Hit singer Jimmy Wong on Alexandra Wallace and why angry responses are unproductive

By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

Jimmy Wong in a screen cap of his YouTube video response to Alexandra Wallace’s controversial “Asians in the Library” rant. Wong will be performing in Seattle on April 14.

Last month, former UCLA student Alexandra Wallace posted an ill-conceived YouTube video complaining about Asian students who talked loudly on their cell phones in the library.

Perhaps the moment that drew the most ire was when she pulled out her own cell phone to illustrate how Asians talk to one another. “Ching chong ling long ting tong.”

Asian Americans took to the Internet to express rage through blogs, op-eds, and videos.
Jimmy Wong decided to wait a few days.

“I waited, so that there was time for the reactions to settle,” explained Wong, 24. “At the time, people were sending me their favorite response videos, the ones that were the most well done.

But I noticed they were mostly one-sided. They were angry, lashing out at Alexandra for what she did. And frankly, they were kind of boring. … I saw them and thought, ‘This isn’t productive at all … both sides are attacking each other without second thoughts or considering the consequences of what they’re doing.’ ”

Jimmy Wong (Photo by Jimmy Ryan)

Wong decided to go a different route. His video response showcased a catchy song that he wrote, which was apparently meant to woo Wallace. The chorus of his song starts with, “I pick up my phone and sing, Ching chong, it means I love you. Ling long, I really want you. Ting tong, I don’t actually know what that means …”

“I think comedy is the best way of addressing this,” said Wong. “[Before writing the song], I watched her video again. I looked at it and found what stuck out to me the most — which was the fact that this wasn’t a girl that was out to attack anyone or harm anyone. She just wanted to voice her opinion on something that annoyed her. … She was annoyed by people talking on the phone in the library. She doesn’t understand why people talk on the phone, maybe she doesn’t understand what they say. The comedy came from that.”

Wong’s video response has had nearly 3 million views on YouTube.

“The responses have run the gamut,” said Wong. “It’s the Internet. You tend to get comments from every end of the spectrum, from thoroughly positive to thoroughly negative. Though, [most people] have had a positive response. I think the message, being positive, draws out a positive response. The original video (Wallace’s) was filled with so much negativity [and got negative responses in return].”

Jimmy Wong in his YouTube video

Music and upbringing

Though currently living in Los Angeles, Wong grew up south of Seattle in Normandy Park, a small city that is bordered by Burien and Des Moines. He is a second-generation Asian American. He said his mother is from Beijing and is half Mongolian and half Chinese. His father is Chinese, from southern Canton.

“I grew up playing classical piano for about eight years,” said Wong. “My parents had my brother (Freddie) and me taking lessons at a young age. We stopped when we entered high school. However, that musical sensibility stayed with us. I started playing guitar a few years ago. All that stuff came naturally to me because I had a strong base from when I was a child.”

Surprisingly, Wong moved to Los Angeles, not because he wanted to become a musician, but because he wanted to become an actor. He had attended Middlebury College in Vermont and majored in theater and drama.

“I actually hadn’t considered music seriously [when I first moved to LA], because I didn’t think — I wasn’t a singer/songwriter at that point,” said Wong. “All I knew of music was from playing classical music. I studied acting in college, and that’s why I moved to LA.”

Acting

Wong may soon be a silver screen staple. He was cast in Don Coscarelli’s upcoming, “John Dies at the End,” a film based on the comedic horror novel by David Wong. The movie stars Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown. Jimmy Wong plays Fred Chu.

“It’s very much a funny movie,” said Wong. “The part I play is of a kind of out-of-place Chinese student in the Midwest. He’s a friend of the lead character, and they form this ragtag band of kids. There’s this drug called the soy sauce that has hit the streets and is wreaking havoc on this town. [My character] is one of the unlucky, hapless kids that gets caught up in it.”

The film is currently in post-production and is projected to be released in 2012.

Help Japan

On April 14th, Wong will play two or three of his original songs at the Triple Door Musicquarium Lounge at Help Japan, a benefit event for Japan Red Cross.

“It’s gonna be this awesome event at the Triple Door,” said Wong. “This event was perfect for me, and it’s in Seattle.”

“I’m gonna give a small talk at the show about my original video [response to Wallace],” added Wong. “I’m going to play a couple of songs that I’ve written over the years. … Thematically, some of them have a bit to do with what has happened in Japan. Hopefully, they’re inspiring songs.”

Wong is currently donating all proceeds from iTunes sales of his songs to the relief effort.

Christine Chen, founder of Chen Communications, will be the emcee for the event. The suggested donation at the door is $15.

Being a role model

Though Asian Americans have made some headway in the mainstream performing arts, overall representation is still lacking. This is something that Wong recognizes.

“The funny thing is that I didn’t think about [the responsibility of representing Asians] when I came down and started acting,” said Wong. “I was very much focused on going in there and doing the best work I can, what’s expected of me as a professional actor. More recently, especially after the song [about Wallace became so popular], it has become more obvious that Asians are severely misrepresented in the artistic community, at least in America. … Very rarely do we find traction and success in the U.S.  It seems there aren’t roles in movies, and it hasn’t happened yet. I feel that all it takes is one or two very prominent people to step out and show the audience that this is possible. There’s no reason why we couldn’t have Asian leading men in movies.

“After doing [the response video], it feels almost like I’ve become a figure who [can be] inspiring to Asian Americans,” Wong added. “I feel a weird pressure to, at least, be much more responsible in what I do, both musically and acting-wise. … I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity [to represent Asian Americans] because it helps put my own career in perspective and … [I] know that what I’m doing is significant.” ♦

For more information about Jimmy Wong, visit jfwong.com. Help Japan will take place on April 14 at the Triple Door Musiquarium Lounge from 6 to 8:30 p.m. For more information about the event, contact Nellie Fujii Anderson at nellie@fujii.com.

Stacy Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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