Tag Archives: Asian American

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‘Fresh Off the Boat’ to Premiere Tuesday, Feb.10

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

After months of waiting, ABC has finally announced the air date for the family sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. The new Asian American comedy will premiere on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 8:00 p.m. after its Wednesday previews, according to ABC’s press release.

Fresh Off the Boat, which has already garnered positive reviews for its pilot, will be sampled twice on Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 8:30 p.m. and 9:31 p.m., before and after Modern Family. The show will then officially premiere in its regular Tuesdays-at-8 time slot, which was vacated by Selfie.

Based on Eddie Huang’s bestselling memoir of the same name, Fresh Off the Boat is set in 1995 and follows 11-year-old hip-hop-loving Eddie as he and his Taiwanese immigrant family struggle to adjust to their move from Chinatown in Washington D.C. to suburban Orlando. The sitcom stars Randall Park, Constance Wu, Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen.

Once it airs, Fresh Off the Boat will be the first prime time show to feature an Asian American family since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl premiered in 1994.

Watch the trailer below:

 

 

NYC Council

New York City to Vote on Korean American Day

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

New York City will vote on a resolution on Monday to designate Jan. 13 as Korean American Day, reports the Queens Chronicle. The date is intended to commemorate the anniversary of the first Korean immigrants’ arrival on U.S. soil in 1903.

“Korean Americans have made tremendous contributions to many sectors of our society,” said Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), who introduced the legislation. “For example, they own and operate 192,465 businesses in the country, of which 23,948 are in New York State.”

The resolution notes that 56 men, 21 women and 25 children left Korea and sailed across the Pacific Ocean, reaching Honolulu, Hawaii on Jan. 13, 1903. The Koreans were fleeing from political oppression and poverty, hoping to find new opportunities in America.

The city council’s Committee on Cultural Affair, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations has jurisdiction over the proposed measure. There are currently over 1.4 million Korean Americans living in the United States, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. An estimated 96,741 NYC residents are of Korean descent, and two thirds of them live in Queens.

The Korea Times US reported today that the number of first-generation Koreans have just passed the one million mark, citing data from the American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau. However, that group is steadily losing ground to second-generation Korean Americans.

First-generation Koreans make up 74.9 percent of the U.S. Korean population. That’s slightly lower than 2005, when they made up 78.9 percent of Koreans in the U.S. Compared to other Asian Americans, 62.6 percent of Chinese Americans and 42.3 percent of Japanese Americans are first-generation.

Photo courtesy of Korea Times US

K.W. Lee and Chol Soo Lee in Atlanta, Georgia

Chol Soo Lee, Who Sparked Early Pan-Asian American Movement, Dies at 62

Pictured above: Chol Soo Lee (left) and K.W. Lee pose for a picture after paying respects at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King tomb at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, September 22, 2007. (Photo courtesy of Hyungwon Kang)

by JULIE HA

Chol Soo Lee, a Korean American whose wrongful conviction in a 1973 San Francisco murder case galvanized a historic pan-Asian American movement to win his freedom, died Tuesday at age 62. He passed away at a San Francisco hospital, after suffering medical complications stemming from a digestive system problem that had him hospitalized for two weeks, according to friends.

Lee, an immigrant from South Korea who came to the U.S. around middle-school age, was arrested by San Francisco police in June 1973 for the murder of Yip Yee Tak, a local Chinatown gang leader, who was shot dead in broad daylight. Though Lee was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison a year later, he maintained his innocence. Thanks to a group of Asian American supporters, who rallied to his side, a Korean American journalist by the name of K.W. Lee (no relation to Chol Soo Lee) began investigating the case.

Lee, then a staff writer for the Sacramento Union, would write more than 100 articles that raised questions about Chol Soo Lee’s conviction. Chol Soo was much shorter than eyewitness descriptions of the gunman and had a mustache that not a single witness mentioned to police. Notably, Lee was often identified as Chinese during his trial.

