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[PROFILE] Interview of MTV's SuChin Pak

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  • madchinaman
    SUCHIN PAK INTERVIEW http://mouther.com She s been in television journalism since she was 16 years old and called Ice Cube Ice Pick in her first on-air
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9 10:13 PM

      She's been in television journalism since she was 16 years old and
      called Ice Cube "Ice Pick" in her first on-air interview (which
      incidentally was at a touchy panel where Ice Cube was discussing
      Asians and blacks after the Los Angeles riots).

      SuChin Pak's job puts her in uniquely influential position: behind
      the camera as a journalist and on-camera as MTV's only visible Asian-
      American face, Pak speaks directly to America's youth on the only
      television network that young people consistently watch.

      The Korean-born, Bay Area-raised Pak has long been interested in
      exploring Asian America and its many splintered facets, and she has
      assembled a MTV documentary series called My Life (Translated) about
      the multi-cultural experiences of American youths (including her own
      stories as an Asian-American), with a controversial second
      installment exploring the eyelid surgery so familiar to Asians and
      Asian-Americans (in her own press release at the time of her
      documentary's release, she recalls a cameraman asking her to open
      her eyes when they were already wide open).

      The drop-dead gorgeous Pak took a minute with Mouther to swap roles
      and become the interviewee, where she dropped science on the Connie
      Chung syndrome, hip-hop's appeal to a disenfranchised youth, and her
      thoughts on breaking the first Asian-American Britney Spears.

      Mouther: Tell us the correct way to pronounce your first name.

      SP: It's SuChin [emphasis on the second syllable].

      Mouther: What's your Asian ethnicity?

      SP: Korean-American.

      Mouther: And how old are you?

      SP: Do we care? [laughing] I'm in my mid-20s.

      Mouther: Let's talk about how your career in TV journalism started.
      In previous interviews, you've mentioned how you actually did not
      want to exclusively do news and preferred to focus on entertainment
      as well. Did you find that people assumed you wanted to do news, as
      opposed to entertainment?

      SP: When I first started in television, everyone was pigeonholing me
      in news, because of the whole Connie Chung syndrome. And I was so
      young when I started — I was 16 – that I really didn't put much
      thought into it. It was just a great after-school job. Then it
      turned into – Okay, this is a great way to pay for college. I was a
      Poli Sci major – I was planning to go into law. It wasn't like I set
      my goals on TV, and then auditioned and did all that. It all just
      kind of happened very naturally. I was like, this is just a fluke,
      it'll pass, but I'm just going to count my lucky stars. So I did the
      local news thing for awhile. And then when I really got serious
      about it and decided, You know what, I want to pursue this as a
      career. So I sat down and I thought, Well, what do I want to do?
      Not "What does my news executive want me to do," or "What does my
      news channel want me to do," but "What's going to make me happy?"
      For me, my heart was in entertainment – music, film, TV. At that
      time — and still really today — that's not an option – either you're
      a news anchor or there's really nothing else.

      Mouther: Or Access Hollywood.

      SP: But even with Access Hollywood, I mean I don't know if there are
      Asian people on there now, but it seemed like all the fun cool news
      stuff was always done by blond women with blue eyes. And it wasn't
      cool to be like, I want to have my own entertainment news show or
      interview show or something like that. — This was before cable
      really took off. So it wasn't cool for me to go into a serious news
      station in San Francisco, and be like, you know what, I actually
      don't want to be Connie Chung, instead I want to do movies and music.

      So that didn't come to me until much later. The kind of confidence
      to say, "You know what, fuck your pigeonholing" and saying "This is
      what I want to do" — is really not a simple matter. In a way it
      sounds trivial, but those two worlds are very different – hard news
      versus anything else. Hard news is such a huge industry unto itself,
      that you can't really do both. And once you do entertainment, you
      can't really go back and do news. So I had to make that decision,
      and it was very clear to me where my passion was, but for me that's
      been the most difficult thing – being able to have a three-
      dimensional personality other than the co-anchor role, which
      everyone is really used to, because every local market's got an
      Asian anchor on the news.

      Mouther: Is that what you meant when you said "the whole Connie
      Chung syndrome"?

