I was among a nest of Asians for almost my entire life. When I migrated East, I realized there were certain communities of people in my new home of New York City that didn’t know much about Asians aside from what they saw in the media. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about how the media distorts perception.
Chris Rock made mention during the Oscars that Asians are known for their strong work ethic in specific disciplines. He welcomed three cute Asian kids dressed as accountants on stage, at which the audience had a few chuckles.
This reference is not to further reinforce the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, in which there seems to be a very strong minority vs. majority (white) clash. Instead, it is a conversation starter on why this incident seemed to have hit a nerve among the Asian community and minority groups in general.
The connotation of Asians that Chris Rock left us with is that we are comfortable being number crunchers, behind-the-scenes, and precise in our endeavors. While these traits aren’t frowned upon, it does perpetuate another message to society but more importantly, to the next generation of Asian Americans. It says to them “Yes, stay in the track that everyone before you did. Be the accountant, the scientist, and <insert occupation that requires heavy left brain functionality>.” As someone who has grappled with such topics, I empathize with my Asian peers who felt embarrassed or uncomfortable by their lack of instantaneous mastery of those subjects. Don’t worry, y’all, there are other worlds out there for us to explore.
It is important to rally around figures within media who are helping to build an understanding of the Asian American struggles and victories, which are both defined by our respective cultures within the larger context of American society. Currently, we have Mindy Kaling from The Mindy Project as the vocal and brave head of her own practice, Constance Wu as the proud Tiger Mom in Fresh Off the Boat, who expects the best for her kids, and Sandra Oh as the cardiothoracic surgical fellow from Grey’s Anatomy. Note that these characters mirror Asian stereotypes. Where are the athletes, teachers and entrepreneurs? The performers and artists?
Perhaps what we see in the media is a reflection of what the media sees when it looks at us. But it is ultimately us who define what we are. Therefore, if we want our creativity, innovation, and bravery recognized in disciplines outside the traditional stereotype, it is our responsibility to put our passions into the world. We have an amazing platform to showcase the “other side” of our capabilities. The more we encourage each other to do the same, the more I believe writers of screenplays for popular media will pick up on it and be exposed to the world beyond our stereotypes.
Sure, we have come a long way from the casting of Mickey Rooney as a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (was there really no Asian man who could play that role?). Fresh Off the Boat is testament to the fact that there is an audience for an all-Asian sitcom. I am hopeful for more gradual Asian representation in television shows and movies and am confident that what media chooses to see in us will evolve, as was demonstrated previously with other minority groups in media.
Do you have any sentiments on minority groups in popular media? If so, we would love to hear what you think about this topic in the comment section below.