I was reading a good friend’s blog when I fell across the words “I was Chinese, which is like the boring brand of Asian.” These words struck me. I remember freshman year of college, there was a meeting of my dorm’s entryway. We were all in a circle, playing one of those annoying ice breaker games, where you had to say three (fun and fascinating) things about yourself. A lot included their ethnicity as a fact. “I’m Greek”, “I’m Japanese”, “I’m Italian.” All of these elicited an “ooo” or an “ahh.” That week, I began to notice that among the major Asian ethnicities, there is a hierarchy in American perception: Japanese, Korean, and last, Chinese. There’s an “ooo” factor to the first two, but there’s an “eh, ok” response to the last in America.
We all have ideas about these different Asian brands, mostly from entertainment and stereotypes. We’ve all heard crazy things about the Japanese, like their strange porn, their wacky game shows, and their animes that have stirred questions about the proportions of eyes to overall surface area of the face. But aside from the stranger Japanese stereotypes, there is the pervading cuteness that dominates their culture, from their Hello Kitty stationary to the girls. I’ve heard a native Hong Kong boy sigh with excitement at the prospect of meeting native Japanese girls, whom he deemed more “feminine” than native Chinese girls. True, there is a heavy sexist streak in Japanese culture (most Japanese become housewives). There’s already an Asian fetish that deems the women submissive, but does the polite, cute, housewife Japanese girl take the crème de la crème for that reason?
The Korean, however, is known for Kpop and Korean Dramas. Kpop has exploded over the past few years, from “Gee” by Girl’s Generation, “Sorry, Sorry” by Super Junior, “Nobody But You” by Wonder Girls (good luck getting that melody out of your head), and of course, the most watched Youtube music video ever (1,098,711,753 and counting), “Gangnam Style.” If you really have been living under a rock, read the New Yorker’s comprehensive article that sums Kpop up. These videos help shape the image of well-sculpted, long-legged, pale girls, along with Asian boys who rock their effeminacy. Or, you know, going with PSY and their outrageously catchy horse-riding dance moves. If not for that, there’s always the Korean Dramas which catch the attention of those interested in long wrought out, rather predictable but addicting love stories.
So what are the Chinese known for? In the past, they were known as docile, yet devious and deviant – the Chinese laundry worker who will bow down to you with his thick “Ching Chong” accent. Today, the People’s Republic of China shapes the image. I always see so many articles about how corrupt the PRC is, from drowning female babies to the repressed Taiwanese and Tibetans. If that’s not bad enough, there’s the culture of the Tiger Mama, which presents Chinese parents are strict, traditional discipliners who shape their children to be piano or violin masters, who grow up to be doctors or lawyers with Ivy League diplomas. According to this stereotype, we are all the same – generic. All we do is study, and none of us are creative. And no, we don’t have any crazy, zany, or overwhelming cuteness to block our boring (if not corrupt) visage that the general populace sees.
Am I bitter toward the Japanese or Koreans? No, I very much like aspects of their culture – sushi, kimchi, yum… But I can’t help but feel upset when someone becomes excited to hear that someone is Japanese or Korean, but will only smile and nod politely when they hear I am Chinese. I am proud of my Chinese heritage, with the cultural aspects I agree and disagree with. It is just insulting sometimes when some are found interesting for being one kind of Asian, and uninteresting if you’re another. Being Asian in America has forever branded us as a perpetual foreigner, the “exotic” one, even if we were born in America and lived here all our lives. We’re never going to be blonde haired and blue-eyed. Yet, even out of the “exotic,” we are considered bland – insult piled upon insult!
Is the only way for positive reception is to play up our cute, dancing, polite feminineness? Or go the crazy route as displayed in Gangnam Style? Super cute (“kawaii!”) or batshit crazy – is that how Asians must appear to Americans to be deemed “interesting”?