      SP: Yeah. When I first started in TV, it was the zenith of this
      trend – every single local market from Minneapolis to Houston to San
      Francisco to New York had to have their "Connie Chung," in other
      words, their own Asian female co-anchor. And you could go into a
      town that probably doesn't even have that many Asians, but there'll
      be an Asian female anchor. You know what I mean? That was a really
      comfortable role for Asian women to be in – they were serious, but
      really pretty. So they weren't the lead anchor, because you had the
      white male as the lead anchor. But you could sort of "accessorize"
      with an Asian woman. You know how white women are often associated
      with this kind of dumb-blond stereotype? Asian women don't have that
      but rather the opposite stereotype, and it goes something like this:
      that we're very serious, but we're also hard-working – so we're
      supposedly "model minorities." But the stereotype also assumes that
      we're deferring as well — so therefore, we're not going to pose a
      threat to those white male news anchors. I think for all those
      reasons, it was a very comfortable place to put us. — I mean, I
      didn't realize all of this getting into it. These are things that
      have come to me as I've been growing up in it.

      Mouther: How many years have you been at MTV?

      SP: It'll be four years next May.

      Mouther: Do you think your race is part of the reason that you were

      SP: Yeah, definitely. I mean, if anyone says that I'm not here
      partly because I'm Asian, that's just a lie. Because first of all,
      you can't help that I'm Asian: I mean there's no mistaking me for
      anything else. But the other thing is that I got my start in TV
      because they wanted to have this multi-cultural youth show (there
      was me, a Latino kid, a black kid, and this white girl). It was like
      this rainbow coalition – very "PC." I think that you should own that
      advantage — you almost have to. It's like if that's what's going to
      get me in the door, that's great; although that's truly not going to
      get you the next job after that, because guess what? Now there are
      10,000 Asian-American girls who would love to sit where I am, and
      they could do it hands down, because it's not brain surgery. So I
      used that to my advantage, but I also recognize that, so why not use
      it as strength. In other words, I've never really thought that as a
      disadvantage, because I've never felt unqualified for a job.

      Mouther: And it's also like, if that's the way you really have to
      get in because of what you look like, then you'd be a fool not to
      take it.

      SP: Right. But you know what, I say, in a way it's like, great. I
      think it's a long time coming, and it's a shame that it took people
      so long, but I think it's great that that diversity is actually one
      of MTV's goals. And strangely enough, I never thought that such a
      corporate place would make diversity such a goal, but even
      internally, diversity is a huge huge thing for MTV. But I also think
      they can do that more easily than other corporations because of the
      audience. Because we're dealing with music, which is a much more
      diverse industry, and because we're dealing with an audience that's
      very used to seeing color. So they can do that. Since that is a
      priority, that is great for them, in a way. As far as I was
      concerned, when I joined MTV in 2001, I don't know if they were
      specifically seeking a person of color – I only know that they were
      looking for a girl. But I don't think they were looking for any
      particular race at the time (another girl Serena Altschul had left,
      so they just needed another girl). So I know that they were looking
      for quite a while.

      Mouther: Are you one of the only girls there?

      SP: Yeah, I'm the only girl in the MTV News team. And I think there
      are two other girls that are VJs. But I'm the only girl in the News

      Mouther: Especially with shows like Stop the Hate, MTV seems to
      place a unique emphasis on diversity. So do you think MTV would be
      open to you asking Asian-American artists like Chad Hugo or Linkin
      Park open questions about the kind of discrimination that they
      surely must have faced as Asian-American people? The context of my
      question is that with other minority groups like blacks or latinos,
      it's universally accepted that racism exists against them. With
      Asians, it's not.

      SP: Right. Unfortunately, there aren't that many Asian-American
      artists out there to even convene a dialogue about this. There's one
      artist who comes to mind – [Chinese-American rapper] Jin tha MC –
      and for me, that's a great question for him because he's an artist;
      plus he's a solo artist, rather than with Linkin Park, where DJ Hahn
      is part of a group, or with Chad, because he's primarily a producer.
      So with Jin, he's very vocal about his ethnicity because that's what
      he gets judged on. And I don't think there's a limitation to asking
      that on MTV at all. In fact, those kinds of questions are really
      encouraged, because they can get the edgiest sort of answer, and
      also because I'm Asian-American, and because I come up with my own
      questions. You know, we write our own stuff, and research and pitch
      our own stuff, so MTV is very much run like a news room in that way.
      So I don't think they would even blink or have an issue with that at

      Mouther: You don't think they'd be like, "Huh? There's racism
      against Asians?"

