Rutgers Korean Student Association tackles stereotypes with performances, panel discussions
The Rutgers University Korean Student Association’s (RUKSA) set out to abolish Asian stereotyping with their event Project Korea.
The event focused on the pursuit of passion over tradition, said James Lee, the association's president and a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
The event highlighted numerous artists of varying backgrounds, all performing as a way of pushing back against any stereotypes they encountered throughout their lives.
“In the media, (Asian men) are portrayed as nerds, very feminine, very submissive, quite-kind of people,” Lee said. “The traditional, stereotypical Asian route would be that your parents want you to study like 24/7 … They want you to become a doctor, a lawyer."
Pursuit of these financially stable positions can lead to problems later in life, he said.
“There’s a thing called the quarter-life crisis," he said. "You study this (discipline), and then you get a job, and then you realize you really don’t want to do this for the rest of your life.”
This year’s Project Korea was modeled after "The Tonight Show." It began with host Joshua Tschoe, RUKSA's social chair and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, interviewing performers about their passions and the struggles of pursuing them. Afterward, performers took to the stage to do what they do best.
“(The rappers) were really truthful. They were genuine,” Tschoe said.
This year's Project Korea also featured six acclaimed performers: Dumbfoundead, JL, Lyricks, Rekstizzy, Awkwafina and MC Jin.
The panel of six artists discussed the hardships of being labeled “Asian-American artists” instead of simply “artists.” The panel also emphasized the artistic endeavor of honing in on one’s craft.
Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, Dumbfounded and Lyricks starred in the documentary “Bad Rap,” which premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary focuses on how these rappers, while successful, are still not considered household names and have issues breaking into the mainstream culture.
MC Jin was one of the first Asian-American rappers to break into the mainstream music scene.
After the panel, JL, Lyricks and Dumbfounded performed. MC Jin did a stand-up comedy routine before performing his song “Glow.”
Like the club itself, these performances worked to counteract Asian stereotypes, Tschoe said.
“There’s this huge Asian stereotype — be a doctor, be a lawyer — that kind of stigma where being financially stable is always favored over following your passions,” he said. “Within Rutgers … there are so many people that do have these talents, and some of them are just held back by this kind (of) Asian stereotype, this kind of stigma.”
The rappers played a part often left unfilled, he said.
“I feel like people came out because (the rappers) can be role models. They’re pioneers to breaking that kind of ‘bamboo ceiling,’” Tschoe said.
The event also had Korean food, including bulgogi, jaeyook, tofu, ddukbokki, donkasu and japchae.
This was in line with the KSA's goal of spreading awareness of Korean-American culture, said Kevin Lee, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and one of the KSA’s culture chairs.
“(RUKSA) seeks to build and develop leaders,” said Emily Leung, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and the KSA’s vice president of programming. “The best thing about (Project Korea) is educating the public on things that aren’t really talked about ... We have the students point-of-view, and the headliners, who actually made a career out of their passion."
RUKSA is constantly evolving, Leung said.
“This year, we focused a lot more on the students we had here, just to show that it really has more of a relate-ability,” Kevin Lee said.
One of the aims of this year’s Project Korea was to open doors for students outside of academics, Kevin Lee said. The hope is that they find a passion and feel comfortable pursuing it.
Jason Woo, RUKSA's digital media coordinator and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the the group pushes him and his peers out of their comfort zones.
“It’s definitely pushing me to work my hardest,” he said.
Faith Hoatson is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.