Asian American Youth, the Dance Scene, and Club Drugs

Article excerpt

The available research data on young Asian American drug use is relatively limited compared to the availability of research on other major ethnic groups. Today more published data have highlighted the extent to which drug use is significant and rising in Asian American communities. From our ongoing research on the social context of ecstasy and other club drug use in the San Francisco Bay Area, we analyze data from a total of 56 face-to-face interviews with young Asian American club and rave attendees. We explore the development of a distinctive Asian American experience, in order to understand the attraction of club drugs and the dance scene. We examine the specific social groupings in which they operate, the types of social events they attend, and the nature of their club drug use. We highlight some of the ways in which they construct and express their identities around these social groupings, in terms of ethnic and socio-cultural distinctions as well as other cultural commodities.

INTRODUCTION

Asian Americans represent one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States. While in 1960 they represented less than 1% of the total United States population, today they account for 10.2 million (or 3.6%) of the total population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002).' Not only has contemporary immigration altered the size of the Asian population in the United States, it has also increased its diversity. Today the panethnic term "Asian American" includes a much greater ethno-national diversity than was imagined by those who organized the Asian American movement in the 1960s (Barringer, Gardner, & Levin, 1993; Espiritu, 1992; Hollinger, 1995).

However, in spite of the growing significance of Asian Americans within the United States, and in spite of the concern about young people's drug use, the available research data on young Asian American drug use is relatively limited compared to the availability of research on other major ethnic groups. A primary reason for this, according to some researchers, has been the belief that because Asians report "much lower overall use prevalence rates than most other ethnic/racial groups" (Austin, 1999, p. 208), drug use among Asian Americans is nonproblematic. Today more published data have highlighted the extent to which drug use is significant and rising in Asian American communities (Ja & Aoki, 1993; Jang, 1996; Nemoto, Aoki, Huang, Morris, Nguyen, & Wong, 1999; O'Hare & Tran, 1998; Zane & Huh-Kim, 1994). Much of the substance abuse research on Asian Americans has focused on documenting the prevalence of substance abuse to engage in the debate about whether rates are lower or higher and whether a problem exists or not. While this debate is important because it has implications for policy and resource allocations, simply focusing on prevalence rates obscures the social and contextual facets associated with Asian American drug use.

Young Asian Americans are increasingly involved in the popular electronic music dance scene, and within this scene they are experimenting with and using club drugs. As part of a larger ongoing study on the social context of club drug use in the San Francisco Bay Area,2 we became aware of the prevalence of Asian American youth in the electronic music dance scene, which has also been noted by the local media. For example, some reports suggested that approximately 30% of attendees were Asian American (Mills, 1998; Nishioka, 2000). The prominence of Asian Americans in San Francisco's nightlife is also reflected in the large number of Asian American DJs, promoters, and Asian American specific nightclubs.

The growing use and attraction of club drugs has been closely linked to the development of dance events including clubs, dance parties, and especially raves (Jenkins, 1999).3 Although club drugs are used in a variety of contexts, their increased use has been associated with the increasing popularity and notoriety of dance events. …