      SP: I was about to say, I'm not sure that all Asian-Americans would
      agree on the kind of discrimination they face, because it can be
      different than a lot of other racism in that we're not
      overwhelmingly present in one economic bracket versus another, so
      our discrimination is very much spread across different sectors. I
      also feel that maybe people are misled in thinking that whatever
      discrimination we face is either minor or otherwise insignificant in
      light of all the advancements that we've made. — Which we all know
      remains the greatest perceived problem with the Asian-American
      identity, is that there doesn't appear to be a defining struggle to
      sort of unite everybody together and have some sort of common thing.
      Then this is made even more unclear because I think everyone will
      have a different answer to his or her own experiences with racism.
      If you then ask the non-Asian outsider looking in, they're going to
      have different perceptions as well. I feel like I could tell you
      what the African-American struggle is, from the beginning to the
      end. But sadly, I don't know if a lot of people could inform you
      what exactly is the Asian-American struggle.

      Mouther: But don't you think that's more of an issue of awareness –
      what people are aware of? For example, most people don't know that
      many many Chinese-Americans were originally brought over as slaves
      to build America 's railroads.

      SP: Right, nobody knows that. That is right.

      Mouther: I believe it's more of an awareness issue than anything
      else. There are so many things that Asian-Ams collectively have to
      face that are the same, like getting taunted for their race.

      SP: And I do agree that this is a very common thing. But on that
      level that you were talking about – awareness – I'm not sure. Maybe
      we're just not there yet. — Fortunately, I personally grew up at
      least in a community where there were more Asians than any other
      group around me. So for me, that historical awareness, that
      political awareness has always been there. At least, I've always
      been aware of it. But I don't know that people are so lucky in the
      middle of say, Ohio, to be part of an awareness, or to be aware that
      it exists, or to have that luxury: because I believe that it is a
      luxury, to know the history of your own people. — You know what,
      I've worked in the Midwest; I've worked in the South a lot because I
      worked on that science show which was shot in Minneapolis; but I
      don't think that kind of awareness is out there. I think that Asian-
      Americans are aware that we're different and I think we're aware
      that there's discrimination, but could we can coherently articulate
      some sort of historical context to it, I don't know.

      Mouther: I'm sure that we could, if given the chance.

      SP: Yeah. Yeah.

      Mouther: Clearly, there has been no forum for us to do so, or foster
      that awareness, in front of any large audience in mass media.

      SP: Well I was really lucky to grow up in California in that sense,
      but I think that there's a huge place in the middle of the country
      that's lost. For instance, I came back from Indiana where we did
      this TRL at your high school thing, and from what I saw — because
      I'm always looking for Asian faces, just because I'm fascinated by
      that and because I grew up in a very sort of sheltered surburb of
      San Francisco — maybe I saw a couple of Asian kids, and on Asian kid
      came up to me and he was like, hey – I think he was half Japanese –
      he's like, "Hey, are you Japanese?" I said "Actually I'm Korean." He
      was like, "Oh, my mom's Japanese." And I was like, "Okay, that's
      cool . . .". Then some guy in the back yelled something like a dumb
      butchering of a mock Asian language from the back. So I was thinking
      that this kind of thing happens all the time; at least, it happens
      to me when I walk into places like that. Like when I walked into
      that high school, they were like, "Oh shit, that Asian girl's here."
      You know what I mean. And if I'm still getting that kind of shit, I
      can't imagine that awareness or empowerment about being Asian-
      American is very easy to find, or to even want to recognize that
      you're part of an identity that you're then ostracized for.

      Mouther: But isn't that precisely the collective issue?

      SP: Right, that is a collective issue, but for a 16-year-old kid
      living in a place like that, where the collective issue doesn't help
      him through the school day, I don't know if he's actively seeking
      that out — or that he's consciously thought about that. — Or maybe
      he has, but he just hasn't found a place or a forum to talk about it.

      Mouther: Exactly. That's what I think is the problem. There aren't
      enough, or maybe visible enough, forums that are trying to cultivate
      awareness or a place to even discuss. Or where being Asian-American
      is perceived as cool.

      SP: Or even ask questions. Or anything.

      Mouther: But I vehemently disagree that Asian-Americans do not have
      collective issues. I think there are absolutely total collective
      issues. Even the civil rights movement had to start somewhere. It
      had to start after years of being humiliated and finally realizing,
      Look, as a people are simply not gonna take this shit anymore and we
      must find a way to change it.

      SP: Right. Right. And it is very delayed.

