Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Personal reflections on Chinese America

A request from a friend taking a summer Ethnic Studies course at school served as the excuse to finally get some thoughts down that I've been hoping to commit to paper ("paper") for a while, now.

Thoughts are scattered, quite randomly arranged, and topics range wildly about. Many thoughts are unsupported, at best, and citations are nonexistent. This is more to have this on record and for those who care to get a stronger sense of my background and current stance on certain issues.

Reading over my thoughts - or, properly speaking, even as I typed them out in more or less stream-of-consciousness flow - I worry that I am myopic. My image of Asian America is gilded and almost universally positive: at least, my first responses to Chinese-American culture is always to assume that the minority has been victimized, is guilt-free, and has taken at most a passive part in the lead-up to the current state of affairs. I acknowledge freely, I think, that Chinese immigrants have been complicit in their own sufferings: but I do not first jump to the domestic abuse epidemic rampant in our communities (and countries of origin).

I tend to lionize the underprivileged and vilify the dominant. This is not wrong, but it is not right: worst of all, it is not true. The causes of current circumstances are manifold, and to simplify it down to Western imperialism (cultural, political, economic, and military) is to discredit my own claims. I worry about this, in the long run: I will have to become far more balanced and willing to critique China, Chinese America, and the Asian milieu if I am to be a credible and caring commentator.

I also have large holes in my discussions of gender. I make assumptions about female roles, rights, responsibilities, and representations (3 cheers for that alliterative streak) that are founded entirely on my male understanding of the female experience and role in society. This is dangerous, and I apologize if I wrongly offend. It's on my list of things to work on.

That said, the text of my response is presented below (cleaned up & edited in brief, most portions of the original text/questions remain):

1. experiences:
a. family traditions/customs/holidays
b. experiencing racism
c. basically, how was it like growing up chinese american?

(attempting to answer the breadth of a-c in one long breath:)

Basically, when I was young, being Chinese-American (which is, I might note, a different term than "American Chinese" or "American of Chinese descent") wasn't something that I thought about at all. There are a few factors that contributed to this: my parents were second- (or greater) generation, already, being born in Southeast Asia to families that had previously immigrated from China, so I was at least two degrees separated, on both sides, from direct ties to Chinese culture and heritage. I knew, on a fairly abstract level, that there was something tying my past to "China" - but that word, "China", referenced an empty concept, for me. Apart from Geography Bee-level details - the Yellow River, the Yangtze, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, etc. - I had no knowledge of China, and definitely no personal connection. The only glimpses of Chinese Culture that I received were in our shamefully irregular visits to my Nai nai/奶奶 (father's mother), who lives outside Washington, DC with her second husband (now deceased). There, I got my most transparent hints of the rich culture underlying our family's roots: conversations carried out in incomprehensible tongues; homecooked Chinese food utterly unlike my mother's Western cooking or greasy "Chinese" takeout; red envelopes of New Year money (that were, I realized much later, not months late, but simply operating according to a different calendar), watercolors of tumbling Chinese mountains, etc.

In short: our family traditions, customs, and holidays were as utterly middle-class, suburban American as one can get: dressing up for Easter Sunday, stockings on the mantle & gifts under the Christmas tree, ice cream cakes at birthday parties.

Which is why, I think, for me, racism was always a little bit of a surprise. After all, the far greater part of my upbringing was indistinguishable from your average American Dream: in the middle of the upper-middle-class, attending a Protestant church and Sunday School every weekend, straight-A report card, etc. But a few incidents stick out, in particular:

