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Asian Americans

By now you probably have heard of “The Super Bowl commercial you probably did not see”.  Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra’s campaign advertisement aired during Super Bowl features a beautiful Chinese woman (or, as he called her later when he was made to explain himself, “a Chinese girl”), complete with a straw hat, bicycle, rice paddy, and “Chinese-sounding” music.

It’s like, HELLO! back to the World of Suzie Wong, Fu Manchu, and Dragon Lady.

 

 

The Internet, at least the part I frequent, was all-a-buzzing, criticizing Hoekstra’s campaign of insensitivity, stupidity, and flat-out lying. There are several areas about this ad that are under criticism:

1. The actress’ perceived accent, fake or otherwise: I was quite moved by people of non-Asian descent being offended by the portrayal of a Chinese person (purported in China even though the scene was actually show somewhere in California) speaking with an accent and “broken” English. I have to admit: I did not see this at all. We have all heard atrocious fake Asian accents, and compared to those, hers is actually subtle (regardless whether the actress is Asian American or Asian Asian).  And the “broken” English amounts to dropping the “S” after a verb which I sometimes do by mistake because, well, I am speaking a foreign language.

I would like to put this out here: Although I would rip anybody’s head off for attempting fake Asian accents, my children’s included, there is no shame in speaking English with an accent. Duh. I tell my kids, “Don’t make fun of people speaking with an accent. They all know one more language than you do. And their English is better than your [insert foreign language].”

2. Her accent is not authentic: Well, we will find out when the APB put out by Lawrence O’Donnell for this poor actress succeeds in tracking her down. Even though I do not like what she did, being a theatre person, I have to give her some slack: Do people understand how hard it is for actors of Asian descent to find roles that are NOT stereotypical in nature?  She actually sounded a bit like me. So now I am sitting here wondering: “Fuck. So people think MINE is broken English and my English sucks?”

I was once criticized by an audience for not having an authentic Chinese accent in the play I was in. I found it hilarious and thought it was a great compliment. What do people think a Chinese accent should sound like? It baffles me really.

3. She does not look Chinese: People say that to me all the fucking time. Well-intentioned criticism like this frustrates me to no end. What IS a Chinese supposed to look like? Is there an encyclopedia of Chinese people that we can look up like a bird watcher’s guidebook? Nope. Not Chinese. Angle of eyes all wrong. Not Chinese either. See? The nose is not in the right place. Coloring is all wrong too. Seriously?

Furthermore, who cares if the actress is Chinese or not? It does not matter whether she is American-born or not either. What matters is that PeteHaveNoClueHoekstra and his people approved an ad with rampant, racist stereotypes (and of course, shameless fear mongering and blatant misinformation regarding debt and economy).

4. Yes, the fear mongering alluding to the misconception about the debt China holds against the US [Remember the Chinese Professor ad in 2010? And the Yellow Peril trope populated by the Fu Man-Chu series in the 1930s?], and the relationship between the debt and the economy. Actually, it is rather insulting that PeteGetNotHoekstra assumes people would believe the line he’s trying to draw between US government spending and jobs being sent overseas. Here, allow me to quote Paul Krugman: [I know not everybody worships him but this article, Nobody Understands Debt, is spot on]:

Deficit-worriers portray a future in which we’re impoverished by the need to pay back money we’ve been borrowing. They see America as being like a family that took out too large a mortgage, and will have a hard time making the monthly payments.

This is, however, a really bad analogy in at least two ways.

First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments don’t — all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base…

Second — and this is the point almost nobody seems to get — an over-borrowed family owes money to someone else; U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves.

… …

It’s true that foreigners now hold large claims on the United States, including a fair amount of government debt. But every dollar’s worth of foreign claims on America is matched by 89 cents’ worth of U.S. claims on foreigners. And because foreigners tend to put their U.S. investments into safe, low-yield assets, America actually earns more from its assets abroad than it pays to foreign investors. If your image is of a nation that’s already deep in hock to the Chinese, you’ve been misinformed. Nor are we heading rapidly in that direction.

 

Ok. Now that we’ve got the air cleared, could I please start with my psychotic foaming at the mouth now? Thank you.

Nobody seems to be bothered by this. At least, they did not comment on it. My first reaction?

