Artist and activist converses about struggles of Asian American identity


Photo via Simon Tam’s website

Simon Tam is an activist, author, and musician.

Jaelyn Decena, A&E Editor

CSUSM’s Arts & Lectures Series hosted “Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court,” a webinar with Simon Tam, an Asian American author, musician and activist, on Oct. 28. 

From a young age, Tam experienced bullying and teasing from his classmates for his Asian features. 

Tam recalled how one boy called him by the name of “Jackie,” regardless of the fact that the boy knew his real name. He quickly realized that he was renamed “Jackie” as a comment on his Asian American identity; the kids aligned his identity along with any other Asian. 

As Tam grew older, he decided to create a band called “The Slants,” which began as the first and only all Asian American dance-rock band. The band’s name intended to reclaim the negative connotation it had previously been associated with.  

However, the intention behind the band’s name stirred controversy, as others found the name to be offensive. This occurrence had made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court in the case Matal v. Tam

The court ruled in favor of Tam, arguing that to censor the band’s name is in violation of the First Amendment. 

According to Tam’s biography, Judge Kimberly Moore stated that “Words – even a single word – can be powerful. Mr. Simon Tam named his band The Slants to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country.”

Since the Supreme Court decision, Tam has advocated for the civil liberties of Asian Americans. Tam works alongside The Slants Foundation, “a nonprofit that supports arts and activism projects for underrepresented communities.” 

This Arts & Lectures series event provided attendees with important insight to prejudice against Asian Americans. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, America has experienced a rise in hate crimes and racism towards Asian Americans. Asian Americans have been targeted and treated as if they were the virus themselves. 

The conversation of prejudice and racism towards Asian Americans in this Arts & Lectures series event brings attention to the idea that while living in a time of a progressive America, the nation’s past continues to create a ricochet effect into today’s society. 

You can learn more about Simon Tam at his website

To learn about upcoming Arts & Lectures events, visit their website