Asian Americans in the mix…

I’m still sort of recovering from NY Comic Con.   It’s given me a tremendous amount to think through, which is great.   After the fun of the Black Panther panel, I wanted to share thoughts about the other amazing panel that I attended at the Con.

The panel was about Asian Americans and comics.   The panel’s formal title was Asian Americans and Super Heroes: Secret Identities.   It was organized around Secret Identities a forthcoming Asian American graphic novel anthology edited by Jeff Yang.   But really, promoting the book (preview here) was just an excuse for a bunch of Asian people to talk about race and culture.

It is so easy to fall into dichotomous considerations of race in America, and this panel really drove home the point that there is more to race (*sigh* fine, race and ethnicity) than just Black and white.

Listening in on the conversation made me appreciate how mainstream Black culture has become.   It also made me feel sort of clueless.   Think about it: the Scream movies had a running joke about the fact that Black characters are always to first to die in horror movies.   As a result, a plurality of people are aware of this trope and will look for it.   But when someone on the panel pointed out that all the popular leading Asian men in Hollywood got their start in Hong Kong, I was like “really?”   But recognize: Chow Yun Fat, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, none of them are from around here.   Daniel Dae Kim, the Korean-American actor who plays Jin on Lost might be the Asian leading man exception to this rule, except that he has to play a Korean on the show.   He must stand-in for his ethnicity. And lord knows women lust after him, so why hasn’t someone cast him in a romantic comedy opposite  Drew Barrymore?   Oh, right.

And can someone get John Cho a sitcom? Anyone?

Jeff Yang asserted that one of the goals of Secret Identities is to expose the diversity of Asian American culture.   I’d be curious to hear what he thinks about Gran Torino, which focuses on Hmong immigrants.   Anyway, this lack is powerfully felt.   Its possible to become acquainted with Black culture passively, but where are the uniquely American narratives of Korean-Americans? Of Japanese-Americans? Of Chinese-Americans?   I’d venture to say that American media consumers know more about Chinese culture than Chinese-American culture.   And, as the panel evidenced,  its not that there aren’t talented people who want to tell these stories.

This brings me to an uncomfortable observation, something I certainly wasn’t going to bring up during the panel.   The most popular Asian-American voices in graphic novels (as opposed to comics where Jim Lee runs things)   are Gene Luen Yang and Adrian Tomine.    Yang currently has a serial running in the New York Times magazine and Tomine work is omni-present in the New Yorker and elsewhere.   But their best known texts, Yang’s American Born Chinese and Tomine Shortcomings are both about self-hating Asian men who desire to be more mainstream.   What does this say about the kinds of stories Asian American creators are allowed to tell?

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6 responses to “Asian Americans in the mix…

  1. yourdreamsfirst

    What you’re pointing out is so interesting. I’m an Af-Am male who grew up in SF. I went to Junior High and High School in Chinatown and was THE minority in a class full of Asians (they do NOT all look alike). I was exposed to an extremely diverse Asian-Born AND Asian-American population and culture. The school administration did their best to nurture Asian culture, yet we still celebrated Black History Month in the midst of Chinese New Year.

  2. See now, that’s a television show right there!

  3. ^”And lord knows women lust after him, so why hasn’t someone cast him in a romantic comedy opposite Drew Barrymore?”

    Did anyone address the fact the the media tends to emasculate the Asian man? For real, Asian men are straight up sexless in Hollywood.

  4. Yeah, it is something they are painfully aware of. Its just that there doesn’t seem to be a percentage in correcting that stereotype. I think it will take a generation of Asian American filmmakers and other creatives to deal with that issue

  5. Dude,

    You need to listen to Commentary! The Musical!, the commentary in musical form to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. Maurissa Tancharoen, who is a lyricist for the musical and a singer in it, has this awesome song in Commentary! called “No One’s Asian in the Movies.”

    The lyrics (caps original to the page from which I swiped it):
    NOBODY’S ASIAN IN THE MOVIES
    NOBODY’S ASIAN ON TV
    IF THERE IS A PART THERE FOR US
    IT’S A NINJA, A PHYSICIAN
    OR A GOOFY MATHEMATICIAN
    OR A GROUPIE IN THE CHORUS
    THAT’S ME

    WHO DO THEY WANT BEFORE THEY WANT AN ASIAN?
    A MEXICAN
    WHO DO THEY WANT BEFORE THEY WANT AN ASIAN?
    A BLACK
    WHO DO THEY WANT BEFORE THEY WANT AN ASIAN?
    A PERSIAN, OR A CAJUN, OR AN INDIAN
    OR AN AMERICAN-INDIAN PLAYED BY A MEXICAN
    OR IF YOU’RE LUCKY SOMEONE ASIAN
    LIKE ME

    Just bringin’ the Whedon because, you know, it’s topical.

  6. Thanks for the great analysis about our panel. We even gave you some link love at our blog: http://secretidentitiesbook.blogspot.com/2009/02/link-round-up.html

    Anyway, I really wish you asked the question you posited at the end of your post. I also wished we had more time to take audience questions.

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