Community sites are a funny thing. They grow because what you feel, what you do, and what you think at a given moment in time strikes a resonant chord with some sliver of the population. And before you know it, you have a thriving group of like-minded people from all walks of life interacting with one another in meaningful ways.
But take a wrong turn and that very community collapses in on itself. The cacophony of virtual voices, often unfiltered, careless, and arising out of our superficial egos, drowning out the intelligent and the relevant. Old contributors drift away. The new ones babble away. Fast forward the process for a while, and you end up with a grave yard filled with tombstones of interesting people who led interesting lives, but who now appear long dead and buried.
That’s the story of this site. What once was, no longer is. And it is now at a crossroads.
Jeff Yang, now a writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote about AznLover.com on the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2008:
Some who sign up for the site are women already part of AM/XF couples, seeking to become more informed on the cultural and social issues that they’re confronting, and to connect with females in a similar situation. Kristina Nicholas of Santa Cruz joined AznLover hoping to better understand her Japanese American fiance: “We’d just become engaged, and I was looking for other women in my situation to gain insight and even support for the challenges that might arise from marrying into a different culture,” she says.
Others, like San Francisco resident Elizabeth M., joined the site hoping to make new friends (and more). “I joined the site to find like-minded individuals who understood my love of Asian men,” says Elizabeth. “In the process, I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person — I’ve learned from many people’s experiences in travel and relationships, I’ve learned more about different cultures. And I feel like I’ve made a difference in helping people cross boundaries that most people don’t discuss and aren’t even aware of.”
That includes psychological boundaries, like the ones faced by Melissa Palmer, an AznLover from Detroit, MI who calls herself a “white chick from the whitest-white background imaginable.” “My vast knowledge of the Asian male was based on John Hughes movies and influenced by the regional racism toward Japanese at the time, so I’d already made my decision regarding Asian men; I just wasn’t attracted to them,” she says. “But fast forward to the near present: What started as a friendship with a Chinese male grew into love. One day, it all came flooding out — we admitted to each other that the pull was there. God, I love that day!”
For Asian American men, AznLover feels like a kind of parallel dimension, where their status is inverted: Rather than being exiled to the margins, Asian males are at the center of this particular universe; not just “accepted,” but revered. “I love the fact that people on the site acknowledge the beauty in Asian men,” says Harry Li, a Malaysian American member living in Texas. “Society still makes women feel self-conscious about saying they like Asian features, or particularly, Asian guys, so even if they do, they won’t let their attraction out in public. At AznLover, we all know why we’re there — we share a common bond, in that one group has the qualities, physical and otherwise, that the other appreciates.”
Where are Melissa, Harry, Elizabeth, and Kristina now I wonder? And can a niche forum-based community still be relevant in a world where Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, and a tsunami of niche-based sites now compete for your attention? Is it even right for us to encourage more virtual interaction, when the precious moments of real interaction seem to be dwindling away from our lives as we become increasing tied to the images that flash across our glowing screens?
More importantly, should the site, with its propensity to attract the desperate and the unethically devious, stay online? If a site is created to bring people together who may have otherwise never met; and the behavior of some members of the site undermines that very purpose; is it time to shut it all down before it becomes a monument of shame?
I still believe in the power of people to make a difference in each other’s lives. What I have seen, experienced, and lived, tells me this is true. And whether that person is a life-long friend you grew up with, or a stranger you happened to connect with from the other side of the world on a little site with a somewhat embarrassing name, what counts is that our lives are impacted. Our paths do change. Fate does work in mysterious ways. Lovers meet. Hearts are broken. Babies are made. Friendships are forged.
So I ask you this question. Is it time to say our farewells and drift off into the ether? Will AznLover even be missed should the curtains close on this corner of cyberspace?
Or can this site still serve to ignite the little spark that lights up when two minds and souls connect? When two people can drop their pretenses, push aside their egos, and bare their true selves under the guise of creative anonymity and a generous dose of daily humor.