The series of news articles would help spark the Free Chol Soo Lee Movement, which was one of the earliest pan-Asian American movements, bringing together a diverse group of supporters that included third-generation Asian American college students and community activists, as well as Korean immigrant grandmothers.

While incarcerated, Chol Soo Lee got into a prison yard brawl with a white supremacist gang member, whom Lee killed in self-defense. The incident led to a conviction of murder with special circumstance and the death penalty. Lee was on death row, as his supporters were raising money, holding demonstrations and hiring new attorneys to fight for his freedom.

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On Sept. 3, 1982, a San Francisco jury acquitted Lee of the Yip Yee Tak murder. And by March of 1983, he was a free man, after a California appeals court nullified his death sentence in the jailhouse killing.

Over the years, following his release, it was no secret that Lee had a difficult time adjusting to life after 10 years in prison, and would have some brushes with the law. Lee himself had said part of him remained in prison.

Hollywood made a 1989 film, True Believer starring James Woods and Robert Downey, Jr., based on the Lee case, but the movie left out the key role of the Asian American community. Lee, however, never forgot.

Just a year ago, on Dec. 7, 2013, Chol Soo Lee joined several of his most ardent supporters—including K.W. Lee and community activists Peggy Saika, Grace Kim, Jai Lee Wong and Warren Furutani—at Kardia United Methodist Church in West Los Angeles for an event that commemorated the 30th anniversary of his release from death row.

Chol Soo Lee talked about the continuing need to speak out for justice and expressed his deep gratitude to his supporters, many of whom were inspired by the case to seek careers that worked toward social justice, as attorneys, activists and political leaders.

Before his death, he wrote his memoir, Freedom Without Justice, which he worked on with Asian American studies scholar Richard S. Kim of the University of California, Davis. It is not yet published.

In a 2005 interview with Kim, Chol Soo shared these words about lessons from his own painful brush with injustice: “I feel that the greatest message that could be given from the Chol Soo Lee movement is that, as Mr. K.W. Lee said, the purity, the unselfishness, the integrity of people, giving to a stranger. And I think that message needs to be brought back to the Asian community.… The need to give today is far greater than in my own time.”

A memorial service for Chol Soo Lee will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m. at the Yeo Lai Sah Buddhist Monastery, 200 San Bruno Ave. West, San Bruno, CA 94066.

To read K.W. Lee’s reflections on the Chol Soo Lee case from a January 2013 column in Nichi Bei Weekly, click here.

This story was modified from an earlier version to reflect an updated cause of death for Chol Soo Lee. 

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Vote, Vote, Vote!

Polls are open across the nation. If you haven’t already done so, please get out there and make your voices heard!

Don’t think your vote will make a difference? Civil rights advocacy groups Asian Americans Advancing Justice and APIA Vote have said that, in more than 60 House races across the country, including in congressional districts in Georgia, New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, California and Hawaii, “Asian Americans make up 8 percent or more of the voting-age population, large enough to close the gap in some of these races.”

New polling from these groups also shows that at least 60 percent, and up to as many as 77 percent, of Asian American registered voters are planning to vote in today’s midterm elections. Recent controversies, such as the one in Georgia over “missing” voter registration forms primarily from people of color, serve as a keen reminder of how hard-won the right to vote has been for minorities in this nation.

If you need assistance voting, or should you encounter any problems at the polls, you can call the National Asian Language Election Protection Hotline, at 1-888-API-VOTE (1-888-274-8683). Bilingual assistance is available in English, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali.

Below is a fascinating infographic about the fastest growing minority group, and potential political force, produced by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, APIA Vote and AAPI Data. The message: Let’s show that the Asian American vote matters.

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Scholarship-Diversity

Ellis Law Diversity Scholarship Award for Undergrad and Law Students

Calling all law students and undergraduate students studying law!

Andrew Ellis and the Ellis Law firm announced the first Ellis Law Diversity Scholarship Award, which will be available to students who are members of a racial/ethnic minority, or students who have shown a strong commitment to diversity issues throughout their education.

