The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 13, 1996 · Page 62
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 62

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Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 13, 1996
Page:
Page 62
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CULTURE BY VERONICA CHAMBERS RISING STARS Radio's most surprising voice DJ Theo, L.A. 's top rap deejay, is helping silence the lingering Asian stereotypes T AKE A GOOD LOOK at Theo Mizuhara. He's the face of things to come. As a Japanese American who is the top rap disc jockey in Los Angeles, Mizuhara joins the ranks of such young Asian Americans as Dean Cain, Ming-Na Wen and Margaret Cho who give new meaning to "crossover." Mizuhara and his peers are the first generation of writers, actors and artists to grow up with an "Asian American" identity as opposed to being specifically Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc., says Jeff Yang, the 28-year-old editor of A., a national magazine for Asian Americans. "We have a sense of common identity, issues and goals that unite us. We're not foreigners, and we're interested in what it means to be American as well as what it means to be Asian-American." What's different about Mizuhara, whose professional name is DJ Theo, is that most listeners of L.A.'s 92.3 "The Beat" didn't know he was Japanese-American until a year into his tenure. His silky baritone evokes a young Teddy Pendergrass or Barry White; and, while a black deejay spun the records in the opening radio dialogue of Waiting to Exhale, Mizuhara supplied the voice. Acting may be his newest calling. Last season he guested on TV's Moesha, starring his good friend Brandy, and he recently signed with Dolores Robinson, the A-list manager who guided Wesley Snipes and Rosie Perez to fame. Says Robinson: "It's wide open what we can do with him.... A lot of ladies loved this man sight unseen. It's fascinating." In many ways, Mizuhara is an example of the model minority myth gone awry. The only son of Japanese-American parents (his father was an engineer; his mother, a home maker), he felt intense pressure to succeed early on. "My earliest recollection is of my mother having me IQ- tested," he says. (He says it's 173.) "I was pushed so hard. ... That was the beginning of the end for me." Feeling smarter —and no doubt cockier — than his peers, Mizuhara, who grew up in San Francisco, never took school seriously till the day he realized he might not graduate. He was 16 and feared he would be held back, so he dropped out and got his GED. Dropping out, he says, meant being dropped by his Asian-American friends. He was working Reluctant or not, DJ Theo could be part of what a movie exec calls 'a definite trend': Asian-American leading men 8 USA WEEKEND • Otl. 11-13. 1996 and drifting, when a Filipina girlfriend took him to a hip-hop club. "I saw this disc jockey mixing, and I was fascinated," Mizuhara says. His mother hasn't forgiven him for not being an academic success. "After I failed at school, I ceased to exist for her." But his father remained supportive and, without his mother's knowledge, lent him the money to buy his first set of turntables. Mizuhara spent hours at the turntable, having quickly picked up the technical skill of mixing. Within two years, he was the top mixer at San Francisco's KMEL. Then came the deejay gig of a lifetime at "The Beat." Being a deejay gave him everything he didn't have before: a sense of accomplishment, respect and status. His friendship with Chris Lee, executive vice president at Tri-Star Pictures, helped him realize his leading man potential. "He's very sexy. He's got great style," Lee says. "There's a definite trend of Asian-American men as sex symbols. ... First Keanu Reeves, then Dean Cain and Russell Wong, all of whom happen to be of mixed backgrounds." Mizuhara is a bit uncomfortable with Asian Americans embracing him as a role model. "You have to understand something," he says. "When I hit rock bottom, who were the first people to turn their backs? My own friends, my people. I was an embarrassment to my race. ... Now, if Japanese people see me as a leader or someone to aspire to, fine, but don't claim me; I got no help. In a way I'm sad I'm not more in touch with my culture, but I see a lot of people locked into these communities. Outside of the workplace, they don't associate outside of the race. The church, functions, parties are all Asian. There's so much more to the world than that." Mizuhara's voice betrays deep longing. He's one of the biggest radio stars L.A. has seen. He has the cash, the cars, the girls and more street credibility than any Asian man since Bruce Lee. He says his parents are proud of him now, but he's still a long way from home, physically and emotionally. "I'm still very much alone," he says. Late one night, driving in his Toyota > 4Runner with its $15,000 \ stereo system that holds 20 CDs, he explains: \ "This is where I chill. I grab 20 CDs and just \ ride around L.A." ra Veronica Chambers tette author of Mama's CM and a contributing editor of Glamour magazine. One N/grit Stand: "She was supposed to be a tall, leggy Wen made her feature debut ' man who put Elisabeth Shue f can put Weri ip the running _ with non-Asian actresses nsjicli as yyino,na; Ryder and ^>/iuiiinaHi Dattmui". * >^ J ROW)! KGfltt KM 08* WtEKCNO

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