Monday, March 27, 2017

Constance Wu sheds light on Asians and Asian/Americans as seen by Hollywood

HOO, BOY! Constance Wu opened up a can of worms in the April issue of Allure magazine explaining one of her pet peeves: the difference between between Asians and Asian/Americans. 

"I wish reporters were more in tune to the difference between the Asian experience and the Asian/American experience. I think often they lump the two together and think that when I talk about Asian/American narratives that they can cite Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Mulan as proof of concept when it’s a different experience. We are told that we should be placated by those stories, even though they aren’t our stories.," said Wu.

"You can’t name an Asian/American movie that’s mainstream in the past ten years. You cannot name one. You cannot. You could name a Chinese movie, a Korean movie, blah blah blah, but it’s different," said Wu, one of the stars of ABC's Fresh Off the Boat.

Constance Wu
"Even my television show is a period piece. It’s set in the ’90s. And a lot of times people think of Asian culture as some mythical world, instead of modern people with modern occupations with modern problems, modern tools, and modern occupations. 

"Like we’re not all just talking Taoism and kung fu — some people are just trying to get over their breakup with their boyfriend, and they’re Facebook stalking.”

Lumping together all people from Asia and Asian/Americans into one monolithic bloc is a common mistake made by pollsters and people who are not part of that demographic.

Politically, sometimes it is convenient to put us all together in order to achieve the numbers that might give us some attention.

Among ourselves, we are all aware of our differences. However, we share a lot of similar issues that make it convenient to join together when it serves our common interests.

When Asian/Americans protested the whitewashing of Major Motoko Kusanagi of the Ghost in the Shell movie, the Japanese creators of the character were praising the selection of Scarlett Johansson to play the Japanese role in the film. Asians who have grown up in Asia did not have to grow up with whitewashing, yellow face or erasure.

Differences have shown up in the affirmative action debate. Without the knowledge of why affirmative action policies were necessary, newcomers believe it works against their children in university admission policies. Growing up in a homogenous society, they generally have no idea of the impact of racial discrimination or white privilege in the admissions process or in applying for a job.

In a way, new immigrants are at an advantage over their U.S.-raised brethren in that they don't carry the weight of baggage filled with the centuries-old biases and social stratification that shaped the America we have today and which holds back many AAPI from fulfilling their dreams and full potential.

So, while we tend to not want to air our dirty laundry, perhaps Ms. Wu has done us a favor by bringing the issue to the attention of those who can't tell the difference between Asians and Asian/Americans, much less the variations between people from China, India, Japan, the Philippines or any of the dozens of countries and regions that make up Asia and Pacific islands.

The dissimilarities between Asian/Americans and Asians are sometimes stark. As the U.S. becomes increasingly diverse, the people descended from Asia need each other, no matter when they set foot on these shores. At the same time, non-Asians - especially those in the mainstream media -- need to realize and learn to appreciate the differences.

Read about Constance We in the April 2017 issue of Allure.