects the reality of Asian people born or live outside an Asian country. The question thus arises: if an Asian American artist does not make Asian theme or motif art, has this person given up his or her Asian-ness?

 Does being Asian mean that one is expected to do or think or behave in the way that is believed to be Asian? What is it really to be Asian? Does blending or selecting either of the two cultures, one by heritage and the other by adoption, mean that one has lost both of them?

If all this were true, would it be too crazy to think that a new and universal combination of cultures does really exist and that this new culture, which I would like to call The Other Side-- since it is the other side of the generally recognized reality-- is actually a contemporary phenomenon, and to address this contemporary reality is a contemporary approach to the issue.  We do live in a world of mixed reality, which is quite obvious in all aspects of our life-- music, food, fashion, art, economy, etc. -- all tend to be mixed, fused, globalized… So, in order to move into this contemporary world (in this case, it is art), should our first step be that of simply addressing the issue of The Other Side? What do you think?

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I think it is completely a mental case of exclusion when so many Asians are so skilled. Many had been parroting the same definitions since its inception of ID crises of the 70s just to preset their agendas for others to emulate. It seems to be limiting one's self and not explore other avenues.
If that's the case, what do you think we can do about it? Should we conform, agree, learn to live with it, rebel, change others, change ourself, create something new out of this situation and if so, what?
If you are of Japanese descent join a taiko group and learn traditional 4/4 timing. Its training is very rigid but so is its culture where everyone must perform with one sound. Do not mention "syncopaton" or challenge the teacher with anything beyond the Japanese culture.

You can join a Chinese gang and write a book of the experience like Henry Chang. Or join MOCA (Museum of Chinese in America) and lie about growing up in a laundry, dumpster scavenging, working in a garment factory, built the subways instead of the RR, never joined an anti-war demonstration, got straight A's from kindergarden to college, never dated outside your race even though its director married and think's he's Jewish, etc.

If you are of other Asian ethnic orientation & you do not want to be totally stuck with the same ID crises of the 70s, you can mingle among the Black and Hispanic groups who appreciate such exoticisms. I'm sure your artistic skills will increase but will ostracize you from the Blue Chip galleries because they prefer foreign-born artists who reflect their nation's culture.

You can organize like Margo Machida, has with "Godzilla" where only Bryon Kim, and a few other (less than 6 out of 50) members were accepted by Blue Chip galleries.

Or maybe, try to beat the "glass ceiling"... be a lawyer, MD, Social Worker, PhD, Fashion Designer, Health Care worker, Teacher, etc.

I, on the other hand, had traveled around the world esp Third World Nations and documented LES musicians for 15 years because no other Asians has participated in promoting avant-garde jazz with free form audio and utilized their music as expressive sound tracks or have them accompany me with my poetry performances ... must be a lost art form.

Every member of Asian Arts Alliance is looking for an audience to prove their popularity but I find it futile to get an audience from such groups and enjoy what I think is a reflection of my art. This might be totally confusing if you hadn't tried the "unknown" path.
Wow, it sounds real hard to be Asian American if we swim in the waters of labels and classifications. Perhaps, we can advocate a certain "Lost Art Form" from this "Lost" crowd of the other side. The "lost" people are actually FREE people, I mean, like food, you know, colestrol free, MSG free, GMO free, sodium free, saturated oil free, etc.

So, are you a musician? I actually grew up in different Third World countries when they really belonged to the Third World. Now they have progressed, as the First and Second world countries have slowed down their growth... It's very confusing. All worlds seem to be becoming Third World, or third-wordish.

Perhaps the only real world is the world within. Who cares what others think? Am I, after all, a f...#@! FREE sort of Asian, sort of American, sort of whatever all-encompassing, limitless, indescribable, unlabeleable, inclusive, chamelion-like kind of person? yeah, I like the word FREE... and maybe Lost so that one could be Free...

There is a South American saying, "all lines are drawn for you to cross them..." (some people have distorted the originally intended meaning to refer it to the law, you know, all laws are made for you to break them... yet, perhaps that's not a distortion after all). It just dawned on me more words, the free people, the lost ones, the chamelions, the breakers, the crossers, the transformers, cultural alchemists, oh, here is one, boundary breakers or BB...or all of the above, or none of the above...What say you?
Nice, I like your mind because those are basically the people who have become my closest friends. The chameleons who can travel learn languages, be good artists, left the city of "corruption", and return to all the "racist institutions" to attend their “free” events.

