Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! To be completely honest, I’ve had my ups and downs with identifying as Asian-American. I’ve gone through times in which I completely owned and flaunted my Asian-ness. I’ve also at times felt like I wanted nothing more than to be a blonde gal with hazel eyes because I was so sick of being APA. Though, upon reflection, these two opposites have one common, yellow thread that runs through them—portrayal of Asians in the media. And for a while, as an Asian-American artist, I was not doing my part.
For a long time, I did not see the beauty in being Japanese. I knew we made things like Dragonball Z and Bleach, but that’s about it. Yes, I once proudly displayed my J-Pop CD booklets in the front of my school binder for all to see, but that came to a halt when, one day, the High School Board of Cool Kids decided that liking Asian things was “fobby,” and therefore, lame. So, I put my anime DVDs in the same box as my “Alvin and the Chipmunks” cassette tapes, and pushed them into the dark part of my closet—you know, that place where you put those shoes you impulse-bought but never wore because they hurt—to stay hidden forever.
When I started to consume media that the cool kids approved, I discovered that I was wrong my whole life, and that Asians were actually never very chic. We were Nelly Yuki, the snitch from Gossip Girl, or Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. We were all either brainiacs or completely socially inept, if not both. We were dehumanized. And this was just coming from television and movies that I enjoyed. I didn’t want to think about how else Asians were being portrayed in things that I didn’t like. All I wanted to do was dissociate from my Asian-ness.
When I went to USC, I only wrote characters that were white. The things I was watching told me that there was no value in being APA, so that’s what I accepted as the truth. I did it because that was the norm and that’s what appeared to sell, but also because I did not want to cause anyone the pain I had suffered from watching those Asian stereotypes on my screen. I didn’t think that I could do anything to change what people thought of us, so I didn’t try. Please cringe, so you don’t do the same.
It was, admittedly, only recently that I’ve begun to see the beauty in my heritage—enough to be able to flaunt it just as I did L’arc En-Ciel’s Smile artwork on my notebooks in eighth grade. I am a fourth generation, Japanese-American. I know what it means to have grandparents who were interned as a result of xenophobia. I know what it means to grow up in the San Gabriel Valley, and to have experienced the wealth of diversity the area has to offer. And now I know what it means to be in a position to tell stories like mine.
We are not all anime lovers. Though, personally, I thought Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood was absolute perfection. We are not all Nelly Yuki. Though, if we characteristics of hers that make us perfectionists inclined to succeed, that is okay, and will get us far in life. We are not all Long Duk Dong. Though—nope. We’re just not. I think it’s time that we own our unique stories and share them.