Thus, Yolk profiles first-time directors like Kayo Hatta, whose low-budget film "Picture Bride" was a critical favorite, over "Joy Luck Club" director Wayne Wang. Dr. Tin Liu, the unknown Chinese American inventor of Play-Doh, is celebrated over architect I.M. Pei.
Like the readers they hope to draw, Yolk's founders have widely different roots. Tazuma is a third-generation Japanese American from Seattle; Tin Yen was born in Taiwan and grew up in Echo Park; Tommy Tam is a Chinese American born in Mississippi and raised in Jacksonville, Fla.; Philip Chung, 25, came from Korea and grew up in South-Central and the San Gabriel Valley.
The staff says their base in Lincoln Heights, in addition to being cheap and near their printer, also balances their perspective. "We're close to Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, but we're not immersed in a subculture like we might be if we were in [predominantly Chinese] Monterey Park," Tam said.
Though short on resources, Yolk's start was well-timed. Margaret Cho's "All-American Girl" sitcom was starting on ABC, and "The Joy Luck Club" and "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" were recent box office hits. The Asian American entertainment spurt gave the magazine new stars to profile.
The networks and studios were testing the same waters as Yolk, checking the viability of the English-speaking Asian market. Companies such as long-distance phone services and banks have mined lucrative Asian American markets in the past by targeting specific ethnic groups through Asian-language media.
The unanswered question remains whether American-raised Asians can be reached through a common medium. If so, they are a prime market, according to Eleanor N. Yu, president of San Francisco-based Adland, one of the largest Asian American advertising firms in the United States.
According to an analysis of Census data by Yu's firm, 1.5 million of the 7.5 million Asian Americans are U.S.-born. About 350,000 of the former live in Southern California. Their median age is 28, their average annual income is $45,000 and two-thirds are college-educated and/or homeowners.
Yolk's future depends on business confidence in English-language Asian media. Liane Loui, Yolk's advertising manager, said many advertisers, even those who have run Asian-language campaigns, remain skeptical. "A lot of them think they're already reaching our readers through English-language media."
Beer, cosmetics and clothing companies have, nevertheless, bought ads, and the magazine's last two issues would have broken even had paper costs not gone up 20% in the last year, according to Tu.
But Yolk has never been about making money. "It's not a business, it's a project," Tazuma said.
Ask staffers why they're willing to forgo things like pay, and lofty visions emerge.
For Chung, working for Yolk is part of a personal commitment he made in 1992, when he decided to move back to Los Angeles from Santa Cruz after the riots.
"The riots showed me that Asian Americans are still stuck in the middle, without a place," Chung said. "We're not black or white, and we and the rest of society don't know where we fit in the spectrum of race."
Yolk and the plays he is writing, Chung said, can help establish an Asian American cultural foothold. "Unlike African Americans, we're still asking ourselves: 'What have we created? Where is our jazz?' "
Even if Yolk doesn't meet its most ambitious goals of shaping American culture, there is evidence that the Lincoln Heights venture has at least touched a few young lives.
"My daughters think their noses are too small, their hair is too thick and they are too short," one mother wrote to the magazine. "They read Sassy, Huh and Seventeen, and rarely is there an Asian face. Thank you for producing a magazine that addresses young Asian Americans."