AANHPI Heritage Month: Examining the role of media portrayals

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Rivera is also a playwright whose plays have been staged in New York City, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. His creative work explores race, masculinity, and sexuality at length. Photo by Lilith Acadia

Can you give us a brief history of major themes in AANHPI representation across the media, literature, and performance arts? What factors have shaped this representation?

It would take hundreds of pages to adequately provide such a history. However, if we are to locate some commonalities across the multiple ethnicities of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders — loosely from the 19th century onward, from the perspective of the United States and much of Europe — trends of representation correlated with whatever imperial or capitalist interests were dominant at the time. These attitudes are reflected in print media, minstrel theater, and literature alike.

Tom Kobayashi, Landscape, Manzanar Relocation Center, California / photograph by Ansel Adams. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress

How does this media representation impact and influence AANHPI individuals and U.S. society-at-large?

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders live under the weight of stereotypes, like all folks of color. I can attest to that personally. Writing in his own context, Frantz Fanon as a Black West Indian man in France, described the “epidermal schema” — the sense of being marked and hyper-aware of your own sense of otherness at all times — and one can say that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have tended to experience a different but similar form of that. A sense of unbelonging, perpetual foreignness.

What is a model minority? How has this idea been represented in the media you’ve studied and what has its impact been on the AANHPI community?

The term originally was coined by sociologist William Petersen to describe Asian Americans (Pacific Islanders are generally not racialized within the scope of this particular narrative) who were such exemplary Americans that they outperform other minorities, and often even outperformed their white counterparts — particularly economically and academically.

In your research have you found a type of representation that resonates with the AANHPI community? How can individuals advocate for empowering representation in the media they consume?

This may come across as a little controversial, but I’m not precisely interested in more ‘positive’ representation as a political solution to anti-Asian racism.

https://youtu.be/a4g_hIhwqaI

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