“O.M.G. Is she selling porn??!! Is she trying to get the good ol’ American white boys into her pants?!”

WTF is with the downcast eyes, the come-hither smile? What’s even more bizarre is that she’s supposed to be addressing  Debbie Stabenow, Hoekstra’s opponent in this race. I was seeing Lotus Blossom and Dragon Lady morphed into one right on my computer screen, on a Monday morning, in the fucking 21st century. It was such a visceral reaction that I had to grip the edge of the table to stop myself from screaming; I held my breath in fear because I was half expecting her to say “Me love you long time”… This is THE most offensive stereotyping I have seen so far in the 21st century. PeteMeSuckHoekstra did not even try to hide it. This “character” in his campaign ad is made up of everything that created “Dragon Lady” and sustained this stereotype over the decades. The ad, unapologetically, resurrected the stereotype of women of Asian descent as calculating, treacherous and manipulative a la “Dragon Lady”. Along with that, the ad invokes the fear of the Yellow Peril (originated in the 19th century when Chinese laborers were imported like cattle to the West Coast to build the railroads): only now they stay in China while taking away the jobs from the Americans…

 

Hello? PeteIamNotARacistHoekstra, Fu Man-chu called. He wanted his Dragon Lady back. He said that you could come over to the 1930s to visit her.

 

Thank you, indeed, PeteShowingYourTrueColorHoekstra, for reminding me and for proving to people who like to tell me that “It’s in your head. Racism does not exist any more. Grow some thick skin. Stop whining.” that idiots without self-awareness are still around us. Stay vigilant.

 

 

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Warning: This post is a RANT with a heavily identity politics bend. So if you have no time nor patience to listen to People of Color whining “Oh no not that wah-wah we want to be represented crap again!”, please just ignore me when I come back down from my high horse.

I AM BACK! PEOPLE! Remember what I said? That a good case of justifiable (or not who gives a shit? Not me certainly!) indignation is the best way to get me all fired up and ready to go?!

Go like AKIRA!

 

Kicking and screaming like Sucker Punch!

 

I read an article on Racialicious today that made me pause everything I was doing to write a long comment. It surfaces up all the internal debates I have had about identity politics, about ownerships, about representations, about who gets to represent whom, about the gaze.

“An Uncomfortable Silence: Why Is Geek Media Keeping Quiet About The akira Remake?”

Long story short: the manga series and anime films AKIRA have long been revered by fans all over the world, including the self-professed Otakus in the U.S. (I should really write about “Otaku” and the adoption of this self-identity by the youth / geek culture in the U.S. … Focus. Focus!) There has been a rumor for many years that a major adaptation by Hollywood is in the works while fans all over hold their breath waiting for the announcement of WHO will be playing their beloved biker gang in a post-apocalyptic world. Lists of actors have been floating around and it becomes more and more alarming to the Asian American community as EVERYONE attached to play to lead characters so far has been… Lily white.

The GEEK community, usually considered to be progressive and presumably to be more aware of the reality of “racial diversity” in major urban cities in the U.S., has been quiet about this. NO protest. NO griping in the chat rooms.

Seriously? If even the self-professed self-identified Otakus have deserted our cause, why does Hollywood have to give a rat’s ass about under-representation by Asian American actors, especially MALE actors?

 

Anyway, here is my long comment. I am sharing it here in case the editors over at Racialicious deems my comment unworthy of being published over on their site

Thank you so much for this article! I was just lamenting this fact of Hollywood coopting the fringe Geek Culture (manga, anime) and “Whitewashing” it to try to mainstream it all in the pursuit of something NEW to revitalize the at-risk film industry (Hello YouTube!)

I saw the trailer for Sucker Punch and it looked like a balled-up conglomeration of every Otaku’s fantasy from anime and mange rolled into one. As far as I could tell, all of the lead girls (yes, they are MEANT to be objectified as girls, so no disrespect on my part) are blonde and so pale they glow in the dark. “So this is it? We can’t f*** get a break? They are taking away manga and anime from us too?”

