Co-Author: Jenny Park
We are Asian-American.
We are in a constant battle with how we view ourselves and how others view us. And right now, we are standing on the metaphorical border and carving out our own landscape.
We are stuck in the in between anxiety of defining who we are to other people. We’ve grown up in a shroud of “forever foreignness,” a term American University Professor Lily Wong uses to describe the unshakeable feeling of not being quite American, but also not quite Asian as well. It’s hard to feel included when people’s snap judgments always aim to exclude you.
Being a young Asian-American means facing a persistent stream of semi-racist questions that seem to mock you everywhere you go. Bonus points if someone includes a small bow in their salutations. Also, this conversation:
“Where are you from?”
“No, where are you REALLY from?”
“Fucking Pennsylvania, born and raised.”
Asian-American girls are reduced to the blushing “China doll” stereotype, turning us wary to anybody who shows affection in a rather too specific way, because some of us have actually encountered the-weird-guy-who-watches-too-much-anime-who-tried-to-sniff/touch-my-hair. We approach romantic advances with caution and skepticism, because we’ve been seen at face-value far too much, and that’s almost the worst part.
And if we don’t fit the mold of a typical East-Asian physical appearance, some people don’t even consider us Asian. The color of our skin doesn’t erase our Asianness and the repetition of “haha yes, I am Asian :-)),” seems more like a chore than an empowerment tool. Asia is a huge-ass continent and it’s not just based on one or two countries.
And the Asian-American LGBT+ community? Pretty sure we still don’t exist. At least that’s what the TV tells us. But trust us, we’re here and queer and severely underrepresented.
The media, as liberal and modern as they seem, rarely give Asians non-stereotypical roles. That doctor? Probably Asian. That nerd who knows how to solve all the computer issues? Asian. Emma Stone playing a biracial Asian in the movie “Aloha?” Well, no…not Asian. There are an increasing amount of Asian American actors, so at this point, there’s really no excuse for the lack of them on screen.
Luckily, there have been some Asian American heroes that have proved that they can be badass and star in their own TV show: enter Mindy Kaling.
The hilarious and outrageous Kaling starred in her own pilot show, The Mindy Project, in 2012. This show became a huge breakthrough regarding the diversity of television. A South Asian-American starring in her own sitcom? What is this madness in the 21st century?!
Nonetheless, Kaling has approached her TV show in a truly magnificent way. She uses her character’s profession, an OBGYN (cue classic Asian American position) and then uses her stereotypes to her advantage. Mindy doesn’t let her color affect her or how others perceive her in the show. She is a badass bitch who embraces her Asian-Americanness and completely defies the norms. It’s this kind of representation that can help young Asian-Americans break through in industries that we aren’t typically seen it.
And though shows like Fresh Off The Boat and Doctor Ken still have a ways to go, they’ve opened up a dialogue for Asian-American representation that we’ve never seen before. While we all know there’s more room for us all to be seen and heard, our stories are being heard and that is so gratifying. And, knowing those shows are helping us do so is fucking amazing.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but we’re not all good at math, our genitals are not all weirdly inverted or incredibly miniscule.
But, at the same time, what if we are? Living up to or defying stereotypes shouldn’t be any cause for celebration or contempt. It just is.
Here at American University, some of us have encountered resources unheard of in high school. The Asian-American Student Union and other Asian student communities provide a sense of inclusivity and band us together. For some students, it’s the first time they’ve ever been around other Asian-Americans (shoutout to those who have only grown up around one demographic of people — we feel) and the opportunities to connect and bond opens up another part of our identity we can explore. Knowing that we have resources on campus is a comfort many others don’t have, and we have to take advantage and grow together. Our generation is building so many bridges for Asian-Americans. Fighting back against years of marginalization, opening up opportunities, and knowing we can still go further is awesome.
We are still trying to grasp the American culture we’ve grown up with and the cultures that so many others have already packaged us into. It’s rather difficult to understand why our oversimplification has become the butt of so many jokes, even ones about diversity (we’re looking at you, Chris Rock). But, when we can actually come out and acknowledge a lot of unspoken shittiness we’ve gone through, we can prove we are, and have always been, more complex that people think.