Story and Photo by Sydney Cohn
On Sept. 24, MTSU students and staff gathered in the Student Union Parliamentary Room to hear the story behind Simon Tam’s Asian-American rock band, The Slants. Deborah Fisher, the director of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies, was eager to welcome the activists.
Starting with an acoustic performance, Tam created a laid-back, enjoyable tone that resided throughout his lecture. He recalled the days of his childhood that coincided with racial bullying. Tam brought a comedic approach to the idea of him being compared to people such as Jackie Chan and the iconic character, Long Duk Dong, of Sixteen Candles.
In 2004, Tam was watching Quenton Tarantino’s Kill Bill, which he felt gloriously depicted Chinese culture. He realized that an Asian-American rock band had not surfaced and he was inspired to change that. To raise awareness regarding Asian discrimination, Tam decided to coin a popular Asian slang term, and The Slants were born.
Within the next five years, their music and social activism gained in popularity. In 2009, Tam decided to register The Slants as an official trademark. However, the Trademark Office denied his request on the grounds that The Slants were disparaging towards the Asian culture. Dumbfounded, Tam filed an appeal because his humanitarian efforts were the exact opposite of racist. The Trademark Office then filed a suit which led Tam to a meeting with the Supreme Court.
The night before he was to meet with the Supreme Court, he was sitting in a Chinese restaurant when he cracked open a fortune cookie. To his amazement, it read, “A judgment will rule in your favor.” Tam recalled this as a surreal moment that brought his deepest desires to fruition.
As Tam took a moment to pause, a euphoric feeling washed over the Parliamentary Room before he explained that in 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that The Slants would become an official trademark.
The lecture drew to a close, and the MTSU students were encouraged to ask questions and purchase merchandise. Tam continues to travel and inspire others with his story.
On September 13th, 2019, The Slants announced that they would be embarking on their final tour. Tam has decided to embrace his passion for cultural activism fully and started The Slants Foundation. Going forward, Tam will be providing scholarships to Asians who are passionate about the arts and activism.
MTSU students left the lecture with one idea in mind: to follow your passion no matter how crazy it may seem. If you genuinely love something, it will work out in your favor.
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