Playbill: Casting and advertisement of Yellowface play “The Mikado” stirs controversy amongst Asian community in NYC

 Playbill (by Michael Gioia):

When a flyer advertising The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players‘ December production of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s The Mikado — featuring four Caucasian actors portraying Japanese characters in the classic Gilbert and Sullivan opera — was sent out to theatergoers, members of the Asian community took offense.

Playwright and blogger Leah Nanako Winkler was among the first to speak up, posting (from memory, not directly quoting) her conversation with NYGASP artistic director Albert Bergeret, in which he explained that out of the approximately 40 members of the company, only two actors are of Asian descent.

Erin Quill, a former Christmas Eve in Broadway’s Avenue Q who bills herself as “The Fairy Princess” on her Fairy Princess Diaries blog, also responded to the planned production, stating that when she saw the NYGASP’s last production of The Mikado, it was not “historically accurate” in its presentation and that Gilbert “wanted the representation of Japanese people to be respectful and elegant.”

Instead, Quill said that artistic director Bergeret added a character called The Axe Coolie (“coolie” is a term used to refer to Chinese workers at one time in America, yet the show is set in Japan), a small female child who ran around the stage dressed as a male Asian shouting “High Ya.”

She told that while some actors in that production were “just in a costume and doing their track, others were taking special delight and making a large effort to use stereotypical behavior. There was pulling of the eyes, there was shuffling of feet, there were exaggerated gestures in many regards, but when one cast member both pulled his eyes and gnashed his teeth — it was clear that this production had nothing to do with Gilbert and Sullivan any longer, it was an excuse to indulge in caricature that was degrading and hurtful.”

She concluded that the company “played The Mikado for cheap laughs at the expense of Japanese Heritage.”

Since both posts began circulating the Internet, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players pulled the season brochure post on their page and issued statements explaining that they have taken in the “constructive criticism” and are meeting on how to proceed with the production.

David Wannen, the executive director of NYGASP, explained to via phone that the actress on the cover of the brochure (who has asked to remain nameless) is of Asian descent and that the Caucasian actors inside the brochure are not “manipulating” their facial features to appear Asian (therefore, they are technically not painted in Yellowface, a form of theatrical makeup used to represent an East Asian person).

According to the company’s casting policy, “Qualified singers of all ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities are encouraged to audition in all appropriate categories. There are no ethnically specific roles in Gilbert & Sullivan.”

While the company has held various auditions over the last five years, they said it would be “hard” to get a “demographic percentage of how many actors of Asian descent audition, and of those how many are cast.” Regardless of race or culture, the company casts “based on merit alone, and how that merit fits into the needs of a repertory company.”

In a statement issued to, NYGASP explained, “The original plans for the production have been worked on by an independent committee of the board who scanned The Mikado for offensive material and practice. It was determined that the practice of Yellowface makeup — using make up to appear Asian — was the most offensive practice brought to light by the Asian-American community. As part of a policy that is generally outlined by the statement on the website, we agreed to instruct the cast to avoid this practice specifically. Makeup that was appropriate for the stage without the manipulation of features or complexion. We also agreed to go ahead with the wigs and costumes of our traditional production. Obviously, from the reaction to images on our promotional material, this distinction was not able to be seen and was not satisfying to this community.

We are listening to the response we have received. The Executive Committee of the Board is meeting to discuss a strategy and policy going forward. We have taken this issue extremely seriously since the outcry last summer (2014) and remain committed to doing so.”

On the company’s Tumblr page, they addressed the community’s concerns, stating, “We have attempted to keep the satire in our production of The Mikado as true to the original intent as possible; that is, using the fictional Japanese town of Titipu as the setting for satirizing the very real people of Victorian England.”

They added that, in terms of casting for the company’s repertory nature, “There is no separate casting for parts in specific plays. NYGASP cast members are G&S specialists who must be able to play Japanese villagers in The Mikado one day, British sailors in H.M.S. Pinafore the next day and Venetians in The Gondoliers the day after that. The music, the libretti, the stage direction, the singers’ interpretations, the sets, the costumes and the staging must all combine to create the belief that each actor indeed becomes multiple different characters across the spectrum of Gilbert and Sullivan’s imaginative works.

