Challenging Stereotypes of Asian American Identity

Last Friday, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, an activist for Asian Pacific American (APA) issues based in Michigan, shared her multimedia outlets that can help cultivate Asian-American identity.

The main force behind Wang’s point of view is to develop a bicultural identity between Asian and American cultures. She said that by switching between the two identities, “you can adapt and be flexible—you can be part of both cultures and not have to have any type of identity crisis like people did a generation or two ago.”

Kim Peterson, a senior international business major who identifies as Asian-American, said much of Wang’s points are applicable to her courses. “Using perspectives is a main part of running a business where you have so many types of people,” she said.

Through literature, Wang said that Asian-Americans can see themselves in the stories and identify similarities between their lives and those of the characters in the plot. In addition, literature can bring to light issues the reader may be unaware of.

Wang admits that in order to connect with stories that don’t center on an Asian character, she likes to recast the plot and plug herself into the narrative. “When I read a story like Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, I would flip it around in my mind and imagine that I could be the hero.”

To breakdown stereotypes in the media, Wang’s method is to read between the lines. She said that if you see something on TV that you don’t like, have an argument with the issue at hand. By deconstructing the stereotype, you can redefine what constitutes as “normal.”

Wang referred to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother parenting memoir. In her book, Chua recounts her traditional Chinese parenting style, in which her children were forced to practice piano and mathematics for hours on end. This was something her parents had done to her as a child. Chua’s methods have stirred up controversy across the country, some agreeing it is effective while others argue Chua does not show enough affection towards her two daughters.

Wang, a writer for multiple ethnic blogs, criticized the book and said Chua does not really know about real Asian-American identity since the author lives a privileged lifestyle that many working-class families could not afford. Chua attended Harvard for her Bachelor’s and Doctorate degrees and is currently a Yale Law Professor.
The most powerful instrument for promoting cultural identity according to Wang are people and community. Our ability to write and read English can go a long way according to Wang. Forming multicultural communities consisting of people from various ethnic backgrounds is vital so that people can step outside of their comfort zone.

APASC President Natsumi Inoue who was raised in San Francisco said, “Even though there are different ethnicity groups[at USF] they end up sticking with their own.”

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