It was was only a handful of chants that over 600,000 New Yorkers screamed, in unison, at the Women’s March on Saturday. Among the sea of pink apparel, women decked out in their best face paints, it was also many men who came out to defends their sisters’ rights. After all, an attack on women’s rights is an attack on human rights.
Very Good Light was there to capture Saturday’s powerful protest, where men and women from young to old marched alongside one another under one unified message: silence = death. At least, that’s what many young people told us as they proudly marched from the United Nations on 42nd Street leading to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
Scroll through our gallery above or read through our captions below.
A young person carries a sign, “I will not be silenced.”
A teen rallies a few friends together and is the impetus to the chant: “More love, less hate, that makes America great!”
He starts to scream and others follow in unison.
A man marches alongside his girlfriend, with a matching pink hat.
The running theme from the march: “I’m with her, and her, and her, and her, and her.”
Among many of the signs was this, held up by an older woman.
A drag queen proudly holds up this sign. “I’m here because women are my inspiration.”
Another man walks alongside his female peers with a powder pink hat.
There were many young people, some even toddlers, who sat upon their father’s shoulders.
A powerful sign that was passed around Saturday.
A man colors his hair pink in celebration, photographed next to Grand Central Station.
A young man carries a sign that he painted of an orange Donald Trump.
This man carried a sign, “I stand with nasty women.”
A young man sits on his father’s shoulders as he carries a red carnation.
A young couple is elated to spot a few friends in the sea of pink marchers. (Photo by David YI/Very Good Light)
A gay couple takes a moment to snap a few shots for their Instagram.
Asian American men: they’re here, they’re loud and they aren’t going anywhere.
“I am an Oriental. And being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man.”
It’s a cringeworthy quote from David Henry Hwang’s 1988 play, M. Butterfly, the same that won that year’s Tony Award. The story follows a French soldier who is sent to China where he eventually falls in love with a man disguised as a woman. Certainly, a progressive story for the time period. The line above from the production still rings true, forty years later, at least for many Asian American men.
After all, throughout the past few decades, American culture has attempted to completely castrate Asian American men and their masculine identities. The dangerous stereotype and the tired tropes that identify Asian men as undesirable, unsexy, foreign, devoid of sensuality, has become detrimental to that community in the past near-century. So much so that a percentage of the 9 million men Asian American men say they have felt discrimination’s ugly repercussions, including depression, anxiety, issues with self-worth and suicide.
So it’s no wonder that Asian Americans, namely those from East Asian lineage, have turned to social media to air their grievances in the past months alone. From Hollywood’s rampant white wash of characters, to speaking up about the lack of Asian faces in TV and films, woke blogs like Angry Asian Man and Love Life of An Asian Guy seem to keep individuals and media enterprises in check.
The conversation heated up again when the comedian and daytime talkshow host, Steve Harvey, was dragged on Twitter last for a past episode that was uncovered by savvy viewers.
“‘Excuse me, do you like Asian men?'” he’s heard in the clip, casually asking his audience. In the video, now uploaded onto YouTube, he’s jabbing on about Asian masculinity. It’s flippant, though hateful. The context is in regards to the 2002 guide, How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men (an embarrassing book if there was ever). “‘No, thank you,'” he goes on to say in a feminine gesture, his hand on his hip, his head cocked to the side: “I don’t even like Chinese food, boy. I don’t stay with you no time. I don’t eat what I can’t pronounce.”
The joke was one in jest, one could argue. And one could also say it’s fair to say offensive statements sometimes, poking fun at different people – racial epithets included – because well, it’s his job. The tired, trite, troubling stereotypes are nothing new; spewing them out again and again is far from funny.
But it is painful.
For the 9 million Asian American men who live in this country, it was yet another day where mainstream culture attempted to mitigate our identities. It was throwing salt in the wounds of millions of Asian men like me, whose own self-worth has been shaken throughout the years, thanks to the decades upon decades of this country actively erasing our unique masculinities. After over one-hundred years of emasculation, why, in 2017, are we still having these conversations, many Asian Americans asked?
#steveharvey believes Asian men are unattractive. Who agrees or disagrees? please let me know. Most importantly, why..
This humiliating narrative has haunted Asian American males for the past century beginning from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Yellow Peril in the late 1800’s (that is, that Asians were a terror to white America). The latter, a form of mass hysteria that was created to prevent the Asian population from growing. Asian women were also banned from immigrating with men (though a few still came over), a direct affront from the U.S. government to control the Asian population. To protect its American citizens, the country warned women that men from East Asian descent were villains, out to get them.
From 1929’s supervillain Fu Manchu, who embodied a man sexuality can be likened to a paramecium, 1984’s Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles, to modern day sitcoms like Two Broke Girls‘ Han, a thickly accented caricature of an Asian, whose petite frame and mannerisms were completely diminutive, are only a few examples of Hollywood perpetuating this message. (Mind you, this is only a short list of characters throughout the year Breakfast at Tiffany’s Mickey Rooney in yellow face is another …)
Of course, Cohen along with other comedians, feel it’s kosher to make jokes at the expense of the Asian community. It’s easy to attack a minority community when said community seems so insignificant. This, especially in Hollywood. In a statistic from USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication, only 1% of Hollywood films had any Asian Americans as leads (Asian Americans currently compose over 5% of the entire U.S. population).
Lack of portrayals onscreen of real Asian males in leading roles (or any that air on the side of authenticity) has had a real detrimental impact on Asian American male psyches. A recent article in Psychology Todayfound that mass media portrayals and its subsequent perpetuance of Asian emasculation, has led to many men experiencing intense stress, anxiety and overall lack of self-esteem.
“Feeling sexually undesirable has played a part in many Asian men going long stretches of time without dating anyone out of fear of rejection,” says Dr. Nicole Hsiang to Very Good Light, a psychotherapist in San Francisco who specializes in Asian American men and women. “The never-ending pursuit of proving their worth and trying to gain approval and acceptance from others breeds tremendous resentment and anger.”
Dr. Hsiang says that from her research, the media has had a direct impact on the lives of Asian Americans. “This is a direct result of racist media portrayals of Asian men as undesirable and hearing statements like, ‘I don’t date Asian men,'” she says. “The negative images become internalized and start to be believed in by AA men themselves.”
Indeed, there has been a strong correlation between emasculating Asian American men and how desirable they are. In a recent finding from 2015, a poll from both heterosexual women and homosexual males showed that Asian American men were “least desirable” when it came to online dating.
“Expedient shorthands like ‘no rice’ and ‘no curry’ are used to discourage Asians from communicating their interest,” said a Pacific Standard finding from the gay application, Grindr.
Whether straight or gay, Asian American men have certainly received blatant discrimination when it comes to dating, which has had a real affect on their self-esteems.
But times, they are changing.
In 2017, we as a community are fighting back sentiments and taking control of our own definite masculinities and stories. From sex symbols onscreen the like Daniel Henney, to leading men like Hayden Szeto (who we wrote about here), to the rise of Korean pop stars, there’s certainly a desire for more diversity in entertainment.
But how does this affect every day Asian American men who don’t shine on the silver screens? Very Good Light asked 13 real Asian American men ranging from teens, guys in their 20s to 30s, in different professions from all across the world, on what it’s been like to walk in their shoes. They are banding together in an attempt to stop the hate once and for all.
Enough is enough.
From painful stories of rejection, to finding empowerment, to embracing their own uniqueness, each story is raw, real and powerful.
Here they are in their own words …
1. Peter Park, Virginia, Model
To witness Steve Harvey’s hurtful remarks towards Asian men was disappointing especially since I have the upmost respect for him and support him from purchasing his motivational books to watching his shows. Even my mom watches ‘Family Feud’ when she comes home from work.
Unfortunately, I strongly feel like Asian men are desexualized and emasculated in the media. The media portrays Asian men in another way and it changes perception for Asians, which really sucks.
It has affected me in numerous occasions, especially when I was in high school. I remember when I was warming up for my basketball game, a group of kids from another school I was playing at were yelling out racist remarks like “yo, shrimp fried rice.” Of course, I didn’t pay them any mind. Even though my team lost, I still dropped 22 points on them and showed them that Asian guys have skills. It’s not normal to see Asians playing real physical sports like basketball and football, so when people see that, it catches them off guard.
