“It was mad easy bro. It was easy as fuck. I’m being dead serious.”
This is how Sean Miyashiro described securing his first financial backer, Allen DeBevoise of Third Wave Partners, for his media company 88rising in a 2018 New Yorker interview. As for DeBevoise, he was easily swayed by Miyashiro. “I was sold, probably, in twenty minutes.”
I couldn’t help but feel slightly vexed by Miyashiro’s attitude. The arrogance, the laziness, the air of “whatever.” I read Miyashiro’s interview over and over again, my eyes tracing the number of times he uses “bro” in a sentence and my head cocking at the article’s description of Miyashiro: “flopped down on the couch.”
I just didn’t expect CEOs of multi-millionaire dollar entertainment companies to talk or act like this.
But I didn’t hate it. Something about his persona was appealing to me. I was hooked. There was something entrancing about Miyashiro’s vulgarity, nonchalance, swagger: his bad bitch Asian energy.
Miyashiro is the 41-year-old CEO and founder of Pan Asian culture/media company, 88rising. Attending a competitive high school in California, Miyashiro stated that he wasn’t a diligent student. Unlike the rest of his peers, he enrolled in non-degree education at San Jose State University in the late 90s, stopped going to classes, promoted social events on campus, and then worked in marketing jobs for Bay Area media agencies. Eventually, he persuaded VICE to let him launch Thump in 2013, a site dedicated to electronic dance music.
In 2015, Miyashiro would gear up to found 88rising: a music collective that first signed a 17-year-old, social media influencer known as Rich Brian, who would go on to be an established rapper with over 8 million Spotify monthly listeners. In less than 10 years, 88rising would come to house 18 pan-Asian artists, host the annual “Head in the Clouds Festival” (dubbed by Rolling Stone as “Asian Coachella”), and record the soundtrack for the Marvel Superhero movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
From releasing a Billboard Hot 100 top-ten single to filming videos about philosopher-body builders, 88rising is doing it all. And the driver of this Asian-fueled musical and artistic momentum is Miyashiro himself.
Yet, my parents, and other Asian Americans, probably don’t share this thought. If my parents were to see Miyashiro on the street, they would probably shake their heads at the floppy red beanie, shaggy hair and designer tracksuits. If they then happened to stumble upon 88rising’s content, among them ATARASHII GAKKO!’s Pineapple Kryptonite and Hennessy x 88rising’s “Year of the Tiger” ASMR-cocktail making videos, they would probably show disdain at 88rising’s hybrid, idiosyncratic citations of Asian culture.
All of these predictions happen under the assumption that my parents will even know what 88rising is, an extremely slim possibility. In fact, even as I rave about Miyashiro and 88rising, it’s highly likely that most of you have never heard of them.
So why am I spending so much time describing one eccentric Asian man and his eccentric creations? How could this person, little-known and rather niche, be of importance?
Well, hear me out. My point lies in the very fact that people haven’t heard about Miyashiro. Why don’t we know about Miyashiro? Why is his name unfamiliar to us? And not just Miyashiro, but other Asian American creatives and visionaries who are moving through the world with flying colors, bulldozing restrictions and creating new boundaries.
Enter “the model minority myth,” a phrase that has been increasingly alluded to in the past three years but not quite fully examined. In his 1966 New York Times article, sociologist William Peterson first designated Japanese Americans as a so-called “model minority” in direct comparison to Black Americans. Peterson compared Black Americans’ “self-defeating apathy” towards racial inequities to the seemingly self-sufficient and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps approach of their Japanese counterparts. It was Asian Americans’ “work ethic” that helped them overcome American racial discrimination.
However, the sentiment that Asian Americans were defined by their “extraordinary” servitude existed well before the term came to be. In one instance, Chicago employers in the late 1940s commended Japanese Americans for their willingness to work longer and harder hours, lack of assertive qualities and tendencies to “mind their own businesses.”
While this model minority status seemed positive, the notion that Asian Americans were excellent laborers also became a way to check and dismiss Asian Americans. Attributing their docility, submissiveness and “head-down” work culture, Asian Americans were deemed inferior enough not to pose a threat to white Americans.
