Asian-American stereotypes in popular culture.

I have been in America for a few years. Before I came to the country, I was aware of some Asian American stereotypes, which had been portrayed in American shows and movies in the same manners over and over again. As an Asian guy who did not grow up in America, I always wondered if Asian Americans are just like how they are portrayed in media, whether or not they are different from me. But that was not all, I had never known until I moved to this country. There are more stereotypes of Asian Americans that I did not know about. More and more people from Asia are coming to the US in recent years, either study aboard students or immigrants. I have noticed and feel like most of those stereotypes are about newcomers like me, and only a few of those stereotypes are about Asian Americans who were born in the US. In other words, the media are still portraying Asians as foreigners more often than portraying them as Asian Americans, although America has been home of many young generations of Asians.

A very popular Asian stereotype is “Asians are nerdy, smart, and good in school”. When I first came to this country and started high school, my classmates in Algebra class just assumed that I am good at math because I am Asian. I had seen that happened in some movies long time ago, Asian characters are nerdy and “have a boring life”, but that is nothing like me. An examples of this stereotype in media, Rajesh from The Big Bang Theory show. He is a nerdy guy who is good at science, and is lame when talking to people, especially women.  He is smart, but his disadvantages are lack of communication skills. This is also an example of another Asian stereotype, “Asians are shy and bad at communicating”. These two stereotypes may actually have a link, smart Asians are bad at communicating because they are more into study and do not have time for social relationships. I am also an example of a shy Asian guy. Since I have limited English speaking ability, I only talk when necessary, and I feel awkward when people ask me to repeat what I said because I do not have American accent. However, the Asian Americans are very different. Most of my Asian American friends are open-minded, friendly, and confident when communicating. The root of this difference, I believe, is the adaption in different environments. In America, students have more freedom to speak up, to make their voices heard. That is why they are confident when talking to people. The “shy” stereotype is true for many newcomers like me, but is not true for Asian Americans. And what about the “smart” stereotype? Some Asian students are good in school, but not all of us. Our parents told us that studying is the only thing we need to focus on, that is kind of a traditional way of thinking in Asia. But that does not mean we are smarter than other people. If a non-Asian person studies hard, he can do well in school. There are smart people and average people, the same for any race, not just Asian.

I played soccer and badminton in my middle school and high school years. I consider myself a fairly good player, although not excellent. “Asians are not good at sports, but good at martial art”, that is a new stereotype I had never heard about before I started doing this mirror essay assignment. From an article named “The 7 worst Asian-Americans stereotypes” of an Indian writer, I found this stereotype about Asians and sports interesting because I do not know why people think Asians are not good at sports. However, I knew Asians are portrayed as good at martial art. What is the root of the “not good at sport” stereotype? From my reasoning, Asians are usually portrayed as nerds; nerds are usually physically weak and know nothing else but study, and so Asians are weak and cannot compete in sports. In reality, people are different from how they are portrayed in media. When I was in high school, there were a lot of Asian players in our school’s sport teams. Basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, football, every team had Asian players, and they did not play badly at all; some of them were chosen to be captain of the team. Speaking of martial art, Asians are portrayed as very good fighters in many movies. When Bruce Lee’s Hollywood movies first came to American audience, he gave people a deep impression of an Asian street fighter, a proud beast. Bruce made Asian American kids proud to be Asian; he also inspired more people to practice martial art more than anyone else in history. No matter what race you are, he used martial art as a way to break the racial barrier and create brotherhood, people of any race can learn martial art. Bruce Lee became a symbol of martial art, and because the martial art’s symbol is Asian, today movies usually portray Asian characters as extremely good martial artists. In a lot of movies about martial art, the main characters can be white, black, or any race, but their mentor, helper, or teacher, is usually an Asian master. The movie “The Karate kid” is a perfect example. There are different versions of this movie. In the 1989 version, the main kid is white; and in the 2010 version, the main kid is black. In both versions, the Karate teacher of the main kid is an Asian guy. American movies usually have Asian characters as minor roles, unless it is a movie about fighting, Asians may have a chance to play one of the main roles. In the “Rush Hour” series, the Asian actor Jackie Chan played a main cop role. He deals with the criminals mostly by martial art instead of gun, although he is a cop. If that was about an American cop, there would likely be an intense, thrilling gun fight instead of a martial art fight. This stereotype, however, is created by the impression of famous Hollywood stars like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, and the fact that most of the world’s martial arts have origin in Asia. There are Western martial arts, but there are many more martial arts invented by Asian people. Despite that, not all Asians know martial art or good at martial art. Anyone who is interested and has patience to practice can be a great martial artist.

