It’s easy for those who are conscious of their Taiwanese-American ethnicity, culture, and history to say that they would like to empower their people, but it’s not easy to do it.
I’m a senior in high school now and I’ve gone M.I.A. on you guys for a while. I live in a small town where I don’t experience much culture outside of where I live, nor do I feel the life experiences regarding my heritage that I used to feel in a bigger city. That all changed very quickly.
My school has an annual student produced play that usually is comedic and over the top, and contains a whole lot of offensiveness and hilarity. Being that it is student produced and funded, the administration does not have oversight over it, leading it to be very raunchy at times. The students love it and the students that are in the play hold it sacred because of the generous amounts of camaraderie it produces.
Without going over the specifics of the play, this year there was a character named “Pong” who was dressed in the ancient Chinese outfit with the little cap on his head and a ponytail hanging from it. He had a fu manchu beard, wore sandals and grasped his hands in a praying motion, bowing to anyone he spoke to. All his spoken l’s came out as r’s, poking fun at the Chinese accent. Best of all, he was proficient in karate and had a musical number dedicated to him as he sang “Kung Fu Fighting.” Among another Mexican stereotyped character and a French one, Pong was just another funny character to everyone.
Unfortunately, I laughed too, but as I sat at home thinking about it, I was laughing at the expense of others and myself. Then, I realized this was my chance to be the knight in shining armor for all the Asian-Americans that have been stereotyped in the media and in life repeatedly. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to call out my friends who wrote the play, the white student who played the character, nor the principal who failed to axe this character from the play. I couldn’t speak out and take action when I knew I would be burning bridges with everyone that I knew. Anybody that said anything was deemed as someone that was “taking things too seriously.”
Choosing your own battles is a battle in itself. I am sitting out a battle where this entire small town is gathering in a auditorium laughing at a caricature of theChinaman that was a symbol of racism in American history for so long. That character doesn’t just represent the Chinese. He represented the Japanese, the Koreans, the Filipinos, the Taiwanese. I think I chose to lose this battle and it makes me feel so guilty.
Justin hopes one day he will be in a position to give his whole effort in combating stereotypes. Until then, sometimes he is still vulnerable.