There are so many stereotypes that come with being Asian American. We’re great at math, we’re technologically proficient, our male anatomy is the size of an eraser and we could never in a thousand years be a threat to steal your girl. All false. I am proud of who I am and the skin that I am in. Attractiveness should never be based on one’s ethnicity. Love has no color. When it comes to my own love life, it hasn’t affected my dating at all. I don’t have any problems when it comes to that department.
I am proud of who I am and the skin that I am in.
When it comes to the future, I think we as a community, have to stand firm and be confident in our appearances. We have to accept who we are and where we come from. We need to know that we can carry ourselves as alphas, we can be loud in our actions and we can make sure we are heard. Most importantly, we can make sure we support each other.
2. Joshua Lance Glass, NYC, writer and editor
I don’t really think anything has really changed for me in the past few years. I think Asian men, no matter what orientation or dating pool you’re speaking to, have a general disadvantage as we’re typically either fetishized in the gay world or evaded by most heterosexual women. I think that comes down to racial archetypes—stereotypically, Asian men are applauded for their brains, not their braun—and the inherit codes of masculinity.
I’m half-Asian, and physically look a bit more Latino, so I don’t think I’ve really felt triggered or affected by this, fortunately. I do think there is a bit of a trend for white men, both straight and gay, to sexually eroticize Asians and People of Color as a whole. This must speak to some subconscious idea of power or masculinity.
I’m half-Asian, and physically look a bit more Latino, so I don’t think I’ve really felt triggered or affected by this, fortunately.
At a time like today—when the racial discussion, in America at least, has so largely been focused on white versus black—it’s necessary to look and discuss and battle for the other groups of marginalized people. Asian Americans have the smallest presence out of all the racial groups in Hollywood. So much of our culture is reflected in what we see and who we’re told to like. And of course, that that influences our sense of attraction. Hopefully things will change.
3. Brian, NYC, analyst in structured finance
I didn’t think Steve Harvey’s jokes were funny. I didn’t really understand the humor – none of my white or black female friends view dating an Asian American guy as undesirable. I was actually wondering why the audience was so receptive. I’m not upset personally as the jokes just made me SMH, but I see how the jokes are offensive. I think we’re still talking about this because we expect better. It’s like, really?
I don’t think my dating life has been negatively impacted because I’m an Asian American man. It’s the same with my professional life. I don’t consider myself undesirable because of my ethnic background and I’m secure in my sense of manhood.
I don’t consider myself undesirable because of my ethnic background and I’m secure in my sense of manhood.
Having said that, I think I’m treated differently than other Asian American men because I’m of mixed race and don’t necessarily “look Asian,” and also because my name doesn’t “sound Asian.” In this way, I think I’ve been spared some of the dangerous sentiments that come with being Asian. Alternatively, I tend to feel like a bit of a visitor in non-mixed Asian American groups and communities. Maybe because I’m not Asian enough? Whatever that means.
4. Jake Choi, Los Angeles, actor
Growing up and up until a couple of years ago, I felt pretty insecure about my skin color, shape of my eyes, my heritage, just being an Asian American. I was confused as hell with my identity and accepting myself as an Asian American. I think the movie I starred in recently, Front Cover really helped me to start accepting myself, actually. Working on that film and learning about the director Ray’s struggles that mirrored mine a lot, really set something off in my mind.
I’ve had women say some dumbass shit to me like, “I don’t usually like Asian guys, but you’re cute” or “You’re super hot for an Asian guy.” Usually it’s white or white-passing Latinas say this. Or I’ll be out with a girl and she’ll say something like “so I heard Asian guys are small down there, are you?” And I’m sitting there like am I really gonna have to explain myself or the stupidity of the myth to her? But she and other girls that ask this seem to be sincere. They really believe this myth to be true. It’s preposterous. So I’ll tell them that’s not true, I’ve seen some hung Asian men in the locker rooms in gyms. I’m pretty well endowed myself.
I’m pretty well endowed myself.
I think as a person of color, my dating life will usually be affected by the stereotypes people, especially white people, have of you. It’s bound to come up. And we have to be vigilant in shutting those down and checking people when they say problematic shit. Like how we and the Internet are doing to Steve Harvey. It’s sad because there’s already a divide between the Asian and black community. We need to build that bridge and unify, not separate further. It only will serve to advance white supremacy.
And with what Harvey said, it’s not helping any group. Him perpetuating Asian male emasculation and undesirability, actually perpetuates the extreme opposite stereotype of the hyper-sexualized black man. It harms both groups. And his half apology was bullshit. Someone fire his publicist.
5. Benzamin Yi, NYC, freelancer
I think people are still talking about this because while this movement of civil liberties progresses, Asians are left behind constantly. Look at the Oscars last year when Chris Rock was all serious about non-white representation and then shits on Asians. What, dude?
I hope that the Asian American community will feel and know their rights to speak out against this. Our culture keeps us quiet and humble, as we persevere through the bullshit, but as Americans, we should feel empowered to speak up about it when it matters. I think those of us who want our community to start voicing their concerns and doing something about it are making sure that we are heard. We want to be heard. No, it’s not cool to say shit like that.
We want to be heard. No, it’s not cool to say shit like that.
I have an amazing, beautiful girlfriend, so what Steve has to say about my desirability means nothing. My girlfriend thinks I’m dead sexy. I’ve been blatantly hit on, got numbers at bars, went on dates with non-Asians; yes, even white people, and while I have come across people who did not find me desirable, this was nothing new. A lot of people don’t find me desirable, and that’s fine because I’m not exactly a model or body builder and I’m not trying to be desirable to everyone. The women living in Steve Harvey’s mind aren’t on my list of women to impress). But if I’m found undesirable because of my race, well, that’s just fucked up.
6. Joe Seo, Los Angeles, Actor
People often associate masculinity on film as someone who is hyper-violent or someone with a lot of power. I have not had the chance to play many of these roles yet. During the few delinquent roles I had, I was able to flex such “masculine” muscles. However, I think true masculinity, as cliche as it sounds, is just being ok with yourself. You don’t have to over do it and you don’t have to under do it.
Just be yourself.
So I’ll just keep knocking until they open that door.
I don’t really think of “my” masculinity per se, when playing a character. That’s because it’s not me, it’s that character. I just try to convey what the script shows the character to be like. Asian American or not, I’ve also never thought of myself as being sexy and I do think it has to do with our culture. But what can I do? I just got to change people and Hollywood’s perceptions by portraying characters who are honestly. So I’ll just keep knocking until they open that door.
7. Jake Chang, New Jersey, high school senior
The fact of the matter is that Asian men are desirable. I’m very lucky to be living in an environment where the vast majority of people are accepting and I have experienced the best of being Asian. But I do have friends from other walks of the world who have felt this and I empathize fully with. They have told me that they feel worthless and feel like they have no chance with any girls.
The fact of the matter is that Asian men are desirable.
Even I sometimes feel if I were a white male it would be a much easier time for me to meet new people and date. Personally, I don’t let it affect me too much and I take life as it is. In regards to my sense of manhood, I actually feel that I have further embraced it with the way I dress and taking advantage of my skin color for color matching.
There definitely have been times where I have experienced something negative because I am an Asian male. For example, many of the girls I have met have said that they won’t date Asian guys because they just aren’t attracted to them. I try not to let it affect me; I still have confidence in my “Asianness.”
8. Marshall Bang, Seoul, Musician
I’m still in the process of undoing years of damage in how I view myself and Asian men around me. Living abroad in Seoul really helped in gaining perspective as to what a strong Asian man could look like. It was in Seoul that I first noticed, “Damn, the men here are so tall, I guess they’re all here in the motherland!”
Seoul was the first place where I didn’t feel like an outsider or “other” or at least felt like I wasn’t perceived as one (though I was different as a Korean American). Since a young age, I developed an innate desperation to prove that I was as much a “true” American as all the other white people around me.
Then add the experience of growing up as a closeted gay dude in a very religious household and you have a recipe for several layers of fuckery to deal with. On one end I had to deal with the pressures of acting like a “real man.” Then I had the pressures of being told that I was gay and that I had to just come out and accept it.
Constantly being called a “fag” or “chink” didn’t help.
I’m sure straight Asian men around me were also trying to figure out how they fit in but for me, there was absolutely no safe space to process it all out – constantly being called a “fag” or “chink” didn’t help. I’m sure everyone remembers puberty; It’s a rough time for us as it is without having to think about why the majority of your school or characters on TV shows or musicians and singers and actors don’t look like you.
9. John Kim, NYC, architect and model
While today, I am confident in who I am and know better not to allow outside voices define my self-worth, I can remember being Asian as an issue growing up. There were times as a kid where I felt uncomfortable being Asian because of the way the media portrayed and ridiculed our cultures.
