Slaying the Dragon: From the POV of a Latin-Asian Girl

A couple of days ago, I ran into this clip from the short documentary titled Slaying the Dragon: Reloaded by Elaine Kim, who did a sort of follow-up to the 1988 documentary Slaying the Dragon. The short documentary gives a brief look into Asian Americans and Asians on American media and contrasts it with some of the representation on contemporary films and TV shows. Kind of like a visual piece to my post Asian Americans on American Media written in 2010, but a little more critical.

I had never really thought about race growing up. Attending Peruvian-Chinese school was normal, just as it was to attend Peruvian-Japanese school, French-Peruvian school or British-Peruvian school. In simple world view, they were all private schools, and you would get in one of those because one of them was cheaper than the other, they were closer to home, or a family member attended the school thus making it easier for you. Growing up, I didn’t feel like a minority; I was Peruvian of Chinese ancestry (on one side more than the other),  and though people couldn’t tell me apart from a Japanese person- in the end, everyone just lumped us into the “Chino” category.

I had tons of Japanese descent friends who would be called “China,” and some more who were Peruvian who would be called “China” for merely attending Peruvian-Chinese school, but we never felt outsiders. We had been assimilated by contemporary Peruvian culture (or maybe just Lima), we had all grown having a Japanese-Peruvian president, we had all grown up watching NHK’s programming, including Nopo and Gonta [1] on Dekirukana on national TV. We had grown watching Liveman [1] and Flashman [1] before we learned of the Power Rangers, and we had grown up eating “Chifa” (Peruvian-style Chinese food) at the same time we grew up calling soy sauce “sillao” instead of “salsa de soya,” or calling ginger “kion” instead of “jengibre.

Then something changed.

I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if it was my living in Canada or my sudden access to films and the internet. Suddenly, I felt under-represented. Suddenly I felt I had nowhere to turn to. Not only as an Asian American in Hollywood, but as an Asian Latin American in Peru. I used to didn’t care about El Chino Yufra, but now the sight of him offended me.

chino-yufra

El Chino Yufra ended up playing the Japanese Ambassador on the Peruvian series, Operacion Rescate back in 2010.

Back in 2008 or 2009, there was also a bank commercial that people thought was madly hilarious, in which a Chinese man fresh off the plane talked about “How beautiful ‘Pelu’ was” and “how ‘difelent’ time changes ‘ale’ in here” so that he gets this mad case of jetlag [1]. It was going to be one of the many few Asian stereotypes that still needed work not only down here, but also in America. Just a couple of days ago, during my trip to Cuzco, my (Asian) friend and I were walking in Chinchero [1], when a little boy looked at us and said “Oppar Gangnam Style.” It was my worst nightmare made reality [1].

amy

YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

3 Responses

  1. aww yeah us mixed-race kids and Latinasians. I didn’t know Harry Shum, Jr. was from Costa Rica and spoke Spanish!

    I overhear the Walking Dead while my family watches it, and there was a part where one character clarified that Glenn is Korean, not Chinese.

    There was some praise for changing Bingley to Bing Lee (romantic hero!) and Charlotte Lucas to Charlotte Lu in the Pride and Prejudice 2012 webseries adaptation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Yet as fan dissatisfaction with the series’ general writing arose with many of the episodes aired in 2013, there were also cries of “racism” regarding Bing’s possessive overachiever sister Caroline, and that the show having an Asian-American co-creator doesn’t make it exempt from such charges.
    I was sort of in the middle, thinking that it was a bit shady that the “positive” minorities were the ones supportive of the main white characters, but I thought her last episode didn’t make Caroline an outright villain but actually more understandable and human than other (white) adaptations of the Caroline character. Then again, she was played by the fabulous fellow Filipina Jessica Jade Andres, so I might have been just glad to see any representation. Filipinos just became the largest Asian ethnic group in California, but we don’t have the more well-known immigration history or cultural presence of other Asian groups in the US. So when we appear on screen, it’s usually in background roles or playing other ethnicities. So the Filipino-American news here gets excited when even a one-fourth Filipino actor (like Hailee Steinfield) gets a role in a major film or TV show. We’re so mixed anyway, so we grab pride whenever we can.
    That’s why I try and go to another room to watch Elementary- after Lucy Liu’s talk-show slip-up of saying she runs indoors because she “doesn’t want to look Filipino or Mexican,” I know my mom would have remarks about her if she saw Liu on TV.

    That reminds me – East Asians can get so crudely stereotyped in Filipino mainland programs it’s digusting. Slanting the eyes and awful accents and all. South Asians stereotypes appear less but are similarly offensive. but then Filipinos give an enthusiastic welcome to East Asians (pretty much any foreigner, to be honest) working in the Philippine entertainment industry. especially Koreans like Sandara Park (who was so cute in a bunch of movies there before joining 2NE1) and more recently Ryan Bang (who had a hit song “I Leally Leally Like It.” yeah. spelled as pronounced. Then again fans kept him on one entertainment show long after he was originally supposed to exit.). K-pop and K-dramas are hugely popular in the Philippines too.
    Filipinos don’t hold modern Japanese accountable for what happened in WWII, so they get a similar treatment to Koreans and Southeast Asians. Thai actor Mario Maurer got a huge promotional blitz for appearing in one movie. The Philippines is thirsty for any type of positive recognition from abroad, and I think it stems from the Spanish and American colonial rule. Especially when those foreigners are lighter-skinned and/or from the Americas or the UK, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.

