Asian Girl Problem #138: Never Been A ScarJo Fan

A lot is going on in the world. Prince died and everyone wants to tell their personal story of how the legend influenced their lives. As usual, I’m silent on social media (mostly because I’m over most platforms) and have no childhood memory of the musician. My parents played communist music from a cassette until I was old enough to commandeer the radio, and I stumbled across pop culture making arbitrary connections with whatever resonated.

As with Bowie, Prince appeared on my radar well into my 20s, through a combination of oldies radio, karaoke and movie soundtracks. Both seemed like artists in the purest definition—visionaries who made their fresh perspectives accessible to the masses through constant output of impeccably-honed skills and substance. It’s nice to see people sharing and reminiscing, even though I’m yet again a bystander. But honestly it’d be cool if no more famous people died for a while—it’s making me realize that 30 is just around the corner.

28 is supposed to be a big year of change for me. Yep, I decided that when I was 21 and in graduate school, because 28 was the average age of my classmates, and they were miles ahead of me in terms of accomplishments and maturity. The guy I had a crush on was also 28, and he would assure me that my anxieties would chill the fuck out once I got to my late 20s. So I’ve essentially been seeing the past several years as the last gasp of my youth and forgiving myself for all blunders and neuroses because there would be an end date to it all.

This sounds like the part where I debunk this whole philosophy and realize no one ever grows up and it’s ~just a number~ but actually, I do feel more mellow. I do have simpler pleasures, and I do have a stronger self-identity and values less prone to compromise. So yay for that. I’m starting a new job soon, which has been a priority since I got back from China. I hope to see the effects of this inner calm on a professional level.


Now that it took me four paragraphs to clear my throat, I wanted to mention something in the media that I do feel compelled to sound off on, which is Scarlett Johansson’s leading role in a movie based on a Japanese manga. This happened a week ago, hence already a passé topic, but the fact that the story’s publishers recently strongly defended the casting decision and was proud to get the “chance for a Japanese property (the manga story—not ScarJo) to be seen around the world” makes me feel even more hopeless for cultures to represent themselves in mainstream media.

Essentially, his comment shows that a decision-maker is choosing Caucasians instead of reps from his own race under the assumption that a story resonates more when presented through someone who is more approachable, profitable, relatable, whatever to the people who matter in media. Way to keep the system chugging. If he doesn’t even have the faith to give badass Japanese roles to Japanese characters, how does that bode for all the “little people” who fight every day to get a modicum of realistic representation on the screen?

Up until I was 12, all I saw around me were white (and a few black) people. I wish I could say that race wasn’t a factor and I was colorblind, like we were taught to be (which was problematic but the best people could do at the time). But worse than that, I thought of myself as white, because that’s what I spent 95% of my day seeing. The other 5% was reserved for my two parents, and my own reflection, which I avoided because it jarred me out of the comfort of my white mindset.

Twenty years ago, and that message seems to be going strong—someone who looks white is going to elicit a deeper response than someone who looks like an other. Everyone else should get used to remarkable, laudable stories being told from a white mouthpiece because even a great story runs the risk of being looked over if told by a fresh (different) face. Keep the Asian actors for the uber-Asian stories and indie movies that only draw an Asian crowd, anyway.* Forget authenticity for a big budget films, even when an Asian actor just makes fucking sense. Instead, choose an actor who literally plays the same character in every movie.

*While I enjoyed all the movies I saw at CAAMfest, I walked away wishing there were more stories that didn’t solely focus on ~being Asian~ but rather on great characters and plots that could transcend culture. The kind of movies usually only reserved for white actors.


Asian Girl Problem #134: Climbing The Creative Ladder

A few years ago I gathered some of my Asian beezies to go to an all-female Asian-American (both loosely defined) comedy showcase called Disoriented. It was everything I’d hoped for: incredibly positive vibes, and a mind-blowing range of humor. These weren’t the personas and jokes I’ve seen in the media–even in “fresh” shows like Master of None (though there’s nothing wrong with it).

