A Conversation on Asian Male Masculinity by Kathleen Tso

Get

 

 

woke.

 

 

A posh lounge in the exclusive Ludlow House in NYC’s Lower East Side became a forum filled with all manner of dope Asian American creatives and activists gathered to talk about something not immediately associated with Asian men — masculinity.

by: Michael D. Nguyen

A panel hosted by none other than reporter and Hot 97 DJ Miss Info featured some of New York's most up-and-coming and established Asian American men. The panel consisted of fashion writer and editor Jian DeLeon of Highsnobiety and formerly of GQ and Complex; David Yi, founder of men’s beauty and grooming site Very Good Light; Jeff Staple, entrepreneur and founder of Staple Design; Kevin Kreider, fitness trainer and model; and rapper Rick Lee, also known by his stage name Lyricks.

Miss Info set the stage literally and thematically for the panel by calling out the need for spaces where Asian Americans could finally speak up.

"Where are the places where we actually get to air out our grievances?” said Miss Info, "Where do we get to talk shit? What are our town halls?”

The panel questions ranged from how the definition of masculinity has changed in the face of globalization to depictions of Asian men in media and entertainment to broader discussions about how Asian baes of all kinds can address racial and social injustice.

The final portion of the event opened the panel to questions from the audience. Tough questions related to domestic violence and mental health in the community were raised.

Below are just a few snippets from the panel, where complex and challenging views on masculinity were offered up and dissected.

Two hours isn’t enough to even scratch the surface of a topic this heady, but it’s clear that the definition of masculinity is changing -- changing fast -- and moving towards something that is tied more closely with one’s personal views, outlooks, and even appearance. Still, the question is far from settled, and won’t be without more Asian voices speaking up.

Props to everyone who contributed to the panel and organizing, especially our panelists and moderator Miss Info.

"I think we as a culture shame men. I think really when it comes down to it we protect and want to uplift marginalized communities, as we should...but with guys in 2017 we just assume that men should know. Men should know what it means to be a good man.” - David Yi.

"Yes, masculinity does come with a physicality, it comes with confidence, it comes with the way you hold yourself, your body, your body language... I find that it’s challenging, too, because the whole Asian American community doesn’t accept that.” Kevin Kreider.

"Vulnerability is the new thing. Men who really understand weakness can really emphasize the value of having strength.” Jian DeLeon.

“I don’t go around promoting that Staple [Design] is owned by a Chinese person. I don’t want to be judged on being Chinese. I just want to have a dope clothing and make dope shoes. I don’t want to make dope shoes for a Chinaman.” — Jeff Staple

"The journey of a man is he tries out things... doesn’t know shit and when gets to that point where he realizes, 'OK, I’ve gotta be myself...be comfortable with who I am' -- I think that’s where masculinity comes from. - Lyricks

To listen to the full audio recording of the panel discussion click play below!


Q&AZN: SUNDAE SCHOOL by Kathleen Tso

For this month's Q&AZN, we are spotlighting a new clothing label on the come up: Sundae School. We first read about the brand on Vogue.com and the headline caught our attention immediately--Meet the New 'Smokewear' Label Sparking a Stoner Revolution in Seoul. We had to know more.

As many of our Korean fams may know, any usage or affiliation with marijuana in Korea is strictly forbidden and considered a huge drug crime. Just look at the news surrounding South Korean star, T.O.P., formerly from K-Pop group, Big Bang.  

We got the chance to connect with Cindy Lim and Dae Lim on how they're trying to change perspectives on marijuana culture within the Asian and Asian American experience, as well as how their upbringing has led to where they are today. 

Cindy Lim and Dae Lim are siblings and founders of Sundae School

a Seoul-based smokewear brand that produces apparel and accessories for honor rollers. 

Heritage: Korean
Hometown: Seoul, South Korean but currently based in NYC
Bananas that you both look up to: Phillip Lim and Alan Yang

How did you get Sundae School get started? 

Cindy & Dae:
 We started working on the project this January when we were both in Korea. As a first generation Korean American, we were scared to delve into the smokewear space (especially given the vigilance of our tiger mom) but we thought we might as well try to get some t-shirts and hoodies printed. We launched on 4/20, a national holiday and dropped our first collection Chapter 1: Genesis at Greecologies! 

What motivates or inspires you to do the work that you do? 

We do it for our fans, and our mother. The fact that 80% of our customers are fellow yellows across the world has been such an empowering thing for us. We communicate with our consumers on a daily basis, and nothing motivates us more than when they tell us how much they appreciate and "fuck with" the stories and the perspectives we are sharing through our merchandise and brand.