    They do try to celebrate Chinoy (Chinese-Filipino) culture with things like the Mano Po series and Chinese New Year celebrations and half of the projects of actors like Kim Chiu and Xian Lim, but there are also stereotypes about “how they smell” and “how they keep all the money” (many of the top rich people in the Philippines are of Chinese descent).
    wow, representation always gets me rambling.

    • amy says:

      @Diandra Rodriguez, wait. Hold it. Hailee Steinfield is a shade of Filipino? xD I didn’t know that! No wonder she does look a little bit Asian. I once grabbed a tweet that said that she looked a little bit like Aoi Yu! LOL

      I’ve also heard that Asians aren’t well represented on screen because there are fewer taking entertainment jobs, unlike scientific positions. I think there’s tons of Asians in Doctors, PhDs, research, etc. It doesn’t help when Hollywood releases a race-specific casting call – see: Minorities actors on the site.

      On the one side, it’s good that newer generations aren’t so hang up on the horrible Japanese actions in WWII because it lets the hatred dissipate. But then you think about how young people are actually unaware of ti all, and that is why they’re not hang up on it. It’s a double age sword. It’s a delicate issue in China too. A lot of Jdrama and J-idols are popular there, but there’s also a huge chunk that are very hardcore anti-Japan.

      What saddens me as a Peruvian-Chinese is that we’ve been reduced to Chinese food and Jackie Chan. When we celebrate Chinese Cultural Week, we eat Chinese food and they do Feng Shui lectures. That’s about it. Which I guess comes with the territory. Japan is reduced to Anime, Samurai, and Weird Japan.

  2. Hailee Steinfield is a mix of Euro-American and Filipina. Let me check what her official ancestry is…Jewish father and a Filipino grandfather on her mother’s side.

    Entertainment is not a financially stable industry, and while not always as strict as the stereotypes suggest, one could say that many Asian and other first-generation immigrant parents probably want their kids to have a reliable job to spare them some from some of the struggles the parents faced. This is an extreme generalization, of course, and the trend probably decreases with more generations.
    Yeah, those casting calls can be really restrictive, although sometimes some mixed faces slip through. They can also be categorized by whom the production think are “believable” in the role.

    The generation that lived during WWII in the Philippines varied in their opinions. I know some Filipino J-rock fans would get in trouble with their grandparents for liking Japanese things. My grandma was 12 during “the Japanese time” and she told me how they took over the town and forced everyone to live in the school. She snuck with her cousin to get better food for the seniors, which was dangerous because the soldiers, in her words, “would bayonet you in the streets!” but she didn’t hate any Japanese people after that. She said they’re different, “taller.” I think they do keep up the knowledge of history, though, with MacArthur’s “I shall return” and historical tourist spots. The biggest issue remaining from that era is that Filipino veterans of WWII are STILL trying to get the same amount of benefits that other WWII veterans received.

    The area in California I grew up in was so diverse and heavily Asian that everything got celebrated. So I’m really not sure how about Asian celebrations in the rest of the US.

    I just remembered an episode of Pushing Daisies had a Chinese-American character from the USA’s “Old South,” complete with a general Southern accent, though I can’t recall if he was part of the small but notable Chinese Cajun community.

    Aha I know where Filipinos are heavily represented on English-language TV- singing and dancing talent shows! Jessica Sanchez (Filipina/Mexican-American) and others get far in shows such as American idol. When I watched America’s Best Dance Crew, pretty much every winning team had at least one Filipino member. And then there’s also Charisse Pempengco, who got roles after her big breaks singing on Ellen and Oprah. I think Sanchez will appear on Glee, where Pempengco also had a recurring role.

    In your older post you mentioned Justin Lin saying something about how they couldn’t find an Asian-American for the lead. I was part of the camera crew for an interview he and actor Roger Fan did at our school, and Lin pretty much said that he goes with what the studios say for their projects so that they can have the funding and connections to try and get personal projects made.

    Jon Chu (the G.I. Joe and Step Up director) also did the odd dancing sci-fi fantasy Hulu series The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, on which Harry Shum, Jr. apppeared. That show had some white leads but tended to cast a diverse cast based on dancing skills (rather than, ahem, acting ability). Yet aside from Byung-hun Lee playing Japanese, the G.I. Joe movie follows the the G.I. Joe franchise and others in casting so many white male ninja. I don’t know how much directors can say about casting calls in any particular movie.

    Please tell me I’m not the only one who grew up watching those white kid ninja movies like Surf Ninjas.
    oh gosh I am ending a comment with Surf Ninjas.

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