Lately, in my efforts to get myself to an open mic night as soon as possible, I’ve fallen in love with one of the ladies who started and produce Disoriented, Jenny Yang. Her path to comedy is rad, from growing up a rambunctious child to burning out on her 9-5 job to taking comedy classes and ultimately producing her own show. Maybe when you grow up seeing “your people” always succeeding in a certain field, the magic is dampened. But until the market is saturated with Margaret Cho’s, imma be worshipping the few, the proud, the Asians.

In one great podcast episode, Jenny mentions how it took a leap into the unknown to quit her job and get into comedy–because that never seemed like a realistic option for Asian girls, and I can strongly relate. I had so many talented Asian friends who are now teachers, business people, or medical workers, despite winning accolades for art, music and writing throughout our childhood. Consider this: every Asian parent I know wanted their child to be a virtuoso at painting, chess, piano, what have you, but not a single one wanted their child to pursue it THAT hard, love it THAT much. Those hobbies should keep children out of drugs and sex, but once college admissions rolled around, all focus switched to earning those white collar degrees.

I don’t blame the parents. What our families lacked in creative gumption, they made up for in financial security, job stability, and sacrifice. Instead of “pursuing his passions” my dad made sure I would never have to worry about money in my life. Instead of moving us around the country or chasing his thrills, he came home at the same time every night to listen to my day, play cards, and teach me everything he knew. My mom…well, she was kind of absent, but also did her best to prioritize the family unit. It’s easy to think about our parents as yes-men who cling to the corporate ladder, and stodgy weaklings who have to eat out of the hands of their bosses while their white peers always get the promotions, but it was all for us.

And now I have the remarkable privilege of choosing whatever I want to do thanks to their persistence. I get to think about me me me all day, whereas every generation before me thought of “they” or the collective “us.” And I want to both be happy and make them proud–but it’s obvious that I can’t use their lives as a blueprint. They made all this possible, but I will not be finding role models of the creative hustle or self-employed writer in them.

What I can glean from them is their pioneering spirit, fearless resilience, and work ethic. Although the creative lifestyle might not have been nourished in us at a young age, we Asian-Americans do have badass parents who forged independent lives in a new country, and braved the loneliness, ostracism, and hard work that creative people similarly endure in their artistic struggle.

Practical or creative. Stable or wild. Is it possible to have both? I’m stuck in between values–but hey this is where I get to write from.

Asian Girl Problem #129: Wanting What You Can’t Have

Talking about the TV I watched as a kid can usually be summed up with “I didn’t have cable.” Which is to say that I was raised on a mix of public television, soap operas and broadcast sitcoms. Considering I was an only child and my parents were happy to use the TV as a babysitter, that means a lot of tube time.

It’s more embarrassing to admit that a lot of the TV I watched were Chinese series or variety shows. Instead of books, my parents stuffed our shelves with VHS recordings of movies they borrowed from their friends. I suspet that my Chinese school and the Asian church we attended every weekend were actually underground trading posts for VHS cassettes. They had to originate somewhere, and my guess is someone would rent the latest shows from one of the two Chinese movie rental places in town, copy them, and send them out into the world like an exotic flu.

You could tell when a VHS had been around the block too much based on the quality of recording, but you’d just have to fill in the blanks for all the times the tape stopped working, or full episodes were blurry and had to be skipped over.

When other kids were watching Star Wars and The Rugrats, I was watching my favorite Chinese tv shows over and over again. Which is why my knowldge of pop culture is horrendous. I actually enjoyed the shows even though most were about kung foo or middle-aged people getting divorced. It served as one of the few activities I could share with my parents and provided us a common ground. Did I need to watch the 30-episode series about the single mother who rediscovers her career and falls in love with her boss? No. But I would watch it all day with my mom if it meant we could talk about how dreamy he was.

My favorite was Fortress Besieged, which I’d started watching around 5. I knew how to recite many of the lines by 6, but had no idea what they meant until I reached my teens. Lucky for me, it was much less soapy and considered one of the classics.

It’s basically a satire about a man in his 20s who is a loser but has pretty good luck in life because he’s handsome and is helped by the wealthy family of his dead fiance. The story follows him from his 20s into his 40s, showing vignettes of the people he meets and their travels to no-name college in the middle of nowhere to become teachers. The third-person omnicient narrator has a really cynical but witty view of the world, and no gender, race or class if safe from his harsh criticism.