“NYGASP exists to nurture the living legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – not to preserve the past unthinkingly, but to show how much G&S can still teach us about the foibles of human nature that are both geographically universal and timeless. We believe passionately that these enduringly entertaining works of 19th Century England – of which The Mikado is the best known – continue to speak to every generation that watches and listens with an open heart.”

By email, Quill added, “No Asian American disputes that The Mikado is a staple of the G&S canon, nor that the music is lovely. The Mikado, in mocking British mores of the time, says many things about being an individual, about standing up against petty tyrannies, that love will find a way no matter what age you are, and that ultimately if you speak your truth to power, reason will prevail. (Yes, there are large amounts of ‘poo’ references in the names of characters and the town itself. At the time, it was funny, now it is a bit of a ‘groaner.’)

However, the execution of any production that allows exaggerated makeup, inaccurate costuming, and mockery of Asian people is not, in this day and age with Hamilton, Allegiance and School of Rock, acceptable. When you view the current Lincoln Center Theater performances of The King and I, and see how beautifully APIs [Asian-Pacific Islanders] can inhabit a show that is, yes, a standard of the MT [musical theatre] canon, then you can see the authenticity of a pan Asian representation and what it brings to a production.

“We, the Asian Americans, do not want to ‘take away’ your precious Mikado – we want you to do better. We want you to stop constantly mocking us and telling us by your actions and deeds that Yellowface remains part of your theatrical lexicon. We want you to make any production of it, smarter, less full of stereotypes – more full of the respect G&S were trying for.”

Wannen said, “I really believe that the issue is a larger issue, obviously, than who is Asian and who isn’t. We’re dealing with this on a global level and listening to this outcry.”

– See more at:

Korean illustrator gives Western fairy tales a whimsical Eastern makeover



RocketNews 24/Bored Panda:

What would some of our favorite Disney fairytales and Western stories look like if they had been conceived in Eastern Asia? Korean illustrator Na Young Wu has an idea – her illustrations feature Disney characters new and old reinterpreted through the prism of modern Korean cartoon illustration, also known as “manhwa” (the equivalent of manga in Korean).

Wu, who also goes by “Obsidian,”(@00obsidian00) on Twitter, is quite a prolific illustrator. She has created character illustrations for games such as Japanese mobile game Furyoudou~Gang Road~ and Korean production Age of Storm: Kingdom Under Fire Online.

It’s been a year since the release of the mega hit animation Frozen, but as much as some of us can’t wait for it to fade into the shadows, the icy queen and her Frozen empire are still staying put in the spotlight, as if the movie had only been released last month.

We previously saw Elsa and Anna looking glam in some beautiful Chinese dresses. Bet you’re not surprised that we found her donning a Korean hanbok this time! Some of you might be thinking, “RocketNews24 is writing about Frozen AGAIN”, but don’t roll your eyes just yet, because Elsa is just one of the many stunning East-West fusion pieces that Korean illustrator Na Young Wu has created. Check out her other Western fairy tale interpretations after the jump!

Furyoudou~Gang Road~



Although the girls she created for Furyoudou~Gang Road~ are an impeccable mixture of cute and sexy, it is her Korean manhwa drawing style that really brings out the unique atmosphere in her Korean-Western fairy tale series.


Alice in Wonderland

Little Red Riding Hood
red riding hood

Beauty and the Beast
beauty and the beast

The Frog Prince
frog prince

The Little Mermaid
little mermaid

Snow White
snow white

Head over to Obsidian’s blog or Twitter to see more of her fantastic illustrations!

The science and history of the Asian Squat

8 Asians:

The Asian squat. I’ve always been able to do it naturally. For those of you who don’t know, the Asian squat is when you have both feet on the ground, butt touching ankles and knees spread wide. I’ve always done it but the first time I really noticed others doing it was when I went to Bali. Every street I walked down, there were lines and lines of men and women doing the Asian squat asking me if I wanted to buy women, drugs, and/or tourist crap. I almost forgot–in one hand they always had a cigarette and/or a beer. Sometimes both.

Still not sure what I’m talking about? Check out Daniel Hsia’s amazing video, “How to do the Asian Squat” [2002].

It wasn’t until relatively recently did I find out that not everyone can do the Asian squat. It was difficult for me to believe since the Asian squat is as natural to me as breathing. So I conducted an informal study of my friends and found that the non-Asians weren’t able to do it. Or I should say, some could do it but they couldn’t hold it for more than a few seconds.

