A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Raymond Luu & Alan Duong
The Universal Asian got to know Raymond Luu and Alan Duong, cousins, creators, and co-hosts of the "Reel Asian Podcast." There are two other awesome co-hosts, who unfortunately couldn’t join us for this interview: Renee Ya and Baldwin Diep. Check them out at here.
Tell us about yourselves.
Raymond (R): I’m Raymond Luu. I’m a Bay Area kid through and through. I currently work at San Jose State University—that’s my moneymaker at the moment. And, of course, I’m a producer and co-host for the "Reel Asian Podcast." I also do non-profit work. In terms of my upbringing, I loved watching movies, and I always felt a strong connection with the characters on screen. I enjoy backpacking—Alan and I mountaineer, I’m sure he’ll tell you more about that. We’re an outdoorsy kind of team.
Alan (A): So, similar to Raymond, I’m a Bay Area kid, born and raised in—and I’m very proud of this—Eastside, San Jose. I graduated from San Jose State University, and served in the United States Army for about 8 years. I’m currently working at LinkedIn as a senior finance analyst, and I’m an MBA candidate at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. Raymond and I co-founded the Greenfoot Hiking Club, which is a Bay Area backpacking club specifically for minorities. I do a lot of rock climbing—on hiatus at the moment. I’m also a professional photographer on the side, and if you buy my prints, the proceeds go to charity.
What inspired you to start Reel Asian Podcast?
R: As I mentioned, I loved watching movies, and part of the reason why I started the podcast was that a lot of the male leads at the time didn’t look like me. Now, that narrative is hopefully changing. That’s why I have Alan here joining the team to help talk about it and dissect these movies. I’m sure that there are similar podcasts out there, and we don’t necessarily think we’re creating a new space, but our goal for the podcast is to expand the space.
A: Raymond formulated this idea maybe two summers ago, and this was something we were really passionate about, to discuss Asian-American stories or Asian stories in general. We realized that the current sphere of media in today’s day and age doesn’t really tell the true story of what Asian-Americans possess in the world. It’s very stereotypical in a particular manner, male or female, and we wanted the opportunity to leverage our position, show that we’re more than just caricatures that people typically see in media, and at the same time, bring into the podcast our personalities.
How has your identity as a member of the AAPI community shaped the way you look at the world?
R: For the longest time, my image of a “hero” was basically this white, blue-eyed, dominating male figure, and on the other side of the coin, the way that Asians were portrayed in film was definitely not the most in depth. They’d be side characters or comic relief—just goofy. I think I internalized that for the longest time, and it wasn’t until I was 29 that I started becoming more involved with AAPI community relations. The vehicle that really got me there was my non-profit, Project by Project, and we had so many discussions, meetings, and workshops taking a look at the long history of Asian-Americans in our country that stems from institutionalized and systemic racism. I’m half Chinese, half Vietnamese, so there’s also the Vietnam War aspect, and the narrative I was taught was that the Americans were on the good side of the war. Now, having learned about Vietnamese history—I went to Vietnam, and they have a museum there that completely flips the narrative and talks about America’s aggression towards Vietnam. That shaped my reality and introduced a worldliness that went beyond movies, and so I became more understanding of the different Asian-American perspectives and other Asian hyphenates, and how they choose to define themselves. My definition of “Asian” is not the same as the next person’s, but are there shared values we can discuss and learn from? Certainly. And that’s kind of where I am today. It’s a growing process, honestly.
A: I kind of recognized my ethnicity in my late teens. I grew up in a bubble, in the Bay area. It’s pretty diverse, in the sense that there are a lot of Asians around. I never felt out of place. Then, that all changed for me when I joined the military. I went from being in an area where I didn’t feel insecure or even cognizant of my race to all of a sudden having my name made fun of. I joined in 2007, and I was shocked—I didn’t realize that it was so prevalent, but I had to remember that my experience of being in a very diverse area isn’t everyone else’s reality. After my time in the military, I took it upon myself to learn more about my culture, and be more cognizant of who I am as a person. Growing up, I kind of hated being Vietnamese, because—and I’ll be honest about my Viet folks here—we’re loud and our language is not the sexiest thing ever. Shout out to our people here. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve fully embraced that, and I’ve recognized that if I want to be an ally to other minorities in the world and to AAPIs, I have to fully love who I am.
How can film and TV combat the model minority myth?
A: We need to have movies that show diverse stories. We need to have continuous Asian and Asian-American films where we’re not just the "Crazy Rich Asians" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." We’re normal people, and there have to be stories told about us, which is why "Always Be My Maybe" is by far one of my favorite movies that came out after "Crazy Rich Asians." It was just a story about regular people who happen to be Asian. I’m such a huge advocate for these kinds of stories, because normalizing us is one way to combat the stereotype. I want nuanced stories that allow the story itself to drive the narrative.
R: I just watched "Nomadland," which is directed by Chloe Zhao, a Chinese director, and it doesn’t focus on an Asian-American story, but it just shows that the talent pool is so vast. That speaks to breaking the model minority myth too. I think one step is having Asian leads, like Henry Golding. We can have our own good-looking, charming kind of guy, but we want more than that. We also want mediocrity. We just did an episode on "Harold & Kumar," and what’s great is that the premise of the movie has two Asian-Americans who are expected to act a certain way, but all they want to do is get super high and go to White Castle. That already challenges the status quo; we need more films like that.
Do you think arts/entertainment should be political? Why or why not?
R: I think it’s impossible to separate the two. And, I don’t mean that it should be separate. I think they’ve always been tied together. We as audience members should be able to connect the two, and also ask what is the art trying to say about society? What do I learn from it? Does it expand my mind a little bit, or do I disagree with it? Society has always been reflected in art. There’s a very, very fine line. I believe that art should stay as art, and have the full creative freedom to express itself. Cancel culture is a very controversial thing, and I think we shouldn’t use the internet to target and destroy people’s lives without looking at the livelihood of the person.
A: Those are really good thoughts. Not much to add, because I agree wholeheartedly. I will say that there are people who will say that there is no such thing as cancel culture, it’s repercussion culture. I don’t necessarily believe in that. I think the challenge is that people aren’t taking things into context. I just don’t like the idea of an artist or comedian saying something that’s a little in poor taste—unless it’s truly atrocious—and losing their job. There’s nothing wrong with challenging jokes that challenge perspective and question society, because art is supposed to reflect that.
What advice do you have for aspiring podcasters?
A: Be authentic and yourself. Know that whatever story you possess, it’s valuable. You just have to keep at it. Never give up who you really are. The moment you try to pretend you’re someone else or you copy someone else’s idea or personality, that’s when you fail and you’re not authentically you. I believe, to be successful in these types of endeavors, you have to be unique, and the most unique thing about you is yourself.
R: That was a beautiful answer, man. For me, on the production side, you have to do the research and do as much preparation as you can. Step one: Do it. I feel like a lot of people get cold feet, and a lot of people get caught up in all the different things you have to do to put out a podcast. It can seem very daunting, but if you take it one task at a time, you’ll be able to publish that episode. From a tactical side of things, record three episodes. Figure out what you want to do in your show. Figure out that two-sentence purpose. In that process of recording and editing, you’ll know by then if you really want to continue. And from an editing side of things, take the time to edit intentionally.