Blips of Progress
You know progress is never linear. If you lived during the time of Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, then you would have thought that Asians would become a significant force in Hollywood in the latter half of the 20th century.
There were always blips of progress in cinematic history with regards to representation of the Asian American male: The Crimson Kimono (1959), Flower Drum Song (1961), Bruce Lee (1972), Vanishing Son (1994), Better Luck Tomorrow (2002), Harold and Kumar (2004).
Every time one of these movies appeared, it looked like, "Yeah, things are getting better! We're on the road to full representation for the Asian American male!"
But representation always comes in spurts, and we've never been able to reach a point of critical mass. I'm hoping that now with all the Asian guys in movies, Internet and TV that we'll gain some traction as far as representation, but more importantly… respect.
Divide and Conquer
The thing is Alpha Asians tend to be isolated from each other due to their success. In mainstream society, the more successful you are as a person of color, the less likely you are to run into other people of color. Chances are you if promote high up in a given field or obtain significant wealth or power, then you will work with and run into other successful people and chances are they will be white because they make the majority of the population.
This is why successful Asians, both men and women, tend to marry whites. Not necessarily because they have strict preferences for whites, but because people tend to date and fall in love within their social circles and of the same social status.
As a result, there’s a huge disconnect between those Alpha Asians who have knowledge and experience and those of us in the Asian American communities who benefit from that knowledge and experience.
We have few role models who publicly give back to the Asian American community (John Liu, Yul Kwon), and the few role models we do have are overwhelmed by the needs and concerns of the masses. People think that if you’re an Asian in public light that you should be all things to all people in your community.
This is why we can never get traction in the Asian American community. Everybody wants to do their own thing and be their own boss thinking that they are the ones to lead the Asian American community to the promise land. We all operate independently as agents of change, and we burn ourselves out reinventing the wheel and treading the same issues over and over (i.e. IR disparity). Without knowledge of our past to build on and without the passing on of such knowledge, then we as a community will just have flashes of insight, but nothing more.
Which is why I’m hopeful that the blogger get-together Banana will be something more than just a blip. The event proved that although blogging is an effective means to achieve influence and educate people about the needs, concerns and accomplishments of Asian Americans, there is nothing quite like interacting with people face-to-face and engaging with them. Otherwise if we blog and act in isolation, then we’re just blips of progress.