There is so much room for Asian American representation in America, and we are grateful and inspired to be a piece of the yellow fabric of America. And of course, we do it for our mother. She really hates our brand and always tells us it's going to fail, and we do it to prove her wrong <3

How has your heritage influenced your creativity? 

Growing up in Seoul under a tiger mom, our childhood has inevitably made us to be "honor rollers" in the traditional sense, but we always found different creative outlets through extra-curriculars at school whether through art, fashion, or music. When we came across the ocean to the States, weed definitely was a catalyst into exploring our creativity, and we would often spend hours in front of the sketchbook or the iPad just doodling cartoons and sketches - we adapted into a new type of a "honor roller." We are Korean American, which is separate from just Korean or just American--this cross-cultural amalgamation is what helped us influence our creativity. 

Why do you think it's important that brands like Banana Magazine and Sundae School exist? 

There is a definite problem of "yellow invisibility" in America. Just because it is not as serious in magnitude as injustice that other minorities face (e.g., no one is searching us for bombs and drugs) DOES NOT mean that it is not a real issue at hand. That is why it is essential for brands like Banana Mag and Sundae School to articulate and share our stories and voices and propagate them through media, in all shades of yellow. 

You just gave a sneak peak to your next collection at NYFW Men's Capsule show. Is there anything about Chapter 2 you can share with our readers?

Our goal is to always strive for higher education. So naturally for our collection, we wanted to improve upon our first collection to go beyond just plain sweats and tees, and introduce a new interpretation of smokewear. Chapter 2 is titled, "When Tigers Used to Smoke," which is an idiom for long long time ago, and it's actually how every Korean folklore begins.

We hope to showcase our take of yellow counterculture through the lens of Western youth culture through the garments and the narratives we are sharing. The full release with merchandise and caps will be around late August (back to school!) so keep us on the lookout. 


Plug us in- where do we find y'all on the Internet?

Website: www.sundae.school
Instagram: @sundae.school

Q&AZN: SAD ASIAN GIRLS by Kathleen Tso

For this month's Q&AZN, we had to spotlight one of our bigger Internet crushes out there. We first discovered Sad Asian Girls (SAG) last year when we were searching online for platforms and allies in the same vein as Banana. The bold illustrations, unwavering point of view and inclusive content sold us in immediately. 

A followback and numerous double taps later, we took our Instagram affair on email and asked to interview the women behind SAG, Olivia Park and Esther Fan.  

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Olivia Park and Esther Fan are founders of Sad Asian Girls,

an alias used to produce activist art projects that revolve around experiences living in Western environments as East-Asian girls.

Heritage: Korean-American and Taiwanese-Canadian, respectively

How did you get SAG started? 

Esther:
 After we uploaded Have You Eaten? We got a lot of feedback from our peers saying they resonated very much with it and we gradually grew a small following; we decided to continue working together to make work that people like us could resonate with.

Olivia: SAG started out of anger and sadness. We try to channel these frustrations into our work, which in turn can become something that like-minded viewers can find solace, solidarity, or entertainment in.

 

How has heritage influenced your creativity? Whether it be your style, work ethic, values, etc. 

Olivia: Sometimes it’s easy to say the bad things that come with cultural dualities. I think I’m still lucky in many ways to come from a lovely Korean background. I grew up handling and making so many different cuisines. I ate a lot of Korean and Japanese food growing up in addition to western foods. I grew up wearing both Korean and Western apparel. I celebrated American parties and I also got dol’s (1st birthdays) and janchis (feasts). It’s inevitable that these experiences in life have organically contributed to developing my senses. I am inspired to keep including and preserving these values/traditions into my work, even if it may not necessarily be so blatant to the eye. I think the morals of an artist will one way or another reflect in the work. I find it necessary for influential creatives to have a political stance.

Esther: I’m not sure; I’d never really become familiarized with Taiwanese culture nor Canadian culture (whatever that is). I grew up in a city filled with either recent immigrants (or FOBs, as we called them) or Asian-Canadians, who had very specific personalities/attitudes. I never really fit in with either of these groups, despite many efforts to do so. Maybe it was this confusion and out-of-placeness that’s contributed to my work today. I definitely can say the way my mom raised me was to place emphasis on speed, efficiency, and make sure never to be a burden or inconvenience. That probably has something to do with the way I work too.


What motivates or inspires you to do the work that you do? 

Esther: Closely and constantly interacting with our community and followers always keeps me learning and motivated to make something worthwhile; running a 4000+ member group full of constant social and political discussions has allowed me to unpack and think about a lot of issues Asian people deal with as well as start understanding the needs for this community.

