By Estelle Lee
In many ways, I am a part of the Yi Family: my own last name stems from the same Korean surname, I deliver messages to my grandmother through my mother, and I’m told to pray every night before bedtime. I’ve yet to befriend a Korean war veteran or work as a chicken sexer, but still every phrase and moment of “Minari” felt oddly familiar to me—and each poignant shot could make it feel like home for anyone.
“Minari” is director Lee Isaac Chung’s first partially autobiographical film diving into his childhood in the Ozarks as the son of Korean immigrants. The film grabs at parts of Chung’s boyhood but instead brings a new family into the picture: the Yis. Composed of Mr. Jacob Yi, the ambitious father; Monica, the skeptical mother; David, the youngest American-born son; Anne, the daughter of the family; and Soonja, Monica’s mother, the family navigates through their new life together on the acres of Arkansas soil that they call home. Having moved his family from California, Jacob is determined to create a “big garden,” a Garden of Eden that could save his family and make a better future for his children—Jacob’s attitude and work ethic is one that is easily recognizable when sharing an immigrant experience. But at its core, “Minari” is more than just another story about the American Dream. The film focuses on the turmoil of a family faced with tragedy and the connections that make that calamity worthwhile.
Just like I did in the Mark Lee article, I want to take this time to point out instances of cultural appropriation, which Stray Kids recently released a vague apology for amid renewed calls from fans to take accountability. Perhaps this sheds hope for a more inclusive and educated society, as idols aim to be role models…
I also would like to add this: if potentially interested in the songs analyzed in this piece, I recommend listening to “SKZ2020,” in which Stray Kids re-recorded old songs after a former member (Woojin) left the band. Since then, victims have come forward claiming that he sexually assaulted them—and I want to make it clear that I do not support him or condone sexual assault. Since he has not been a part of the band for about a year now, if interested in Stray Kids, please consider listening to the new versions of the songs I am analyzing to support the eight—not nine—of them.
By Shiva Chopra
In the months after George Floyd's murder, my Instagram feed started filling up with photos. The normal Monets with their fluffy dresses and the jewel-tone balloon dogs from Koons were replaced by regular appearances by influential Black artists: David Hammons' “Untitled (African-American Flag)” or the neon light spelling "America" by Glenn Ligon. Curiously, however, these pictures did not seem to come from the places where those artworks are housed. Cultural institutions, galleries and museums have been mostly silent; many have taken months to respond to the social debate while others have yet to comment.
Black Lives Matter's protests encourage many companies to dig inward, do better. Promises for reform rippled through the art world after numerous calls to action from activists and artists. Hauser & Wirth, a blue-chip gallery with a range of artists, has reported its commitment to finding solutions; other galleries have vowed to audit their processes and identify measures for improvement. Tate shared a photo of “No Woman No Cry” by Chris Ofili, a painting which protests police brutality, thus describing the gallery’s responsibility to speak out for human rights and anti-racism. Some settled for quotes from Martin Luther King.
I first found out about Han Jisung—known by his stage name Han—through his singing. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he’s actually the main rapper in the JYP-managed Stray Kids. As well, he’s involved in 3Racha, the group within the band that produces and writes Stray Kids’ songs, so he plays a part in everything they’ve released. (Though in this article, I’ll be focusing on three songs he’s mainly written and produced himself.)
Han is startlingly multi-talented, and he’s always inspired me; he attempts to help others, and his prowess lies in specifically aiming to help those dealing with any level of anxiety, which he has experience with. It’s different when someone—especially when they’re from your same heritage, one that ignores and stigmatizes mental illnesses—gets it. By taking that step forward as an idol to be honest and firm about his mental health, he’s setting an example for those who look up to him. Listening to his songs lends comfort and mutual understanding as a result. He knows, and he’s allowing for those with mental illnesses to find subtle support.
Before I begin this article, it’s necessary to note that quite a few of the performers on “High School Rapper” have appropriated Black culture. While K-hip-hop mainly has issues with stealing from Black artists, K-pop as a whole has appropriated from other cultures as well. Many fans—mostly BIPOC—try to hold idols accountable, yet there are always those who attempt to speak over their voices. As such, I think it’s relevant to include a few links that will explain the cultural appropriation that goes on in the South Korean entertainment and music industries; I want to make space here to shed light on the topic, as avoiding it only adds further harm. Here is a good starting point, which talks about racism and colorism in South Korea and the irony of the fetishization and appropriation of Black culture. This article talks about the disrespectful use of a Hindu god and also links to other examples of cultural appropriation.