The Ellis Law Diversity Scholarship honors Emil K. Ellis, Andrew Ellis’s great grandfather, who was responsible for setting many case precedents, including the determination of the “seven years presumed dead” law to assist people collecting life insurance when their spouse is missing and presumed dead.

Three students will receive awards of $1000 each to be used towards tuition, books or housing. To apply, eligible students are asked to write a 1500-2000 word essay answering the following questions:

What are your feelings regarding the recent Supreme Court ban on affirmative action in college admissions? In your opinion, is affirmative action necessary to promoting diversity within our colleges and universities, and if so, why? Are there any alternatives to affirmative action in schools’ efforts to maintain a diverse student body?

You can find the application at this link: http://ellisinjurylaw.com/scholarships/

Candidates must email their submission as a Word document or PDF attachment to scholarships@alelaw.com on or before June 30, 2015. Winners will be announced within 30 business days of the application deadline.

Update: Deadline has been extended from December 2014 to June 30, 2015.

John Cho

John Cho of ‘Selfie’ Talks About Being an Asian American Actor in Reddit AMA

by JAMES S. KIM

What’s the difference between John Cho and Henry Higgins, the character Cho plays on ABC’s Selfie? Not much, apparently. Cho says he’s “pretty curmudgeonly about social media.” He doesn’t have a Facebook account, and although he has Twitter, he is very cautious of it — just like Higgins.

Earlier today, Cho participated in an “Ask Me Anything” Q&A, where he discussed his experiences in Harold & KumarStar Trek and even Better Luck Tomorrow. He also answered a few random questions from Redditors (he wants to be the next Batman!) and delved into some of the challenges he faced as an Asian American actor, from racism in the entertainment industry to finding fleshed-out roles for Asian Americans.

Here are some highlights:

How he is similar to his character Henry on Selfie:
“I am pretty curmudgeonly about social media. I don’t have Facebook and I’m on Twitter, but I go through periods where I’m scared of it, and resent it. Haha! And I don’t like how addictive it is, so I have to put it down. So I am cautious with social media, just like Henry. Henry has a better wardrobe, though,” Cho wrote.

On what drew him to the role on Selfie:
“What drew me in was the opportunity to play a character that I’m not typically asked to play,” Cho said. “I think it’s a very unique show on the tube right now. It’s got a very fun tone, and I can’t overstate this — Karen Gillan as the lead is fantastic.”

His thoughts on his co-star Karen Gillan:
“She’s an amazing actress, and a cool person to boot. It’s been a real privilege to work alongside her. You know what I find amazing? Because people in the UK are typically good at American accents, since they grow up with them? But what’s unusual about her is that she can pop in and out — she doesn’t speak American English between takes. … It’s bizarre. She’s particularly good at it.”

He added, “It’s funny. Karen is on Twitter and pretty good about tweeting. I am less of a tweeter, but have become more so as a result of the show.”

He wants to be Batman:
“I want a shot at playing Batman!” Cho eagerly wrote after being asked which Marvel or DC film role he would like to play. “Ben Affleck’s doing it next right? After Ben retires, I call next. A serious Asian tech billionaire maybe?”

His first time being recognized in public as an actor:
“The first time I really remember … I had shot American Pie, it was just a little bit role, I didn’t think anyone would know what the movie was,” Cho said. “I was out of the country, shooting another movie, and had missed the release of American Pie, and was unaware it was a really big hit. So I came back to America, and kids were chanting ‘MILF! MILF!’ at me on the street. And I was really confused, and it took me a while to understand what was happening actually.”

His experience as an Asian American actor in Hollywood:
“I experienced racism, and in my professional life, I try to take roles (and have always tried to take roles) that don’t fall within the parameters of any Asian stereotype. And so to me, hopefully, that’s a positive thing I can put into popular culture and so maybe in some bizarrely tiny way that helps people not think of Asians in one particular way.”

