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Asian American

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Why Asian Americans are facing unfair treatment from U.S society?
Xuchen Cheng
The Ohio State University

Why Asian Americans are facing unfair treatment from U.S society?

The term, hyphenated American, is initially used to disparage people who came from a foreign region but were born in America. Asian Americans, which occupy about 4.8% of US population (Wikipedia), are often defined as those Americans who emigrated from Far East, such as China, India. In recent years, it has become common to see Asian American typically as technicians in U.S advertisements and this trend leads to a controversy of Asian American’s stereotype and portray among U.S society. It is not fair to Asian American of being portrayed as a limited and singular cliché for such highly diverse group. In this case, Asian Americans face an unfair judgment from their “hyphen” that should certainly be removed.

The more appearance of Asian Americans in visual culture can be a double-edged sword, indicating the consumption and repercussions among U.S society. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see Asian American faces in the mainstream media being associated with positive traits — intellectual, well-educated, knowledgeable, etc. (P.Farhi, 2011, p14). For example, in Verizon’s 2011 commercial, Belt of Technology, a kid walked in a Verizon store and showed off his amazing hardware, such as PSP, E-reader, and his smirk vanished after the salesman pulled out a smartphone with more than 200,000 apps available. The kid was played by a Caucasian and the salesman is Asian American. These two roles fit a common representation of Asian American. When Asian Americans appear in advertising, they are typically emerged as technological experts because of the fact that they are often characterized by American society as knowledgeable, savvy and mathematically adept. On the other, Asian Americans cannot feel happy about it because it’s a limited and singular cliché for a highly diverse group that is made up of people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian and South Asian descent as well as other backgrounds (F.Paul, 2011, p14). In the research Product Category, Cohen (1992) stated an association between Asian American stereotypes and the product category being advertised. She predicted that consumers are willing to respond more actively to Asian Americans in advertisement for technical product, such as stereo speak, while more passively or neutrally to Asian Americans in advertisements for nontechnical categories, such as food. Finally, she confirmed her prediction in an experiment that assesses the reaction of 208 subjects to those advertisements in which have the different race group but the same product. All in all, since Americans have lots of access to all forms of advertisements, the trend that more appearance of Asian Americans in ads for technical products would mislead to an unfair one-dimensional depiction – of Asian Americans as technically proficient, but nothing more.

The fact is opposite. Asian Americans are versatile and should be treated as the same as all-American people rather than be defined as a group with single feature. Moreover, every American should know how to help each other overcome disasters rather than categorize people into different groups based on their race and discriminate to them. Especially, Asian Americans are sometimes reviewed as odd and antipathetic group existing among American society due to lack of their culture background information and misleading from mass media. A good example for argument is the book, American Born Chinese, which is not one of those prejudiced works. It depicts a tale of three different characters – Chinese-American Jin Wang, Taiwanese Wei-Chen and all-American boy Danny– about how they can possibly help each other. “They are going to have to find a way–if they want fix the disasters their lives have become.” (Y.Gene, 2006, cover page) The picture above is the figure that appeared in the book as Danny’s obnoxious Chinese cousin, called Chin-Kee. The words here are not standard English. Obviously, the author did this on purpose in order to indicate that people who are not all–Americans always are disparaged due to their accent. Additionally, the figure itself is controversial. Chin-Kee has a really long hair, which is abnormal, wearing in an ancient fashion shirt. From my perspective, this is related to Orientalist perceptions, on which many of offensive and stereotypical caricatures were based, that Asians and Asian Americans are depicted as exotic, mysterious, dangerous, inferior, and hypersexual. The author, Gene Luen Yang, conveys a message through the book that hyphenated Americans should not be separated and discriminated from all-Americans. Instead, they should learn how to help each other because there will be catastrophic situations where you cannot fix the disasters on their owns. In this case, Asian American should not be regarded as different Americans due to the “hyphen”.

The reason why the “hyphen” associated with Asian Americans should be removed is simple. It is due to lack of perceptions of Asian culture that Asian Americans are treated as different American people. The article, More Asian American Faces in Advertisements: The Double-Edged Sword, provides strong support. The author mentions that “ to market to Asian Americans, advertisers and their corporate clients should remember that the history, culture, and socioeconomic characteristics of the Asian American population is complex, three-dimensional, and intricate. Like all other racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious groups, the Asian American experience cannot be reduced into a limited set of media and popular culture images, no matter how seemingly ‘positive’ such portrayals may appear to be. Similar to model minority perceptions of Asian Americans, we need to both recognize the successes as well as the ongoing challenges and multiple levels of diversity within the Asian American community.”(Anonymous, 2011, p8) Any region has its own unique culture and more importantly, the culture is changing. People have to learn to be respect to different culture or at least not making jokes of it.

Therefore, when it comes to the phenomenon that more Asian Americans act in mass media, there should be a large diversity and a wide range of images associated with the unique characteristics that are specific to Asian Americans but not rely on Orientalist stereotype, but instead, rely on “race-neutral” thoughts that illustrate that Asian Americans are just normal citizens and their identity and position in society are just part of the American mainstream. Besides, Asian Americans can have also a direct impact in facilitating positive change. For example, Asian students should show more ability to fix the stereotype associated with them. When working on case study with Americans, Asian students should try to avoid doing calculations all the time. Rather, they could do any work else, such as making PPT, presenting in front of class. Obviously, if Asian students self-select out of these kinds of industries, everything will just be perpetual status quo and no positive change would ever occur. Instead, they should bring their determination toward activism and passion for social change into the advertising industry, build a critical mass with others who share similar goals, and fight for the change that Asian American population want to see happen.

Farhi, P. (2011). Asian Americans face new stereotype in ads.
The Washington Post Verizon: Belt of Technology Cohen, J. (1992). White Consumer Response to Asian Models in Advertising.
Journal of Consumer Marketing, 9, 17-27.
Yang, L. G. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: Square Fish.
More Asian American Faces in Advertisements: The Double-Edged Sword.
The Society Pages. Retrieved from

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