Saturday, December 10, 2005

Something About Asians

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about a school in Cupertino, CA wherein (the article stated) there was a "white flight" due to the perceived overambitiousness of the incoming Asian population. This article sparked discussions around the country about white flight, Asian ambition, immigrant Asians vs. American-born Asians, and in general created a story where none existed.

The superintendent of that school has since said that they routinely disenroll students--of all races--whose parents have fudged residency requirements in order to send their children there, so where is the white flight? Others have objected to the article's failure to mention all of the white parents in Cupertino and around the country who unapologetically push their kids toward AP classes and Ivy League colleges, and somehow don't get an article written about their WASPy or Mormon or Jewish overambition.

To me, the most important response to this article has been the outrage at the use of the term, "Asian" as if it refers to one culture or one group of people. It shows a total disregard for history, not to mention a basic journalistic laziness, not to mention a good dose of {intended or not} racism.

Referring to cultures--and implying stereotypical characteristics--simply based on geographic location is ludicrous. A good example is our very own USA. Canadians, Americans and Mexicans are all North Americans. If the Japanese press wrote an article about "North Americans," and ascribed cultural values to the US that were not accurate, we'd wonder where Japanese journalists get their credentials. But here, we allow journalists to use the term "Asian" to describe people from multiple countries and cultures and histories--and we let them get away with it.

So, what "Asians" were they talking about in Cupertino? Chinese? Japanese? Thai? Cambodian? Taiwanese? Korean? Vietnamese? Laotian? Filipino? Americans of "Asian" descent? Perhaps students whose parents are of several ethnic backgrounds? It was a piece of lazy journalism; and not only that, it created news where none previously existed, which is less journalism and more agitprop performance art.

Maybe situations like this affect me more now that I have a daughter of Chinese descent. Before becoming her mother I certainly didn't give much thought to many of these issues, but now my life absolutely requires that I do. Do Americans understand the painful and raw history between China and Japan? Do we understand the history of the US's involvement in Korea? Do we know that Chinese people have been in the United States for generations, many of whom built the railroads out west? Do we only see "Asians" as something "other" or do we see people who are as different from each other as a Pole is to a Cossack? Do we see our own histories as very specific and important treasures but see that of "Asians" as, well, aren't they all the same thing?

It's important that we challenge ourselves and our media to think about and process and act upon questions just such as this. Is there a reason we are failing in the "world public opinion" sweepstakes? Could our total lack of knowledge of other cultures, nations, histories and languages be part of the reason we are seen as cultural (and now military) imperialists by most of the rest of the world? More importantly, how does that ignorance affect our country right here at home?

I find solace in the comedy of Margaret Cho story (an American-born comedian of Korean descent) who constantly faces these kind of ignorance-fueled situations from clueless people. One of my favorites is when she was doing a TV interview to publicize her new TV-show back in the 90's, and the interviewer said, "Thanks for being with us, Margaret, now could you tell our viewers in your native language that we'll be right back with sports and the weather?!" So she smiled and said, "Um. Okay: They'll be right back with sports and the weather..."

4 comments:

Vigilante said...

All good points here, especially:

...Others have objected to the article's failure to mention all of the white parents in Cupertino and around the country who unapologetically push their kids toward AP classes and Ivy League colleges,

...the outrage at the use of the term, "Asian" as if it refers to one culture or one group of people. It shows a total disregard for history, not to mention a basic journalistic laziness, not to mention a good dose of {intended or not} racism.

...Is there a reason we are failing in the "world public opinion" sweepstakes? Could our total lack of knowledge of other cultures, nations, histories and languages be part of the reason we are seen as cultural (and now military) imperialists by most of the rest of the world?


When I get a moment, I will be posting & citing this essay.

misterfed said...

You bloggers all sound alike to me.

Anonymous said...

E, when you start mentioning "Asian" you really need to take it fully to really show how bad it is. Ie. don't forget that Iran, India, Iraq, Jordan, Syrian, most of Russia, most of Turkey could also be counted as "Asian". It might be taking it to the absurd level but then isn't that what "journalism" is all about.

Vigilante said...

MisterFed,
I'm stumped: I don't know how to respond.
I don't want to disappoint...