I think that Asian-Americans themselves, typically what they do is they let go of one identity and they subsume the other one.
Below is an abridged audio transcript of Episode 54 from Season 4 of Rock The Boat: Making Waves, edited for clarity.
Welcome to Rock the Boat and happy Asian Pacific American heritage month or APM. We wanted to kick off May with a thoughtful discussion. In this episode, Lucia spoke with the Fung Bros about Asian identity in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With more and more reports of acts of hate towards people of Asian ethnicities because of the coronavirus, it is a tough time to talk about Asian identity. What does it mean to be both Asian and American? What are we lacking in our Asian American communities? What should we focus on going forward?
There aren't any right answers, but we've got to have these discussions.
I. The Fung Bros
Lucia: If you guys don't know who the Fung Bros are, they are a YouTube comedy duo and they make YouTube videos about Asian identity, food and culture.
Andrew, the younger of the two brothers was on Episode 17 of Rock The Boat. We spoke about how the phone bros got their start in comedy, how they dabbled in rap music, and how they started making YouTube videos.
David: What's going on? My name is David Fung from the Fung Brothers and the older brother.
Andrew: My name is Andrew Fung, the younger brother.
Lucia: I think people are hungry for.voices and perspectives. And I think especially when, if you're quarantining by yourself, it's a very lonely time. I think people are just looking for content and people are looking for, things to talk about.
David: For sure. I hope they're ready to hear like some real stuff, cause I think it's easy to talk about media representation in Hollywood roles and stuff like that. Those are really fun to talk about, but I think that there's some really, really deep, complex issues that we need to talk about.
Andrew: I think the situation got more complicated to be honest. And you know, when you have things like crazy rich Asians or parasite pop in, it's easy to be like, Oh yeah, great Asians on screen. This is awesome. It feels like progress.
And then something like this happens and it's mixed in with a whole bunch of geopolitical beef and competition and rivalry.
And then there's international incidences happening left and right. And there's viral videos. It's like. Whoa. Like what's true, what's real, what information is right, the right information? How should we feel? I'm not saying that we have all the answers, but, let's just say we have had a few conversations, you know, amongst ourselves and with other friends.
So hopefully what we say can at least help guide the direction of the dialogue.
II. Asian America
Lucia: People are thinking more about China US relations, being Asian American because of this pandemic or do you feel like it's something that hasn't been said and this pandemic has kind of brought out sentiments towards it?
Andrew: Obviously this has been a talk in Asian American identity conversations for many years, is that kind of that perpetual foreigner label that we get slapped on with. And it used to be just foreign like "well," but now it's like kind of foreign negative. And I do think that people like the politicians and business owners and corporations, they've known that there was always like this competition with China, economically, even though that there was so much partnership at the same time and so much trade going on.
But now on a mainstream level, like if you look at the two presidential ads that are coming out, both from the Dems and the Republicans, they're kind of like judging each other on how hard they went on China.
So now China has been kind of pinned at the center of this when it used to not be like that.
Lucia: But how are we kind of able to like, reconcile all of those different identities, and also prevent situations that happened in past where other Asian Americans are kind of getting rolled into this whole, you know, yellow peril and China is the enemy discussion.
David: That's like a rhetorical question of Asian America. How can you be Asian and American at the same time? Cause I don't know if any Asians have ever been fully accepted as fully American. To be honest, in like American history. I can't even think of anybody.
Cause if you think about it, the most famous Asian-American in American history is Bruce Lee. And Bruce Lee was just born in America, but he was raised in Hong Kong. So you could argue that there has literally never been a super famous Asian American in America ever. That's already difficult because people, I think people just have a tough time balancing that in their mind.
But I think that Asian-Americans themselves, typically what they do is they let go of one identity and they subsume the other one. But I think it's a little bit more difficult for like certain people, you know, like particularly Chinese people because we come from such an old civilization with so many rituals, but I think ultimately people have to understand that you don't need to like be validated by like a middle America type of crowd to feel American.
Lucia: Yeah, I was going to ask you like, do you have to choose?
David: I think a lot of people feel that they do. Hey, you're asking us a smart question, but I do think most people inherently feel like they have to.
Andrew: Well, and let's acknowledge that everybody listening to this podcast does not live in a coastal city. There are plenty of Asians who are stuck in a position who live in Ohio or Texas or these States that are very, like, they're asking the questions like, "Hey, which team are you on? Which team are you on?"
And that's a pressure that we don't fully get in LA or SF or New York.