It bothered me but instead of succumbing to the perpetual noise, I let it fuel me. In a generation where I was told I wouldn’t be athletic or desirable, I motivated myself to rise above the stereotypes and one day become a role model for Asian Americans.I’m a model as well as an architect.
I can remember being Asian as an issue growing up.
While the industry is still dominated by the image of the white male, there have been a few movements calling for diversity. In that sense, being an Asian male model has some perks of being “edgy” and “unique”. Most importantly for me, I am proud to represent the Asian American community as a model.
There is a growing curiosity about the new age of Asian Americans, and I think it is a challenging yet opportunistic time for Asian Americans to make their mark in the industry. In the same way people like Jeremy Lin and Lucy Liu have disrupted their respective industries, an underlying motive for why I continue to do what I do today—whether its in architecture, marathons, or modeling— is to expand the notion of who we are as Asian Americans.
10. Thomas Jeon, NYC, software engineer
I’ve become pretty jaded when people stereotype Asians since I am constantly reminded of my apparent “asexuality.” The discrimination comes in very different forms. Side comments like, “he’s cute, but I can’t imagine having sex with him” that seem innocuous just mean that no matter how good looking you are, Asians cannot be sexualized.
“He’s cute, but I can’t imagine having sex with him.”
Dating life is a whole different ballgame, though. It really fucks you up when during dates you constantly have thoughts like “does he only date Asians?” or “does he even date Asians?”. There’s then the ever present: “am I being too Asian?” Then enter Apps. The worst of them all. You end up seeing through all the subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at your own self confidence.
In this fucked up state, all logic goes out the window. You start reading into everything and linking them to your Asian ethnicity. I could go into all my neuroses but that would be a whole different essay. I know it doesn’t necessarily work that way, but it creeps into your mind and takes over. You start comparing how many matches your white friend gets to yours.
Many of my gay Asian friends have mentioned that they wish they were white so dating would be easier. In my opinion, that mindset is very dangerous. Sure, there is a lot of privilege from just being white, but I’d rather be different. I have come to own and love my Asianness, just like how I did with my own femininity and homosexuality. It comes with a barrage of racism but it also makes me how I am. That being said, I love who I am and wouldn’t change it for anything.
11. Sung Wi, NYC, financial sales
I know Asian women who won’t date Asian guys because they’re too passive aggressive and not direct enough. So, comments from a celebrity or influencer like Steve Harvey continue to push that stereotype of Asians being less than desirable. This obviously sets us back. Maybe it’s especially hurtful because society proves to many Asian Americans that what he said is true. What if what he said isn’t just a stereotype? What if, for a lot of Asian men and young kids, life experience has proven to them that it’s true?
I fear that Asian kids growing up today will hear comments like these, believe it is true and then have society confirm it.
It’s no secret that even though we’re called the “model minority,” Hollywood and the vast media hasn’t had many examples of leading Asian men that we can look up to. I fear that Asian kids growing up today will hear comments like these, believe it is true and then have society confirm it. And that’s the danger of what he said. We as Asian men also need to step up and be better examples to the younger or even current generation. Having said that, I’ll end my thought with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
12. Minkyu Kim, NYC, English teacher
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, in light of the Steve Harvey video, which I obviously watched in horror. I think there are some non-offensive things that are blown out of proportion. But this was a direct hit.
To start, I am angry at Steve Harvey and everyone in the audience. including viewers, who laughed at his bit. It is a tired bit. But I’m also annoyed that there is a vacuum when it comes to advocacy on Asian issues. We have less weight, if that makes sense. I’m not sure an Asian host gets away with just an apology if he does an entire bit about how black men are not dateable. But Steve Harvey had no such fear.
I actually believe Steve Harvey when he says he has no malice in his heart, though I think, if pressed, he’d admit that he views Asian men as less “masculine” than he is, based on what I know of his regressive ideas on gender norms. But Steve Harvey did not conjure these ideas on his own. These ideas are part of our collective thinking on race in this country. And gender, too. I care that people feel belittled by his comments. But there is a larger issue here.
As for me, I’m certainly not naive enough to think that my race has never been a factor in my dating life.
By perpetuating Asian stereotypes, Steve Harvey is not just cutting down Asian men. He is reinforcing a system of oppression by normalizing reductive thinking, and passing off racial divides and injustice as the natural state of things, instead of seeing them for the ever-shifting changeable social constructs that they are. Which is the worst part of all this. Steve Harvey is a black man, of an age that would have made him, presumably, a victim of real life racism in this country before his fame and celebrity – and maybe even still. To turn around and subject another population to prejudice is disappointing, and self-defeating, if he seeks racial equality.
As for me, I’m certainly not naive enough to think that my race has never been a factor in my dating life. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “I’m not normally into Asian guys,” which is meant to be a compliment, but it’s also in a way troubling. The jokes get to me sometimes. But if my Asianness is a factor in someone’s decision to not date me, a real person, I probably don’t want to date that person anyway.
13. Justin Min, NYC, stylist
I know these stereotypes have, at times, caused a lot of un-happiness in myself that resonates in a relationship. At times, it makes me very detached and unsure of someones motives when they are interested. I also feel like at times when there is a lack of modeling in the media, asian men tend to be less represented which I feel is reflected when I look at how asian men groom and take care of themselves. I distinctly remember GQ doing a best haircut roundup and not having any minorities. I can’t imagine after years of that that a minority would grow up thinking or not knowing how best accentuate and appreciate their natural features.
I distinctly remember GQ doing a best haircut roundup and not having any minorities.
I am a bit taller with a bigger build so I feel I do get less stigma applied to Asian men when it comes to effeminate or delicate. I did go on a date once and the other person told me they did not find my height at 6’1″ to be attractive for an Asian and that under 5’4″ was preferable. He then went on to criticize me for paying, as he did not like to have anyone pay for meals as it was his way of feeling in control. It did not go anywhere after that date and later opened my eyes to the idea of being expected to be submissive whether you were an Asian man or a woman, a trope that is troubling.
Menswear designer Michael Bastian: 'I'm now at the peak of my confidence'
Skin is pretty predictable and when there’s a problem area, fairly easy to treat.
When your skin feels dry you use a moisturizer, when it’s dull you might reach for a serum. But what do you do when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin?
Within the last year I have been slowly immersing myself in the world of Korean skincare by educating myself on the products and philosophy. I adopted Korean skincare not only because I liked being a potion wielding expert, but because with every lotion and essence, every slab and dab on my face, I’m nourishing the skin that I was once ashamed of. More so, it’s one way to feel more connected to my Korean roots, a part of me I’ve only recently embraced.
More so, it’s one way to feel more connected to my Korean roots, a part of me I’ve only recently embraced.
I struggled with my identity as half-Korean and half-Puerto Rican in a predominantly white environment. I felt like the odd one out, having grown up in mainly southern suburban neighborhoods. To make matters worse, I was teased for using Korean words at school. When my parents spoke to the teachers they would say it was no fault but my own; I was being picked on simply because I’d occasionally choose to speak another language.
Thankfully, my Korean mother was a sharp contrast to the environment around me. She was a source of complete confidence. Whenever I was made fun of for being different, she would comfort me and explain that being different was a wonderful thing that made each person special.
A snap of Eugene and his mother in his younger years. (Photo courtesy Eugene Salas)
But at the age of 5, my parents split and with it came the detachment from my mother and her encouragement. In a matter of what seemed like a day, she was replaced by my stepmother. That’s when my struggle began.
I struggled with my identity as half-Korean and half-Puerto Rican in a predominantly white environment. I felt like the odd one out, having grown up in mainly southern suburban neighborhoods.
My stepmother once said something that stuck with me for a long time: “You’re pretty, but men aren’t supposed to be pretty,” she said. “Men are supposed to be handsome. Your face just isn’t normal. You need to man up, Eugene.”
“You’re pretty, but men aren’t supposed to be pretty.”
I was never concerned with masculinity before, it was kind of a lost concept to me that seemed pointless. I grew up not realizing that Americans placed such value in their hypermasculinity and that men were supposed to be rugged, tough, muscular, and macho. I was flung into this Western idea of what a man should be and I certainly did not fit into it.