Mark Lee performed “Drop” with Red Velvet’s Seulgi in the final round of “High School Rapper,” an elimination-based show for, well, high school-aged rappers to see who among them is the best. Lee belongs to SM-Entertainment-managed NCT, a K-pop group, and while he had achieved success before his participation on the show, he battled against the label of “idol rapper,” which belittles those in the K-pop industry as “fake” rappers. Given that he persisted until the final rounds when no one expected a K-pop idol to even last on the show and that he played a significant role in writing the lyrics, “Drop” can be seen as a culmination of Lee’s efforts in breaking free from stereotypes and truly finding himself. Thus, I’ve always seen this song as a message of support.
I’ve grown up quite accustomed to racist comments, so I pushed my Korean heritage as far away from me as possible throughout my childhood. As a result, K-pop was never something I wanted to come close to. But with the rising popularity of the genre, overt racism gave way to a more ironic and subtle fetishization. All of a sudden, being Korean was… trendy. Interesting. The contrasting attitudes were certainly confusing; and while K-pop did help me accept my identity, that definitely didn’t stem from all the people suddenly obsessed with my ethnicity.
While I was uncomfortable with myself and the people who saw me as part of an aesthetic instead of a person, I finally decided to give K-pop a go in 2015. I was on a school break and terribly lonely, and I needed something to escape into, whatever it was. So I chose the music closest to me, since so many people I knew enjoyed K-pop, and I was sort of on the fringes of its various fandoms anyways.
In other words: I started becoming a fan in eighth grade, right as I was tumbling into the pinnacle of teenagehood. I hadn’t thought much about me before. I had always felt alone. But K-pop forced me to confront myself and the awkwardness which I had been stumbling through thus far.
By Jessica Liu
For hundreds of years, minorities have borne the brunt of America’s legacy of systemic oppression. From undergoing a forcible uprooting from their homeland to resisting the death of their culture and languages, Native Americans have long endured this burden. Joy Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate, unpacks themes–of resiliency, destruction, memory, and the power of storytelling–shaped by her heritage as a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation in the poetry collection "An American Sunrise." In doing so, she pays homage to her rich tribal culture.
In her poem “Break My Heart” lingers the reminder that no matter how distant, “history will always find you, and wrap you / In its thousand arms”: Harjo’s poetry stems from her return to Okfuskee, Oklahoma, where her ancestors, the Mvskoke people, were violently uprooted and forced west under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
By Jessica Liu
“Here’s the house with childhood / whittled down to a single red trip wire,” the speaker declares in “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” part of Ocean Vuong’s 2016 poetry collection "Night Sky with Exit Wounds." Indeed, the collection pares down a medley of emotions and past experiences into haunting poetry that lingers in the middle of intersections between past and present, masculinity and femininity, Vietnam and America. Vuong, a gay, Vietnamese-American man, is no stranger to these dichotomies himself. His heritage and identity seep into his poetry, offering unique vulnerability to his words.
The collection begins a discussion of the rippling impacts of familial bonds with the poem “Threshold,” in which the speaker watches his father sing in the shower. The father drifts beyond the speaker’s reach like an apparition, "the rain / falling through him" as if he were only a shadow. Similar visions of the narrator’s often-absent father linger across multiple poems as a testament to the lasting influence of one’s roots and upbringing. At one point, the narrator wishes “the day will close without / the page turning as [his father] wraps his arms around / the boy’s milk-blue shoulders”; this sense of longing permeates the book.
By Anya Shukla
This week, I checked out Tacoma Art Museum's (TAM) “Black Artists” collection. According to the TAM website, pieces by Black artists only make up 1.76% of the museum’s 5000 art pieces. Therefore, the organization is working to critically engage with and remedy this inequality; this collection is one of the ways it is doing so.
While I liked the collection as a whole, I especially enjoyed the following three pieces by Black artists, all of whom produced work in either the 19th or 20th century. And to flex my writing muscles, I thought it would be fun to create mini-reviews—each approximately 250 words—of the paintings I admired. (Because I am kinda scared of copyright infringement, I haven’t provided pictures of the art pieces I’ve reviewed. Instead, I’d encourage you to click on the links to see each one for yourself.)
By Anya Shukla
The two minute and 29-second video starts in the dark. “Other people don’t have to remember to forget,” the voiceover half-whispers in Spanish. Noses and ears bloom in and out of sight as the camera, focusing and unfocusing like a dilated eye, circles several people. The speaker continues: “Check their pockets for everything they need to bring out: money, keys, ID, and a strategy to present themselves.” The video’s subjects stay stock-still, the lack of light and strange camerawork obscuring their faces. They stand like statues: static, with unnerving immobility. “The movie started without me, and around me.”
An elegant, multifaceted piece, Rodrigo Valenzuela’s "Tertiary" explores the role of people of color in cinema and television, art forms where racial minorities are often underrepresented. For example, according to a study by UCLA, only 18.7% of broadcast scripted leads went to people of color, while racial minorities make up 38.7% of the American population. "Tertiary" delves into the sociological and psychological impacts of this relegation of racial minorities to the background.