This got me thinking. Are Asians the only race of people specifically designed to do the Asian squat? My dear 8Asians reader, I have been put here on earth to answer this question for you. I’ve conducted hours… okay a half hour… of Internet “research.” This is what I discovered:

Where did the Asian squat come from?

Finding out the history of the Asian squat proved a lot more difficult than you would have imagined. I found only one site that mentioned where it came from and this is what they said:

Originating in India, the squat made its way to China, where Asians figured that it was the ideal way to eat rice and be ready to defecate at any given time.

I have a feeling they were being a little facetious but I think they were partially right. I believe it probably started because it was the preferred method to go number two. I remember when I took a month long backpacking course in the wilderness and I was ideally suited for going number two in the woods because I was naturally good at the Asian squat and could hold the position for hours (if I wanted to). My camping-mates were jealous.

Can non-Asians do the Asian squat?

Like the history of the Asian squat, finding any scientific studies on whether non-Asians could do the Asian squat proved very difficult. But I did find one:

So we did a test – 100% of the Asians could squat with feet on the ground (P<0.000063) while only 13.5% of North Americans could (p<0.0000043). And of the 13.5%, 9% had part ASIAN ancestry in them. The remaining one was a Yoga Freak.

It’s unclear how many people were tested in this study but these were pretty similar to what I have found amongst my friends.

What is it about Asians that give them the unique ability to the Asian squat?

There were a few sites that offered up some theories. Here were my favorites.

Theory #1:

East Asians have proportionately shorter legs than most Americans, so their squat shall have a different balance point.

To test this theory I took off all my clothes and I looked in the mirror (which I don’t recommend if you value your eyesight). My legs did seem a little short but since I had nothing to compare it with, I will have to reserve judgment.

Theory #2:

I think it’s the same reason why giraffes have longer necks according to the only theory I remembered from my high school biology class.

Theory #3:

In many counties, Asians have to use a squat toilet.

Of course, this doesn’t explain Asian Americans who can do the Asian squat since I assume most of us use a typical sitting down American toilet but it’s an interesting theory nonetheless.

In the end, do I believe Asians are the only race that can do the Asian squat? No. To say one race can do something and that other races cannot is not only racist but also ignorant. We can all do the Asian squat. For some, it’s just a little easier. But it is not biological or even sociological; it is as simply a matter of flexibility. This was one persons recommendation on how EVERYONE can do the Asian squat.

Your problem is tight calf muscles.  You didn’t grow up squatting on a regular basis so your calf muscles shortened.  Women who wear high heals every day have an even worse problem with this as they find they can’t wear flat shoes or go barefoot comfortably.  Shortened calf muscles caused from wearing shoes with heals higher than the ball of the foot (even an inch or less) is also a main contributing cause to plantar fasciitis.

Anyway, the solution takes time as you must slowly stretch the calf muscles to allow a proper flat footed squat.  Stretch two or three times per day every day of the week and within a few months you’ll have no problem with a comfortable flat footed squat.

The Asian squat isn’t just for fun though. Apparently, there are health benefits to squatting while defecating:

People can control their defecation, to some extent, by contracting or releasing the anal sphincter. But that muscle can’t maintain continence on its own. The body also relies on a bend between the rectum–where feces builds up–and the anus–where feces comes out. When we’re standing up, the extent of this bend, called the anorectal angle, is about 90 degrees, which puts upward pressure on the rectum and keeps feces inside. In a squatting posture, the bend straightens out, like a kink ringed out of a garden hose, and defecation becomes easier.

Proponents of squatting argue that conventional toilets produce an anorectal angle that’s ill-suited for defecation. By squatting, they say, we can achieve “complete evacuation” of the colon, ridding our bowels of disease-causing toxins.

adidas Unveils Real Madrid’s 2014/15 Third Kit by Yohji Yamamoto

Image of adidas Unveils Real Madrid's 2014/15 Third Kit by Yohji Yamamoto


In a departure from their collaborative Y-3 endeavor, adidas has tapped award-winning Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto to create Real Madrid‘s third kit for the 2014/15 campaign. Set to make its debut during UEFA Champions League action, the striking all-black kit takes cues from the Madridismo‘s values of greatness and determination, as well as Yamamoto’s own aesthetic, and incorporates two mythical beasts that originate in Eastern culture: the dragon king and dragon bird. Interlaced across the front of the shirt, the king symbolizes the greatness, glory, and power of the club while the bird represents resistance, determination, and agility on the way to victory.