Olivia: It’s all about the people that I speak with and the relationships I’m able to have that keeps me going. I’m not so sure if I would’ve ever connected with the encouraging and inspirational femmes that I have so far if Esther and I didn’t publicize the work we made. Our stories have become a foundation for conversation. Empathy and connection is necessary. No one should have to feel alone.


Why do you think it's important that platforms like Banana and SAG exist?

Olivia: I think the documentation of these  web and print-based projects that we’ve created is critical. Everything we have made and published so far is a mark we’ve made for future folks to look back to and reference. Experiences will repeat themselves as reincarnations. The work of SAG is created and made not only for the present but to live on in the future with a life of its own. I wouldn’t doubt that this applies to Banana magazine too.


Esther: Asians in Western spaces don’t often have a large presence in social/political discourses, although there have been similar movements/platforms to Banana and SAG in the past (I’m thinking about Gidra). I think Asian solidarity maybe often falls short because there are a lot of internal issues to be dealt with within the Asian community that aren’t talked about enough; when people want to be Asian activists their go-to is talking about our relationship with whiteness, rather than our complicity in anti-blackness or colorism in our own communities. I think having platforms for us to begin talking about these things in the first place is a good step; this way we can educate and learn from each other and begin to expand our knowledge and intersectionality.

Who is a Banana you look up to?

Alice Longyu Gao and Elizabeth Wirija


Plug us in- where do we find SAG on the Internet?

@sadasiangirls (Instagram and Twitter)

Sad Asian Girls (Facebook page)

Sad & Asian (Facebook group run by Esther)

www.sadcontent.com (website)

Q&AZN: BREADFACE by Kathleen Tso

Breadface is an anonymous Instagram account founded by the simple love of smashing one's face into bread.

Banana speaks with the nebulous and viral sensation and baked her a banana bread loaf to get the full experience. Watch our bread get smushed on Instagram

A/S/L?
28, First Gen Korean American, Writer
I'd like to remain anonymous :)

What's the best moment since starting Bread Face Blog?
The thing that brings the most joy out of all of this has been connecting with strangers from all over the world. Everyone's got Internet balls. They'll email me everything from the bad day they just had to their deepest sexual fantasies. I find it really fucking cool that there are so many people out there just like me that value their privacy, while at the same time just want to connect with people about a very specific thing of their choosing.

It's like when you're dragged to a party that you didn't want to go to so you drink a lot and then you end up talking with someone in a corner all night who's feeling the same way...except on the Internet you feel safer because it's like talking to an ominous black hole.

What are your future plans with the project?
I'm just enjoying the ride as of now! I just want to eat delicious things, meet more nice, genuine creative people, and wear pretty things that these nice genuine creative people make. I'd love to collaborate more, too.

What's your favorite Asian pastry?
Those light, spongy, airy roll cakes with the layers of light cream are divine. They're not even sweet either, it's just a delight for all your senses.

What's your spirit bread? 
Anything with mochi or a mochi-like consistency because it's soft, unexpectedly filling, not too sweet, and not that great for you. I get the chills even thinking about my teeth sinking into its soft flesh.

In Korean, the word sounds just like the texture—"dduk"—and the "d" sound is very hard for non-Korean speakers to nail so...anyways, even the word itself even feels like it's getting stuck to your teeth.

How would you rate the Banana bread we baked you?
Kudos to you guys for giving me a completely new experience! I was pleasantly surprised by how moist the bread was. It kind of suctioned to my face but then it was so soft and crumbly underneath. It smelled warm and nutty. Oh, and it was delicious! It was so good that I ate it with my hands with all that green lipstick all over it. 

Why did you choose this particular song for this video? 
Madonna's Hung Up is the shit! The ABBA sample gets me so hyped up and there hasn't been a night out that I'm not just PRAYING for it to come on while I'm on the dance floor. I think I would honestly just pass out from joy. 

Who is another baesian we should follow on Instagram?
Oof. That's hard because it puts a filter on great follows in general! I'd have to say one of my best friends @_monica. I met her late in life and she just has a quiet calm buzziness about her and it comes through in all her pictures, her stick and poke tattoes she does, and she actually just started making neons to sell and they're so gorgeous. She's the best people.

Anything you want to tell your fans about yourself and this project? 
Some people scoff at the attention breadfaceblog gets but my original intent was just to make someone smile out there that was having a bad day. If it does that, then I'm so happy and grateful for every follow. I love reading everyone's comments and I read every email that comes through. My hope is that it can also be something that gives people the courage to give into their small, harmless indulgences more. Do something every day that'll bring you joy or pleasure no matter how tiny it is!