“How to Get an Asian Girlfriend”

Expos, Writing

Rebecca Lin

When you look up “how to get an Asian girlfriend,” an alarming number of articles come up across multitudes of websites and blogs that, in my opinion, are so incredulous it makes you wonder if they are written seriously or as a joke. They also make me a little embarrassed to be looking at them in public (my brightness is turned to the lowest setting right now). Unfortunately, it appears that these articles are written seriously. Here are some of the highlights of the advice I found online.

Cosmopolitan article: “22 Things to Know Before Dating an Asian Girl” by Helin Jung

  • “I like to use chopsticks in new and interesting ways.”

Is this supposed to be an innuendo…?

  • “My parents will immediately reject you as a suitor.”

Well, that’s a stereotype.

“How to Get a Hot Asian Girlfriend” by Dean Cortez

  • “Asian women want to be around a masculine presence, because they are so utterly feminine. This is not the case with a lot of American women these days.”

*cue rant about how Asian Americans are Americans,and the other many, many wrong things about this statement*

How to Get An Asian Girlfriend by Derek Strong

You don’t even need to spend $12.99 to realize how problematic this book is – the title and the summary are more than enough.

  • “Derek Strong is an average white guy who loves Asian girls…[this book] is the step-by-step guide for a regular guy to get a hot Asian girlfriend, right here in the U.S., right here in your hometown. You don’t need to travel, and you don’t need to learn any Asian languages.”  

This description shows that to him, “Asian girls” are merely objects and tokens that can be collected all at men’s convenience.

This book as you would hope, has low ratings, but not for the reasons you might think. The reviews are from people who bought the book genuinely seeking Strong’s advice and blame the book for being useless because the tactics offered did not work.

Reading this advice may seem funny because of how terrible the advice is, but in all seriousness, it’s also degrading. Though we’re conventionally advised to “just be you!,” the preconceived notions that surround us make it difficult when you know that some people aren’t seeing you for your personality or character but for your appearance and the stereotypes attached to it. But we shouldn’t let this hold us back – we know our own worth.  

Asian(-)American

Expos, Writing

Howard Tai

            “Hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use… can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American: part American, sure, but also something not American.”

– Henry Fuhrmann, Conscious Style Guide

In recent years, many activists and scholars have contended that the hyphen in racial and ethnic identifiers ascribe a foreign-ness to minority groups in the United States. While I agree with this assertion, I also want to develop the discourse surrounding hyphenated Americans by examining the assumptions and implications of dropping the hyphen in “Asian-American.”  

I’d like to preface my argument with two important distinctions. First, the difference between ethnicity and race: “Chinese” refers to an ethnic identity, while “Asian” refers to a racial identity. Second, the difference between descriptive and normative statements: descriptive claims state that x is the case, while normative claims state that x should be the case.

Many discussions regarding hyphenated Americans fail to address the distinction between ethnicity and race. For Asian Americans, this nuance lies in the difference between descriptive and normative claims. Although they intend to provide descriptive markers, identifiers such as “Chinese-American” and “Chinese American” actually represent two contrasting abstractions (i.e. two normative claims). The compound noun perpetuates the notion of Chinese Americans (and all Asian Americans) as foreigners by qualifying “American” with another non-American noun. On the other hand, using “Chinese” as an adjective conceives of someone who can enjoy full American-hood while having Chinese ancestry and even celebrating Chinese culture. Two divergent ideals thus emerge in the debate over the hyphen in describing ethnic identity for Asian Americans. However, a different paradigm operates in the case of racial identity.

Duality centers most conversations on Asian American identity; Asian Americans constantly describe the arduous task of (insert verb: balancing/negotiating/reconciling) their ethnic culture with their American identity. To characterize this dynamic, I argue that we should use “Asian-American.” The hyphen, in addition to its othering connotation, evokes an image of distinct and, in our case, conflicting standards by representing a barrier between two worlds. On one side of the hyphen, we have “Asian,” while on the other, we have “American.” In contrast, “Asian American” implies a coherent racial identity that extends beyond the confines of duality. Although the ideal of an Asian American identity remains far from realization, I view the conscious use of “Asian American” as a significant step toward that goal. The lack of a hyphen— or rather, our decision to omit it— signifies both a recognition and a validation of efforts to establish a collective racial identity.

