By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Once again, Maynard Avenue South fills with droves of flush-faced Asians, headed home with car keys dangling from one hand and a carton of chow mein in the other.”
That’s the final line from Erika Hobart’s expose, “Seattle’s Ragin’ Asians,” which was printed in last week’s issue of Seattle Weekly. This story was so popular that it was the cover feature. The feature was complete with an illustration of unidentifiable Asian faces drawn onto fish, no doubt a riff from a subject who was quoted as comparing Asians to tetra fish. Classy, right?
As a writer, I’m not really in any position to criticize Hobart, or even use my position as a regular contributor to the Northwest Asian Weekly to speak for Seattle’s Asian community. I can only speak for myself.
This article first came to my attention via Facebook, when a few friends of mine posted a link to this article and people started commenting about it by the hundreds.
I picked up a copy over the weekend and read it about four times before deciding that I hated it.
There are a few reasons I have a bone to pick with Hobart and this story, ranging from how terrible it makes Asian youth look to a blanket questioning of her overall reporting of this story. More than anything, I wonder how this story even got pitched in the first place.
The scenario I’ve built up in my head is akin to the following:
SEATTLE WEEKLY FEATURES EDITOR: Guys, we need an edgy cover story! We need something that will shine light on an unknown subculture and that people will find sexy and appealing.
NAMELESS WRITER: How about something about Trekkies?
EDITOR: That’s Trekkers, and no, we missed that boat since Star Trek came out.
HOBART: How about doing something about Asians? They’re so funny with the cars they drive, and their long and unpronounceable names! There are so many of them in Belltown and Pioneer Square!
EDITOR: Perfect! Go with it!
Whether the pitch actually happened in this fashion remains to be seen, but many people have also shared this thought. That’s the impression that I had while scanning the 125 comments that were plastered on Seattle Weekly’s website.
The comments expose a range of feelings. Some were hurt, some felt shame, and some praised Hobart. When it comes down to it, a few web board miscreants shared my big question: What was the point of this article?
Before writing this op-ed, I decided to reread the article just to make sure that there wasn’t anything special that I was missing. Other than the general bland tone of the article, I can’t say that I see anything particularly wowing about it.
Here’s the thing: It’s not about the fact that Asian American 20-somethings have a nightlife of their own, it’s that every 20-something does.
I think part of the appeal when it came to pitching this story is that many people, be it older editors or readership, live in this backwater universe where Asian youth are ultra studious people with no sense of fun, humor, or style. Why are we still being marginalized after so many years? Well, that’s a question for America at large to examine and not up to us as Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) to explain or defend.
Asian youth subculture does have a strange sexy appeal that perhaps white people in the Eastside (or perhaps the older API generation) find fascinating. However, if Hobart were to apply her spin on this story to other cultural groups, how would that go exactly?
If she followed Latinos or Blacks, it would no doubt be construed as racist. If she followed white kids (urban hipsters or suburban bred) around, it would be somewhat similar but with less of a “gawk” factor.
It’s easy for me to lay the blame on Hobart and leave her subjects out of it, but the thing is, they were just being themselves — they were being kids, albeit irresponsible, but kids nonetheless.
Whether I agree or disagree with what Junior Pham and his friends were doing that night isn’t the point. The point is how Hobart had the power to mock Pham and basically turn a singular evening into a case study for the rice rocket set.
This story brings into fruition my biggest concern that we, as a minority, are still in a zoo. In essence, Hobart’s article says, “Hey look at these funny kids and their funny accents. Look, they pee in public places!” It was basically a dog-eating commentary, sending us back to the days of Long Duk Dong.
What I personally find offensive is that at Northwest Asian Weekly, we’ve strived to present the Seattle Asian community for what we are as individual people, whether some of us are accomplished businessmen, beauty queens, interracial romantics, fashionistas, or nerds.
One of the goals of the paper is to distance ourselves from getting tagged with stereotypes and generalizations.
And yet for all the hard work and passion that goes into a publication like this one, there’s something like “Seattle’s Ragin‘ Asians” that is published and basically puts us back into the freak show.
There’s so much more I could write about this topic, like the fact that Hobart doesn’t even touch on groups that aren’t segregated. What I will say is that if it was the Seattle Weekly’s goal to humiliate an ethnic group in Seattle, congratulations. You guys did a bang up job. ♦
Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at email@example.com.