Paper Tigers

Wesley Yang – Paper Tigers

I was sent this enormously engaging link yesterday (it’s on the cover of NY magazine!), and the article really made me think and stuck with me even today.  I suppose on one level it’s because I have spent so much time thinking myself about the topics covered in the article–magnet schools and selective admissions, asian writers, “tiger moms”–but also because it’s well-written and thoughtful.

This article is about many things, but one thing it’s particularly about (to me) is the Yang’s struggle with Asian identity.  He, like me, looks Asian, but had an upbringing that didn’t include honorifics, or close familial ties. Culturally, he’s American. It’s difficult to say what he said, and although I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to say it, he outdoes me on the first page of the article.  He settles on the word “twinkie,” which I don’t really care for.

And it is, from a writing perspective, a tad self-indulgent.  Of course, this is a big long magazine piece that needs to draw Big Conclusions, but his sopsilisitc excursions into racial speculation are often unwelcome. “If you are an Asian person who holds himself proudly aloof, nobody will respect that, or find it intriguing, or wonder if that challenging façade hides someone worth getting to know. ” It also doesn’t work when he considers his own past: “The world brings low such people. It brought me low. I haven’t had health insurance in ten years. I didn’t earn more than $12,000 for eight consecutive years. I went three years in the prime of my adulthood without touching a woman. I did not produce a masterpiece.”

But little aspects like this can be taken care of in editing.  There’s still a lot in this article that resonates with readers like me.  I appreciated the throuroughly depressing part about Eddie Chang who bumped up against the “bamboo ceiling” in both the fields of screenwriting and law.  I also liked the part about the Stuyvesant kid who wants to be a writer and I understand where he’s coming from–where are the Asian male writers? Do second-generation kids want to wait a few more generations before they become artists and culture mavens?

At the very least, with this impressive feature, Yang has put himself into the category of Asian writers that I see as role models.  People I want to emulate.  And that, by itself, is the first step in correcting some of the issues on the cover of New York magazine.

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