#NotYourAsianSidekick Trending on Twitter

It’s Multicultural Monday, and I will update this blog later today for Crossing Cultural Borders.  But first I needed to write about #NotYourAsianSidekick.

I’ve recently returned a long hiatus from social media and I started slowly, dipping my toes into the vast ocean that is Twitter.   I’m so glad I did.  Sunday morning, thanks to retweets from Saira Ali, I discovered #NotYourAsianSidekick, the top Twitter trend.  Led by Suey Park, thousands of people Tweeted about Asian-ness, sharing their experiences and debunking stereotypes.  Yes, there were tweets from trolls and people dismissing the trend, but their voices were drops of drizzle in comparison to the deluge of people, Asian and not Asian, truly participating in support of #NotYourAsianSidekick.

The range of topics discussed was huge, so I cannot possibly summarize it all, but here are some that stuck with me:

  • Asian Identity — so many people consider only East Asians as Asian when there are South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Middle Eastern people who also are Asian
  • Debunking the myth of the model minority (Asians are not naturally smart. They have to study hard), and how Asians truly are People of Color
  • Alienating statements from strangers that one often receives as an Asian-American or Asian living/traveling in non-Asian countries (“Where are you from?” or “You speak English so well” or “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” because they’ve never heard of Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, etc.)
  • Language and speaking with accent issues
  • Asian women being fetishized, overly sexualized, and therefore dehumanized, while Asian men are often portrayed as weak, feminine, overly nerdy OR a martial arts expert
  • Body Image issues — Asian women modifying their faces (esp. eyes and skin) to look more white and less Asian, not all Asians are a size zero.
  • Media representation of Asian – whitewashing Asian characters in film, yellowface makeup on white actors, demonizing of darker skinned characters
  • Asian people of mixed heritages, some who can pass for non-Asian, some who cannot
  • Asian diaspora experiences that include family immigration stories, legal and illegal, and Asian children who are adopted into non-Asian families
  • Damaging internalized identity issues resulting from white imperialism that are especially prevalent in previously European colonized countries like India, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, etc.
  • Queerness — how is it never discussed yet it exists, dating challenges
  • Asian-American & People of Color feminism — If you belong to one minority group, that does not give you automatic understanding/acceptance/support of another minority group.  While you are both minorities, the actual experiences are vastly different.

A lot of this was rather obvious to me, since I’ve lived a lot of it, but much of it was new to me.  So I read more than I Tweeted.  I was so immersed in #NotYourAsianSidekick that I was even a tiny bit late to my choir’s pre-concert rehearsal.  After my choir concert finished hours later, I checked Twitter again and saw, much to my delight, #NotYourAsianSidekick was still going strong.  Then I discovered that Twitter has a virtual jail because Suey Park was put in Twitter jail almost 12 hours into #NotYourAsianSidekick.  I still don’t understand why.  Then others like Juliet Shen and Jaymee Goh continued leading the trend.  It’s kind of amazing how much people have to say.

Here are my own top contributions to the Twitter discussion:

1)  Ang Lee said to his son: If you want to act in better Asian-American roles, you need to create those roles. #NotYourAsianSidekick

2)  #NotYourAsianSidekick b/c my childhood Asian-American friend had double eyelid surgery to make her eyes rounder & bigger.

3)  I write an Asian character in each of my stories b/c everywhere I go, there’s always an Asian person in the room (me). #NotYourAsianSidekick

The first line was a gem I learned from an interview with Ang Lee on NPR.  The second was something that always bothered me, since my friend had double eyelid surgery when she was 13.  This last line, though obvious, was a recent revelation, a quotable gift from an author friend Suzy Morgan Williams, who had heard a similar saying from her author & filmmaker friend Craig Lew, who always included an Asian character in every screenplay that he wrote.

I’ve thought long and hard about the importance of including at least one Asian character in every story I write. While I do try to write mostly Asian protagonists, it doesn’t have always to be the protagonist because some characters that speak to me are not All Asian All the Time.  But it’s important to have representation. And Ang Lee is right.  We need to write the characters we never see and want to see.  We need to be in charge of our own companies and publish the stories and produce and direct the movies, TV shows, Youtube videos that reflect who we are.  We need to create the roles we want to play.

A huge thanks to Suey Park, Juliet Shen, Jaymee Goh, Saira Ali, Alyssa Wong, and many, many others I’ve met through this amazing movement.  As I write this blog post, #NotYourAsianSidekick has been a top 10 trend on Twitter for over 24 hours! Amazing!

Now that so many complex internalized issues have been exposed and explored in #NotYourAsianSidekick, it’s my hope that we can start solving them.  To achieve this, it’s important for Asians to continue to speak out and create new art.  Let’s celebrate diversity and redefine Asian for ourselves.

Read more about the impact of #NotYourAsianSidekick:

Blogher – Asian Women to Twitter: I’m #NotYourAsianSidekick
Buzzfeed – #NotYourAsianSidekick Unites Thousands To Discuss Asian American Feminism And Stereotypes
BBC News – #NotYourAsianSidekick goes global
The Stream – #NotYourAsianSidekick lashes out at stereotypes
Salon – #NotYourAsianSidekick ignites massive conversation about race, stereotypes and feminism


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