Sometime in middle school, I learned that the Philippines, the country of my parents, was once a colony of the United States. I was immediately excited. I didn’t know then that colonialism meant a violent indoctrination that leaves an indelible mark on the culture. I just knew that it meant we were at one point part of America, and that meant I deserved to be considered normal.
It’s kind of an embarrassing, childish memory, and one that I was reminded of last week when Jenny An wrote a post for xoJane titled, “I’m an Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date an Asian Man.” In short, she refuses to date Asian men even if they matched up to her physical and personal tastes, because of a need to attain “true Americanism.” Because even the most ideal Asian male doesn’t outwardly afford her the escape from the minority status she despises. As you might expect, the article spread quickly. It blew up my Facebook stream and the comments section topped out with over 1000 comments.
I read through the thing in the early morning and by the time I was done I was thoroughly depressed. Not just from the article and reasoning, but from the whole scope of reactions, in particular, some of the ones by my fellow Asian males. For most, the immediate impulse was to respond with disgust or rage. The way some of them chose to express that merely revealed the heart of what we’re dealing with here: a toxic epidemic of inadequacy, and the poisonous ways we deal with it.
I’m not interested in a point-by-point takedown of Jenny An’s wrongheaded article, as that’s likely already been done a few times over. It can be near impossible and ethically suspect to talk someone into changing their dating preferences. Still, it’s important to look at the conditions that cultivate these views over and over. It’s not a rare idea. While they may not all reason in terms so brutal and blunt as An, I have always known a few Asian women who at least went through a phase where they swore off Asian men. The xoJane article was, then, a validation of every selfish, unfair suspicion that a typical Asian male may keep bottled up. It appealed to the worst in us, and some of us let it run free.
“You don’t match up to most Asian male’s standards anyway,” went some vitriolic comments. “White guys can have you, we don’t even want you.” The word “bitch” was employed a few times. This was classic casual misogyny utilized as a reflexive defense mechanism that crosses all cultures. It betrays a vulnerability because it’s meant to help us reassert our sense of ownership by inflicting harm with words. After all, if you don’t want us, well, we never wanted you anyway.
Another middle school memory: I once called a girl who was making fun of me a slut. I didn’t know anything about her. I just wanted to be mean, and I knew that word would do harm. It makes me cringe when I think about it today, moreso than anything else from that time.
For Asian American males, emasculation is something we’re constantly trying to overcome. We know that our depictions in the media are often not very masculine and certainly not sexual. We see that Asian/non-Asian couplings are obviously skewed more toward Asian females, leaving us in a ghettoized dating pool. We know that whiteness is privileged with an individuality and neutrality, while we have to disprove our stereotypes. We know all of these things, but we don’t know what to do with them.
These types of Asian Americans have created a duality of self-loathing and resentment. It’s too easy to tell everyone to simply get over it, as if entire cultural institutions could be shaken off like spider-webs. On some level, we must know that this is just the need to sit at the cool kid’s table writ large. Yet knowing, feeling and acting are very separate and distant steps in the process of self-betterment. Even when we do change, the world doesn’t. We don’t all possess the privilege to change the game with a change of mind.
In High School, few of my friends were Asian, and I took a pride in that, as if I was more enlightened than the others who happened to befriend people of the same Census-approved racial umbrella. In College, I joined a Filipino club because I needed a community. Today, I can’t stand clothing that bears the flag, but I care deeply about issues that affect the community. I defy the stereotypes by listening to country music, but adhere to them by rooting for every Filipino on reality TV. I think, sometimes, that this is the way it ought to be: a bundle of contradictions, because that’s what people look like — multitudes. But that’s not something you can show outwardly. I don’t know how to make strangers stop asking me if I speak English. And I don’t know how to stop caring about that.
I only speak English. My parents never taught me to speak any of the languages of the Philippine archipelago, which is a common among 2nd generation Filipino Americans. What’s less common is that I can’t even understand it when it’s spoken to me. It’s a mess to my ears. This was all in the name of assimilation, to give me a better chance of attaining Ms. An’s idea of “true Americanism.” Years later in college, while researching the Philippine-American war, I came across United States Senate Document 331 from Session 57. In it, a Senator Carmack ponders strategy in which to best subordinate and civilize the natives. He asks, “Would it be best to uneducate them in their language and impose upon them another one?” Colonialism can end physically, but its mental and cultural forms are an irreversible part of our wiring.
It’s not a clean one-to-one ratio cause and effect. The mindset of inferiority comes from the ripples of any number of events in our history, both personal and ethnic. Until the popular culture at large evolves, there will always be young girls that are ashamed to be seen in the arms of a guy that looks like her, and there will always be young boys that hate her with an unrepentant ire. This is not a resignation to the way things are. This is the culture we have to live in, but it’s also the thing we have to learn from.