On Star Trek 3:
After stating that he has absolute confidence in Star Trek 3 director Bob Orci, Cho wrote, “I don’t know anything about Star Trek 3. I’m guessing I’m in it? I just went in for a costume fitting.”

On his overall experience on American Pie:
“It felt innocent. All those actors were young. I didn’t know anyone; they were all starting out. I didn’t know anything about the business, and Chris and Paul (the director and producer) were great,” Cho said about one of his earliest films.

“It could have been a forgettable gross out movie, but what carried the day was its earnestness and its characters, even though admittedly there’s a sexual pie, a man has sex with a pie, but I think there’s a lot of imitators and they were never able to quite capture the spirit of that movie, because what that movie did was effectively capture and remember what it felt like to be that age.”

On popularizing the term “MILF”:
“I don’t know that we needed it in our cultural vocabulary, but it was there and I was the conduit at that moment in time. It’s funny, and it started my comedy career inadvertently, but my joke answer is that I apologize for all the websites I’ve proliferated upon the world.”

On North Korea:
“My father was born in what is now North Korea. I saw a Frontline documentary on North Korea, and … There are people who are risking their lives to smuggle in DVDS with Western pop culture movies and TV shows,” Cho wrote. “It is considered a way to fight the regime by spreading images of Western Pop culture to show that what they’ve been saying about the West is untrue. It would be really amazing if they were aware of a person of Korean descent who was part of that popular culture and output.”

He also wants to be on Game of Thrones:
“I want to up my swordplay and be on Game of Thrones,” Cho said in response to a question asking him which TV show he wish he was a part of the cast. I guess if Cho were to meet John Snow on set, the two could take turns telling each other they know nothing.

His thoughts on Better Luck Tomorrow:
“We did feel that we were making something special. And that was part and parcel of a great movement in independent cinema that came out of the 1990s, but it came out of this great fervor,” Cho wrote about the 1992 crime drama that featured an Asian American cast.

“It felt like we were pushing against a membrane and never really broke through, but I was really proud to be a part of the pushing. And maybe nothing really similar has come along, partially because the business has changed to be less about independent cinema and more about television, that’s where the interesting content is going.”

On working on the Star Trek franchise:
“I would say first and foremost it’s a real pleasure to be working with JJ and that particular cast. Everybody involved in that production is pretty much at the top. They are among the best at what they do, so it’s a pleasure that way,” he wrote. “It’s an honor to be a part of this American cultural masterpiece.”

On George Takei:
“I find George to be fascinating. First of all, I know George and have been familiar with him for all my life. I also find it amazing that he has moved past being an actor and has become an American cultural icon. It’s pretty crazy. But people who’ve never seen Star Trek know who George Takei is, and if you say ‘Oh, my’ you know it’s the dude from Star Trek.”

When asked about receiving any tips from the original Sulu, Cho responded: “He was just very encouraging with me, because I was very very nervous, and he had put in a good word to JJ on my behalf. And I didn’t know that. And it meant the world to me that he approved of my casting.”

When he refused to do an accent for a film:
When Cho was asked to do a Chinese accent for Big Fat Liar, he declined. “I quietly thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this role in a kid’s comedy, with an accent, because I don’t want young people laughing at an accent inadvertently,'” Cho said. He explained that despite knowing that the filmmakers’ intent was not to jab at the accent, he “didn’t want to risk it.” Fortunately, the director Shawn Levy was willing to toss the accent and develop a new character for Cho.

“I bumped into him recently, and for him he says it was his first feature, and it was really awesome from HIS perspective that it was a good reminder that actors need to feel invested and the importance of collaboration, but for ME it was important that someone understood where I was coming from politically as far as representation of Asian-Americans.”

His plans for a zombie apocalypse:
“I’m inclined to get eaten as quickly as possible and get it over with,” Cho responded, clearly amused. “I hate being chased, it’s the subject of all my nightmares. Let’s eliminate the chase.”

To read more of John Cho’s answers, check out his AMA thread on Reddit.

