Asian America in 2013: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Part 2: The Red King Syndrome


[pullquote]They are trying as directly as possible to sell you experiences, i.e. what you are able to do with the car, not the car as a product itself. An extreme example of this is this existing economic marketing concept, which basically evaluates the value of you as a potential consumer of your own life. Like how much are you worth, in the sense of all you will spend to buy back your own life as a certain quality life. You will spend so much in doctors, so much in beauty, so much in transcendental meditation, so much for music, and so on. What you are buying is a certain image and practice of your life. So what is your market potential, as a buyer of your own life in this sense? ― Slavoj Žižek[/pullquote]

The American Dream stays alive in the hearts and minds of everyone who wants something greater, and is a great part of what defined the immigrant dreams during the twentieth century. But what good are dreams and joy if they are not shared with others? The competitive air of America’s Capitalistic philosophy does not mean we should let go of our collaborative efforts for success. If people feel excluded from the American Dream because they aren’t visible the way that they want to be in Hollywood, there is an exclusion effort created by the community (granfalloon more appropriately) itself, as alluded to earlier: asking who “belongs” to Asian America and by excluding within their own grouping, how can they expect to be part of the greater whole that is America?

However you define who is or who isn’t Asian in heritage, culture, or geography, I ask you all to drop that now and embrace the definition of the Asian American, which includes South Asians, Southeast Asians, East Asians, and Pacific Islanders–at least keep our Asian American definition consistent even if our exclusive views on Asia and Asians is separate from the inclusive definition of Asian America. If you weren’t Asian before coming to America, in Asian America, you are included as part of the family.

Several problems exist that contribute to this exclusion within the Asian America granfalloon:

Firstly, if you exclude people from the Dream, then nobody is there to share your hopes, joys, and celebrations, and without that togetherness that marks a community, there is no Dream. What does it matter what one’s ethnic ancestry is, if the ties are nothing but race? It doesn’t matter what the map says about Asia-Asia, but it matters what the political and social map is of Asian America, such that it does not matter where we came from, but where we are going, and when we go through the gates, we put on the hat that gives us membership to something greater, that, whether we want to be Asian as a whole or just part of the sub-group within, such as Chinese, Indian, or Filipino before Asian, we are all Asians in America and as part of the Asian American definition.

[pullquote]Thus when the ambitious man whose slogan was ‘Either Caesar or nothing’, and he does not become Caesar, he is in despair over it. But this signifies something else, namely, that precisely because he did not become Caesar he now cannot bear to be himself. Consequently he is not in despair over the fact that he did not become Caesar, but he is in despair over himself for the fact that he did not become Caesar. ― Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death[/pullquote]

Secondly, honoring one’s cultural heritage is fine, but are immigrants seeking the Dream and their descendants first and foremost American? And if they are all American, why should any person, free from the political landscape of their ancestral lands, hold other cultural groups in contempt, like those of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese ancestry towards each other today? Or the Americans of Cambodian and Vietnamese descent? A Korean-American for example, who has never known Korea besides his parents’ stories about the country in his youth, feeling angry at Japan over the islands dispute today is quite silly. George Washington and the founding fathers of America, believed it was absurd to pay monetary tribute to a monarch on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, one whom they grew up not knowing or feeling any ties to. So one remedy is to remember to honor cultural heritage, but to divorce it from creating a forced, arbitrary political relationship with the nationalists and patriots of a country they don’t even know, for their culture can be separate from the government running the land their ancestors knew. After all, it does not matter where we came from, for we are who we are now. Otherwise, this line of reasoning is shared with America’s government in history assuming political loyalties based on race, such as the Japanese-Americans in the Second World War, and Irish-Americans funding the Irish Republican Army.

Thirdly, where we are going is an effort that seems like “we” but is primarily about “me” with most people seeking their personal gain masking it with intentions of communal good. This attitude is rampant throughout the western world now, and not limited to race; the whole self-entitled “society owes me” rather than the “what can I contribute to society?” thinking which builds communities, societies, and empires. This is most evident in one of the goals of Asian America to be visibility and positive representation. But look at many YouTube videos, and for every racist depiction in mainstream or ignorant rants from other YouTube users, much of how Asian-Americans portray themselves can be rather negative, often “loud, radical, and insane.

By nature, Americans are expressive, but one thing to remember is, like it or not, as an individual benefiting from the collective, your actions and works impact others in Asian America as well. So while I myself prefer to be branded as my own person, there is an association between me, my passport, and my ethnicity, which, as often as I separate from my individual identity, does not change how some people perceive me: Johnny C, the American expat. Thus, we must remain consciously aware that we represent our community, as both Americans and Asian Americans, even as individuals.


Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future. ― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Lewis Carrol’s classic stories of Alice, going through Wonderland and the other side of the mirror, has her encountering The Red King, whose dreams are what create the world around her. Should he awaken one day, the dream ends, and reality collapses. The question now is, what is the dream that Asian America has? A dream, a goal, something more than simply “being visible” or “fighting racism” which are but small things that do not give depth to the character of Asian America. If there is no dream, there is nothing to hold us together, and if we do not dream together, the dream cannot survive beyond our mortal lives.

In the words of John Gardner in Self-Renewal: “Society is not like a machine that is created at some point in time and then maintained with a minimum of effort; it is continuously re-created, for good or ill, by its members. This will strike some as a burdensome responsibility, but it will summon others to greatness.” It is difficult, then, to be great, when it appears to outsiders that Asian America is perpetually focused on racism or visibility, demanding attention before asking themselves what they have to offer not just their community, but to America as a whole, and perhaps even beyond that. Everything must begin with the first step of having a dream, which is both a set of tangible goals and ideals that bind people by honor, duty, responsibility, camaraderie, self-sufficiency, and community. Without this, people can scream for attention and cry about racism, but have no goal for greatness and honorable standards to strive for.

End of Part 2

Contributors: Johnny C and Jocelyn “Joz” Wang.
Photograph by Johnny C. Layout and graphic design by Jocelyn “Joz” Wang.

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About JohnnyC

Johnny C is a self-described Accidental Asian American: born in California and raised in Hong Kong and Manila, he spends his days traveling as a freelancer for various NGOs in development and human rights. An idealist and adventurer, his travels are both for work and fun, while sharing stories through his pictures, videos, and writing. When he's not dance-walking to indie rock songs on his iPod in cities around the world, he's usually got himself engrossed in a science fiction novel traversing the portals of reality.
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