Hollywood was born on the back of Westerns, mainly because it was the cheapest way to film movies with grand settings at low cost since breath-taking American West scenery was just a wagon ride away back in. These gun-shootin’ tales of the Old West have long been notorious for their stereotypical depictions of minority groups such as Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans, to name a few. The good news is that over time, the story-tellers have overall been less one-dimensional in their treatment of people from the Old West in general and minorities specifically.
In doing “research” for a new novel series I’m writing called Cowboy Ninja, I’ve been immersing myself in American history, dime novels, and watching lots and lots of Westerns. I just finished watching the The Young Riders, a TV western series that was aired back in the early 90’s. I just had a blast with the show.
The story revolves around a group of young adult orphans who join the Pony Express, the legendary transcontinental postal service. On their rides out carrying mail, they come across countless perils and dramas from shady prison camps to run-away slaves and evil outlaws. Although it was understandably an over-dramatized version of the Old West, the series overall was a lot of gun-toting fun. There was romance, adventure, drama, and mystery in every episode, complete with references to American history and the socio-economic and political complexities of the time.
Of course, throughout all 68 episodes, I was looking out for Asian American characters. Sadly, there was not one. The only serious reference to Asian Americans happens in the episode posted above, where an old plainsman lamented the poor treatment of minorities and mentions “Chinese- Americans” being treated like slaves in California. Other than that, there was like a .3 second passing shot of a pig-tailed Chinese American, and although I didn’t catch it, a friend of mine swears she saw one in the background somewhere carrying laundry.
Four out of five of the core riders (Kid, Hickock, Cody, Lou) were Caucasian while one was half Kiowa, half Caucasian. Lou was a girl who was showing them that anything the boys could do, she could do better. Later, they added Noah, a free African American. It was clear they were making an attempt to represent the diversity of the Old West, but sadly, Asian Americans weren’t included.
Now, I’m gonna try to be a little understanding here. The story is set in and around Nebraska where there may not have been as many Chinese Americans and other Asians Americans as, say, in California around mid-1800’s. However, I’m just saying, if that Chinese American guy with the long pigtail is good enough to carry laundry in the background, then I think he should be allowed to at least say a few words. Don’t you agree?