Sometime stereotype concerns racism. As I mentioned, media are still portraying Asians as foreigners more often than portraying them as Asian Americans, although many young generations of Asians were born and grew up in the US. Many people in the US still do not see Asians as one of them, and some people even see Asians as a threat to the rest of the world. “Yellow peril”, a color metaphor word phrase that is about the expansion and invasion of East Asians over the West. I heard about this theory before, but I did not know where it came from, because I do not believe that Asian invasion would happen and never paid attention to it. After doing my research for this mirror essay, I found the root of this word phrase is mythic but interesting. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany dreamed and saw Buddha, riding a dragon, invades Europe. This is funny to me, because he had that dream in the 1890s. In the late 19th century, the Europeans were the ones invading Asia and other continents. However, it is not strange if people worry about being overpowered by Asians. In the recent years, Asian countries like Japan and China had surpassed European countries in economic development. The fast rate of development in Asia, especially East Asian countries, makes the Western people worry. My dad was born in South Vietnam in the time of the Vietnam War. He lived in the barrack when he was a teenager and watched American TV. When I ask him about the “Yellow Peril”, he said he remembered what an American scientist said on a science show. The scientist said that every morning the Americans woke up and looked over to the other side of Pacific, they saw the Japanese have a new invention. With that rate of development, each day a new invention, Japan would surpass the US soon. This “Asians are a danger” stereotype is not often portrayed in media, but it does exist. Some people in the US today blame on Asian immigrants for stealing their jobs. An example for this blaming is the South Vietnamese immigrants. My grandparents, like millions of South Vietnamese people, had to leave our homeland after the Vietnam War because the country had fallen to communism. They came here with no English, no money, nothing; they had to work in the worst places, losing their jobs very often. They had to work very hard to make a living. Some people in the US blame these immigrants for stealing their jobs, but I do not think it is reasonable. America is a promise land, who work hard will harvest the good result, there are equal chances for everyone. Besides, those poor immigrants got the worst jobs because they were almost the lowest class in society. Why would some people blame on them for stealing jobs? There are plenty of better jobs for people who are native or have been living in the US most of their life.

The young Asian Americans are changing people’s perspective on Asians. They were born here, they grow together with kids of other races, or immigrants like me who came to the US at young age. We are not the first generation, we do not have to deal with the hardships our parents had, and we can become part of America more easily. Some stereotypes of Asian Americans are changing because the new generation is different from the old, based on people’s social interactions with the young Asian Americans. Those stereotypes like “Asians cannot speak English in true accent” or “Asians can become nothing but doctor and engineer” are not true anymore. Stereotypes reflect image or idea of an ethnic group; they are not wrong, but they are not totally true. We cannot just believe the stereotypes showed in media and assume that all people of an ethnic group are the same. To know someone, we need to look at how they talk and act, see what they like to do or what they can do, and do not assume anything based on their skin color or origin.

Sources citation:

Phan, D. (n.d.). Asian and Nerdy – TV Tropes. Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AsianAndNerdy

Noronha, M. (2012, November 24). The 7 Worst Asian-American Stereotypes. Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/11/24/the-7-worst-asian-american-stereotypes/

Top Martial Arts Action Stars of the Century. (2011, March 2). Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://www.imdb.com/list/ls000048950/

Yellow Peril. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Peril

Nittle, N. (n.d.). Asian-American Stereotypes in TV and Film. Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://racerelations.about.com/od/hollywood/a/Five-Common-Asian-american-Stereotypes-In-Tv-And-Film.htm

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9 thoughts on “Asian-American stereotypes in popular culture.

