This is a question from a journalist and my response. It stems from the Ray Fong thing, but goes beyond it. It made me recall a t-shirt company in the later 70s and early 80s. I don’t know much about them, who they were, where they went, etc, but I remember the designs. It’s pretty nostalgic for me. I have no pics of it, I wish I did, but read on.
How can images featuring Asians with slanted eyes, buck teeth, etc. – that some would say historically portray Asians in a negative light – be “pro-Asian?”
Here’s one way I can explain it. When I was in sixth and maybe seventh grade in West Los Angeles, I remember a t-shirt company who made pro Japanese American t-shirts. The company’s logo was a rising sun, not like the Japanese war flag, but more of a sun with rays coming out 360 degrees, and in the middle was a smiling buck toothed Asian character. One of their designs was “Kamikaze Taxi Need a Cab?” printed in chopstick font, with an image of a bucktoothed Japanese guy wearing a Japanese war flag, driving a hot rodded taxi. The image of the driver was definitely drawn sort of in the propaganda imagery of WWII Japanese soldiers, and this also couples the notion of Asians being shitty drivers. Yet, this shirt was empowering and pro Asian at the same time as it was self mocking. This shirt brand which was run by Asian Americans was sold around LA and definitely in Little Tokyo. I have no idea where else it was sold, whether it was in other cities or states, but I wish I knew more about them. There were many other designs, and I saw many Asian Americans wearing them. We also drew similar images on our notebooks throughout junior high and it was in a positive light. We weren’t Charlies fucking ourselves. We were pro Japanese American and Asian American.