Jeff Yang – Newspaper Columnist, Cultural Critic, and Proud Dad

Brooklyn, NY

As a second-generation Taiwanese American, I’ve watched as the idea of Taiwan has waned and waxed in popular culture and on the political landscape.

yang.jeff1Who are you?

I was born in Brooklyn to Taiwanese parents—Bailing and David, from Changhua and Zhushan respectively; my mom is a social-worker-turned-real-estate-broker, and my dad retired some years ago as the head of the Radiology Department at Brooklyn’s Methodist Hospital. I have a younger sister, who ended up being the white sheep to my dark grey sheep: She’s a doctor (also at Methodist Hospital!), spent half a decade in Taiwan working and becoming fluent in Chinese, then came home, got married and had two kids before I did either. I went to Harvard University, where I first encountered two things that have shaped my life since—the wider Asian American community, and the world of journalism. After spending most of my time in college volunteering for Asian American nonprofits offcampus and working on Asian American student groups on campus—and running Harvard’s only Asian American magazine—I graduated, intending to do much the same thing in the so-called real world as well. From that came the launch of A. Magazine: Inside Asian America, which over the decade or so I ran it grew to several hundred thousand readers throughout North America; sadly, it was a victim of the dot-com era, after we accepted a lot of money to bring it online, and were then forced into a merger with a bigger web company that subsequently went sour. Since then, I’ve spent my time tracking the evolution of the Asian cultural experience, in America and around the world.

What do you do?

I’m the classic jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, I suppose. In addition to editing and publishing A. Magazine for 12 years, I’ve written four books, most recently the graphic novel anthology SECRET IDENTITIES (www.secretidentities.org); I’ve developed the Emmy-nominated TV show STIR for Comcast’s cable networks; I’ve been a semi-regular contributor on the radio for a number of NPR radio programs; and for the past five years, I’ve written (and continue to write) the column “Asian Pop” for the San Francisco Chronicle and their online version SFGate.com.

Why are you proud to be of Taiwanese heritage?

As a second-generation Taiwanese American, I’ve watched as the idea of Taiwan has waned and waxed in popular culture and on the political landscape. I remember a period when everyone was focused on Taiwan’s booming economy, and its ability to offset the threat of a rising China. I also remember having Taiwan so far off the radar that everyone constantly conflated it with Thailand. Through all of that, and through many past years of tumult and turbulence and occupation and isolation, Taiwan has always survived, as a country, as a culture and as an identity. Today, with the Mainland looming ever larger, Taiwan’s fate has seemed opaque. But the resourcefulness of its people have turned a tense situation into opportunity, as it always has in the past. I’m confident in Taiwan’s resilience, and proud to call it my ancestral home.

What does the future of Taiwanese America look like to you?

I think the future of Taiwanese America looks bright. Our parents have worked so hard to lay a foundation for our success; we, in turn, have tried to reward them (or even simply satisfy them) with our achievements. But the real promise is in the generation coming after: My kids and all of our kids, who with any luck will inherit both the work ethic and aspiration of their grandparents, and the flexibility and open-mindedness of their parents. God forbid it be the other way around!

(Just kidding, Mom and Dad!)

Any additional information you would like to share?

Here’s a link to my column archive: http://www.sfgate.com/columns/asianpop/archive/
Here’s a link to my personal blog: http://originalspin.posterous.com
Here’s a link to SECRET IDENTITIES: http://www.secretidentities.org
Feel free to friend me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/originalspin
Follow me on Twitter!: @originalspin

yang.jeff2

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