An Interview with Jimmy Wong on Asians in the Library and Internet Fame
Jimmy Wong has received a good deal of attention on the Internet for his musical response to Alexandra Wallace‘s controversial YouTube tirade against Asians in the library. The phrase “ching chong ting tong ling long” will live on in infamy. Amidst the backlash from Asian and Asian-American communities, at times brutish and no less bigoted, Jimmy’s video stood out as a particularly gentle, playful, and thoughtful answer.
A graduate of Middlebury College (full disclosure: 21CB writers Tyler, Denise, and Michael attend Middlebury), Jimmy now makes his living in Los Angeles as a self-employed actor and musician. In addition to maintaining a popular YouTube account, he also runs the media production company Overcrank Media, which he co-founded with his brother Freddie Wong. 21CB recently chatted with Jimmy about the Alexandra Wallace controversy, racial representation, and his Internet fame.
So first of all, what was your initial reaction to Alexandra Wallace’s video? What compelled you to make a response?
I was both irritated and a little peeved at first. If anything I was angry at the fact that this video had to exist in 2011, and not 1985. But that anger quickly turned into amusement and eventually a smile because there was a lot of humor in the piece as a whole, it just took a little cooling down to see it. I was compelled to respond because I was unsatisfied with the rest of the responses posted on YouTube and throughout the internet. Here was golden opportunity to make something positive out of a thoroughly negative situation.
What did you think of the huge – and at times offensive – responses to Alexandra Wallace? Considering the fallout (death threats, Ms. Wallace dropping out of UCLA etc), do you think that it went too far? What did you make of her apology?
No college student should ever have to face death threats. I won’t say Alexandra necessarily did or did not deserve the fallout, but I am saddened that death threats were a large part of it. If anything it’s the absolute most opposite way of dealing with a loaded situation and elevates it to an unnecessary and unproductive level. Not to mention I don’t think it speaks highly of you or the groups you represent if you’re the one issuing death threats to someone who offended you. I appreciate she issued an apology and I accept it. Ideally I would have liked to see more than just text in a newspaper, but I respect the fact that she probably wants to get out of the public light as much as possible at this point.
Have you been in touch with Ms Wallace? Do you know if she’s seen your response? Is there anything more you’d like to say to her?
Haven’t ever talked to her or met her. I’m assuming she’s seen the response, it’s probably the most likely one that would be forwarded to her out of all of them. If anything I think I’ve already said it in other interviews, I completely forgive her for the words she’s said but more importantly I’m hoping she can forgive us for lashing back out at her. I can only hope some positive change comes out of all this on both sides of the debate.
Do you think the video and the subsequent reactions stem from any kind of cultural disconnect between Asians and Caucasians in America?
There’s always going to be some degree of disconnect between races, cultures, and groups in America. The most obvious one to me is that people tend to group all Asians into one category of simply “Asian” when there are so many countries in that region of the world. It would be as if someone told you they were French, and you assumed they were just like someone from Germany simply because they were on the same continent.
To be honest, I think the cultural disconnect is as great or as little as we make it. We can’t just assume that someone knows all the intricate differences, politics, and history between certain Asian countries and ethnicities as much as we can’t expect immigrant cultures to know the same about American states. It’s a two way road and both sides have to contribute.
Can you offer some thoughts about the harms and benefits of your videos (yours and Ms. Wallace’s)? Sometimes when I see Asians in the library here on the phone, I can’t help but think of “ching chong ting tong ling long.” Before the video they were just another person on phone in the library. Have the videos sparked any important conversation on how we think about Asians?
I can’t yet gauge how much of an influence the video has had for racial discussion in America. I hope people don’t forgive people for being on the phone in the libraries just because of my song, but I think the underlying issue that Alexandra’s issue brought to light is that there are still some underlying cultural differences in the States that can be met with frustration and misunderstanding. I’m not clearing anyone on either side of any blame, clearly there were some Asians in the library being very loud and clearly Alexandra Wallace was being very offensive. I just hope we’re learning that there are always multiple roads to dealing with a situation. We too often choose the easy route of getting angry and distancing ourselves from what we can not identify with.
What has been the coolest/strangest/most interesting about this whole ordeal? What’s becoming an Internet sensation been like?
I’d say the coolest thing about all of this has been the huge amount of positivity I’ve received in response to the video. It’s great hearing people tell me they now use those words affectionately with their loved ones because it’s shown how you can defuse language of its power to hurt and be hateful if you handle it the right way. It’s also been incredibly inspiring and heartwarming. I’m glad people have accepted this all into their lives with so much vigor and positivity.
Is there anything you’d like to say or any advice to those who are graduating in the near future?
Do what you love! Always, always pursue what is your greatest calling in your heart. You’ll never forgive yourself ten, twenty years down the road when you’re working a job that you hate. Why do we listen to people who tell us life has to go a certain way? As kids, when we say “I want to be President!”, why do we listen and obey when someone tells us to “get real” and crushes a part of our dreams with it? No one’s written a guidebook on how we have to live life but we still somehow fall into the exact same patterns as the people before us. Some of us end up happy, but I’d say a lot of us don’t. So find what makes you happy, and don’t ever let it out of your sight.
Thanks to Jimmy Wong for his participation in this interview. Learn more about Jimmy by visiting his website.
(image via Facebook)
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TAGS: Alexandra Wallace • Asian stereotypes • Asians in the Library • Ching Chong Ling Long Ting Tong • Interview • Jimmy Wong • Representations of Asians in media
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