Case Study

Introducing Hyphen: “Asian America Unabridged”

In the 1990s, we saw the advent of A Magazine, an intelligent, social upturn, exposing alternative media source that dug beyond Asian American skin and success. With the Silicon Valley bust in 2002, A Magazine went under but around that time, a new alternative, non-profit, volunteer-based magazine rose in the urban spaces of the Bay Area and San Francisco called, Hyphen Magazine.

“When we first gathered around that kitchen table, it was simply because we were driven by a hunger for a more complex representation of Asian America. And when none presented itself, we decided to do it ourselves.” – Hyphen (Source)

Hyphen Issue 1 Cover (credit to Hyphen)

Hyphen’s creators gathered together and decided to approach the magazine as a means that would cover serious issues but also at the same time, not take itself too seriously.  It would cover stories of Asian Americans from not just in urban centers on the coast but also the middle states such as Texas, Kansas, and Minnesota. Emerging artists, thinkers, and doers would be featured, not just established Asian Americans who have received the stamp of mainstream approval. “It would be a magazine that looked beyond identity — we’d explore cultural issues while tackling what is Asian American by accident, by tangent or by happenstance.” Issue 1 launched with these thematic concerns and ideas in mind, raising homage to the Asian American activists in the 60s while examining today’s generational racial heritage, examining the Asian in the US Army, questioning who speaks on the behalf of Asian America, and so forth. They have been focused since the start in “tackling issues of culture and community with substance and sass,” contributing to the Asian American dialogue for the past eight years and counting.  Since then, Hyphen has been putting out award-winning publications three times a year and regular updates on their website.  Chinese for Affirmative Action awarded Hyphen with “Flames of Justice” in 2008 and Utne Independent Press nominated them for “Best Social/Cultural Coverage” in 2010 (amongst other nominations for “Best New Title”, “Best Cover”, and “Best Design”). (Source)

Due to Hyphen’s focus on both the serious and the hip, the demographic focus is on the Asian American young adult population.  Today’s 20-30 year olds grew up with the rise of the Internet and the introduction of social media, all tools that influenced and redirected today’s media landscape and information outreach and access. With most of social advertisement and marketing targeting their age group, they occupy an influential space that, in turn, affects how media approaches content and distributes it.

Even in the 21st century, the Asian American young adult is still subject to being stereotyped as America’s model minority but they also participate in a changing force of continually challenging their identities as perceived by dominant forces. Self-perceptions on their American-ness in ratio to their ancestral heritage are a hybrid of many factors, exterior (what others think) as well as interior (family).

Hyphen grew out of San Francisco but the diversity that exists in San Francisco can also refer to other big urban centers such as Los Angeles, New York where there are also high-populations of Asians. From statistical trends, Asian immigrants congregate mostly in metropolitan cities than in rural countryside; thus the growth of Asian communities are closely linked to these big urban areas.

First, I will observe and study Hyphen as a print magazine, an online website, and an community event host (refer to ‘Case Study’ drop down menu), looking at the following:

    1) style and form
    2) content
    3) distribution and means of access/participation

By looking at these areas, I aim to see what of Hyphen Magazine contribute and challenge the representation and redefinition of what it means to be an Asian American in this new technology-driven, modern era. Expanding from the specifics, the second and ultimate part of the goal is to apply these concepts of Hyphen to a bigger picture and image of alternative media for not just Asian Americans but also ethnic minorities.

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