  • While growing ever-more-increasingly Westernized, my parents, throughout my youth, continued to frequent the local Asian Groceries (albeit more and more infrequently). One of the snacks they would occasionally purchase there - and which I found not so much tasty as intriguing - was made of this sort of cheeto-like material; except, instead of being coated in "cheese" and "cheese" flavoring, it tasted like shrimp. One time, during a kindergarden lunch, I made the mistake of bringing - or my mom made the mistake of packing, in the best of intentions? - a bag of them to school. The White girl with whom I usually traded sandwiches and snack foods turned up her nose at them, declaring them - I'm paraphrasing - "smelly" or "yucky". I must have been 5 or 6; that was, I believe, the first time I had ever been told that something which I considered normal - banal, even - might be Different.
  • Towards the end of my attendance of that Christian school (I realize, only at this moment, that the reason my parents probably entrusted me to them was that both my mother and father grew up going to Christian schools in Southeast Asia; and they were likely sending me to this school in hopes of my attaining the same education with which they had been bestowed), I recall that I came home one day and casually, after dinner, reading some book about geography or cultures or something of that nature, pulled my already asiatic eyes up into an exaggerated slant, telling my mom: "look. Chinese!" I can still remember her horrified response, the shock with which she realized that this so-called Christian education (I don't blame the church, of course; I do blame the ignorance and idiocy of young children, coupled with the race-blind/PC-disavowing/culturally underinformed nature of many well-intentioned evangelical communities) was actually driving a wedge between her son and her own background (I recently discovered that she had actually been planning, prior to the time she became pregnant with me, to go into law to help out asian-american and immigration issues). Shortly thereafter, for a host of reasons, my parents pulled me out of that school.
  • Something that's often echoed by various generations and varieties of Asian-Americans is the sentiment of being a "perpetual foreigner": a Japanese-American senator, whose family has been in this country for over 80 years, once remarked that he still continually receives compliments for speaking English "so fluently". As a youth, I too had these jarring encounters: trivial at the time, I brushed them off casually, dismissing them as isolated incidents of ignorance or misinformation. Of course, the fact remains, at 23, and with a far broader range of experiences in the intervening years, I can still remember, vividly, the repeated confusion of being asked by young White children, "So, where are you from?" and the frustration of having to, repeatedly, explain that I was from Illinois - or California - or Delaware. I knew who I was, and where I was from; so why couldn't these other kids? A dilemma emerged: either they were simply stupid and couldn't see the blatantly obvious (which seemed unlikely, given that my American-ness seemed to me overt), or the premises on which I had established my identity, with my internal concept of The Normal American Childhood derived from my own experience, were faulty.

2 & 3. as a chinese american, how do you identify yourself? what does being "chinese american" mean to you

Given the circumstances of my upbringing, and my parents' immigration, I think it wouldn't come as much of a surprise to hear that my view of myself, in my younger years, was basically that line about "diversity" that we were fed back in the day: "We want to be color-blind." I bought into the construal of Ethnicity that said the best way to accept everyone was to "just look at people as people, not as their skin color." So I applied this happily homogenizing view to myself, and those around me, and assumed that our points of view, personal experiences, and inculcated values more or less lined up. The emphasis in those days was definitely more on "American" than on "Chinese".

