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Inside Yolk : With missionary zeal, the staff of a fledgling magazine tries to find common ground for a generation of young Asian Americans.


Ever think about eating a dog? Did you know that Dean Cain, television's new Superman, is Japanese American? Or that sitcom star Margaret Cho prefers married men?

Such topics are the stuff of Yolk, a quarterly magazine for young Asian Americans that is put together in a loft in the old Pabst brewery in Lincoln Heights and reaches nearly 45,000 readers nationwide.

They are also what Yolk's editors think are on the minds of a new generation of Asian Americans: those raised and educated in the United States as Asia increasingly influences America, both through business and immigration. This generation falls between the cracks, with interests overlooked by both the popular press and the Asian ethnic publications that serve recent immigrants, according to Tin Yen, the 30-year-old co-founder of Yolk.

"The media's like a mirror that reflects our society, but when I was growing up I never saw myself, as an Asian American, reflected in that mirror," Yen said.

Yolk's reflection of its generation combines sections on fashion, entertainment and music, with occasional in-your-face attacks on society's misunderstandings of Asian culture. A recent story on dog-eating, for instance, asks: "Why should fish or rabbits suffer the butcher block? Maybe it's because rabbits can't catch a Frisbee as well as a German shepherd."

The magazine's premise is that there is something common to Japanese, Korean and Chinese Americans, as well as Vietnamese, Filipinos, Indians and other Asian American groups.

Finding that common ground is the magazine's mission, and the staff works with missionary zeal, for worse-than-missionary pay.

Tommy Tam, 26, first thought of starting the magazine as a USC student four years ago. Having grown up isolated in a nearly all-white Florida town, Tam was in awe of the huge Asian American communities of Los Angeles, but was disappointed at the lack of a magazine or newspaper to chronicle Asian American life.

Yolk was born in 1994, when Tam and Yen, partners in a graphic design firm, assembled a group that included editor Larry Tazuma, contributing editor Philip Chung and Amy Lee Tu. Tu, 22, is the magazine's chief financial officer and a stock market prodigy who co-signed the $50,000 bank loan that got the eager group going.

Despite its up-market look and contents, with cover stories on the hottest Asian American celebrities and bold graphics, Yolk's production borders on the back alley. Tam lives in the second-story brewery loft office; computers and other equipment are borrowed from friends, and writers and photographers, some of whom are highly regarded professionals, often work for no pay.

"They do it because they believe in what we're trying to accomplish," said Tazuma, 29, who supports himself by writing free-lance stories for other publications.

It was Tazuma who hatched the magazine's name. An egg yolk is yellow, he said, and so is the nominal color of Asian people's skin, regardless of nationality. It's a title much like Ebony.

That, Tazuma insisted, is all it means, though others often read more into it. "It has nothing to do with it being surrounded by an outer white shell, or brown shell, if you choose to eat brown eggs."

The name signifies that elusive Asian American aesthetic that each issue tries to pin down.

If adult Asian immigrants are divided by the different languages, politics and customs of their home countries, Yolk bets that American-reared, English-speaking Asians are all hungry for glossy images of glamorous Asian Americans, whatever their ethnicity, and tales of how other Asians have dealt with life as minorities in the United States.

Asian immigrants may want publications in their native languages that keep them in touch with their home countries, but Yolk asserts that American-born Asians want a magazine that examines their lives in the United States.

At the very least, Yolk thinks younger Asian Americans like the same TV shows. Its three cover subjects have been television stars Margaret Cho, a Korean American, Chinese American Russell Wong, and Dean Cain, a Japanese American.

Charles S. Chun, a 28-year-old Korean American actor who reads Yolk, agreed that television stars have broad appeal to Asian Americans. "Whether they're Japanese American or Vietnamese or Thai, people like Russell Wong are heroes to Asian American youths," Chun said.

The magazine's aim, said Tazuma, is to show its readers young Asian Americans who are beginning to be successful in diverse areas. There are actors, athletes, film directors and singers.

Yolk avoids the biggest stars and most accomplished Asian Americans, favoring those who were recently struggling or were previously overlooked. Tazuma said younger readers are more likely to be inspired rather than intimidated by such subjects.

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