First we took out the pitchforks for Amy Chua. How dare she write something that so foreseeably would fire up Sinophobia and make all of us APAs look bad! We’re American; we’re normal; we’re well assimilated; why stir up the status quo and throw attention on our Asianness? Chinese…superior…parenting…what was she thinking!
And just as we thought we could put the pitchforks away, Wesley Yang comes out with “Paper Tigers,” that infuriating New York Magazine piece that opens with a self description straight out of a Fu Manchu graphic novel. Did he seriously call attention to our slanted eyes and pancake-flat yellow faces? It’s not like every one of us at some point including Korematsu tried to hide, minimize, or change these features. It’s not like we want to sweep the infernal chinkymon description under a rug and hope that by not mentioning it no one will notice that’s kind of actually how we look. (And for the record, our eyes aren’t slants; they’re slits.)
Really here, what part of Wesley Yang’s article incensed APAs? I’ll tell you what part. The part where the article makes him look pathetic and therefore by some perceived sense of association makes all Asian people everywhere look pathetic and let’s not kid ourselves here–Asians would rather be invisible than look pathetic.
That’s why we’re hating on Yang’s piece with the kind of ferocity that only a person who cares a wee bit too much about face, a person who is just a wee bit hypersensitive about image would muster. APAs couldn’t possibly have been upset at his thesis because there wasn’t one. The article was so long and convoluted that when I finished I had no idea whether there was a point to it, other than “I, Wesley Yang, am so cool and so pomo.”
We’re not angry because we think the article said something wrong or Yang is a moron. We’re angry because we are pretty certain white people are going to read the article and think all of us, all Asian people everywhere, are just like Yang and now we all look like wrong morons. We’re angry because we think we have been portrayed in a false light.
Once again, rather than be seen as representing his own individual views, Yang is seen as representing the monolithic mass that is the Asian peoples. Chua, too, was representing all of us, espousing the singular view on parenting that everyone who has jet-black hair, slanted eyes, and a pancake-flat surface of yellow and green toned skin with an expression nearly reptilian in its impassivity holds. She was not at all writing a memoir about her personal relationship with her daughters or anything. Not like it makes a difference that Chua repeated until she was blue in the face that she never implied one way of parenting to be superior over another, that the sum of the parenting decisions she made absolutely represents ancient Chinese parenting secrets.
And yet we set such sweeping generalizations (that no one with half a wit would believe anyway) as the justification for why we should flame these writers. Only stupid people would think Chua represents crazy tiger Asians, crazy accomplished with their Harvard Law degrees and Carnegie Hall recitals and Yang the token for cool anti-tiger Asians, so cool with their cultural malaise and artsy fartsy sensibilities and, in conclusion, those are the only two types of Asians there are. Really? Is that what we’re afraid of, what stupid people will think of us Asians?
It boils down to something incredibly Confucian. One represents the group and if that one represents us negatively then dishonor has been brought upon the clan. And we all know what happens to those who bring dishonor to the clan… So much for being bananas, twinkies, American, individualist, blah blah and whatever other terms denoting us as assimilated into Western society we like as reference blah. Asian Americans feel so insecure with their standing in this country that they are compelled to raise the pitchforks on any Asian American who fans the Sinophobe flame or does or says something moronic in public. We’re petrified by dishonor to the clan. What were we saying again about how wrong this “Asians vs. Americans” article was on Asians caring more about interpersonal enlightenment than individual achievement? Dang. Looks like that absurd pseudo-scientific study was right after all. We truly are only happy when the group looks good.
If any not-completely-moronic message at all can be distilled out of those 11 pages that Yang wrote, it’s found in the last line of his piece. Dare to be interesting. Dare to be interesting. That’s exactly what Yang did. And for that, I applaud him. His writing is, if nothing else, interesting.
So lay it to rest, Asian people. It’s okay if we’re not perfect.
Speaking of perfect, read Edward’s piece.