Monday, February 09, 2015

I'm so Asian

(Yes, as a matter of fact I am singing the title of this post to the tune of "That's So Raven.")

Sometimes I feel more Asian than usual. Times when I don't feel like I blend into my world quite so seamlessly and am keenly aware that even though I was born and raised in this country, as were my parents, I'll always feel like a little bit of an outsider.

One of those times are these months at the beginning of the year, when parents are in the process of choosing high schools and colleges for their kids. Without fail,  every year, I'll hear at least a few people make this comment about a school they're considering.

"That school is full of Asians."

To be fair, sometimes it's said with affection as in, "I love me some Asians. The math scores at that school are THROUGH THE ROOF," and I can concur with that person and also point out that the after-school Origami class is probably pretty killer, too.

But other times it's said with a bit more disapproval, as in,

"This muffin is full of raisins. I FUCKING HATE RAISINS."

Either way, I try and pretend that nothing happened. Because I'm so Asian like that.

The past week was another reason to feel my Asian-ness at full volume – it was the premiere of 'Fresh Off The Boat,' a new sitcom on ABC. The story centers around the Huang family – recent Taiwanese immigrants who have settled in Florida – and the culture clash they experience. It's the first TV show in 21 years to star an all-Asian cast; the last was 'All American Girl' starring Margaret Cho in 1994. Don't start sending me links to PBS documentaries about the royal family in Japan – those don't count.

I don't think I was prepared for what an impact this show would have on me. A show that was just CHOCK FULL OF RAISINS! I knew it was an important milestone but thanks to social media the night of the premiere was like being at one of my huge family gatherings, except without the fighting over the check and the pressure to take home leftovers.


All of my Asian peers watching at the same time, equally thrilled that we were seeing people who looked like us on TV. It was overwhelming and pretty emotional. Here were Asians that weren't cast in roles as the nerdy best friend, the sushi bar waitress or the dry cleaner owners. They were real, flawed, characters who looked and acted like people I know. Something that most of you take for granted, I'm sure, but an empowering, long-overdue moment for Asian Americans.

But then that excitement was dimmed a few days later. My friend and fellow blogger Grace Hwang Lynch posted a photo on Facebook that was taken during a press tour for 'Fresh Off The Boat.' The thing that stood out about the photo? Not one Asian face among the attendees. A press tour for an Asian show, one that is one of the most important things to happen to network TV in terms of Asian representation and NOT ONE ASIAN HAD BEEN INVITED. It stung.

I'm not that much of a blogger anymore. I wouldn't expect to be invited to an event like this, but there are plenty of Asian American bloggers who are active online and in the community who should have been at this press tour to represent and to weigh in on the show. For them not to be included felt deliberate and calculated. Was it deliberate and calculated? The jury's still out, but I can only say it felt exclusionary and insensitive. Kind of like how it felt to not be represented on network TV for the past 21 years.

And the backlash has been swift and harsh. A lot of people are saying that we're just jealous we weren't invited. That we're being too sensitive. That we shouldn't be making it about race. That we should just stop complaining, damnit. It surprised me that so many people couldn't step back, look at the situation and say, 'Hey, that's a mistake. There should have been Asians there," and to see the bigger picture – that Asian Americans have been fighting for a seat at the table for awhile, and this was just one more reminder of the exclusion we encounter on a regular basis.

People aren't used to hearing Asians speak out, and it makes them uncomfortable. We're supposed to be the silent minority and not rock the boat. I know many of my fellow Asian Americans can attest to the fact that we were brought up to be non-confrontational and passive. I think my 94-year-old Japanese mom would just expire on the spot if she knew I was venting on this blog. To the public. And using cuss words.

For me, Asians being excluded from the press tour was so much more than what it seems like on the surface. It meant that even after all these years, we're still invisible to some people. That our voices often don't count. That, in spite of our huge presence as consumers and influencers, so many doors remain closed to us. After all our hard work and striving to be heard, there still isn't a seat on the bus for us.

Thank you to everyone who has spoken up and supported the bloggers who are making our voices heard not just now, but in other arenas and other endeavors. Thank you for sharing our stories and leaving words of encouragement and for seeing us and not making us feel invisible.

Please read these posts by some of my fellow Asian American bloggers, who inspired me to write this post:
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  1. THIS. Am crying reading this. THANK YOU for sharing your experience.

  2. Yes! Thank you for witting this and adding your voice!


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