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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

January 12, 2015

Written by C.N.

New Book: Filipino American DJs in the Bay Area

My friend and colleague Oliver Wang recently completed a book titled Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area Duke University Press) and it’s based on his many years of ethnographic research on the mobile DJ scene in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s and in particular, the leading role played by Filipino Americans in shaping, defining, and leading that cultural and music scene. The book’s description:

Armed with speakers, turntables, light systems, and records, Filipino American mobile DJ crews, such as Ultimate Creations, Spintronix, and Images, Inc., rocked dance floors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. In Legions of Boom noted music and pop culture writer and scholar Oliver Wang chronicles this remarkable scene that eventually became the cradle for turntablism. These crews, which were instrumental in helping to create and unify the Bay Area’s Filipino American community, gave young men opportunities to assert their masculinity and gain social status.

While crews regularly spun records for school dances, weddings, birthdays, or garage parties, the scene’s centerpieces were showcases — or multi-crew performances — which drew crowds of hundreds, or even thousands. By the mid-1990s the scene was in decline, as single DJs became popular, recruitment to crews fell off, and aspiring scratch DJs branched off into their own scene. As the training ground for a generation of DJs, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut and Mix Master Mike, the mobile scene left an indelible mark on its community that eventually grew to have a global impact.

Legions of Boom by Oliver Wang

Oliver Wang is Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Long Beach and his research interests center on pop music, culture, and politics. He has also written on Asian Americans and hip-hop, retro soul music, and the critical geography of the Kogi BBQ truck, among other essays. He is the editor of Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide and has written for NPR, Vibe, Wax Poetics, the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune, and the Village Voice, amongst others.

I asked Oliver the following questions about his work and his new book (I added some links to certain words and terms in his answers to provide readers with more context and information):

  • How did you first become interested in this particular scene?

    I first started reading about the Bay Area’s Filipino American (FA) scratch DJs in local alternative weeklies in the early ’90s. As I was a budding DJ myself, I was intrigued at how all these world class Asian American DJs had emerged out of the Bay. A few years later, as a music journalist, I began interviewing scratch DJs like Q-Bert and Shortkut and discovered that the common link they all had was that their careers all began in the 1980s as a part of mobile DJ crews. I had never heard about that scene and my journalistic and scholarly instincts lit up. At the very least, I felt like there was a good story to be told here.

  • In what ways are the Filipino American DJs that you focus on unique? How do they assert their own identity onto the DJ scene?

    The unique quality of the mobile scene was that it was predominantly Filipino American and it had the right conditions in place for that to be self-sustaining for over a decade. There were other Bay Area mobile scenes, with other ethnic groups, but apparently, none had the same kind of size, longevity, or intensity and as I argue in the book, that’s because the Filipino American community was especially well-organized to help circulate the necessary capital to support a long-term scene of this nature. It’s not because FA DJs were more gifted or somehow more culturally inclined towards DJing; I resist any impulse to culturally pathologize this community. It’s because they have a remarkable social network of family, student/church groups, and community organizations that helped to circulate gigs (and therefore money) amongst the crews.

    As for how they asserted their identity, what’s notable is how little my respondents thought their ethnicity had anything to do with the DJ scene. If there were identities being asserted, it had far more to do with what school or neighborhood they were from – as well as their identity as a crew – and on a less self-aware level, their identity as young men. But expressing their “Filipino-ness” wasn’t part of their performance. I think that stands in stark contrast with the generation of hip-hop-influenced DJs that came after them, for whom ethnic identity was far more at the forefront.

  • The book’s description mentioned that these Filipino Americans used their DJing as opportunities to assert their masculinity. Can you elaborate on this a little bit? How did their idea of being masculine compare to say, conventional notions of White or Black male masculinity?

