There is no question that being Asian American now is a lot better than it ever has been before, something one of our fellow contributors has recently pointed out. However, as our faces become more prevalent in entertainment (even without the new media stars), something tells me that there’s something we’re still hungry for.
If in the 1980s and 1990s, the struggle was to get people to stop asking “Where are you from?” and “Your English is good!” and to recognize Asian Americans as being home-bred and no different from anyone and everyone else, the day is approaching that it will be almost ancient history. No longer do we have to think real hard about what an Asian American movie or book is (well, we still do, but Google searches and Wikipedia make it easier), because there’s more of a presence now than there was back in the day.
Every time I go to the film festivals in Los Angeles and San Diego, I’m caught in a mix of emotions: one part appreciation and excitement to see perspectives from different Asian groups in North America and filmmakers across the Pacific, the other part perplexed and confused upon observing the crowd.
There are more stories being told about Asian America (albeit few and growing, and with many more on YouTube); there is more presence in mainstream entertainment and it’s more than token girlfriends and a few extras. In a room with whites, Latins, blacks, and Asians, we are happy when the day arrives that we won’t be assumed to be the foreigners in the room while the others are not. In going to these film festivals and observing events and attitudes amongst the youth and their communities, I get the feeling that they aren’t looking to be recognized as fellow Americans, but distinguished and exclusive.
Hey, I don’t have problems with nationalist pride for anyone, but we shouldn’t lose sight of being part of the bigger picture, which is expanding and being inclusive. I’ve heard more than a few voices at every festival from friends who weren’t Asian who felt out of place and unwelcome trying to check out a few good films. That’s right: they weren’t going there because it was distinctly Asian, they were going because they heard what was there was good. There is a lot of good stuff coming out, there are a lot of young and passionate individuals, but at times, there is an inward-looking energy that can be felt from driving by such events and seeing very few non-Asians.
In order to further integrate into mainstream society and entertainment, yes, there are challenges, but there are also self-imposed limitations. Case in point: a Korean American friend in New York played Paul McCartney in an obscure play because he was just that good. He was also the only Asian who auditioned for any of the roles, which surprised him because people were looking for Asian-specific roles–that’s typecasting without even being cast.
We need to break out of our own mental prisons, and we need to have doors open for everyone to come in and feel welcome, not excluded. Yes, these are our stories, but we need to find a way to make them stories everyone can find pieces of themselves in our stories as well. Stories can and should still be distinctively Asian American, but they should emphasize the American part and let blacks, whites, and Latins find a part of themselves in there too.