Believe it or not, back in the nineties, when I was a big Lush fan, I had no idea that Miki Berenyi was mixed Asian. But I just had a nostalgia trip just now and downloaded Lush's last album, Lovelife, which I no longer have a copy of. And looking up info about the band, it finally occurred to me to ask myself why Berenyi looked like one of the people I typically blog about. According to Godipedia, it's because she's Japanese and Hungarian (though raised in the UK.)
I got my usual rush of endorphins when I found this out, which puzzles me. Would I have loved Lush more if I had known back then? That's a silly thought, but I have to admit: I probably would have. I remember how important it was to me when I found out that Keanu Reeves was mixed: I was sixteen and had just seen him in River's Edge and felt something familiar about him. He was the first "hapa" I ever encountered in pop culture (not counting David Carradine's character on Kung Fu) and he made me feel like my heretofore unique racial situation was attractive, interesting, and ... well, not unique.
Every pop culture figure I've encountered since then who is mixed Asian has added to that feeling, although I've been a real fan of few of them (excepting Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, and Hanif Kureishi, neither of whose backgrounds I knew when I became their fan.) And in the mid-nineties, when mixed Asians were still thin on the pop landscape, to discover that one of my favorite Brit Pop bands had a hapa lead singer would've made my year.
But why does it still matter to me? Aren't I over it yet? Or is there some sort of weird, digital-cultural tribalism that inevitably operates when it comes to hi-visibility arts? Is it really about "representation," whatever that means? Is it about presence, mere presence? Is it more important because other people see your public validation, or because they now know how to place you in context? Or is there some sort of magic to having your racial finger, so to speak, in the public pie?
What about you? Do you care more about a pop act if they are the same race, or ethnicity, as you? If so, how do you define your own "group"? How far outside of your immediate "tribe" do you go for pop validation? If not, do you see this kind of tribalism as stupid? Harmful? Why? Why not?
And what does all this have to do with Obama? (Just kidding ... I think.)
You can also use this space to squee about your favorite Asian American pop culture figures. Just don't insult anybody, swear, or generally be obnoxious or I will delete you.
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!