In 2007, Asian Americans made the nation laugh, cry, and feel inspired. They also made fellow Asian Americans cringe. Here's why.
APA looks behind the spotlight to uncover some of the behind-the-scenes talents we admired in 2007.
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Novelists, playwrights, journalists, and slam poets. APA acknowledges Asians and Asian Americans that had a way with words in 2007.
Slam poet Beau Sia is used to being passionately outspoken and vibrantly articulate. He knows more than anyone how powerful words may be. When Rosie O'Donnell jokingly used the mock words "ching chong" in reference to the Chinese language on The View, Sia used his creativity to issue his own "Open Letter to All the Rosie O'Donnells." Various organizations in the Asian American community issued statements admonishing her joke, but none quite had the hook that "Open Letter" did. Rather than being plainly defensive or striking back, Sia explained the history and hurtfulness of "ching chong" in a classroom setting to send a message to anyone who might misunderstand the weight of words. Thanks to video websites like YouTube, the "letter" was forwarded to many, and it even captured the attention of O'Donnell herself, who responded to Sia's video with her own apologetic poem.
During Asian American Heritage Month, Sia also crafted his version of a public service announcement, taking what it means to be Asian American with a whole new spin. While the PSA aired solely on AZN TV, it was also distributed widely over the internet. At the heart of his art lies Sia's ability to unpack his ideas and commentary for his audience in a thought-provoking way, and his foray into multimedia in 2007 showed how even more people can get to know his work. --Catherine Manabat
After the 2006 New Times shakedown, the Village Voice fired esteemed film editor Dennis Lim and replaced him with critic Nathan Lee. The move marked a tectonic shift in independent film criticism, consolidating alternative voices rather than diversifying them. The Village Voice layoffs allowed the publishing company New Times to reprint reviews from fellow affiliate L.A. Weekly in the Voice, much to the chagrin of New Yorkers who craved a local opinion, and to readers worldwide, who now had one less website to check for quality criticism. Lim, however, took the move as an opportunity to share his talent and knowledge elsewhere, reviewing films and DVDs for the Los Angeles Times and covering film festivals for Indiewire. Lim has resurrected the beloved annual “Critics Poll” from his Voice days and given readers another reason to turn to Indiewire for their world cinema needs. Meanwhile, new Village Voice editor Nathan Lee, caught in the crossfire between critics, readers, and administrators, managed to keep the sinking boat afloat. Though we have to make-do with the L.A. Weekly reprints, Voice legend J. Hoberman continues to keep the Voice relevant, while Lee turns out to be not a bad full-time reviewer himself. In 2007, his Balls of Fury review was essential reading. --Brian Hu
Third Class Superhero, a collection of eleven stories by author Charles Yu, garnered much acclaim in 2007 with its humor, wit, honesty, and unique point of view on life. Graduating from Columbia Law School, Yi currently lives in Los Angeles, where he "practices law full-time and writes between the hours of midnight and 3," according to an interview with The National Book Foundation. This year, he was named one of the “5 Under 35,” a program where a former winner or finalist of a National Book Award awards the next generation of fiction writers. Yu was given the honor by Richard Powers, winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction. Third Class Superhero starts off with the title story, of the same name, where the narrator is a “wannabe” hero named Moisture Man with powers to gather the water in the atmosphere and shoot it in a stream. With his meager powers, his applications to become a superhero are rejected year after year. This character and others are analyzed in Yu’s book, providing a different type of narrative with deeper meanings. --Richard Park
Sitcom writing involves so many voices in collaboration to make every joke pack a punch, every line purposeful, and every character come alive, from our television screens into our hearts. So it's hard to know what details to attribute to each TV writer, as they rise up in the ranks from writer to story editor to co-producer to producer -- as Kourtney Kang and Brenda Hsueh did this past year while working on the hit CBS series How I Met Your Mother. Therefore, I will cheat and use a combination of the official "written by" credits along with my own imagination to give Kang and Hsueh full credit for everything I find lovely (or should I say awesome?) about the world of Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, and Barney.
