Who’s In & Out: Media and Redefining the Multiracial Asian American

The multiracial population is increasing at an astonishing rate, with a 32 percent jump in mixed-race individuals between 2000 and 2010, and projections that by 2020, one out of five Asians in the U.S. will be multiracial (Saulny, 2011). Despite shifts in population dynamics, and a call for change, for many years Asian American representation in the media was not only scarce, but also selective. Along with South, Southeast Asians, and Asian American intersectionalities, mixed-race people, or Hapas (Hawaiian for half, typically for one of Asian descent) encountered difficulties fitting into the dominant Asian American narrative.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.34.36 AM.pngA video by College Humor, titled  “Are You Asian Enough?” summarizes these challenges well—taking a comical jab at how within society, mixed-race individuals are often divided from their mono-racial peers, and distanced from the identity of “truly Asian”. This manifests through phenotypes, self-identification, and mixed individuals’ right/non-right to “claiming their Asian heritage”. As a white-passing mixed-race individual “not Korean enough to insist expertise in North Korean politics”, but “Korean enough to claim to be Korean to only those less Asian than him”—this video exposes truths which often results in mixed-race individuals feeling alienated, marginalized, and un-belonging in both the Asian or non-Asian community. While for many years Asian American media failed to account for the rapid diversification of the Asian population, recent popular media has made strides to redefine “who” falls within and “what” it means to be Asian American.

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While there are many facets to Asian American identity, one recurring trend in the dominant Asian American narrative is the contention between one’s American and Asian culture—the overwhelming feeling of being the “forever foreigner”.  This is described in Ju Yon Kim’s, “Homework Becomes You”, and the “doubling” or “double lives” of many Asian Americans to perpetually negotiate their American and Asian upbringing. This is also depicted in Better Luck Tomorrow in the main character Ben’s internal struggle to reconcile the dichotomy between his “model minority” status and his rebellious “deviant” behavior.  While a bit different in its manifestation, the multiracial quest for self is very similar to the underlying sentiments in the dominant narrative—the juxtaposition between two very different worlds, and the conflict in negotiating the two.

Multiracial identities vary from the dominant Asian American narrative though in that for many years, they received even less visibility within mainstream media. As YouTube grew, and Asian American artists, vloggers, and entertainers grew traction on online social media, multiracial Asians remained relatively absent in the Asian American narrative. While under representation and negligence still exists within the multi/bi-racial community (e.g.— Hapa Allison Ng as Emma Stone) recently there has been tangible mobilization and inclusivity of Hapas within the Asian American community. Buzzfeed, as an overwhelmingly dominant media presence in America, has made monumental strides to increase visibility of multi/biracials within the Asian American narrative. In videos like “Asian Americans Re-create Iconic Magazine Covers”, and “Asian Americans Respond to Racist Comments”, Buzzfeed has actively combated sentiments of not feeling “Asian enough” by including all individuals of Asian descent (monoracial or not) as Asian American equals. Namely, one of Buzzfeed’s original pioneers, Ashly Perez, who is of mixed Cuban, Filipino, and Korean descent, has been a large force within this movement, and a role model for multiracial Asian Americans. In the video “Asian Americans Recreate Iconic Magazine Covers” Ashly states the video provides the valuable opportunity to show  “the diversity of what it means to be Asian” and create “a fully Asian American portrait (which encompasses all facets of Asian identity)”.  Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.33.52 AM.png

Likewise, two main stars of Buzzfeed’s series “Ladylike”, Jen Ruggirello and Safiya Nygaard are also of mixed Asian descent, and often feature in “Asian Americans do…” videos—sharing how their heritage has shaped their Asian American identity. The effortless, consistent, and non-discriminatory means in which Buzzfeed brings together diversely ethnic people under a common name serves to unite, not undermine, the similarities between Asian Americans. As stated by one of the Buzzfeed cast, this representation of mixed-race Asian Americans in popular media has provided previously “othered” people with a sense of belonging and self-identity—and bridged the gap between embodied Asian American experiences and struggles.

While the silencing of multiracial peoples still persists in reception other Buzzfeed videos like “The Struggles of Being Mixed Race”—which was vastly criticized for being a “hyperbolic detail of mixed-race struggles” and a liberal manifestation of “special snowflake syndrome”, multiracial peoples are now embracing their voice, their story, and increasing representation in their communities. This is especially important for multiracial teens and youths in their quest for self-identification and fulfillment, who can now have access to role models in media—and no longer feel the social pressure to fit into perfectly racialized boxes.

Through unifying and broadening understandings of Asian American identity, we can come to appreciate that being Asian American is not about what we aren’t, but what we are. It is not exclusive to a single narrative, nor is it a checkbox where one must embody a homogenous look, language, and culture. We must dismantle the need to classify and categorize others, to “other” people, and to discredit the struggles of people under which we unify.  By appreciating the full difference of the “Asian American” experience in media, we can unite against oppressive forces and provide an inclusive community for the ever-changing Asian American story.  

 

 

Citations:

Collegehumor. Are You Asian Enough? YouTube, 06 Oct. 2015. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVR3B01NxiM>.

Ju Yon Kim, “Homework Becomes You: The Model Minority and Its Doubles,” from The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday (NYU, 2015)

Saulny, Susan. “Census Data Presents Rise in Multiracial Population of Youths.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.

BuzzFeedYellow. Struggles of Being Mixed Race. YouTube, 12 Jan. 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob-qmfvnQVo&t=96s>

BuzzFeedVideo. Asian Americans Re-create Iconic Magazine Covers. YouTube, 24 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT8BXAWEgFU&gt;.

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