In dropping the hyphen, however, Asian Americans must avoid the pitfall of pursuing whiteness. The anti-hyphen argument maintains that ethnic and racial minorities are “American” enough. Yet, this obsession with being American enough often becomes an emulation of whiteness. Ask yourself, “American enough for whom?” Pursuing whiteness does not require one to desire the white phenotype. Nor does it mean that someone wants others to see him/her as white. Rather, Asian Americans emulate whiteness when they ignore or suppress racial identity— e.g. disregarding race as a meaningful construct that impacts one’s life, opting instead to focus on achieving high socioeconomic status through “hard work” and “merit.” Those who belong to the majority/dominant group— in the case of race, white people—  have the luxury of ignoring that group identity if and when they so choose. For instance, as a man, I don’t think about my gender identity when I’m walking alone at night.

Recall Michael Luo’s open letter to the woman who told him to “go back to China,” published in the New York Times in 2016. This blatant act of racism and xenophobia triggered a defense mechanism that betrayed a pursuit of whiteness. Consider the following lines in his letter:

“We had just gotten out of church, and I was with my family and some friends on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.”

“You had on a nice raincoat. Your iPhone was a 6 Plus. You could have been a fellow parent in one of my daughters’ schools.”

“[My parents] raised two children, both of whom went to Harvard. I work at The New York Times.”

In responding to his attacker, Luo invokes his credentials for being considered American; he’s a Christian, upper-middle class, ivy league educated, resident in one of Manhattan’s wealthiest neighborhoods who writes for a prestigious American newspaper. To be sure, I empathize with Luo and many other Asian Americans who have been victims of hate. But, we must be conscious of how we respond; do our reactions actually maintain the racial hierarchy that subjugates us? In light of these implications, the development of an Asian American identity becomes crucial. We cannot and should not be content if the only alternative to the perpetual foreigner is an embrace of whiteness. Drop the hyphen in Asian American— but, examine what that decision entails.

Pregression: A Cold Take on Crazy Rich Asians

Expos, Writing

Afras Sial

I will admit that I arrived a bit late in the game, watching “Crazy Rich Asians” for the first time last week. But I think the film arrived a bit late too— too regressive for all the progress some lauded it for making. Instead of breaking through bamboo ceilings and working to dismantle structural issues in Hollywood, it seemed to simply want to raise that ceiling a bit higher, elevating the position of Asian Americans within the existing racial hierarchy.

For instance, take the scene in which Michael (Astrid’s husband) comes out of the shower, a scene that trains the viewer’s gaze on a bare Asian male body, daring the viewer to desire it. This brief scene contains little content except for a call to the viewer to objectify Asian male bodies. It questions them, asking them to extend their love of the muscular male form to Asians. It recognizes existing standards of beauty and kindly submits a request for Asians to join.

Next, like other recent movies featuring main characters with marginalized identities at the forefront, this film had the opportunity to show producers that Asianness was not an impenetrable veil; that Asianness would not prevent the average (i.e. white) viewer from relating to (i.e. recognizing mutual humanity in) the protagonists. But with the choice of actor Henry Golding to play a character of full Chinese descent, we find ourselves with an old habit of Hollywood: whitewashing.

Now, I certainly support increasing the representation of multiracial and mixed-ethnicity people on the big screen. However, this casting choice both erased the mixed-ethnicity identity of the actor and whitewashed Nick by getting a partially white actor to play him. Thus, the producers managed to whiten the features of one of the characters to whom we were supposed to relate the most. They weakened the racial experiment the film could have represented by providing a bridge across the racial gap non-Asian viewers theoretically would have had to cross to connect to the characters.

A real disappointment, unlike no other, was the scene where Goh and Rachel arrive at the Young estate and are met by two South Asian guards. No lines, no expressions, no attempt at humanization. That was the treatment received by these two of the few actors of non-East Asian descent that made it into the film— just wariness, like the fear of an animal on the preserve that might accidentally damage your car or mistake you for prey. All I can say is that a racial hierarchy manifested clearly at that moment, with East Asians and their presumably white and Asian American audience at one end and the brown figures in the scene at the other. It was like I could imagine the actors saying to the audience, “Hey, we’re not like them, we’re like you.”

