Emil Guillermo: This Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, do you know the Chindipinos? How about Arthur Gunn?
Here’s the pressing existential question so far this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2021: Does America love Arthur Gunn more than Dibesh Pokharel? Or would it rather have Pokharel over Gunn? You know how America loves a gun. Answer like your AAPI life depends on it because it does.
But first, in the “why is this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month different from all other APAHMs" category, it’s simple. Most non-Asians are finally noticing us. Or at least our hashtag, #StopAsianHate.
It only took a year of Trumpian scapegoating, resulting in nearly 4,000 self-reported racial transgressions against all Asian Americans. No matter the ethnicity. We were all seen as one.
And to top it all, there was Atlanta on March 16 when confessed gunman Robert Aaron Long went to three different massage spas and killed eight people, six of whom were Korean American women. Hate crimes or not, the public has been exposed for its general ignorance of Asian Americans.
And to prove it, many non-Asians still see “Asian American” as synonymous with Chinese.
We’re about 23 percent Chinese, or 5.4 million people. Indian Americans are 20 percent, or 4.6 million people. And Filipinos are 18 percent (4.2 million).
Close to sixty-two percent of all Asian Americans are Chinese, Indian, or Filipino, making the top 3 definitely Chindipinos.
And the Vietnamese? Just 9 percent. Korean, 8 percent. Japanese 6 percent. The remaining 15 percent are from 13 other countries. (All numbers are from data released just last week from the Pew Research Center’s analysis of Census data).
There’s so much diversity, Asian Americans should be beyond stereotyping. With Indians and Filipinos making up nearly 40 percent of the group, the racists who feared “yellow peril” would have to update the phrase in 2021 to some shade of brown.
In fact, Asian brown is set to overtake Hispanics in the U.S. by 2060, when the Asian American population is expected to double from 23 million to 46 million, according to Pew Research.
And we’re all over the map. Chinese dominate in the West and New York. Indians dominate in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast. And Filipinos, surprise to surprise, not just No. 1 in Hawaii and Alaska, but in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia? Are they Joe Manchin voters?
The numbers are the most basic level of awareness, with the fastest-growing Asian American groups by percentage being small ethnic groups like the Bhutanese, Nepalese, and Burmese–tenfold growth or more between 2010 and 2019.
These small groups are typical of the vast disparities among Asian groups.
Take the Nepalese. In education, 42 percent of the Nepalese have a high school education or less, compared to 27 percent for all Asians, and 39 percent of all Americans.
22 percent of Nepalese have Bachelor’s degrees, as compared to 30 percent of all Asians, and 20 percent of all Americans.
On economics, 17 percent of Nepalese live in poverty. That’s worse than all Asians at 10 percent, and about the same as all Americans at 13 percent.
The median household income for Nepalese is about $55,000, vs $85,000 for all Asians.
Sounds like the Nepalese are a lot more model American than model Asian.
And that’s why it’s intriguing that a man from Nepal is asking a fundamental pop cultural existential question for all Asian Americans in 2021.
DOES AMERICA LOVE GUNN OR DIBESH?**
America doesn’t seem to know Dibesh Pokharel from a hill of mung beans. But after Sunday, it’s still ready to buy the gritty country/western twang of Arthur Gunn.
Viewers of “American Idol” 2020 may remember Gunn. He was the “American Idol” runner-up in last year’s Covid deprived season eighteen. A guy with a deep tan from Wichita, Kansas, Gunn had to get out the ring light and perform the final from his home. He covered Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” like he was a brown John Fogarty.
It got him second place.
“Idol” brought back the top also-rans from last year to get the big stage treatment this season, and Gunn won the right to compete this year. Just this past Sunday, Gunn sang a gritty “Remember Me,” from the Disney movie “Coco,” and was voted into the top 7.
America, what a country!
By now, you know Arthur Gunn is Dibesh Pokharel. Or Dibesh Pokharel is Arthur Gunn. A stage name is just a label. The soul is the same.
But Pokharel is typical of the new emerging Asian American, just 23, born in Kathmandu, Nepal. (I bet he could do a mean Bob Seger imitation. Find Seger’s “Kathmandu” online).
He is one of the “becoming” Asian Americans. Modern newcomers making their mark in a new way. Kathmandu country and western? It’s time.
From reports, Pokharel learned English from watching “Idol” online. His family also noticed he could mimic songs from radio and TV. When the family immigrated to Wichita in 2008, Pokharel was just 11, but his musical gift was developing.
Like many Asian musical talents, he could cover American songs, sounding white, but it was just an imitation. In their hearts, they knew their music was in their ethnic language. Pokharel’s first recording “Grahan” is in Nepalese. He is now known as one of Nepal’s top singing talents.
But after Sunday, he’s proving his worth as a pop artist, which was one of the reasons he is “Arthur.” “Art” is in the name. At the time of concoction, he was reading the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. But as Pokharel has explained, the “hur” means “hole,” which he clearly is filling, and the “Gunn” symbolizes battle, which he’s in.
There’s some tough competition in the final 7. (I will talk about it online in my Emil Amok’s Takeout at 2 pm PT, on Facebook Live at EmilGuillermo.Media, and on www.amok.com.) But the man who was born in the shadow of Everest knows about mountains worth climbing. For my money, he’s the now Asian, subject to the barometer of the “Idol” voting public, and willing to enter the American pop machine.
How much Arthur will there be? How much Dibesh? We know that America loves a gun but an Arthur Gunn?
Unlike the infamous William Hung in 2004 who covered Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs,” Gunn is no joke. He’s a legit singer, and an interesting cultural experiment on display in real time.
During the most America-aware Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in recent history, America is having a Nepalese moment as it picks an “American Idol.”