(Let’s not go into the whole obvious issue of the problematic of perpetually objectifying women in the name of empowering them through hyper-sexualization…)

On a bright note, actually, now I think about it, I am not sure whether this counts as a plus or minus but the ONLY U.S. movie I know with an Asian American male lead who is NOT a kung fu master and who actually gets to kiss and gets the girl aka Debbie Gibson (sorry about the spoiler; and IF you don’t know who Debbi Gibson is then you are too young and I shouldn’t be talking to you…) is Vic Chao in… “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus”

In this post-Obama juncture, I have many people telling me that we are a “color blind” society and I should NOT be so hung up on race/ethnicity/blah blah blah, implying that by not letting go I am being the “racist” myself because I seem to be the only one seeing race. Now I get it. “Color blind” means “Universal” which in turn applies to “WHITES ONLY” as in “White actors/actresses can represent any culture especially in the post-apocalyptic universe previously residing in manga/anime aka Japanese culture”. Sorry. I’d better stop since I am merely repeating myself: I have written about this in my graduate school more than a decade ago.

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Tiger Moms. That’s all I hear/read about these past few days.

Ugh.

Yeah I hear you. But are you surprised that I need to talk about it?

In case you have not heard, the “Tiger Mom Controversy” refers to a WSJ article written by a Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior?” In addition to the 6900+ comments on WSJ.com (and counting), the article (and the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) has inspired (mostly out of anger and spite) numerous articles and discussions, and Chua was interviewed on NPR (and they took heat for that interview).

You can go and read about all that by googling. So much anger. It’s like Mommy War all over again. Perhaps this time we (i.e. SAHMs and Working Mothers) can all band together by hating one common enemy.

“At least we are NOT like that.”

“Yeah, High Five, sister!”

Or you can read the non-angry posts that do NOT dwell on whether her parenting style is right or wrong (or “evil” as so many commenters have declared without actually reading her book). Instead these posts pointed out a couple of interesting ways to look at this controversy:

Brilliant marketing! Amy Chua and her publisher are laughing all the way home. Cha ching cha ching. “Thumbs up to the writer”

This controversy provides opportunities for ourselves to discuss and examine our own parenting styles and philosophies. “Be A Better Parent Through Blogging”.

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Or, read a post by someone who has actually read the book — Gosh, what a novel concept, eh? Amy Chua: Tiger Mother without a Plan, and draw your own conclusion.

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Because I am a lazy blogger, I now hate Amy Chua with a passion, not because of her unattainable parenting style or the whole perpetuating the stereotype thing, but because I cannot stop thinking about it. I have drafted several completely different responses to this giant can of worms that she has opened, and I hate working on drafts. Drafts are for suckers who like to work hard, who practices piano or (or “AND”) violin two hours every day, who does everything to perfection.

Curse you, Amy Chua!

Ok. So below is my second reaction (and NOT the last) after I recovered from the initial, visceral reaction.

Disclaimer: This is one of the post-visceral reactions I’ve felt. I am conflicted. I have argued against myself and contradicted myself. In this post, I am telling one of my responses like it is. I will follow up with the rest because OH GOOD GRAVY my head hurts. I need to now go rub Tiger Balm on my temples and tummy.

I may just be jealous.

There. I said it.

I am not suggesting that I wish my children were better or different or somebody else; I swear on my life, I am very happy with and proud of their performances and accomplishments in everything that they are doing, including the failed attempt at learning Chinese. However, I will cop to the wild fantasy that my kids were somehow more obedient, better disciplined, less wise-ass-y, and more “convenient” when I want to go to a fancy restaurant with real napkins and nice crystals. A girl can dream, right?

I may just be jealous because Amy Chua’s children seem to have it made: They are not teen moms. They don’t do drugs. They are not bums. They did not turn Goth or Punk or Neo-Nazi. They did not rebel. They did not run away and end up turning tricks. They did not turn into Valley Girls either. (Yes, as you can see, my expectations are fairly low…)  They did not get with the wrong crowd. They are on their way to prestigious universities and presumably will end up with great jobs, and so on and so forth. I can see their bright futures, and as a mother, that is what I am worried about: my kids’ futures.

Raise your hand if your child’s class is full of the so-called Asian prodigies.

Raise your hand if you ever shake your head or wince at the prevalence of Asian-sounding names on the list of winners at Spelling Bees, Academic competitions, Lego Leagues, Science Fairs, concerts, recitals, and what not.

