By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Phil Yu isn’t an Angry Asian Man. In fact, he’s far from it.
Yu is the founder behind the blog Angry Asian Man—one of the most popular sources online for news, pop culture, media, social issues, and Yu’s own commentary and spin about the Asian American experience.
The blog’s creation was a culmination of Yu’s experiences prior to 2001. While pursuing his Bachelor’s of Science in Radio/Television/Film from Northwestern University, Yu took an Asian American film studies class that opened his eyes to ongoing social and cultural issues affecting Asian Americans.
After graduation, Yu returned to his home state of California and set up a free website in February 2001. Inspired by his coursework as well as other Asian American influences online, Yu launched a sub-domain on his site where he vented about Asian American issues in a blog titled “Angry Asian Man”.
“Technology allowed people like me to have a voice back then,” said Yu about the launch of his initial blog in 2001. “I was just out of college when I started this project and it gave me an outlet to call out things that I believed people needed to pay attention to in our community.”
One such topic was the demeaning T-shirt that Abercrombie & Fitch released in the early 2000s, which featured caricaturized Asian faces with slanted eyes and rice-paddy hats supplemented with text that read: “Wong Brother Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make It White”.
The racist T-shirt had Asian Americans up in arms with the then-trendy retailer.
Yu was one of the many outraged Asian Americans. His coverage on the controversial issue drew so much traffic to his blog that he had to move it into a new domain on www.angryasianman.com, which has since been the blog’s home.
Becoming a full-time blogger
Currently based in Los Angeles, Yu made the jump to full-time blogger in 2013. Although he has a part-time intern and relies on his readers for story tips, Yu still runs everything on the site which includes researching and writing all content to website maintenance.
Yu is quick to note that his readers play a crucial role in the direction of his blog. At times, they even open his eyes to new industries and fields where Asian Americans are present—areas that Yu never once thought to look for such representation.
“I’m not that into sports, but a reader tipped me off about ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani,” said Yu. “[Ice skating] was a subject that I never would’ve looked into on my own”. The Shibutani siblings are a pair of Asian American ice dancers that competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Yu has been following the Shibutani siblings since then.
“My blog acts like a meeting point for a lot of diverse information,” said Yu. “I like to be a megaphone and pass said information on to interested parties among my audience. I’m not discovering these stories on my own—there’s definitely a lot of help from my readers. I’m just trying to find the right lens to project or amplify a topic.”
Not so Angry Asian Man
Despite the “Angry” implication of his website name and his extensive coverage on racism, Yu’s blog often spotlights outstanding people, milestones, and achievements in the community. With the rise of Asian Americans in Hollywood the last few years, Yu has had a lot more to celebrate and cover in his writings.
“The media landscape has changed quickly in the last couple years especially on television,” said Yu on the current state of Asian Americans in the media. Yu credited mainstream projects with all-Asian casts, such as landmark television shows like “Fresh Off the Boat” or “Dr. Ken”, as ground-breakers for Asian American viewers.
“There’s currently a groundswell for more inclusive storytelling that reflects people of all backgrounds,” said Yu.
“People just need proof of concept [about their presence in the media] and you need to have an Asian American family on television. Now, Asian Americans finally have it. It’s cool to be in the thick of it and experience the change alongside the readers.”
In addition to his blog, Yu produces a podcast and a YouTube talk show that explores and analyzes race and media representation issues regarding Asian Americans. He also participates in speaking engagements including a college speaking circuit around the country.
Connection to Seattle and Bruce Lee
It’s no secret that Yu has a great fondness for the late martial artist Bruce Lee. Yu cites Lee as one of his earliest positive representations of Asians in the media.
In January 2014, the Wing Luke Museum interviewed Yu for their oral history archive during one of his visits to Seattle. It was during this interview that the museum staff invited Yu to write text panels for their multi-year Bruce Lee exhibit which was, at the time, in its initial stages of exhibition.
Yu’s involvement with the exhibition was so well-received that the museum requested that he write text panels for the second year of the Bruce Lee exhibit, which opened this past October. The whole experience has been a true delight for Yu.
“Bruce Lee was an iconoclast and there are times when we take his image for granted in the media,” said Yu. “Although he was an incredible martial artist who kicked a lot of butt, he also broke through as an Asian man in the media by doing things no one else is or was doing. He broke barriers that, at the time, seemed even more insurmountable than they do today.”
Much like Yu did when he launched his news blog back in 2001. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.