The term “Asian-American” may be a recent construct. Before Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition, this multiracial group protested a Eurocentric curriculum and a scarcity of diversity on campus, resulting in the establishment of ethnic studies programs at San Francisco State University and Berkeley, and a rise in faculty members of color.
Over 50 years later, Asian-Americans are still trying to seek out ourselves within the diaspora. Much of what it actually means to be “Asian-American” remains up within the air.
Jeff Ng — better referred to as Jeff Staple — had one among those moments when he first met John C. Jay, a former Wieden+Kennedy ad exec who oversaw a number of Nike’s best campaigns (like the “City Attack” spots) that still influence how the Swoosh cares cultural marketing. Jay is currently the president of worldwide creative at Uniqlo.
Staple recalls being at the Wieden+Kennedy headquarters in Portland, watching a breakdance exhibition by the Rocksteady Crew, when an older Asian guy sat next to him and therefore the two began talking. once they sussed out their respective identities, they reacted with an incredulous: “But you’re Chinese!”
“It’s so telling because there wouldn’t be the idea that every folks would’ve been Asian,” says Staple. “The assumption is that if they’re therein position… they need to be white.”
There’s a high density of Asian faces within the area where sneakers, streetwear, and cult fashion brands meet within the middle. It’s not hard to ascertain that on the buyer side, as any shoppable city within the US is host to variety of well-heeled Asian tourists and Asian-Americans in neck-breaking jawns.
It might be enough to elucidate how Neek Lurk went from lurking on forums like NikeTalk to running Stüssy’s social media and becoming a millionaire off his self-aware streetwear brand Anti Social Social Club. consistent with Kyle Ng, founding father of dead , ASSC is perhaps the foremost Asian-American streetwear brand around — but not just within the way Neek includes South Korea and Filipino flags on his gear, or flips stereotypes like import car culture and therefore the kawaii Bratz-meets-Homies characters that were commonplace on fledgling internet communities like AsianAvenue.
“He speaks to the Asian condition,” he says. “You’re anti-social social! It’s those kids on message boards wearing Supreme, but they’re also very quiet and shy. what percentage nerdy Asian kids have you ever seen that rock the craziest fits?”
Like the apparel industry , street culture has welcomed Asian-American creatives and entrepreneurs for a short time . There’s been an honest amount of representation starting from skateboarding (Shogo Kubo, Christian Hosoi, and Daewon Song), streetwear (Mighty Healthy’s Ray Mate, Stüssy/Maiden Noir designer Nin Truong, Cactus Plant Flea Market’s Cynthia Lu), retail (Commonwealth’s Omar Quiambao, Extra Butter’s Bernie Gross, and Eric Peng Cheng, the OG behind pickyourshoes.com, BAIT, and Undefeated), and sneakers (Nike exec David Creech, basketball design director Leo Chang, Jordan Brand energy guru Gemo Wong, ASICS brand manager Marc Marquez, and Reebok’s collaboration king Leo Gamboa). the simplest part is there’s always room for more.
Overseas, the NIGOs and Hiroshi Fujiwaras of the planet operate in their own universe, and for all intents and purposes, aren’t known for being dope and Asian.
Asian-Americans working and participating within the milieu of streetwear and sneakers have a singular advantage therein their customers aren’t a mirrored image of a brand’s vision, but a brand’s community. It’s easier for a White , a Black , and an Asian person to attach over a sneaker Jordan wore, a tie-dye North Face jacket, or a graphic tee with an esoteric hip-hop reference. And for several Asians within the industry, they’re more focused on preserving the monolith instead of carving out a bit for themselves.
For every recognizable Asian-American face in street culture today, there are more who have flourished — and still do so — behind the scenes. There’s Peter Chung, a prolific designer who’s worked for Supreme, Nike, and released a highly underrated lo-fi hip-hop album under the moniker Cool Calm Pete; the late Jonas Bevacqua, co-founder of LRG; Jayne Goheen, whose Céline skate decks launched thousand mood boards, and now’s the creative director of Stüssy Women’s; and Chris Julian of FRUITION and UNKNWN.
In his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois describes double consciousness as “this sense of always watching one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that appears on in amused contempt and pity.” It’s an indoor duality that stems from having to exist in two separate worlds directly . Du Bois places it within the context of America’s black-and-white racial binary, but it’s definitely something I felt growing up Asian-American without realizing such a term encapsulated it so succinctly.
There are many examples where this went on with food. Eddie Huang’s written extensively about how an Asian school lunch can instantly turn a child into a cafeteria outcast. Carol Lim, who co-founded Opening Ceremony with Humberto Leon in 2002, can relate.
But for people like Kyle Ng, that alienation also happened with style and interests. He began idolizing skater Daniel Shimizu after seeing his parts in Foundation’s That’s Life video, putting him onto slimmer pants and Nike SB Dunks, which were finally starting to break through within the skating community.
All that progress wasn’t just halted, but pushed back significantly within the wake of Covid-19. Hate crimes against Asian-Americans in ny City have gone up by 227 percent — starting from a lady getting punched within the face in K-Town for not wearing a mask to a Brooklyn woman who had caustic fluid poured on her as she took out the trash. In Texas, a 2-year-old and 6-year-old were stabbed along side their father because the teenage suspect thought they were Chinese. Last month, Lululemon fired its stage director for promoting a graphic tee that depicted a dish called “Bat Fried Rice” during a stereotypical Chinese takeout box.
It’s a reckoning that has reminded many Asian-Americans of how fleeting acceptance are often . Echoing WWII-era Japanese-American internment and therefore the anti-Chinese sentiment that rose during the panic of the 1950s, even the foremost assimilated Asian is more cognizant that we wear our race on our face. But out of that heightened awareness comes a newfound sense of pride and collectivism.
As the Asian-American identity continues to evolve and define itself through the varied bodies politic it touches. Street culture’s tenets of subversion, self-expression, and community helped many folks lay the blueprint. By no means is it perfect, but a minimum of it’s something we Asians got.