Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A stranger unto ourselves (and others): Know your history!

"...They took over hip hop dancing."
Deon Cole: "Oh, that hurts."
"Linsanity" has reached FilAm Funk. And its also reaching the late night talk show circuits. In an episode of Conan, show writer Deon Cole makes a satirical commentary on Jeremy Lin's dominance: "I'm nervous because I don't want Asians taking over basketball."

As if Jeremy Lin poses a real threat to the "racial ownership" of the NBA. Too funny.

Cole continues, "Like, they took over hip hop dancing. Oh, that hurts."  A picture of Asian males dancing in what looks like the World Hip Hop Dance Championship flashes on the screen.

Cole's anxiety might reflect a real (but ridiculous) fear. But his commentary also elicits a very real need of the Asian American and Filipino American community to know our history. Especially with hip hop, we have already seen this episode of "invasion" before, like in the LA Weekly article on the "invasion" of Filipinos in the Hollywood club scene. 

 Slide from my "Bearing Witness to the Funk" presentation at CSUN
I recently presented on the role of hip hop within the Filipino American (and global Filipino) community at a conference. I emphasized the fact that Filipino Americans have been embedded in and contributors to hip hop culture for such a long time, and that in theory, Fil Am students in college today can have a hip hop parents. And this has been the case for some students. Yeah, old school.

What is surprising, unfortunately, is that many (near 100%) of Fil Am students I have encountered do not know the history of Kaba Modern, the Invisbl Skratch Piklz, the Beat Junkies, Mike Dream, etc. Sadly, many do not even know who Native Guns and Blue Scholars are. Yet, many veteran Fil Am performers are coming out of the woodwork and telling their stories about "back in the day"--before hip hop was called hip hop.

During the conference, I provoked the question: For Filipino Americans, can hip hop be "trad" instead of "fad?"

Given hip hop's deep immersion within Filipino American culture, can it be just as "traditional" (if not more) than the "trad" dances of PCN--which are really liberal interpretations (of interpretations) of so-called Filipino dances?

My post "Grab the mic like I'm on Soul Train" and the OC Weekly article on Kaba Modern attempt to synthesize the history of hip hop dance among Filipino Americans in Southern California, and its direct impact on hip hop dance internationally. If one delves into the history of hip hop dance, you might discover that Asians aren't necessarily "taking over hip hop dancing," as Cole dryly comments, but they have actually been (Filipino Americans at least) the creative minds of the craft for some time now.   
So, as Asian Americans like our brother Jeremy Lin continue to gain more recognition and "voice," naturally, let us be proud and encouraging. But it is also critical that we know our own histories, so that when representations of Asian Americans (like in Cole's skit) poke fun at our "invasion," we can feel comfortable that the "truth" is less shocking.

If we are always a stranger unto ourselves, we will always be a stranger unto others. And that is where the real "hurt" resides.



elizp said...

I thought Invisibl Skratch Piklz became "trad" circa 2000, too.

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