Op Ed

There’s Something in the Air

There’s something in the air, and it stinks. Sniff, sniff, did you catch it?  It sits just under that powerful stench of Mom, baseball locker room sweat, and rotten apple pie. It’s Anti-Asian sentiment.
That rotting apple pie smell is the open hate for brown-skinned people in our nation whose first language isn’t American-styled English, who worship other (read: heathen) gods, who do not fulfill the standards of the American dream as dictated by “true” Amrurikans.

STFU Conservatives covered the karma against Japan backlash. Anonymous Writer’s response covered what many of us Asian-Americans were feeling about Alexandra Wallace’sYouTube racist rant. Incidentally, Japanese Buddhists do not need lessons on karma.  They understand the concept very well, doomo arigatoo.

The hate, fear mongering, and suspicious attitudes are primarily aimed at East Asia, not Asia as a whole.  Most of the western world still views Asia as defined by China, Korea, and Japan.  Mongolia, Laos, Turkmenistan, or Armenia are not the names that pop into westerners’ minds when conjuring the continent and its many nations, cultures, and languages. When Amanda Wallace spoke “ching chong” and mentioned the “tsunami thing” it (im)perfectly demonstrated the racist notions of “they all look and sound alike.”  Maybe we do to many of you, those of you who haven’t gotten to know us, feel we’re too quiet and inscrutable, not friendly enough, because we don’t act Amurikan (or Canadian).  Don’t you know how our people have been coming here since the 1800s, built your transcontinental railroads, established the lush agricultural industry of central California, volunteered our sons when our family members were locked up “camps,” submitted to your immigration laws that specifically targeted “Mongol” people?  Doctors used to refer to Down Syndrome people as having Mongolism. Even the dictator of North Korea is prime for ridicule about his appearance and seemingly bizarre ways.  Yes, he is off balance, despicable, and out of touch with the rest of the world, but why is he such an easy target?  Yellow people are funny and scary.

This has been building up for a while. I noticed it during the midterm elections of 2010 with the China bashing messages by conservative groups and candidates. Canadian magazine MacLean’s questioned if their prestigious universities were becoming “too Asian”.  Our appearances and actions don’t conform to the White standard, as dictated by the first colonists/immigrants of North America.  You got here first, is that it?  Our people “back home” aren’t plotting evil schemes for world domination a la Fu Manchu.

Those of us living in North America are still relegated (denigrated) to being the perpetual foreigner.

The previous decade there seemed to be a rising trend of celebrating Asian things.  Bollywood, The Namesake, Kal Penn, and other  “Indian things” (the whole Indian subcontinent was lumped as one, with very little distinguishing among the countries, regions, or politcs). Interest in “new age” trends such as “Eastern medicine” and feng shui.  Remember that year of Chinese-y things with chi-pao inspired tops, chopstick-like hair ornaments, and satin fabric printed with tiny cherry blossoms? Chinatown stores were overrun.  If you missed that Chinese junk, you can still satisfy your Oriental fetish by ordering from and similar sites.  I ranted about the problems with many of these items.

So what changed?  Is it because our country is in debt to our eyeballs to China?  We fear the rising economic power of China and South Korea?   What’s going on? Are we regressing, dancing backwards?

It’s the return of yellow peril.  Me no likey.

12 replies on “There’s Something in the Air”

I am curious about your thoughts on people of other cultures decorating their homes with items specific to another cultural group based on your final paragraph. Is it only appropriate to decorate your home and dress in a manner that is representing your own cultural background otherwise you are guilty of cultural appropriation and therefore disrespectful?

I also followed the link you your other article and while I see your point, I am a Buddhist and I don’t think we can compare people decorating their homes with a Buddha to that of Jesus. Buddha was not a god but a teacher and it does not bother me when people use it as a decorating motif because they enjoy the massage the buddha statue represents.

You are correct, Buddha was a teacher. Culturally I am a Buddhist, but nor actively practicing. That is I grew up with it in my home, and my relatives and in-laws are Buddhists.

Let me be more specific. There are “statues” which are decorative. However there are those for veneration. The ones for veneration are hollow, so written prayers can be inserted inside. The ones for praying are handled interchangeably with the decorative ones in the U.S. by many who aren’t educated. I’ve seen one sitting at the front of a pizza prep table in a trendy restaurant, right by the brick oven. Uh no.

