Spotlight on Mr. Hyphen 2013: Sean Miura

April 15, 2014

Photo by Jimmy Sianipar


When Hyphen
asked the organization Tuesday Night Project (TNP) to nominate a representative to
compete in the 2013 Mr. Hyphen contest, their pick was a no-brainer: Sean
Miura.  As one of the organizers of TNP -- an
all-volunteer community of organizers based in Los Angeles that promotes
Asian American arts and artists -- Sean has been active in running the
organization’s Tuesday Night Café, a free series of performances showcasing
various talent, from singers to visual artists.

Miura’s hard
work has built many bridges between Asian American artists, community
activists, and a loyal audience base: “We’ve been going on for 15 years
now, slowly building up our roster of artists,” he says. “During the last show
of the season we had about 350 people come."

Miura’s
dedication to promoting Asian American talent is not surprising, given that he’s
an artist himself. For the talent portion of the 2013 Mr. Hyphen contest, Miura
performed a dance routine to a combination of music, spoken word, and a Powerpoint
presentation entitled “Four Steps to Successfully Navigating Your Asian
American Identity Crisis.” Yes, you heard that right. A dance routine. To a Powerpoint
presentation.

Don’t let his
madcap quirkiness and captivating dance movements fool you though -- beneath
the funny and entertaining exterior is a seriously shrewd mind, at once
critical and open-minded, quick yet thorough, and very, very informed --
especially by history and critical race theory perspectives. This guy will drop some
serious knowledge on you.  

During our
in-person meeting at a Mexican taqueria, I asked him about his opinions of
current mainstream perceptions of Asian American males. That is, we know what’s
been perceived as negative, but what qualities and perspectives about Asian
American men would be ideal? Without a moment’s hesitation, Miura responds in a
clear, impassioned voice: “I actually don’t have an issue with the effeminate
stereotype. What I have an issue with is that fact that a stereotype exists
that limits how Asian American men are framed,” he says. “I kind of just want
Asian American males to feel cool being however they are […].”

“I know a lot
of people who are like ‘we need more Daniel Dae Kims and sexy built
 dudes’ and I’m just ‘yeah, that would be great, but I also think we need
more nerdy guys who are totally funny and able to hold their own, and I also
think that we need more guys who are super athletic, and we need more super
fierce queer Asian American men on stage,” he says. “When we branch out of the
mainstream idea of ‘this is what a guy should be’ and look more into human
beings being as they are, the moment we’re able to be ok with that, that would
be awesome.”

He doesn’t
only answer the question, he undermines the short-sighted assumptions of the question itself. So yeah, my own question ended up kind of embarrassing me.

Miura also spoke at length about how the
diversity among Asian Americans that would seem to make our community “an
inherently disconnected one” also serves as our strength. For Miura, the
“strangeness [in being] all lumped together in the first place” is overcome by
a unified struggle and engagement of more inclusive discourse: “[C]laiming the
term allows us to work together in building our own community […] “Asian
American” becomes an empowering concept as it bears the strength of multiple
communities fighting to determine their own futures.”  

To this end,
Miura also stresses the need for Asian Americans to know their history: “If you
don’t know your history then you won’t understand why immigration reforms are
important, why LGBTQ rights as important, why we need to fight against cultural appropriation.”

Miura was
born in Seattle but has lived in Vancouver, Maryland, and New Jersey, where his
math professor father took up teaching positions. He has also lived in Hong
Kong. Currently he lives in Los Angeles and works in the advertising field.
He is a fourth-generation Japanese American whose great grandfather worked as
president for an immigrants' association, whose grandfather was a
politician, and whose mother served as president of the Japanese
American Citizens League
(JACL) and provided legal counsel to civil rights
cases.

When asked to
give advice to the new batch of Mr. Hyphen contestants, Miura advises them to
use the opportunity “as an excuse to study. Ask yourself what the goals of your
organization are, why are you a part of it?, he says.  

Finally, he
wants contestants to squelch any nervousness they might feel: “You’re on stage
with a bunch of guys, who, if they aren’t already, will become your friends.
You’re in front of community folks who […] are there to let loose for one night
and just have a good time to support their communities. Why not just go for
it?”

***

The
upcoming Mr. Hyphen 2014 contest will take place on Saturday, April 19 at the
Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street, 2nd Floor, San
 Francisco, CA 94102.

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Abigail Licad

Books Editor

Abigail Licad is one big FOB and damn proud of it. She grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to San Leandro, CA at age 13.  She has a BA from University of California, Berkeley and a master's degree in literature from Oxford University. Her poetry and book reviews have appeared in Calyx, Borderlands, The Critical Flame, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. She is Hyphen's Books Editor.

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