Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, import car racing has become a formidable outlet for Asian American males to manifest their identity as an ethnic minority and as empowered males in the United States. Its origins started in the Orange County area in Southern California and have eventually expanded to smaller areas in the United States, including the Fargo-Moorhead area.
In recent years, there has been some ethnographic investigation on import car racing in Orange County, California and the Northern California Bay Area (see Victoria Namkung’s article, “Reinventing the Wheel: Import Car Racing and Asian American Youth in Orange County, California”and Soo Ah Kwon’s article, “Autoexoticizing: Asian American Youth and the Import Car Scene”) but there has been no emphasis on the expansion of the subculture in smaller communities such as the Fargo-Moorhead region. Unlike Southern California, where there is a dominance of Asian Americans, the Fargo-Moorhead area is the opposite. The 2000 Census showed that only 1.5 percent of the population is made up of Asians (See Table 1). This begs the question of whether or not a Caucasian dominated area has modified attitudes of those participating in the subculture of import car racing as well as outside observers. Historical Asian Americans and Symbolic Castration
Asian Americans, particularly males, have had a distinctly difficult time integrating in the United States. “The competition for labor opportunities caused many Asian Indian men to be driven out of their communities in the U.S. by White workers who belonged to groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion League” (Shek 2006:380). Moreover, there had been legislation and laws that prohibited Asian women from immigrating to the United States. This caused the continuance of cheap labor, since Asian immigrant men would not have to support families and would accept a lower wage. At the same time, however, Asian males were barred from creating families with White women due to anti-miscegenation laws (Shek 2006).With the combination of anti-immigrant and anti-miscegenation laws, Asian men have been symbolically castrated. Furthermore, “to prevent miscegenation, the intermingling of races, from occurring, popular images of Asian men as sexually deviant, asexual, effeminate, or lure White women to their opium dens were created” (Shek 2006:381).
This propaganda was the seed of contemporary stereotyping as well: the characters, Charlie Chan as the stereotypically smart, but effeminate detective and Dr. Fu Manchu as the conniving mastermind of evil. Coincidentally, both characters were portrayed by Warner Oland a Sweden native. These oppositional characters are the dualistic stereotypes that Asian American men have to face: sexual deviants or feminized or asexuals. Moreover, these stereotypes are what the dominate society of White males have created and forced upon society to accept. With the dawn of import car racing, Asian American males have portrayed themselves in their own terms.
Modern Asian American Masculinity and Japanese Origins
The idea of speed and masculinity is an adopted idea, but is a shared idea nonetheless. In Ikuya Sato’s book, Kamikaze Biker: Parody and Anomy in Affluent Japan, Sato finds that Japanese youth, who also modify street vehicles, assert their masculinity through the buying, modification, and racing of street vehicles.
Sato states (1991):
Through the association with vehicles so closely related to the youth’s sense of self, a metamorphosis seems to take place in which the Yankee/corner boy becomes a powerful and discerning consumer, a dilettante of car technology, and, above all, a masculine and heroic bosozoku. A vehicle stimulates the bosozoku youth by the action it implies – rapid acceleration, high-speed driving, acrobatic driving, and the aura of ultramasculinity, defiance, and challenge. (P. 51)
While this practice of modifying and racing their cars is borrowed from Japan (and should be noted that the book was published the same year import car racing became a visible scene in the U.S.), the reasons between foreign Asians and their Asian Americans counterparts for participating are different. In a quantitative research study by Peter Chua and Diane C. Fujino, they found, through various surveys of college campus immigrant Asians, U.S. born Asians Americans and White women that “U.S.-born Asian men…rely on their ability to garner economic power, in terms of high occupational status potential, to build up their masculinity. They do not depend generally on being independent, dominant, and non-feminine for power; rather they rely on economic power” (Chua and Fujino 1999:408). In Soo Ah Kwon’s interview with import car racing participants in the Northern California Bay Area, an interviewee discussed the amount of money spent on the hobby: “To be competitive at an import car show or race, one must make a minimum level of car modifications, which can cost about $20,000-$40,000” (Kwon 2004:10 emphasis added). Thus, I posit the link between economic power and the exhibiting of economic and masculine power is import car racing.
