Don Lee: The Collective

Howard Diep | 10209864

Don Lee’s The Collective is a story that follows three aspiring Asian American artists into their university and then post-graduate life. Addressing many issues such as Queer Asian American Identity, interracial dating, education, the model minority myth, identify formation, suicide and mental healthy issues, love, immigrant communities, agency, voice and power.

This novel take different approaches while exploring these different issues, based in the classroom and outside experiences. Set in the nineteen eighties at Macalester College, the main character Eric Cho, Joshua Yoon, and Jessica Tsai. Jessica Tsai is described as a beautiful individual and artistic painter; Eric Cho is a aspiring writer who has trouble identifying with his Asian roots; and Joshua Yoon is a bit dark and melancholic. At first the three students relate to each other by dabbling in descriptive details of art and sex and then form a bond after racial slurs are tagged across their classroom. In turn, after college they form The 3AC – The Asian American Artists Collective. The Collective weaves a line between the theoretical fights in the classroom and the actually fights that individuals may take on in life and experience. In The Collective, experience is the frame for Asian American Identify.

Overall I thought The Collective was a very enjoyable and insightful read. Although it is not like other picture perfect books with blissful endings, it was grounded more on a story of reality than fiction. Lee does an amazing job in writing descriptive accounts of the three characters experiences and pieces it all together masterfully. Not only does Lee address different issues and questions racial identity on every page, Lee also sheds light on how Asian Americans who do not follow the social norm deal with the sacrifice one must make to be an artist and the disheartened burden of unfulfilled dreams.

In relation to the class Asian American Media and Art, we related the book to the central theme and question of what defines Asian American Art and an Asian American Artist? Is art created by Asian Americans considered Asian American art? Or is it just art created by an Asian American and is labeled as art just like every other artist? We’ve learned in class discussion that even in the art community there is segregation and artists of color compared to artists who aren’t individuals of color. Personally, I believe that there shouldn’t be a line that separates the two because we should all be equal. And in the question of Asian American art or just regular art, I believe that is up to the artist to decide.

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