The Common Ground


"There's more to the story of The Slants than meets the eye." That’s the message that former Grossmont College student Simon Tam, frontman for the Asian-American rock band The Slants, wants to convey when he returns to his academic home of 1999-2000 on Wednesday, Oct. 16, to give a reading and multi-media presentation of his memoir,” Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court.” Scheduled for 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. in Griffin Gate as part of the English Department’s Fall Reading Series, the event is free and open to the public.

Students in English instructor Daniela Sow’s class are reading the memoir and eagerly awaiting his return to the campus.

“They can’t wait for his visit,” said Sow, co-coordinator of the Creative Writing program, which sponsors the Fall Reading Series, along with the English Department.

The book chronicles Tam's formative years, his music career and the 2017 landmark Supreme Court free speech victory that catapulted his band into the public realm. The years-long David-and-Goliath drama ensued after he took the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to court in 2010 for nixing his trademark application for the band’s name.

The patent office cited a law prohibiting any trademark that could disparage or bring contempt upon any individuals and said the band’s name was a slur on persons of Asian descent. The band has always infused its performances with discussions about social justice and inequality and argued that the name was not a racist epithet, but instead reflected the musicians’ Asian-American consciousness.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Slants, saying the disparagement citation violates the First Amendment clause protecting free speech.

The high court’s ruling garnered international headlines because of its potential impact on the Washington Redskins football team’s similar trademark fight over its controversial name - a point not lost on Tam. He said he was disappointed that the media was transfixed by the NFL connection and downplayed the back story relating to the Slants. The 38-year-old Chinese-American hopes his book refocuses the significance of the Supreme Court ruling to the band, and readers see the musicians’ reclamation of The Slants’ name as an example of empowerment.

“I'll talk about my personal journey fighting for my band's name when I speak at Grossmont, but it's really a vehicle to help others understand how they can incorporate their values into their life passions and to help inspire others to create social change through arts and activism,” said Tam, an artist-activist and entrepreneur who grew up in San Diego County as a child of immigrant restaurant owners. When his family moved to Spring Valley, the bassist, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, graduated from Monte Vista High School and enrolled in Grossmont College’s audio engineering program. Tam continued his schooling at UC Riverside and eventually earned an MBA from Marylhurst University, a private university near Portland, Oregon.

These days, Tam’s life is a blur of speaking engagements, writing, performing and starting up The Slants Foundation, which aims to provide "resources, scholarships and mentorship to Asian Americans looking to incorporate activism into their art."

“We’re building a network of musicians, filmmakers, playwrights, dancers, visual artists, and more to build a community that is dedicated to representation and providing unique perspectives to social issues – their own ‘slant’ on creating social change,” Tam said.

The English Department and Creative Writing program’s Fall Reading Series continues Nov. 16 with a Creative Write-a-thon, a daylong fundraising event with fun and creative writing activities from 9 a.m.-4 pm. and on Dec. 9 with New Voices, a student reading, from 7-8:30 p.m. Both events are in Griffin Gate, Bldg. 60.