In recent years, I've been coming to hold a more subtle approach towards regarding my ethnic heritage: without running out the clock (because I definitely could), the basic outline of my thoughts go as such:
  • The term "Asian-American" is in itself dangerous, because it is an umbrella term for vastly disparate groups: in the same way that pitting inner-city Boston Irish youth with jailed parents against as Upper East Side, trust fund, private school kids is unfair in terms of social neediness, so is judging the children of Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Filipino refugees against the kids of Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean businessmen, professors, etc. Not to mention that thinking that every Chinese immigrant is privileged, well-educated, and well-behaved - the "Model Minority" myth - is itself damaging in many ways to Chinese-American communities, for a whole variety of deep-seated reasons.
  • For those of us who identify as "American of Chinese Heritage," there is a fine balance to be struck between that "American" and "...of Chinese Heritage". It's foolish to think that I am Chinese: in China, I might be allowed to call myself a "hua ren" (华人) that is, one of the Han Chinese, but I am not a "zhongguo ren" (中国人) that is, a Chinese person. Culturally, in terms of my fundamental assumptions about the world, I am a product of the West. It's important to point out that I don't harbor unnaturally Sinocentric political sympathies, and I'm not going to be a threat to peace in the American homeland or abroad (well, I oppose American hegemony - but that's for entirely different reasons): it's important to remind myself, and others, of this, because the reality is that many still fall into the mindset of Executive Order 9066 and "Yellow Peril", where any Asiatic face is viewed as a potential defector to the long-left-behind "Motherland." Of course returning to China - or heck, even Asia - gives me a warm feeling. But I have White friends who acquire the same sense of Homecoming upon their return to England, France, or Poland; and there is no forbidding sense of fraternizing with the enemy that lies upon their journeys.
  • One interesting thing that I have realized is that "Asian America" exists: even as I decry the use of the term, the fact is, whether for right or wrong (I would say more wrong than right), we are seen as a monolithic group. But that makes certain connections possible in the American "melting pot" that otherwise may never occur: a Chinese person in China may never deign to bridge the gap and initiate a friendship with a Japanese individual. But my relationships with my Japanese and Japanese-American friends - heck, even your own parentage, right? - demonstrate that "Asian America" can serve as something of its own melting pot; even if we remain, perhaps, to the side of the rest of the "melting pot" (whether cultural, genetic, or otherwise), at least Asian America has served, it seems, to bridge divides that may not have happened in our mother countries.
There are other thoughts, but these are the ones that first come to mind.

4. how do you think "chinese american" is being represented? by AA? by the public? How accurate are these portrayals?

I think that the public image of Chinese-Americans is problematic, with the blame being distributed all around (though perhaps not equally): Chinese-Americans are at fault for playing into the role of a "Model Minority", passively or actively unwilling to speak out against a dominant and domineering culture, choosing to succeed by means of intellect or behind-the-scenes work instead of through protest and resistence (to generalize largely). Of course, Chinese immigrants' approach to a hostile culture is not to blame: given particular cultural values held by Chinese-Americans, this was the natural, moral, course. And the White media and government is at fault: anti-miscegenation laws, portrayals of the threat of "China Rising," anti-Japanese WWII propaganda (but no propaganda supporting our allies, no pro-Chinese or pro-Korean messages to counteract the inevitable conflation of our three sister cultures), E.O. 9066, all these were designed to Otherize and tokenize Asian peoples, to aggrandize the panic of American businessmen and laborers concerned with increasing competition from across the Pacific. The inherited reminders of these shackles - whether in popular culture or governmental representation - is still evident.

When talking about public, popular, media images of Chinese-Americans, three concepts spring to mind: Kung Fu Master, Exotic Asian Beauty, and Smart Chinaman.
  • These portrayals are all highly damaging. Exoticism has been dealt with in a lot of gender/ethnic studies literature, but, in brief: to describe someone as "exotic" is to claim that they are attractive because they are not-me: they are the Other. Exotification is objectification and tokenization taken, in many ways, to its height: a person no longer represents a valued individual Self, but instead an alien, unrecognizable, unable-to-be-sympathized-with culture.
  • Media obsession with Exotic Asian Beauties is particularly disturbing given that much contact between Americans and Asian women was in the form of soldiers interacting with wartime prostitutes during the Korean and Vietnam wars. The stereotypes of the Shy Asian Girl and the Seductive Asian Woman (the "Dragon Lady") conflate into a figure that is deserving of both moral scorn and sexual depredation. This is, of course, a faulty stereotype: it is an incredibly transparent attempt to remove en masse the femininity and womanhood of Asian females, in the same way that Black women were degraded by simultaneously being sexualized and defeminized by becoming the unacknowledged mistresses of slave-owners.
  • Of course, one subtype of the Exotic Asian Beauty, that deserves particular mention, is the Madame Butterfly: caught up in the wiles and victimized by her brutal countrymen, this woman must be saved by the noble White hero. This stereotype is particularly notable because it implies that the Asians can't be trusted with taking care of their own: whether the next generation, the land, the businesses, the government, or the military, the natives need to be rescued by the strong white Savior. While it's true that Asian - and, yes, particularly Chinese culture - has been incredibly behind in terms of gender parity, and while I am by no means an anti-miscegenist, I do worry about the more or less pervasive idea that an Asian woman's dream is to escape the bonds of her culture and fly away to Western civilization and, apparently, cultural enlightenment.
  • The Kung Fu Master is, in its own way, a dangerous stereotype. On one hand, it is fairly empowering and masculinizing. The downside of it is that any Chinese-American who shows strength will be associated with the Kung Fu Master. A strong Black man is not automatically compared to Mohammad Ali: but strong Chinese (or even broadly Asian) men will almost inevitably be compared to Bruce Lee. Again, this stereotype - while not necessarily negative - strips the target of his or her individuality, and places them within a narrowly defined role with little room for expansion beyond.
  • And the Smart Chinaman is the very type of the Model Minority myth: the backhanded insult, the barbed compliment. It can be simultaneously dismissive of individual accomplishment - "Of course you did well on the math test, you asian" - and concealment for more subtle racism - "OK, so maybe Chinese-Americans have some problems, but you guys are doing so well! Look at your college acceptance rates! How can you complain about a couple of movie roles and some jokes on the radio and TV?"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reflection on Mulan (pun intended)