      Mouther: But to reiterate, I certainly don't believe it's because
      there aren't collective issues. — Like you said, there is
      discrimination and awareness of that discrimination, but it just
      hasn't found a forum. Maybe I'm trying to convince you a little bit.

      SP: That there are collective issues? Well, it's hard to talk about
      collective issues when the groups are so disproportionately
      aggregated on two coasts. It's hard to talk about a collective –
      it's hard to talk about all of us. I think it's very different to be
      Asian somewhere where you don't see Asian faces as often as we have.
      Or that we do now in New York or on the West Coast. I think it is
      one of those things where we have the privilege of doing that in
      these kinds of big cities, but I think it's still much further
      backwards when you go to places where there is absolutely no forum
      for it. And maybe I'm wrong, but I think that it's presumptuous to
      assume that one can form an identity without having any forum.
      That's like saying that, just because you're Asian, you should be
      born with the collective knowledge, you know, this is our history,
      this is where we come from.

      [pauses] I think that for a lot of people, for whatever reason, this
      kind of racial awareness comes in college. I used to joke that in
      Berkeley , you're like a born-again Korean. And that like your whole
      life you never recognized that you were Korean, but all of a sudden
      you get to college and you realize that there is a forum, there are
      groups, there are political ramifications. That there is an actual
      articulation of your struggle, your identity, or whatever it is, and
      then you're suddenly speaking Korean, even though you've never been
      to Korea your entire life. But it's really true. I'm specifically
      talking about a much younger audience, which is my audience – the
      teen audience or whatever that is. It's a whole different level of

      Mouther: Which exists for people who are privileged to go to college.

      SP: Exactly. For those that are. And many Asians are.

      Mouther: Actually, I don't think that's true. I really don't.

      SP: Really?

      Mouther: There are scores of Asian-American immigrants living in
      what can only be called ghettos in the purest sense of the word —
      economically deprived and violent areas like New York City's
      Chinatown — who never go to college and remain working-class. Or in
      Queens. Or in Brooklyn.

      SP: That's right, which then gives me even less hope that there
      could be a forum for those people. — I just think that if you take
      for example other minority groups, say like black people, there are
      so many different economic classes of people for that race, and
      different ethnicities within that race, but somehow there has been
      this sense of unity and pride. — You know, if you're black, it's
      your history here in the U.S. that's important to remember. And I
      certainly think that the same thing is applicable to Asian-
      Americans. There are so many ethnicities, so many different class
      levels, there just has to be a way for us all to have a collective
      pride. — And I really think that it's not even fair really to judge
      whether this is even possible for Asian-America, because we haven't
      even had a forum!

      Mouther: Absolutely. Slowly but surely, I do think it is happening.
      Like you said, it's a delayed reaction, but it is starting. So why
      do you think it primarily happens in college, to be a born-again
      Korean? Why isn't it happening from day one – your parents
      instilling something in you?

      SP: Maybe because many of our parents don't speak English.

      Mouther: But as more and more generations live here . . .

      SP: We're talking generations of Asian-Americans. Right.

      Mouther: For example, take my mentor in law school. Her Chinese
      ancestors were brought over to the U.S. as slaves during the Gold
      Rush. Generations of Asian-Americans have actually existed for
      decades; it's just that we don't realize it because it's not in the
      media or really in academia, plus our image in the media is still
      that of the F.O.B. foreigner. But in reality we have been here for
      generations. Also historically in the U.S., there has been a sense
      of pride and collectiveness and awareness in every sense, for
      example, fighting the earliest exclusion acts against Chinese people
      in the courts. My mentor's Chinese-American family has been in the
      U.S. longer than the vast majority of white people.

      SP: Right, exactly. Like with her family, it's clear they've come so
      far along as part of country's own history with Asian Americans.
      Change has happened and change is still happening — yes, absolutely.
      And it eventually we will get there.

      Mouther: What kind of racial backlash do you anticipate from the
      whole North Korea situation, against Asian-Americans in the U.S. —
      particularly because most people perceive Asian-Americans as
      foreigners, even though they're Americans?

      SP: You know, that did cross my mind. Especially whenever there's
      any news about Asians, I think that there is a backlash against
      Asian-Americans. So am I afraid that there's going to be a backlash?
      I would like to think not, but I just don't know. Because there are
      things happening now to Arab-Americans now that both frighten and
      surprise me. About recalling them for immigration – and making them
      register. You know, I would deeply hope that we as a community could
      stop something like that from happening to us. I believe that
      because there are a few Asians in kind of high-profile positions
      that that's not going to happen. Especially since I am Korean, I
      know that people do have some ignorant views – you know, they always
      ask if I'm from North or South, and nobody's been out of the North
      for like [laughing] 50 years.

