Sometimes I’m ashamed to be Asian. Not because of something my ancestors may have done in the past or because of atrocities that have been committed by people who share my features, but because of the culture I was brought up in and the media who perpetuated it.
I grew up oblivious of differences. I only knew others as people and would treat them as I would treat my family and friends. Gender, race… it all didn’t phase me. Unfortunately, not all children grow up the same way.
One day I was questioned about my appearance and my lunch (noodles and “nuggets,“ which were actually delicious gems of fish tofu). Then I came home later that day, turned on the TV and watched the afternoon shows before my parents got home.
Something peculiar struck me. I couldn’t find one person that looked like me.
The closest thing that resembled an Asian was Ash Ketchum from Pokémon or Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh!, but they weren’t real people. For a kid this was quite disorientating. If the only representation we can find of ourselves is not real, then how was I expected to feel real at all? I later got over it, but the feeling stuck with me.
Then the moment came. Neighbours tried bringing on a Korean girl called Sunny Lee onto their show. I was so excited, but their representation of her was nothing groundbreaking. Straight A student, submissive to the white male, loyalty and honour to the family, does everybody’s homework – okay, where’s the remote?
Is this how people see us? If it was then I didn’t want to be Asian. I was the exact opposite of how people represented us in the media. I wasn’t exactly smart, I got average grades in school, I despised maths and I was more into creating art, music and making films with my friends using my dad’s camcorder.
I tried to push it out of my head, but the thought overcame me. Consequently, I went through a stage where I was trying to be white during High School. I dyed my hair blonde and wore blue contacts, tried my best to talk with a neutral English accent. It was almost performance art if you ask me. Almost on par with Marina Abramovic.
A few years later and a shaved head, I started to accept the fact that I was Asian. I didn’t like it, but I knew I had to accept myself for who I was. Unfortunately, while I was trying to come to terms with my ethnicity, the rest of the world still had not caught up with me and it hit me when I started to embrace myself.
At this point in my life, I had decided that I wanted to work creatively in the future. Perhaps as an actor, or a musician or a rapper, or a filmmaker, or a model! I felt limitless, like my ethnicity did not matter anymore. “FUCK YOUR ETHNICITY” is what Kendrick would yell to me through my headphones and I would nod my head to those beats and shout, “HELL YEAH.” So I decided I would concentrate on acting.
But it seemed like the film industry didn’t need an Asian to tell their stories. My acting agent at the time would send casting notices my way. I would read character descriptions of complex roles that I would love to audition for, but all these roles were followed by a note, capitalised in bold: CAUCASIANS ONLY. I went to these auditions anyway, hoping that the casting director would see me and have a change of heart, but to no avail. Just one oriental face in a sea of white.
Obviously this is no place for someone like me.
So I thought, perhaps the theatre might be a good place to go. But unless I wanted to play the part of an Asian girl incapable of speaking English who gets fucked (and raped) by white males, then I don’t think I could be in any play written in the past thousand centuries. Sorry, Shakespeare. Maybe when I get reincarnated as a blue-eyed, chiseled white guy with abs and moderate sized biceps.
But what angers me the most is that even though there is a range of extraordinarily talented Asian actors and actresses in the industry, the bigger powers at be (Hollywood I’m looking at you) choose not to cast ethnic actors in ethnic parts. The most recent controversy has been Aloha with Emma Stone playing Allison Ng, a quarter Hawaiian, quarter Chinese, half WHATTHEFUCK character. But don’t worry, the movie is also horrible so you won’t have to see that for yourself.
Of course it is happening in places other than the film and theatre industry. I could keep on listing examples, like when my sister was not picked to dance at an AUSTRALIA DAY celebration, but every other white girl in the studio was, but there really are too many.
Recently, I’ve stepped down from being in front of the camera. I decided that if the world won’t let me express myself using my body, my voice, my feelings as a device, then I guess I will just have to create. You could say that’s how I came to writing and photography.
But the craving to do more than write or take photos is now eating at me and, to go with the cravings, I’ve been having these thoughts. Like to start a rap persona who wears a mask so you don’t ever see his face (boo it’s me), but only hear his music. To move to Korea/Japan/China and dive into a culture where my kind is already represented. Or to hold on tight and hope something changes.
Unfortunately, I’ve become a product of the culture that raised me. I too am casting white actors in lead roles and not giving Asians a chance to shine. I am embarrassed to do things by myself, like start a band, unless there is a white face in there. And worst of all, I’ve accepted that this is what I have to do to survive as a creative. This is the source of my Asian shame, this is what I need to change, and this is what I want to make of myself.
The pessimist in me says I won’t see an Asian lead a movie until I’m half-way into my life, but perhaps the whitewash will be flooded with blue. Maybe one day I can watch a film… a good movie that is not a foreign film, where the Asian is not a straight A student, a Karate master, they don’t have a life-or-death loyalty to uphold the honour of their family, they are not saved or rescued by a white family and I can see a true representation of what it is like to truly be treated as a person. Either that or I move to Japan or Korea.
But either way, I’m still going to keep on doing my thing and hope that people look past the face and see the art. Because I can’t let myself be ashamed anymore. Not now, not in the future, not anymore.
Alexander Wang, Haruki Murakami, Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, Hirokazu Koreeda, Hayao Miyazaki, Lawrence Leung, Benjamin Law, Arden Cho, Lucy Liu, Dougy Mandagi from the Temper Trap, Maribelle, TOKiMONSTA, Kiko Mizuhara, Andy Trieu, and the list goes on.