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Depiction of Asian Americans in the media

This post will be fairly brief because this topic has been discussed a lot. All you have to do is seek out all the sources that already exist!

I remember when I was in elementary school, I went with a group of Asian friends to a parade on the South Side because we were paid to be next to a float and walk alongside it in promotion of a city project (it was the repair of the Dan Ryan Expressway). It was arguably one of the most awkward and most terrifying experience of my life. It was pretty obvious that we were the only *different* ethnicity there. But that wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t been for the kids around us insisting that we act like Bruce Lee and that we fight them with karate or something. When you’re surrounded by kids that seem to want to fight you, you tend remember it. We tried to walk away and forget it.

Of course, feeling terror is not interesting in and of itself. There are many times when people are afraid, and there have been many people who have had much worse experiences that I did.

The incident had me thinking a lot about why people form the conception of others in the way they do, and whether it’s the media or something else.


(Martial arts is really cool. Fighting and all. But there’s a philosophy of discipline and hard work behind it.)

The funny thing is that I rather like Bruce Lee. He brought the martial art of an entire country to America and the world, and popularized respect for it. More importantly, he was as American and human as any of us. He went to college here and studied drama and philosophy. He married an American and was actually an American citizen. His movies, though very imperfect, showed many ethical and philosophical sides to martial arts and human existence in the characters that he played. Bruce Lee himself was a physical trainer, a filmmaker, an artist, and a poet. He was also, somewhat in an irrelevant way, an atheist.

The question is how did all of this richness and depth get all lost and reduced to the image of merely fighting multiple people on the street?

This is not to defend the media or anything like that. Even Bruce Lee left Hollywood in the 1970’s because he felt he had a lack of opportunity there due to discrimination.

As articles like this suggest, there is still a lot more to be done in the media to change the status quo, even though not all stereotypes are media driven.

From New York Knicks basketball star Jeremy Lin to Priscilla Chan, wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the mainstream media usually portray Asian-Americans as wealthy, well-educated and foreign. The dominant cultural narrative routinely ignores working and middle class Asian-Americans, people of various nationalities who struggle with the same socioeconomic conditions as do other Americans.

Despite shortcomings, mainstream media are rarely criticized for the way they depict Asian-Americans, even though the lack of depth in the coverage is stunning.

Yes, the media sucks. But we have to do our part in not selectively remembering what’s actually depicted either. Sometimes there’s more richness and depth in people, if not in the media, than you realize. Doing otherwise is just confirmation bias acting on our stereotypes.

And by the way, Happy Asian-Pacific Heritage Month!