  1. Hello vunhat15,

    I was interested in reading another Asian-American paper (I wrote one also), and I think yours is very well done. I was born in America, so it was interesting to see the perspective of someone who came from abroad. I was thinking that people who came from Asia would say that they agreed with the “Asians are good in school” stereotype, because the schools are more strict. I wish I knew more about my Asian roots because I’ve mostly lived in America my whole life. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

  2. As an international student I totally agree your ideas. Being an Asian-American is hard. It is not only the language problems, it is more about cultural differences. We born in other countries and accepted totally different education systems and parenting. It is hard for us to change our hobbies. In Asian schools,most students are quiet and listen to teachers’ lectures carefully. As a result, we may feel more comfortable in this kind of situation. However, after we come here, everything has been changed. We don’t talk is not mean we are shy or we are insociable; we may just not familiar with this kind of class atmosphere. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

  3. I thought it was interesting when you wrote about Asians being bad at sports. I will admit I have been one of those people that said Asians are smart or math freaks but I never thought about them being bad at sports. I personally think Asians or any other ethnic culture is better at sports than Americans, I mean have you seen the soccer teams and or basketball players? I also want to say that I really enjoyed your paper, good job.

  4. Hi Vunhat15,

    As an international student I really enjoyed reading your essay. International students have some difficulty in terms of learning a new language and knowing the difference between cultures especially in the first year and everybody will face these challenges when he/she decides to live in another country. As a soccer fan, I see how Asian national teams start playing huge rules in the World Cup and this shows Asian are not weak I’ve heard that Japan is planning to win the 2030 World Cup. I think this is just a bad stereotype.

  5. Hello Vunhat15,

    I enjoyed reading your essay! I liked the sources you chose. Big Bang Theory is a great example of how the stereotype is reinforced that every single person who is Asian is great at math and science. That stereotype especially has always made me angry because if an Asian student who is not good at those subjects, that person is usually looked down upon if they do not fill that role and live up to the stereotype.

  6. Hello Vunhat15!

    I was interested in reading your essay because I am asian also and I thought it would be interesting to see how someone else thought how the society portray asian people. I think you nailed most typical stereotypes about asian people. I was born in America and never actually been to Asia actually and I think youre right, though I am an asian american the stereotypes are just as the same as if you were born in Asia. I also like how you brought the fact up that everyone thinks every asian person is smart, that is not true because I am an example of one. I am so not smart in school, I am just getting by. I think in this generation, people are having a better understanding of not all asian stereotypes exists then they did back in the day. Your essay was very interesting to read because I can basically relate to your whole essay.

  7. Hello Vunhat15,
    Your paper was really interesting to read. Watching movies and shows a lot of stereotypes about Asians popped into my mind. I was most interested in the part you focused on about Asians being bad at sports. Honestly, I would put myself in the category of stereotyping Asians as not being good in sports. In all of my years growing up and playing sports and still now even playing in college you do not really see many Asians playing. Growing up when they were on my team or teams that I faced they were never too great. I know this isn’t true about everyone because there are amazing asian athletes out there like DAISUKE MATSUZAKA who is a pitcher for the Boston Red Soxs, ICHIRO SUZUKI who plays for the Seattle Mariners, and of course YAO MING who played basketball for the Rockets. Everyone is amazing in their own way and we shouldn’t be judging people on what the media thinks.

  8. Hello
    I am moved here to go university like you and I was writing about Asian Female stereotype and I do feel like way you feel as well. Especially about Asian are good at studying/math. I was at a statistics class and this one guy sat next to me and said “So I do I solve this?”. He was relying on me to do all the works and teach him, but unlucky for him I’m not good at math. I think he had a stereotype about all Asian are good at math. Kind of funny experience for me.

  9. Hello Vunhat15!
    I loved reading your essay, and you’re obviously passionate about the way Asian Americans are viewed in today’s society. I really enjoyed reading your ideas on how even though some people were born here they are still seen as just an extension of a stereotype rather than their own person. I particularly remember people fighting to be in the group with the asian kid in middle school math class because they thought they would be the smartest in the class despite what their actual skill levels were. I also think the Big Bang Theory show was a good example of a stereotypical role because even though every character has their shy qualities and their difficulties with women, Raj is the character who takes forever to get over his fear of even talking to them. Thank you for writing!

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