      Mouther: So let's revisit a previous question. As a journalist, if
      you had the opportunity to interview some of the more high-profile
      Asian-Americans like the guys from Linkin Park – Mike Shinoda and
      Joe Hahn . . .

      SP: The nicest guys! . . .

      Mouther: . . . Would you be curious to ask them about their own
      experiences with discrimination, or what they might have faced
      trying to be Asian-American artists, as opposed to just rock artists?

      SP: I'd be curious to see where they see Asian-Americans in music at
      all, like if they believe there is even a presence yet. We are
      making inroads, but we're just barely at the tip of the iceberg.
      Still though, I do feel that the music industry is further along
      than anything else — at least, as far as an Asian-American presence
      in pop culture and music. So I'd be really curious to see whether an
      artist like Jin can really succeed. I know that the music industry
      tried pushing Coco Lee a few years back.

      Mouther: She wasn't marketed as an Asian American.

      SP: She wasn't? She grew up in Irvine [Southern California] didn't

      Mouther: Actually her label forced her to learn Chinese or whatever
      Asian language she didn't actually speak (that they wanted her to
      speak/sing in, to market her in Asia), and then they shipped her (an
      American) abroad to sell records. From a racial perspective, the
      whole situation was completely absurd.

      SP: Yeah, I interviewed her and I can't remember, but I think she's
      actually from Irvine. Anyway I'm not sure it worked out so well for
      her as far as the American music scene. So I am really curious to
      see if today, there is a place for us and how difficult it is.
      Especially someone like Jin doing something like rap and hip-hop —
      which is even less racially diverse than pop music. So that is
      probably a question I would ask.

      Mouther: Regarding Jin, here's an even more difficult question: in
      the music industry, there's this sense that the only cool minority
      to be is black. So what do you think is the deal with an Asian-
      American person — Jin is from Miami — trying to basically work
      within what's clearly still a black medium (rap)? Granted with
      artists like Eminem and Fat Joe, the "blackness" issue steps to the
      side a little bit, but politically and for its message rap is
      inherently a black medium.

      SP: Right. I think that's exactly why so many young people feel that
      way, because they feel like they can relate to — for lack of a
      better word, black power — or the identity of the African-American
      struggle as a fight that's universal to anybody that feels like
      they're outside looking in. I think it feels real to anyone who
      feels like they've paid enough dues, who's thinking "For God's sake,
      how much longer am I going to have to like shovel this shit before
      you recognize what I'm doing?" I think that permeates even on the
      most trivial level – from like a nerdy kid, or even a white kid,
      feeling he doesn't have a place in teen pop culture — to an Asian
      kid, who always feels like he's on the outside looking in. So I
      think that's probably why hip-hop is so pervasive for young people. —
      You know, hip-hop is really just pop culture. And it's one of the
      only genres of music that's consistently making any real money.

      Mouther: I'm wondering whether Asian kids are latching on to hip-hop
      primarily because of the reason you mentioned — because they feel a
      message or something like that.

      SP: Yeah, I think more so than any other musical genre today.

      Mouther: I'm just wondering with someone like Jin, what will be the
      support from the Asian-Ams as a whole. For example, for Justin Lin's
      all-Asian-American cast film Better Luck Tomorrow, there was this
      grass-roots Asian-American presence going out in droves to see that
      movie. I remember seeing emails that said "Even if you don't go see
      it again, buy a ticket to boost sales." — I'm not sure whether those
      numbers were enough to actually mean anything for the studios, but I
      was wondering if there will be that kind of support for Jin.

      SP: That's a question I would love Chad Hugo to answer. Because I
      don't know. Are Asian-American kids going to buy Jin tha MC's album —
      would they spend money for an Asian-American rapper, when they can
      buy DMX instead? Jin's gotta be so amazing as far as his skills.
      That's why Eminem could arguably be one of the best rappers out
      there: if he wasn't, I think he'd just be another white boy trying
      to rap. So Jin has to be pretty much the best. It's such an uphill
      battle. Because he has to be better by leaps and bounds than any
      rapper that's out there. Otherwise, you'd be listening to a black
      person rapping.

