What representation means to me as an Asian American


By Sophia Pan, Co-Managing Editor

I like using presentation templates. I enjoy how aesthetically pleasing they are and how they can take a simple powerpoint to the next level. A few months ago, I made a presentation about writing emails, and while doing my customary search for a design I liked, I stumbled upon Jimena Catalina’s Feeble presentation template, which featured illustrations of people at work from Leni Kauffman’s “Fresh Folk” series.

When I saw the diversity in the illustrations — in particular, when I saw an East Asian man in one of the slide designs — I almost cried, and it made me so emotional that I sent the artist a direct message on Instagram just to thank her. 

Representation is so important. 

When I was younger, I treated myself like I was white. After all, I had never seen little Asian girls in the books I had read or in the movies I had watched. I had never been taught Asian or even Asian-American history. I had never had — still have never had — an Asian teacher in a class on my schedule.

It hurts. It hurts to know that I have to fight to see people that look like me in the media I consume every day. It hurts to know that those few, scarce instances of representation that I do get as an Asian are either hurtful caricatures or stories of pain, tales of the immigrant guilt that I already live through every single day of my life.

I am tired of only hearing about Asians when it is convenient to a white narrative. I am tired of the dorky Asian nerd who exists only to promote white characters’ growth. I am tired of the submissive, delicate Asian flower who exists only to preserve the white male character’s fragile masculinity. I am tired of these stereotypes, of the scary Asian dragon lady, the villainous Asian mastermind, the unattractive and emasculated Asian man.

Asians are so much more than that, and even I can only speak to East Asians because I am East Asian myself. I cannot speak to the South and Southeast Asian experiences, much less to Central and West Asian perspectives. These are stories even more often forgotten than the East Asian story, and it is no less than a tragedy. 

The erasure of Asian narratives in media is a tragedy.

I want to see Asians onscreen doing normal things, like going to school and having friends and living their lives. I want to see them being cool, like going on adventures as space pirates and superheroes the way white characters seem to be able to do so easily.

That’s why movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” are so important. When I watched “Abominable” for the first time, I was so excited that I shouted to my mother to come look because the main character was Chinese. 

Some day, I hope that when I step into the movie theater, I will see posters with faces that look like mine on them. I long for the day when representation and diversity are so normal in media that I don’t even blink an eye, that I don’t have to go out of my way just to watch a movie with characters that look like me.

I don’t want any more little Asian boys and girls to feel as alienated as I did growing up. We are not perpetual foreigners. We are not exotic, oriental pearls. We are not chinks and g**ks. We are people, and we are just as American as white Americans are. Let the media we consume reflect that.

Updated May 17, 2021: The original opinion did not censor the slur “g**k”. The author is Chinese-American and has since realized that she has no right to say or write it uncensored, as she is not of Vietnamese descent and the slur has not been used against her.

Sophia Pan can be reached at [email protected]