Let’s begin by taking a look at the story within Personal Monsters. To explain this visually, the comic opens up with a young girl who was born with a Chinese lion next to her all the time. As the girl grows and attends school, the lion constantly makes it hard for her to socialize and become friends with her peers. Others would either be too scared of it or make fun of her for having it right next to her side. As time goes on, the girl grows used to the lion’s constant companionship and the loneliness she feels from being isolated from her peers. One day, while out by the fountain, she meets a dragon that starts fighting with her lion. In the end, she meets the dragon’s owner which is another girl her age, and they sit together and share stories about their experiences.
If we look at only the surface of the comic, we see a cute story unfolding about growing and making friends, however it reveals much more than that. Although there is no text provided on the comic and everything is left up to the audience’s own interpretation, it really does provide further insight into the term “Asian American” and the idea of “universal”. Through a more in-depth interpretation of the Personal Monsters graphic, it is possible to put Asian Americans in the category of “universal” rather than “alien” and thus be able to view them as individuals rather than cookie cutter figures.
By focusing on specific characters in the graphic, we can see that the lion is what defines the girl as Asian. The lion symbolizes her Asian culture and heritage, and thus reinforces her role as “the alien” in the story. This difference is what causes others to isolate her and set her off as the outcast. Although she resents the difference that it makes her feel, she still feels comfortable with it since it’s the only thing that’s been by her side this whole time. Her culture is the only thing that has not given up on her, and that has not left her despite all of the other people teasing her and making her feel different.
This situation is similar to one girl’s situation in the YouTube video titled “Identity: Being Asian American.” The girl also describes her struggles growing up as Asian American in which her classmates recognized her differences, whether it be knock-off Asian shirts or smelly food, and isolated her based on those differences. However, her Asian upbringing has instilled in her values that have molded her into becoming her own person. Just like the lion in the Personal Monsters comic, her culture has allowed her to recognize that she has her own story and that these preconceived notions that others have of her are not true. This view is important because it allows not just her, but others to view Asian Americans as not just clear-cut box-like figures that you can explain with one line of text. They are just like everyone else: complicated and subject to multiple interpretations.
These views do not apply only to Asian Americans, as the girl with the dragon at the end of the comic was not Asian. This reinforces the idea that the term Asian American can exist in the universal category, and that these two terms are not mutually exclusive. The experiences shared by Asian Americans can be universal and can be understood by others as well. Just because a discourse of universality is that the center or majority of people can relate to it doesn’t mean that a certain race/ethnicity cannot contribute to these experiences as well. By taking the focus away from the girl’s race at the end, the artist is showing that the main character is not the only one who experiences difference, and that Asian heritage/culture is not what sets apart Asian Americans from others. The thing that causes isolation is the stigma that anything that deviates from the norm is bad. It is this that causes people to shy away from anything they think they cannot relate to. By putting this on a bigger scale, the artist shifts the perspective from one that focuses on difference because of race to one that shows difference because of other factors. Through an understanding that universality is inclusive of all, we can recognize the overall message of the graphic, that there is a personal monster living within each and every one of us, and that no matter your race, gender, social status, we are all the same.