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Featuring Karen Chee, comedy writer and performer. Photo: Mickey West Photography

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If you give a CEO some poke

He might run a poke chain called Aloha Poke Company.

When he does, he might send cease-and-desist letters to people. His law firm will tell them they can’t put “aloha” or “aloha poke” in their company names.

When people protest, he’ll say he’s not trying to own “aloha” or “poke,” even if he’s already forcing companies to change their names.

And we’ll think about how familiar it all sounds.

CUT TO: Hawaiian statehood

On this month 59 years ago, the U.S. admitted Hawaii as its 50th state … after about 150 years of exploitation, racial segregation and an armed coup d’etat. You know, global-scale Aloha Poke Company shenanigans.

Two months ago, Dr. Keanu Sai, researcher and political scientist filed a lawsuit against the United States, concerning “the illegal and prolonged occupation of the Hawaiian Islands.”

“All we have as far as evidence [for Hawaiian statehood] is that the United States Congress passed a law in 1958 annexing a foreign country, and then in 1959 Congress passed another law creating the State of Hawaii,” Sai told Hawaii News Now in 2014.

“The problem is Congress has no effect beyond the borders of the United States. So Congress could no more annex Hawaii by passing a joint resolution than Congress could annex Canada today.”

Exit, pursued by Native Hawaiians

The lawsuit, which includes a recognition of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, is a reminder of the colonialism that lets people claim Hawaiian words as their own.

And even if the United States doesn’t recognize Hawaiian sovereignty, we can sure recognize injustice.

So if you give a CEO some poke, he might run that poke chain. But when he does, we don’t have to visit.

Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief, who's really more into Foodland anyway
Check out the history of poke

NOW PLAYING: I'll admit it—I'm late to the Ruby Ibarra train. A rapper and spoken word poet, Ibarra's been around for years—I first saw heard her in "The Movement," featuring BAMBU—but I didn't dive into her oeuvre until recently, when I listened to her debut album, CIRCA91. And this record knocked me off my feet

Rapping about colorism, colonialism and the American Dream, Ibarra hits topics that rarely find their way into mainstream hip-hop, and makes sure her lyrics reflect her heritage. On "US," featured above, Ibarra rallies an all-Filipina lineup to tell their collective stories, rather than pitting them against each other; on "Playbill$," Ibarra throws down with an entire verse in Ibarra's native Filipino dialect, Waray. It all comes together in the album's throughline of immigrant struggle and immigrant celebration.

It's easy to recommend Ruby Ibarra based just on her musicality, creativity and lyricism. But beyond her technical ability, her celebration of her community and heritage makes Ruby Ibarra a must-listen.

— Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief

Coming out: a guide for API folks

These days, you’ll find a guide to anything and everything. Got to quit your job? Wikihow’s got it covered. How to dress classy but casual? Buzzfeed it. But how to come out to your Asian family? Well, WikiHow hasn’t made that just yet. In fact, there’s not many resources at all.

Human Rights Campaign has got you covered

In a three-part series, the Human Rights Campaign designed a guide for Asians and Pacific Islanders to better navigate the challenges of coming out to family, while paying dues to the notions of familial duty and parental sacrifice.

As one activist puts it, this guide can be useful for those who are are in their more formative LGBTQ years and need some support. For an e-book, it’s surprisingly not an eyesore (because we’ve seen those online resources before and yikes). It’s jam-packed with useful and interesting content.

So what’s in it?

Well, for starters, it spells out what the “coming out continuum” looks like. It validates the fears of “dishonoring” relatives, gives examples of reactions family can have—even in the context of religious households—and provides tools to better confront them.

The e-book even provides considerations for other coming out alternatives (doing it at school or work). And most importantly, it brings visibility to API LGBTQ leaders today, providing real-life anecdotes from folks who have come out to show that it can be done.

Natalie Bui, editor, who found the section of Historical Appreciation of LGBTQ people within Asia super interesting (fun fact—it dates back to China’s Qing Dynasty!)
Read the whole backstory on NBC

Karen Chee on crafting comedy as an Asian American and how having fun humanizes people of color

A reader suggested that we speak to Karen Chee for The Slant, and once I found her work, I honestly couldn’t have been more charmed by her. Her ability to speak so candidly to her identity and experience with such humor and thoughtfulness, her impressive resume with contributions to publications like the New Yorker, and just this playful bit alone when she made it on The Colbert Show with Keegan-Michael Key is absolutely the best.

We were thrilled to speak to her about comedy, on counter-narratives to that of the “Tiger Mom,” and much more. Read the whole interview on Medium. — Natalie Bui, editor


Why has your Asian American identity been so interesting to you in your career?

I think it’s been interesting because I perform a lot, in addition to writing, as an improviser and a stand up comedian. And I don’t look like what you might expect — i.e. I’m not a white man — so when I go up on stage, there’s already an assumption of who I am, before I get to tell my jokes or tell stories of myself. People identify me before I even get to introduce myself.

I’m very keenly aware that, in general, audiences at comedy shows tend to be very white — so there’s always a mental struggle about how I want you to laugh at me, because I also don’t want you to feel comfortable laughing at Asian people as a joke. I want them to laugh at my jokes. I’m naturally very self-deprecating, but I don’t want to make it okay for people to laugh at people like me — does that make sense?

