I was asked, “When was the moment you couldn’t stay silent anymore?” I remember seeing a post by The Love Life of Just Some Dude wherein he outlined that Asians Americans should stay silent about the violence towards the community. I saw this post being shared like a California wildfire on my timeline. I questioned friendships and wondered if this is what my Asian American peers thought of me. Stay silent? No, I cannot. I cannot be silent when I see my people being beaten and killed. I know I’ve made enemies calling out Yellowface, avoiding cosplay competitions that have been complicit to letting racists take administrative and leadership roles, calling out AAVE used by AZN’s (I’m looking at you, Eddie Huang), or the phrase “Being called ‘Oriental’ is not a big deal” etc. I’m used to it. It’s the price of activism, but it weeds out those who are there for you and those who are not.
For those who have been following me since my Bay Area days, you know that anime conventions are what I do when I’m not at my 9 to 5.. Anime conventions attract anime enthusiasts from all walks of life. Anime conventions celebrate Japanese and — to a certain extent — East Asian Pop culture. Attendees are willing to consume overpriced Pocky in the dealers hall and participate in convention activities under their love for Japanese anime. In other words, these conventions exist for a love of Asian pop culture. Hundreds of these cons exist in the Unites States alone.
So in March 2021, in wake of the Atlanta spa shootings, only four anime convention have put out a statement in support for Asian Americans and Stop Asian Hate. I kept track of who these cons were: Otakon, Anime NYC, Anime Boston, Anime Weekend Atlanta. A few other cons would do charity streams after the fact to raise money for Asian non-profits. I questioned why it was only these four. We love Japanese pop culture and history so much, so why can’t we support the actual people and culture? I know I’ve had my share of microaggressions at cons, but I shrugged those off because I didn’t think it was a big deal. I was raised among a friend group who had the attitude of “Toughen up!” and “it’s not a big deal – move on.” I no longer hold space for these boba liberals.
When it comes to the Asian American experience, we aren’t given a seat at these “diversity in cosplay or fandom” panels. One would assume that all Asian Americans are into Mulan, anime, Jackie Chan, or k-pop, but that’s not the case. No one asked about our nuanced experiences in fandom. I have my criticisms on Jackie Chan being a CCP sellout. Yeah, I do like anime, but because of cringeworthy AAVE, I cannot fully stan stuff like Crazy Rich Asians. Asian Americans have different tastes in fandom. It’s wrong to assume what we like. In fact, the assumptions presented by non-Asians can be downright annoying. Just because I’m Asian, doesn’t mean I’m not Steven Segal movies (no one should be…but Under Siege was fine).
With all this, I was hyped that Anime Expo, my hometown con, would be having a virtual charity version of their convention. Cons were still grounded because of the pandemic. I appreciated that Anime Expo Lite had an Asian American leaders roundtable. I didn’t want to miss it. I wanted to catch it live. Sadly, as documented in my Anime Expo Lite 2021 report, much of the live stream chat consisted of either Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures stans and Obey Me! stans. I love both franchises, but their behavior in the chat was cringe. Jojo stans would “camp” for hours in the chat to wait for Day 1’s Jojo stream. They were disrupting video presentations of Japanese culture and then calling it “boring” and “useless info” when there were people attending the virtual con who wanted to learn about travel to rural Japan, kimonos, Japanese candy making and sword making, etc. The cultural streams are my favorite part of Anime Expo Lite! You’re learning something!
It was really bad when the Jojo stans were disappointed that their big reveal was a reveal when Stone Ocean would premiere. Jojo stans took their anger in the chat. They were asking for their $5 back, though the $5 entry fee to Anime Expo Lite went to a good cause. One went so far to yell, “I’m committing a hate crime!” As an Asian American seeing this in the chat, I had to question if conventions would be safe for me. Seeing these butthurt Jojo stans take their anger out on a charity, a charity that helps Asian Americans seek mental and legal help, makes me glad I stopped associating with the Jojo fandom and not feel so bad for stopping halfway through series 4.
I went in to check out the Asian American presentation. It was a primer for understanding Asian American issues. The chat was fairly tame. I had to field some questions in the chat with the usual, “What’s wrong with being in the model minority?” I liked that the presentation covered the 5D’s coming from the Asian American Legal Defense organization; the presenter went in-depth on how to de-escalate a violent situation. However, physical self-defense wasn’t actually covered (ie: what happens when you actually do get hit? what are your rights?). I thought that would be great to have a legal team discuss where the law can protect you if you have to go into physical self-defense mode. Many attacks do not get the opportunity to deescalate, especially when attacks can come from out of nowhere. The panel was informative and I did appreciate people asking questions in the chat to get a better sense of what’s wrong with the model minority myth. I do appreciate Anime Expo for having this space for Asian Americans to have this discourse.
You might be asking, Where were the mods? The mods, from what I can tell looked like bots that were deleting certain patterns of posts (ie: typing praise and adulation twice if you’re hyped about something). I wished there was an actual human who was moderating the chat to boot folks who were typing in hateful comments or anything that was taking away from cultural presentations. I had to tweet to Anime Expo to let them know that this was going on. Perhaps this is a teachable moment to virtual cons to have human moderators and have an adequate, streamlined way for reporting comments and attendees. It was also annoying that the bots deleted links. I was also providing free resources for Asian Americans in the chat. The bots read this as “spam,” yet these are resources that would help folks out.
FYI: There’s a FREE virtual self-defense training class with Dragon Combat Club, as well as connections to mental health resources via Unmute. I can attest from experience that these are legit and just not some hotline I’m dropping!
I had an awesome time at Anime Expo Lite. However, since Scarlet Rhapsody’s team are in the mindset to get back into conventions this season, I’m also remaining vigilant given what I’ve seen with attendee behavior. I know a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the bunch, but I’m done with downplaying the things that are hurtful. It is a big deal. Cons should figure out how to make their spaces safe for all nerds. Anime cons especially need to realize they are making money whether or not if it’s non-profit or for profit off the Japanese culture. I would love to see more cultural and Asian American thematic panels at these events. They have the opportunity to educate and to create better communities.
And if you need a panelist or a guest speaker, you know where to find me.
For more information on the charity that Anime Expo is supporting, please visit Hate is a Virus.
You can also support Asian American authors by purchasing Dragons on the Spectrum by Henry Zhang
Title card art by Amanda Phinabodhipakkiva