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Fighting Asian stereotypes with hip-hop and jokes

Taiyo Na, left, performs with fellow hip-hop artists

Taiyo Na, left, performs with fellow hip-hop artists Magnetic North (Derek Kan and Theresa Vu) as part of Wang Center's "Home:Word--A Night of Hip Hop, Spoken Word and Comedy" Oct. 28, 2010, at Stony Brook University. Photo Credit: Handout

The immigrant experience of Asian-Americans is probably not so different from that of previous waves of hyphenated Americans, except, notably, African-Americans who arrived on these shores as slaves. It's just the particulars of the stereotypes that vary.

"Home:Word - A Night of Hip-Hop, Spoken Word and Comedy" brings together a second-generation Japanese--Korean-American hip-hop artist, Taiyo Na, and Magnetic North, a Chinese- and Vietnamese-American duo who collaborated on a new CD with a Korean-American comic who takes aim at Asian and female stereotypes that pervade the Internet and dating culture.

At Stony Brook University's Wang Center Thursday night, the four artists attempt to answer the question: "What does home mean for Americans of Asian descent?"

We spoke to the hip-hop artist and the comic for some insight into what the evening, and their work, are all about.

TAIYO NA

"We just want to make honest music," says the New York City native whose debut album, "Love Is Growth," established him, according to OkayPlayer .com, as "a multidimensional talent with a unique creative voice that fuses the rhythms of the city that raised him with the soul of the Asian immigrant culture that birthed him." The CD features "Lovely to Me (Immigrant Mother)," winner of ImaginAsian Entertainment's 2008 original song contest.

It takes a whole lot

To leave your own land

And raise a few children

With her own hand

She couldn't read well

But she could feed well

For his follow-up album, Taiyo joined two artists he met at a mutual friend's wedding, California-bred Derek Kan, Chinese-American, and Theresa Vu, Vietnamese-American, who make up Magnetic North. "We got together after they moved to New York," says Taiyo. "It became apparent that we had a similar message - similar vibe and goals. We didn't intend to do an album. But one song led to another."

Their message? "We're not afraid to go there," he says of the stereotypes they debunk - one of which is that Asians don't do hip-hop. "We talk about being Asian-American and try to be relevant to that experience."

TINA KIM

When she was growing up in Seattle, after emigrating at age 4 with her family from Seoul, South Korea, Kim had few role models among women who looked like her. "I wanted to be on TV," she says, "and the only Asian woman I saw on TV was Connie Chung." So she became a TV journalist - in Montana.

Even now, as she builds a career as a stand-up comic, she says, "The only new role model is Tila Tequila." In 2004, Kim produced the first Asian-American stand-up showcases in New York and Boston. "But I had a problem finding good comics."

As for her own material from an Asian-American perspective, Kim recalls being envious of her white girlfriends when she was a kid.

"I wanted my parents to be like theirs. Divorced. My friends would get twice as much stuff for Christmas - first at their house from Mom, and then at Dad's. Yeah, I was jealous."

 

HOME:WORD - A Night of Hip-Hop, Spoken Word and Comedy

WHEN|WHERE: 7 p.m. Oct. 28, Wang Center Theatre, Stony Brook University

INFO: 631-632-4400, stonybrook.edu/wang

ADMISSION: $25-$35 ($10 students)

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