Kevin Wu, better known as KevJumba, captivated an audience of young Asian Americans in the mid to late 2000s as one of the first major Asian American YouTubers. He stepped back from YouTube after his film career did not take off as expected and he was in a major car crash in 2016. Wu was invited to speak at UF’s Asian American Student Assembly 2017, where Sparks Magazine had the opportunity to interview him.
Since stepping back from YouTube, you’ve decided to explore your spirituality and your faith. What did your faith and spirituality mean to you before you pursued East and South Asian religion and how has it shaped you now?
That’s a very deep question, let’s start this off right. It definitely taught me to be humble, and I realized I still knew very little about how the world worked. I think, you know, I achieved youtube success at 17 and from there I just kind of, education became on the back… my YouTube views, my subscribers and my interactions with my viewers and stuff became my threshold and my priority.
I realized when I was 22 or 23, when I tried to be a serious actor and do films, that I still was very lacking knowledge in terms of telling a 90-minute story. So it was very clear to me that I needed to educate myself, and so taking a step back and clearing my mind and putting my ambitions aside so I could focus on friends and family. And then from there, I realized that I needed to go back to school, so that’s why I love talking to college students because I’m back in school and part of that process.
Has your faith and spirituality taught you anything about your spiritual background? Did it change how you identified with the Asian community?
I’ve gone through, just like with Youtube and my films up and down, my spiritual life has been up and down too. This theme today is Ascend, and we want to focus on the positives and there’s definitely been a lot of things that I’ve learned from not focusing my attention on fame and wealth, and focusing on my spiritual values, like you said.
Yeah, so I didn’t answer part 2 of it because I feel like a lot of it was identifying with Eastern culture, my parents culture and generations before that. I was studying a lot of Eastern traditions. Being Asian American, I only focus on the American side, growing up here and trying to fit in, being one of the few Asian people in my school. And then as I grew up and grew mature, I was like, there’s so many values and so much merit in learning about our Asian side. Spiritual life lets you focus on it on a very deep level.
… There’s so many values and so much merit in learning about our Asian side. Spiritual life lets you focus on it on a very deep level.
You’ve been on a hiatus from YouTube and also social media for three years now. What direction do you want your YouTube channel to follow if you choose to continue it and will you continue acting?
I love that my videos still get people to watch them. I should’ve just said I like that people watch my videos, but it’s great. I think, even for me, it’s been nostalgic. I look at that period of my life and I think, wow, I cared a lot about it during that time. … My priority was like, okay, what do people think about me, how can I make them laugh.
It definitely had its ups and downs, but for the most part it was a very good chapter in my life, and the way I see it now, YouTube has grown and I don’t regret my choices in terms of maybe not putting up videos as much. But I see that part of my life as very special and I hope that as I grow I can still grow with the audience and the things that I said and just reflect on them.
But now, the people that watch my videos are in college now, and so I relate to them on a different level. I’m not on YouTube as much anymore; the only time I do go on YouTube is to watch some gamers or listen to studying music, and so I sometimes I watch my friends like Ryan Higa or Wong Fu or Happy Slip — I don’t want to start naming all my friends cause it would take too long, but yeah. It was a really special chapter in my life, and if I do decide to go back on YouTube, it’ll be a very conscious choice.
I see that part of my life as very special and I hope that as I grow I can still grow with the audience and the things that I said and just reflect on them.
Right now I’m still exploring what it means to tell longer-format stories, telling them because I have stories I want to tell, and to shrink it down into three and a half minutes sometimes is… you don’t get to really talk about the relationships in the full context of the story, or you don’t get to get that deep. And I like to go deep.
How do you think the integration of social media in our daily lives is influencing this generation of Asian Americans?
I think that it influences us on a very daily, constant basis. Technology’s a tool ultimately, and our society civilization has progressed through tools, through the use of tools, and we can use this to progress ourselves as a race, as humanity.
But if the tool becomes too powerful, it turns into a weapon, and sometimes technology can also, if it becomes too much in control of your will and your thinking patterns, then it can be a little bit too much, and then kind of taking a step back is always healthy.
What do you want to say to Asian Americans and just this generation today?
I have a lot to say, but I’ve gone through ups and downs in my life and I would say especially for early on in your life when you’re in college and stuff, to cultivate balance and good habits. … Start thinking about your health. I know young people in college don’t think about their health that much, but later on you’ll definitely regret it if you don’t think about your health — mental health, physical health, like, even simple things like how much you sleep, how much you eat. Just those small things that you tend to not think about because you’re so focused on your grades or your friends or your parents or this institution and all those pressures.
I know young people in college don’t think about their health that much, but later on you’ll definitely regret it if you don’t think about your health — mental health, physical health, like, even simple things like how much you sleep, how much you eat.
But if you can kind of think about those things that are fundamental to our life and our growth like health, time management and breathing — and studying is also important. I want to say something about studying because I’m not that good at studying, so what I try to do now is really to not take education for granted. We pay a lot of money to go to college. They give us these resources. And the more we use it and take advantage of it for our knowledge — which will one day we won’t regret having knowledge — then we can really progress and grow.
So, I encourage all young people especially in college to think about their growth because this is a time where our roots are starting to get planted. … I’m like a plant right now. The sun’s over there, and I’m trying to get energy from the sun. It’s a really exciting time.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Feature photo and video by Zachariah Chou. Video edited by Jessica Lim Liwag. Interview by Alexandria Ng and Alyssa Ramos. Transcript by Megan Palm and Nicole Dan.