In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Consequence invited musician, DIY label-head, and activist Mike Park to share his thoughts on being an Asian artist in America, the enduring power of music, and more. Read his op-ed below.
Park’s ska-punk project Bruce Lee Band is also set to release a new record, One Step Forward. Two Steps Back., on May 27th via his label Asian Man Records. Pre-save the album here. Vinyl pre-orders are sold out, but sign up to be notified when it’s back in stock. Additionally, from May 27th through June 30th, all Asian Man Records Bandcamp sales will be donated to Stop AAPI Hate with a 100% match from Mike Park. You can also follow Asian Man Records on Twitter and Instagram.
I was born in Seoul, Korea and immigrated to the US in the early ’70s, growing up in a suburb of San Jose, California. My mother was a hairdresser and my father was a lab technician. We were the only Korean family in my neighborhood, and I was only one of five graduating AAPI boys at my high school.
Four of us started a band called YWCA (Yellows with Chink Attitude), which culminated with a school talent show, or maybe our drummer’s 16th birthday. We bonded hard and used humor to deflect the racism we felt growing up by penning songs like, “Why Are There No Asians in Pro Sports Except for Michael Chang,” or “Ching Pei the Magic Panda.” It was punk and it was terrible, but we loved being together making noise.
After high school, I started a band with some friends called Skankin’ Pickle. My songwriting had matured to include more political overtones that dealt with my insecurities as an Asian American as I became more aware of my surroundings and how homogeneous the punk scene was. I dropped out of college to go on tour full-time; we played 46 of the 50 states, three provinces in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. I would scour the crowd looking for anybody who looked like me. If there was another AAPI, I would pull them up on stage in a celebratory fashion as we broke into a song I wrote called “Asian Man” (a tongue-in-cheek look at the stereotypes of AAPI). We lasted seven years, going through four vans, two arrests, and three bass players.
After constantly being on the road, I was burned out and reeling with anxiety. At age 26, I bowed out of full-time touring to focus on starting a record label. It was mostly an outlet to release my own music, but to also showcase the talents of some amazing bands and people that I had met during my time on the road. Choosing the “Asian Man” song title, I ran with Asian Man Records as a way to let people know that a person of color was behind the sounds that came from this label. I wanted AAPI kids in particular who were living in middle America to know that they weren’t alone in their love for underground music (at the time, I couldn’t name one other AAPI who ran an indie record label). Using elements of the South Korean flag and the Hangul alphabet, the Asian Man logo was created in May of 1996.