Blasian Singers in Asia

I was recently reflecting on a trip to Shanghai and remembered the story of Lou Jing, the black-Chinese young woman who appeared on a talent show in China in 2009. Her appearance on a popular Chinese television show was a subject of much debate. Jing appeared on “Go! Oriental Angel” for two months, and though the show nicknamed her “Chocolate Angel” and “Black Pearl”, she and her mother received constant negative criticism.

Jing’s Chinese mother had a relationship with an African American man, to whom she was not married. Lou Jing has never met her father. Raised in Shanghai, she is fluent in Mandarin and Shanghainese and identified as Shanghainese. After receiving hurtful comments online following her television appearances, she questions her place in China. One post read, “Ugh. Yellow people and black people mixed together is very gross.”

Lou Jing and her mother

This situation shows how far behind China is in moving beyond its monocultural ideal image of itself. As China emerges as a world power, it is vital that its people open up their minds to the multicultural contexts that exist in other countries and that is also slowly becoming a reality in China. The lack of awareness in the comments directed toward Lou Jing clearly demonstrates the long way that China has to go to better interact and understand the diversity beyond its borders.

While China is struggling to deal with this mixed race person in their midst, neighboring countries, Korea and Japan, have already been coping with public figures with black ancestry for some time now. A very popular singer in Korea right now, who happens to be blasian, is Yoon Mirae (Tasha Reid). Like Yoon Mirae, Crystal Kay is also black and Korean, but she is successful in Japan. While it’s not easy being biracial – especially half black – in Asia, it used to be a lot more difficult. In Korea, Insooni helped pave the way.

Yoon Mirae
Crystal Kay

Born to an African American father and Korean mother in 1957, Kim Insoon was born soon after the Korean War. In the 1960s, multiracial Koreans were an extremely new phenomenon and suffered extreme discrimination. Insooni began performing in the late 1970s, receiving more attention for her appearance than her talent. She has now been making music for over 30 years.

Insooni is a musical legend in Korea, and the difficult situations she experienced as a biracial person in a monoracial country served her well. Mixed race Koreans have become much more common, but Insooni’s childhood must have been indescribably tough. Compared to being black in Korea, the trying times and insensitive criticism of the entertainment world surely seemed simple to endure.

Kim Insoon at 15 years old (1972)

Insooni’s success has made the possibility of a career in the public sphere a realistic goal in Korea and serves as an excellent example across East Asia. She’s a hero for blasians across the ocean too.

INSOONI

Selected Sources: 
* NPR, Mixed-Race TV Contestant Ignites Debate in China“, November 11, 2009.
* CNN World, TV talent show exposes China’s race issue“, December 21, 2009. 
* Connections (Pearl S. Buck International newsletter), Coming Full Circle With Korean Singer Insooni and Daughter Jasmine“, Fall/Winter 2011.

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Blasian Chart Toppers in the US

For the longest time, as far as I knew, there had never been a blasian American singer – until Amerie came out in the early 2000s.  When I found out she was Korean-African American, I decided to support her before I even heard her music.  It was such a novelty to purchase the music of someone who had the same parentage as me.

Born to an African American father (Charles Rogers) and a Korean mother (Mi Suk), Amerie’s first language was Korean, and she lived in South Korea for 3 years as a child.

Amerie & her mother
Amerie’s name tattoo in Korean

Amerie’s debut album was released in 2002, and her debut single, “Why Don’t We Fall in Love” peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

There have been a few other blasian singers since Amerie, but had there been incognito blasians recording in the US before Amerie hit the music scene wearing her ethnicity on her sleeve?  Then I discovered Sugar Pie DeSanto – the 1st blasian chart topper.

Sugar Pie DeSanto was born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton.  She is the daughter of an African American mother and a Filipino father.  As a child, she spoke English and Tagalog and still speaks a little Tagalog with family.

In 1960, DeSanto’s single “I Want to Know” reached #4 on Billboard’s R&B chart.  This was her biggest hit and her highest charting hit.

A blasian hit singer over 50 years ago.  Who knew?

Selected Sources:
* Intermix.org.uk: A website for the benefit of mixed-race families and individuals, Amerie’s Happy to Talk About Ethnicity“, September 1, 2008.
* San Francisco Bay Guardian, Gimme a Little Sugar“, March 12, 2003.