that's not me
by kevin chung
When Peter Griffin got in a feud with Mr. Washee Washee, the owner of Super Cowboy USA Hot Dog Rocket Ship American Cleaners Number One in an episode of Family Guy, I couldn’t help but sigh. Once again, the stereotypical accent was there. Once again, the absurd names were there. Once again, the hostile foreigner typecast was there.
Watching this made me reflect on a dialogue session last semester about the poor media representation of minority groups. From this session, I became frustrated about how I do not see myself on TV, in movies, in magazines, or in most media forms.
I first want to say that I acknowledge the harmful and dangerous media portrayal of other minority groups, and I do not mean to deduct any attention or significance from their perspective. My goal is not to claim who has it worse, or that other representations are no longer relevant. This isn’t to discount the skewed media representation of Asian-American women and other women of color, or how heteronormative our media representation can be. This is my frustration, identifying as a Chinese American man, with the media industry.
We exist — I exist, but not in the typecasted manner found on TV or in movies. I am not a token socially awkward nerd. I am not the austere owner of a Chinese restaurant, nail salon, or dry cleaners. I’m not a wise kung-fu master who will teach you how to channel your inner xi. I’m not a fetishized exotic flamboyant Asian. That’s not who I am. I am more than that; we are more than that.
I’m tired of being the quiet side character. I want to see that I can be the lead character, and not just a neighbor or side story. I want to see that I can model the latest fall fashions alongside my white peers. I want to see a show that isn’t solely centered around my ethnic identity. I want to see a show that doesn’t cast a Korean person as a Chinese character, or pretend to speak Japanese when it’s really Vietnamese. I want to see a show that doesn’t cast the Chinese character as the know-it-all brainiac who makes others feel incompetent.
And I’m tired of being desexualized and emasculated by the media. I want to be more than narrow lines for eyes and a bucktooth for a smile. I want people to see my sexy features unskewed; my taste in fashion, the curves of my lips, the crescent of my eyes, and my killer smile. I want to see that I’m capable of developing a relationship without mockery that my partner could do better. I want to see that I’m desirable, and not in a fetishized way. I want to see that my beauty is not limited to the only other Asian character on the cast.
I do want to acknowledge that there are some better Asian-American representations in the media. For example, ABC is airing a new series called “Fresh Off The Boat” based on Eddie Huang’s experiences of being an ethnic minority in a predominantly white setting.
But let’s not stop there. I refuse to passively accept the harmful ways I’m portrayed. I refuse to idly let these racist media typecasts represent me; to propagate a false image of the Chinese-American identity. This destructive narrative needs to change.
No more typecasting. No more exotification. No more desexualization. I have a voice. I am plural. I am a stunning, sexy Chinese-American man finding my way in a white patriarchal society who is significant enough to have my own narrative and can take the spotlight.
Let’s see that on TV.
This piece was initially published in Michigan in Color, the Michigan Daily's opinion section designated as a space for and by students of Color at the University of Michigan. To find out more about MiC, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I am Kevin Chung: a Chinese-American man reclaiming my narrative and embracing my plurality.