What I noticed while reading the comics in our primary text, Shattered, was that the discourse of who is considered as being Asian is distorted. The discourse of what it means to be Asian leaves room for people to feel excluded and degraded when they do not fit into what people conceive to be Asian.
The discourse associated with who is classified as Asians has caused some people who identify as Asians to be left out when it comes to Asian Americans. We tend to assume that the common ground between Asian people is that they all have similar features. This is probably because there are two ways of understanding the Asian discourse including physical appearance and regional origin. During class some students pointed out that through the comics that we read one constant theme was that Asians Americans are just like every other American. They explained this by saying things about how we could easily identify with the themes of the comics even if there were some cultural aspects that were specific to people of Asian ethnicities. Some people even said that the only way you could tell that the characters were supposed to be Asian was because they looked Asian. We fail to realize that people who are considered as Asian do not bear that title because of how they look but because they are from the continent of Asia. This is why one of my classmates who identifies as being Asian felt that he did not identify with the characters portrayed in the comics from our primary text. To put it plainly, he did not see Asians like himself in the comics.
For the most part the Asian ethnicities that were referred to in Shattered were Chinese, Japanese or Korean. There were South Asian characters either seen or mentioned in some comics like Uma Padwarthan in The Death Stalker (p.82), Rav in Hide and Sikh (p.83), Zuhair Malik in Peril: Welcome to the Terror (p.121) and the characters in Weightless (p.139). Also there are comics that tend to disregard the fact that South Asians and other people are also considered Asian because they only account for Asians having certain features. In the comic Mei the Alien, we can clearly see that the author, Koji Steven Sakai, is purposely stereotyping Asians. This comic tells the story of Mei and how her parents told her that all Asians are aliens. She then mentions the attributes that she uses to confirm the reason why all Asians are aliens. This includes being short, having almond-shaped eyes, and being unnaturally good at math and science. We should note that in the comic the word all is italicized to emphasis that when they say all they literally mean all Asians. It points out that this is a stereotype rather than a factual statement about Asian people.
Being short and having almond-shaped eyes are part of a discourse that has created a kind of cookie cutter Asian in the eyes of many people. This stereotype of what an Asian is suggests that only people who come from China, Japan, Korea and the Southeast Asian countries are Asian. Prior to my high school years I was one of those people who believed this stereotype because people were often characterized as having a certain race based on their appearance. Back then I did not realize that Asian people also came from the Russian Federation, the Middle East, India and Pakistan. The majority of people from these areas do not have the typical Asian physical features of being short and having almond-shaped eyes, which would rule them out of being considered Asian. What many people fail to realize is that the Asian discourse is not based on physical features but on regional origin. They also attach the characteristic of high intelligence to the Asian discourse.
Classifying Asians as being unnaturally good at math and science at first glance is a positive stereotype but it can easily become negative. When an Asian student has high intelligence in math or science and is able to receive As they are praised, which is a positive thing. On the other hand if there is an Asian student who is not as skilled and receives Cs in these subjects people say things like “you’re a bad Asian”. They feel pressured to be the best and when they are not they are put into an Asian subgroup; the bad Asian. People are different and they do not have to fit into specific constructs in order to qualify as being part of a group of people. Asians have a range of features and range of intelligence just like all the other races of the world. The discourse we have stamped as Asian is exclusive and degrading for many people and it is society’s job to eliminate the stereotypes associated with it and other discourses.
Yang, J., Shen, P., Chow, K., & Ma, J. (2012). Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology . New York : New Press.
Mei the Alien image: http://kojistevensakai.com/photo-gallery/