Opening for the Enemy

A young rocker and activist plays a college gig and finds herself opening for a woman who embodies everything she abhors — a clueless tool of America's Asian-female-stereotype machine.

by Jenny Choi



Opening for theEnemy

have just returned from New Orleans. I have barely had any time to breathe, but I felt as though I should get my thoughts and reflections down on my experience at Tulane. A part of me thought that maybe I should give myself a bit more time to digest what happened, but a greater part of me felt an urgency to document everything and share it with you.

     I had visited New Orleans twice before because despite the random boobage exhibitions and debauchery normally associated with Bourbon Street, I have become pretty well-acquainted with the culture outside of that context and it's quite charming and beautiful. So I decided to drive down there just for the one show, but because it was a college show and an Asian American student organization was bringing me over (and hi, the show was happening in New Orleans), I was okay to truck it down there and back for just one show. We were getting paid just enough so I could make the drive down with my drummer Philip in tow.


     Anyway, so we checked into the hotel Tulane had arranged for us, and it was a very posh hotel near the French Quarter. I quickly dropped my things in my room, and then we booked our asses over to Tulane to load in our gear and at least fake our way through a decent soundcheck. With college shows it's kind of hard sometimes and you have to be a little creative because most colleges do not have much experience putting on rock shows with a typical sound set-up you come to expect at traditional music venues... For example, forget ever hoping that you'll get a monitor (a means to hear yourself whilst performing onstage).

     The weather was beautiful, and I was in good spirits as we loaded our gear into the amazingly beautiful auditorium. You can tell that it was one of those places where if they had a speaker like Maya Angelou coming, they'd have housed her in there. The capacity of the auditorium was several thousand at least... it was HUGE. The stage was also gi-normous. I asked the promoter if he had expected that many people to come because I was under the impression that the Asian population was a bit modest at Tulane. He shrugged in that "I have no clue" way, a shrug I had seen countless times before by promoters that most probably booked a show where only about 20 kids might come to a show housed in a 3000-capacity venue.

     But I didn't mind... I came pretty prepared with my own direct input box and boom mic stand, and although we couldn't at all hear the keyboards and vocal (due to no monitor), I thought we pulled it off pretty well. It was a modest audience of about 25 people, but I made myself at home, and talked a lot about the AIR tour and my goals as an activist in the Asian American arts community. Philip and I played solidly and in control, which I have mentioned before, is something at which we are always continuing to better ourselves, no matter what the scenario.

     Ironically, there weren't too many Asians in the audience. The organization that hosted the event seemed to be in its infancy stages. It was definitely not like playing U of Mich or Berkeley where there is already a very solid Asian American student organization(s) in place. You could tell these students were just kind of trying to play it by ear in terms of mobilizing their efforts to create some sort of cultural unity, etc. But that's okay because these things are common, and at least they were trying.

     We both felt we were received very well, and climbed off the stage. Philip scurried off to a hiding place to finish his reviews for SPLENDID, while I sold a few CDs backstage and then hurried back to sit and watch the rest of the program up front.

     After my set, there was a Kung Fu demonstration that lasted about 45 or so minutes (pretty much twice the length of my own set!). It was really charming... I would say only about a quarter of the kids up there doing martial arts was Asian, but there was this one really thin Asian kid with glasses performing his moves with such verve and passion that he almost tripped over himself a few times who I particularly admired. I was really rooting for these guys because I appreciated their sincerity. It's so funny because I've done so many cultural awareness shows since '98, and usually you get cultural dances, some hip hop thrown in there, short films, comedy improv troupes, etc, so I was proud to be a part of something that hadn't quite developed into its potential yet, and we were all kind of rooting for one another in that huge mofo-ass auditorium.

     But that's when the entire night changed for me.

     The promoter had told me that they had secured a speaker for the event, and she was the closer of the evening. After the martial arts demonstration, the students brought her up, and I was a little taken aback to see a very young, very thin Asian woman who looked very made-up with a barely-there top on. She brought up a water bottle, and introduced herself as an import model/aspiring R & B singer.

     Now I have to be honest and tell you that a few red flags went up in my head. I don't know how to explain this without sounding horribly judgmental and unfair, but I guess basically these questions came to mind:
  1. If she is a musician/performer, why isn't she performing?
  2. What is an “import” model?
  3. Why do I suddenly feel like I'm at a weird high school Career Expo Day gone nightmarishly wrong?

     The young woman proceeded to tell us a little about herself, and although I didn't know anything about her and did not know at all who she was, I was hoping very much so that she would surprise me by having some important things to say. To her credit, the small organization clearly invited her there and treated her like she was some kind of celebrity, so I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. But as she was talking about her career as a musician and as a model, I started to get the impression that she was a model first and foremost and like J. Lo or Lindsay Lohan etc, was trying her hand at a burgeoning career in R & B/dance pop music. She spoke for a total of five minutes and then opened the forum up to a Q and A. PAGE 2

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“After the martial arts demonstration, the students brought her up, and I was a little taken aback to see a very young, very thin Asian woman who looked very made-up with a barely-there top on.”


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