I am proud of my Chinese-American heritage. I like the fact that I'm well-versed and immersed in a culture simply through living in it at home, regardless of the assortment anecdotes I have about times there was a conflict.
But not everyone sees being bicultural in America as some kind of normality. Or is even aware that it could be a normality.
So in 2014, media writers should focus on reshaping portrayals of Asian-American when it comes to the fictional premise. Story-telling should focus on fleshing out/creating strong, independent Asian-American characters who do face cultural clash but are still exceedingly human -- like the non-caricatural people we are in the waking world.
I don't need to spend time rehashing the real cultural dissonance that has already been voiced on various platforms by other Asian-American writers. There is conflict within, when it comes to parent-child relationships, academic pressures and obnoxious adult-community commentary on weight and height that young adults should have (that they may not). But maybe even that can start to be mediated by resolving the conflict outside.
Al Jazeera recently pointed out that Asian-American discrimination may not always be discerned right away because we are seen as a 'model minority.' In Oregon, where there is more of a dominant Asian-American population, anyone who cracked a racist comment would be immediately shut down. Instead, at my high school, Asian-Americans were noticed mainly for their academic achievements, and even occasionally envied.
But then I left the West Coast and came to the Midwest, where there are fewer Asian-Americans and a more explicit choice between 'American' and 'Asian' culture seems to exist. The kids who look like you didn't learn to count in two languages; they look at you funny when you trip over a sidewalk crack and say words they don't understand. The kids who don't look like you mock you while you talk on the phone with your parents; they shrug and roll their eyes when you snap back at them in perfect English.
Here, I write 'like a white person.' Boys cat-call that they would like to try some Japanese. Even professors have made inadvertently racist comments when discussing world events.
But if there were more Asian-American characters on television shows, the longform story-telling medium of choice these days, they could break down the myriad of assumptions and revitalize our image as a sub-culture, one that is largely referenced only by our demographic. As TIME's Kai Ma said, "the only harsh critiques I saw around Katy Perry's yellowface were by Asian-American journalists and bloggers, whereas Julianne Hough's blackface Halloween costume was roundly denounced."
When we are noticed, current media characterizations of the Asian-American experience tend to come in degrading 'humorous' stereotypes but otherwise do not flesh us out beyond our physical immigrant appearance. There's also an irksome influx of self-deprecation on the home-grown comedy network: Josh Kwondike Bar on Vine makes relatively unoriginal videos about waking up with narrow vision, and Asians on YouTube also always comment on their naggy Asian parents or the communal drive to improve your SAT score or MCAT score.
But television can single-handedly influence a culture. If more of America were watching Asian-Americans who have strength and traits that aren't attributed to their skin color, some real social change may take place. I don't relate to Glee's Tina Cohen-Chang and Mike Chang, who I find annoying because of their Asian-couple pairing status and even more so because of that dreadful "Asian F" episode. I don't relate to the 'sexy Asian girl' Brenda Song played on Dads. I enjoy watching Glenn on The Walking Dead, because he's useful in the war against the zombies and not marginalized for his background. I admire Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy for having a perhaps-stereotypical drive to succeed, but still being able to maintain a finite identity -- as a friend, as a professional, as a lover, and as a woman -- outside of it.
When I took AP U.S. History, the sole mention of my demographic came in the form of two paragraphs devoted to the Chinese Exclusion Act. My first trip to Washington, D.C. yielded an explanation about segregation from our tour guide that left me wondering what would happen if restaurants hadn't labeled their bathrooms 'white' and 'colored,' and instead 'white' and 'black' -- where would I have fit in?
We haven't been explicitly persecuted, but being ignored isn't a better alternative.
It can start by putting us in the public eye, from the perspective of the other demographics. Forget the sins-via-stereotyping of the past -- creating new, original characters via television can help enact change, in a good way.
Here's to hoping 2014 can do this.
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