Two Halves Don’t Always Make a Whole: Thoughts on Asian Representation

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Why wasn’t I born white? When I was younger, everyone in the tv shows I watched, movies I saw, and ads that passed my gaze were almost always of people exclusively white. All the models in magazines were tall with blonde or brunette hair with big round eyes and high nose bridges.  It was only about the Megan Fox’s and Cara Delevingne’s. None of them looked like me. Mulan was my favorite movie because she looked similar to me. We shared the same black hair and ate the same foods. But when the only form of representation in the media is a cartoon, you begin to wonder what’s wrong with you and why no one in the media looks like you. Am I not likable enough? Are people like me considered ugly?

 

Fast forward years later and within the last month, the amount of Asian representation has grown drastically all because of two movies. Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I've Loved Before have changed the game with an all Asian cast and an Asian lead. It felt incredible seeing for once that the actors and actresses in a movie looked similar to me.

I was no longer just a side character or nonexistent in these tv-show/movie universes.

I was real; I existed.

However, I noticed something about these two movies. The actor who plays Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians, Nick Golding is half British, half Malaysian. In the movie To All the Boys I've Loved Before, the main character, Lara Jean, has a Korean mom and a Caucasian dad. I wondered why a movie so proud of having a full Asian cast had a half Asian playing a lead and why Lara Jean couldn't have two Korean parents. To some, it may sound like I’m nitpicking and that I should be grateful for the progress that has been made. It may also sound like I’m hating on Caucasians and despise them and their mixed children; however, this is not the case. I’m all for representing mixed and unique families in the media because it reflects the reality we live in. But is it really modern and progressive if all the representation of Asians I see now is mainly half Caucasian, half Asian? It is no different than “whitewashing” roles that should have been cast to people of color. It is still appropriating European standards of beauty.

The current representation for Asians now is definitely a step forward, but it needs to be better. Hopefully, now, a young Asian kid growing up in America won’t feel so out of place. But, they might begin to notice that Asian representation isn’t actually quite representative of the way they may look. They might wonder why their hair isn’t as light or their eyes not as round or why their nose is flatter. If all young Asians see are Eurasians and mixed Asian families, they might begin to think there’s something wrong with the way they look and the way their family looks.

Caucasian is still the standard in this model of representation and still creates a toxic cycle of insecurity and shame for the way one looks. Instead of thinking "Why wasn't I born white?" it turns into "Why wasn’t I born half-white?" It is necessary to provide representation of not just Eurasians, but Asians of all types. There needs to be more representation of not only East Asians but darker toned Asians like Southeast Asians and Middle Eastern Asians. It is only then that we can achieve a more meaningful and well-rounded way of representing Asians in the media.

To all my fellows Asians, we are beautiful just the way we are. We don’t need European features to be beautiful. We don’t need to lighten our skin or wear color contacts or get plastic surgery to be acceptable to people (but if you’re into those things for yourself that’s totally cool!) Instead, we need to teach people that who we are now is great and should already be acceptable. Flaunt who you are and don’t be apologetic for it!!

The silver screen isn't the only place that is in desperate need of all types of Asian representation.

There are 20 million Asians living in America. Out of the 535 seats in Congress, there are only 18 Asian Americans in Congress as of 2017, with only three in the Senate. While this is the largest number of Asians in Congress, it’s still far from enough. I’m not very good at math, but that’s a very small percentage of representation. Now, this is not entirely America’s fault so to speak. During the 2016 presidential election, only 49 percent of eligible Asian Americans cast ballots.

We live in this country too, so it is important that we become more active in the U.S. political sphere. According to data, Asian’s are quickly becoming the largest growing group of undocumented immigrants; in 2014, they made up 10 percent of DACA recipients. It is time for Asians to be more educated, aware, and proactive in representing ourselves on all platforms, not just on the movie screens but also in Congress.

We cannot idly let things happen anymore. If we want a voice and change in our government, we must do it.

This is our America too.