On another note, I understand that compared to the extreme wealth of the Young family, Rachel’s salary as an economist was not impressive. But, she was still a game theorist at a premier research university. Given the widely recognized need to encourage more female participation in the economics profession, the largely unchallenged diminishment of Rachel’s career accomplishments and aspirations were unhelpful. It was a missed opportunity to develop this strong female character outside of the common context of romance.

Overall, the story was nice—a decent Asian American remake of the “Prince and Me”— but it sputtered as a breakthrough social moment. Of course, these are just my imperfect reflections and I know for some, especially some East Asian Americans, it was nice to see someone racially recognizable in a Hollywood production for once. However, I think it is beneficial to pair their praise with some critique, so we do not lose sight of where we really want to go while making these small progressions. We cannot settle for near-whiteness; we need full humanity.

Asian American Representation

Expos, Writing

Kathy Zhuo

 

When I watched episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, I related to the duality of being both Asian and American.

When I walked into the movie theater to watch “Crazy Rich Asians” this summer, I didn’t expect to be so emotional, alternating between crying and laughing throughout the entire movie.

When I watched “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” I felt nostalgic and craved the Yakult yogurt drinks that were a staple of my childhood.

The importance of Fresh Off the Boat, “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” extends beyond the increased representation of Asians and Asian Americans in film and television. In 2008, I was embarrassed of my dumplings and fried rice; I had wished that my parents would stop speaking Chinese and making me go to Chinese school. Now, in 2018, I crave authentic Chinese food, and I take pride in the fact that I can speak Chinese. An indirect, but arguably more important, effect of increased representation is that Asian Americans embrace their identities and take pride in it. Asian American media representation is a celebration of culture, heritage, and language rather than a mockery of it. Beyond just the Asian American community, this also promotes diversity, acceptance, and understanding across different cultures, making America the multicultural society it claims to be. It sparks dialogue about the Asian American identity and their status in America. This type of dialogue is what paves the way for change and more representation in politics and other traditionally white-dominated fields.

It wasn’t until I watched “Crazy Rich Asians” that it really hit me that historically, Asian Americans weren’t very well represented, if at all. In most Hollywood movies, Asian Americans are portrayed as a nerd, a karate kid, or highly sexualized. For the first time, I saw people who look like me and share my experiences portrayed on the big screen in a way that wasn’t negatively reinforcing Asian stereotypes. Television and film give kids and adolescents their role models, so it’s important that there are Asian characters on screen. The positive traits embodied by these characters teach Asian American kids that they too can be like the characters they see on the silver screen and aren’t limited to the restraints society seemingly imposes on them. Seeing themselves portrayed on screen, these kids gain the confidence that other kids have when they watch Spiderman. Similar to how African American kids were empowered by “Black Panther” and how young girls were empowered by “Wonder Woman,” the representation of Asian Americans empowers us and tells us that, yes, we are worth it.

Evidently, not all Asians are Singapore’s most eligible bachelor, rich, or even have a stable job. Asian Americans are a diverse group of people who have different experiences and come from different backgrounds. I want to know the story of the Vietnamese immigrant, the Indonesian adolescent trying to make it in the art industry, or the Thai hero. These stories are all worth being told, and “Crazy Rich Asians” provided the first step to making it happen.

Lingua Franca

Expos, Spotlights, Writing

Darren Jian

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.” ––Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom

“How long I should wait?”

Upon hearing my dad say those words, I suddenly felt something bubbling up deep
within me, like magma struggling to find a pressure outlet. It was a bleak, windy, January evening, and the last rays of light had just disappeared behind the looming Bay Area hills. There I was, a scrawny third grader in the locker room of the Carlmont High swimming pool. My friends and I were drying our hair after swim practice, and they looked up to stare at my dad, as if he were speaking in an alien language. A wave of feeling rushed over me: sadness, frustration, embarrassment, and above all, shame. For the first time, I felt ashamed of my dad. In front of me stood a successful businessman and a talented engineer, a handyman and a homework helper — my very own dad, struggling with the grammar of the English language. He would frequently tell me the details of his origin story, how he had to work several side jobs to ensure that he was the first in his family to attend college, how he founded his electronics manufacturing company in 1980’s China with one assembly machine he purchased for 200 yuan (about 30 U.S. dollars), and how he used that machine to generate a large profit in his company’s first year, despite having one of his designs stolen by a rival manufacturer. He could do nearly everything, from managing his own business to designing kitchen appliances, and I was dumbfounded by the fact that he couldn’t master English, something that came so easily to me.