      Mouther: And because of his race, people are going to look at him as
      a novelty.

      SP: Yeah, I'm curious to see how his label will market an artist who
      is Asian-American. I mean, what do you do in the name of sales? Do
      you play up the fact that he's Asian-American? Or do you play down
      that factor? It will be interesting to see how his marketing as an
      artist is handled.

      Mouther: Let's get to some personal questions. Do you have any weird

      SP: [laughs] I have a lot of weird habits. I'm the queen of weird
      habits. I'm a very weird habit person. Pick a topic, and I have a
      weird habit about it.

      Mouther: How about hygiene and grooming?

      SP: Actually that one is one that I'm pretty normal about.

      Mouther: Okay . . . what about eating?

      SP: Well, I'm a big eater. So I think that's weird in a lot of ways.
      And I have weird habits about sleeping. That's my vice. I sleep
      often and a lot and to the point where it affects my social life. I
      would much rather be asleep than do anything. I'm like a cat — and
      I'm a Leo too. My brother says I'm an infant, because I have to eat
      every three hours, I have to get 12 hours of sleep, and I go to the
      bathroom every 45 minutes. [laughing]

      Mouther: What kind of men do you tend to go for?

      SP: I've always gone for guys who are really passionate about
      something. I don't care what it is – it can be about video games,
      art, or food. But they have to have at least one thing that they
      know everything about. I like guys who are smarter than me. As
      strong women, sometimes it's very difficult to find men that can
      control you. And I mean that in a good sense, in the way that they
      have something to contribute that you really respect. And for me,
      nothing is worse than being with someone that has absolutely no
      control over me whatsoever. There has to be some sort of level of
      respect and fear on both parties, so that you don't take each other
      for granted. For me, that's the hardest thing to find –somebody who
      can step up to the plate, who can deal with my job and my lifestyle,
      and then also deal with my personality. But I'm not talking in a
      chauvinistic or forceful way. They just have to have something that
      I respect and fear — which has to be mutually exclusive. It's
      usually somebody who doesn't do what I do. I rarely go out with
      people who are in this business. I think that can be a little self-
      serving and dangerous.

      Mouther: Everybody will want to know: do you have any preference
      between Asian or non-Asian guys?

      SP: I'd love to make my parents happy and settle down with somebody
      who's Asian. But for me, it's hard enough to find someone that you
      enjoy even having dinner with. And then having somebody you want to
      spend more time with. And top of that someone you're attracted to.
      And on top of that someone that can understand you. And then, on top
      of that, to think they have to be Asian — at the rate I'm going,
      Lord knows if I'll ever find anybody [laughs]. With those kinds of
      restrictions, I think it makes the game even much more difficult.

      Mouther: Let's return for a moment to your perspective on social and
      cultural change. As a veteran journalist who works in mass media,
      what do you think has to happen either in media or society in
      general before we start seeing real, meaningful, empowering change
      in mass media to increase visibility for Asian-Americans? Personally
      I don't think little kids will stop getting taunted on the
      playground for their race until Asian-Ams have ten Britneys, or when
      celebs like Shaquille O'Neal are held accountable for their ignorant
      statements. — Do you think this fight needs to happen in academia?
      Or on the mass media platform, in front on the camera? Or both? How
      do we overcome this, and what do you think really has to happen?

      SP: Well if I knew the answer to that, I would definitely preach it
      more! Whatever it is, I think that it's the same answer for a lot of
      different groups of people who feel underrepresented. I think it's
      that there simply aren't enough people in power of your minority
      representing or making decisions – not even necessarily of color,
      but who are even aware of what they're doing. The fact that for
      instance, with the film Better Luck Tomorrow, people had to ask
      whether or not it was subtitled.

      Mouther: My God, you heard that?

      SP: Oh my God. People asked me that all the time.

      Mouther: Now that is really depressing.

      SP: When [director/filmmaker] Justin Lin was first pitching that
      movie, a lot of studios were really interested, but they wanted to
      know if they could change the characters to be Caucasian or put
      different leads in there, and he refused to change it on that
      fundamental level. — It's about simply understanding that that
      that's just an offensive inquiry and why it's offensive. Getting
      back to this example, to ask if it's subtitled — while it might have
      been asked "innocently" enough — it's not just good enough to be
      innocent when you're making powerful decisions, because I feel like,
      look at where the real power lies, and the real power lies in the
      producers who cast shows. The producers who write shows. Producers
      who hire other producers. So for me, that's where the biggest
      problem is – I don't see enough Asian faces in power. I feel like
      the ones that I do see, in [TV show] development, are so very
      talented. I feel like at least with the Asian-Ams behind the scenes
      who I've come across – the executives and the people behind the
      scenes that make decisions — are very aware of Asian-American
      identity and all that. So this makes me very hopeful. But to me
      that's the biggest change.