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Survey: Asian Americans Still Support Affirmative Action, But Korean American Opinions Less Clear

by EUGENE YI

It’s survey time again. More than two thirds of Asian Americans in California support affirmative action, according to new figures released this week by the National Asian American Survey, the group behind some of the best Asian American-centric polling of the last few years. These numbers, conducted Aug. 14-28 in a collaboration with the Field Poll, align with what’s generally been reported the past few years, and are given extra salience after the brouhaha earlier this year when a vocal Asian American opposition to affirmative action torpedoed a California state Senate amendment (known as SCA 5) that could have potentially restored some aspects of the policy to university admissions.

But as with everything Asian American, digging a little deeper into the survey numbers is crucial, something that Karthick Ramakrishnan, of the University of California, Riverside, and Taeku Lee, of the University of California, Berkeley, the authors behind the survey, understand intimately; the work they’ve done for the National Asian American Survey spotlights some of the difficulties in surveying Asian Americans.

The poll interviewed 1,280 registered Californian voters of all ethnicities, with oversampling of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese populations, as well as in-language interviews in Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Spanish. Overall, 68 percent favored affirmative action, 25 percent opposed, and 9 percent had no opinion. Asian Americans showed even higher levels of support, with 69 percent in favor, 13 percent against, and 18 percent with no opinion. African Americans and Latinos, meanwhile, registered even higher rates of support, at 83 and 81 percent, respectively.

Disaggregation in Asian American polling is always part of the fun, and they reveal Korean Americans to be outliers. About 47 percent of Korean Americans favored affirmative action, but a strikingly high 40 percent offered no opinion. Overall, 18 percent of Asian Americans offered no opinion. But does this indicate some well of ambivalence regarding the policy? Digging a bit deeper, Ramakrishnan said that 75 of the 107 Korean interviewees conducted their polls in Korean, of whom 55 percent offered no opinion, 35 percent were in favor, and 10 percent were opposed. The results stand out from the NAAS 2012 survey, which did not find Korean Americans to be outliers when it comes to being unopinionated on affirmative action, according to Lee. More polling appears to be required on this question.

 A split was also found between northern and southern California, with 81 percent of Northern California responses in favor of affirmative action, and 60 percent in Southern California. This would seem to reinforce the regional base of much of the anti-affirmative action protesting of earlier this year. But it could also reflect some of the regional disparities in Southern California, according to Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. Liberal Los Angeles is balanced out by the surrounding counties, he said.

All of this provides an object lesson in some of the frustrating complexities of modern American democracy. Was it really a small and vocal minority that hijacked the conversation around affirmative action earlier this year, as some have alleged? Would the protesters have been included in a survey like this, given that many of the protesters were likely recent immigrants, and this survey relied on registered voter rolls? What other groups aren’t being included when we talk about polling?

Regardless, these numbers will inevitably be widely quoted, and if these data accurately reflect the public opinion, then at least with regards to the contentious SCA 5 battle, it’s a reminder of the power of the vocal minority. Or in this case, a minority of a minority.

All of this goes to show the difficulty in trying to poll, let alone to extrapolate from such numbers. So as always, a hat tip to Ramakrishnan, Lee and their colleagues for performing such important work. Ramakrishnan offered to provide KoreAm with more detailed analysis of the Korean American population, which will be posted once it becomes available.

The survey also included some general question on the state of the country, as well as on the death penalty. More information can be found here.

Featured image: A protestor holds up a sign opposing the controversial affirmative action measure in California, known as SCA 5. Image via NBC Bay Area.

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20 Years Later, Margaret Cho Looks Back on ‘All-American Girl’

All Grown Up

Margaret Cho reflects on All-American Girl, 20 years after its primetime debut on ABC.

by MICHELLE WOO
photo by LINDSEY BYRNES

In the history of network television, ’90s sitcom All-American Girl faded in and out faster than a thumbprint on a Hypercolor T-shirt.

But for people who looked like me, it was monumental.