Finished with a mao-type collar, two-color crest, and the designer’s signature, Real Madrid’s black kit is now available in limited quantities from


Image of adidas Unveils Real Madrid's 2014/15 Third Kit by Yohji Yamamoto

Image of adidas Unveils Real Madrid's 2014/15 Third Kit by Yohji Yamamoto

Image of adidas Unveils Real Madrid's 2014/15 Third Kit by Yohji Yamamoto

In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook


Despite entering the fall months, In4mation puts us onto its late summer lookbook. Taking inspirations from its deep-rooted Japanese ties, the Hawai’ian brand took a thorough look into the island’s strong East Asian connections. In regards to designs, hand-drawn illustrations are paired with logo-driven designs that are an ongoing nod to Japanese’s strong visual language.

Among Art Director’s Keith Kanagusuku’s highlights range  include the ‘Lost in Translation’ T-shirt, based on the Tokyo Transit system and the Micha Oni-style “Respect Locals” design done by Ronnie Hamada. The collection is available now at select retailers globally.



Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

 Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook

Image of In4mation 2014 Summer Lookbook



Understanding Asian Glow: FRIEND OR FOE?


pouring red wine

Audrey/Story by Teena Apeles:


Seeing red every happy hour? Or should we say, does everybody else see that unseemly crimson creep up on your face with that first sip? It’s not just you. About a third of East Asians, and even some Southeast Asians, suffer from the uncomfortable flushing that accompanies drinking. But beyond aesthetics, the Asian glow, which is caused by a genetic condition, comes with some serious consequences. Contributing writer Teena Apeles parses out fact from fiction.


When you hear the phrase “Asian glow,” what comes to mind? The word “glow” to me mostly has positive connotations, like “pregnancy glow,” referring to an expectant mother’s complexion and overall appearance as being radiant. Or there’s “glow” as in bright, shining.

While I’d like to think of the Asian glow, also called the “Asian flush,” as something complimentary or something one would like to achieve, for anyone who experiences this flushing of the face after drinking alcohol — or knows someone who does — it’s anything but. Me with a bright red face … not something cute nor radiant and, depending on how much alcohol I consume, neither is the feeling when I’m experiencing it: I turn dark red, I feel feverish and dizzy, my whole body throbs and I get incredibly self-conscious of my appearance because it can look alarming. If you’re in the same alcohol-induced, red-face drinker camp as I am, you know this all too well and probably just brush it off as an annoyance — or find ways to prevent it, but more on that later.

Twenty-three-year-old Faith, who works as a beauty writer, recalls the first time she got the Asian glow during college, “when I had a shot of vodka at a fraternity house,” though it didn’t seem to alarm anyone, including herself. “No one really said anything, because it seemed like common knowledge that Asians got red when they had alcohol,” says the Chinese American. “I remember seeing my dad get red when he drank beer, so I guess I wasn’t too surprised. I was more annoyed about the side effects: My heart was pounding, and I got a huge headache.”

Jeannie, a Korean American in her early 30s, remembers experiencing the Asian glow when she first drank. “Actually, I maybe suspected it even before, because my dad had it, and I’d seen other older Korean people have it,” she says. “I’m not sure if I know the science — I heard that it’s because we miss an enzyme to process alcohol, but other people describe it more simplistically as an allergy.”

Jeannie goes on to echo Faith’s and my complaints about the physical effects that follow: “You don’t really enjoy drinking once it starts giving you a pounding headache.

At last year’s Audrey anniversary gala, where cocktails and high-end whiskey abounded, Chinese American TV personality and journalist Lisa Ling opened the event by joking that she liked attending events like this — with a predominantly Asian audience — because she knew she wouldn’t be the only who would be red by the end of the night. And, yes, while that line was met with a lot of laughter, studies suggest this condition should not be taken lightly by any means, especially if you drink often. But first, let’s get down to what causes it.




Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 1.11.48 PM


The symptoms that accompany the facial flushing, which Jeannie and Faith described, are what a significant percentage of East Asians (Chinese, Japanese or Korean) experience, due to a genetic condition that prevents their bodies from breaking down the alcohol. And Jeannie is correct that a particular enzyme is the culprit.