Maybe it had a bigger influence on me than I realize. But if that means I was getting an early dose of reality, let me be a world-weary 5 year old. No mid-life crisis for me.

The title is from this idiom: Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.

The main character and his girlfriend who dumped him when she found out he had been engaged

Links I Like

All I knew about my paternal great-grandfather Chen Jiangong was that he was “the famous mathematician,” and usually proceeded with a sigh that no one else in the family inherited any of his predilection towards math. I never thought to Google him until now–here’s his wiki page!


Her project confronts a shift in attitudes toward sexuality in China, which Ms. Kikuchi says is more open now than it was in 2005, when she began. Her project attempts to illustrate movement from what she calls a “dark time” toward the personal freedom she sees today.

After decades of inching toward center stage, Asian-American theater actors are facing something that they’ve rarely enjoyed in New York: demand.

Ultimately, the emoji I most anticipated are the ones that aren’t here. There are 250 new emoji today, and still few representations of people of color. That’s right: Other than a few stereotypical pictograms, all the current humans of the emojiland are white or a cartoonish yellow.

I also believed life was supposed to be miserable — because hard work is miserable. Had my parents and immigrant grandparents not worked through their misery, I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I do today. Passing that legacy of misery onto your kids — that guilt we carry is what makes us work harder. Bucking up and moving forward through that misery without complaining — this is the Chinese way. Isn’t it?

I am sick of being expected to tell nosey, white men where I’m from. At this point it’s old hat to bitch about people asking this question, but this one’s the best, because Power Rangers.

Asian Girl Problem #102: I Fux WIth Eddie Huang

White people lunch! The Asian fascination with hip hop! Chubby childhoods! I feel the same way about this upcoming show as I did for the memoir it’s based on–yes it might water down serious issues and reinforce stereotypes. It might only portray inflammatory and individual views that make other Asians feel misrepresented and exploited. If it was an easy topic, it wouldn’t be interesting. The point is, an Asian is getting their immigrant story out there on broadcast TV.

The cup overfloweth–here’s another new web series on Asian-Canadian teens bent on becoming millionaires, offering “a pan-Asian cast that resists stereotypes of Asians.”

Links I Like

I usually think that a lack of life drama causes writer’s block, but it turns out the opposite holds true too. Here are some recent reads I keep meaning to frame some posts around, but they’re stacking up so quickly I decided to deposit them in roundup form. So maybe I’ll actually get around to some personal stories soon.

The Perils of Being Associated with China
The Chinese are incredibly studious and have a world-class education. Alas, they still don’t believe it.

When Should Chinese Women Marry–And Whom?
Ms. Fincher is investigating Chinese women and “Christmas Cakes.” A Christmas cake, if not eaten during Christmas –December 25 and 26- will have defeated its purpose, be dried and stale, and ultimately may be thrown away.

Can Stand-Up Comedy Succeed in China?
According to Li, for young people humor is now becoming “an act of rebellion first and a display of wit second.” Laughter involves the audience as a “partner in crime,” she thinks. “This intimacy is what makes Chinese humor special.”

The Artistic History of American Anti-Asian Racism
Images of hate are linked, Tchen continues, to “desire for and admiration of. They have what we need. But then when they compete too hard for ‘what is ours,’ that tips the balance of acceptance.”

Asian Women Need to Stop Dating White Men
Upon contraction of Yellow Fever, White men suddenly stop going after strong and beautiful white women like myself, and start trading us for our shorter, black haired and more yellow-hued sisters, namely, you people.

The last one’s a bad satire, but 6500 comments for a Thought Catalog article is no small feat.

The Original Angry Asian Girl

Happy 20th birthday to Angry Little Asian Girl! Speaking of angry Asian-looking girls, how cool would it be to have a girl band with her, Emily the Strange and Jane Lane, (and maybe also Pucca for good measure)? Is there a reasons all these girls wear black and red? In my youth, was I drawn to the morose, gothy characters because they looked like me, or did I become a morose, gothy person because it was the only look I could pull off? I smell conspiracy.

Be back soon with real problems.