Not Bowing to the Man

by Adrianne Kwak, Special Contributing Author

I remember my brother sending me the link to Angry Little Asian Girl in 1999. I was a recent college grad, still struggling with my Asian American identity. I remember seeing the Angry Little Asian Girl image and reading her comic strips and thinking, “That’s me.”

That was me with the perpetual scowl, thinking, “This sucks and so do you.” That was me with strong opinions, not allowing myself to show them for fear of scaring people away. Lela Lee gave voice to me and every other Asian American girl who kept their rude thoughts to themselves and only shared them on the 15th of Never.

I was the girl that no one blamed for anything because I was “quiet” and “sweet.” My hair was black, my dark eyes slanted, and I wore glasses. I spent my high school years trying my best to blend into the walls. The only time I ever shocked people was if I happened to raise my hand in class. This reaction made me decide it wasn’t worth the embarrassment. The only bad marks I got in class were for lack of participation in class discussions.

The quiet Asian girl stereotype never matched how I felt about myself, but I left it alone and lived with the disappointment of being boxed into a corner for the benefit of being able to do whatever I wanted. I could do anything for a laugh and then pretend I had been home learning how to pour tea. No one ever suspected me.

Angry Little Asian Girl showed me that I was not alone in feeling the disparity between who I was and how others viewed me. As an adult, I am more confident in knowing that it is much more of a laugh to own up to my escapades and be outspoken about my beliefs, as opposed to hiding from them as I did as a teenager. But I still sometimes continue to feel the discouragement of being held back by the quiet Asian girl stereotype. I still need my friends to complain to. I still get irritated. Angry Asian Girl is still an accurate reflection of how I feel.

When I read that Angry Little Asian Girl is having to sue Angry Asian Man for the rights to her name, I wanted to express my support for her.

Here is a timeline of Angry Little Asian Girl and Angry Asian Man events:
1994 – Lela Lee creates Angry Little Asian Girl
1998 – Lela Lee starts publishing her weekly comic strip and selling shirts online using the registered domain
1999 – Lela Lee trademarks Angry Little Asian Girl with the US Trademark and Patent Office
2001 – Phil Yu starts Angry Asian Man blog. Admits he was inspired by Angry Little Asian Girl.
2014 – Phil Yu tries to trademark Angry Asian Man. The USTPO denies his request explaining that it is too similar to the already approved Angry Little Asian Girl trademark.

From what I have read, Lela Lee has been trying to do the right thing since she met Phil Yu in 2005. She has been trying to support him as a fellow Asian American. Unfortunately, not everyone reciprocates decency.

Lela Lee is like the older sister in this, with Phil Yu being the younger brother to her Angry Little Asian Girl franchise. As an older sister myself, I cannot help but put myself in her place. What would I tell my younger brother if I got there first and he was trying to cut in line and steal my place, so to speak? I would say to him, “Don’t give Asian men a bad name! Chivalry is not dead. Learn some manners. Open a thesaurus. Find your own name.”

Author Bio: Adrianne Katagiri Kwak is living the life of her dreams (the sleepy kind), full of happiness (the bakery kind) and laughter (the evil kind). She is a mother (the urban dictionary kind), not a writer. Her hobbies include finding problems and being offended.