Between 30 to 40 percent of East Asians have a genetic variation in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2),” explains Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the USC School of Medicine. “This enzyme converts alcohol to another compound called acetaldehyde.” People who have a fully active ALDH2 enzyme can break down the acetaldehyde, but in ALDH2-deficient individuals, “this compound accumulates in the body and releases histamine. The combination of acetaldehyde and histamine produces the characteristic symptoms of alcohol intolerance: redness, flushing, shortness of breath, headaches, nausea and heart palpitations.”

The alcohol-induced symptoms in individuals can vary from mild to extreme, depending on whether a person inherited one or two of these variant genes. In the latter case, facial flushing can be quite severe, resulting in an almost purple flush and other symptoms. That sure takes the fun out of drinking, right? But people with this genetic variant condition still drink despite these symptoms. “My patients who are young women are especially embarrassed by this because drinking is often a part of socializing, dating and business entertaining,” says Wu.

About 92 percent of the world’s population can enjoy drinking just fine without turning red. Lucky them. But for ALDH2-deficient individuals, heavy drinking can have harsher consequences beyond facial flushing over time.



Dr. Philip J. Brooks of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism was doing research on the general topic of alcohol and cancer when, in 2007, he became acquainted with Dr. Akira Yokoyama and his “tremendous work” on the relationship between ALDH2-deficiency and esophageal cancer in the Japanese population. The two met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer. “I was struck by how strong the data was and how relatively too few people were aware of it, compared to some of the other effects of alcohol,” says Brooks.

Brooks and Yokoyama went on to write the article “The Alcohol Flushing Response: An Unrecognized Risk Factor for Esophageal Cancer from Alcohol Consumption,” published in PLOS Medicine on March 29, 2009, with colleagues Mary-Anne Enoch, David Goldman and Ting-Kai Li. If you missed out on this research hitting the news, despite it being featured in every major news outlet during that time, so did I, which is why it’s so important that you share it. Here’s your chance to separate the fact from fiction and, perhaps, spare loved ones in your life who drink a lot of headaches … or much worse.

Brooks and Yokoyama’s article states, “ALDH2-deficient individuals are at much higher risk of esophageal cancer (specifically squamous cell car- cinoma) from alcohol consumption than individuals with fully active ALDH2.” And this particular alcohol-related esophageal cancer is quite deadly: The five-year survival rate in the United States is only 15.6 percent and 31.6 percent in Japan. But what you should take from this, Brooks emphasizes, “is this cancer is preventable.”

And while it would seem that if you just have one copy of this variant gene your risk of developing esophageal cancer would be lower than if you have two copies, that’s not the case. “People who have two copies get so sick when they drink that they basically don’t drink,” he says. “Ironically, they are protected from being alcoholics, and they are actually at a lower risk of getting esophageal cancer because they just don’t drink. So it’s kind of a complicated genotype.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 1.08.02 PM


Let’s get one thing straight: There is no cure per se for alcohol-induced flushing if you are ALDH2 deficient, despite articles you see online. Sure, people have posted that there are ways to mask or minimize the onset of the flushing — a cursory search will even bring up some herbal remedy to take 21 days before having a drink to remove all symptoms. And some people say they have developed a higher tolerance to alcohol and experience less flushing over time, but these things are not in themselves a cure for the root of what causes it: your genetic condition.

For instance, in a 1988 article titled “Antihistamine Blockade of Alcohol-induced Flushing in Orientals” — yes, it used that term — published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the authors shared results of an alcohol study conducted on Asians. Half of the subjects received 50 milligrams of diphenhydramine and 300 milligrams of cimetidine before receiving low doses of alcohol; the other half, placebo tablets. The abstract states: “The antihistamine group showed a significant reduction in the skin flush. The antihistamine also neutralized the systolic hypotension induced by the administration of alcohol.”

Now does this mean you should start popping antihistamines before you drink so you don’t turn red? Most definitely not. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, you should not drink alcohol when you are taking antihistamines, period.

Other remedies for the Asian glow you’ll see online or learn from Asian friends — as I have — are antacids, which contain histamine blockers that people have reported minimize flushing. “I actually can’t remember how I first heard about how to avoid it. I think it must have been from a friend or classmate, who recommended Pepcid AC,” says Faith. “I did some Googling and decided to try it out for myself and found that it worked, but that Zantac (which does the same thing but has a different active ingredient) worked better for me.” She takes one Zantac 45 minutes before she takes her first sip of alcohol to avoid the Asian flush and other symptoms.

