I heard the lyric "anger is a gift" from Rage Against The Machine's "Freedom" in the summer of 1993. Those words were a bull-headed push for a first-generation Asian-American teenager in a predominately white suburb, fueling the already-aggravated fire of my 15-year-old brain.
I'd grown up using anger as a tool to galvanize me whenever the odds were against my favor, whether the fight was in social circles, dating, or work. That same intensity made me want to punch the fucking fake teeth out of Mickey Rooney's racist caricature in Breakfast at Tiffany's and scream at all those sexless Asian nerds from 80s comedies to grow a goddamn spine.
Bruce Lee was the sole Asian hero for my entire childhood, as he probably was for any Asian-American kid in my generation. He defined perfection in physical form and fighting skill, along with his charisma and philosophy. By my early teens, I identified most with Bruce Lee's onscreen (and likely off-screen) anger. I had no intention of learning martial arts or becoming an actor, so Bruce became my Patron Saint of Furious Defiance.
I'd find out, over many relationships and burned bridges, that anger is difficult to temper into compassion. Whatever bold mask I'd assume, to force myself into visibility, would often devolve into volatility or stubborn pride.
I spent all of 2013 writing the script to my first original long-form comic, A Challenge inspired by Bruce Lee's 1964 fight against Wong Jack Man. I created the character Frank Yuen as a clumsy counter to Bruce and Jack, an exaggeration of my own worst qualities. I wanted to show the consequences of jealousy and rage, reacting against the constant unchecked hatred I witness on the internet and in real life.
As I continue A Challenge in 2016, just a quick glance at the news can send me into a spiral of despair. There's no shortage of venom in this country and I'm exhausted by it. If anger was a weapon I'd been wielding, it's been blunted by the hate-filled world we're currently living in. I'm also humbled by the suffering and perseverance of the vast majority of people who have it way worse than I do.
Anger still works simply to push me out of my comfort zone these days. There will always be righteous causes to fight for, and Asian Americans still have a lot of walking to do for progress. A Challenge is the only way I can make sense of a lifetime of anger and a desire for representation… and I guess we could always use another reminder that Bruce Lee kicked ass.
Jeremy Arambulo is an LA-based cartoonist, storyboard artist, and designer. He currently plays drums for BAD IN BED and writes songs as FLUORESCENT BEIGE.