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9.19.2010

guest post: 3g upgrade

I'm on vacation! Taking a much-needed break. But don't worry. While I'm away, I've enlisted some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Michael Kang on the third generation.

It's been a while since I've blogged about anything, so when Mr. Man (or as I've gotten to know him over the years as my dear friend "Angry") asked me to guest blog I jumped at the chance. Of course, it hadn't occurred to me that I stopped blogging for a reason -- I had run out of things to say.

As I've gotten older, while I have not gotten any less Asian, I am starting to wonder if I am still "angry" enough to blog. Those of you that ever bothered to read my Xanga blog (yes, XANGA, that's how you know it was a long time ago. BTW hit me up on Friendster if you like what you see here.)... anyhoo if you read my blog, you could probably attest to the fact that my posts were of three distinct varieties: 1. self-righteousness 2. self-promotion 3. public service announcements. By the time I wound down, it was pretty much just the public service variety -- when you start blogging, you realize there is no shortage of people's shows in a basement theaters in New York or links to online petition to let some Congressperson know that Asian Americans exist. But now that I don't have a film coming out any time soon, I don't really have much to self-promote (though you can get both of my films "The Motel" and "West 32nd" on Netflix or Amazon... or download them on bittorrent if you like, I don't see a penny either way).

As I contemplated this guest blogging duty, I had to ask myself "Am I angry enough to post on Angry Asian Man?" In my twenties, I had a lot to be angry about. There were few Asian Americans like me to look to as role models growing up. I wasn't sure if this whole filmmaker track made any sense at all. In my personal life, I seemed to run a streak of relationships with women (Asian and non) where I was the first Asian guy they'd been with (and despite the debate I'd recently gotten into about this very matter) if you are in that position, you DO have a responsibility to represent for all Asian men (grades on performance and execution). But these days, there are a growing number of Asian American filmmakers out there. And I no longer have to worry about being the Asian male experience for any woman because I've long since passed that torch on to much younger, hotter and single'r guys out there. So what do I have to blog about?

Recently, I was interviewed for a podcast and the question came up about inter-generational communication in the Asian American community. I've had this question thrown at me before. But the thing that threw me about the question was that the interviewer was not only asking about the typical Joy Luck Club 1st generation versus 2nd generation issue but also the inclusion of now the 2nd generation vs. THE 3RD GENERATION!

There is a new generation of Asian Americans in this country who grew up with parents who speak English as poorly as any public schooled Caucasian and find as much comfort in foods like pizza as they do in kimchee. What is it that will define this 3G and what struggles do they face that are different from the 2G? And what kind of tensions will exist between the 2G and 3G as they try to communicate?

As I was growing up, I remember having to navigate through the social hierarchies of high school, college and eventually career without the fantasy safety net of a Ward Cleaver-esque father at home to give me those heart-to-heart pep talks when things weren't going so well.  Now that I am a father though, I wonder if I will understand what it is to be a post-Obama Asian American? Will the 3G get excited when they see some Asian face in the background of a Wendy's commercial and run to their computer to google them? Will it phase them at all? The 3G have a bunch of Asian faces on TV and films to look at -- John Cho, Sung Kang, Grace Park, Daniel Dae Kim, Margaret Cho, Ken Jeong, etc. (all Korean BTW) -- with actual bodies of work to look back on as well. And this kind of representation isn't limited to just entertainment, we now have Asian Americans in all fields at some of the top levels from politics to sports to fashion to business and the list goes on. Will the 3G be embarrassed when we 2G go off on some tangent like how there should be more Asian American male news anchors and treat us like the grandfather who can't stop farting at Thanksgiving? Will anger cease to make sense to the 3G?

And if anger is off the table, what is it that will define this next generation?

I guess to answer that, I need to answer the question of what defines the 2G. Are the 2G defined by anger? I could be completely off-base with this since I am speaking from the obstructed-view seating of someone in the 2G, but one thing comes to mind: Whenever I have spoken to Asian American groups, the question inevitably comes up "What did your parents think about you doing what you're doing?" If anything defines the 2G, it might be this: "WE CARE TOO MUCH WHAT ARE PARENTS THINK!" We have a whole generation of over-achieving Asians because we are all so afraid to let our parents down. We worked hard to get into the best schools and get good jobs, sometimes at the cost of actually thinking about whether we wanted to or not. So in all fairness, even we the 2G can't be defined by anger (maybe individually we can and I think the older guard of 2G from the 70s were very angry) but ultimately, we are less angry because we are too damn busy living up to our parents expectations (which has been the cause of a lot of neurosis, some bitterness and maybe some acting out -- but I am not sure if any of that really counts as focused productive anger).

I recently had a revelation about the 1G though. For all the pressure they typically have put on their children to do well in school, work hard, get a good job, follow the straight and narrow path, yadda yadda yadda; they never speak about the one true lesson they have imparted on us -- the 1G taught us bravery. It was a lesson taught through example. At some point in their lives in Asia, they decided that life wasn't enough -- enough money, enough opportunity, enough food, enough happiness, something wasn't enough in Asia. And so they made a conscious decision to go out and get MORE. They traveled to a completely foreign country where they no longer were part of the majority, had to learn the language (or in some cases, figure out how to maneuver without learning the language), work their asses off and hope it all worked out. Why? Despite what any of those Korean mom's say about sacrificing so their children could blah blah blah, they did it for themselves. They did it because they wanted more and they did it fearlessly. Each and every one of them were figuring it out as they were going along. And this is the most important lesson we can hope to take away from them -- learn to be brave.

From what I've seen around me coming out of the 2G in the past twenty years, I think it most definitely has been learned. In fact, it may not even be a learned skill. This could be genetic like black hair, lactose intolerance or turning red when you drink. This handing down of what I'll call the "bravery gene" must explain why there are so many 2G Asian Americans kicking ass whether it's on America's Best Dance Crew, on the PGA tour, in the Obama administration or wherever -- it's in our DNA to kick ass!

So I guess when it comes to this new 3rd Gen, the only thing I can hope for is that this bravery gene is not recessive. The doors are now open to the possibilities that Asians can define themselves and define the larger community by just doing what they do (whatever that may be) and doing it very well. Maybe the 3G don't need anger as long as they are brave.

I guess that's about all I have left in me to blog about... that is until my next movie comes out. Thanks for reading.

Michael Kang is a filmmaker. He made films you've read about on Angry Asian Man.