Yellow Rage slams stereotypes of Asian-American women
"So what you tried 'Dim Sum,' and den some on the menu. So what you a fan of Lucy Liu. So what you read 'The Joy Luck Club' too. That makes you an expert on how I should look? (Expletive) you! What the (expletive) do you know about being Asian?"
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
|||Yellow Rage with Katana, Kealoha, Lisa Kanae, OmegaCix and Joe Balaz
6:30 p.m. today
Also: Ages 18 and older only. Dress code in effect.
Hear an excerpt of their work at www.yellowrage.com
"For one thing, it's (come) from the sexist things that I've heard from men who have particular stereotypes about Asian women, sexually the passive Lotus Blossom, China doll or whatever. I have a whole bunch of experiences with that," said Michelle Myers, half of Yellow Rage, a deep laugh barely masking the disturbing reality of her statement.
But Myers (who is Korean and Caucasian) and Rage partner Catzie Vilayphonh (who is Laotian) are interested in a lot more than beating the crap out of pop-culture stereotyping of the Asian-American experience that encourages such behavior. Yellow Rage's prose also digs deep into still darker episodes of Asian-American history sweatshop labor, anti-Asian violence, sexual slavery, among others that, while not drawn from personal experience, still resonate deeply for the duo.
Delivered slam-poetry style with equal doses of anger and volume, Yellow Rage's fiercely provocative work has earned them appearances on HBO's "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry" and much respect from peers and audiences on the spoken-word circuit. Yellow Rage will headline a spoken-word showcase hosted by Honolulu poetry collective Wordstew tonight at the Zanzabar nightclub.
Yellow Rage began as a trio, hastily thrown together by Myers in September 2000 to enter a Philadelphia leg of a touring Def Poetry Slam competition. Then made up of Myers, Vilayphonh and Sepna Shah (all had recently met in an Asian writers workshop), the group's performance of its own "I'm A Woman Not A Flava" won it a spot in the event's semi-finals.
Two days later, impressed Def Jam reps flew Rage to New York to audition for "Def Poetry," then being pitched to HBO as a series. A week after that, Rage was performing with veteran spoken-word artists at a Def Poetry Slam organized for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. Down to a duo by last December (Shah left to attend med school), Yellow Rage drew a standing ovation from the notoriously tough studio crowd at its first HBO "Def Poetry" taping.
Rage's work has gone on to win both kudos and criticism from Asian-American and non-Asian-American audiences.
"An Asian-American woman once e-mailed us and told us that we were a disgrace to Asian-American womanhood," said Myers. "Those e-mails were a bit difficult to read."
Rage is heckled most often at performances by Asian-American men. Confronted by Myers afterward, they "usually duck the issue," she said.
"We come on stage ... and we're very assertive," said Myers. "I guess some people would identify us as very aggressive. We don't back down from anybody, and I think there are some men who have problems with that or don't know how to deal with that."
For the most part, though, reaction from Yellow Rage's audiences has mostly been appreciative.
"People come up to us after shows and tell us how much our poetry means to them ... that we say things that they can't say themselves," Myers said of Rage's Asian-American fans. "Some people have told us that ... our poetry is what gets them through when they're feeling frustrated about something. Those (comments) are really powerful."