Thursday, June 14, 2012

On Being Asian

So here's the thing. I'm Asian. To be specific, I'm Chinese/Japanese/German/Hawaiian/Dutch/Scotch. I grew up in Hawaii, where 90% of all the people around me were either Asian, Hawaiian, or Samoan. So it was a shock to a system when I moved to a small town in Kentucky and faced racial stereotypes for the first time. 

I had spitballs thrown in my hair. The school librarian asked me how the voting system worked "in my country." I saw a refrigerator saleswoman from Sears all but drape herself over my stepfather, gushing that he must have worked in Hawaii as a missionary, bringing the word of God to those "savage people."

Was it a coincidence that I discovered feminism around this time? I was isolated, bored, and bewildered. My brother and I went from seeing our father twice a week to twice a year. My stepfather was abusive, both verbally (to everyone) and physically (to my mother). I used to spend nights locked in my walk-in closet, praying that the screams I heard didn't mean my mother was dying. Once I witnessed him trying to strangle her to death. It still bothers me that I didn't call the police. Afterwards, her speech was jumbled for a week, and my stepbrothers laughed at her.

Later, we went to the police together, my mother and I. We filed police reports, a restraining order. I helped her get a divorce, to escape. My brother and I rallied around her. We survived.

But before that, I read riot grrl zines, listened to Bikini Kill and Hole. I realized that the world was a cruel, vicious place. I didn't think any man could be trusted. I learned to sleep with a knife under my pillow.

And then I found out about the Asian fetish. This is where guys (typically white men) date Asian women exclusively. They date Asian women because of their Asian-ness. Because of their long black hair, almond eyes, sleek bodies. They assume Asian women are submissive to their men. Except in bed, of course, because that's where Asian women are ANIMALS! 

For years, I fought against this stereotype. All Asian stereotypes, really. No, I'm not good at Math. No, I don't speak any other language except English. My parents aren't immigrants. I can't go back to wherever I came from, because where I'm from is America, goddamnit. And no, I'm not sexy. I'm not remotely sexy. So leave me alone.

I was so concerned about becoming an Asian stereotype that I loped off parts of myself. I didn't wear anything that might be construed as sexy. I didn't smile at strange men. Ever. I tried to disappear into the stratosphere. I almost succeeded.

Now I tell myself: Okay, so you're a woman. And an Asian. And yeah, on the right day you're even kind of sexy. But that isn't all you are. And it doesn't mean you're playing into any Asian fetish stereotypes. So just relax. 

And finally, finally -- I'm allowing myself to be me. 

A few interesting articles I found about the Asian fetish:

1) What is Exotic Beauty? Part II: The Case of the Asian Fetish by Goal Auzeen Saedi.
2) Yellow Fellow: Dating as An Asian Woman by Lauren sMash

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