Have you noticed how there are "Museo del Barrio" "Studio Museum of Harlem", "MOCA", "Taller Boricua", "A Gathering of the Tribes" "Nuyorican Poets Cafe", "Bowery Poetry Cafe", Asian American Writer's group, CAAAV (Chinese American Against Anti-Violence), AFEE (Asians for Equal Employment) etc. Most of these Asian non-profit orgs. are setup for "immigrant class" peoples while other generations have to ameliorate into mainstream society with it’s “youth cultures”, their needs to expose their nakednesses (check out Tribes’ art exhibits who presently exhibit illustrative eroticism as taught by art schools); nudity with cleavages prevails and still be puritanical. These groups are very limiting and as usual must organize as a group to reflect/retaliate mainstream society’s insecurities. So far, it has been an entrapment and it’s another form of conforming by utilizing middle class standards to poorer artists while hyping their “pretty” art.

To many others after giving many years of support, volunteerism, donations, etc my art still cannot be conformed by the newly set up "Asian" American communities. Yes, I can claim myself a musician since Soh Taiko (first Chinese American member b4 Teddy or Margaret Chin participation) claims to be only for amateur musicians, yes, I am a videographer because I document the realities of how “whites” can take over a third world intended org. as their territory. As an artist, because my social commentaries are banned from publications in Asian community who preferred me locked up, mentally or physically.

See Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Pity the Nation” on You Tube:

I had seen America’s demise when homelessness had increased in the 80s. It just only took time for things to catch-up. So we can pretend to be “lost”, on a “life journey” recording our own inner visions as oppose to selling out.

I like your thinking process and hope sometime to meet you at some free event.
Thanks for posting the question, Christina!
Hi Christina, I finally got a chance to read the discussions you have been opening on the A4 Hub--very interesting. I often feel that my "Chinese-ness" is so dependent on the context that I am in. It is very much like reader-response criticism: everyone views me in a different way depending on their own specific orientation needs. For instance, in school, being "Asian" was important as a marker of diversity in institutional statistics, but among my friends, they barely register my Asian-ness at all (which can sometimes be very annoying!). I have actually been told by people, who are being friendly to me, "but you're not REALLY Asian." So yes, it does sometimes feel as you so aptly put it like "oops, am my losing my Asian-ness?" I think you are right that I may have passed over into the Other Side (Post-markers-of- ethnicity)--which gives me a certain freedom, but also means that people do not know how to categorize me so that I may also be "left out" of certain possibilities because I do not fit the usually defined "mold." On the other hand, I have always lived as a "chameleon" and probably would feel uncomfortable if I were ever permanently _defined_.
I agree 100%. Due to those who has their own theories to practice, and vocalizes the loudest in this capitalistic system have successfully dominated mainstream's dictates in order to maintain the status quo, whereas there seems to be alot of "other" Asians who are in this dilemma.
Hi Caroline,
I am glad that you have taken part in this discussion. I share the feelings that you have, although my situation has been a different one. I did not grow up in the United States; I grew up mostly in South America. Unlike in the States or Europe, people in South America are more open and tolerant to people of a different race or ethnic background, perhaps it is due to heir own "mestizo" condition, which is a mixture of the blood and culture of the Spanish conquistadores and that of the native indians and black slaves. From very early on, the South American people had make me feel that I was one of them, even though I had always felt in my heart a certain "nostalgia" or "yearning" towards Asian-ness. The funny thing is that the first time that I returned to the place I was born, I was treated as if I was a "foreigner", I was being alienated by my own people. Yet, come to think of it, are they really my own people? Who are really my own people? Later, I studied the Chinese language, philosophy and history and acquired knowledge of being a Chinese person so much more than a "real" one, and now they are confused and cannot tell if I were a "foreigner" or a Chinese. Even when they eventually accepted me as one of them, my feelings for them is much more foreign than from the South Americans, when they had accepted me. So, I arrived a the conclusion that maybe there is a huge population of the Other Side people, just like me, with different backgrounds and yet share certain similar feelings, and this huge population of the Other Side People is actually the people of the future, when cultures are no longer separated from one another, when they are no longer that "pure", when the "mestizo" experience is not a historical blunder but rather a historical foresight... yes, the future belongs to the mixed people and this is inevitable... and as a person from the Other Side, I have decided to trust in mysef, in my extraordinary condition, and that the future belongs to someone like me...


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