    As I suggested, those assertions of masculinity weren’t necessarily self-aware nor different from what you’d find amongst other young men. The crew structure is very similar to that of other homosocial organizations you find amongst male youth: sports teams, youth gangs, fraternities, etc. Being part of a crew gives them a sense of belonging and purpose and they often spoke of it in gendered language, i.e. “a brotherhood” or the like.

  • There’s been some debate over the years about whether Filipino Americans consider themselves to be an integral part of the larger Asian American community, or whether they tend to identify more as Hispanic/Latino. Based on this project, how did these Filipino see themselves in relation to the larger Asian American community?

    This wasn’t a topic I landed upon with them but I will say that there was no uniform kind of ethnic self-awareness that my respondents expressed. Some of them were confused about their identity growing up but others had a much better sense of themselves as Filipino Americans. It really varied and depended on their family/life experiences. As to the pan-ethnic question, we never got into that but I do think to the extent that there were other scenes, like a Chinese American mobile scene, they did see their scene as being distinct from that as opposed to them all being in some greater “Asian American mobile scene.” The important thing to remember is that while their scene wasn’t exclusively Filipino, all the key parts of the social infrastructure that supported it linked back to Filipino family, religious and community networks. Being Filipino certainly wasn’t incidental even if it wasn’t being actively expressed/performed.

  • Lately, there’s been more attention paid to Asian Americans using alternative means to express themselves artistically, such as through YouTube and other forms of social media. Do you think Asian Americans on YouTube are content with asserting an alternative, independent cultural identity, or do you think they’re looking to use it as a springboard to get into mainstream media?

    I don’t think it’s an either/or, especially as these days, YouTube practically IS mainstream media (though differences still abound, see below).

    To me, what I find fascinating about the mobile DJ scene story is that they were inspired to form these crews — as teenagers — because they saw DJs in clubs and thought, “Why can’t we do this back at home?” It’s a simple but profoundly powerful idea to realize one’s own creative/expressive potential using the tools you have around you. In the 1980s, that meant cobbling together a sound system from family stereo systems, before you could invest in professional equipment.

    In the 1990s, in the import car scene, you saw middle class youth taking their personal transportation and transforming that into mobile canvases for self and collective expression. In our current age, it’s about using the tools built into digital devices, be they computers or smartphones. I think the vast majority of youth seek to make their voices heard, not necessarily in a self-conscious way to be either alternative or mainstream. It’s only later that people like us (scholars, journalists) try to parse their activities into these kinds of subcultural dichotomies but I don’t think, for example, mobile DJ crews were a subculture. I don’t think they saw themselves as one nor did they function as one (in the strict, Hebdigean definition of subculture).

  • Based on your academic work and personal observations, are there any emerging artistic or cultural trends within the Asian American community that we should keep an eye out for?

    There are at least two areas that I hope scholars will spend time exploring:

    1) Social media “stars” who’ve used non-traditional media platforms to produce and distribute their own content. While I do think the distance between mainstream vs. social media is fast collapsing, there is still a traditional media industry in place (i.e. record companies, television networks, movie studios, et. al.) and they still command much power and influence. But what we’ve seen is that Asian Americans have bypassed those institutions to find other ways of getting themselves “out there.” That, to me, is really profound especially compared to how limited things were for the mobile DJs who largely were invisible to anyone outside of their scene or region.

    2) Asian Americans involved in the contemporary food scene, whether as chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, etc. This is something I’ve begun to write more about myself and I think we’re only going to see more and more Asian Americans pursuing careers around food and more to the point: food culture.

    If I had to pick a third, I think K-pop is going to be a fascinating topic to study. Its popularity, of course, is transnational and transracial but to the extent that most Asian pop musics have never found solid footing in the American pop scene, I think K-pop might be the one to crossover and if so, I imagine that Asian American k-pop fans will be somewhere in that mix. Maybe.