With my mom now removed from my life, I lost my source of Korean representation and an Eastern take on masculinity, one now in retrospect I’ve always connected more with. My high school had 5 other Asian American kids, and Asian actors or models weren’t really heard of. I was constantly bombarded with white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. That’s what the standard of beauty was. That’s what everyone aspired to be, it seemed. I slowly started to shun my racial background, instead, trying my best to fit in. I wanted to be noticed and desired, so I started wearing colored contacts, lightening my hair and did everything I could to prevent from tanning. If someone tried to associate me with either my Korean or Puerto Rican heritage I would reply, “I’m basically white!”
I was constantly bombarded with white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. That’s what the standard of beauty was.
But I wasn’t white. I never have been and never will be. It took me a long time to realize that no matter what I did or how I presented myself, I will always be the slightly effeminate Asian-Latino boy in other people’s eyes. As time passed, I realized my jet black hair, almond eye shape and soft facial features weren’t flaws. Far from it. They slowly became my favorite parts about me because they were different.
I remember when I was younger, all of the “Asian” aspects of me were met with mockery or disgust. Spoke Korean? “Oh that sounds like ching chong ching!” Eat kimbap or kimchi? “That looks weird, why does it smell?” Correct someone on being Korean, not Chinese? “Oh they’re all the same. It doesn’t matter.”
Learning to love your skin goes deeper than any serum. Korean skincare is not only good for my complexion, but it’s deeper than that. It also nurtures my metaphorical skin. The interest sparked in Korean culture became a form of representation for me that I didn’t have before.
Learning to love your skin goes deeper than any serum.
My adventure with skincare has been one of self-discovery. I’ve spent more time and effort researching products and ingredients than I have for most of my college projects. Many nights, I throw on a face mask while I surf blogs, YouTube channels and online retailers to learn about products and different takes on how to care for skin. It’s become a hobby that I’ve enjoyed getting sucked into. Each lotion I layer on, each mask I lounge in, is in appreciation of the skin I have. It’s also a memory of what my mother told me all along: I was unique and that made me beautiful.
Everyone is different and everyone’s skin has different needs, but the best thing you could do for your skin is to love it. And SPF. Always use SPF.
(Photo courtesy Eugene Salas)
Eugene Salas is a native to the suburbs of Georgia with a penchant for writing and skincare. A Korean mother and Puerto Rican fathered offered Eugene a wide world view that drove an inquisitive mind to write about the perception of race, both externally and internally, while living in the bible belt.
Cat Baldwin has been a Brooklyn-based illustrator for 8-years, after fleeing the scent of patchouli that haunted her formative years in the Pacific Northwest. She spends her free time seeking out delicious foods and maintaining what she likes to call her “moon tan.” Follow her on Instagram @catbee643 for photos of cats, pizza and colorful city living.
I got crabs and this is what I did
How Korean beauty helped me reconnect with my mother
It was the summer of my junior year when I started taking classes at a local community college.
I failed two essential classes in my major and needed the summer semester to go smoothly so I could ensure I graduated on time.
I was homeless, living off of friends’ couches to save money. One week was at Susan’s, the next, Charlie’s, and when my friend Elex was gone for the weekend, I’d stay at his place until he came back. It was here that I caught crabs. While he was away, I felt a little frisky one night and decided to go on a social media app to try seeing who I could hook up with. Scrolling through, I found a guy I thought was really cute. After flirting, as one does, I asked if he wanted to come over.
He was cuter in his profile picture and a lot younger, but it was summer and I was in heat. There was a fire between my thighs and I needed to get it out. Little did I know this itch would become literal.
We didn’t actually go full on with anything that night. I decided I was too tired, so was he. It was the weekend after Independence Day and we were both born out from a week festivities. Instead, it was purely PG-13. We romped around naked, his skin glistening next to mine. His patches of hair were sporadica around his body, on his chest, then some sprouting on his torso. His pubes were nice and clean. I sent him off after kissing him goodbye, not caring to ever think or see him ever again. It was a pure carnal hookup: Absolutely all about the physicality, without any emotions involved. But I’d realize I’d be thinking about him more than I’d want to in the next couple of days.
Life was blissfully normal. Class started in the mornings, then at night, I’d find another friend’s couch. We’d talk about the elections, how Trump couldn’t possibly win, with a glass of cabernet in our hands. We were young, careless, and free.
We were young, careless, and free.
The summer afternoons were a scorcher, but the nights found respite in the cool breeze that would gently rock me to sleep. Then, I started to itch really hard down there. I thought it was probably my skin being dried out because of the hot water I’d use for showers. That is, until one day, when I was laying down on my friend’s couch and dropped my boxer shorts. There wasn’t anything that was too egregious or out of place except my skin under my pubic hair was a little pink. That was to be expected, I thought, it’s dry down there.
Then, I’d wake up in the mornings to find that my underwear had brown specks inside. It was as if there was a pepper shaker that left permanent marks on the inner portion of my white boxer shorts. I thought it was probably dried skin or residue from my balls that needed a scrub. Every single day after that I’d find that new markings would be left on my underwear. I examined them closely and was extremely puzzled as to what was going on. It was finally after I started Googling “brown spots left on underwear” that I came across a few articles to figure what was really going on.
According to Google, I had crabs. That is, pubic lice. That’s live animals moving into your pubes, squatting and refusing to to pay rent or leave, instead, sucking your literal blood dry and then starting a huge family, leaving a huge legacy behind. My eyes started to well up with tears. Salty eye juice started to form and I began to panic. Actually, I began hyperventilating. Never in my 20-years did I ever get an STI or any sex-related diseases. After all, I always used protection and would never ever compromise that.
Researching more into crabs made me realize that protection in the form of latex doesn’t keep you safe from lice entering your pubic hairs. They’re called crab louse and can spread by human to human contact. What’s worse, is they can attach themselves to your eyelashes as well, something that can easily happen when you’re going down on someone.
Researching more into crabs made me realize that protection in the form of latex doesn’t keep you safe from lice entering your pubic hairs.
Basically, they’re like the lice you find in your hair in elementary school, except these are even smaller, more nefarious, and hang on like a mother f***er. They’re named “crabs” because they look like the sea creatures. Instead, these have four separate claws. About 2% of the population gets crabs and I was unlucky enough to be one of those.
They’re named “crabs” because they look like the sea creatures.
In recent years, there have been studies that suggest there’s been a decline in crabs thanks to women getting Brazilian and bikini waxes. This means that crabs have no hair to latch onto, falling off on one’s clothes. But it’s been proven to be false, as crabs are still able to hold onto something and infest deep in one’s skin. CHILLS AGAIN WRITING THIS.
Back to my story. I couldn’t believe I had crabs. After saying a prayer, meditating for all of three seconds and hopping in a car I started Googling how to get rid of these things. The first thing I found was to use Rid shampoo, the same that kills hair lice. It was all of midnight at about now, and having no insurance, seeing a doctor was not an option for me. Good thing, then, that Google informed me this was a type of STI I could self-treat. Google then said to buy Vaseline, as that’d suffocate these insects and they’d die. Tea tree oil, too, apparently, is an insecticide. Though, this doesn’t kill off eggs. The Internet then said that I’d need to shorn all of my pubic hair so that all of the crabs are gone. That means even between the butt cheeks.
That means even between the butt cheeks.
I rushed home, got into the shower, and started lathering my pubes with shampoo. I made the mistake of mixing water with it. Apparently, this dilutes the solution and it’s not as strong. You’re supposed to wait for 10 minutes, but I waited for 15, just to ensure that these pests would truly be deader than dead. After drying off, I took the comb inside the Rid kit and started combing through my pubic hair. This is where I start getting chills once again. Combing through I realize just how many eggs were coming out and at close glance, I found a few fully grown adult crabs that were still alive.
I gagged. (And am gagging now!)
After, I took an electric shaver and shaved all of my hair off including my stomach hair, inner thighs and cheeks. You can never be too sure. I then took a razor and gently took a closer shave once more around so that I’d get every last strand of hair. Forty-five minutes later, I looked down to my pubic area to find that a few pores were bleeding. It wasn’t from the shaving either, rather, were areas that were being eaten alive by these suckers. Ugh! I proceeded to put tea tree oil and vaseline around to soothe the skin. Rid said that I’d want to do this 7-8 days later so I didn’t throw everything out.
Two days after, I found that my ball sack was scaly, dry and flaky and started panicking. Google told me that I had another STI or a fungal infection. Literally, my ball sack was flaking and sloughing its skin like a snake who outgrew itself. I started panicking once again and dropped to my knees and prayed. After moisturizing for a night, I realized that my scrotum was peeling because it was sensitive to Rid. The scrotum, after all, is one of the most tender spots on the entire body. Sighing in relief, I realized it would all be okay.