On the evening of September 14, 1994, Asian Americans from coast to coast sat in front of their TV sets and held their breath as the opening credits appeared and a spunky Margaret Cho walked down a staircase in a ripped denim jacket and feathered bangs, while talking like a Valley Girl on a Zack Morris-style cordless phone. Collectively, we murmured to ourselves, “Please don’t let this show suck.”

All-American Girl was the first network sitcom to feature a predominantly Asian American cast—a milestone that brought tempered hope for a group that had for decades been reduced to kung fu fighters, dragon ladies and kooky bucktoothed neighbors in mainstream media portrayals. Cho played Margaret Kim, a college student living at home with her culture-clashed Korean American family that included her bookstore-owning mom and dad (Jodi Long and Clyde Kusatsu), older brother (B.D. Wong) and zany grandmother (Amy Hill).

ABC billed the show as based on the comedy of Cho, a then-25-year-old rising star on the stand-up circuit, loved (and sometimes hated) for her loud, raucous and unapologetically crude routines. (“I wanted it to be called ‘The Margaret Cho Show’ because I am such a f-ckin’ egomaniac,” she said onstage before the pilot aired.)

But The Margaret Cho Show it wasn’t, and that may have doomed the series from day one. Instead of inspiring laughter, All-American Girl mostly brought looks of confusion. Critics panned the show for its bad jokes, stereotyped characters and banal storylines that endorsed, rather than shattered, ethnic myths. The show’s ultimate cancellation after 19 episodes sent Cho into a spiral of depression and drug addiction, as detailed in her 2002 autobiography, I’m The One That I Want.

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Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Twenty years later, Cho, 45, has gained perspective on the experience, and with the progress in the media and society over the past two decades, holds high hopes for Fresh Off The Boat—a new ABC sitcom based on Eddie Huang’s bestselling memoir about growing up as a hip-hop loving kid in suburban Orlando. It’s the first network TV show since All-American Girl to be centered on an Asian American family.

Cho talks with KoreAm about All-American Girl and what it meant for Asian Americans, who almost never saw faces like theirs on TV. Perhaps writer Philip W. Chung summed it up best when he wrote in a 1994 Los Angeles Times column: “The most incredible thing about the series is that it even exists.”

Where were you in your life just before All-American Girl?
I was doing stand-up comedy, and I was traveling a lot and working a lot. I was still really young, but I wanted to become an adult, and comedy was what I thought would be the fastest path to adulthood, and it really was. I never thought about the overreaching kinds of things like race and identity. I just wanted to get out of the kind of environment that I was living in. I didn’t want to do what my family expected of me. I wasn’t going to school at the time, so that was already, like, amazingly weird and brave for an Asian American.

How did the show come about?
TV networks were giving development deals to stand-up comedians. There was a lot of that happening, a ton more than now.

Did you have much creative control?
No. No. I didn’t know how to get that, and it was never offered to me.

What did you think when you first read the script?
I thought it was really too much of a kids’ show, and it wasn’t really what I did as a stand-up comedian. They had understood me as a performer wrongly. But I wanted the show to be on the air, so I wanted to be whatever they wanted me to be. For me, this could be job security in an industry where you never know if you’re going to work again. So I just wanted to do anything to make sure the show would happen. I didn’t feel like I had the choice to argue for what I needed.

As the star of the first Asian American family sitcom on network TV, the pressure must have been immense.
I was alone in the situation. Nobody had any advice for me. I couldn’t ask anybody because nobody knew what I was going through. I was the only person who had ever done this. I had nobody who could tell me what the right move was. I was too young to understand what to do or how to deal with it, and everyone just wanted to get a show on the air. And people didn’t realize that having the first Asian American family on TV comes with a lot of cultural baggage that needs to be addressed.

