The First Blasian on TV

Alisa Gyse is a bit of a hero to me. She was Kinu Owens on the 90’s television series, A Different World. In eight episodes between 1990 and 1993, Gyse was the Japanese-African American love interest of Dwayne Wayne. As a Korean-African American, seeing someone of Afro-Asian ethnicity on TV was amazing. She was the first half-black and half-Asian character I had ever seen. It was thrilling to see someone similar to myself portrayed in such a popular vehicle.

A Different World, Episode: “Everything Must Change” (1990)

Kinu’s blend of Asian and black features and identity pervaded her presence on the show. It went beyond her physical characteristics and made its way into the way she dressed, talked, and even cooked. She had a Japanese name, spoke the Japanese language, and prepared Japanese meals. Yet, she was still an African American character on an African American show. I could relate.

In 1990, Gyse backed up Sammy Cahn ― legendary lyricist, songwriter, and musician ― in a live performance piece. In an interview promoting the show, Gyse noted that she had been to Japan three times. She said, “When I was going to Japan, I wondered what my relatives would think of me.” “I’m half Japanese and half black, and the Japanese can be a very purist society. I wondered if they’d be old and traditional. They were the most wonderful, hospitable people. I got closer to them in a shorter amount of time than to some of my relatives I’ve known for years.”

Gyse also acknowledged her luck in earning her first acting role in A Different World. “They were looking for someone who is black and Japanese!” she said.

Soloist in Sammy Cahn’s “Words & Music” (1990)

Of her experience in Cahn’s show, Gyse said, “I think Americans are ready and willing to be entertained by any race. Here I am, the only black person in the Sammy Cahn show, singing songs that are not from my heritage, but I love the songs, and I’m sure people enjoy my performance, and it has nothing to do with my being black or Japanese – or purple!

If you’d like to see clips of Gyse as Kinu on “A Different World”, check out these links.

Whitley vs. Kinu (Part 1): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUAwIpFFu6w

Whitley vs. Kinu (Part 2): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbQGyyoKxFc

Selected Sources:
* Chicago Tribune, On with the Show“, December 3, 1990.
* Internet Movie Database, “Alisa Gyse-Dickens”.
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Why a Blasian Blog?

 

The term “Blasian” refers to a person of mixed Black and Asian (specifically East or Southeast Asian) ancestry.

 

I always knew I was different. Growing up biracial in the American South, I knew no one else with parents who were not of the same race (other than my sister). As I got older, I did meet other mixed race people, but not until college did I meet someone like me – of black and Asian ancestry.

For the longest time, I felt extremely unique, which was not necessarily a good thing. I became used to being singled out and often felt alone. There were no role models for me. I rarely saw anyone who looked anything like me. There was no one like me.

Humans have an inherent desire to be a part of a group. Where was mine? It seems as though I have always been searching for people like me. This blog is a manifestation of that. This will be a forum in which I can share my discoveries of noteworthy blasians with other blasians, parents of blasian children, those in black/Asian relationships, and anyone else who may be interested in blasians, their impacts, and their experiences. With this blog, I will attempt to define what it is to be blasian. This blog will serve as a narrative of the blasian existence.