I’m drinking coffee right now while I nurse a sore throat. (My colleague came back from a vacation in Mexico sharing lots of trip stories as well as the virus he picked up while down there.) I realize I should be drinking OJ instead of more caffeine but I’m really excited about my replacement carafe that I just can’t get enough of home-brewed coffee right now (since I broke my pot dishwashing it and had to wait 2 weeks before some obsucre SF kitchen supplies firm delivered this pot from a discontinued Krups line onto my doorstep). Besides, after an unseasonably-warm springlike day yesterday, the weather has again turned to freezing today (since, after all, there still is a month left to winter) and lazing in with this warm cup o’joe against overcast snowstorm skies through my window seems the best way to go.

I actually haven’t been lazy all day. Tim and I had brunch at Café Luluc, our fave French bistro on Cobble Hill, that, to my opinion. serves the best eggs benedict this side of town (along with fresh greens and their yummy seasoned fries.) We then went strolling in Chelsea to look for a new chair and ottoman (or recliner, or chaise depending on my mood), for my apartment. I fell in love with an $1800 chair and footstool combo from BoConcept on 18th/7th. It really was twice than what I had wanted to spend (especially since the Ikea combo it means to replace is only roughly a 10th of its retail cost.) But its sleek, mod outline and hip, retro chrome base tugged strongly at my imagination. Tim persuaded me to defer the purchase and pursue further (albeit less expensive) options. But, now that I am home, I realize that I will end up going back to that store and buying that damn chair and stool. I know myself well enough to realize that when something grips at my imagination that strongly, then it is worth pursuing through.

Take in case this NYT article in its Sunday Styles section. Tim was still in bed at 9 AM (owing to his late night OffBway show) when I started going through the Times with my 1st cup of coffee for the day. I was on my second cup when I got through Mireya Navarro’s article, “Trying to Crack the Hot 100,” that basically posited the question, “where is the Asian-American Justin Timberlake?” It lists several Asian-American singers including Harlemm Lee, the Filipino-Chinese male from Detroit (who apparently won the NBC reality series, Fame, in 2004) and Phil Chen, the leader of an all-Chinese band based in SF, 8PAST, who all echo the same sentiment when posed with the issue of a dearth of Asian-American artists in the Billboard charts: what ultimately hinders their success starting from being signed on at the outset to being able to sell records afterwards is “the Asian thing.” Now, nothing tugs at my imagination more than “the Asian thing.” In fact, I don’t need a jolt of fantasy to induce the issue; I don’t need an outstanding object to grip at my imagination to spark it; I only need to stop and look at my life. I deal with the reality of “the Asian thing” on a daily basis.

I look at myself and see dark hair, slanted eyes and brown skin on a slim, lanky frame. I realize that race is a minute slice of the human genetic make-up and, yet, it seems to dictate so much in the greater socio-political arena. Desirability and power seem rooted in this basic physicality. I, for one and as an example, encounter an initial, if not absolute, resistance to a possible mutual attraction based merely on this overt trait. I know so many homos who don’t desire Asian males at all as well as have met those who generally don’t go for them and, yet, do allow for the possibility making my (if not another Asian’s) efforts doubly difficult. In fact, I saw Eric, a friend I hooked-up with after a party a few months back, online at Manhunt and confronted him when his profile listed that he was into “guys 21-35, generally thin to average in weight, caucasian and professional.” I remarked that I certainly didn’t fit that description. He said that I just had a lot of “charisma” at that moment we met enough for him to make an exception. I laughed off his response, (again falling back on humor as my ego’s way of self-defense), and yet, I knew that this was the exception that proved the rule: “the asian thing” really isn’t conventionally attractive. Also, this observation certainly isn’t homo-specific. I know more than enough ex-fratboys from my old firm who would go to an Asian masseuse for a “happy ending” and, yet, affirmed that they generally wouldn’t date an Asian chick they met off a bar.

Of course, there is the inverse to this equation. There are the rice queens who only go for Asian ‘mos. But I believe this is where the problem rises from. The fetishization of the Far East is exactly what fuels this otherness and its subsequent form of ostracization. The exotic Oriental beauty seems to always be that other; mysterious and beguiling. And for as long as “the Asian thing” is strictly orientalized, then Asians will continue to be an object of otherness rather than as a subject of shared standards. This perception seems so pervasive that it permeates even Asian-Americans themselves; issues of self-doubt and self-hatred stemming from internalized racial hatred pervade one’s consciousness. I admittedly went through this stage when I questioned my attraction to my own race. I have since moved beyond this issue but still know a lot of Asian men who don’t date their own kind. (I don’t mean to attach a value judgment to one’s basis for attraction since who you choose to have sex with or find desirable certainly isn’t a moral issue; but I do want to understand where one’s basis for excluding certain traits as benchmarks for beauty come from.)

Tim and I were talking about this article over brunch at the bistro. We both agreed that “this Asian thing” spills off the image of Asians as Orientals; the “others” who are submissive and speak broken English (and predominantly bottoms if they were gay) relative to the bearer of standard, the caucasians, who are dominant and articulate (and such virile tops. This last stereotype is highly-debatable.) Undeniably, every person of color live against the shadow of a socio-cultural stereotype. But blacks and Latinos have made significant inroads into the marketplace that Asians have yet to replicate. Understandably, entrenchment in history and a population majority factor into this conclusion. Diana Ross and J.Lo certainly stand in stark contrast to William Hung. Tim made an illuminating point when he recounted a theory that the American popular market sold itself on sex and danger. Hip-hop arists were perceived as dangerous and Latina booty-shakers sold out well as sex symbols. Asian-Americans, sadly, were viewed as neither threatening nor sexy. Until the current Asian population rate of 4% increases to something more substantial that allows for greater visibility with enough numbers to effect a radical shift in public perception that will yield a view that Asians are strong and beautiful, then Harlemm Lee will have to continue to toil with his day job as a secretary.

The article’s author though writes about a recording producer’s suggestion, that Asian-Americans should try to leverage aspects in their culture to make economic inroads instead of going through the mainstream route. I read that to mean that 8PAST should ethnicize their music (since their look already certainly is) instead of sounding more like Linkin Park (which incidentally has an Asian-American bandmember.) (Of course, it is different if you consciously subscribe to a niche market like my crush-fave, Jake Shimabukuro, who has a solid following in the Hawaiian ukulele segment.) I think this suggestion that reinforces “that Asian thing” will remain to be counterproductive in the ultimate goal of effortless (market) assimiliation. I don’t think they would suggest that Beyonce sing Negro spirituals. But, of course, Beyonce doesn’t need to. Diana Ross has opened the path for her over 3 decades ago. I can’t imagine William Hung to do the same for the next big Asian-American artist 3 decades from now.

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