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While in Las Vegas, this weekend, I had the opportunity to interview actress Kelly Hu. This is that interview. Many thanks to Cate Park, of Asian Pacific Americans for Progress, for setting up this interview, and of course to Hu herself for agreeing to do it.
Whether portraying a deadly mutant assassin or a sensual Egyptian queen, Kelly Hu appears to be a larger-than-life character: the quintessential warrior woman. For those of us who aren’t part of the film industry, it’s easy to blur the line between reality and this entertaining fiction. I admit – when I first heard that I might have the opportunity to meet Hu during my trip to Las Vegas this weekend, part of me wondered whether she would be anything like the intimidating characters we are familiar with on-screen. Would she attempt to canvass in the chilly Nevada weather wearing the scant costume of The Scorpion King fame? Would an inappropriate remark cause her to metamorphose into the terrifying martial artist that had X2’s Wolverine shivering in his overly-tight X-Men britches? Should I be checking for mutant claws?
It only took a few minutes of chatting with Hu for me to put those silly fantasies to rest. In direct contrast to the emotionally severe women she has played in her most well-known roles, Hu is warm, open, and clearly impassioned.
According to her IMDB entry, Hu is a fourth-generation Asian American of Chinese-Filipino-Hawaiian and English identity. Originally from Hawaii, Hu made a name for herself in Hollywood in the late 80’s and early 90’s as one of a limited number of female Asian American actors consistently finding roles. “There weren’t many [Asian American actresses] to choose from,” Hu notes, listing Tamilyn Tomita, Rosalind Chao and Tia Carrere among her competitors at the time. With so few actors competing for the same roles, “it was easier to get noticed.” Hu also cites her “cross-over look” as one of the reasons for her success: “I could [also] go for roles not specifically written for Asian Americans”.
With that success, Hu has ventured into political activism. In 2004, Hu recorded a PSA, still available for download at LeastLikely.com, about Asian American voter participation. And in a recent YouTube clip, Hu (along with several other notable Asian American faces) vocally supports Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy for the presidency.
I asked Hu: why Obama?
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“Who’s doggy’s daddy? A DNA test can determine the breeds that make your mutt”
Making its way to the very front page of Yahoo! on Monday night was a video and a news article about a DNA kit which, as the folks at Yahoo! so eloquently put it, is able to tell dog-owners the different breeds in their “mutt.”
Now, I realize that we’re talking about dogs here but the word “mutt” is one that makes me wince no matter what the context. And though the word, when talking about dogs, is in supposedly a completely canine context, I don’t think it’s in an entirely different context without any sort of implications of cultural attitudes that carry over to the ways in which our society sees and talks about mixed race folks.
The most glaring aspect of the word and it’s popular usage when it comes to dogs is that people, dog-owners just don’t know what the dog is which results in the “mutt” description. There’s nothing wrong with this because god knows that a lot of dog-owners don’t know what their dog is but at the same time, many dog-owners do know very well. “Mutt,” to me, implies very much a sort of hairbrained “I don’t know. It’s just a bunch of everything thrown in there. I lost track” which is fine if people want to talk about their dogs like that, if people want to talk about themselves like that but its lackadaisical presence in the way people talk about race and in this case, dog breeds, fosters a sort of “don’t know so reduce it down” attitude. Don’t get me wrong, people should identify however they want to and if someone identifies and calls themselves a mutt “because it’s simple” then that’s great for them. However, as the word has the overriding suggestion of a lack of knowledge when it comes to one’s background, it’s not the most sensitive term to be flinging around at least when it comes to real people. I know this isn’t a perfect comparison, but it’d be like if I proudly told people I was “Oriental” and preferred the term over “Asian” or “Asian American.” If I did then that’s my business but it would inevitably give people the idea that it’s an OK term to use when describing
Orientals Asian Americans. And also, I’m not saying that dog-owners who use the term are somehow insensitive and subtly racist when it comes to issues of race but rather the culture in our language perpetuates the idea that mutt=potpourri and if to be mixed is to be a mutt then to be a mutt means to not know what you are (and not care) which I don’t think is remotely the case for many, many mixed people. Read the Post Why the word “mutt” makes me wince