While I haven’t tried antacids or antihistamines before drinking (the latter makes me feel a little loopy as it is), I must admit I’m curious to see what would happen. For once, can I not be the one bright red, unhealthy-looking face in group pictures?

Even if they do work, this is not a cure for my condition. Using anything to mask the facial flushing and continue drinking, Brooks feels, is particularly dangerous because it isn’t reducing the risk of esophageal cancer. “And to the extent it makes you think you can keep drinking more,” he adds, “it’s actually worse.”

The takeaway? If you’re an ALDH2-deficient individual, it is in your genetic makeup and can’t be changed. Therefore, there is only one sure way to avoid alcohol-induced flushing (and you know the answer): Don’t drink.



If something doesn’t make you feel good, consider it your body’s way of protecting you. It’s saying whatever you’re doing is simply not good for you. So here’s the silver lining on that Asian glow and its unpleasant related symptoms: These adverse reactions you experience when drinking alcohol make you less likely to abuse alcohol (this has been shown in research with groups of East Asians who have the condition) and, in turn, suffer from alcoholism and all the health risks associated with it, including esophageal cancer.

Of course, it’s difficult in social situations not to drink while the rest of the world seems to be partaking in what most consider a pleasurable pastime. But university students with this ALDH2 deficiency especially (yes, we’re talking to you, young women) should take note of the alcohol-related risks that come with heavy drinking over time.

Heavy drinking is simply bad for your health as it is. “Readers should be aware that the American Heart Association warns that drinking more than a glass of wine a day (for women) is associated with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” says Wu. And if you do have alcohol intolerance, she suggests that you “drink sparingly and choose your drinking occasions wisely.”

And if you care about your skin, here’s another reason to take her advice: “Repeated episodes of flushing can enlarge the facial veins, leading to permanent redness and/or ‘spider’ veins on the face.”

I’m well beyond university age, but the Asian glow still bothers me. I do wish I could happily enjoy a cocktail or beer with my friends or even my husband without consequence. But I’ll admit the condition does save me money most of the time — drinks are expensive in Los Angeles! (Except, of course, when I go out with friends and we split the bill evenly and I’m the one person who gets stuck paying extra money for their expensive glasses of wine. Goodness, if I can have that extra cash back from all those nights. …)

So what’s your verdict now that you know what causes your uncomfortable alcohol-induced flushing? Are you going to treat the Asian glow as a friend or a foe? I vote friend, because a good friend is someone who looks out for you. And to that I will toast — and wear my facial flush that follows proudly.

This story was originally published in Audrey Magazine’s Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here


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Understanding Asian Glow: FRIEND OR FOE?


7 Essential books that capture the young Asian American experience


7, essential, books, that, capture, the, young, asian, american, experience, ,

The literary world has been exploding with talk about writers of color. Roxane Gay’s 2012 article “We Are Many. We Are Everywhere.” reignited the conversation surrounding their under-recognized voices, and was followed by an exciting Nation column aiming to improve coverage of these writers. In June, NPR criticized the publishing industry for staying “stubbornly white.” And just this week at the literAsian festival, Asian-Canadian novelist Madeleine Thein bemoaned the under-representation of writers of color in Canadian literary awards.

As a reader of color, I appreciate the attention given to this issue. One of the greatest rewards of reading is seeing yourself — your unarticulated hopes, dreams, and fears — rendered on the page in a way that is at once recognizable and enlightening. Though I loved to read growing up, for years I stayed away from writing by or about Asian Americans  — partly because it was scarce, and partly because I feared I would find just more versions of Disney Mulans, Lucy Lius, and Amy Tans. I was suspicious that a book would turn out to be a literary fortune cookie — something that Americans recognize as Chinese, but that is absolutely foreign to actual people. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Let’s take a moment to thank the books that not only established my faith in the power of Asian American literature, but that also helped me finally see myself in literature as a young Chinese-American. Today, these books point to a robust tradition that is clamoring for new voices.

1. ‘Waiting’ by Ha Jin

Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.” So starts Waiting, Ha Jin‘s National Book Award-winning novel about love, loyalty, and a changing China under the Cultural Revolution. Lin Kong is a young doctor who waits 18 years for his peasant wife Shuyu to divorce him so that he may marry the love of his life, the educated and fashionable Manna. More than simply a stunning piece of writing, Waiting presents portraits of Chinese people so true that they may incite uncontrollable sobbing. Here are the secret heartbreaks and unfulfilled dreams of parents and grandparents, brutally and beautifully exposed.