I don't remember much about the summer that Mulan, Disney's 36th animated feature film, was released to theaters. Wikipedia (the most accurate source of information in the world, and my go-to facts checker) indicates that it must have been the summer of 1998, when I was 12 years old.

I remember that my family - dad, sister, me, and perhaps my mother - went to watch the film together in a small cineplex, during a summer vacation spent in Orlando, Florida, one of a small handful of favorite family destinations (along with Williamsburg, VA and the Poconos). Emerging from our dark A/C-cooled haven 87 minutes (plus previews) later, I charged out energetic and hyper - not an uncommon state for the 12-year-old me - and, naturally, my 9-year-old sister found that energy infectious.

That my younger self left a Disney movie with an excess of high spirits was little surprise, and I can't recall ever since sparing a second thought in analyzing that response. However, in light of my recent reflections on portrayals of Asian-Americans in popular media, plus a spate of personally-mandated viewings of selected minority filmmakers' works, I decided to take Mulan for a second spin, possibly (if memory serves) my first full viewing since that humid Florida midafternoon.

Watching the film, I'm struck by an uncanny déjà vu, as were I communing with my 12-year-old self. Of course, I'm quite the sophisticate now: at the time, I knew virtually nothing about China/中国 (now 2 summers' experience and frequent return trips), could speak no words of Mandarin/普通话 (8 semesters' study), had never studied kungfu/功夫 (6 years). But there is still something of the chubby, bookish 12-year-old Chinese-American boy in me that watches this film and marvels at it.

At the time, I had no lexicon with which to articulate my experience of the film, and so I relegated it to the same continuum as all other pop culture phenomena with which I had sated my indiscriminate whims: located at a point, indistinct, between my parents' collection of early-80s TIME/LIFE magazines (low interest, high availability) and my budding STAR WARS/Tolkien fanboyism (high interest, low pre-Internet re-release/film adaptation availability). I had no experience within which to locate the film's effect on me, simply because it was, at the time, pioneering for me: apart from the occasional visit from relatives, or yearly Christmas visits to the grandparents' in DC, my parents, sister, and I were the extent of Chinese America to me. Apart from a single hardcover volume describing contemporary (1995!) life in China (well-worn out of interest, with a rough red fabric cover under the dust jacket), for all I knew, we were the extent of Chinese.

