Episode 58 | Actor, Producer, Filmmaker, Connector: Brian Yang
Asian Americans...we didn't all come to this country at the same time. Our ancestors, we have different experiences and so I think our community has that unique challenge of having to deal with so many different experiences.
Below is an abridged audio transcript of Episode 58 from Season 4 of Rock The Boat: Making Waves, edited for clarity.
In this episode of the podcast, Lucia catches up with Brian Yang. You might remember Brian Yang from his role as Charlie Fong, the forensic scientist and the 2010 TV series, Hawaii Five-O. Brian is heavily involved in the Asian American community. He organizes and plays in the Asian American basketball leagues and tournaments. And he's generally a great connector in the community.
When Lucia first heard of Brian, she was surprised to find out that he was also the producer of the 2012 Jeremy Lin documentary Linsanity. Since then, Brian has been working on various film projects and then mid-2018 he started helping out with Andrew Yang's presidential campaign. Lucia went to one of the rallies Brian hosted for Andrew in New York last December, and Andrew's talk actually aired on Episode 38 of Rock the Boat.
I. Brian goes to caucus
Brian: I'm Brian Yang. I am a producer, actor and, now seasoned, presidential campaign fundraising co-chair. Although I joke with the seasoned part, I was part of Andrew Yang's 2020 run at the White House and had spent the better part of the last year working on that. So, kind of a Jack of all trades.
My main focus is still in the entertainment space.
Lucia: I do want to go into more detail about that caucus, did you participate or listen in on some of these caucuses?
Brian: Believe it or not, there was actually Asian-American pockets of people in Iowa, and we connected with as many as we could, and it was right around Lunar New Year actually. They had all these celebrations, and so I would drop in on some of these events to just handout pins and bumper stickers and make little speeches and things like that.
It's not exactly the bastion of Asian American progressivism. a lot of the, members of the community are first generation immigrants. There was a gentleman out there who was kind of the leader of all Asian American activities. He organized the Lunar New York festival. He and his wife do it every year. They're very involved in politics.
He told me that he was actually bi-partisan. He really just wanted to galvanize the community to get out and vote and support whoever they believed in. He wasn't necessarily championing Andrew, but he was letting people know, like, "Hey, it's the caucus. Let's get out and participate."
II. Working with Andrew Yang
Lucia: I know that the last time we spoke, you were working on an Andrew Yang documentary. Obviously, you can't follow him around right now, but I'm curious of your work on it and how long you intend to keep it going for.
Brian: So the pandemic is definitely put a halt to things, not just this production, but obviously the industry as a whole. Originally, I think it would have been great to have something in hand by the Fall. Like maybe at first cut, first draft, if you will. That doesn't seem possible anymore. We're going to have to see based on the opening up of the country, when we can really get back into finishing shooting.
Lucia: I want to talk about this slightly controversial piece that Andrew Yang wrote about calling for Asian Americans to be more American. I'm curious, if he told you about the piece before he wrote it on the Washington Post, or if he just kind of wrote it and then your thoughts or reactions to it.
Brian: You just get to the hard hitting stuff, don't you? Um, post presidential campaign, he's been as busy as ever. He's started a nonprofit Humanity Forward. He's gotten involved in half a dozen pilot programs around the idea of universal basic income, which was the pillar of his campaign.
And then, he signed on as a CNN political analyst. In addition to being a general resource whenever the media needs a soundbite about the economy, he's regularly on podcasts and other round tables.
Lucia: If you haven't seen the We Are All Americans campaign, it truly sends a powerful message of solidarity. Even what be Goldberg shared it on the view and the video features. Celebrities like Lucy Liu, Joseph Gordon Levitt, comedian Dave Chappelle, actor Daniel Day, Kim and actress Alyssa Milano.
Brian: That PSA actually was something that I produced and we put it together at the launch of the campaign. And to your question about the op-ed.
So when we started the idea of the campaign, there was a strategy to release all kinds of things. We had a core group of people, including Gold House, who participated in the development of this, and we said, let's run a PSA. Let's write a series of op-eds, not just through Andrew, but with other allies and people who were part of the campaign.
And the messaging behind it is to inform and remind the public that everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, background, religion. We're Americans. We're not the enemy. We're not the reason for the virus.
And then as a result of the reception from the op-ed, we had to wait and regroup and then it took another few weeks before we actually went live with the campaign. So the op-ed was number one, it was definitely short, read at face value, completely agree with all of the criticisms that were hurled and our people responded with.
But it was really disheartening to see like the pile on from particularly the Asian American community that...you heard it all like, "Oh, uncle Chan" to, basically a boot licking racism sanitizer. All of these things
couldn't be further from the truth.
Obviously, I'm someone close to him and, I'm going to sound biased, but if you know Andrew, if you think he's in it to throw us under the bus, put us in harms way, ridicule us, I couldn't disagree more.
Lucia: I do want to talk about this. I feel like this is something that I talk with other Asian Americans in either entertainment or business. This concept of do Asians support each other or are we too quick to judge each other on our work? Cause there's so few and far opportunities in between. It's hard to find a figurehead that can really speak to our community as a whole because we're such a fragmented community to begin with.
Brian: Oh yeah. I mean, that's the nature of our society these days. And I think in general, like social media, has enabled us to, for better or worse, come together or divide us further. And so, within our own community, there's certainly a lot of division.
Now mind you, I also want to say that after that op-ed came out, there was a lot of support from the community. A lot of folks said, "You know what, Andrew, that was a bad take, but I know where your heart is."
I think about that a lot because, our community is certainly not a monolith. And that is the opening too for a lot of the activism around "Andrew Yang does not speak for me because he's an East Asian, Ivy league educated, privileged, second gen person who never lived in my shoes."
It's true. Asian Americans, we didn't all come to this country at the same time. Our ancestors, we have different experiences and so I think our community has that unique challenge of having to deal with so many different experiences.
That to say that it's all one shared experience is impossible. And how do we overcome that? I don't necessarily have the answer to that.
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