El Clash ?íAsi?ítico!

What do you get when you mix a Culture Clash founding member and the Asian-American comedy troupe 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors?

By Hyun Joo Chung
Published on LatinoLA: August 18, 2011

El Clash ?íAsi?ítico!

Directed by Herbert Siguenza of the Culture Clash triumvirate, ?íAsi?ítico! promises a comedy on "all things Asian" with a Latino flair performed at the Complex Theater in East Hollywood. The performance on Sunday, August 14th gave the impression that the performers were still testing out their original material on the audience.

Like any emerging work, it had its strengths and its wince-causing moments. Most of the sketch comedy pieces were more Asian-concentrated, including, a Chinese vampire meets his Transylvanian girlfriend's parents, two students embark on an Inception-parody into the mind of their straight-A classmate, and a song that informs everything one needs to know about those countries that end in "ÔÇôstan" of Central Asia.

"Orquestra Asiatico", the initial sketch, questioned the label: What makes something Asian?

"Uno, dos, tres!" the maestro yelled, and the band played a banging polka-sounding banda music with loud trumpets and tuba.

"That sounds Latino!" one objects.

In the same vein, "Chinese Vampire" plays on the familiar theme of a father who objects to his daughter's choice of mate, a Chinese vampire, parodying the movie plot of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

The piece on "Central Asia" made me question whether ?íAsi?ítico! was trying to tackle a stereotype or whether to espouse it. The performers wore beards, traditional garbs, and highly exaggerated accents. They resist the generalization that all Central Asians look like "Borat", then snicker not very nicely at a picture of the "hairy Persian guy."

Similarly, the political incorrect "Hapa Club" by 18MMW founding member Michael Chih Ming Hornbuckle tackles labels. What is hapa? The term "hapa" means racially mixed, as in, part Asian, and part-something else, similar to the term mestizo. Hornbuckle plays the lead protagonist who acts as a recruiter for the Hapa Club. The initial slight restrictiveness of the label unintentionally draws the non-Hapas into the club. He encounters a mixed person with an Afro, a half Korean/half Japanese, a Filipina, who all claim they they belong to the Hapa Club. But when the name of the club is changed, they all leave. Not as politically incorrect was "Asian from Another Planet" in which an illegal alien Mohammed Chang encounters "America's Toughest Sheriff" Joe Arpaio in SB 1070 territory.

?íAsi?ítico! certainly raises questions on the intentions and goals of the socially conscious comedy, but it does not offer solutions for cross cultural understanding. Herbert Siguenza wrote four of the fourteen sketch comedy-style pieces, including "Inception UCLA", in which two Cambodian students decide to go into their straight-A classmate, who happen to be Chinese. When the two travel into their Chinese classmate's mind, they meet the notorious Tiger Mom who turned her children into high achieving prodigies. Rather than representing her as a human, Tiger Mom was portrayed as a scary cartoon character who made her child play piano while she was "still a fetus," the same way how the mass media cast her.

I was left uncomfortable with the image at the finale in which the the straight A classmate evolves from a textbook-reciting academic to pathetic one holding a crescent taco shell, uttering "No habla ingl?¿s." The performers vested a lot of energy into exaggerating accents and physical antics in material that could have used more subtler delivery, like the one delivered by Golda Inquito as a soft-spoken lady presenting the Asian fairy tale theater.

The better pieces was an Asian "Aladdin" which emphasized MSG and Chinese chorizo, or "Chinese sausage!" and "Host Bar" which utilizes a gender reversal on Memoirs of a Geisha in which the macho female patrons survey the male flesh on sale. In these sketches, the rough, physical comedy worked well.

?íAsi?ítico! does not delve enough into the Asian-Latino connection, like, why are there so many Asians waiting in line for a taco at the taqueria? Why are there so many Asians dancing salsa? Who can handle spicy foods and liquor better: Koreans or Mexicans? I was expecting an Asian twist on the narratives of La Virgen de la Guadalupe, la Malinche, and La Llorona. What are the shared challenges that undocumented Asians and Latinos face?

The thorny issue of affirmative action which prevents Latinos and Asian Americans from an effective alliance was not addressed. How is the rise of China in the global economy match to the threat of Reconquista, which is the fear promulgated by anti-immigrant proposants that Mexicans are trying to reconquer the United States. Not enough intertwining occurred in ?íAsi?ítico!

The weakness of ?íAsi?ítico! may be the distance of the ambitious intentions of ?íAsi?ítico! versus the actual results. The 18MMW could benefit more from audience feedback on what works, especially, from Latinos like screenwriter/playwright Josefina Lopez, "Ask a Mexican" columnist Gustavo Arellano or even UCLA Professor Robert Chao Romero who is Chinese-Mexican. Something was missing. Perhaps the 18MMW could have been employed ethnic reversal to illustrate adversities that Latinos face.

The work I saw on Sunday was not pushing boundaries, even with lines like how both Asian and Latinos are "extraordinarily good-looking and have excessively large penises and vaginas."

18 Mighty Mountain Warriors would love your feedback on Asiatico. What are some stereotypes or preconceptions that Latinos have about Asians and vice versa? What is the state of Asian-Latino relations today?


WHEN: Playing now - September 4 2011 Thur, Fri, Sat & Sun @ 8pm.

WHERE: The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, CA?á 90038 (East of Highland Ave.)

PRICES: $20 General, $15 Students & Seniors (w/valid ID); $10 ea Groups of 6 or more. Ask for special group rates. 18mmw.mail@gmail.com

(818) 900-2194 (vm)

About Hyun Joo Chung:
Hyun Joo Chung aspires to be a Latina when she grows up. She blogs about her moments of gluttony. She is returning to LatinoLA after a long hiatus at the university and she remembers when LatinoLA was not on FaceBook.
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