Where is visual culture not HAPAning?

Although Asian American identities are subjectless discourses with infinite definitions, few totalities resonate between scholars. For one, it could mean somebody of Asian ancestry born and living in America or somebody born in Asia who is now living in America. Beyond genealogy and formal citizenship, discourses like the yellow peril, dragon lady, or model minority loosely define Asian Americans. This can be seen in Shattered as the first three chapters reimagine archetypes associated with Asians in visual culture: “The Brute,” “The Temptress,” and “The Brains.” Unfortunately, hapas—multiracial people with some Asian or Pacific Islander heritage—might not identify with any of these archetypes; instead of “hapa,” I will now refer to multiracial Asians as “MA” (the title pun was too good to give up). MA are Asian Americans too and deserve to have their stories illustrated in comics like all other Asian Americans, but they have little agency in visual culture because there are few visual aspects to instill discourses and show how to address them from their perspectives.

regrets          SHATTERpage

Shattered demonstrated that Asian Americans can play big roles in comics by establishing stereotypes or simply living typical lives. In “The Regrets We Talk About,” Fred was rejected by Emily and reminisced over other regrets of his life. Him being Asian—which was only revealed through his black hair-glasses combo and burning incense in the grandmother’s funeral scene—did not contribute to the story. All people, including Asian Americans, experience rejection and regrets. It is something typical. This contrasts with “Camden’s Revenge” where being Asian contributed to the story. This comic stereotyped Asians as being smart (“No one’s better at organic chemistry than you are…We could make them fat…”) and looking nerdy in glasses or shirts saying, “math is easy.” Beating the bullies through embracing such nerdiness was a message in overcoming the model minority myth, which is a discourse for “The Brains” archetype, the chapter of this comic. If Camden and Mark were not Asian, then the story would lose a layer of meaning, subverting to a typical bullying case. Though bullying is also something typical, they were bullied because they were smart and nerdy…because they were Asian.

While MA would easily replace full Asian characters in stories where being Asian does not contribute to the plot, it is far more difficult in stories where being Asian does contribute. First, in the comics medium, how could you draw a MA? Audiences know Asians by the black-hair-glasses combo and maybe even squinty eyes, but artists cannot draw partially squinty eyes for MA. Second, context clues like drawing parents can allow audiences to guess that a character is a MA, but cultural identity is not determined by genotypes. For example, I have two half Asian friends and one identifies with his Filipino side while the other identifies with her Irish side. Distinguishing my two friends in the comics medium presents a great challenge because without a visual way to represent people of partial Asian heritage or cultural involvement, MA are less likely to play characters where being any amount of Asian and embracing given stereotypes are important. This challenge wrongfully restricts MA from being victims of these stereotypes and also wrongfully restricts MA from helping define Asian American identities.

occupy

Some artists achieve little agency for MA in comics by representing commonalities through animated objects or animals rather than people’s physical characteristics. In “Occupy Ethnic Foods,” items in the “ethnic food” aisle of a grocery store conversed about their “right to integrate” and how they “should be arranged by the contents of [their] cans—not the language on [their] labels.” This comic commented negatively on ramen’s assimilation, believing that as Asians, they should stick proudly to their Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Taiwanese roots. In the end, it was revealed that Ah-so was created in New Jersey, complicating his identity. MA can relate to this story with the conflict of whether to identify with the American genotype or Asian culture. Nonetheless, this comic only demonstrated agency for MA with East Asian and white heritages though and no other MA. MA are diverse themselves, being mixed with different “Asians” and different “others.” The 2000 census reports that a majority of MA have white heritage, and I’m sure their experiences are different than those with black or latino heritages. While I wish comics could represent all MA better (from the wasians to the blasians and more), it might take another anthology to visually capture all their stories and permanently record them in time and art with other Asian Americans. This is a stepping-stone in defining Asian American identities, reinforcing that we are a subjectless discourse, which can be a blended continuum of multiple races (half Korean-half Mexican; Indonesian with a quarter Russian; half Chinese-half Indian but culturally, full Indian while living in America) in addition to the more discrete units of “only Chinese” or “only Japanese,” etc.

Interesting links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-vicki-flippin/what-are-you-reflections-on-asian-american-and-hapa-identity_b_3351770.html

References

  1. Yang, Jeff. Shen, Parry. Chow, Keith. Ma, Jerry. Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology. New York: The New Press, 2012. Print.
  2. Maeda, Daryl. “Performing Radical Culture: A Grain of Sand and the Language of Liberty.” Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America. Minnesota, 2009. Web.
  3. Chiu, Monica. “Drawing New Color Lines: Transnational Asian American Graphic Narratives.” Hong Kong, 2015. Web.
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