The classic "Slapbet" episode, written by Kourtney Kang (cheating again as it's technically from November 2006), found comedy in relationship secrets, while giving Robin a catchy '80s flashback video from her past and marking the start of one of the best running jokes of the season: the slapbet. Barney loses a bet with Marshall, so the audience waits with glee for Marshall to slap Barney across the face as hard as he can -- five times, whenever he wants, as granted by the Slapbet commissioner. And it all culmulates with a new made-up holiday, Slapsgiving. It might sound juvenile (and it is), but somehow it never gets old. "Dowisetrepla," a recent episode written by Brenda Hsueh, had a nice "Ted Mosby: Detective" segment, which epitomized what is so fun about the show and its unique format. Each episode contains a mini-mystery, and it's a game for the viewers, who are trying to figure out what's going on before the writers tell us. In this episode, the mystery is "What are Lily and Marshall fighting about?" (it is a sitcom, after all), and we watch Robin make snarky remarks as Ted confidently... gets it all wrong. The third season, while not as strong as the first two, brought funny guest appearances by John Cho and Lindsay Price while continuing to capture poignant moments between Ted and Robin, ex-lovers who are still working out their complicated but meaningful friendship. --Ada Tseng
I can’t help but realize that Freedom of the Press is often considered a “taken for granted” reality in our country. It’s stories like that of Chinese journalist Li Changqing, who was awarded the 2008 Golden Pen of Freedom this year, which force us to remember how important (and in many cases dangerous) it is for reporters to be critically honest despite unjust governments. In January of 2006, Li Chiangqing, the former reporter and deputy news director of the Fuzhou Daily in the Fujian Province of China, was arrested for simply alerting the public of a dengue fever outbreak before the [Chinese] authorities. According to a statement by World Association of Newspapers, Li had a prison sentence of three years for “fabricating and spreading false information.” Chinese press and health officials refused to report anything on the outbreak because of rigid censorship restrictions enforced by the Communist Party. Li is celebrated not only because he is the second journalist in a row from China to receive the Golden Pen of Freedom award, but because he is an example for all journalists with a message to report the truth -- no matter the consequence. --LiAnn Ishizuka
When you hear "Dance Dance Revolution" you might think of the arcade game, but this book is anything but. Cathy Park Hong's innovative second book of poems, published this past year, focuses not on the "dance dance," but rather on the keyword "revolution." In the post-apocalyptic landscape of the Desert, a Vegas-like tourist trap of theme hotels modeled after famous cities, a character named the Guide shows the Historian around the Desert.
The Guide has survived the 1980 Kwangju uprising, a massacre of students protesting against the American-backed South Korean dictatorship. Dance Dance Revolution becomes the Kwangju revolution, replayed in the Guide's verse, another failed attempt at overthrowing an undemocratic capitalist government. The unfamiliar language, Desert Creole, is an amalgam of two hundred or so languages -- most notably English, Spanish, and Jamaican -- making for a read that grows on you like Chaucer in Middle English. It's a rhythmic, "must be read out loud" kind of grotesque creation in the act of making and becoming:
You can be the best talker but no point if you can't
speak the other man's tongue. You can't chisel, con, plead,
seduce, beg for your life, you can't do anything, because you
know not their language. So learn them all.
Part science fiction, part artful inspection, Dance Dance Revolution provides one possible outcome of the United States meddling and fumbling in world affairs. Hong has since garnered several accolades, including the Barnard Women Poets Prize in 2006 for this book, a Fulbright Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Village Voice Fellowship for Minority Reporters. --JoJo Yang
Race. David Henry Hwang pushes the envelope in its definition, he questions its ambiguity, and he explores its representation. Best known for his 1988 Tony award-winning play M. Butterfly, he gave summer audiences another exploration of Asian American cultural identity with the play Yellow Face. David Henry Hwang presents a character he's all too familiar with: a character influenced by his real life, whose name has been shortened down to his initials, DHH. In Yellow Face's story, Hwang relives his '90s protest years when DHH (played by Hoon Lee) decries the Miss Saigon casting of a Caucasian in an Asian leading role. Things gets complicated, hypocritical, and over-the-top very fast, and the play showcases fine performances by Hoon Lee, Peter Scanavino and Tzi Ma. David Henry Hwang recently co-wrote the book, Aida, which was adapted into the Elton John and Tim Rice Disney musical, and penned the book for another Disney Broadway musical, Tarzan. Yellow Face had a May-through-July run at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and premiered in New York in December. --LiAnn Ishizuka
Best of 2007:
Date Posted: 1/4/2008