The (Asian) American Saga Continues

Precisely when all the talk about this year’s Academy Awards has focused on Hollywood’s lack of diversity (#OscarsSoWhite) and less-than-equitable treatment of minorities, out come the racial jokes targeting Asians. During the Oscars ceremony, host Chris Rock lampooned three children of Asian or Asian American heritage as “accountants,” and then while he was at it, tossed in a quip about child labor.

Public Radio International interviewed one of the children, Estie Kung, and her family, and it’s a gut-wrenching read:

What it’s like to be the butt of the joke. One of the kids at the Oscars speaks out. (Article accompanied by video clip)

Source: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters via PRI

Do you know why incidents like this happen to Asian Americans? Because we are the silent “model minority.” Because we always take it, while our parents remind us: “Don’t make waves, don’t make trouble!” They just got off the boat, and they don’t want to provoke rage or opposition greater than that which they already face — that prejudice, hard or soft, intentional or unintentional, that they encounter every moment living their lives in the American public sphere, whether in a grocery store, in the workplace, or at the airport.

When minorities entertainers in Hollywood resort to these attacks, it makes you wonder: where’s the solidarity? Is the reasoning, “I’m beat up by the white kids, so let’s attack the even more helpless Asian kid?” These were literally KIDS being subject to this. What gives? Such behavior reveals a reprehensible lack of humanity and judgment. It’s also incredibly immature.

I’m always down for critiquing East and Southeast Asian countries, but it can be done through the lens of “Let’s do better!” or “This isn’t a society I believe in.” After all, when one reads pointed commentaries about neoliberalism run amok in China, one would hopefully also read between the lines to pick up on certain flaws in America’s economic approach. But to pick on someone simply because they’re meeker than you — because you know they won’t resist? That’s called BULLYING.

At the end of the day, in America, it’s somehow still seen as okay to poke fun at Asians. Perhaps it’s because “positive” stereotypes (which are really backhanded-compliments) are mistakenly thought to be less offensive. Perhaps it’s because Asian Americans never fight back and silently take it, even as we are literally building the country. (See: Chinese Railroad Workers in North America) This kind of snide, cowardly and reprehensible behavior is why our communities move into ethnic enclaves with more delicious food than other neighborhoods!

I want us to stand up and confront prejudice, to push back on these instances of disgusting and pernicious discrimination — but not on White Americans’ terms or African American’s terms. Let’s resist, without turning into doltish “mainstream America.” We can do better.

We’ve always survived and thrived, and we’re going to keep going! However, the way to truly win this battle is not to become whiter (please avoid whitewashing — don’t do that to yourself!) but to be vocal and proud about being Asian.

It means flourishing and growing, while maintaining cultural fluency in both worlds. It means “making it” in America, but on our own terms — with a sense of ethics, identity and values — while continuously engaging with our fellow citizens and helping to define anew what this diverse society is all about. It means owning and celebrating who we are; it means becoming who we want to be.

Don’t give in. Don’t give up.

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