Synthesis: Applying Theory

Hyphen Debunks and Re-Defines the Alternative

While mainstream media caricature Asian Americans as nerds and geeks, common stereotypes perceive alternative media as unprofessional, amateur, inefficient, limited in outreach, and marginal (Bailey et. al). But from a first glance at their print magazine, Hyphen presents themselves as a professional force and source of informative, interesting, and intriguing media. Their online presence also reflects the same professionalism. Besides having an attractive, cohesive physical appearance, Hyphen’s non-profit model and part-time staff battle their challenges of not being an organized full-time force by organizing their departments and applying a structure to their staff.   In regards to outreach, there is a higher percentage of readers in big cities along the East and West coasts in proportion to the general spread of suburban and rural communities in Mid-America but there is a conscious effort to write and reach more audiences and niches.  Though print distribution can be limited, there is no cap on Hyphen’s digital presence on the Internet. In Issue 10, a reader who is of no Asian descent from London expressed her interest in reading more about Hyphen and securing a print copy of the magazine. As for competition, best said from Harry Mok: the competition that all media face all takes place on the Internet through bloggers and sites.  Many of these sources of competition are not of a corporate background or commercial means and often, are intent on producing their own sort of news or critique.  What Hyphen does is different enough to re-align itself from other Asian-American magazines and mediums.

Photo by Andria Lo for 'As American as Tofu' in Issue 21

One of alternative media’s main contributions to the media sphere is questioning existent mainstream ideologies and suggesting social change through thought and approach to these hegemonic views. For Hyphen, by utilizing lifestyle as one of the over-arching concepts of their magazine, they subtly contribute to social action. According to the New Oxford American dictionary, lifestyle denotes the way an individual or group lives. Given that Asian America marks a multiplicity and hybridity of ethnicities and identities as Lisa Lowe discussed, lifestyle is not one cohesive unit but layered with many different modes of perspectives and outlooks. By merely exposing the diversity within Asian American lifestyle, this sort of re-thinking moves monolithic representation towards multiplicity and begins to raise social awareness of the complexities in the Asian American community. Moving onwards, specific explorations into remarkable every-day individuals (Asian identity now incorporated into the background and not as a foreground focus) shows how social action takes place in the physical reality and community. Within this vein of thought, Hyphen offers both profiles as well as first-person narratives that uncover personal in-depth experiences and fictional stories. By re-visioning Asian American representation in media through lifestyle, Hyphen is able to pose an adventurous, engaging, and relatable connection between source and audience while telling the stories of agents of social activism in the readership’s own backyard.

Hyphen as Trans-Hegemonic: Shift in Asian American Ideological Struggle

While proposing social change in perspective and re-conceptualization, alternative media also provides the space for “subordinated groups to exercise their power to contest hegemonic meanings”, and serve the global community as a counter-hegemonic force (Bailey et. al). As seen with how Hyphen depicts Asian American lifestyle and through words and images, these methods convey Asian American identity as uniquely its own. Asian American culture is diverse, multiple-fold, full of its own idiosyncrasies and cannot be captured or summed up by a few ethnic groups or a set of customs and traditions. As Lisa Lowe remarks, culture continuously changes and the relationship between the dominant and the marginalized shifts as well.

At one point in history during the ideological struggle for ethnic representation, Asian Americans occupied a marginalized space that encapsulated them as “minorities”. Even as they rose in social, economic, educational status, they were perceived and stereotyped as model “minorities” by hegemonic ideology. In addition to its own specifications that perpetually change, Asian America is not merely a subaltern or counter-hegemonic group. The stereotypes that depict Asian Americans as successful, pristine individuals with no flaws or Asian men as merely geeky computer nerd types or Asian women to be erotic objects continue to permeate mainstream media and social reality. But though stereotypes persist today, Asian Americans continue to counter them by using medium spaces such as Hyphen to voice their experiences, not to represent Asian America as a whole, but to give a sample of specific and diverse perspective. As the different voices come together, they create a group that shifts and changes from marginalized and grows into a powerful force. Through time, as Lowe has described Asian America to be “nomadic, always changing, moving”, this powerful force does not merely represent a subaltern group but as a group that has moved from the margins and occupy their own unique counter-hegemonic group.

But Hyphen does not merely provide space for the counter-hegemonic. Harry Mok has described Hyphen Magazine as a “supplement” to the mainstream, a supplement that has provided its own meaning exterior or alongside to dominant ideology. The Asian America Hyphen portrays, celebrates and critiques with its own mind and comes across as its own trans-hegemonic force. “Trans” indicates the movement of going beyond or on the opposite of; trans-hegemonic occupies a space that is exterior to white hegemony. This does not mean that Hyphen ignores what the mainstream and commercial says about Asians or Asian Americans but their response is of an assured, confident pose and position that declares that they can be just as American as their next-door neighbor. As a trans-hegemonic force, Hyphen has given Asian America its own ideological space of power, the power to define its differences, its solidarity, and its social values.

Hyphen as the New Synthesis

When Hyphen was created in the early 2000’s, it was formed with the intent to diversify Asian American voice and culture. From Harry Mok’s narrative about the story behind the magazine, hyphenated identities such as Asian American “create a boundary between minority groups and White Americans and marginalizes the former” (Kawai, 111). When a group feels stigmatized by a name given to them by external forces (i.e., Third World to developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa), sometimes a group of individuals from that context may utilize that same name to empower themselves and challenge the name (i.e., EATWOT for Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians). Hyphen works in a similar way, utilizing the ‘hyphen’ within Asian American to define Asian Americans in the trans-hegemonic, non-marginalized, empowered way and challenge what hyphen used to dictate.

Photo by Bail Nguyen for 'Born Identity' from Issue 21

As stated in reflection of Lowe’s interpretation of Fanon’s nativism versus assimilation, I proposed that for Asian Americans in this generation to re-represent themselves in multi-cultural America, they would have to adopt both the first generation’s traditional roots and the second generation’s Western-influenced nature. In observing and looking through Hyphen Magazine, one of the appeals is this new generational acceptance and celebration of cultural roots and traditions paralleled by a uniquely Americanized identity. For example, in Issue 21, one of the featured articles, ‘Born Identity’ by Kelley Christine Blomberg, focuses on a Korean-American woman who was adopted as a child into a white family. While growing up, she found herself not fitting into the mold and concurrently, disconnected from her roots. Now as a grown-up, she has found a way to re-connect and reclaim her culture: by following the tradition of adoption but of a baby girl from her native homeland. Together, mother and daughter learns the language and culture of Korea. For this Korean-American woman, it is an empowering and fulfilling action that has filled an identity void within her. The United States today has a multicultural face and this multi-cultural face consists of combining two worlds, which in turn, represents the diversity America represents in the 21st century.

This synthesis is not the same for every Asian American. For some, the synthesis may consist of more American ideologies and Western culture over ethnic origins, such as individuals who come from many mixed heritages. For others, the synthesis might be more equal in both nativist and assimilated standings. Within Hyphen’s approach, quoting Harry Mok, they are “covering how Asian Americans fit or do not fit in multicultural society.” This approach makes way for those, who do not agree with this synthesis or does find the synthesis applicable to their lives, to express their own story.  Coming to a crossroads of ethnic origin and American experience may be one way of re-representation but not the only one.  By offering complex representations from different perspectives or being “schizophrenic”, Hyphen’s diverse coverage of issues, allows readers to interpret the material to their own liking and apply what relates to their lives.  In doing so, Hyphen works for the diverse crowd of Asian Americans by exposing all sorts of elements of the Asian, Asian American, and American experience.

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