The Japanese, on the other hand, do not have to assert their masculinity in their homeland because of the lack of diversity or competition from White males. Sato explains that the plausible motivations for modified cars and racing of the cars are for “asobi (play)…spido (speed) and suriru (thrills)” (Sato 1991:16). There is nothing to prove to anyone.
Social and Gendered Perceptions of Cars
With the car now established as a symbol of high(er) economic status as well as an outlet to exhibit Asian American masculinity, the act of driving itself is an important feature to be examined. Sheila Sarkar and Marie Andreas collected data from U.S. teenage drivers as well as teenage traffic violators and surveyed their experiences such as: reckless driving and drag racing. Both variables which take place in import car racing. In their findings of gender they found that “Males reported a higher confidence level in their driving than did females. In terms of traffic offenses, males were more likely to have been pulled over for drag racing and reckless driving, than were females” (Sarkar and Andreas 2004:697).
Males in the U.S. and parts of Asia are not alone in their attraction to speed and cars. Globally, there is an itch for young males to achieve some social status through car racing, legal or illegal. Heli Vaaranen conducted qualitative interviews Helsinki, Finland among eighteen to twenty-four year male street racers to unveil their reasons behind racing. Most interesting is the way these male youth refer to their cars. As Vaaranen notes, “These cars exhibited a sexist worldview. When the boys were pleased with their cars, the cars were referred to as a ‘she,’ ‘the babe,’ and ‘the whore’ and then made into sex machines with maximal music equipment, roaring engines, and erotic interiors” (2004:100-101).
Moreover, Vaaranen (2004) notes the role of the females to their male, racer counterparts:
When riding in cars, girlfriends were silent, while the young men talked. If a young woman did not obey these unspoken rules when sober, she probably was not dating anyone in the club but was a loose chick on her own. Often these loose chicks attracted attention acting boyish and driving around with an attitude, which often resulted in minor accidents. (P. 102)
This comparison of females to cars, females as silent, and females as obedient must be taken into account when studying Asian American males and their female counterparts. Do cultural and ethnic backgrounds alter gender based attitudes of the opposite sex in the import car scene? How do Asian American males view their vehicles compared to the Finnish youth or Japanese youth, if they do at all.
Having pre-existing acquaintances with at least one Asian import car racer, I hope to gather more sources from the subject. Moreover, there is an Internet forum that is dedicated to drag and track racing in the region I am studying. Through investigation of the Internet forum, I will be able to familiarize myself with the persons who administer, post, and share information on the website. The forum will also provide a resource to find potential interviewees as well as dates and locations for meetings and hopefully, races.
Formal and informal interviews, conversations, and discussions will be the bulk of the fieldwork. Using the snowball effect, I hope to find a wide variety of perspectives from the participants, at the most, ten in-depth interviews. If the participants give willing consent, photographs of their vehicles will be taken to bolster the imagery of the cars. Furthermore, there will be an attempt to get participants to photograph their lives both domestically, but more importantly around social gathering spaces (at the racing track) or any other formal or informal meeting place or even the places they cruise or race around. In getting a rounder, fuller view of the lives of Asian Americans in dominantly White areas, I will be able to gauge any differences between them and their Orange County counterparts. Elaborative interviews coupled with the photo-ethnographic research will buttress the meanings of the photographs with detail and commentary.
Justification for Data Source and Methodology
Some issues arise in utilizing the insider-outsider team research due to a few factors: As an investigator, I share many of the same traits as those whom I will be studying, such as my ethnicity, gender, and age. In the article, “Power and positionality: negotiating insider/outsider status within and across cultures,” authors, Sharan B. Merriam, Juanita Johnson-Bailey, Ming-Yeh Lee, Youngwha Kee, Gabo Ntseane, and Mazanah Muhamad share what it means to conduct the I/O method with those of similar ethnicities, sex, and age, as well as stark differences (e.g. an African professor learning from African businesswomen).
