In an Age Without Heroes

Asian American Studies is all about the bottom-up, power from/for the people model. And along this model, we shun the messiah method of organizing– that is, we don’t pick a charismatic person to hang our hopes of progress on. This works very well for organizing in the present. Looking at the past, Asian American Studies is more willing to name people heroes. And why not? People like Richard Aoki, Yuri Kochiyama, they earned their reputations.

Heroes are useful. Their characters and actions become templates against which future generations judge their actions and characters. But heroes need to be more, and less, than human. We iron out their faults, and remember only their successes. Because that’s what we aspire to. Even their personal lives take on less importance, unless they have an epic romance. They must be greater and more genius than we are.

I’ve been thinking about greatness and genius. Greatness often gets in the way of personal lives. It demands an amount of dedication that pushes everything else aside. I want to be great, but lately I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t be aspiring to something else– love, humility, humanity.

In his poem Declaration (for Yu Luo-Ke), Bei Dao wrote “在没有英雄年代里/我只想做一个人”. In an age that has no heroes/I only want to be a person. Students graffitied these lines across Beijing in the 1989 Democratic Uprising. Heroes aren’t people. They’re legends based on people. It’s time to aspire to humanity.

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2 thoughts on “In an Age Without Heroes

  1. I once learned in college (I guess it’s sometimes true… you CAN learn things in college!) that the trouble with popular media like the New York Times Magazine is that world events are often narrated from the context of “important or influential people” doing “important and influential things.” I think this tends to result in an erroneous or over simplistic portrayal, and doesn’t properly consider things like coincidences of timing, the influence of other (perhaps less known) persons or groups of people, and the contribution of simultaneous, earlier, or later, events and circumstances.

    Perhaps the ability to step back from aspirations of greatness to consider and embrace one’s capacity for love, humility, and humanity actually comes closer, in the end, to approaching real greatness, rather than just fame.

  2. mos def. thanks for the comment. redefining greatness, and letting that point our aspirations.

    another part of the ethnic studies paradigm that needs to go along with the bottom up aspect, is the incorporation of personal experience into “objective” work.

    Popular media like the New York Times Magazine writes from a pretty specific world view, and pretends to be the objective standard. but i’ve found that most of them time, objective is another way of saying that the author is ignoring their own biases.

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