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Fighting stereotypes ... in stereo 

Mike Park fuels music, Plea for Peace with DIY ethic

click to enlarge Mike Park, in a artsy, austere living space.
  • Mike Park, in a artsy, austere living space.

Mike Park wears his Korean heritage on his sleeve.

The owner/operator of Asian Man Records and frontman for The Chinkees and The Bruce Lee Band (officially The B. Lee band, at the request of Lee's estate) also is a solo artist who released North Hangook Falling last year.

If you're going to name your band The Chinkees, there'd better be a reason, and there is. The Chinkees, whose five members all are of Asian descent, rage against racism, lyrically and financially by donating 10 percent of their proceeds to anti-racism groups.

Park also has founded Plea for Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to "[promoting] the ideas of peace through the power of music." In the past, Plea for Peace mainly organized benefit tours. More recently, the organization planned to open a youth community center and music venue in San Jose, Calif. But the arts space for kids has hit a wall.

"Just about a month ago, we were ready to sign a lease, but there wasn't proper zoning for a big space," Park says.

In line with the attitude with which he runs Asian Man a label that hosts heavy hitters like Alkaline Trio, while being headquartered in Park's mom's garage the group considered going the truly punk route and saying "screw you" to zoning.

"We were gonna have underground shows," says Park. "[But] if we get in trouble, that's it; we're done. Seven years of saving money down the drain. At the last minute, we decided we couldn't do this. We had to pull out."

While Plea for Peace regroups and pleads for city support, Park is touring on North Hangook Falling, which showcases his quieter side, reminiscent of Billy Bragg. The title translates to North Korea Falling.

"Calling it North Hangook Falling is an opportunity to share what the title means, and let [listeners] know the history of Korea and about the Korean War," he says. "If you think about the Korean War, no one really knows about it, except for M.A.S.H.

"I'm finding my own cultural identity and realizing I'm very Americanized. I really don't know anything about my country."

On the album, Park attacks anti-Asian racism and stereotypes, but from the heart rather than the head, thereby avoiding sounding dogmatic or preachy. On the surface, "Asian Prodigy" seems like it's addressing stereotypes of Asian-Americans, but this is not the case.

"It's mostly a song directed to my parents," Park says. "A common thing among Asian-American youth, especially during their collegiate years, is a parental expectation of being the proud kid that their parent can boast about, becoming the doctor, the lawyer, the engineer. Those are the big three."

Park who established the now-disbanded third-wave ska band Skankin' Pickle around the time he was in college says he felt this pressure growing up. But once he got press in Korea (he performed on the Korean version of "The Today Show"), his mother had her chance to brag.

"Her friends are watching me and reading me, and they call her, and say, "Oooh, big thing now.' The older generation, they love to talk about their kids."

capsule

Mike Park with Pistolita and Ghost Buffalo

The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.

Friday, May 26, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $8, all ages; visit ticketweb.com.

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