by Emil Guillermo
In the nearly 15 years of writing my “Amok” column in that historic ethnic media publication known as AsianWeek, I can’t recall ever seeing a force unite such a group as disparate as Asian Americans so totally. And just in time for heritage month.
Given our ethnic variety, never mind our generational differences, it would take a phenomenon of sorts to bring us all together. But then, there she was, like no one else in history, unifying us in these digital times, simply by appearing on the screen and saying the magic words: “Ching, chong, ting, tong, ling long.”
You mean Alexandra Wallace, that ex-UCLA chick who went viral on YouTube?
Wallace, the fresh face of unconscious racism, gets my vote for Asian Heritage Street Fair Queen. You might say we don’t have a queen, at least not that kind. Or that in these modern times a queen is so passé. But in 2011, Wallace, that ditzy blonde with a webcam and pushup bra, deserves something for waking up a community that normally stays silent.
Quiet Asians? Not after Wallace did her thing.
If you’ve been living under a large ramen bowl the last six months, google Wallace and you’ll see how she castigated Asians at UCLA for being loud in the library, talking on their cell phones to call people about the Japanese earthquake and practically turning the dorms into Asian ghettoes.
Boorish and graceless, sure. But then Wallace added a racist touch with her “ching-chong” talk. It’s just so natural when you want to mock an Asian to get your “ching-chong” on.
The “ching-chong” joke has been with us for ages, just as fried chicken and watermelon jokes have hounded blacks since slavery. Today, only a truly racist and ignorant lout would be so unoriginal.
But sensitivity to Asians and Asian Americans just isn’t that far along. So we must endure the Wallaces of the world (and there are millions of them out there) and witness as they discover for the first time their inner “ching-chong” and think they’re being hysterically funny.
Blame it on the media. Trickle down doesn’t work in economics, but it does in pop culture. Rosie O’Donnell, Rush Limbaugh, Adam Carolla et al. have all fed at the “ching-chong” trough. Morning DJs are notorious. Despite community protests, there’s still a green light that says mock away.
It’s about time the green light turns red.
As a private person, Wallace may deserve an ounce of sympathy. But in this case, she did it for world to see, on the Internet, where revolutions are spawned.
Inadvertently, she ushered in the anti-“ching-chong” revolution.
Web-savvy Asian Americans irate at Wallace’s insensitivity responded with videos of their own, some showing real style.
Wallace ultimately took down her video and apologized. I’m sure she got some menacing taunts, but many more responses I saw seemed to be creative reactions from young Asian Americans.
Historically, Asian Americans have always been slow to meet the challenge of negative speech. A Wallace rant? It’s an invitation to debate. As a first amendment absolutist, I always believe in more speech not less. This time, the Internet allowed Asian Americans to speak out.
Her political science professor, Phil Gussin thought some of it was too harsh.
“What Wallace did was hurtful and inexcusable, but the response has been far more egregious,” Gussin reportedly told the UCLA campus paper, the Daily Bruin. “[Asian Americans] responded with greater levels of intolerance.”
No, I’d say Asian Americans woke up and decided it was time to stand up and be heard.
Besides, if there’s no hate behind her statements, just ignorance, then Wallace has nothing to fear.
She should have stayed in school. Maybe started dating Asian guys.
Remember, any negatives Wallace experienced are just a fraction of what Asian Americans have experienced since coming to America. From Exclusion Acts, to anti-miscegenation laws, to internment camps, Asian Americans have endured it all. We didn’t go away. If we had, there’d be no community worth being part of.
So, yo, Alexandra, thanks for bringing us all together. Here’s an olive branch – to stand on – my unofficial street fair queen. See you at the balut-eating contest?
Award winning journalist and author Emil Guillermo’s “Emil Amok” column was featured in AsianWeek.