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Correction: This article was originally published on July 14, 2014, but has been updated to correct an error about when Yu began his blog.
Phil Yu didn’t think anyone would read his blog. When he created Angry Asian Man 2001, Yu wrote about the facets of the Asian-American community that interested him. Thirteen years later, Yu has arguably become one of the most popular Asian-American bloggers on the web, winning numerous awards in new media and writing daily about news, pop culture, and the media.
With thousands of posts, a podcast series, and a new YouTube talk show under his belt, Yu talks about Angry Asian Man, finding his voice, and what his parents think of his blog.
How do you introduce yourself?
Definitely NOT as "Angry Asian Man."
There are a lot of hyphenated identities in Asian America. Do you have one?
Like most folks in these United States, my hyphens straddle a couple of different identities. The ones I identify myself with most regularly are Asian American, Korean American and Californian.
Tell me about your family. Where are you from and what was it like growing up?
My parents are immigrants from Korea. I grew up in the Bay Area. When I was little, I felt different because I didn't know a lot of kids who were also Korean, though that changed pretty quickly by the time I got to high school. I came of age in an area with a really large and rapidly growing Asian American population, a fact that I definitely took for granted, and didn't fully realize until I moved to the Midwest for college.
When and why did you start the blog?
Like a lot of young people, college was an extremely formative time for figuring out and understanding my Asian-American identity. I took some Asian-American studies courses and read texts that really challenged and politicized me. Around the same time, I started learning some basic HTML and how to make a website. So I created a little space to express some ideas and sound off on some of the things I was seeing in the media.
Growing up, did you pay attention to things like Asian-American representation in media and pop culture?
Always. Growing up, I was a huge consumer of movies and television. For a while, my parents owned a video rental store, so I had access to a lot of movies. I also grew up on a steady diet of afterschool cartoons, sitcoms and cop shows. But even back then, it was always apparent to me that there was a significant lack of Asian faces on the screen -- not a lot of people who looked like me. So when I saw them, for better or for worse, it always felt like a big deal.
You blog about a range of topics and, it seems, for a broad audience. Who are you writing for?
Anyone who cares to read it, frankly. I'm not trying to attract any particular kind of audience, though it helps if people get where I'm coming from. The simple guiding principle behind my content has always been to write about what I, as a reader, would want to read about. So it definitely skews more towards media and pop culture topics, but also covers politics, crime, art, and everything in between for the average "Asian Americanist."
Do your parents read the blog? What do they say about it?
For the first couple of years, I didn't tell them about it. Not that I thought they'd disapprove. I just didn't want to explain it. I thought they wouldn't get it. But I should have given them more credit -- now that they know, they totally get it. My mom apparently reads my blog every day.
You've said the audience response surprised you, that so many were turning to you as a source of information. What was the moment you realized your reach?
In the beginning, I was surprised that anyone other than my friends were reading it at all. Over many years, growth and reach has just been a steady climb. The first [significant] instance I remember was in 2002, when Abercrombie & Fitch released a line of racist Asian-themed t-shirt designs. I realized that the blog could be used as a rallying point for folks wanting to learn more about the shirts, and what they could do about it.
You've written that "everything is racist, but not everything is racist." What does that mean?
I just realized that I wrote that over a dozen years ago! I think we often make snap judgements and are quick to classify a situation or issue: That's racist! This is not. This is not. This totally is. I think that was my somewhat confounding way of saying that some things are worth taking the time for a second look and a deeper conversation.
You've also said that Angry Asian Man became a cause. What's the goal?
In the beginning, there wasn't really a goal. It was more or less shaking my fist in the air and shouting, perhaps mostly to myself. These days, I've settled on three broad aims for the blog: to inform, entertain, and activate.
How's it going?
Some days, it's the best thing in the world. I'm doing something I really love, connecting with really wonderful community, and I feel like I'm evoking some small measure of positive change. Other days, it's a grind. People on the internet are awful to each other, my eyes burn from staring at the screen too long, and I just want curl up on the couch and watch old episodes of Star Trek. Most days are a matter of finding balance somewhere in the middle.
What makes you "angriest?"
I'd love to write a book! That's what bloggers are supposed to do, right? Honestly, whether it's the podcast, the talk show, or any other project I get to work on, I'm grateful for every relationship and opportunity that has come my way because of the blog. As long as I get to work with cool, creative people, I'm good.
Anything else you want to say?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.