When you open Wesley Yang’s “Paper Tigers” in New York Magazine, you will notice a half naked East Asian man starring blankly right back at you as its greeting. Playfully, you may think that the title evoke images of tigers made out of paper until you read the tagline,
What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?
You then scroll down to check how long the article is and you realize that it’s eleven whopping pages with the first page exploding with emotional outbursts from one who is clearly going through an Asian American identity crisis. If you haven’t noticed already, this is creating a stir within the APA community as some are declaring that he is an embarrassment to his race and others say that he speaks the raw, brutal truth.
Honestly, I love it when my Asian Pacific American community gets in a passionate uproar over matters like these. You then have blogging folks mass tweeting, Facebooking, and writing articles all over the Internet, and I relish the vast array of opinions being shared by Asians and non-Asians alike. The last time such a commotion happened was with Tiger Mom Amy Chua when she made a declaration that Asian parents are superior (which it may or may not be the entire truth, according to the author himself.)
I will step out and say that I appreciate the fact that Wesley Yang expressed himself frankly about his thoughts on his identity and the Asian/Asian American community. I agree with his mindset of not thinking like an immigrant. I, too, have been frustrated with a lot of East Asian values that I once found to be restricting and confining. I agree with his reports that Asian Americans are often stuck in the glass ceiling (or the Bamboo ceiling as he calls it here), to which our very own John Lin has specifically covered in an excellent article nearly three years prior.
Overall, this article is extremely problematic: First of all, Asian American does not equal banana or Twinkie. To say that the both are one and the same is ridiculous considering that Yang has a very pessimistic and outdated mindset in what he thinks an “American” is. Also, how do you write about the invisibility of Asian Americans when you don’t even associate with them? It speaks loud that Yang is full self-hatred but it’s confusing to really determine where he stands when his stance alternates randomly from bashing Asians to saying that they aren’t getting enough respect. As the article goes on, he boasts about the appeal of Western masculinity and that white women are not really just normal human beings like everybody else, but destinations to be traveled upon (thanks to N’jaila Rhee for providing that concise insight). Given that this article is published in a mainstream publication, there is a great danger that his voice will be considered as the “definitive” authority on the Asian American mindset.
I do appreciate that Yang spoke frankly about this and it is clear that this is an emotionally driven article, for which I could relate with on many points. But if there’s several things I want to say to Yang back (if he even bothers to read this), it would go like this:
Your face is not alien and it certainly does yourself a disservice by comparing yourself to a reptile. For that matter, stop seeing your racial identity and culture as a bane to your existence because really, no culture or race is perfect. While I think it is unfortunate that you see Western values and masculinity as something superior to your Asian counterparts, you are a product of your upbringing so I see where you are coming from. Even so, it has made you biased against the racial heritage you are from and it is therefore incredibly important that you should not forget who you are. It doesn’t mean you have to take pride in it or even love it fully, but it does mean you need to acknowledge who you are and embrace yourself completely.
Trust me, I’ve been down that road before and can understand the rage in being torn and confused between two different cultures. I noticed you keep using “Asian-American” to speak of yourself and of others; how about taking that dash out and realize that these two can go together? You may balk that these two will always be foreign to each other but like you said at the end of the article, you tell others to “dare to be something different,” and to make something of themselves. I ask you to apply your own words to yourself and connect the bridges that you see to be so far apart.
Despite whatever problems I may see with this article, it is for the best that we have voices like these telling it like it is. They may be right or they may be wrong, but honesty is a crucial force that needs to be welcomed in even if nobody wants to hear it. For the 8Asians readers out there, I strongly recommend you to take the effort to read the whole thing. If it manages to push your buttons or make you feel emotional in any way, then the article is for you. Stick with it and by the end, if you still vehemently disagree, you have your own unique voice to share it with the world. Use it.
h/t: Merlin C