On the Fringes
Recently, several readers have commented that our staff is out of touch with whats really happening among Asian Americans. One even went so far as to accuse us of being on the fringes of society.
Pearl Harbor stands as one example. While we and several API civil rights organizations have been wary of the $140 million blockbuster, go to any theater showing the film, and youre likely to see APIs queued up, just like any other Americans. In fact, after watching the movie on Monday, one San Francisco teenager gave it a 10. Especially cool, he said, was the twisted love triangle. That World War II served as the backdrop made the film seem all the more real to this 16-year-old, and he compared it to the equally Hollywood-esque Titanic.
So why are we so critical? I guess it is disappointment that Pearl Harbor which in reality, was the turning point that led to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans featured such cookie-cutter characters. OK, some Asians were depicted, but they were muted, and their one-liners did little to bring any understanding about our history.
Someone asked me, why the uproar over Pearl Harbor? Whats the difference between it and Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and Schindlers List, all of which characterize Germans as enemies?
The difference is that few German Americans are going to be labeled as foreigners. Their appearance allows them to assimilate no matter if they are third-generation, second-generation or even new immigrants. That isnt the case for Asian Americans. Indeed, recent surveys reveal that most people view us as foreigners, with the underlying connotation that we dont really belong here. America is not ours to share.
By choosing to minimize the presence of Asians in Pearl Harbor, Hollywood is buying into that misconception, perpetuating a type of racism that is as damaging as it is subtle. Eventually, it affects all of us: In the workplace, in social situations, or by seemingly benign comments. (Where are you from? and You speak such good English come to mind.)
If being aware of our past and standing up against what we see as oppressive, situates us on the fringes, we do so proudly, in full view.