What is American?

November 18, 2005

An Asian American guy with a really bad haircut looks out from my TV screen. "All my life, I wanted to be an American," he says. "I'm sansei, that means I'm the third generation to be born in this country." I missed big chunks of the rest of the commercial because of the yelling. My yelling. Have you seen this spot? It's on PBS. The guy goes on to say that his family was interned during the war, and that he always wanted to be an American but never felt like one until he saw Ken Burn's Civil War documentary on PBS. I was still yelling so I may have missed it, but I didn't get why the civil war would suddenly make a guy who was born here, educated here, probably grew up eating mac'n cheese with ketchup --i.e, already WAS American, dagnabbit-- suddenly feel American when 30-40 years of socialization could not. I was so angry. I felt like this supposedly sensitive and "look how diverse America is!" commercial rode roughshod over everything that Hyphen stands for. That is: Asian Americans ARE Americans. We don't have to "become" Americans by watching Ken Burns docs, we don't have to prove it by becoming experts on the civil war, we don't sit around in our bedrooms crying, "woe is me! I wish I could be an American!" My lord! WE ARE AMERICANS, PEOPLE! DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT?!!!! When I stopped yelling, the next day, I tried to see the other side. Maybe I'm being myopic --there very well may be a large number of Asian Americans out there --sansei no less -- who really don't feel American. It's a lot easier for us here in the Bay Area to feel comfortable and not confront identity politics every day of our lives since there's so many of us. But not everyone gets to take AsAm studies, not everyone can go out without getting slurs hurled at them (hey, it's happened to me in Berkeley, --but a lot more in Kansas) and not everyone has figured out where to get a good haircut. Especially our poor emasculated-by-the-media Asian brothers (i use that phrase tongue -in -cheek) who don't get that hair is 70% of your image. (Those awful glasses you were wearing, dude, were the other 30%. I don't like throwing around the term Fresh Off the Boat, man, but you really should know better.) So was my anger justified? Or should Hyphen be doing more to reach out to the disenfranchised 3rd generation FOBs?




ok, so where's a good place for a (straight) Asian guy to get a stylin' haircut?