“Speaking American: Cultural Expressions of Race and Nationality in Harold and Kumar” In the first film, “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle,” (dir. John Leiner 2004) Harold (John Cho) and Kumar’s (Kal Penn) cultural and national identity was bound up in their quest for American masculinity (burgers). Both men had to resolve issues of career and profession, and social prowess (with both women and pot consumption) all in one night. The film was a sleeper hit of the summer that drew the coveted 17-24 white male demographic but also was popular with a wider audience including Asian Americans. The sequel where Harold and Kumar go to Amsterdam has been widely anticipated and after much delay opens on April 25, 2008. The trailer from “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008) allows us to examine how we can identify American cultural expression in racialized Asian American bodies. Even if you do not identify with Harold and Kumar physically, verbally they express American sensibilities, accents, values, curse words, and even current frustrations with airport security. As Robert Lee, Darrell Hamamoto, and others have shown, dominant media images of Asian American men usually emphasize characters who are “foreign” (strange customs, or fighting styles and accents) and emasculated (physically or psychologically weak, deviant, no heterosexual relationships and subservient to others). Harold and Kumar challenge these images through comedic portrayals that nod and wink at our worst fears and in the process create an alternative medium to “see” and “talk” about Asian, Korean, and Indian American stereotypes as well as regional stereotypes in the U.S. The premise and joke in the second film is that everyone in an authority position (except for the President) visually identify them as threats without them even speaking a word. When they do speak or when their parents speak, the intelligence agent says, “They are speaking some sort of dialect I’ve never heard before.” And indeed they are for the film allows us to see how the visual can overwhelm other forms of cultural communication. In the imagination of old white woman, Kumar is magically transformed into Osama Bin Laden and labeled a terrorist. However, it is not just white Americans who doubt him but also the black security guard at the airport. While Kumar questions his “blackness” what this scene reveals is how blackness is just as much an American racial identity as white but the conundrum is where Kumar and Harold fit in this picture. They are considered foreign and a threat by Secretary Fox in Homeland Security. In the interrogation scene, both men are identified as part of a plot where Al-Qaeda and North Korea are working together. Harold’s epicanthic fold marks him as different whereas Kumar’s brown-ness gets him detained. If the first film is a journey to attain a sense of sense and American masculinity, the second is literally and figuratively an “escape” from the shallow visual stereotypes we associate with threat to the creation of a different kind of dialogue that allows the audience to identify with and root for these two wayward guys in a stoner comedy. As the duo travel from Cuba through Miami, Alabama, and Texas they perform being American. They wear the sleek and simultaneously loud garb of “Miami Vice,” hunting vests and hats in Alabama, and even don the robes of the KKK. Interestingly the racial foreign-ness of Harold and Kumar are displaced by the regional stereotypes of the American South. These images allow us in the audience to reaffirm their national (albeit New Jersey) and masculine identity just as everyone in the film doubts it because they speak and act as American young men. They work or play hard, they smoke pot, and they want to hook up with a girl. My interest is in exploring how Asian Americans influence and change the way in which we think about national cultural expressions such as freedom of speech and accent and dialect. How do we hear and read freedom of speech in multi-ethnic and racialized bodies or gendered bodies? How do you culturally express freedom?