Wendy Hsu on Issues of (In)visibility and Asian American Identities

TaiwaneseAmerican.org has followed Wendy Hsu’s work since discovering her Asian American music blog, yellowbuzz.org, several years ago. We also found it fascinating that she founded Dzian!, a vintage pan-Asian garage and surf rock band (Dzian! means “super-cool” in Taiwanese) around the time we asked our musical artist friends to help support the 2009 Typhoon Morakot fundraising relief efforts for hard-hit Taiwan. Her band revived and paid tribute to the Taiwanese grassroots performance style known as “Nakashi / Nakasi.

Wendy is an ethnomusicologist who studies Asian and Asian American popular music cultures. She received her PhD in Critical & Comparative Studies in Music at the University of Virginia and now is located in Los Angeles for a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center of Digital Learning & Research at Occidental College.

Recently, Wendy wrote a dissertation about the Asian American experiences of playing rock music. Although she doesn’t consider herself a video artist, she was compelled to put something out on YouTube for “the sake of vitality.” Well, we found the videos creative and insightful, and we wanted to share it with you. It’s not for everyone, but if you were to take a thoughtful academic research paper on rock music and transform it artistically to video, this is probably what it would look like.

Watch carefully during the opening of Part 2 and see how TaiwaneseAmerican.org inspired some musical craft and played a role in a greater community effort! Enjoy the following from Wendy Hsu:

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For the Society of Ethnomusicology meeting this year, I created a video that addresses the role of my role as a perform-scholar, instead of a traditional academic paper presentation. This is a 3-part video. In the first part of the video, I discuss my intention to raise the visibility of Asian and Asian American music. I also introduce the medium of the piece – a YouTube video – to enable my messages to spread virally and to give a shout out to the Asian and Taiwanese American stars on YouTube. [Note on the soundtrack: I played the sound of an academic talk and experimental noise to express the disruptive aim of this piece with the respect to the social and cultural invisibility of Asian and Taiwanese Americans]

Part two of the video opens with a story about the Taiwanese American support for the Typhoon Morakot relief efforts for Taiwan. It highlights TaiwaneseAmerican.org for organizing the relief efforts of Taiwanese American musicians, artists, and writers. Inspired by these relief efforts, particularly those of Susan and Emily Hsu of Exit Clov and the Hsu-nami, I organized a benefit concert in my town, Charlottesville, a small college town in central Virginia, bringing together the University of Virginia and the local Taiwanese community. My band Dzian! came together for the purpose of delivering the uber-fun, spectacular performance highlighting the Taiwanese style of Nakashi. The rest of this portion follows the story of how Dzian! spreads the love for the sound of rock and pop music from 1960s and 1970s Taiwan and its neighboring countries such as Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia.

In the last part of the video, I bring the “cultural work” of Dzian! to bear on its social mission of boosting the awareness of Taiwanese and Asian music in North America. I close the video by telling the story of an exchange I had with an older audience member at our performance at the first annual Hello! Taiwan Rocks concert at the Taiwan Center in Flushing. This conversation reminds me of the power of music in creating communities, spaces of comfort to which we, as Taiwanese/Asian Americans could feel like we belong to.

I hope that this video will continue to inspire others — musicians, artists, writers, journalists, academics, and other cultural workers, as well as the working and non-working professionals — to get behind the mission of creating a space of comfort and strength for Taiwanese and Asian Americans.

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