Asian American Love: Crumpled and Discarded

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Romantic love is a huge and important part of the human experience. It drives people to make some of the biggest decisions in their lives, and has inspired a plethora of stories told through a diverse set of media, from movies to books. However, while increased attention is given to couples of color and interracial relationships, Asian American love, or “simply Asian Americans who fall in love with each other” as famous Asian American jazz musician and activist Fred Ho defined it, is often ignored. The lack of Asian American love portrayed in mainstream media can be perceived as a continuation of the emasculation of Asian-American men. Fred Ho, for example, in his text “Where is the Asian American Love”, compares the lack of Asian American love in mainstream media to the plight of Asian American bachelors in decades past, where “men outnumbered women twenty to one” (Ho, 242) in Chinese communities along the West Coast, even comparing all of it to a genocide!

In addition, Asian Americans have often been forced into this strange position where they are not only underrepresented in the arts and media, but also portrayed in very stereotypical and limited manners when they do have the chance to shine on stage. With a white gaze constantly staring at Asian American performers, complete with stereotypes that either fetishize or emasculate, it’s often easy for many Asian American artists to turn to hiding their identities or assimilating into American culture. One notable example of this can be found in the dance group known as Jabbawockeez. The group is known for wearing white masks on stage. Their choice of white masks is intentional and racially connoted, as the dance crew believes that in order to “remove all ethnic and social barriers” (Yang, 25) when they perform, they need to mask up. This is a striking indictment of the entertainment industry’s treatment of Asian American performers, as one of the most famous dance groups feels the need to cover themselves up in order to prevent the white gaze towards their racial identity from affecting their careers and reputations, particularly the emasculation of Asian American males in greater society. However, this brings up new questions as to what these kinds of decisions really mean for Asian Americans and how they are seen by the entertainment industry. It begs the question as to whether the removal of these barriers (through the use of masks in the case of Jabbawockeez) achieve a state of race-blindness where people can truly appreciate the work of these entertainers without putting their race and associated stereotypes into account, or if this only enables Asian Americans to appropriate black culture, specifically hip hop, without any sort of accountability (now that the masks hide them from white scrutiny). This question then further dives into the age old question of where Asian-Americans, particularly in the entertainment business, fit within the black-white binary of racial politics in the US.

However, despite the prevalence of Asian American stereotypes and lack of Asian American representation in media, there exist genuine expressions of the Asian American experience, which includes love that is unadulterated by embarrassing and racist stereotypes of Asian Americans. Fred Ho notes in “Where is the Asian American Love” that “contrary to expectations, the early Asian American immigrant cultural expression was sensual, affectionate, passionate, militant, tender, sarcastic; the breadth and range of human emotional expression through the experiences and struggles of Asian American life” (Ho, 243), also quoting from Japanese and Chinese American love poems from the era. Furthermore, another example can be found in the movie “The Crumples”. The movie centers around an Asian American indie artist by the name of Elisa and her failed efforts to create a successful indie band with her Latina musician friend Darla. However, what’s interesting here is how love is portrayed. Throughout the film, Elisa and Darla mention Elisa’s ex-boyfriend, who is mentioned as a bad boyfriend. However, when Elisa and her boyfriend get back together, he is revealed to be an Asian American man dressed as a typical “bad boy” with the leather jacket and cigarette, shattering the stereotype of the Asian American man as a weak emasculated asexual being. This film manages to capture true expressions of Asian American life, including the volatile mixture of emotions associated with being a human and asking the important and often overlooked question of what it truly means to be an Asian American with feelings and romantic interests.

 

Sources:
Mina Yang, Yellow Skin, White Masks, http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/DAED_a_00232

Fred Ho, Where is the Asian American Love? http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsx8p

Jabbawockeez Official YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/user/thewockeez

 

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