Asian Stereotypes

Asian Americans have been presented in a variety of manners over the past several decades – from bookworms who obsess over their grades, luxury-brand obsessed business moguls, to submissive individuals who are often pushed to the background, Asian-Americans face heavy stereotypes that have become relevant in mainstream media. Despite the array of interpretations, many fail to break the negative light shone on the population as a whole.

Trope 1: Avoiding their culture.

“American Born Chinese”  (2014) Gene Luen Yang

Medium: Comic

This example in the media portrays how Asian Americans tend to suppress their own identities in hopes of assimilating into a culture that rejects the idea of being ethnic publically. The author grew up pushing aside his heritage and as he grew older, he too forced others to follow the same line of thought as seen in this excerpt where he enforces the idea of speaking English over one’s native tongue. 

It is important to understand that this is being written from the perspective of an Asian American born in America, symbolizing the difference in growing up when compared to someone who was born and raised abroad and the small details in the comic emphasize the difference between the two individuals despite having the same culture. The young boy who approaches the author wears clothes with broken English on them, representative of the lack of English in China leading to products with incorrect sentence structure and overall grammar which only resonates with American born Asians that have had the opportunity to go to the country where their family is from since then their knowledge of the English language allows them to point out these small flaws that would otherwise go unnoticed. 

Rather than making me cringe, this image really forces me to come to terms with things I have potentially done in order to suppress my identity and it puts things into perspective since I resonate with the story presented by the author. The idea of growing up wanting to be someone different is almost universal, with a twist that can be put on by the individual.

Trope 2: Comedic relief.

“The Hangover” (2009) Dir. Todd Phillips

Medium: Film

Asian Americans have always had a set amount of roles they are meant to play in Holywood, ranging from the doctors in movies to simply comedic relief – taking away their ability to be seen as anything else in the eyes of the general public. Ken Jeong plays Leslie Chow, a Chinese gangster, despite being Korean-American. Rather than featuring as the main character with depth in his personality, many of his scenes are reduced to simple lines and phrases aimed to make the target audience laugh. His role is reoccurring, being seen through the Hangover movie series, but his role is based on an abundance of stereotypes that Asian-Americans have to face constantly: a thick accent and broken English being one of them.

This sheds light on another issue that comes from these tropes in the media. Instead of fighting the stereotypes, many Asian-Americans egg them on in order to get a few laughs out of people which leads to the further perpetuation of harmful misconceptions about Asians. 

Though Ken Jeong’s role in the movies helped increase Asian representation in Hollywood, the role in which he had to play furthered the same conventional image of Asians being unable to speak English fluently and only being funny when it involves race. Though with current movies, such as To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before based on the novel by Jenny Han, that star Asian-Americans, the stereotypes are being challenged and now are being replaced by normal representations of Asians. It is difficult for me as an Asian-American to support the image of Asians only being there for comedic relief, but I fully understand that these small steps that increase representation are necessary in order for there to be a platform large enough for the stereotypes to be proven wrong and for more positive images to take light.

Trope 3: Living in luxury.

“Crazy Rich Asians” (2013) Kevin Kwan

Medium: Novel

This stereotype is seen more often in the college scene since there is a large Asian exchange student program at NC State. Opposing the comedic roles in media, Asian-Americans are also presented as individuals with wealthy families that live lives of luxury abroad. In the novel Crazy Rich Asians, a wealthy Singaporean household is put on display for an audience to get to experience and the lives of these individuals are over-romanticized. Though there is a small percentage of people who live in such manners, the rest of the population lives just like an average American.

The image of an Asian exchange student is characterized by name brand clothing, luxury goods, and an apparent image of financial well-being since they can afford to study abroad in universities such as ours. Though this image is not as negative as those previously addressed, this leads to the overall fetishization of Asian-Americans through idealized images that fill our news feeds. From the sudden rise of the Hallyu Wave, or Korean wave of media and music, in the U.S. to film adaptations of novels like Crazy Rich Asians took the world by storm, Asian Americans now face difficulty overcoming these overly perfect images that others have of them. This shift has occurred solely in the past decade, affecting newer generations of Asian-Americans that now have to handle idealized images of themselves solely because of their race.

WORKS REFERENCED

Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. First Second Books, 2014.

Kwan, Kevin. Crazy Rich Asians. Penguin Random House LLC, 2013.

Phillips, Todd, director. The Hangover. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2009.

IMAGES USED

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