At comedy shows it’s such a transactional event where it’s me going up and putting out jokes and them laughing at it, but I don’t want it to be an invitation. I don’t know, I hate doing jokes about Asian stereotypes that perpetuates ideas of bad things even more. I do respect it when people do it for their own race and identity and stuff. But I’m always very conscious and I don’t want to give people any more of opportunity to laugh at things that I think are just mean.

How do you choose whether to pander to a predominantly white audience or choose to tap into the more “Asian” experience?

Pandering is a very loaded word. When I first started doing improv in college — I think I was doing a type of pandering, in that I would tailor my jokes and characters to fit in with a predominantly white group and for a mostly white audience. I didn’t even realize I was doing that, I just assumed that the entirety of comedy was supposed to be within this certain sensibility, which is white sensibility.

Since then I’ve realized that there are things that I find funny and people with my background find it funny and it’s just as legitimate to joke about those because for us it’s just regular, everyday life. For example, I see a lot of Asian comics talk about microaggressions, and we want to reclaim them and spin them in a funny way — and that’s something most white people don’t have to go through.

Now I’ve been using my time on stage to express what I find funny, rather than any kind of pandering. Hopefully more people who are kinda like me at comedy shows will recognize there is content for them, and people who don’t my perspective will learn to like it and empathize with it.

My friend and I recently talked about how much media we grew up with that expressly lacked any sort of representation. We became really good at empathizing with white characters and male characters, so it’s ridiculous to me when men refuse to read books starring a woman, especially one of color, when I was taught to identify with boys like Huckleberry Finn and, like, Shrek. That’s sad! Though I do really love Shrek.

It’s like — we watched your stories our whole lives, so can you take some time to finally watch our narratives this one time?

Yes! And when someone is willing to watch a show that’s not a white-centered narrative, the stakes are so much higher because it’s a rare opportunity. If a person of color makes a show, it has to be good or you might not get another shot. It’s unfair, but I also believe that a lot of people have been waiting and preparing, and are ready to create something extraordinary if given the chance.

Do you feel a lot of pressure or responsibility to talk about about Asian identity?

That’s a good question. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t — when I do, I’m not hyper-aware of it. I’ve been in rooms where I’m the only Asian person and I feel a responsibility to talk about it when people are willing to listen to me. But I also feel like it’s unfair that it’s put on the shoulders of people of color! Sometimes we just want to talk about fun things that aren’t heavy or dramatic. That’s normal.

When I go to shows, I really just want to see Asian people having fun on stage! The biggest thing that alleviates that burden is that if I’m there on stage and I’m being honest, then inherently I am giving an Asian American perspective and I don’t have to artificially represent any more people than who I am.

I totally feel like making art that’s just plain fun and not saving the world is so often a white privilege — like have you seen Mamma Mia? I love Mamma Mia. It’s just white people singing and dancing and having a good time. I want the rest of us to also be able to just have fun, and not have to be a superhero to feel worthy of being seen. And seeing people of color having fun feels revolutionary sometimes, because it humanizes us in a way that most media doesn’t.

Karen Chee is a comedy writer and performer based in New York. She’s written for the New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Splitsider and Funny or Die. Some gems include “More Chinese Proverbs by Ivanka Trump,” “If Famous Authors Described My Attempts at Dating,” and “Wow! This Woman Made Her Skin and Face Look Years Longer by Being Asian!” Read more on her website or find her on Twitter.
Read the whole interview on Medium

This weekend ... 📅

This week's stories are curated by Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief, who’s not gonna lie about that one phase with High School Musical. Got a tip, or just want to share? E-mail us at

The Slant is brought to you by:

Brian Hsieh, Kevin Lin, Billy Huang, Delwin Lau, AJ Grey, Marina Cheung, Michelle Pal, Mandy Diec, Lloyd Lee, Patrick Trinh, Emily Chi, Naomi Iwata, Gloria Lin, Matt Young, Cat Xia, Crystal Shei, Sooyun Choi, Yi Cao, Meher Kohli, Ryan Ikeda, Jerome Finuliar, Abby Wang, Curtis Leung, Tracey Mantilla, Mika Kennedy, James Boo, Chris Moe, Eve Asher, Diane Lee, Angela Yang, Katherine Chin, Paul Kerr, Talisa Chang and Claire Tran, who are exempt from any puns we ever make again (kidding) (I mean, maybe) (but we're bad at holding ourselves back).

Join them in supporting The Slant on Patreon.

“We introduced ourselves to another writer by asking, 'What do you write?' Though we understood our writing had no future, we knew nothing as sweet as mobbing deep, going to work on a bus with the urgency of a pit stop crew, filling the inside of the bus with our tags, as if it were an autograph page of a yearbook—rocking it. The only thing better was seeing the same bus again, our names floating by, more points on the scoreboard. If the bus was stopped at a light, we’d marvel at our work from the sidewalk, sometimes running across the street just to get a peek. A moment had been captured, marking a particular occasion, an opening for a story: Oh, that was when—

How long a bus would run in its current graffitied state was unpredictable. Some tags lasted months. Others half a day. The more we crushed a bus with our tags, the more likely the cleanup crew at the bus yards would take notice and buff away our tags sooner rather than later. Though none of us wanted to see our names erased, we relied on buses to get buffed. Without the removal of prior graffiti, we’d have no space to tag. To write was to accept your own erasure.”

— Dickson Lam, writer, from his memoir Paper Sons

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