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QUESTION: In the popular media, Asian American men are often depicted as weak or emasculated and Asian American women as sex objects. In my experience, this translates into a weird, self-hating dynamic where AA men accuse AA women of selling out for dating white men and AA women dismiss AA men and/or feel like they all have a chip on their shoulder. Whether or not it's right, the reality is that "outmarriage" is increasingly common. Do you think Asian Americans should be encouraged to marry one another more? How can we heal this divide within the community?
SHERYL: It is a fact that outmarriage has become increasingly common among all groups, not just Asian Americans. I don't believe that anybody should be encouraged to marry one another. What does that imply, that it's better somehow? That it keeps the Asian American community unified? It's inaccurate to think that the mixing of races will heal racial injustices but nonmixing of races won't keep a community together either.
On the one hand you're talking about media representation and on the other outmarriage, and you just can't draw a direct correlation. Outmarriage is a fact of our times. This is not to say that media portrayals of Asians have served our community well. In my mind, media representations seem to affect most those people who are not involved or affiliated with the Asian American community because they foster certain stereotypes that have existed since Chinese immigrants began working on the railroad.
But if you believe that media representation is the cause of this divide, then what you need to focus on is the actual representation and how people may or may not decode them. I've always believed that communities of color need to create, maintain and foster their own media structures as one method of combating inaccurate and biased representations. I've also seen the community mobilize against negative media portrayals - the Abercombie & Fitch t-shirts, the Mr. Wong cartoon by Ice Box, and Wen Ho Lee. The problem is that there are not enough divergent images of Asian men and women and all we're left with is one or two that people seem to remember.
HELEN: Until we can really define ourselves we'll constantly be subject to interpretation by others - whether that's on a political, cultural, or artistic level. Certainly that's what the Asian American Writer's Workshop, NAATA and the film community does foster the creation of our own representation.
The complaint about who Asian women are marrying out - it's not about other men, it's about white men. That is the predominant issue. It gets a bit convoluted because the reverse - of Asian men with white women - is not on the table. Studies about out-marriage reveal that Asian men and women are outmarrying at about the same rate. So it's not just something that's happening with Asian women, but the discussion tends to be about Asian women who go with a white guy because of the power dynamics of the straight white male in society versus the Asian American male, and the continual efforts to demasculinize Asian men. That ignorant Details magazine piece is a recent example..
The other thing to know is that outmarriage isn't only with whites - there are a substantial number of outmarriages with other communities of color. Certainly in Southern California right now Asian-Latino marriages are very common. And then there are pan-Asian outmarriages. Most families don't look outmarriage just in terms of race, but also ethnicity. Whether it's Chinese marrying Indian, Southeast Asian marrying East Asian, or whatever - there are multiple combinations within the Asian American community itself. That is a growing phenomenon and I think it has a lot of implications for Asian American identity, too.
QUANG: There are some funny assumptions in the question, and I think Helen has sort of complicated it. It's simplistic to think that outmarriage leads to self-hating men. I think that that's not true. I also think that the question itself, about encouraging Asian Americans marrying one another is just very scary. It's not sociology, and how would you encourage them to marry one another?
I also think we have to be careful about how much we blame media for things that happen. For me, the definition of self-empowerment is picturing yourself living your life at the center of your own narrative, and not being hemmed in by and reinforcing the kind of stereotypes that are embedded somewhere in this question.
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