The show goes on

Who has a huge crush on Kris Liu, the Harvard freshman and amazing beatboxer from Taiwan? Patricia does.

No matter how you look at it, Kollaboration is very much a political statement – but what exactly is that political statement? I attended this year’s Kollaboration Boston thinking that the ‘movement,’ as they call it, is aptly represented by their slogan: “Empowerment Through Entertainment.” And indeed, it is a good slogan because it is catchy, effective, and to-the-point. But at the same time, I think that it kinda underrates Kollaboration and its true value as a major APA ‘movement.’

In today’s age of “hip” social justice, it seems that the definition of the word “empowerment” has been compartmentalized to fit with the radical beliefs and attitudes of the youth that currently lead today’s wave of social activism. The word “empowerment” holds connotations of strength, aggressiveness, giving a voice to those previously unheard…and making sure that that voice becomes deafeningly loud. The word “empowerment” is centered around the word “power” – a word that thus gives the meaning of empowerment a rather aggressive spin.

For some reason, this has been especially prevalent in the APA community. Maybe it’s because we as Asian-Americans feel the need to break the stereotype of quiet complacency and passiveness that has plagued us for so long. And now, we’re finally finding outlets with which to express our stereotype-defying selves, and we’re saying, “Look at us, World of White Privilege! We’re doing things that Asians don’t usually do! Look at us, the Asian hip-hop dance crews! Look at us, the Asian singer-songwriters! Look at us, the Asian beatboxers! We’re cool, just like you! Can you take us seriously now?” For some reason, young Asian-Americans have become more vocal and more aggressive about racially-centered issues – to an almost unfair degree.

The first place winner of this year’s Kollaboration Boston was Blackout, a step team from Tufts University. Needless to say, they were phenom, but when the group came on stage for their performance, I was pretty sure the same thought was running through every member of the largely Asian-American audience – why aren’t any of these guys Asian? And indeed, the group was mostly comprised of African-Americans with one person of presumable Asian heritage standing at the front. I don’t know if he was the captain or if it was staged that way because they knew they were performing at an Asian-American talent show – but the fact of the matter was, most of those guys weren’t Asian, and it made the audience uneasy. When the judges announced that Blackout was the first-place winner, someone behind me shouted, “They’re not even Asian!” And I think that this statement – as rude and uncalled for as it was – represented the misunderstanding surrounding Kollaboration (and the youth-led Asian-American mission) to a T.

It’s okay to identify yourself by your ethnicity or nationality and it’s okay to take pride in who you are, but I think things become a lot more complicated when you’re dealing with the issue of cross-cultural integration. The whole idea behind a movement like Kollaboration is to present minorities in a way that makes them not only palatable, but celebrated by the majority. The message behind Kollaboration doesn’t just celebrate Asian-American entertainers and Asian-American entertainers only, but it’s an arena for rising Asian-American talents to have a chance to shine in ways otherwise denied by our white-privileged society. Many of the young talents who have performed at past Kollaborations have the talent to compete with mainstream artists, but American media culture just isn’t yet keen on letting Asian faces on their arena stages or movie screens. Because of this, many Asian-Americans have regarded Kollaboration as a weapon of sorts, as  if we’re using these talented young Asian-American artists to ‘fight’ against the White Media Machine on our behalf…when all these artists actually want is the chance to stand on a stage and do what they love without being stigmatized for who they are.

I think in the end, Kollaboration isn’t meant to be a battle cry. It isn’t meant to pit Asians against White Society in a way that’s more reminiscent of a gang war than an actual social movement. It’s a celebration of the fact that there is as much artistic talent in the APA community as there is academic talent; that there are some of us who can get A’s, and some of us who can sing A’s. It’s supposed to represent the diversity of the APA community by highlighting a part of it that is often mis- or underrepresented. That’s all.

One last point worth noting: At Kollaboration Boston, the performers were Asian, the MC was Asian, and almost the entire hall was filled with Asians – but not a single Asian joke was made during the entire show. I’ve hung out in enough Asian circles to know that whenever there’s a group of Asians, there are almost always Asian jokes floating back and forth within that circle – perhaps as attempts to address the elephant in the room. But why should something like a shared cultural background become an awkward topic of discussion? At Kollaboration Boston, there was barely any mention of the fact that the show was centered around Asian-Americans, save for a short segment when the MC tried to explain (rather awkwardly but nonetheless endearingly) the fundamental cause behind the show. And that’s exactly what Kollaboration should be. Kollaboration isn’t an assertion or even a celebration of race or ethnicity. The message behind Kollaboration insists that talent transcends racial and ethnic boundaries – including that of our own.

Socio-cultural commentary aside, I had a really great time at Kollaboration and am really sad that I left my camera at home – where I will not be returning until the end of the semester in May. :( And it’s beginning to look so pretty outside, too! There are trees outside my building with legit rose blossoms on the branches. I don’t know what they are called but they are gorgeous and I really want my camera with me.

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  • Max

    Your Vibrant has an okayish camera :x glad you had fun, wish I could have been there!