The Invisible Faction: Asian Americans in the Media

Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laos, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Samoan, Thai. Each of these ethnicities fit neatly inside the media box titled “other.” With Asian-Americans being the fastest growing demographic in the US according to the New Census Bureau, Elizabeth OuYang believes its time for the media to acknowledge members of the Asian American community as engaged and responsive viewers.

“The media has consistently portrayed the Asian American as a foreigner, a constant ‘yellow peril,’” says OuYang, a seasoned civil rights attorney and adjunct professor at NYU’s department of Social and Cultural Analysis and Columbia University’s Center for the Studies of Ethnicity and Race. “Its not the conflict that the media usually likes to cover and as a result, Asian Americans are often neglected and not seen.”

OuYang’s personal experience as an attorney has frequently brought her in contact with the media — that is, when there’s a conflict involved. As President of the New York chapter of the Organization for Chinese Americans, OuYang was called upon when Chinatown resident Private Danny Chen was found dead in Afghanistan in 2011 and racial discrimination appeared to be a factor. She was again brought in as the attorney of Mohammed Hussain, a New York EMT, as his 11-year deportation struggle came to an end.

“A little girl loses control or loses hold of her grandma’s hand when she’s crossing the street. It’s all incidents. We are never featured.” But progress has been made. ABC’s new series Fresh Off the Boat, based off the book by Eddie Huang features what OuYang believes is most needed in mainstream media — Asian Americans living ordinary lives. While the series is not perfect — OuYang believes it should only be viewed as a representation of some members of the Asian American community, not all — it has made significant ground where other forms of media have not.

“We aren’t a part of the spectrum,” OuYang says. “When the media talks about the immigration debate, it is looked at as a Latino issue. Its very much an Asian American issue as well. Whether this is for simplicity purposes or not, the media tends to paint things as monolithic rather than showing the plurality of the situation.”

The solution to the invisibility is quite simple according to OuYang. The first step is to recognize Asian Americans as members of society. “It’s important to remember that we’re American too. That’s why we want more programming. So people realize that Asian Americans are just like whites, blacks, hispanics, etc. We have all different types of people in our community. All different professions and stories. It’s not just one universal story.”

OuYang believes many media outlets are missing out on these stories because they don’t bother to seek out the monolingual communities or employ the use of interpreters. To make up for media losses, OuYang and other members of the Organization for Chinese Americans are setting up a phone bank prior to the special election in two weeks to ensure that these monolingual communities are being reached out to and that their voices are being heard.

“Show that we’re a priority,” OuYang says is key to bringing visibility to Asian Americans. “We’re part of society too.”

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