Amerie is a Grammy award-nominated R&B singer, songwriter, and producer whose mother is Korean and father is an African-American officer for the US military. Even though she was born in Massachusetts and speaks English perfectly now, being part of a military family meant moving a lot in her childhood, and so in her earliest years she lived in Korea and acquired Korean as her first language. Then when the family moved away, her mother limited Amerie and her sister’s use of Korean, fearing that that may impede their proficiency in English. So now, Amerie says she speaks Korean at a conversational level and at home with her mother, and what seems noteworthy to me about her as an Asian-American artist is her overt publicization of her Korean heritage. She talks in interviews about growing up biracial and wanting to be recognized by other Korean-American peers as being Korean; she sports a tattoo that roughly translates to her name in Korean (에므리) that can be seen apparently in one of her music videos “1 Thing” (although I couldn’t really see it); and she signs autographs in both English and Korean.
Nothing about her music is Asian or Asian-American – whatever that means; in fact, if you didn’t know that she was hapa and only listened to her music, you would have no idea that she was Asian-American. Her lyrics are very standard mainstream American R&B and pop, as are her music videos. So when you hear that she is half Korean, at least for me it came as sort of a surprise. Does her being half-Korean qualify her as an Asian-American artist, as opposed to those Asian-American artists who a) have full Asian family history, and/or b) sing about being Asian-American? Is Asian-American music anything that an Asian-American sings? I have a feeling that the answer is no, but I don’t really know what other criteria should be added. I do feel, however, that her discussions about acceptance, prejudices, and having a language loss (partially) from parent to child are all pertinent issues for the Asian-American community.
Check out her interview in Korea with her mother sitting to her right. It’s too bad we can’t see what her mother says (I hope this works. If not, the url is http://youtube.com/watch?v=6Vcb3MbhnY0):
In this interview, interestingly enough Amerie expresses some sentiments that were discussed in Sa-I-Gu, so I thought I would tie that in since I didn’t get a chance to post about that earlier. One of the big themes from Sa-I-Gu was the idea of community: one of the three producers in the prologue of the film said that Korean-American men were portrayed in the media with guns on rooftops, trying to defend their territories without any regard for the community or human lives. However, there must be clarification on this issue because it is obvious that they do care about the community, but only their community of Korean-Americans. It is their insistence that they are different from African-Americans (perhaps, as we’d discussed in class before, in the same light as the “at least we’re not black” sentiment) that separates them from the larger Los Angeles community in more than simply cultural ways. In the Latasha Harlins case, Professor Lee said that the judge ruled that the Korean store owner was not a threat to the community – certainly not to the Korean-American community, and most likely not to the white American community (that probably does not shop there anyways), but how can a woman who was so quick to pass judgment on an African-American girl’s actions and was so quick to aggressively confront her NOT be a threat to the African-American community?
Interestingly, Amerie brings up this point of being watched closely by Asian/Korean-American shopkeepers because she is ostensibly black only for the owners to be really nice to her when they find out that she can speak Korean. She also talks about people asking her to choose only one identity – black or Korean – and she says that she cannot because choosing one would mean forgoing her own identity as both. So, I thought that Amerie presented an interesting case of the blurring and fusing of the black vs. Korean community boundaries.