This past Saturday, Jan. 27, Toronto-based, Asian-Canadian YouTube group CantoMando came to Carnegie Mellon University. Hosted by the Carnegie Mellon student organizations Big Straw Magazine, Asian Students Association, and Awareness of Roots in Chinese Culture, roughly a hundred students from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh showed up for the trio’s first ever event held on a college campus.
Started in 2016 by Sheldon Ho, and later joined by his friends Edward Leung and Mike Wu, CantoMando is a YouTube channel that harnesses comedy not only for the sake of laughs, but also to bring focus to important issues facing Asians in a more light-hearted way.
Growing up, all three had their own set of difficulties as American-born Chinese (ABCs), which they each highlighted throughout the event. Sheldon grappled with his identity, trying to determine who he wanted to be and who he wanted to be associated with; Mike had trouble accepting his Chinese name, especially around his classmates (most of whom misheard his name as Moose Chin); Edward struggled with coming to terms with the racism he faced both by people of other races, and even Asians, who were swayed by the opinions of others.
Utilizing stock images, personal photos, memes, and the occasional badly-timed slideshow transition to their advantage throughout the event, CantoMando never ceased to capture the audience’s attention with both intentional and unintentional humor. While laughter was consistently abundant, much like their videos, CantoMando’s talk at Carnegie Mellon masterfully incorporated humor with seriousness as members shared their stories as ABCs.
In the end, however, despite these difficult situations, they learned — and continue to learn — to accept who they were. They were inspired to bring awareness based on the struggles they had growing up and discuss important issues such as stereotypes, identity, and racial tension. They are seeking to help other ABCs and Asians feel more comfortable with embracing their cultures and identities.
Although I wasn’t super familiar with CantoMando going into the event, each member of the CantoMando team’s story was engaging, inspiring, and relatable. It was eye-opening to hear about their experiences and truly recognize how everyone has gone through similar identity crises.
I’ve always had trouble, like Ho, figuring out who I am and where I belong. Especially as someone who is neither a first-generation ABC nor fully Asian, I’ve never felt fully comfortable expressing my views. I didn’t feel like my experiences were valid or qualified enough, and yet as I listened to CantoMando talk, I found that I still shared a lot of similar worries and experiences.
Growing up, I didn’t really embrace any of my roots, kind of floating in a limbo. Since coming to Carnegie Mellon, though, I’ve been able to grow and have had the chance to start discovering who I am and where I belong.
As cliché as it may sound, CantoMando made me realize how important it is for everyone to embrace their identities and find communities that accept them for who they are. They crucially emphasized, however, that embracing our own cultures does not mean we should shut out those who are different and have differing views.
As Leung discussed, when he was faced with a situation of racism, he was initially angry and wanted to hate others. However, with time to reflect, he realized it was not the way to go or resolve conflict. He wanted to bring awareness to the issues and not be divided over them. He asserted how important it was to not stereotype or try to fit people into boxes based on their race, no matter who they are.
CantoMando continuously discussed how problematic it was to be seen only for the color of their skin and not for the content of their character, yet Edward took it a step farther. At one point, he was faced with a dilemma. On social media, he saw a post that depicted three "white" guys mocking Chinese culture. Another account commented on the post, essentially saying that those three guys were racist and they represented all "white" people’s attitudes toward other cultures. However, Edward decided to respond and expressed his disbelief, correcting the commenter’s blanket statement saying that only “some white people” were like that. However, many of his followers and viewers voiced that they felt betrayed by the stance he took. To be seen as betraying his race merely for not agreeing that all white people are bad was disheartening, especially as someone who strongly advocates for people like him and brings awareness to Asian-Canadian and Asian-American struggles.
Divisiveness will never solve any problems or reverse any negative views. While it may be easier to cut yourself off from people who hurt you and lose all respect for them, making assumptions and associating all people as bad or good based on the color of their skin causes more harm than it heals.
Ultimately, CantoMando’s university debut was a success. Achieving the perfect balance between being meaningful and funny, the initially nervous group had nothing to worry about, evoking laughter and inspiring many Asian students with their stories and experiences.