Now, flicking through the half-familiar, hazily-remembered scenes of the film, I'm amazed by it on so many more levels*: the colors redolent of the Chinese countryside (glimpsed in my sojourns to 西安, 河北, 广东, and the like); a character sighing with the distinctly Eastern "Ai! /哎!" phoneme instead of the Western "Oh! / 哦"; the food portrayed - rice porridge (粥), Chinese noodles (面), still staples of Chinese food/中菜. And, most of all, the distinct, plastic framework of the Disney Fairytale (as opposed to a Fairy-story) fleshed out with Chinese faces and Asian voices: the Handsome Prince, instead of a wavy-locked blondie with light eyes, an almond-eyed, black-haired "Captain Shang"; the Model Father cast in a model not entirely unresembling my own paternal figure (albeit a far more svelte and, perhaps, picturesque figure).

I can only imagine the twofold impact on the psyche of young Asian-American girls: the dual revelation that a woman could be both Asian and, without renouncing her culture, a Disney Princess (the latter being, admittedly, a dubious and debatable distinction among gender critiques); and that her handsome prince could be an Asian male (yes, I know this statement can be problematized; humor me).

I am not now who I was then; but still, tonight's viewing of Mulan has reaffirmed for me - and this time, in a primarily affective manner - the importance of strongly positive portrayals of Asian-Americans (and, in general, minorities) in popular culture and the media. Eleven years after my first viewing of Mulan, watching this film still causes emotions to stir: the sight of Real Characters - not background characters, not secondary characters, not 2-dimensional jump-kicking, med-school-graduating, lab-coat-wearing ciphers - that look like my family and me? Astounding!

And how can it be that, in the intervening years, I have still not seen anything so well-produced, well-promoted, and ethnically true to itself (with little-to-no yellowface!)? If even Disney could get it right in the late 90s, how is it that another similar production has yet to surface? When the day comes - God help us - when I have a young daughter, or son, to what will I turn for aid when teaching my child to be proud and grateful for her, or his, features, family, and culture**?

*not least of which is that several members of the cast are related to one another through the network of the highly respected East West Players, the seminal Asian-American theater ensemble.
**I am aware of, and incredibly grateful for, the Ni Hao, Kai-Lan (你好,凯兰) series currently airing on Nickelodeon, a Chinese-American version of the similarly bicultural Dora the Explorer. I saw its content briefly at a friend's house, and was astounded at the extent of the multiethnic programming now available to her daughter, which I could neither have imagined nor hoped for as a youngster.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Regarding Judaism and Israel

A quick thought, prompted by an exchange with a college friend, following an earlier (if not the earliest) post on hyphenated-Americans, along with beginning to watch (a process that will likely take a substantial amount of time) Spielburg's modern classic Schindler's List:

Whenever discourse includes a discussion of the Jewish people, it is vital that we separate the Jewish people and the modern nation of Israel. It is perilously easy to conflate (a) disagreement with the actions of the Jewish state in the geopolitical landscape and (b) Anti-Semitism. This is a form of an ad hominem, but one which seems to be more insidiously prevalent.

That's how it seems to me, anyways. Am I wrong, and (a) reduces to (b)? I strongly don't think so, but am open to arguments in the positive.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The question; and a thought.

The Question

After a respectable (or thereabouts) deal of reading and thought (particularly reflecting on Frank Chin's repeated critiques of Maxine Hong Kingston), this is the question that presents itself:

How to be American without being White? How to be "of Chinese descent" without slipping into reactionist sinocentrism?

Of course the cultural inheritance of The West isn't to be lightly discarded or vilified, nor is the East (or even the immigrant experience) to be mindlessly embraced and valued. The answers' typeface is far from black-and-white. But among shades of grey (not shades of greige), where does one alight?

(Hint: God is the answer. [No, this is not just a flip answer; Yes, this is still a Christian, and not only ethnic theory, blog, appearances to the contrary])

The Thought
That said, another thought occurs to me at the moment (A few minutes ago, I jokingly told a friend that tonight was my Asian-American Film Studies night): while I have previously been a proponent of the narrative-as-description(e.g., NWA's Straight Outta Compton can be justified as a descriptive, not prescriptive, outline - "not a glorification, but a presentation"), I am increasingly understanding of the need to present balanced-but-idealized portrayals in the media, serving the function of a corrective to unbalanced and two-dimensional portraits of Americans of Asian/Pacific Islander descent.