A few years later, I look back at this experience and am still traumatized. No one wants to get any STI or something live like crabs. But I realize that having crabs wasn’t the worst of STIs I could have gotten. And it was self-treatable without medication or prescription drug. After admitting to my friend Elex what had happened, we both vacuumed the entire apartment, washed and dried all of our clothes on high heat, and then laughed about it. I feel so gracious towards him for understanding that this was an awful and embarrassing experience and for not judging or being too upset.
More so, I realize that I have to be a lot more careful when it comes to selecting a mate to sleep with. To this day, I haven’t had many random encounters. Whenever I look at a hot torso or cute face, I always remember that crab flailing its arms inside that lice comb, and my boner instantly shrivels away. I hope to get over this and am slowly starting to recover. It’s something that can happen to you, too. Just be super careful and make sure you at least know who you’re sleeping with.
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I got crabs and this is what I did
How Korean beauty helped me reconnect with my mother
I dreaded it. I’d speak in what was my lowest, most unnatural tone and I’d watch as a brief moment of realization crossed their faces, followed by stifled snickers, and then neutral, polite friendliness, or scorn, depending on who I was introducing myself to.
At my lowest tone I sounded like Paris Hilton impersonating a tuba playing “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton. Like clockwork, the dreaded question would come up, sometimes in the span of a conversation and at others, the span of a years-long friendship.
“Are you gay?”
To me, the shame wasn’t, and isn’t, necessarily in being gay, but in the societal interpretation of my inherent femininity or perceived lack of “acceptable” masculinity.
To me, the shame wasn’t, and isn’t, necessarily in being gay, but in the societal interpretation of my inherent femininity or perceived lack of “acceptable” masculinity.
Eventually, the answer to that annoying question went from “no” to “yes” to “why else would I be on Grindr?” I embrace my sexuality fully, never wavering in my own self-acceptance. After all, it’s something I could not change. My femininity, on the other hand, feels like a curse. For a long time, all I wanted was to change it.
I’m from a small town in Ohio, and everything I did in high school seemed to be under a microscope, my expression –tone, voice– always up for discussion. What made me the most nervous and anxious then, was as soon as people, including teachers at school and adults in positions of power, heard my voice or witnessed my aesthetic presentation, they would write me off. I’d have to work that much harder than other students to be praised or recognized.
For many, femininity is an abhorrent trait in men.
My femininity, on the other hand, feels like a curse. For a long time, all I wanted was to change it.
Knowing this, I would try to stifle it, lower my voice, change my cadence. In my outer appearance I would wear boot cut jeans (yikes!), and walk with as much swagger as my swaying hips could muster. But in the end, it didn’t feel right. The hypermasculine version of me is not me.
Eventually, I’ve realized that not only does the presence of femininity have nothing to do with a lack of masculinity, but also that one is not better than the other. As people, we are multi-layered and complex, our identities are inherent, whereas policing is not. I really didn’t want to be miserable, I wanted to explore my passions and my hobbies and to achieve my dreams as I knew I could, feminine, masculine or both.
I now live in New York City. Moving here, I was excited to be my truest self in a city in which one can do freely. In the image in my mind, I’d ride the subway and the lights would bounce off of my well-highlighted cheekbones.
Photo courtesy: Louis Baragona
I work in a small, conservative office. One where I feel I have to fight the urge to be my true self in order to be taken seriously. I’m surrounded by straight men all day talking about “manly” things. They play video games, they write about hot girls and they write without fear of being scoffed at. They don’t wear makeup, their jeans aren’t too tight, and they know Scottie Pippen as more than Kim Kardashian’s best friend’s husband.
I fear that my appearance, my gestures, and, as always, my voice, will again lead me to being written off. How could I contribute something of value? In an act of fight, flight, or fem, my first instinct in this situation is to focus heavily on stifling myself. After all, I need to cater to their comfort and I always know exactly what they want. Boot cut jeans … or worse.
In an act of fight, flight, or fem, my first instinct in this situation is to focus heavily on stifling myself.
But even as I attempt to hide, I never lose sight of myself. I still wear makeup, but I just make sure to blend well. I wear my jeans with combat boots. It still doesn’t feel right, it’s not completely authentic, but that’s survival. Unfortunately, until things change on a grander scale, I need to play in with these in-office respectability politics. Yes, I need a paycheck. How else could I afford this foundation? It looks great. Blends well, making my skin glow.
I also need freedom. And at this point, I feel I can do both. It’s not easy, but navigating in such an aggressively masculine society never is. There’s always a risk. So I dust myself off, blend my foundation again, and speak with confidence in my voice.
I look into the mirror. I’m happy. Not just with my brows, but they’re worth mentioning. I see it in my face. I am me. Foundation, femininity, masculinity, all of it.
Louis is an Ohio-born journalist now living in Brooklyn. He likes eating burritos, doing his eyebrows, and watching episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians without fear of the future. Find him on Twitter where he tries to be funny.
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Inspirational teens. They’re everywhere. They’re pushing culture forward and changing the world for the better. Like Hennessy Vandheur. He’s an 18-year old who went from being homeless, to becoming an in-demand photographer. He’s not only making a positive impact on the world, he’s proving that no matter your circumstance, you can win. Want to nominate yourself or someone else? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Self-portrait of Hennessy. (Photo courtesy Hennessy Vandheur)
When I was 5-years old, my mother and I moved to California from Indonesia. Immediately, I was amazed by how everything was readily available here, unlike the third-world country I had just left behind. Initially, we lived in a small apartment in Downey, a suburb in Los Angeles. I would look out the window and see everyone just doing their thing. It was so different from Indonesia. For one, it was clean. Indonesia, by contrast, was very dirty and polluted. People here were actually happy.
We came here on a tourist visa and left my dad behind. As a child, I didn’t remember too much about him, but my mother would constantly tell me that he wasn’t a good person. She soon remarried but my stepdad wasn’t any better. He started off kind but quickly turned into a strict bastard who often beat me and my mom. It was so bad that to this day, nothing else can easily faze me because I spent my entire childhood developing a thick skin.
In America, we overstayed our welcome because my mother never bothered to get me my citizenship. I didn’t realize I was an illegal immigrant until I was 14-years old when a social worker told me the truth about my life. Around this time, my mother started going through extremely hard times. After a divorce with my stepfather, he took everything we owned and left us with pennies in our pocket.
My mother became depressed and easily ticked off. Home turned into an atmosphere so rife with tension that it felt like a bomb was about to explode at any second. Little things like not washing dishes or forgetting to take out the garbage would destroy any connection we’d manage to rebuild and leave her yelling at me for hours. One day, she grew tired of me and told me to leave the house because she couldn’t deal with me anymore. It was the middle of my sophomore year and I was suddenly homeless.
I slept in restaurants and I slept on benches. This went on for an entire month until my friend found out and told me come stay at her house. Eventually, my mother reached out and told me to come back home. I came back and stayed for one night – the next morning, social services was knocking on the door. By the end of the day, I was admitted into the system and put into a facility for “disadvantaged” youth.
I was depressed. I didn’t feel like anyone loved me. It was around this time that a friend’s family bought me my first iPhone – a sky blue iPhone 5c, to be exact. The photos I took on it were decent enough to get me hooked on photography. I started snapping photos here and there while skateboarding around town.
One day, I climbed onto a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles and looked over the ledge. Things were still bad in my life and I remember thinking like, “damn, I can fall off and end it all. I don’t have to be hungry and I don’t have to live without love anymore.”
“Damn, I can fall off and end it all. I don’t have to be hungry and I don’t have to live without love anymore.”
The city was twinkling. I had the iPhone in my hand ready to take a photo and thought to myself, wow, this is such a beautiful world and there’s all these people living life underneath me. If I didn’t have anything to live for, I thought, at least I had these beautiful things and people to photograph. I stepped away from the ledge. At that moment, my photos saved my life.
If I didn’t have anything to live for, I thought, at least I had these beautiful things and people to photograph.
By this point, I knew that photography was something that I was good at. I’d take photos of flowers and the sky and plain things anyone would take in passing. I started taking photos of mountains and city streets, beaches and trees. I’d take photos while hanging out with my friends. My social media grew and I started gaining attention for my iPhone photos, people hitting me up to hang out or have me shoot their portraits. I started photographing some girls I dated and went on to shooting bloggers and models. My body of work changed from shooting landscapes to shooting people. I was hooked.
