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April's theme is
MOTHERS & SISTERS.
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Like everyone else, I was (perhaps too) proudly obsessed with The OC and Gossip Girl. These shows followed the fictional lives of wealthy kids in wealthy neighborhoods who listened to whatever indie rock band was hip at the time. Everyone’s dream. While my disbelief was suspended as Seth Cohen only applied to one college and Blair Waldorf got straight-As while still managing to plan her annual Kiss on the Lips bash, one thing disrupted my viewing experience.
On Gossip Girl the one Asian portrayed was frumpy, wore glasses, and was good at school because, apparently, that’s what we do. On The OC, there were a total of zero Asians featured (Have they even seen Garden Grove?), and the few minorities they did feature were from impoverished neighborhoods and had jobs serving the whites.
I so desperately wanted to be like the manipulative headband-wearing, South Coast Plaza-shopping girls I saw on TV, but according to the media, my Asian-ness didn’t allow me to be one. I was doomed to wear unfashionable glasses and admire the porcelain-skinned ladies who got to kiss boys in ascots and drink martinis, while I was literally invisible.
FOUND: YouTube, a Blessing from Asian-American Jesus
Around the same time Gossip Girl was on, there was a spark of hope for us Asians who didn’t want to be the unattractive smart friends any longer. This spark was YouTube. All of a sudden, Asian-Americans who could sing and dance and play instruments came out of nowhere, and gave the rest of us something to look up to. Our purpose was no longer to just be the ones people tried to cheat off of in class; now, if a teacher asked, “Who can sing a Disney medley to the entire class?” everyone else would look to us.
Thanks to artists like AJ Rafael, David Choi, and Kina Grannis, we became cool again. It was exciting enough to bring out those “aZn PriDe” covered Jansport backpacks and binders from middle school. But tbh, I never put mine away.
LOST: USCaucasians Galore
Full disclosure: I didn’t know white people existed in real life until I got to college. Throughout the years, I’d gone to schools that were 97 percent minority (questionable, as there were definitely not 30 white kids at my high school). So, it was quite the shock when I suddenly found myself surrounded by blonde hair, blue eyes, and an affinity for all things “’murica.” I was out of my element. They didn’t care about YouTube stars or Quest Crew or acoustic Bruno Mars covers. I was already at a disadvantage.
What’s worse is they looked at me with wariness. No one in discussion wanted to be in the group with the token Asian; wouldn’t there be a language barrier? Does this essay prompt involve derivatives? I felt like I was in PE again—afraid to be last picked for softball because of the one time (of many, admittedly) I struck out. But this time was different because they just assumed I was bad.
LOST-ER: Yellow Fever is Real
Just as I didn’t know white people weren’t magical unicorns, I didn’t know that Asian fetishes were, like, a thing. When I realized I wasn’t going to make friends watching Pretty in Pink in my room all day, and started going outside more, I found myself bombarded with comments like, “Your English is really good. I’m impressed,” from men with bad tattoos and stoner eyes… Like it’s a high compliment that a man would approach me because he thought I didn’t speak English.
It makes me feel like an object; like every little thought and nuance in my mind that I love about myself doesn’t matter, as long as I’ve got squinty eyes and dark hair. I don’t like being talked to in general, and people talking to me because they like some stereotype about what they think my ethnicity is just makes me feel sorry for how small minded people can be.
Pro tip: “Where is your family from?” is not a smooth pickup line, and not believing me when I say, “Los Angeles,” is even worse. (I guess technically I’m from Rosemead, but that’s not the point)
LOST PART 3: This is Getting Ridiculous
My ultimate guilty pleasure (aside from looking at bad pictures of my boyfriend’s ex) is reading the comments sections on news articles. They’re a great source of fun—usually filled with conservative opinions of people whose profile pictures are of the confederate flag, a cross, or of themselves holding a gun, with a #myrights caption.
Undoubtedly, I get a bit worked up about these anonymous posters. It’s hard to keep my temper under control when these people deny that race relations are an issue even though they’ve never felt uncomfortable in a classroom because of their skin color or the shape of their eyes. They have the privilege of turning on the TV to any channel and seeing people who look like them. They don’t have to deal with never knowing if a man is talking to them because he thinks they’re interesting or because they’re just a sick fetish.
These people blame us for dividing the country further, yet some are quick to comment on how they need to keep their neighborhoods “safe” from “hoodlum” people of color. It causes a deep frustration in my head and heart that can only be subdued with ample amounts of cheese and Honey Nut Cheerios.
FOUND: Perspective and Peace and Pride, Sometimes?
Occasionally, and with some effort, I find myself thankful for the perspective I’ve gained from being Asian-American. It may be irritating at times, like when people try to show me how “cultured” and non-white they are by speaking Japanese that I don’t understand, but it also comes with its perks.
I love that I know how to pronounce “tempura” and “sashimi” correctly, even though I never order it at restaurants. I love thinking about the Obon festivals I continue to attend and will take my children to enjoy, so they can see what a strong Japanese-American community we have in California, even though I can’t do the dances to save my life. I love that I was raised in a neighborhood that exposed me to different cultures (and food!!) and that gave me an appreciation and respect for diversity that some people lack.
I didn’t, and still don’t, always want to be Asian-American because of how I’m treated. But through contemplation of prejudice, examination of my own self-worth and lots of eye-rolling over racist shit people say, I’ve learned that worrying about what other people think is not the best use of my time. The easiest thing that I can change right here, right now is how I think. Right now, as I write this, I’m choosing to overlook the times I have been, and will continue to be, stereotyped, and just be damn proud of my ethnicity.
And that might change after the next time I see another caricature of an Asian person on television.
But then I’ll watch an episode of America’s Best Dance Crew and see a bunch of Asians-Ams kill it on stage, and feel a little bit better.