Youngwha Kee and Ming-Yeh Lee interviewed those of the same ethnic backgrounds (Korean and Taiwanese) and found some unexpected difficulties. “In the rigidly hierarchical Korean culture, Youngwha’s status as a doctoral student in the US was perceived as more prestigious than that of her respondents; several refused co-operation and some treated Youngwha as an outsider to their community” (Merriam et al. 2001:407). Lee unveiled the obstacle of ageism when she attempted to speak with elders from Taiwan. “One of her older interviewees said many times at different points in the interview: ‘Only people of my age could understand this… young people like you have no idea’” (Merriam et al. 2001:408). Despite the obstructions these researchers faced, Youngwha is mentioned to utilized positionality in becoming an insider: “Youngwha shifted her position to more of an insider by becoming a regular customer at Korean restaurants and shops of several potential interviewees. Once perceived as a regular client who was ‘known’ to them, they permitted interviews” (Merriam et al. 2001:412).
Through adjustments and adaptation of new social settings, norms, and values, I will be able to integrate myself, not by deception or trickery, but through authentic curiosity to learn more about this group of people and their sub-culture they are immersed in. The insider/outsider team research will undoubtedly give me the most detailed accounts of their perspectives and how they react and interact with their environment, which is why I feel it is most appropriate and best choice as the general bulk of my methodologies.
To supplement the insider/outside research team, it will be necessary to operate under hermeneutical theory. In having common linguistic grammar and terminology, I will be able to accurately translate meaning into lay speak where it can be understood. Having little to no pre-conceived understanding of automobile terminology to begin with, first hand learning will make language easier to match with its social context. In addition to I/O and hermeneutical theory, if given the chance, I will be participant observer. Thus, emic analysis will be appropriate. This means anything from posting on the Internet forum the import car racers use to riding with or driving an import car.
To summate, this field work involves many approaches which should facilitate many encompassing perspectives. Interviews will provide depth and detail, photo ethnography is grounded in symbolic theory (what the participants deem as important), and participant observation will allow myself and those following this research to apprehend a first-hand intellectual and emotional viewpoint.
Through the forum website that links the regional racers together, finding sources should not be a hindrance. Finding those to cooperate and be a willing participant in this study is an unknown variable. The website is easily accessible and only needs basic information (e-mail address mainly) to register in order to post in threads and to view certain segments of the website. Accessing the track where the social events take place is an easy twenty to twenty-five minute drive out side of Moorhead, MN.
Interviewees may be concerned with their identities, so pseudonyms will take the place of real names or places (physical or virtual). Photographs may raise concern if there is illegal street racing or if the cars are not street legal. Censoring blatant parts of the photographs may happen (e.g. license plates, well-known sites, and so forth). Moreover, picturing the identities of those participating will not occur unless otherwise given permission by the individual(s) being pictured. (See attached Interview Schedule)
Race, Ethnicity and Immigration in Fargo, North Dakota.
Why do you drive an import car?
What brand/model of cars appeal to you? Why?
What does the car say about you?
How much does it cost to modify a car to build up credibility? How much does it cost to maintain?
How do you afford making these modifications?
What is more important to you when choosing modifications: show or go?
What does your car clock in the quarter mile track?
What modifications have you made to your vehicle that enhances performance?
Is your import car used as an everyday car for transportation or is it solely used as show and track racing?
Do you typically hang out with other racers? How often? Where?
Are there aspects of the import car scene you don’t like? If so, why?
What are the most enjoyable aspects of the import car scene? Why?
Do you know any import car participants of the opposite sex? What are your views on them?
What are the downfalls of driving an import car?
Do you see import car racing as a hobby or as a lifestyle?
How old were you when you started participating in the import car scene?
Do you see yourself as still racing or being part of the scene five years from now? Ten years?
How do your family and friends view your interest in import car racing and modification?
How much time do you spend working on your car? Hanging out at the track? With your import car friends? Do you have friends that are not involved in your scene?
Chua, Peter and Diane C. Fujino.1999. “Negotiating New Asian-American Masculinities: Attitudes and Gender Expectations.” The Journal of Men’s Studies. 7 (3):391-413.
Kwon, Soo Ah. 2004. “Autoexoticizing: Asian American Youth and the Import Car Scene.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 7 (1):1-26.
Merriam, Sharan B., Juanita Johnson-Bailey, Ming-Yeh Lee, Yongwha Kee, Gabo Ntseane, Mazanah Muhamad. 2001. “Power and positionality: negotiating insider/outsider status within and across cultures.” International Journal of Lifelong Education. 20 (5):405-416.
“Race, Ethnicity and Immigration.” 2007. Retrieved August 31, 2009.