By Emma Ladouceur
Wesley Yang visited the University at Albany Thursday night, Feb. 6, to discuss his collection of essays called “The Souls of Yellow Folk” with the New York State Writer’s Institute.
The essays, which elaborate on injustices Asian Americans face in the U.S., helped land the book on the 100 Notable Books of 2018 list that is curated by The New York Times Book Review.
Yang, a Montreal native, is currently a writer for Tablet Magazine and has worked for many other magazines as a contributing editor and writer, including New York Magazine and Harpers. Yang also previously taught at Columbia University.
His discussion and essays touched on the lack of representation of Asian Americans in pop culture and politics—despite their statistical success as a group and “overpopulation” in certain occupations—white supremacy and even male domination of women. Yang answered many questions that spanned a myriad of different topics, including his upbringing with Korean parents, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and how his collection of essays came to be.
In his talk, Yang touched upon the idea of a “tiger mother,” which is a phrase popularly associated with Asian mothers and their strict disciplinary and scholarly expectations for their children. This, however, was not the case in Yang’s childhood.
“A lot of the tiger mother stuff is a little bit foreign to me because my parents are weird oddballs that ended up, fairly early on, getting cut off from Korean culture,” Yang said. “Therefore a lot of the etiquette they do not actually know or have forgotten.”
He, however, was surrounded and compared to other Asian Americans in this way. His father insisted that they did not learn Korean and they hardly visited, therefore his family was different and more assimilated than some other Asian American families.
“It’s about the spirit of things, and the sharing of culture and reception of cultures is what makes a multicultural society work,” Yang said while discussing cultural appropriation and the blending of cultures. “It can be awkward and it can even be disrespectful… [but] it really all comes down to the spirit in which things are done, if things are done in the spirit of generosity, and for the most part, you can tell.”
Wesley Yang’s collection of essays, which came out in October 2018, was, according to Yang, an “admission of failure.” His original intention was to write a full-length book about Asian Americans based on his article that he wrote in 2011 called “Paper Tigers” in New York Magazine.
“[‘Paper Tigers’] was a 10,000-word explanation where I throw everything and the kitchen sink into a gloss of the Asian American experience as we understood it,” Yang said about his article, which was the most widely trafficked article in the history of the publication at that time.
Despite the inability to produce a full-length narrative, “The Souls of Yellow Folk,” which includes “Paper Tigers,” came out in October 2018 as a collection of 13 essays.
For more information on NYS Writer’s Institute events, visit www.nyswritersinstitute.org.