I lived with my best friend and his sister for the next two years until they moved. Not knowing where to go, I made ends meet with my photos and lived in a tiny apartment with another foster kid. It was difficult. At 17-years old, I was hungry, depressed again and didn’t know what to with my life until my high school art teacher came into my life like an angel from the heavens. He helped mentor me, putting my work into district art shows and teaching me how to see the world in a different way.
After hearing my story, he and his family decided to take me in as their son. I lived with them for a year. I was still shooting with my iPhone because I couldn’t afford an actual camera, but that was soon remedied; one of my art teacher’s friends in New York heard about my story and sent me his old Canon T2i. That was a defining moment. The moment I picked up that camera, tears came out my eyes and I knew it would change my work. And it did.
During my time living with my art teacher, I spent every day I could taking the bus four hours a day to Los Angeles. Before I received the camera, I’d get little photo gigs and people would be taken aback that I’d come to set with just an iPhone in hand.
A lot of people started hitting me up from seeing my social media. One of them was this guy who made YouTube videos named JC Caylen. I photographed him in Hollywood and we quickly became friends. He posted my photo and had 2.5 million followers at the time so my social media blew up.
From there, more people reached out to me to shoot, and I became immersed in the LA scene, shooting with social media kids and partying meaninglessly until, one day, I read a book about the work of Richard Avedon. His photographs blew me away – I was amazed by the sheer emotion and substance that he was able to construe in a single photograph. From that day, I vowed to start shooting with more passion, more heart, more emotion. I left the LA scene that was, to me, turning very superficial and shallow.
One day, I was hanging out in my room with this girl I was dating at the time. We both shared a deep love for this new musician named Gallant’s music. We were just sitting there in my bedroom listening to him when she turned to me and said, “you should hit him up and photograph him.” I was like, shit, why not? So I looked him up, found his Instagram, and I commented: “I’d love to work with you man. Your music speaks to me.” I didn’t think anything of it.
A couple of weeks later, Miles, his manager, direct messaged me saying he wanted to meet me. It was after the holidays when they gave me my first job – to shoot a new artist named Stephen (whose music I coincidentally was in love with too). He was actually the second shoot I ever had with the new camera. After the shoot, they really loved the photos and told me that these would be setting his aesthetic for the future.
The management was like, ‘We’re using these photos for the album release.’ They were really pleased with the results so they reached out to me a month later to photograph Krewella. With Krewella, that was really crazy for me. I remember skating around at 14-years old when I first started taking photos, I’d listen to Krewella’s music to get through the pain. I was probably one of their biggest fans as a kid. Still am. It was like coming full circle. After Krewella, they finally had me photograph Gallant. He was the entire reason I had gotten to this point. It was a breaking point in my career. That shoot led to a lot more work and an introduction to NEXT Models Management. I began shooting tests for the agency, and pushed myself as hard as I could to constantly better my work as I changedTmy focus towards the fashion and editorial side of photography.
They finally had me photograph Gallant. He was the entire reason I had gotten to this point. It was a breaking point in my career.
Now, I’m 18-years old and a student at Parsons. I’m studying photography and striving to break barriers and develop my work further every day. I’ve reconciled with my biological father who found me through an article a newspaper had written about me. Turns out my mother was wrong – he wasn’t the asshole she painted him to be. We’re on good terms now and he’s helping me with college. Turns out that he’s a photographer as well. He gave me his Leica, one of my most prized possessions. I’m still broke (what struggling artist in New York City isn’t?) but I’m happy now, and I’m doing what I love every single day of my life.
When I think about life, there’s no obstacle that is too big to overcome.
When I think about life, there’s no obstacle that is too big to overcome. None whatsoever. If there’s something in your way you gotta move it. You gotta keep moving. You gotta move that mountain. – As told to Very Good Light
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Very Good Light‘s editor writes a heartfelt essay on what it means to be Asian American. (Photo by Sarah Springer)
We came to this country seeking the American Dream.
Our parents saw this Golden Mountain as a symbol of the future and what it could provide. So they vowed to leave everything behind, their native tongues, their childhood memories, the friends that knew their every secrets, their favorite weekend cafes, early morning dance halls and sleepy beach hideaways for a promise of a better life.
It was the early ’80s with traumatic memories of the Vietnam War still brandished onto their minds. They were young and feckless, proud citizens of their beautiful countries that radiated in culture, life, light. But they rolled up their sleeves and said goodbye to their homelands, stuffing their pockets with their life savings of $100, ready to work and create a better life for themselves and their offsprings.
In this new foreign land full of big noses, bright eyes, light hair and skin, they were stripped of their past selves. Their family names were Anglicized with words even they couldn’t pronounce. Their beautiful accents from countries that once propelled culture forward were muted. It all didn’t matter that their lineage came from royalty. If you were a “Kim,” “Park,” “Lee,” these Americans would make it easier for you. You were simply “chink,” “gook,” “Chinaman,” “go back to your country.”
You were simply “chink,” “gook,” “Chinaman,” “go back to your country.”
Instead of fighting back, our parents found the quickest way to success was to assimilate, appeasing to the White man’s ways. So came the Chinese restaurants that catered to the White palette. General Tso’s chicken was a mix between Southern fried chicken and a bastardized Oriental flavor that mixed salty soy sauces with a dash of MSG. There were the liquor stores and laundromats that were built for the American GIs. These were modern day geisha houses of sorts that pleased the White man and his needs.
Soon enough we became the “model minority,” a myth that the White man presented to us like a gift from the White heavens. Because we pleased him and served him well, he would grant us immunity. We wouldn’t have the hardships of the blacks or Hispanics or the Muslims or gays, he led us to believe. He would have our backs and all we’d have to do in return was continue doing a good job.
Little did we know this is how they’d use our people to pit cultures against each other. “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids,” they’d say. See, if they can do it, what is your excuse? The White man whispered in our ears and sold us the promise of success if only we continued to lay low, work hard, and say little to nothing. “Don’t be like those other colored folk. You need to fear them, you need to separate from them. They’re not your friends,” they warned us. Then came the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, evidence that this polarization of cultures led to a catastrophic end.
Still, throughout the years, we worked harder and harder for the White man. We bled, we cried, we sacrificed to uphold our end of the bargain. Confucianism and filial piety, in fact, was in our very DNA and to serve was the Asian way. For decades, we blindly continued to believe that the White man cared for us. That he had our best interests in mind. He welcomed us into this country with open arms, he reminded us, and we needed to continue paying him back for his kindness.
In due time, these lies caught up to us and we’ve realized that the White man’s promises were all lies. All along, the transaction was pretty straightforward: Citizenship had been traded for dignity, an American passport came with annihilating our heritage.
All along, the transaction was pretty straightforward: Citizenship was traded for dignity, an American passport came with annihilating our heritage.
All this time, the White man was diluting our cultures, stripping us of our mother tongues, deleting our histories, extracting our pasts, all so that we could become his slave. So that we wouldn’t have an identity. We were simply alive by heartbeat alone but altogether invisible.
But by the time we realized this, it was too late.
In 2016, it’s clear that I am invisible. Like my people, I have no voice. I have no grounds to stand on. No foundation in politics, no cultural icon like Jay Z, no place in American history. We are a people that have worked so hard to belong and now we have a sudden painful epiphany that we never belonged in the first place.
When Donald Trump told a college student to go back to his country when he was a Korean born in the United States, there was hardly outrage. When we think about hate crimes that happen on the daily to our Chinese deliverymen throughout the country, or the atrocities that happened to Vincent Chin, there is no national conversation. When our roles are white-washed in Hollywood, with someone like Emma Stone playing a half-Asian, there’s only a blink of an eye but no change. When a publication like Glamour Brasil slants their eyes and bows in a blatantly racist manner, there’s hardly an apology. Instead, their editor in chief stands firm that she wasn’t racist at all. How can you be racist towards Asians? How is it that we take away Asian rights? How can Asians even be considered human? They don’t even exist.
Now more than ever, as Asian Americans, we must wake up. We must hoot and holler, bang on our drums, jump on cars, flail our arms around, pounce at any opportunity to scream, just so that others can pay attention to us. We must walk with our black brothers and sisters, ensuring that Black Lives Matter. We must stand up for our Muslim neighbors who are attacked. We must sit with our Hispanic friends, those whose lives are about to change. We must hug our LGBTQ community and let them know that they are loved. Because continuing to remain idle leads to genocide.
