As both the founder and editor of the blog, Angry Asian Man, Phil Yu began his lecture remarking that, “I guess that kind of makes me the Angry Asian Man, but please, just call me Phil!” In a lecture co-sponsored by the Asian Cultural Society, Hamilton American/Chinese Exchange, and the Days-Massolo Center, Phil Yu shared the story of his journey to find his voice through the blog he started 15 years ago, and how this experience has changed his own approach to claiming and defining his own identity.
The blog Angry Asian Man focuses on “pretty much a little bit of everything having to do with Asian American experience” explained Yu. The first image greeting users reading the blog is a picture of the 1980’s G.I. Joe action figure, Quick Kick. Yu adopted the fictional character as the blog’s unofficial mascot because “he actually mirrors the blog in a lot of ways,” claimed Yu, who recounted his excitement as a child when he first saw the action hero.
“He was my favorite because he was Asian American, he looked like me,” an experience that Yu said was novel for him. At the same time though, “he was [a] very stereotypical” portrayal of Asian Americans in a lot of ways “which even as a kid, I thought was weird.” This “collision of race and culture playing out in weird and funny ways” is what led Yu to associate Quick Kick with his blog, which he claims toys with that very same dynamic.
While Yu originally started the blog in 2001 mostly as a way “to carve out a little space on the Internet” to “have a voice.” In 2002, he quickly realized that his blog had grown into something much more influential than he had ever imagined.
When news of a small protest against the clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch broke out over a t-shirt featuring the fictional “Wong Brothers Laundry Service” reading “TWO WONGS CAN MAKE A WHITE” reached Yu, he posted the contact information of the company’s headquarters on his blog. This inspired “a mobilized movement, and the link was circulated around the world” and the line of shirts was recalled. Yu explained that it was then that he realized “people are actually listening to what I’m saying, this is an awesome tool I have,” and “I need to use it for something.”
In retrospect, Yu credits watching the documentary “Who Killed Vincent Chin,” which he watched as part of Asian Americans in Media course as an undergraduate, as the moment that he realized “this is my story too” and was reminded of all the times he was “made to feel unwelcome in the country he had been born in.”
In fact, the very class that he watched the documentary for was the direct result of students holding a 23-day hunger strike in order to establish an Asian American Studies department at Northwestern University four years prior. “Many of those students never got to take a class in the department” said Yu. “I am the recipient of them putting their bodies on the line, those students fought for me.”
The stories Yu posts range from the purely comical, like a Japanese advertisement for a sleeping bag with legs “so you can run away if a bear comes,” to the deeply offensive, like a series of racist Halloween costumes that are regularly sold in the U.S., such as “Child Little Geisha.”
Yu noted “a lot of people come to my blog because they want to get angry and be informed, and some come to be entertained with videos of cute Asian babies or Japanese sleeping bags with legs. My hope is that they come for one thing, and stay for the other.” Yu explained that “It’s a conversation starter, it’s the way the Internet works best when you can get people to talk about this content.” It “spurs people to have a laugh while talking about something difficult.”
In closing , Yu asserted, “Asians are not seen as angry people,” but as the “passive, docile, good little minority who won’t stand up and act out. I know you know what the stereotype placed on us is, but it’s another thing for us to accept that” and with his parting advice, Yu urged everyone to “stay angry.”