I was collecting the mail the other day and couldn't help but notice the cover of my roommate's New York Magazine.
"ASIAN LIKE ME"?
Flip to the inside story...
Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?
By Wesley Yang.
The article is very long and you can read the entirety HERE
. Brace yourself for how it begins:
Sometimes I’ll glimpse my reflection in a window and feel astonished by what I see. Jet-black hair. Slanted eyes. A pancake-flat surface of yellow-and-green-toned skin. An expression that is nearly reptilian in its impassivity. I’ve contrived to think of this face as the equal in beauty to any other. But what I feel in these moments is its strangeness to me. It’s my face. I can’t disclaim it. But what does it have to do with me?
Millions of Americans must feel estranged from their own faces. But every self-estranged individual is estranged in his own way. I, for instance, am the child of Korean immigrants, but I do not speak my parents’ native tongue. I have never called my elders by the proper honorific, “big brother” or “big sister.” I have never dated a Korean woman. I don’t have a Korean friend. Though I am an immigrant, I have never wanted to strive like one.
You could say that I am, in the gently derisive parlance of Asian-Americans, a banana or a Twinkie (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). But while I don’t believe our roots necessarily define us, I do believe there are racially inflected assumptions wired into our neural circuitry that we use to sort through the sea of faces we confront. And although I am in most respects devoid of Asian characteristics, I do have an Asian face...
It gets worse from there.
I had to check the year on the cover of the magazine to verify that this was a current issue and NOT one from 1995.
Sometime toward the end of college I started exploring the whole Asian-American culture thing. Flipped through the odd Asian-American periodical
on the magazine racks. Attended Asian-American film festivals filled with poorly made Asian-American identity films, with titles like "Yellow"
and "Shopping for Fangs"
. For a year, I was even in a performance group that featured Asian-American identity pieces.
It took me a while to make peace with the fact that most of that navel-gazing wankery is downright tedious.
In the 90s, awful Asian-American filmmakers would give interviews about how they wanted to be the "Asian-American Spike Lee", wanted to tell stories for *their* generation of Asian-Americans. You don't hear that sort of argument too much anymore because it's idiotic. The Asian-American community is an illusion. It covers a range of ethnicities and cultures that are NOT all alike. There was a time when I was concerned about things like "representing my people" but that's a completely absurd/naive/arrogant idea.
I get that it's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
but the narratives that Yang recycles in his rambling, self-centered, essentially pointless New York Magazine article seem so antiquated. The idea of the "bamboo ceiling"
seems especially tired and projects the sense of a victim-mentality on a large swath of people.
The article is ultimately offensive because it tries to make a statement about the State of Our Asian-American Community Today that is doomed to be an epic reductive failure because there is no common thread that unites all the cultures that exist beneath that banner. Even restricting the focus to Asian-American men doesn't offer an accurate portrayal. The cover screams "ASIAN LIKE ME!" and I promise you that I'm not in there. My experience isn't represented by the people in the article. Articles like this only serve to marginalize people. A way to avoid the true complexity of humanity.
I don't try to speak for anyone but myself. Do the best you can and help your friends when you can afford to. The fact that this article serves as the cover feature of a mainstream magazine is disheartening. Then again, who the fuck reads New York Magazine except for my roommate?