Monday, July 30, 2012

The Asian American Moment

It'll happen, kids. Trust me.
He or She will have lived in America all of his or her life. It won't matter if she/he are Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc. It won't matter if they are mixed either, their families will have lived in America for two generations at least. If he/she speaks an Asian language, it will hardly be fluent, and they will chuckle if you ask them to say something in that foreign dialect.

In many ways, they will be the definition of mainstream. Interesting, somewhat, but so ideal that they will also be kind of boring. A little shallow too.

And of course She or He will be charismatic! So charismatic that it will not matter that they have Asian blood coursing through their veins. They will defy all preconceived conventions, leap over stereotypes and they will be superstars. Movie (super) stars, probably. Big budget ones, on bus-stop posters. No Kung-fu whatsoever, not even as a joke. No Dragon Ladies, no evil Fu Manchus, no dutiful-Confucius spouting servants. It won't even take place in ancient China or WWII Japan. Can you imagine?

This will be the Asian American Moment. And we won't know it at first. It will happen and we will be surprised, confused, waiting for the swift rise to be accompanied by a disastrous fall.

Sorry, Keanu. You are not 'the one'. This time.
We will think they are too good to be true, and they will be. They'll have some type of sex scandal or one of their films or albums or TV shows will bomb, but America loves building people up, breaking them down, and then building them up again, and that's what will happen to them too, they will be a part of this very American cycle.

And some Asians will hate them because they are not Asian enough. Especially those born in Asia, who still hold onto their country's ideas and values. The leaders in their communities will say that he/she is great, but maybe they assimilated too much. Became too westernized.

Kristen Kreuk has played great Asian Americans in the past. And then she played Chun-Li.
But we, we Asian Americans, or at least many of us, will know that there is a massive difference in being Asian and being Asian American. A different viewpoint, a stark disconnect, lives with little semblance to each other. We will know that she/he did not need to assimilate, because being American is what they were born into and all they truly know.

That's what the Asian American moment will be about.

Maybe its happened already. There are many contenders to give us our moment. Jeremy Lin has propelled Asian Americans, surely. But the fact that it matters that he is Asian American, and, more importantly here, Asian, makes it doubtful. Even though he's lived in America all his life, it's still significant that he's soon playing where Yao Ming (born and raised in China) became a superstar and international sensation, in Houston, and now he's following in his footsteps, to be viewed in millions of Chinese homes overseas.

The Rockets? That's Linsane in the Membrane.
It's still significant that, after the signing, some angry fans referred to him as a traitorous chink for leaving New York.

The Asian American Moment will make all of that seem absurd. Though they will look Asian, for all intents and purposes, she/he will be American and viewed as such. For better and for worse, he/she will be so "American" that the Asian will be a strange prefix on their Wikipedia page.

Someday, he/she will win some Oscar/Emmy/Grammy. They will be at the pinnacle. And it won't matter that their eyes are clearly slanted, or that their skin has a foreign tint. What will matter is that millions of Asian Americans, now four, five generations in, will see she/he, see this Asian American treated as a peer.

It will happen. And it won't change everything. But it will finally, truly, be a start.