Monday, July 28, 2008

Me So Asian

Dear No One in Particular,

At times, I find myself troubled by the notion that Asians are a "hidden" minority. Wait, maybe "hidden" isn't the right word.

I feel as though every thing that will follow needs to be prefaced with the assertion that this is all my personal opinion (even though this is a silly personal blog that no one -- other than me, that is -- reads). Feel free to prove me wrong; God knows I'm not the most educated on this subject. I'm just speaking from personal experience and observation.

Okay, back on topic.

It feels as though Asians are quietly pushed to the side while other ethnic minorities' issues are given voice. Enter blanket statement: Hispanics (really Mexicans, but to say that Central Americans are being labelled as Mexican instead of Honduran or Guatemalan is just as ignorant) are constantly on the news here in California, because of the illegal immigration issue. African Americans ... well, everyone knows about issues -- historical and present -- that have been aired. But what about Asian Americans? Why is their history pushed aside, not given the same weight as that of others?

Everybody knows about Black History Month, but what about Asian History Month? I have to confess, I didn't know it existed. I remember my high school made the grievous error of attempting to change February into "Diversity Month" or some such celebration. There was a huge outcry from the African American students, one of whom pointed out that February is Black History Month, and it's even the shortest month of the year! Why do they have to share it with other ethnicities? Indeed. God forbid other minorities get the same sort of attention. I pointed out that while Black History is celebrated every year, Asians do not get any sort of fan fare, especially at the school. Naturally, no one really came up with a reply beyond "it's not fair." I know, I'm saying so.

School children learn all about the hundreds of years of African slavery -- with good reason. They should learn, they should know that so much of American history was built on the backs of others. But they should also be taught that Africans weren't the only slaves. They weren't the only subjugated minority. When we learn about the construction of the transcontinental railroad, we should also learn about the Chinese that were forced to build it. When we learn about the California gold rush, we should be taught about the severe anti-Chinese backlash and the anti-Chinese laws that were written because of it.

In slightly more flippant and recent news, there has been an outcry for more black models. Vogue Italia made the bold move (and highly publicized move) to showcase only black models in their July issue. While I think it is wonderful that such an esteemed magazine decided to inject some diversity into their publication, I am left thinking "where are all the Asian models?"

In a sort of response, Allure -- of all magazines, ALLURE -- did a photo shoot with an Asian model! One of my favourite websites, Jezebel, took a look at the spread, asking whether or not it is possible to photograph an Asian model without resorting to stereotypes.

While it is an interesting question, I'm left a little cold with the whole exercise. First of all: it's one model. ONE. Model. Small victory, I guess. But when are we going to get a completely Asian issue a la Vogue Italia?
Second: the whole question of stereotyping is more than a bit troublesome on more than one level. If it was a Hispanic model, would this question be brought up? A Black model? While Allure did a decent job of avoiding the "me so Asian, me so happy" stereotype -- with the notable exception of putting a kimono on a Chinese girl -- would this be an issue with another race? If they did a spread with Latina, would we be on the lookout for pinatas and mariachis? Something tells me no.

So what's with the double standard? Why are Asians kept in the dark, clouded by stereotypes and mystery? I'm tired of Asians being the silent minority. Enough with the fetishism of Asians, enough with life in the corner. I'm calling for Asians to come out of the shadows. We are not perfect, and are far from being a "model minority". We are a diverse group of people, with a myriad of histories and experiences. I'm calling for Asians to step into the light -- warts and all.



The Clothes Horse said...

I quite agree with you. It is a double standard. People will also hide behind the statement that more Asian stereotypes are "positive" but when has a stereotype ever been positive? It puts people into boxes that they don't fit in!

amanda said...

I've never heard of a stereotype as "positive"! Are you referring to the "model minority" image? Because that is like a backhanded compliment -- not to mention really hateful.