And to top it off, you were criticized for your weight. (In I’m The One That I Want, Cho wrote that she was forced to lose weight rapidly—30 pounds in two weeks—which led to serious kidney failure.)
That was a major thing that came up with the initial camera tests. But it had never come up throughout the development process, and it wasn’t until we were very close to shooting that I heard that complaint. It’s a really terrifying thing to be told, “Well, you don’t qualify for this job that you’ve been a part of all this time because you’re too fat.” I have a feeling, though, that it really wasn’t about my weight. Why wouldn’t they have said something much earlier? I think they just didn’t know how to photograph Asian faces. Asian American faces, at that point, were so foreign, and they didn’t know what to do with people who were different.

When the show aired, what was the reaction from the Asian American community?
The reaction was very mixed. A lot of the younger people were excited about it because it was the first time they saw Asian Americans on TV. That’s a really big deal. Other people were angry that it wasn’t what I normally did as a comedian. And I think other people were, like, waiting to be offended by the show, but were more offended by the fact that I was chosen to do that role. My comedy is much more edgy than anything I would do on mainstream television, and my move toward mainstream television was somehow considered an offensive thing.

People were also concerned about whether you were “too Asian” or “not Asian enough.”
The weirdness of being the first Asian American—I guess, for lack of a better word—star, is that people are constantly judging you. They’re asking, ‘Where do you fit on this idea of who we are?’ With ethnic identity, there’s a right way to be and a wrong way to be, and that’s a really weird thing. The panic comes from not seeing Asians Americans on television, so the few images we do have of them become overly scrutinized.

If you’re coming into visibility, you’re the first person to write the story, and it’s very hard to do that first. What is your identity if you’ve never seen yourself before? How do you carve it out of nothing? That’s a really challenging thing as a performer.

What the All-American Girl did was point out that we are invisible. You don’t understand invisibility until you realize that you’re not invisible anymore. It absolutely was more important than just television or just entertainment. We’re talking about this idea of visibility versus power in society. It’s a huge, huge thing.

In the past 20 years, how have media portrayals of Asian Americans changed?
There still is a lot of invisibility. But it’s better. Certainly, it’s better. There are many more Asian American characters, and the entire industry has expanded exponentially. There are so many television channels and so much more media, including online, and everything that we didn’t even have before. Now people can sort of enjoy [shows with Asian Americans] for the comedy itself, and the humor comes from this organic place. It’s a good thing.

What are your thoughts on the next Asian American family sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat?
I love what they’re doing with Fresh Off The Boat. It’s really funny, the cast is really talented, and the writing is really strong. I really love Eddie Huang’s point of view and perspective. His humor is close to what I would want to do if I were to create a show. It’s like, how do you figure out who you are when you don’t see yourself out there? Here’s a kid who does just that. He finds himself. I think that’s really powerful.

Eddie and I have been in really close contact since the show started, and I feel like, oh my God, my experience actually is really valuable here. I’ll tell him things I wish I had known. What people are buying, in his brand and his image, is identity. His fans want to see themselves in him. This show can be an extension of that, so I think I’m helping him understand his importance, even though I didn’t understand mine at the time.

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(ABOVE) The cast of All-American Girl; (BELOW) the cast of Fresh Off the Boat, based on Eddie Huang’s book, to premiere in 2015 on ABC.

What’s new in your life?
I’m working on standup. I’m doing a new record and a new tour that I’m about to go on the road with. I’m back to doing what I really love.

How do you ultimately feel when you look back on All-American Girl?
In the end, I was really grateful to have done it. It really helped me understand a lot more about show business. When re-watching the episodes, I totally forgot some of the stuff that had happened because we were immersed in it. I was just trying to survive within the work of it. I just wanted to keep it going. I wanted to stay alive.

The cast was very close. I’m still friends with all of the actors. B.D Wong and Jodi Long, I see more often.

I’m really grateful for the effect that it had on people who grew up watching it. For a lot people, it was the first time that they saw Asian Americans on television, and that’s really cool. I feel like it did accomplish a lot. It didn’t do exactly what I thought it was going to do, but in a lot of ways, I think it did more. It was a good way to grow up.

This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).