Asian Americans’ extreme diligence in the workplace then came to define Asian American success in the broader context. Tropes of cruel “Tiger Mom-parenting” and filial piety defined Asian Americans and their success as nothing more than products of obedience and intense labor.
Take two of the most popular archetypes for Asian American success: the math prodigy and the music virtuoso. In an interview with Amanpour and Company, poet Ocean Vuong expressed how these two stereotypes, albeit seemingly positive, reduced and pigeon-holed Asian Americans. The math whiz’s talent for math is unremarkable and expected, as they are born “naturally” adept at math (I guess being good at math is encoded into Asian genomes). The talented musician is a product of inhumane Asian parents who have forced their children to practice for ungodly hours. What is at the core of these stereotypes is the assumption that these skills cannot and do not exist organically nor are they the product of genuine passion or interest. It is only after obsessive, robot-like hours of toil that Asians can achieve “greatness.”
In the creation of a “better” minority and optimal workers, the model minority myth has also condemned Asian Americans as artless, creativity-lacking machines who only know how to work. It isn’t coincidental that we see a dearth of Asian American garage-geniuses like Mark Zuckerberg or Asian American Walt Whitmans represented in society.
Obviously, this isn’t to erase the impressive Asian American accomplishments in fields of art, writing, music, and sports. How could we forget the classic examples of YoYo Ma, Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin, and I.M. Pei?
However, while these individuals have broken the “bamboo ceiling,” it is worth mentioning that society’s acceptance of these Asian Americans is the exception, not the rule. YoYo Ma’s immense success and world-recognized musicianship does not erase the fact that Asian American classical artists still face stereotypes that their music is “soulless and mechanical,” according to a New York Times article. The mere existence of well-acknowledged and successful Asian American talent does not prove the death of the model minority myth.
So where does that leave us? How can we as a society accept and pursue a more pluralistic, multifaceted perception of Asian American success?
I argue that our answer lies in unconventional heroes like Sean Miyashiro, the bad bitch Asians, the anti-model minority. For us to identify these figures, we must contest existing ideas of success and talent.
In his crassness and disheveledness, Miyashiro would be considered by William Peterson as a “bad” Asian American. With colorful swears and an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, Miyashiro is vulgar and unapologetic in his rebelling, unintentional or intentional, of the model minority.
If you think Miyashiro is an exceptional bad bitch Asian American to the rule of… well, not so bad bitch Asian Americans, think again. The plethora of bad bitch Asians has yet to be explored.
For example, take a look at the Japanese American youth in the Japanese internment camps during the 1940s. These “zoot suit” wearing teenagers were the most visible symbols of defiance. Rowdy, drunk, and horny, these “zoot suiters” would excitedly dance the jitterbug craze at Japanese-organized cultural events. Stereotype-busters can be found in the most unexpected places, even on shows like Netflix’s “Bling Empire.” These astonishingly rich Asian Americans are anything but labor-obsessed and docile. Their materiality and petty drama is a refreshing alternative to the model minority myth.
This essay serves a bigger purpose than to prove and explain the brilliance of Asian Americans to non Asian Americans. Asian Americans are successful, talented, and creative… because they just are. Understanding and recognizing this, for both Asian Amerians and non-Asian Americans, requires a destruction of the model minority myth and its narrow definition of success.
Especially for Asian Americans who want to become creatives and artists, recognizing the vastness of Asian American success is crucial. Possibility is only illuminated by visibility. When we don’t see people who look like us on the television screen, in exhibitions, on the stage, it’s more than discouraging and disheartening. But just because we don’t “see” these bad bitch Asians represented in the media doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. We just need to look harder and in places that we haven’t done so before.
In order to break the stereotype of good, docile Asians, we need our Asian “villains.” Those who curse with an unforgiving vulgarity. Those who swagger into their busy meetings with a lazy confidence. Those who can break from the expectation to perform and be obedient to whiteness.
Bro, we need more Bad Bitch Asians.