50 years later, Asian American images and links galore for 2015; Here comes Aziz Ansari in 2016
In 2015, is there a bigger story for Asian Americans than Islamophobia?
What? You’re not Muslim? Aren’t you a big-beach-umbrella-Asian American? You don’t have to like sand.
What about a golf umbrella?
It amazes me how I still hear comments from people who should pick up a history book and understand that every kind of Asian who has come to America has been through the politics of fear.
Chinese took jobs and got kicked out. Filipinos took jobs and women and got kicked out. Japanese looked like the enemy and got jailed.
Now it’s the South Asians and the West Asians. And as the fear plays out, it threatens our existence as a community if we don’t all stand under the umbrella as one.
I know, it’s popular to say Asian Americans are not a monolith. It came up when I wrote about the affirmative action issue this year. Or when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote that Asian Americans have an advantage.
We’re a diverse group, and we prefer to call ourselves by our ethnicities. It’s who we are. But as Asian American, or the ultra-inclusive AAPI (my preference) or AANHPI, we can’t forget that our real power comes when we’re positively monolithic.
ASIAN AMERICANS GOOD AT NUMBERS
That we’re even here at all is pretty amazing. And that’s the most unappreciated story of 2015.
For Asian Americans, it’s hard to look at this past year without an appreciation of history.
It struck me when I attended a 75th year celebration of my college radio station, WHRB-FM, in Cambridge in October, on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Without that law, America would look like this:
- Whites: 75 percent
- Blacks: 4 percent
- Hispanics: 8 percent
- Asians: Less than 1 percent
Thank goodness it passed, ending years of racist quotas that were tantamount to “immigration interruptus.”
You’ll still see the old demographics in place. At one of my event’s sessions at Harvard’s Science Center, I looked out at the audience and didn’t see many Asian Americans.
But outside, on the way to Harvard Yard, there was a food truck selling banh mi sandwiches.
The new demographics are taking root. At least gastronomically.
And yet, we are still encroaching Asians, hidden dragons.
We are still underplayed when it comes to real life.
In the fight for justice, the killer of Vincent Chin continues to evade a civil judgment that has ballooned to more than $8 million.
Personally, as I’ve pondered the murder of my cousin, I’ve wondered if Asian American lives still matter.
Real life is tough still. Fake life? It’s another story.
THE REVOLUTION IS BEING TELEVISED
As a former TV reporter in a three-network era, I know the power of TV. But I was too dumb to understand why older people often came up to me in San Francisco and thanked me. They had never seen a real live Filipino on TV before.
Like that was important?
But in 2015, Filipinos and Asian Americans seem to be all over the place and not just on the ethnic channels.
Yes, that was Vanessa Lachey, nee Minnillo, the former Filipino American teen queen (born in the Air Force Hospital in Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines) on an NBC prime time sitcom, “Truth Be Told.”
“Fresh Off the Boat” continued to grow as a show, and I was a fan. But I didn’t realize it really was because of Randall Park and Constance Wu.
When they were snubbed for an Emmy nod, I was miffed.
They deserved their success perms.
Later in the year, when “FOTB” returned, for a second go-round, I wasn’t sure about the story lines and characters. But I noticed it was less about the kids, and more about the parents and grandma. Better. The show isn’t “Leave it to Beaver.” It’s “Father Knows Best.”
“FOTB” is still a sitcom, and by my laugh-meter standard, there were way more laughs on the critically misunderstood “Dr. Ken.”
I’ve written about Ken Jeong in other publications, like KoreAm back in 2009. He was funny before you were doing the whip and the Nae-Nae (so 2015). His show isn’t an arty sitcom in the Louis CK auteur vein, and it may have less of a message than “FOTB,” but the laughs in “Dr. Ken” will improve your abs.
As good as those two shows were, the winner for taking the modern sitcom up one more notch is Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None.” The second episode on parents and the comparative stories of fathers was an especially good episode and worth streaming.
In 2015, Ansari has proven to be the jack of everything. He sold out multiple shows in Madison Square Garden; Came out with a book, “Modern Romance,” on dating and relationships in June; Was on the finale of “Parks and Rec” on NBC; And he wrote an essay on modern casting’s continuing diversity problem in the arts section of the Sunday New York Times.
He was even lauded by PETA for speaking out against eggs and factory farming. (Disclosure: my wife is a PETA executive.)
Aziz is building a kind of celebrity that could make a difference as he continues to mature and grow and becomes more outspoken in his projects, both in and out of show business.
His collaboration with Alan Yang on “Master of None” is just a harbinger of the new ground he’s breaking for Asian Americans.
I’ve always liked Aziz’s standup act. But “Master of None” was historic from the opening shot, where Aziz is seen having sex with an attractive white female without benefit of working condom (always a comic trigger).
OK, it was on Netflix.
But when was the last time you saw an Asian American male do that?
Even the groundbreaking “Girls” still thinks Asian guys are all “gaysians.”
For all that, Aziz is my Asian American person of the year. Is there any Asian American male who is more in your face visible right now in the mainstream media? This is what I mean about building for the future. There just aren’t many Asian Americans who have the kind of name recognition that Aziz has now. And at age 32, he has what in the old days of tech used to be called “up side.” With Aziz, it’s way-up.
He may even kick off 2016 in a big way. The Golden Globes are on Jan. 10, and Aziz is up for Best Actor, television series, musical or comedy.
In the age of U.S. Islamophobia, that would be a positively monolithic event for all of us in the New Year.
THANK YOU DEAR READERS
In 2010, at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in, of all places, Hollywood, land of broken dreams, I began a conversation with AALDEF’s Margaret Fung. It ended up with the migration of my “Amok” column from the now defunct “Asian Week” to this very blog.
The AALDEF website has been the home of my column, or blogumn, ever since.
And 2015 has been a banner year. I’m still writing.
It was also gratifying to win AAJA’s 2015 Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice.
But as I look back, the story that continues to get the biggest play on this blog is the one I wrote in 2012, where Ronald Ebens apologized to me for the killing of Vincent Chin.
Here are the rest of the top posts this year to read while you wait for your Wi-Fi to boot up “Master of None” on Netflix. Have a Happy New Year!
The Amok Top Ten of the Year:
Ebens owes millions: Vincent Chin’s killer continues to evade judgment.
Let’s end the civil war on affirmative action: How some Asians are being used as human shields.
Do Asian American Lives Matters?: Justice is elusive for Stephen Guillermo.
Miss Universe: Oops.
Nick Kristof’s Asian Advantage: Just because you write for the Times doesn’t mean….
Asian American Emmys snub: I’d vote twice for Randall and Constance.
Louisville prosecutor/Hwangs: In Kentucky, Asian Americans stand up for their rights.
Vincent Wu: There was an Asian American at Selma 50 years ago.
Margaret Cho stole the Golden Globes: And maybe a military uniform.
Margaret Cho interview: You have to see it.