Amid rising activism among students and faculty for Penn to dedicate more resources to the Asian American Studies program, the creator of the Asian-American news and culture blog Angry Asian Man Phil Yu addressed issues of minority representation and activism on campus.
Yu, whose blog has over 67,000 likes on Facebook, spoke at the 12th biannual Chai House hosted by Penn Sangam, a discussion group focused on Pan-Asian cultural identity. He discussed why he created the blog and why he became more involved in Asian-American activism.
Yu said he was not always passionate about representation in media or other issues affecting Asian Americans. He said the moment it "clicked" was when he learned about Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was beaten to death in 1982 by two white autoworkers in Michigan.
“All of the sudden, I thought about the times I was threatened with violence, called racial slurs or made to feel like I didn’t belong in the country I was born in,” Yu said.
For Yu, this moment also pointed to an erasure of Asian-American perspectives from history. He said many Asian Americans only learn about Vincent Chin’s story after finishing school, if at all.
“I hear about crimes committed against other minorities pretty often, but this was the first time I heard about Vincent Chin,” Kevin Kreider said. Kreider is a Philadelphia resident who came to campus for the event. “I was upset that this wasn’t treated as a big deal, and that I was only learning about this now. It showed how little people value Asian Americans and Asian-American men.”
The discussion of Asian-American representation follows months of uncertainty over the future of Penn’s Asian American Studies program. The Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board, which co-sponsored the meeting with Yu, is fighting to preserve ASAM from what they have called a lack of commitment from administrators.
“Asian American Studies at Penn is in a dire situation,” said Yuan Zou, a member of the ASAM Undergraduate Advisory Board. “Seeing Yu’s success is inspiring and really shows us how much we can do.”
After witnessing Asian-American activism on campus grow since her freshman year, Sangam President and Engineering junior JingJing Zeng said she hopes Sangam will transition from a discussion-based to an action-based group.
“As minorities, a lot of the privilege we have is accredited to the Civil Rights Movement and what black and brown people have been doing throughout history,” Zeng said. “Now is the time to give back, especially in this political era. Asian Americans are starting to realize that they’re not immune to racism and prejudice.”
Zeng said that although a quiet, obedient stereotype has historically helped Asian Americans assimilate, the community is now at a point where “we need to shed away that image and be okay with the repercussions.”
Yu named his blog “Angry Asian Man” specifically to subvert the model minority myth that typically describes Asian people as passive, and therefore a "model" for other minorities.
“We’re supposed to sit down, shut up, not rock the boat. Be the passive ones, let shit happen to us,” Yu said. “I wanted something that provoked that image. Because when you get angry, you get shit done.”