Friday, September 30, 2016

Where do stereotypes about Asian/American men come from ?

IT IS ALL about sex and power!

That's the short answer to the question in the headline that's been tackled by scholars, social scientists, psychologists and Asian/American men f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

You can write a book (a thick one) for a more comprehensive response. In fact, that has been done.

The touchy subject would be difficult to sum it up in a short video, but Filipna/American journalist Cat Sandoval gives it a valiant effort in the NBC video produced for "Take Back," a five-part series on "NBC Asian America Presents...," a digital video channel that will feature original content centered around themes and voices found in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. 

From "being nerds" to being seen as threats, negative stereotypes about Asian and Asian/American men "have been perpetuated and maintained through history," according to Kevin Nadal, president of the Asian American Psychological Association.
But where did those stereotypes come from? And how has that affected how Asian/American men are portrayed in Hollywood?
Yes, Hollywood is a major contributor to the stereotype, but the neutering of Asian/American men began long before the silver screen and television began playing major roles in influencing our world perceptions through American pop culture.
A non-Asian friend approached me recently after reading my earlier posting about the stereotype Asian men have to confront and overcome in American society. That was not surprising because he didn't know about the stereotype, but then, he was an immigrant himself and wasn't raised in this culture.

I tried to explain to him that the Asian male stereotype was foisted upon us to dehumanize us, to make us lesser beings. It has affected our ability to move ahead in so many professions, our relationships with the opposite sex and how we deal with our own families. But most of all, that demeaning image affects how we feel about ourselves. 

Full disclosure: Yeah. I freely admit this topic is personal and for a while, I was socially crippled by that image. So, be aware, my writing is colored by that particular lens.

Alex Tizon
Alex Tizon, a fellow journalist, was born in the Philippines but raised in the U.S., a cultural mishmash shared by many - separated from the first-generation immigrant parents and not quite second-generation Americans. Tizon, who won a Pulitzer with the Seattle Times, wrote a book about this subject titled "Big Little Man."

Young Tizon landed in an America that saw Asian women as sexy and Asian men as sexless. ... as a young boy, everything he saw and heart taught him to be ashamed of his face, his skin color, his height, described one reviewer. 

An interview with Tizon sheds light on all aspects of the stereotype that inspired Tizon. He had to undergo the torture of reliving the emotions and traumas he experienced as the image was hung on him like an old oversized suit.

One chapter focused on the image of Asian men displayed on television, from "Bonanza's" Hop Sing to 2 Broke Girls2 character of "a diminutive, sexless, bumbling, language-challenged restaurant owner who is a constant butt of jokes.

He admits that things are changing on TV with Hawaii 5-0's Daniel Dae Kim, and Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead. At the time of the interview, he express high hopes for Selfie with John Cho and the strong possibility that there romance would blossom between the two lead characters.

Alas, Selfie didn't even last the first season. Despite the charming and attractive leads, the sit-com couldn't overcome the weak writing and the one-joke premise of the show.

However, along came Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which features a Filipno/American bro - played by Vincent Rodriguez III -  as one of the leads. By the end of the first season, he gets the girl and the show featured "The Kiss," which may be worth a chapter in the annals of Asian/American cultural history.

Ama Yawson, a Huffington Post contributor, wrote about the stereotype with the intriguing title, "Asian-American Men:Hunks of Burning Loe or Wimps with Small Wieners." In her blog, she interviewed Ranier Maningding, a Filipino/American who pens the popular blog The Love Life of an Asian Guy.

Yawson's take on the issue is interesting in that she sees the stereotype as a form of bullying. I think she's on to something there.

Actor James Shigeta broke down the stereotype
Anti-miscegenation laws were drafted to prevent the marital mixing of races, usually seen as men of color and white women. The laws were originally intended to prevent black-white marriages, but they were extended to include Asian men, (or Mongol too.

White men used to beat up on Filipinos because the Filipino farmworkers of the early 20th century with their flashy zoot suits, slick hair and cologne attracted caucasian women. In other words, the Filipinos were a threat to their manhood.

The sexy Filipino drew the ire of white men who took to raiding their farmworker homes and beating up the Filipinos. One such raid resulted in at least one shooting death. Maybe the stereotype was created and nurtured in order to dismiss the threat to the masculinity of white men.

And what's the third-grader's response to a threat? You either beat him up or you begin to make fun of him. Besides calling men of color names, you emasculate them, you make up the myth about penis size, you set the attractiveness standards to benefit Europeans and anyone else -- from Africa, Asia or Native America -- as undesirable.

Maningding writes in his blog: 
The problem with being an Asian American Man is that you are stuck at a fork in the road but you've been told to stay still: while America tugs on your sense of identity and masculinity you want to push back and voice your concerns. But how do teach a group of men to SPEAK UP when they were raised to politely raise their hands? How do you untangle these robot wires and let these men feel? We may ace and code our way to a middle-class but given the open floor beneath our feet where no one is willing to see us - not Asian women,not other men, not even Asians from Asia ... It's like we're still on that railroad pounding away at the ground. This is our life.
There are signs this negative paradigm is shifting. Besides Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Alan Yang's and Aziz Ansari's Masters of None and Daniel Wu's Into the Badlands feature Asian/American leads and explores aspects of the Asian/American male psyche that is not covered in CEG. Even Dr. Ken has had its moments and certainly  Steven Yeun and Daniel Dae Kim are doing their parts (for now. There is strong speculation that Yeun's badass character, Glenn Rhee, might meet his end in the first episode of the new season of The Walking Dead.)

On the movie side, Yeun is playing the male lead in another stereotype-busting role in the upcoming movie Mayhem, John Cho continues to expand his role in the Star Trek franchise and there is hope the film version of Crazy Rich Asians will show another side of the Asian male that is rarely seen by western audiences -- a romantic lead.

But these fictional characters are also being augmented by real-life Asian/American men excelling in their highly visible fields from medicine and research to the political world to the culinary industry to Silicon Valley. And to be completely rounded out, more and more Asian/American men are showing up in our criminal justice system (Hey, if we clamor for a more complete vision of Asian/American males, then we have to own the negative facet of us, too.) 

As you can tell, a lot has been written about the subject but you don't overcome an image that took a century and a half to ingrain itself into the American concioiusness in one column or a single video. It takes all of us chipping away at that image that's been weighing us down until we're seen as individuals worth taking seriously, worth admiring, worth loving. I encourage you to click on some of the links provided in this article if you want to delve deeper into the subject. 

"NBC Asian America Presents..." videos can also be watched on NBC Asian America's Facebook page, NBC News' official YouTube channel, and the NBC News app available on mobile devices, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV.