With a huge influence of the entertainment industry, even the lack of diverse representation, we still see some representation of the Asian Community. Especially nowadays that the generation is changing the industry, more Asians are seen on televisions. There are bad stereotypes and also some good representation out there, but what hasn’t been presented is the diverse colorism in Asian community.
Usually when we hear the word “Asian,” we think of a small light skin with a yellow undertone, black straight silky hair person eating noodles with chopsticks listening to K-POP while watching a K-Drama. There might be more stereotypes applied. Then when we think of “Asian Culture,” we would think of Japanese culture, Chinese culture and Korean culture. With a lack of representation of other ethnicities within the race, that’s why people don’t know that there are many ethnicities, colors, cultures, languages and looks in the Asian community. Even on the continent, there are many parts of Asia, but the only one that has been talked about is East Asia.
I have been asked a lot if I am mixed or if I’m from Hawaii. Some people have even thought I was Latina. Some asked me what my ethnicity was when we first met because they just can’t tell. After I said “No, I’m fully Thai,” I often heard “But you don’t look Thai” or “But you don’t look Chinese” or “You don’t look Asian” or just compared me with an East asian person and said “No. No, you’re not.” Especially once they got to know me a little more, and I’m not what they think an Asian person would be, which is pretty much a stereotype of East Asians. “No, you’re not Asian enough.” I hear this a lot, but I am. What am I supposed to be then? My parents are Asian, so do my grandparents and my ancestors before them. Why do people think they have such authority to define if I am my race enough? I am Asian, and I’m proud, and you can’t change that. Whatever I do, I will always be Asian. Most of the time when they say “But you don’t look Thai enough,” they don’t even know a thing about Thailand except that they have had Pad Thai once. Other than the look, they just assume that if I’m from Southeast Asia, it means that I am everything related to China. Most of the time, people say it out of kindness. They don’t mean to be rude, but this is all they know about Asia. Like asking me about random stuff and everyday life things that relate to Chinese culture or Japanese culture or Korean culture. I don’t have the knowledge. I can’t answer that. Then there becomes an awkwardness in the room because I don’t even know what they are referring to. I’ve never even heard of some. Then they blame me if I even know my own culture or if I’m shameful of my culture. Once I seem not to know what they are asking me, I get asked if I was born and raised in the U.S. No, I was born and raised in Thailand, but what you ask me is just not my culture, and I’m not going to pretend that I know it, and give you wrong answers.
The problem is the media doesn’t make Southeast Asian culture and South Asian culture known. We don’t have enough representation, and that’s why people still don’t even know that being Southeast Asian or South Asian is a thing. It might not seem like a huge issue because not representing doesn’t hurt anybody. Yes, it is. In everyday life, the Southeast Asian community in the U.S. is not as big as any other communities, but there are Southeast Asian immigrants in the country who are looking for jobs, so they can take care of themselves and their families. The problem is there are no jobs for them. When there is a huge community representing a culture, immigrants of that culture might walk in and ask for jobs, and they might get it. For Southeast Asians, we just don’t know where to go. Example of working at a restaurant, most of the time they are looking to hire someone who speaks English and one other language. In the Latin community and some non-Latin communities, they hire people who speak Spanish and English. For Asians, we might get a suggestion to go find a job in Chinatown. There is a problem because now they’re hiring people who speak Chinese and English. Mandarin is NOT the main language in most of the countries in Asia.
Personally, as an actress, this is a huge struggle. Nowadays there are more ethnic artists stepping into the industry, and we are making a change. It is becoming open for East Asian actors, but not for Southeast Asians. A lot of requirements for the roles will state “Must fluently speak Madarin.” “Must be able to fluently speak Korean.” “Must be fluent in Japanese.” For trained actors, we don’t have a problem with doing accents, and if we are not able yet, we will learn. Looking for someone who is fluent in another language? That’s another thing. It takes a long time to master a language and sound like you grew up speaking it. There will already be other actors who actually grew up speaking those languages, which means there are no opportunities for Southeast Asian actors. Unless the producer expands the representation or cast an Asian actor to play a regular American with nothing to do with the fact that they are Asian, Southeast Asian actors have no jobs. We are not “Asian enough” to play an “Asian” character, which is the stereotype of East Asians, but we are not appropriate to play anything else. There is no representation that is a right fit for us except our own. When ‘Raya and The Last Dragon’ came out, it was a big thing for the Southeast Asian community, some people were still confused, “Wait, and what about Mulan?” Raya is a big step, and a beautiful start. Same with the South Asian community that needs their own representation. Since the terrorism attack in New York City, middle easterns and Muslims became the stereotype of how a terrorist would look like. That also linked to South Asians as well. Because with no representation of what South Asians are, some people assume that South Asians were Muslims and must be from the Middle East.
Having no representation can seem to be neutral because at least there are no specific ideas or stereotypes to hurt that group of people, but having the representation may save a lot of lives. With more representation of that group of ethnicity, they will have a stronger community. They will have jobs. People will be opened up for more knowledge about what there actually is out there. Maybe having more representation will teach some people a huge lesson that there is a lot more to know, and we shouldn’t be so quick to judge and think that we already know everything. Maybe it could have even the simplest change like people stop asking a stereotypical question, and that won’t ruin someone’s day. They may even actually get to know each other as human to human and become best friends for life instead of walking away in a different direction in awkwardness. The simplest act and understanding from each individual together can impact the whole world.