    Broadly speaking, I just think Asian American cultural formations, performances and participation is STILL woefully marginal in Asian American Studies. For a variety of reasons, “we” produce a disproportionate amount of scholars who study literature and that’s all fine and good but I feel that Asian American Studies really lags behind other, similar disciplines in our exploration of popular culture as a site for critical examination and discussion. This was certainly the case when I started grad school nearly 20 years ago and it’s not like we’ve seen a sea change since then. I hold out hope that some future generation of scholars will be the ones to turn that particular tide.


August 11, 2014

Written by C.N.

Links, Jobs, & Announcements #78

Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues, with a particular focus on Asian Americans. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.

Adjunct Positions: Asian American Studies, CUNY Hunter

The Read More →


June 5, 2014

Written by C.N.

In Memory of Yuri Kochiyama

You may have heard that long-time civil rights activist and Asian American icon Yuri Kochiyama passed away earlier this week at the age of 93. Readers can learn more details about her amazing life through boted Asian American scholar Diana Fujino’s biography Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama. Prominent Asian American blog Reappropriate also has links Read More →


June 4, 2014

Written by C.N.

New Books: Asian Americans and Global Communities

Among Asians and Asian Americans, “community” can take many different forms, whether it refers to the historical and contemporary dynamics of enclaves or diasporic and imagined frameworks of identity. As a reflection of this, the following books examine different examples and aspects of this emerging trend.

Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, by Tarry Hum (Temple University Press)

Based on more Read More →


May 22, 2014

Written by Jerry Z. Park

Keeping (and Losing) Faith, the Asian American Way

The following post was originally published on AAPI Voices on May 22, 2014 by Jerry Z. Park and Joshua Tom.

Are Asian Americans in a state of religious confusion? And are Asian American Protestants fleeing their religion?

Consider the example of Lisa, a 20-year old second-generation Vietnamese American from Houston: “I really don’t think I have a religious preference,” she says “I believe Read More →


May 16, 2014

Written by C.N.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Facts for 2014

You may know that May is Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month. To recognize this occasion, the U.S. Census Bureau has released its annual “Facts for Figures” report that summarizes some interesting demographic facts and data about the APA population. Below are a few interesting data tidbits:

18.9 million
The estimated number of U.S. residents in 2012 who said they were Read More →


February 27, 2014

Written by C.N.

Links, Jobs, & Announcements #77

Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues, with a particular focus on Asian Americans. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.

Visiting Position: Asian American Studies, CUNY

Job Title: Read More →


February 24, 2014

Written by C.N.

New Books: Contemporary Immigration to the U.S.

I am teaching my “Sociology of Immigration” course again this semester and to reflect the importance of this issue within the public and political realms of U.S. society at the moment, below are some recently-released books that highlight the multidimensional and interrelated aspects of immigration to the U.S. these days. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only Read More →


January 13, 2014

Written by C.N.

Links, Jobs, & Announcements #76

Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues, with a particular focus on Asian Americans. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.

Post-Doc Fellowship: Cornell Population Center

The Cornell Population Read More →


September 10, 2013

Written by Jerry Z. Park

Cultivating Ethnic and Religious Identities for Chinese Americans

Posted on Black, White and Gray

This past summer I continued my readings in social scientific and popular renderings of ethnicity, race, and religion. In one popular reading I was introduced to early 20th century Chinese history through the perspectives of nationalists and Christian converts. More than a work of history, it is an invitation into Chinese mythology and the sense of the Read More →


June 28, 2013

Written by C.N.

Links, Jobs, & Announcements #75

Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues, with a particular focus on Asian Americans. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.

Fellowship: Center for Asian American Media

Armed With Read More →


June 14, 2013

Written by Jerry Z. Park

Hmong, Indian, What’s the Difference?

(Article cross-posted from BlackWhiteandGray)

Recent news on the higher education scene has turned attention to the Asian American case, or cases we should say. A team of education researchers led by Dr. Robert Teranishi used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the University of California higher education system to make the case that Asian American ethnic groups are not all performing in the “model Read More →