The Category “Asian”

     In the general day, people will say that they are in the mood for “Asian” food or might critique a room for having a weird “Asian” flair or something of the sort. In general, it’s an odd thing to say that something is categorized as “Asian”.  It’s a little insulting that everything Asian is supposed to be encompassed under that one category, even though Asians are all different types and cultures and styles differ per country.  For Europeans, it’s more common to specify country styles, like that of the French and Italians.  In general, Asians are more seen as “forever foreigners” and constant visitors, as if we really are not part of this land, but act as a categorization tool. Why is there such a disconnect for Asian Americans in comparison to European Americans? In this short post, I will be exploring that disconnect and the images and stereotypes built from those.

     The disconnect of Asian Americans is quite evident in US history.  Even now, Asian Americans are commonly asked “where are you from?”, but alluding to the idea that they are immigrants and unrooted in the land. It’s quite uncommon to look at a caucasian and ask “where they are from” outside of the country unless they have distinct accents. This disconnect can also be seen in Japanese internment times.  Even though they were aligned with America as their homeland, the fact that they were placed in these camps shows that the country in which they called home rejected them.  The images shown in Phu’s scholarly work observes the ideas that images perceived. The good pictures used to show that internment was right to do gave the idea that the Japanese internees were given a opportunity to cultivate themselves within these camps. But, that alludes to the idea that Japanese Americans were unable to be part of the land prior to this camp.  Other images gave the idea that internees were in bad state, and that there was no future for them. Regardless of the angle or image being shown, both showed that Asian Americans were disconnected from the rest of the citizens.  Either Asian internees were seen to be given a positive light, or being given  the opportunity to find themselves in the land, or in a negative view completely showing that the internees had no good future with the land.  The further disconnect was with the fact that Asian Americans were the subjects of the photos, but were unable to actually create the message of their actions themselves. The ideas were all based on whatever the audience saw, which was primarily caucasian Americans of the time.  That left the ideas of Asian Americans (Japanese internees specifically) in the hands of whatever that audience to perceive, meaning that these Asian Americans were unable to define themselves and correct the ideas of what people saw of them.

     The years after the Japanese internment period, there were connections to the model minority that was seen, and in popular culture, many stereotypes of these Asian Americans were widely shown in various forms of entertainment.  Although some of these were good stereotypes, i.e. the smart ones and hardworking ones, those were also used in bad light and the stereotype furthered the idea of the disconnect with the rest of the nation’s population. In Shattered, one of the comics featured this idea of the disconnect by showing and describing Asian Americans as aliens.  These comics were written by Asian Americans themselves, so they were able to show their own views of Asian Americans more realistically or satirically than the stereotypes.  Other comics feature Asian Americans in unlikely roles of stories, especially as the main heroes.  In entertainment today, it’s seldom that there is an Asian American as a main hero, but more likely the side character or form of comedic relief.  In these comics, they are seen as like anyone in the country, as if there was no real difference between them and the main standing characters in many forms of popular culture today.  Asian American comic creators were able to write their own stories and own descriptions to depict whatever message that they wanted.  Unlike the pictures of the Japanese internees, the audience perceived specifically what the comic writers wanted based on the comics, and by having it be Asian American written gave a new power to them.  However, the fact that this was created shows a disconnect of Asian Americans from the rest of the citizens. The authors themselves understood that they were their own category.

     By scrutinizing the photos of Japanese internees and the comics, we focused on the idea of the disconnect of Asian Americans and the rest of the citizens of the country.  That disconnect itself is what drives the perpetuation of keeping anything and everything “Asian” under the “Asian” category.  In modern times, Asian Americans have been given more and more power in order to break the image of Asians in America to make it seem that we are part of the country, part of the population.  At least we’ve moved away from the rejection of our country through civil rights movements, but we aren’t there yet. As of right now, we Asians keep ourselves categorized because we were unable to create our own images in the past. Now with the power of arts and entertainment, we will hopefully bridge the disconnect and be more than just a category, but be part of the image of the American population.
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