I had a fairly strong and disconcerting response to viewing, Monday night, Justin Lin's modern Asian-American crime drama Better Luck Tomorrow: there is a scene in the film, in a backyard party, where the core group of four Asian-American protagonists (portrayed as and by a varied group of Asian-American males) confront a group of White antagonists. After a brief fistfight, instigated by implicitly racial (but only indirectly racist) comments, one of the Asian-American gang pulls a gun on the lead antagonist. The subsequent beating of the White varsity athlete - leaving him bruised and bloodied, but not permanently physically harmed - both signals the core group's increasingly rapid descent into crime and materialistic excess, and foreshadows the nadir of the film, where a similar beating takes place: this time, against a spoiled Korean-American private-school kid; and this time, to the death (based on an actual incident in early-90s Southern California).

What disturbed me about my response was that, in both cases, Lim took care to portray the Asian-American protagonists as complex, well-rounded characters: morally speaking, they were on neither the high nor low ground. In both cases, there were senses of moral indignation and vindication ("getting back" at the White bullies; retaliating against the rich prep school kid who treats his girl like dirt), and also a sense of excess and transgressed boundaries.

However carefully-laid-out the mores of the film, my responses were affectively discrepant with my moral construals of the situations, and I have little choice but to admit that the distinction was likely simply because of the race of the tragic protagonists: whereas I would unhesitatingly condemn the actions in abstract, the fact that violence originating from Asian-American sources, especially against a Caucasian figure, is contradictory to my construal of the stereotype of expected Model Minority behavior (albeit a malformed and, in fact, highly inaccurate stereotype) seemed to serve as justification for my emotional consent towards the action.

This is, I willingly and mournfully agree, evidence of a shamefully akrasic mental process, the ramifications of which I'm concerned, especially regarding my vocation as a minister, a profession part of the call to which is love for the Other above the Self, love for all facets of God-created diversity, and striving on behalf of reconciliation, healing, and understanding (Gal. 3:26-29, among others). However, it is not, I would guess, a drastically atypical response to such media depicting violence from an oppressed (or, more often, nowadays, suppressed) minority directed towards the dominant majority.

One thing that I always wondered, watching the incredible HBO series The Wire, a bastion of verisimilitude and narrative-as-depiction-of-reality, was how so many Black voices (not only, or even particularly often, academic Black voices, but definitely a predominance of street voices, as seen anywhere from to the Smoking Section) could willingly applaud explicitly villainous figures, or at least what seemed to me at the time to be: the drug lords (Marlo, Stringer, Avon), shooters (Snoop, Christ Partlow, etc.), and other Baltimore inner-city hood figures (the more complex morality of characters such as Omar Little, Bubbles, etc., is of course less cut-and-dry).

Of course, what I didn't understand at the time, on a subjective level (and am now only beginning to scratch the surface of, as I begin to analyze my personal response to depictions of violence by the oppressed), is that the characters are not usually being lauded for their actions: their actions are the signifiers of a larger motivation, that is, defying power and breaking stereotype. The problem is that reactive stereotypes - the clever, tactical, chess-piece-moving crime lord as a response to the dumb, happy, bumbling Sambo - are also a system of entrapment and limitation for minorities: we sketch out extremes, but fill in no grays, leaving room for the Huxtables and the Barksdales, but fewer and fewer Redd Foxxes in between [note: by "Redd Foxx," I meant, a sympathetically- and humanely-portrayed member of the honest lower class, i.e. in Sanford & Son. Not quite sure if this was too opaque a reference.].

