We need more Asian-Americans in Austin’s music scene

Photo by Kiana Fernandez
Photo by Kiana Fernandez

By Kiana Fernandez

Sometimes, you can just feel it.

It's that tension in the air when you're the only person of color in the room. You can sense the stares. You swear you can hear their thoughts.

Coming from a majority white population in Southlake, Texas, it was always like this for me: going to class, to work, to the grocery store. Whether it was real or paranoia, this tension followed me. I would feel it especially when I would frequent local live shows in my area. It was all the same. The performers were mainly white men. The crowd was white. I was me.

Making the move to Austin, Texas, the "live music capital of the world," I envisioned a space free from that feeling of isolation - an environment rich with artists and bands of different ethnicities, identities and styles. While the music scene in Austin is definitely more diverse than Southlake, it still didn't feel like enough.

Photo by Flickr
Photo by Flickr

I wasn't the only one who recognized this. Other students like me felt the same way.

Shamika Kurian, public relations sophomore and KVRX radio D.J., said the local Austin music scene still lacks Asian-American representation.

"I've seen more diversity over the years, but in general, the 'indie' music scene is definitely white male dominated," Kurian said. "I think this is for two reasons - on the one hand it's really difficult to be a part of a space where you feel isolated or singled out, but I think the lack of encouragement to participate is also an issue."

Kurian said the lack of diversity doesn't discourage her.

"(The lack of Asian-American performers and listeners) is something that I think is unfortunate, but I try not to let it stop me from participating in these spaces," Kurian said. "The only way we can combat the lack of diversity in the music scene as 'minority musicians' is by injecting ourselves in it as much as possible, even if it's intimidating."

Phil Baier, who is half Vietnamese and half white, is the bass player of the Austin-based band called Summer Salt. He said even though he is mixed race, there are still moments when people judge him. He tries to encourage an inclusive environment for all performers and listeners.

"It's fun to support Asian-American representation and taking pride in it," Baier said. "There are times you get some weird looks - looks of judgement. It's not comfortable, it's not pleasant at all. There is something special in seeing a crowd with a lot of different faces. I would like to see more of that."

Paula M. Poindexter, a journalism professor at UT who focuses on diversity in the media, further encourages this type of crowd.

"The truth is, a lot of places you go to, there won't be diversity," Poindexter said. "That's the reality. This is how the world is. Don't keep yourself from going places because of the fact that there is no diversity there. Don't hold yourself back from doing things you want to do. Go hear the music."

Kurian said in order to have more representation, an inclusive music scene must be actively cultivated.

"Organizations who have the power to put on shows and put out releases should really consider how they impact the music scene and how their selections in what to promote and who they put on lineups can make an impact." Kurian said. "Giving an opening spot to a band with a really unique and special sound and set up can make a huge difference, but the effort to seek out these bands needs to be taken."

Representation is a powerful force. It's welcoming. I seek it out and I support it. While that tension in the air is still there when I go to local shows, it acts as a reminder that I should be there. Austin prides itself on being inclusive, so it's time to take advantage of that.

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Kiana Fernandez is a sophomore advertising student at the University of Texas at Austin.