Waiting was the first book I ever read by a Chinese-American writer, and it fulfilled an urge I didn’t know I had: to read books about people like myself and my family.

2. ‘A Thousand Years of Good Prayers’ by Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li‘s short stories are marvels. They are sometimes strange and twisted, but always deeply compassionate, illuminating the dark sides of history and the human soul with an almost impossible level of elegance. The stories are about China and Chinese America, but there is no air of exoticism or literary tourism. “Immortality,” a story in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers about the rise and fall of a Mao look-alike, is one of the most astounding stories you will ever read.

A MacArthur fellow, Li was included in he New Yorker‘s list of 20 best writers under 40, and has received various other accolades. She is “the real deal” when it comes to Chinese-American fiction.

3. ‘A Gesture Life’ by Chang-Rae Lee

East Asian men are dealt a shoddy hand in American racial stereotyping; they are portrayed as quiet, passive, and unassertive at best. Doc Hata, the Japanese-American protagonist of A Gesture Lifeseems at first to fit this profile snugly. But Chang-Rae Lee‘s strange, dark story of love, honor, and family makes these qualities feel as heroic and deeply human as the anti-sociability of Dostoyevky’s Underground Man.

Though Lee is better known for his breakout Korean-American novel, Native Speaker,his prose in A Gesture Life is his best, carrying the quiet seeping wonder of Marilynne Robinson or Kazuo Ishiguro. Its accumulative force is staggering.

4. ‘Mona in the Promised Land’ by Gish Jen

Asians can be funny! In fact, Asians can be hilarious. So proves Gish Jen in the laugh-so-hard-your-abs-hurt Mona in the Promised Land. The book centers on Mona, a Chinese-American high schooler who falls in love with a Japanese boy who can barely speak English, decides to convert to Judaism after he flips her (literally and metaphorically), starts to date a Communist “authentic inauthentic Jew,” helps her best friend harbor a homeless pancake flipper in her basement, and so forth. Mona goes beyond being a bizarre and incredibly witty tale. Through humor, it unapologetically presents the sorest and most politically incorrect issues of identity, race, and class.

5. ‘Coming of Age in Mississippi’ by Anne Moody

Now wait. This isn’t a book by an Asian American at all. This is an autobiography of a young African American woman who grows up in Mississippi at the start of the Civil Rights Movement!

That’s right. This book has absolutely nothing to do with me, a Chinese-American woman who has never lived in Mississippi, except for the fact that I picked it up at a garage sale when I was a kid and reread it well over a hundred times during the course of my adolescence. Why was I drawn to this book? And why is it on this list? Because as a young reader, I identified fiercely with stories of slavery and the Civil War as told in African American literature. For whatever reason, Asian American literature was not as abundant or available as these books when I was a child, and so this was what I picked up. Moody’s inspiring story of real-life adversity, though quite foreign to me, was the closest I could get in literature to understanding my own struggles and sense of alienation as a minority living in the United States.

6. ‘The Woman Warrior’ by Maxine Hong Kingston

Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese?

This sentence embodies the crux of Kingston‘s imaginative, genre-bending memoir of growing up as a Chinese-American. It is also wisdom that, unfortunately, many critics did not take from her work. The reception of The Woman Warrior was wildly positive, but Western audiences assumed that Kingston spoke for all Chinese-Americans, rather than with her own incredibly “peculiar” voice. The result was backlash from writers such as Frank Chinwho criticized Kingston for her inaccurate portrayals of certain myths. But Kingston’s writing is bold, exhilarating, and cannot be pigeonholed into the binary of fact and fiction. If anything, The Woman Warrior is a book that calls for even more deeply individual and strange works of Asian American writing.

7. ‘Dogeaters’ by Jessica Hagedorn

Hagedorn is Filipino, American, and hip. “I don’t care if he’s a little gordito, or pangit, or smells like dead goat. That’s Boomboom Alacran, stupid. He’s cute enough for me.” Here was Junot Diaz’s electric urban language before Junot Diaz had arrived. Finding Dogeaters excited me about the possibilities of the Asian American novel, and the diversity of the Asian American literary voice. It is a novel as much about finding a voice after imperialism as finding a voice after immigration.

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7 Essential books that capture the young Asian American experience