So, another question: where do we locate the line between audience discernment and filmmaker's discretion? Certainly the filmmaker should feel at liberty to create Art: but, and this is a topic on which I've touched before (specifically, in my senior Philosophy thesis), what is the intersection between Morally Good Work and Good Art? In that previous work, I strongly advocated for the imposition of moral sanctions on a work of art (humor, in that case), due to both a priori and a posteriori factors that seem to fall in favor of morality being a determining factor for the quality of art.

But the question then becomes one of reasonable doubt, or burden of proof: does the filmmaker (or rapper, other musician, artist, etc.) presume an audience comprised of the Lowest Common (discerning) Denominator, and simply create art that is unabashedly moralizing? In such cases, films become preachy, and subtlety is specifized out of the equation.

But the alternative seems more and more distasteful: choices of presentation content and form are, implicitly, choices to condone audiences' viewing of particular material (for this reason, I recently started but could not finish both Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho [novel] and Jody Hill's Observe and Report [film]). Previously, I held to a reasonably extremely high view of individual volition: I acknowledged the real occurrence of akrasic mind states, but did not pragmatically concern myself over them. More and more, I regret this: both personally, discovering the truth of the saying that "once seen, you cannot un-see" certain materials; and pragmatically, in terms of furthering social progress and harmony, realizing (as I did when watching Better Luck...) that portrayals of immoral or unconscionable behavior, even when within the framework of a largely critical work, have the potential to grasp the imagination in a much stronger net than I had previously wanted to believe.

Of course, the potential remains: I may merely be particularly weak-minded, an outsider. I am familiar with the major arguments: kids know the difference between DOOM and the halls of their High School, and killing a few hundred digital representations in GTA IV won't lead anyone to the slaughterhouse. In fact, proponents of the gaming industry argue, such artificial violence, far from promoting violence, actually helps those in whom rage and anger have built up to let off some steam, destressing and potentially averting a future tragedy.

Previously, I was highly sympathetic to such claims; in fact, I agreed (as do I still now, though with greater qualification) that freedom of speech was a paramount right. But, as recent developments in the video gaming world have shown, freedom of speech, as with any other freedom, can be abused, not for the sake of art, but for the sake of commerce: in such a case, use of freedom does, I increasingly believe, actually constitute abuse or exploitation of speech, leading to negative social repercussions and, ultimately, indirect disenfranchisement of or disconnection from the Other (whether Otherization occurs by race, gender, or simple emotional distance). That such depictions constitute a legal problem, as statutes currently stand, is highly unlikely, I assume; still, my concern is not with the present legality, but rather the present ethics of the situation and, based on an increasing understanding of the ethical landscape, future policy decisions.

Several other areas remain to be addressed. Among them: a persistent question, so far as I understand, in Asian-American Film Studies is the pragmatic response to limited roles for Asian-American actors: marginalized as "wimpy businessmen... or villains with balls", several Asian-American actors have chosen to play the "villains with balls" (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, The Slanted Screen). It's difficult to blame them; but it's also easy to be troubled by this response, on both sides of the racial divide (Us and Other). The Mortal Kombat villain Shang Tsung is, while not emasculated, possessor of a twisted and villainous strength: it is easy to see in him the same archetype as a Stringer Bell or Avon Barksdale, wealthy, organized, manipulative boogeymen. The choice (and I pray it is a false dichotomy) presented to Asian-American actors seems to be marginalization or villainization: is it a wonder that many chose to be villainized?

And of course, one doesn't have to look far to see why an Asian-American presence was Othered and, subsequently, villainized: the widely-documented phenomenon of Yellow Peril was a racial agenda explicitly furthered by the spread of anti-miscegenation laws in direct response to (among other factors) a fear of competition by the Other.

As a friend commented on one of my several earlier posts, the point is not to find a scapegoat: White American dominance, Asian American complicity, and industry/industrial greed have definitely all played key roles in bringing the place of Asian-Americans in the media to their contemporary position. The point is, however, to find the roots of a pernicious construal of an entire section of American society, to see how it insinuated itself into wider American culture, and to find a healthy, healing, reconciliatory means of mutual affirmation and support.