I’m not an expert, but this was taught to me as taboo. I follow the customs that were passed on by family. And those are probably watered down and mixed based on other beliefs. Aspects of Confucianism and Taoism were incorporated to make Buddhism more acceptable and “palatable” to Chinese. Did I make a false equivalency? Perhaps. I still don’t see people using Jesus and Mary as decorative objects. Until Madonna started wearing crucifixes as jewelry early in her career. There was a great hue and cry, all the way to the Papacy.

I’m not as strict as some about cultural appropriation, still sorting out my opinions, do draw the line about objects related to spiritual beliefs. The important thing is to learn the background of the cultural item that you are wearing or displaying, not just do so because it amuses you. Too many people have done this.

From The Daily Bruin, March 118, 2011:

In an attempt to produce a humorous YouTube video, I have offended the UCLA community and the entire Asian culture. I am truly sorry for the hurtful words I said and the pain it caused to anyone who watched the video. Especially in the wake of the ongoing disaster in Japan, I would do anything to take back my insensitive words. I could write apology letters all day and night, but I know they wouldn’t erase the video from your memory, nor would they act to reverse my inappropriate action.
I made a mistake. My mistake, however, has lead to the harassment of my family, the publishing of my personal information, death threats, and being ostracized from an entire community. Accordingly, for personal safety reasons, I have chosen to no longer attend classes at UCLA.

Alexandra Wallace

I’m lucky that the campus I go to is extremely liberal and overly PC that I personally haven’t been the brunt of any sort of fear/hatred. On our campus’s anonymous chat board you do get the occasional “Hottest Asians?” thing which if of course ridiculous, but also reminds me of the only time that I was catcalled when I must have been about 13 or 14 in some park, and some guys behind me were yelling after me “Hey! Where’r you from?”

Although there was this one incident in a bank where one teller refused to help us out because we didn’t have the right paperwork, my mother walked off in annoyance and heard the teller behind her say “Did you see her give me that look with her Chinese eyes?”

Ugh. What I hate the most is having next to no representation in the media. I can count the number of Asian actors/actresses I know on my hands.

Funny, this very afternoon my husband and I were walking around DC having a conversation in perfect American English….when a young “hip” white male in his mid 20s walking in the other direction suddenly started screeching “koooniiichiiwaaa” in a mocking high pitched voice.

Racism manifests in micro-aggressions every single day.

Hello Eri, I remember you from Ladyblog, welcome!

Oy, your speaking Amurikan. I was thinking about that today while reading Faded Footsteps, a blog by a transracial Candian adoptee. She is genetically Taiwanese, and is trying to manage White, Asian, Canadian, Taiwanese spaces, never feeling at “home”. What about the tens of thousands of transracial East Asian adoptees here in the west? How do they fit in?

One more note. I learned too late before submitting my piece that the remake of the 80’s Cold War film, “Red Dawn” is going to substitute invading Soviets with Asians. Originally it was to be red Chinese. At the eleventh hour the studio realized it wouldn’t be good to piss off China. There were criticisms lodged on blogs and in newspapers here in the U.S. and abroad. The studio responded to China’s reactions.

D’OH, it took you that long to get that?

Now references to China, such as the flag, will be digitally erased and replaced with North Korea’s. Korean dialogue will be dubbed. That is still problematic because in all likelihood they will use actors of South Korean descent. There are differences in accents. But Amurikans won’t notice, nor care.

Replace one yellow man with another. Because we’re interchangeable? Um, no, still doesn’t work for me.

Initially, I thought it came from a place of fear, but now I am thinking that maybe I was too lenient in that assessment.

The perpetual foreigner issue is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot but I don’t have anything constructive to add here, just to acknowledge that it’s great to see it mentioned and that the link is super informative.

I think that hits the nail on the head right there. Many people are afraid of Asian cultures because so many Asian cultures have shown themselves to be incredibly innovative, forward thinking and damn intelligent. And we don’t want to be knocked down a peg on the axis.

Plus, apparently it is fashionable to hate China and North Korea. Nevermind that the governments don’t make up the people, but you can’t tell that to the ignorant.

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