It’s not too late, my friends. We need to show that we can be angry. We can be ratchet. We can be intimidating. We can be human. Because only when we do, can we resurrect from the grave, pump blood back into our systems, have our skins grow back and become visible once again.
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But anxiety and fear is just beginning to settle in. No matter which side you’re on, it’s unquestionable that this election has completely divided the nation. The fact that Donald Trump, America’s 45th president, took the win by a small percentage against Hillary Clinton suggests the country is as conflicted as ever.
What if millennials and Generation Z made the decision? According to this chart below, the outcome of the election would be vastly different. A poll by Survey Monkey surveying over 30,000 millennials and Generation Z individuals found that just five states would have gone to Trump. Two would have been undecided but the entire nation would have voted blue.
Survey Monkey polled 30,000 millennials to ask who they’d vote for this year. (Photo courtesy Survey Monkey)
What does this say about the future? And how does the youth feel, knowing that decisions in this country are largely out of their hands? Very Good Light interviewed several young men from the ages of 16-22 about the sentiments, fears, and hopes they all have as a country.
“For my future, I want a whole, united America where we care about each other, respect each other, and work together. That is my American dream.”
“I’m absolutely thrilled about one thing: it’s over. The anxiety, the fear, the division between two sides is all but over. Now I’m afraid for my fellow Americans. I’m a straight white college-educated male — I should be thrilled Trump won, right? No. I’m fearful for everyone who isn’t me: women, Latinos, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community.
I’m a mix of both hopeful and disappointed. I’m disappointed in the result, in the media for not taking Trump seriously, in Americans. Yet at the same time, I’m hopeful. I hope that what Trump said in his acceptance speech is true; that it is time for us to be united, not divided. I hope that his divisive rhetoric was maybe his selling point, and now he wants to unite. It’s a slim hope, but a hope nonetheless.
For my future, I want a whole, united America where we care about each other, respect each other, and work together. That is my American dream. I want America to know that we were great, we are great now, and we always will be great.”
“I also share the feeling of dread for our honest, hard-working Latino community.”
“The result of this election utterly shocked me. Growing up, I’ve always been surrounded by cultural diversity and tolerance. I’ve forgotten there’s still a huge part of this country that has such preserved conservative ideals. It was like my bubble of what it’s like to live in America finally popped, and suddenly I was confronted by a disillusioned reality. I am disappointed because spreading fear and hate won over being properly informed. Coming from an immigrant family, I am anxious to what this event would lead for our foreign policy and international ties. I also share the feeling of dread for the future of the LGBTQ community and for our honest, hard-working Latino community.
More than anything, it is one big challenge for Trump to do us good and make us proud. Being an elected president, he now represents the United States of America and is no longer just the face of his big enterprise.
For those saddened by this wake-up call election result, I still believe that sticking to everyday acts of kindness, acceptance and tolerance will always prevail and overrule politics by a long shot. We must recognize that we still have the choice and control over them, and that these gestures, no matter how small- count more than ballots.”
“The American Dream is not about fearing our president.”
“I am hopeful! Things can’t go that wrong, when you have three branches in this government. Trump cannot destroy America as we all seem to think. There is just no way. I am anxious to see what he will do on his first 100 days and optimistic about impeachment and finding a new president (lol).
I would like our world to get closer to a country that sees things eye-to-eye and lives in harmony and peace. The American Dream is not about fearing our president.”
“I want to live in a future where everyone’s existence is meaningful.”
“This election makes me feel disgusted. I think it’s appalling that a president can instill such fear in such a large amount of the American people; American youth especially. At this point, there’s nothing more to do than to keep fighting for social change, to use this as incentive to make next time better. I know I speak for a lot of Americans when I say I’m disheartened, but I know that the future can still be bright if we keep working towards change and advocating for progress. I want to live in a future where everyone’s existence is meaningful, where people aren’t afraid to walk the streets of their own country, where people know that their voices make a difference, where people aren’t afraid of their neighbors. I want to live in a future that learns from its mistakes and uses them to foster a better, more inclusive environment for every American. I want to live in a future without the idea that people ‘earn’ their right to live in this country, the so-called land of the free. I want change, and I want the American youth to work together toward that goal. ”
“I’m not even thinking about my future right now, to be honest.”
This election makes me feel ashamed to be an American. It’s a complete and utter embarrassment to be a citizen of a country that would elect Donald Trump to their presidency.
Honestly, it hasn’t sunk in yet. It doesn’t feel real, that’s how genuinely scary and absurd this is. I thought we were all better, smarter and more compassionate than this as Americans and I still can’t believe how wrong I was to make that assumption.
I’m not even thinking about my future right now, to be honest. As a white, straight, cisgender man, I am not in any immediate or potential danger. At this point I’m only concerned about the futures of my LGBTQ+ friends, my friends of color, my non-male friends and my Muslim friends. I want America to know that they matter and that the fight for their safety and human rights is far from over.
“I am anxious about what God has in plan for us in the next four years.”
My main concern for the next four years is unity. In the past couple of years, our country has been separated through violence and hate. Unity is defined as coming as one, however I don’t see this country as one when taking a step back.
America is supposed to be one country of many nations. One race being the human race, not subcategorizing into Asians, blacks, or Muslims. It’s about having one dream: freedom. What was once America is not anymore. Love is being transformed into hate again. The support that we once had for one another is fading. I want to see unification among the American people.
I am anxious about what God has in plan for us in the next four years. But what has been done is done. Trump is the president. Things are definitely going to change. I believe our job is to make sure it does not change for the worse. And that is done through unity among Americans.
“A cloud of sadness, anger and more than anything else, disbelief, hangs over my head.”
This election makes me feel truly sick to my stomach. To find out that more than half of the people I share a home and identity with feel more comfortable with a fascist, bigoted, racist, homophobic and overall hateful individual than a qualified leader who advocates for tolerance and equality makes me feel emotions I’ve never felt before today. A cloud of sadness, anger and more than anything else, disbelief, hangs over my head. I thought that after all the progress Obama has led us through and towards, we would never look back. Last night, our country not only took back the eight years of forward movement Obama had instilled, but reverted at least 50 years into the past with hatred as the driving force. I want love and compassion amongst every single human on the face of the earth. I want America to know that global warming is a real thing and that gay conversion therapy isn’t.
“I’m scared because I have many targets on my back.”
At first, I didn’t honestly know how to feel about this election. I felt forced at a crossroad of having to chose the lesser of two evils. I realized that social media had so much power over politics. It made the whole election seem unreal. Then, watching the debates added to the disbelief that someone so unqualified for presidency as Donald Trump could even get this far and now win the election.
My lack of surprise is what hurts me the most. We are living in a shattered country and now we are currently watching the dismantlement of a nation. As a gay and black American I am obviously scared because I have many targets on my back simply due to parts of myself I couldn’t control. It’s a very unsettling feeling.
I voted so I wouldn’t be the stereotypical African American who didn’t vote then sat around complaining about the results. Now, I feel obligated to make a difference even if it’s in the most minuscule way. In the future I want people to understand that what’s happening is so much bigger than ourselves. It’s time to disrupt the current equilibrium of our society. Let’s make the world hear our voices even if we have to scream at the top of our lungs. It’s time for a revolution.
I want America to know that I understand why we are in this situation. Bigotry is so deeply rooted into the core of this country. Racism and discrimination never died. I want other gay black men especially ones younger than myself to know we are very vital parts of this nation. Disregard anyone who tries to tell you different and don’t let anyone discourage you from success.
Reporting by Louis Baragona, Sammy Park and David Yi
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As an Asian American I am invisible in this country.
She asked: “Hey, so do you know how to make kimchi?”
Great question. Every once in awhile, I ask myself this too, and each time it’s a resounding yes. Never mind the fact I hadn’t even touched a napa cabbage in like, 3 years. But I still hesitated as I looked into her blue eyes. My gut response was to ask if she knew how to make sauerkraut, or dull pickles, but she looked so sincere I couldn’t bear to show her how dumb she sounded.
I never called her back, but everytime I pass by X, Y, and Z bar, I can’t help but think about ‘Stacy’* and all the other girls I met that wanted to collect Asian dudes like, well, Pokemon.
The best thing about dating in NYC is the people. Everyone knows this. Silicon Alley is a thing because nerds in the Bay Area were sex-starved and thought they could do better. Whether you’re into a type, a number, or yourself, there’s someone here for everyone, and no combo is really novel enough to raise an eyebrow. As anyone who has tried to settle down in the city knows, it’s not that the grass is greener on the other side, it’s that there’s literally a jungle out there, and you’re never going to ever see half the colors of half all the flowers. Well, with Tinder you might, but you get the point.