Raise your hand if you ever try to dismiss the conclusion that Asian cultures put a lot more emphasis on academic excellence by saying, “But it is NOT the American way, and maybe THESE people should become more American now that they are in America.”

Raise your hand if you comfort yourself by thinking, “But colleges look at MORE THAN just SAT scores. You need to be well-rounded.”

Raise your hand if you ever think to yourself, “But they suck at sports.”

Here is a Chinese American raised in “The Chinese Way” (different from the way I was raised and I am 100% “authentic” Chinese — I use “authentic” with quotation marks and I can show you a chapter from my dissertation dissecting this word so don’t sling mud at me, yet) spelling it all out, for all her American readers (and by god, did she get readers or what because of this controversy!), sharing the Ancient Secret Chinese recipe with all of us, and we got all pissed at her.

Because the truth is difficult to hear.

The truth is not whether HER parenting style (or anybody else’s for that matter) is better.

The truth is… I am going out on a limb here… we feel anxiety for our children’s future because the way the world has been changing.

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Here is a theory:

Raise your hand if you are ever concerned, or even outraged, by the state of the teenagers.

Raise your hand if, even though you do not believe in hovering or overprotecting, you still sometimes wonder whether what you are doing with your children is enough to prevent them from going astray.

Raise your hand if you are not sure what the correct balance is between discipline and freedom, between rules and independence.

Raise your hand if you ever worry about your kids not being able to get a job when they grow up because of the fierce competition. Not just in the U.S., but from all over the world.

Raise your hand if you are not sure about the outsourcing trend, worried about people in China and India taking the jobs away.

Raise your hand if you are convinced that social security is going to disappear by the time you retire.

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By now many have heard and probably been shaken by the much cited line from the documentary Waiting for Superman:

Out of 30 Industrialized Nations, our country’s children rank 25th in Math, 21st in Science & falling behind in every other category. The only thing our children seem to be ranked number 1. in is confidence.

Coupling that with the revelation and the fear that China is US’ biggest foreign creditor, with roughly $900 billion in Treasury Securities, and $1 trillion if you include Hong Kong. (Don’t think there is a mass hysteria over the “imminent” Chinese threat? Remember the “Chinese Professor” political ad running last October?)

I suspect what we have observed in the disproportionate outcry against Amy Chua’s short article is a perfect storm.

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Lost in Translation

August 2, 2010 through the looking glass

The comment by Justin from Here where I Have Landed on my earlier post Things I Missed echoed my experience and feeling: … when I tell people that I wasn’t born here, and that I came here to go to college, they’re consistently surprised, “What? But your English is so good!” like it’s completely unnatural […]

21 comments

WTF Wednesday: Eye? Aye!

January 13, 2010 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

It is Thursday (and actually soon will be Friday…) Yes, I am cheating again by backdating my post. But it IS Wednesday somewhere in the world, right? Oh. Who cares. It is a WTF post by me when I’ve got my WTF glasses on. (Yeah, this line is for you my Wicked Kitchen Lady…) So […]

18 comments

The world needs a new meme “I comment therefore I am”

November 16, 2009 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

Unknown Mami over at well, Unknown Mami, struck gold with this great idea of creating yet another Internet Meme: I comment therefore I am. The idea is: we express ourselves, in addition to through our own blogs, also by leaving traces of ourselves with our comments all over the interweb.  Unknown Mami decided that all […]

6 comments

Really!?! I will show you how inscrutable I am in plain English…

November 9, 2009 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

Warning: This post should be filed under “Psychotic Ranting and Anonymous Foaming”, a category available from NaBloPoMo, (Thank you to whoever was wise enough to create this category…) in which I whine about stereotypes that caught me by surprise.  Please feel free to ignore me when I am behaving like a rabid dog.  Come back when […]

12 comments

In praise of the book, “American Born Chinese”

January 5, 2009 random

For Chinese people or people in the know, American Born Chinese are known as ABC, and different from Chinese immigrants (be their parents or their distant cousins), they have to cope with a different set of tribulations, and many of these are psychological. This book, or rather, graphic novel, follows the tradition of Frank Chin's angry […]