      And I keep going back to this, but it does have to start in
      academia. I feel like, for me, I didn't become aware of who I was
      and all that stuff until I got to college. And at Berkeley, I was
      lucky enough because it's such a diverse campus, but at the same
      time, with cutbacks and all that stuff – they're getting rid of
      ethnic studies departments all across America. And what with
      affirmative action going away — that's absolutely where it starts.
      Let's face it, there's a reason why the right wing is attacking that
      issue: it's because they completely understand the importance of
      that education and of that self-awareness. They fully understand the
      fact that it breeds diversity and a difference of thought, which is
      a threatening thing to the status quo. They've got a lot of other
      issues they could fight, where they could gain easier inroads, but
      there's a reason why affirmative action is in the Supreme Court now.
      So for me, at least, this is what I'm seeing that's wrong.

      Mouther: All very true. Still, culturally speaking at least, it's
      exciting that MTV is probably one of the few companies you could
      work for that actually helps shape the American mainstream mindset —
      and you get to work there. In other words, clearly MTV is a
      workplace that is also a bona fide cultural institution. Given your
      passion about diversity, have you ever had fantasies about maybe
      breaking the first Asian-American Britney Spears or Justin
      Timberlake? Obviously you have ties to those kinds of power sources
      that other Asian-Americans don't.

      SP: Yeah! Are you kidding, I would love that. I would love to be
      here when there is more of an Asian-American presence. I understand
      at MTV it's kind of the epicenter of where pop culture and trends
      start. You're kind of in the factory. And to simply say that we're
      just putting what the kids want on TV — I think that's pretty naïve.
      I actually think that it's a little bit of both. And it's a lot more
      of us saying, "This is the next big thing," and suddenly Kylie
      Minogue sells millions of albums although no one can remember who
      she was. Next she's on the TRL countdown, and before you know it,
      she's got a bigger career than she's ever had in music. So I
      understand the power of that. And I didn't understand until I got

      For me, I have to pick and choose my battles. Just because you're
      Asian-American, it doesn't mean that I'm going to support you. But
      it is true that just because you're Asian-American, I'll go out to
      the show just to see you because I'm actively looking for you. Which
      is why Better Luck Tomorrow was the perfect project for me to get
      behind, because it was so clever and different and because the
      effects were going to be profound. Much more profound and articulate
      for me than an Asian-American Britney Spears. So for me, it was
      really important to pitch that and push that and be a part of that,
      and I was really lucky to be there. I had never felt such pride for
      what I do, and I did realize that what I do can and does make a
      difference. And I don't think I really understood the importance of
      that before that film came out. I always thought, like, you know
      what, I'm on MTV, I do videos or whatever, and I never really took
      the influence part of it very seriously.

      But I'm starting to slowly realize it. Because that's not why I came
      to this career. I didn't come to it with this intention of "Wow, I'm
      the first Asian-American newscaster on MTV." I didn't really have
      that kind of consciousness about it. I was just like, "Oh cool, it's
      a great job for me for my next career move." But I'm beginning to
      realize that in this seat that you can be very active in it. And you
      simply have to be, because they're not going to give it to you. You
      absolutely must seek it out. People will ask me about the Asian-
      American co mm unity, and I'd be like, "You know what, for the first
      time I'm actually having to seek it out." I've never previously
      sought an Asian-American community because I've never had to — I've
      been fortunate to have one around me in Union City where I grew up,
      in a suburb of San Francisco — and I never felt like I needed to,
      because it was always around me, so I wasn't looking to be like a
      face for anything. Like I said, it was all around me, so I took it
      for granted. It's so funny because when I moved to New York, I was
      like, I've never seen so many white people in my entire life. So
      it's a good thing for me. Because it's really shaping my goal of
      what's really important about being here. And what's really
      important about being here is making sure that I open doors and
      represent in a way that's not going to embarrass us as a collective
      whole. So I feel very lucky to be part of these kinds of
      discussions — and to see what happens next.
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