“Dad, it’s ‘how long should I wait,’ not ‘how long I should wait,” I said, mimicking a heavy Asian accent. I turned to my friends. “My dad always makes mistakes when he speaks English. Like, instead of ‘don’t worry,’ he says ‘don’t wuh­lee.’”

My friends giggled and I felt an unexpected surge of happiness. Bringing up some of my dad’s most comical errors was almost therapeutic for me. I could feel all my frustration over his substandard English beginning to drain away as my friends and I exchanged laughs over his accent and the ridiculousness of his blunders. I raked through my brain for more examples of his awkward slip­-ups.

“And when he orders pasta at a restaurant, instead of ‘spaghetti,’ he asks for some ‘spa­tah­kee!’”

I couldn’t stop myself. I continued to list every single English mistake I had ever heard him make, all the while continuing my exaggerated impression of his accent. Once I was done, my friends were still laughing. Although my dad’s miscommunications had only just evoked a visceral reaction within me for the first time, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest, as if I had finally released a flood that had been building up for centuries. I was finally able to express the embarrassment I felt whenever others couldn’t understand my dad, the embarrassment at the fact that he couldn’t speak English as well as I could. I felt as if his accent and difficulty communicating reflected on me, making me seem less American in the eyes of others. By poking fun at his slip­ups in front of my friends, I had distinguished myself from him and cemented my status as a societal insider. My friends had thought my anecdotes were funny, and I was sure my dad would take my mild teasing in stride. After all, I thought, he was probably used to being uncomfortable in public, with English like that. I looked over at him. He stood off by the side, with an expression on his face I would only later recognize as a grimace. I thought nothing of this, and as we walked back to the car, I happily chatted about school, the things I had learned in class, and the exercises I had done during swimming practice. Only then did I realize how quiet my dad was. He walked silently alongside me, and he seemed transfixed by the glowing lights emanating from the houses in the hills above us. I didn’t understand why he was so solemn, so I assumed that he was just tired after a long day.

On the ride back home, I asked, “Are you okay?”

He responded curtly, “I am okay.”

My dad was obviously bothered by something. I was confused. I reflected back on all I had said that day, but my mind was drawing a blank as to why he might be upset. I then thought about how I had brought up his language errors in the locker room. I told myself that it couldn’t be the reason––my dad knew that his English wasn’t the best, and he definitely didn’t mind me poking a little fun at his mistakes. Besides, he was probably used to being uncomfortable in public. Curious, I pried deeper.

“Are you sure? You seem a little angry.”

My dad sighed, “Son, ask Mom to pick you up from practice next time.”

I was taken aback. I now knew that he was deeply unhappy about my actions after swim
practice, but I couldn’t understand why it affected him so much. To me, my dad’s accent and difficulty with English were very public aspects of his identity, and I thought that he would find my impression of him and the recollections of his mistakes to be funny.

“Why are you so upset?” I asked.

“Today, you make fun of me in front of your friends. I know my English is not good, but I have no time to learn. I feel bad you do not respect me.”

I thought about the frustration and shame that led to my outburst, the satisfaction I felt while gleefully imitating my dad’s accent and revealing all of his conversational slip-­ups. I suddenly became very interested in the seat in front of me. As I moved my hand across the cold, hard, unforgiving surface of the seatback, I began thinking about how he interpreted my teasing as public humiliation, how he felt disrespected and unappreciated as a father. I hung onto my dad’s words––the fact that he struggled with English not out of a lack of skill, but because he was too preoccupied with work to learn the language. What I didn’t realize was that for him, English was at the complete bottom of the priority list. It was so far at the bottom that he was willing to put up with the social setbacks of struggling with English and even face scorn from his own son in order to focus on supporting his family. Compared to his sacrifices, my worries about fitting into American society seemed to be unimaginably shallow and of microscopic importance. I was so blinded by this need to be accepted by others that I came to associate my dad’s entire existence with his inability to master a language, instead of with his ability to love, support, and provide for me.

Today, I have come to view my dad’s mediocre English not as an embarrassment or a source of frustration, but rather as a mark of all that he has given up to guarantee a better future for me. In fact, even as I write this paragraph, he is in China conducting business in Mandarin and Cantonese. I know that as he works to ensure my well-being, the idea of learning to speak English without an accent is not even a thought in his mind.