Asian Expressions Of Inadequacy:
middle school, I learned that the Philippines, the country of my
parents, was once a colony of the United States. I was immediately
excited. I didn’t know then that colonialism meant a violent
indoctrination that leaves an indelible mark on the culture. I just knew
that it meant we were at one point part of America, and that meant I
deserved to be considered normal.
It’s kind of
an embarrassing, childish memory, and one that I was reminded of last
week when Jenny An wrote a post for xoJane titled, “I’m an Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date an Asian Man.”
In short, she refuses to date Asian men even if they matched up to her
physical and personal tastes, because of a need to attain “true
Americanism.” Because even the most ideal Asian male doesn’t outwardly
afford her the escape from the minority status she despises. As you
might expect, the article spread quickly. It blew up my Facebook stream
and the comments section topped out with over 1000 comments.
I read through the thing in the early
morning and by the time I was done I was thoroughly depressed. Not just
from the article and reasoning, but from the whole scope of reactions,
in particular, some of the ones by my fellow Asian males. For most, the
immediate impulse was to respond with disgust or rage. The way some of
them chose to express that merely revealed the heart of what we’re
dealing with here: a toxic epidemic of inadequacy, and the poisonous
ways we deal with it.
I’m not interested in a point-by-point
takedown of Jenny An’s wrongheaded article, as that’s likely already
been done a few times over. It can be near impossible and ethically
suspect to talk someone into changing their dating preferences. Still,
it’s important to look at the conditions that cultivate these views over
and over. It’s not a rare idea. While they may not all reason in terms
so brutal and blunt as An, I have always known a few Asian women who at
least went through a phase where they swore off Asian men. The xoJane
article was, then, a validation of every selfish, unfair suspicion that a
typical Asian male may keep bottled up. It appealed to the worst in us,
and some of us let it run free.
don’t match up to most Asian male’s standards anyway,” went some
vitriolic comments. “White guys can have you, we don’t even want you.”
The word “bitch” was employed a few times. This was classic casual
misogyny utilized as a reflexive defense mechanism that crosses all
cultures. It betrays a vulnerability because it’s meant to help us
reassert our sense of ownership by inflicting harm with words. After
all, if you don’t want us, well, we never wanted you anyway.
middle school memory: I once called a girl who was making fun of me a
slut. I didn’t know anything about her. I just wanted to be mean, and I
knew that word would do harm. It makes me cringe when I think about it
today, moreso than anything else from that time.
American males, emasculation is something we’re constantly trying to
overcome. We know that our depictions in the media are often not very
masculine and certainly not sexual. We see that Asian/non-Asian
couplings are obviously skewed more toward Asian females, leaving us in a ghettoized dating pool.
We know that whiteness is privileged with an individuality and
neutrality, while we have to disprove our stereotypes. We know all of
these things, but we don’t know what to do with them.
These types of Asian Americans have
created a duality of self-loathing and resentment. It’s too easy to tell
everyone to simply get over it, as if entire cultural institutions
could be shaken off like spider-webs. On some level, we must know that
this is just the need to sit at the cool kid’s table writ large. Yet
knowing, feeling and acting are very separate and distant steps in the
process of self-betterment. Even when we do change, the world doesn’t.
We don’t all possess the privilege to change the game with a change of
In High School, few of my friends were
Asian, and I took a pride in that, as if I was more enlightened than the
others who happened to befriend people of the same Census-approved
racial umbrella. In College, I joined a Filipino club because I needed a
community. Today, I can’t stand clothing that bears the flag, but I
care deeply about issues that affect the community. I defy the
stereotypes by listening to country music, but adhere to them by rooting
for every Filipino on reality TV. I think, sometimes, that this is the
way it ought to be: a bundle of contradictions, because that’s what
people look like — multitudes. But that’s not something you can show
outwardly. I don’t know how to make strangers stop asking me if I speak
English. And I don’t know how to stop caring about that.
I only speak English. My parents never
taught me to speak any of the languages of the Philippine archipelago,
which is a common among 2nd generation Filipino Americans. What’s less
common is that I can’t even understand it when it’s spoken to me. It’s a
mess to my ears. This was all in the name of assimilation, to give me a
better chance of attaining Ms. An’s idea of “true Americanism.” Years
later in college, while researching the Philippine-American war, I came
across United States Senate Document 331 from Session 57. In it, a
Senator Carmack ponders strategy in which to best subordinate and
civilize the natives. He asks, “Would it be best to uneducate them in
their language and impose upon them another one?” Colonialism can end
physically, but its mental and cultural forms are an irreversible part
of our wiring.
It’s not a clean one-to-one ratio cause
and effect. The mindset of inferiority comes from the ripples of any
number of events in our history, both personal and ethnic. Until the
popular culture at large evolves, there will always be young girls that
are ashamed to be seen in the arms of a guy that looks like her, and
there will always be young boys that hate her with an unrepentant ire.
This is not a resignation to the way things are. This is the culture we
have to live in, but it’s also the thing we have to learn from.