The perception of Asian Americans in Pop Culture
When I went into this assignment, I had only personal experience to base how people feel about Asian-Americans in society. I grew up in a very small, rural town called La Grande, Oregon. I basically knew everyone in my town and had been with the same 20 or 30 kids throughout grade school, and middle school. After getting into some trouble, my mom decided I would start high school in an even smaller town about 10 minutes away, called Union, Or. Having come from a small town already, I was certain that I had heard every Asian joke that there was. But after attending Union High School, I realized that many people not only made ignorant jokes but were ignorant about anything outside of their small town. I remember when I had a teacher of mine ask me if I was Asian or Chinese. To this day I am not sure if he had accidentally misspoken, or if he truly had no idea how absurd that question was.
So I went into this assignment thinking that I was going to be covering how white-Americans viewed Asian people, and why. But, after doing some research I discovered that the ignorance and mis-understanding actually goes deeper than that. The first instace of this is anecdotal, when a friend of mine who is Chinese like me, made an ignorant comment when we were at the grocery store. We were walking through the parking lot, and a 4-door car with 4 Asian people in it, drove by and nearly hit us. My friend then said “the stereotype is true, Chinese people cannot drive”. I asked him why he thought they were Chinese, and he responded by saying “All Asians are basically some kind of Chinese’ I laughed due to the ridiculousness of his statement, but then I sat there concerned as to this was purely a joke or a real thought that had inhabited his mind.
In this propaganda poster from WWII, we se that the Japanese man is depicted with fangs, and they spelled “very” with the double ll’s like “Velly” which is a stereotypical way of depicting the Japanese accent. In my life I have been on the receiving end of these types of jokes and mockery. Although, I do not want to sound like a victim. People have every right to speak and say what they want as long as it does not incite actual bodily harm. Because of this, I was surprised to learn that there are even more instances, similar to the comment made by my friend in the parking lot, where Asians actually apply stereotype-based insults to interactions with other Asians. In the article by the Asia Society (Kiang) mentions a conversation between Asian-Americans in a store, where one man accuses the “Korean” store owners of charging too much for beef. The store owner, a Cambodian, tells him that he is Cambodian and not Korean. The customer then proceeds to say that the Korean owners are ripping them off. I was unaware that this type of racism happened between different types of Asians.
The next thing that I found, and that was very surprising to me, was that Asians are viewed as the model minority even in groups like the Alt-right. Alt-right members have gone as far as excluding Asians from the list of races that they think should leave the country. Their definition of “Asian” However, is limited to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. (Lim 2018) In the article they discuss how many Alt-right leaders and members seek Asian wives and girlfriends because they are believed to be submissive and loyal. I found it interesting that there was selective racism and prejudice. I know that from personal experience, there is much less hatred towards Asians than there is toward Latino and African-American people. It was a level of bias that I was not even aware of. And even the fact that the alt-right could be so selectively racist made me think, that racism may even be a choice. It made me think that racism is something that we participate in, without the participation of people it does not exist. This article made me think that we are all so quick to jump to conclusions about a certain kind of person without getting the whole story.
Asian males in movies have traditionally been portrayed as timid, and non-masculine friends or some peripheral role. It was not until recently that we have seen masculine roles played by Asian males. One instance I can think of where an Asian male is portrayed as even semi-masculine is in the Walking Dead, where Glen and Maggie are in a relationship. Although this is a rarity where an Asian male is shown to be in a romantic relationship with a white woman, he is still portrayed as a scared and timid man in many instances. And Maggie is shown to be more assertive and takes control in many instances. In the article by “The Harvard Crimson” they mention a scene where an Indian-American actor has a sexual encounter that goes horribly wrong, but it was relatable to most straight males. Portraying an Asian-American man in this masculine light of normalcy is strange progress, but it is a step towards inclusion.
I have discovered a lot about the perception of Asian-American males in Popular Culture. I have discovered under representation, and very strong stereotyping in roles. But what surprises me the most, is that I think that we are mostly represented fairly, and that things are improving as time goes on. In general, Asian cultures are more reserved and less outspoken. Representing Asian ales in an inaccurate light is as much as an injustice as not representing them at all in my opinion. I have done a lot of self-discovery, and I am not only proud of my heritage, but I am mostly satisfied with how people like me are represented.
kiang, Peter. “Understanding Our Perceptions of Asian Americans.” Asia Society, asiasociety.org/education/understanding-our-perceptions-asian-americans.
Lim, Audrea. “The Alt-Right’s Asian Fetish.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/06/opinion/sunday/alt-right-asian-fetish.html.
Reyez, Ruben. “America’s Most Important Leading Man | Opinion.” The Harvard Crimson, http://www.thecrimson.com/column/pop-cultural/article/2017/6/26/reyes-asian-american-masculinity/.