In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Result 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 editorial 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 27 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 27 to June 30, all sales of Asian Man Records Bandcamp will be donated to Stop AAPI Hate with a 100% match by Mike Park. You can also follow Asian Man Records on Twitter and Instagram.
I was born in Seoul, Korea and immigrated to the United States in the early 70s, growing up in a suburb of San Jose, California. My mother was a hairdresser and my father a laboratory technician. We were the only Korean family in my neighborhood and I was just one of five AAPI graduating boys from 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 befriended each other and used humor to deflect the racism we felt growing up by writing songs like “Why Are There No Asians In Professional Sports Except by Michael Chang” or “Ching Pei the magic panda”. It was punk and it was terrible, but we liked to make noise together.
After high school, I started a band with some friends called Skankin’ Pickle. My writing 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 the homogeneity of the punk scene. I dropped out of college to go on tour full time; we’ve played in 46 of the 50 states, three provinces of Canada, the UK, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Spain. I scoured the crowd for anyone who looked like me. If there was another AAPI, I’d take them on stage in a celebratory fashion as we entered a song I wrote called “Asian Man” (a tongue-in-cheek look at AAPI stereotypes). We lasted seven years, going through four pickups, two arrests and three bass players.
After constantly being on the road, I was exhausted and reeling from anxiety. At 26, I gave up touring full time to focus on starting a record label. It was mostly an outlet to release my own music, but also to showcase the talents of amazing bands and people I had met during my time on the road. In choosing the title of the song “Asian Man”, I ran with Asian Man Records to let people know that a person of color was behind the sounds coming from this label. I especially wanted the AAPI kids who lived in Central America to know that they weren’t alone in their love of underground music (at the time, I couldn’t name another AAPI who ran an independent label). Using elements of the South Korean flag and the Hangul alphabet, the Asian Man logo was created in May 1996.