For some modern women, looking for a man includes the KKK prerequisite: Kimchi, Kpop, Korean. (Photo courtesy: Nicholas Chung)
If you’re a single-ish looking woman in NYC, chances are I’ve tried to put my moves on you. And by “moves” — imagine Chris Christie at a rave with an ice cream cone in each hand. But this isn’t a critique of my smoothness or ability to score — it’s a critique of your ability to score with me.
Here’s the thing, as an Asian-American dude, there’s a voice in the back of my head that tells me I shouldn’t complain, and that I should be happy I get some at all in the first place. I mean, c’mon — Jet friggin Li didn’t get so much as a peck on the cheek from Aaliyah in a remake of Romeo and Juliet. I remember standing to clap when John Cho kissed Paula Garces at the end of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
I have a pretty solid poker face, but you can imagine my excitement when a hot girl takes the initiative and starts chatting me up. I won’t get into the details, but remember Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch? Then I get a bit wary — it’s half that feeling when you know Larry David is about to drop a bomb and half that feeling when you’re about to open that tupperware sitting in the back of the fridge. Still, never look a gift horse in the mouth, right?
Except when said gift horse begins telling you about all their exes that also just happen to be Asian.
By my rough calculations — drunk math counts — I’d say at least a good proportion of these women are into either Kpop, kimchi, anime, or just flawless complexions, hairless bodies, and fine black hair. The latter I can’t fault them for — it’s all pretty great (daily moisturizing does wonders for blackheads). And this is all before I’ve even had a chance to speak. I can only arrive at the following conclusions: either there’s some Asian male fetishization happening, or kimchi is an aphrodisiac.
Many of my friends — usually the ones who identify as white, male, and straight — think I’m a fool for hesitating in the face of such obvious desire. Although I beg to differ on that last argument, I can’t help but shake my head when I think about all the gorgeous and otherwise intelligent women I’ve met that I’ve had to stop talking to just because they’ve resorted to complimenting me by virtue of a trait I share with literally billions of other people.
See, the issue is that I, too, have feelings. And while there aren’t entire industries making money off of said objectification, it’s like a splash of cold water whenever it does happen. The flush that accompanies flattery evaporates. Is she flirting with me, or an image of her ideal Asian man? What is that image? What does it have to do with me? Do I bother finding out? I ask myself, and each time it’s a resounding no.
This happens often enough for me to recognize that it kind of sucks to be a whole person and have that all be boiled down to membership into a club that I happened into and have actually worked all my life to earn in a way that’s meaningful to me. Sure, I’m proud of my heritage, but c’mon, “I know how to make kimchi”? “I really like Big Bang” — okay, that last one is actually a pretty good line, and I’m sorry you reacted poorly when I laughed in your face.
This isn’t a ‘me too!’ essay. The fact remains that despite the many serious issues around representation, as a society, we don’t have much of a vocabulary to describe Asian guys as sexually desirable people. But that doesn’t make it any less real for me — if anything, it’s a great example of how subversive and annoying it can be to have that kind of thought always creeping up on you and have it be verified in real time. Friends, is it really right to be called “sensitive” for overreacting to a tiny pinprick after the thousandth time?
I realize this happens to most everyone that happens to look a little “ethnic”. But imagine the reaction I’d get if I’d told that Trini woman I love jerk chicken, or that Argentine that I’m really, really into Julio Cortazar and yerba mate, so let’s def fuck?
So it’s great you like kimchi — I’m happy that you have acquired a taste for spicy cabbage. But for the same reason I don’t use my middle name to introduce myself, you don’t get to find out where my parents are from first, then get to know me. I had to earn that right, and you don’t get that for free.
And look, I get it. Everyone’s a bit awkward, so stop shooting yourself in the foot and compliment me on something I really am proud of, like my math skills.
Sometimes, hitting puberty too quickly gets you into hairy situations. (Illustration by Justin Teodoro/Very Good Light)
When I was 11, I left home for an all-boys boarding school.
Not because I was a fuck-up or a rich kid, but because my public school wasn’t the best and I got a scholarship to someplace better. Suddenly, I was excited for a four-year sleepover with kids like me — kids who didn’t really fit in their hometowns, who would become my best friends while we bonded in some kind of combo of The Lost Boys and Harry Potter. Like brothers.
It didn’t take long at all. By the time I was 12, the hair on my legs was really thick (like, thicker than my dad’s), and the fuzz on my arms was extending down to the backs of my hands, and dusting each knuckle.There were other changes too — my voice started cracking, for one — but nothing as obvious as this. It grew on my arms, down my stomach (what I learned was called a happy trail) and down there — way, way down there. They’d already told us in health class — everyone matures at a different pace — but this was like a scene from Teen Wolf, I wasn’t even a teenager yet (funny how in MTV’s reboot of that movie, Tyler Posey is so hairless he’d make a more convincing merman).
By the time I was 12, the hair on my legs was really thick (like, thicker than my dad’s)
In line for the showers, the guys noticed, and that’s where Sasquatch was born.
When my mom drove up to bring me home for Christmas, a teacher pulled her aside and started whispering about the hair on my upper lip and on my chin (which, to be fair, was starting to look more like an invasive fungus than any benign peach fuzz).
She drove me home that night, and the next day my dad brought out the razor for a lesson. “You’re starting early,” he told me. “The other guys must be jealous.”
Maybe they were. Some of the teasing had a hint of admiration behind it, but it still made me feel like a freak. I started researching hypertrichosis — werewolf syndrome — worried that I’d be covered in fur by adulthood. I waited to shower until everyone else had gone to sleep and never dared wear shorts.
The writer, now in his adulthood, recounts his childhood growing up with extra body hair. (Photo Shanita Sims)
Everyone is self-conscious about something at that age, and I carried it with me for a long time. I ended up shaving most of my body all the way through high school (and dreamed about electrolysis), until one girl ran a hand up my bare leg and locked eyes with me. “What did you do?” she asked. I was too embarrassed to say anything at all. If I had at least joined the swim team, I’d have had an excuse for occasional leg stubble. As it was, I probably seemed more like a budding drag queen on an off day.
That didn’t stop my habit for obsessive manicuring though — instead, it got more subtle and time-consuming. By the end of high school, I had my whole body mapped out like an unruly country with different elevations. I shaved my face, shoulders, chest, stomach and back (easier than it sounds, if you have flexible arms). I took clippers to everything else, memorizing the lengths that would look most “natural”: a #3 on the arms, and a gradation on my legs that started at a #2 on the lower back and thighs, and lengthened to a #4 at my shins. The whole thing took about an hour every week, and I knew the end result wasn’t great. With everything so uniform, my body looked off — like a just-vacuumed carpet, or a freshly mown lawn.
I took clippers to everything else, memorizing the lengths that would look most “natural”
It takes time, learning not to care what other people think. I didn’t stop that routine until after college, when the hairless Abercrombie ideal had finally gone out of style, and I realized a five o’ clock shadow made my jaw look better, that the hair on my chest made it look more defined. I wish I had known that earlier — it would have saved me hours in the shower, countless cuts and razor bumps, and one very painful experiment with Nair.
All told, it was a rough decade for me and my body hair. At the time, I felt like a pariah. Now, I’ve spoken to friends who felt just as self-conscious about a billion other traits: their weight, their height, the way they walked, the clothes they wore, and of course, their lack of hair. It turns out just about everyone is constantly embarrassed as they’re growing up. And that’s not even a bad thing: sure, being Sasquatch made me neurotic for a few years, but it also give me a thicker skin.
And that’s not even a bad thing: sure, being Sasquatch made me neurotic for a few years, but it also give me a thicker skin.
After you survive a locker room full of guys howling at you like it’s the full moon, you realize can survive almost anything. If I could talk to the younger (but equally hairy) me, I’d say go easy on yourself, and trust that the playing field will level out when we’re all too busy making money and paying bills and getting laid to obsess over freckles, or muscle mass, or the straightness of our teeth.
I haven’t gotten any complaints about my hair in a while. The last time I did, I kicked them out of bed.
Jon Roth has written for Esquire, Businessweek, and The Wall Street Journal. He was the former grooming editor at Details magazine, where he tried out every product known to man, and now sticks to bar soap. Follow him on socials @jonmroth
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