For 29 years, I've lived, day in, day out, with something that was so unfashionable I'm surprised someone didn't try to manufacture it and sell it at Kmart or TJ Maxx. It was something that left me hopelessly lame, uncool, out of it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make it into the "hip" crowd.
My unthinkable and unchangeable flaw? I'm Asian. More specifically, an Asian man.
Thankfully, I'm not alone. About 2 percent of the American population is similarly afflicted. For years we struggled with our predicament, hopeful - but by no means certain - that someday our glaring inadequacy would cease to be a flaw. Someday, we prayed, it would be cool to be like us.
Well, people, I'm here to tell you that General Tsao's Chicken has at long last come home to roost. Check out the evidence. Look at the faces on the billboards. The Wall Street Journal reports in a front-page story that Asian males are "becoming increasingly popular with advertisers." The Dallas Morning News says there's been "a surge in Asian male awareness" in the ultra-macho worlds of sports, cars, fraternities.
And, the coup de grace: a two-page spread in the Feb. 21 issue of Newsweek titled, "Why Asian Guys Are on a Roll."
Such articles lay bare the disturbing facts, how we had been seen as inscrutable by nature, bookish in appearance, small in stature, and how that added up to the painful truth: We weren't the masculine ideal. At the same time, our Asian sisters enjoyed a free pass on the benefits of a decidedly different reputation: exotically beautiful and culturally mysterious.
But now, Asian men are all the rage, the articles said. We have Asian actors and action heroes such as Chow Yun Fat, Rick Yune and Jet Li. We're on the fashion runways in chic cities. We make more money than other racial groups. And, the Newsweek story reported, Asian men are intermarrying other races like never before. (And to think I believed my Asian girlfriend was good enough!)
Newsweek quotes this dialogue between an Asian man and his white babe:
He: Asian men are the next "trophy boyfriends."
She: "It's almost like Asian boyfriends are the fashion accessory of the moment."
After reading that, I was so ebullient that I could have kissed my pocket protector. After all those years of nerdiness, I am finally riding the crest of America's cultural tsunami!
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I'm only half-Asian: My father's family is Japanese and my mother is descended from Eastern European Jews. But most "ethnics" are only partly so - it's that single-drop-of-blood thing. So let the record show that I'm as down with my roots as any Hunan homeboy.
And I'm ready to rock. My days of rising at dawn, working 10 hours, hitting the sack early and being an otherwise decent, law-abiding geek are over. I'm gonna be hitting the fly clubs, chowing at the phat restaurants and dating the hotties, kickin' it with my good friends and fellow hipsters, Puff Daddy and Ricky Martin.
Of course, that's assuming those guys can hang with me. Sure, just last year the national media were going gaga over over the Latin invasion of the likes of Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez. How they could sing, shake their booties, pout before the cameras. But, hey, a year is a long time. Get with it. The Latino thing is so 15 minutes ago that I suspect it'll soon be roped off, declared a national treasure and placed in the Smithsonian.
Now it's all about Asians, baby, and I, to crib from a certain overexposed Latin lothario, intend to be livin' la vida Tokyo.
My Asian buddy Phil isn't as convinced that this is a good thing. I mean, he's spent a good 28 years dutifully keeping his place in the Asian nerd corner. He attended Harvard, for heaven's sake.
At lunch the other day, he confided, "Doesn't it feel uncomfortable being objectified in this way?"
I was appalled, naturally. From behind my wraparound shades and pulled-down ball cap - I don't want to be mobbed on the street, after all - I patiently explained the New World Order to P-Daddy, which is what I call Phil now.
"P-Daddy, my samurai partner in crime," I said. "You gotta learn to live a little. Stop being so . . . so . . . Asian! Or, rather, be more Asian! Feel the power in your weaknesses."
For the sake of P-Daddy and my non-Asian friends, I've put together this tip sheet on how to be cool, Asian-style:
Hair: Preferably black and limp; cut in the shape of your favorite kitchen bowl.
Shirt: Snug; short sleeves preferred.
Pants: Polyester; hemmed 2 inches above the ankle; worn at all times,
even when you're playing basketball.
Car: Any make of Toyota or Honda; for those on a budget, Hyundai; for the extra-wild party boys, Mitsubishi Mirage.
Food: Dim sum (except for those icky chicken feet)
Babes: Pamela Anderson-Lee (explain to friends that she added "Lee" to her name because she really is married to a Chinese).
Clubs: Anything karaoke (sing only Canto-Pop songs by your favorite Hong Kong teen idols; fake the lyrics if you haven't mastered your Cantonese).
Catch phrases: "He's my Buddha!" and "Confucius says you ain't nuthin' but a grasshopper." (Translation: You're so inconsequential that even a fifth-century B.C. East Asian philosopher wouldn't bother pondering you.)
I urge everyone to study up. You never know when we Asian men will be reduced to fleeting has-beens. I can see it now: a Newsweek cover story in March 2001: "Why Native American Men Are Livin' Large." Guys with ponytails. Feathered headdresses for the ladies.
Sure, you may think what I'm saying is based on tired, played-out cultural stereotypes that lump individuals into broad groups in ways that can be hurtful and dangerous. But who cares, as long as the stereotype works for you?
Whatever seems lame about your group right now might seem trendy in the blink of a (slanted) eye. After all, I'm Asian, and you know what that means: We're on a roll, the big Buddhas on the block after all these years.
Washington Post Metro reporter David Nakamura is considering changing his byline to his middle name: Akira.