Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reaction to "Why You Should Never Listen to Asian American 'Writers' of Angst"

The Korean has received a lot of comments and emails expressing agreement with his reaction to Wesley Yang's "Paper Tigers" article. Below is a reaction from reader T.J.S., posted with his permission. The Korean is posting T.J.S.'s email because his experience is exactly what the Korean envisioned as he was writing the reaction.

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Dear Korean,

I just wanted to write to thank you for the very thoughtful and comprehensive smackdown of Wesley Yang's "Paper Tigers" article. My sister posted that article on her Facebook page for comment and I found myself shaking my head in disgust for many of the same reasons noted in your blog post.

I, like you, am a Korean-American lawyer practicing in the D.C. area. I am happily married to a gorgeous and wonderful woman. I earn a six figure income. I did well in school (although I probably slacked more than many of my Korean-American peers). Indeed, on paper I would appear to be the type of robot-Asian stereotype that Yang derides. However, before I went to law school I was a professional musician -- poor, touring all the time and partying more than was probably healthy. In other words, I was living the type of life that one with the stereotypical "Asian-American values" would never get into. The thing is, throughout that period of my life, I still revered my mother (who raised me and my sister alone after my father passed away when we were young, put us through school, and managed to put herself in a comfortable financial position in life by sheer hard work, discipline, and frugality), still worked hard (managing and booking the band before we got management as well as consistently practicing and improving as a musician), and still stayed true to the values that my mother instilled in me.

At some point, however, I realized that I wanted a family, financial security and all of the other things that working and succeeding in the real world bring. I live a far more comfortable life now. But I certainly don't think that I sold out in any way. I still play music (both live and recording), except now I can afford the guitars and home recording equipment that were beyond my reach when I was a starving artist. I still stay true to my fairly rebellious nature. I just think about the future more and yes, I sacrifice for it. I suppose Wesley would call me a sell out or something like that, but I care not about what that dude thinks. He seems to think that you can only be either an "artist" or a materialistic robot-Asian -- he does not realize (or refuses to acknowledge) that you do not have to be one or the other. Individual people are not so easily put into easily categorized boxes -- unless they are like Wesley Yang.

In any event, enough about me. I just wanted to say thanks -- you pretty much nailed the exact reason why I found Yang's article so distasteful.

Best regards,


Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Agreed! Great letter!

    I think Wesley Yang should read Amy Chua's book.

    Being creative takes lots of discipline. I would bet almost all of the Asian-Americans out there that are in "non-traditional" Asian-American careers got to where they are by the discipline and study/work habits that were instilled from their Asian parents. Being rebellious and poor does not help anyone.

    I myself went the medical route for schooling, and 6 years after working, mostly left the profession, and opened up a small biz completely unrelated. HOWEVER, the skills learned and used from my schooling and from my practice helped me operate the new business. Being organized, methodical, doing your research, working hard, following through, attention to detail, etc....all those skills are vital to becoming successful in every profession.

  2. My Japanese-Korean American son, at age 12 (7th grade) said to me "Mom, what I am supposed to be? Am I supposed to be a nerd (smart, studied diligently), a musician (played piano & trumpet) or an athlete (basketball, baseball).
    I told him "all of the above."

    At age 28 now, he is all of the above and financially well-off due to his "nerd" part. He has many options because of his diligence and financial health. He is also responsible, considerate and thoughtful. He makes me a very thankful Mom.

  3. @T.J.S.

    He seems to think that you can only be either an "artist" or a materialistic robot-Asian -- he does not realize (or refuses to acknowledge) that you do not have to be one or the other. Individual people are not so easily put into easily categorized boxes -- unless they are like Wesley Yang.

    Great point. That is the main issue I had about his piece. He tries to pigeon-hole Asian Americans into his very narrow world-view.

    40 years ago, it was relatively easy to define the phrase "Asian American" - recent immigrants from Asia with similar socio-economic backgrounds. Now, despite what Wesley Yang apparently thinks, the term "Asian American" encompasses a vast mosaic of people, ideas, and lifestyles. You can find Asian Americans in every conceivable corner of life in America. Yes, there are the doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers, but you will also find significant Asian American representation in the fine arts, in the movie industry, in fashion, in car design, in culinary arts, in police work, fire departments, in the military, in non profit organizations, in gangs, in prisons, etc., etc., etc. And as T.J.S. mentions, each of these Asian Americans is an individual who don't fit into a neat "Asian American" category.

    But Wesley Yang does not acknowledge this in his piece which is hugely problematic. I thought he might after reading the first part of his article, but he quickly devolves into the same old arguments.

    Perhaps some of his self-righteous anger could have been directed at the fact that a significant percentage of underachieving Asian American students are not given the attention that they need from teachers and school administrators because they are oftentimes lumped into the whole of the overachieving Asian American stereotype. But of course, if he had done that, there goes the cover story.

    Really, it's bad enough when non Asians try to confine Asian Americans into these antiquated stereotypes; it's much worse when other Asian Americans, who should know better, try to do the same.

  4. Just saw this video.

    It shows the Asian American community that I'm aware of - a sexy smorgasbord of beautiful people living life and doing their thing... check it out!

  5. I don't think Yang was deriding asian values in his article. he was simply stating that he does not bide by them. and i believe it was more for effect than anything else. The "fck this fck that" was just him pronouncing (loudly, to make a point) that not all asians are the same and hold the same values, or should, and certainly not him. You and so many people are taking this way too literal and taking offense to it (possibly from a lack of emotional intelligence perhaps?)

    regarding artist vs robot, if everyone did what you did - "sell out," stop challenging notions and authority and become an office worker - there would be no true art composed in this world. great! I'd probably be considered a sellout myself but i do know some true artists and they would never give up their art, no matter how much they're struggling - way too obsessed - so quite simply, you probably were not meant to be a musician...just as Wesley Yang was not meant to be a lawyer, but a poor writer.

    however, of course you can find a career doing what you love but most likely, doing what you love won't get you a 6 figure salary. if you're comfortable with the choices you've made, then why does it bother you that Yang didn't make similar choices? i think he is just showing in his article that he is one individual that didn't go the financially secure, practical route that most asians (case in point, YOU and the korean) do.

    Also, to the Korean -
    Not to take away from your blog, but i could tell within reading your first paragraph, from your writing, that you are Korean, not korean-american. I think that this is why you hugely missed the point (and nuances) of Yang's article. You say that it was self-indulgent and self-righteous but i didn't get that AT ALL. He does talk about himself but MANY "Writers" do this (deopending on the piece). It's effective, editorially, to write from a personal perspective. Considering the topic in this case, i think it was not only appropriate but necessary. I also think Yang was self-deprecating (not self-righteous) and was including us, the readers, with his struggles in his decision to stick with who he truly is, and not what the values he grew up with told him to be, which is something other asians can relate to. I think it just bothered you (and other asians out there) because you wanted a more successful, positive picture painted of the "asian male"; instead readers got Yang.

  6. You say that it was self-indulgent and self-righteous but i didn't get that AT ALL.

    Then you are reading it wrong.

    Considering the topic in this case, i think it was not only appropriate but necessary.

    The topic was Wesley Yang. So yes, it was necessary to use a personal account. But apparently you think the topic is about Asian Americans in general. In that case, having a story that is dominated by and utterly dependent on Yang's personal history is not appropriate.


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