Our culture, and like how we deal and how we do we make it inviting for people. Are we promoting like the cool things that can spread, that can make people feel good about us? That's something that we should definitely be having some discussions about.
Lucia: I just remember growing up in the States, teachers always taught us, "Oh, America is the biggest melting pot. You're going to find people of all different types of cultures and we accept everybody."
It's such a welcoming place, and I feel like that sentiment has disappeared with the Trump administration. It feels like America is no longer this like kind of melting pot, wonderland type of place where everybody is welcomed to pursue the American dream.
III. Being American
Lucia: What were your guys' thoughts on the Andrew Yang piece that Asians need to be more American?
David: All right. Let me just say, I see what he's saying. And I get what he's saying because obviously there are a lot of statistics to suggest that Asians are not as engaged with what other people consider social infrastructure as other groups are, whether that's voting or being involved civically jobs in the civic sector. There's like generally like a lower percentage, right?
More Asians have jobs in the corporate sector than civic sector. So it's like, those are just statistics. So obviously I get what he's saying, or I think what he was trying to say, but he just had a lot of, it was what Andrew Yang said was wrapped up in a lot of really bad imagery.
Like it was just the wording was off and the feeling.
I think the feeling that it gave a lot of Asians that were really looking for something really deep to hit them deep. It just wasn't there. So I think that that's why people were so offended.
Lucia: Did you feel like at all? It felt like the piece was adjusting Asians that they have to change themselves in order to, to fit into American society.
Andrew: I do think that's how a lot of people took it, and I don't blame them for that at all when I read it. Before I had seen the Twitter firestorm that it started, even when I read it just by myself, I was just like, yeah, this is coming off real weird. Like, I'm not really feeling this piece, man.
I do think that it raised some interesting conversation where it's kind of like, I saw this quote the other day. Does being respected in America, is that something that should be granted or is that something that should be fought for? And I thought that was an interesting way to frame that question because I think a lot of time, obviously as Asians and children of immigrants or as immigrants, you know, you come to America for a better life or opportunity.
But as Asian American people are born here, it's very common and it's totally understandable that we do feel entitled to being granted that American Label. But I think what we're realizing that is that some people might think you're American and some people really don't think you're American.
Lucia: I think there's, there's like a lot of nuance and it's mixed feelings because I see what Andrew was trying to say, which is like, "Hey guys, if you want to win at the game, you got to learn how to play the game. You want to learn the rules of the game and then you can win the game."
I think that's kind of the gist of what he was trying to say. But I think it came off to your point, Andrew. As if like, Asians aren't perceived as American enough and that they have to change themselves in order to fit in.
IV. Where do we go from here
Andrew: I do think there needs to be discussion on how to play this game more correctly. Like in America, they like stars, they like famous people. They like people to stand up. Flashy is good. And be flashy and be proud of what you did. And I mean, to be honest, even people who do negative things, they still show it off.
So I'm like, yo, if we're doing positive things, spread the positivity. I don't care if you get a couple of comments saying, "Oh, you're bragging, or this is self-serving." It's like, dude, I'm spreading positivity by showing people what I'm doing. So don't be afraid of that. Now is no time to be shy and now is no time to be the stereotypical Asian.
Basically, you gotta step it up. I'm not saying everybody needs to fight, physically, like fight somebody who yells at them or something like that. I don't think that's necessarily going to solve it and nor do I think that's a good idea. But, I think definitely standing up for yourself and just letting the world know what we're capable of.
I think there needs to be clear Asian American leaders now more than ever.
Andrew: I think the Asian healthcare workers have kind of been the Asian heroes. And, at this time they're kind of like the stars of this all. You know, I do think all, image of a frontline healthcare worker has just been boosted because they've just been so important.
Lucia: The quote that really sticks with me is, I'm actually a quote from Kimmy Yom, from HuffPost (now NBC). She says, listen, if you're a quiet Asian and you don't want to be, you know, out there putting yourself out there and everything. That's okay too. You can be just as cool and super subversive and still help.
David: Or just repost. Maybe you're not even like, let's say you're a quiet person, not a frontliner. Just repost it. You got to draw those campaigns, whether it's Hate Is a Virus, Wash the Hate, All Americans and one from Andrew Yang. We're talking about the Faces of the Cure. There's so many out there now.
You gotta just support something. You don't have to support a hundred percent of them, but do something.
You can find the Fung Bros on their YouTube channel. They've been working hard to pump out content to help us through these tough times.
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