CHINA || JAPAN || KOREA
 


)) Exhibits
)) Maps
)) Search



)) Developer
)) About
)) Submissions
(75K PDF)

 


by Michael S. Liao
San Jose State Student

is subjectively construed through a moral society's intelligent eye and theoretical lens. A moral society to me is a collective of social participants who discern right from wrong by establishing a common set of values, beliefs, and norms. The dominance of White Europeans in America results in the ascendance of moral values and beliefs endorsed by Whites, leading to a distorted perception through the filtered lens of a White perspective. The establishment of power hierarchy legitimizes the dominant culture's constitution of normalcy, thereby creating the social construction of "other." Power and control are the antecedents for social construction of "other," while the consequences reinforce and perpetuate power imbalance and social dominance.

As a social observant, my analysis of ethnic "other" in America incorporates my personal, as well as vicarious experiences as an Asian American. A collective voice is utilized throughout the essay which incorporates experiences of Asian Americans around myself, as well as through the re-telling of Asian American experience through many forms of media broadcasting. My definitions of "other" entails an ideological silencing and disenfranchisement of non-Whites, as the problems within the oppressed groups are ignored and overlooked by dominant society. In a personal and collective voice I will analyze stereotypes regarding Asian Americans, suggesting a propensity for prejudice and irrational hatred on the part of dominant culture. I will also explore the social construction of Asian womanhood and manhood in the context of social separation and discrimination. Furthermore, I will discuss cultural-level portrayals of Asian Americans that ignores cultural diversity, objectifies and reduces them to their skin color. I will make the argument that the construction of "other" justifies institutional racism and overt discrimination, leading to potential violence against members of the target group. The social construction of ethnic "other" functions on multiple social levels, from interpersonal relations to cultural-symbolic images and ultimately socio-political agendas. The dominant culture takes up the active role of upholding the dichotomous notions of "us" and "them," while a passive role of acknowledging the inequalities is associated with the marginalized groups. However, for many of the oppressed population, the "other" label is not a prescriptive construction. As social participants, oppositional resistance to challenge and tear down the construction of "other" is forged through forms of ideological broadcasting such as art, literature, and other forms of media. In recognizing and resisting the imposed label of "other," and in writing this essay, I too am engaging in an oppositional project and identifying myself as an Asian American activist.

As I walked through the crowded corridor with my head held low and my loose-leaf binder held tightly against my chest, I felt the weight of impending doom. I sucked in one final breath and held it, praying to God to keep me from harm. My prayers were always silent, almost routine, as I pleaded against the inevitable. As I advanced toward the group of towering bullies like a lamb amidst wolves, I was keenly aware of their watchful predatory gaze. It started off as a spark, one of my tormentors called out: "Hey! where are you going Chinaman?", and the abuse began. The verbal taunts eventually escalated into nudges and shoves. All the while I just kept my eyes on the door of my classroom at the end of the hallway, praying for it to be over. On some days my tormentors would hold me captive until the bell rang, making me tardy to my class. High school, as a hierarchical social institution, reflected the prejudices and attitudes of mainstream society.

A nation with a population as diverse in personal and collective identities as the United States can bring about a multitude of moral concerns and predicaments. In the hegemonic patriarchal heterosexist society of America, the norm by which all are measured against is that of a straight White male. A self-fulling prophecy in both dominant and oppressed consciousness perpetuates a cyclical power inequality with its primary purpose as the legitimization of White culture. The social and psychological impact of marginalization as "other," profoundly disrupts inter- as well as intra-group harmony. Conflict arises at times out of attempts by the oppressed groups to gain acceptance by the dominant culture, while preserving one's own cultural identity. Concordantly, conflict also arises when members of the oppressed groups rise to actively resist and challenge domination. In an article from USA Today, Delaney (1995) argues that urgent social issues such as crime and poverty within minority cultures are largely debated upon by the groups involved, with whites acting as spectators. Problems within minority communities are often attributed to internal dispositions and inherent characteristics of the minority population. By ascribing to minority groups' dysfunctional pathology, dominant society reasserts dominance and justifies its lack of intervention. A reinterpretation of the famous slogan used to promote the status quo can wholly embody the prevalent attitudes of privileged America: "If it ain't White, don't fix it."

I heard her scream, as he chased her down the hallway. I froze, with toothbrush in my hand and foam dripping from my lips, and tried to make out what was going on. It took me a moment to realize that my neighbors next door were fighting. Well, to be exact, the husband seemed to be beating up his wife. Being in proximity of the violence brought me back to a time when my knees would go weak and my heart pound in crazy rhythms whenever my parents fought. It was always the same cycle, beginning with the violence, followed by the suffocating silence. During every deafening silence episodes, I always hid in my mother's closet so as to not get in harm's way. When I came to the United States at the age of ten, I experienced the isolation and silence associated with being an Asian American. Perhaps not wanting to exacerbate public hatred, many social problems within the Asian community are kept silent. Domestic violence is discussed behind closed doors amongst housewives, but never to the public. Just as my reservedness and silence had earn me the title of "model student" in school, so did the silence of Asian Americans in giving birth to the stereotype of the "model minority."

The model minority stereotype refers to a categorization of "positive" characteristics attributed to Asian Americans, including passivity, docility, and high academic achievements. Contrary to popular belief that Asian Americans are highly successful individuals with no psychological nor social dysfunctions, many social problems exist within the community. The model minority stereotype effectively silences the Asian community from speaking out about these urgent social problems. The failure to see family violence and violence against women in the Asian community as serious social problems is a direct result of mental schemas derived out of notions of Asian docility. For decades Asian women suffered in silence, their pains went un-noticed even by their pale-skinned counterparts. In her discussion of family violence among immigrant women, Easteal (1996) notes that misconceptions and fears of being deported is a factor which prevents many Asian women from seeking help. In addition, many of the Asian immigrant women are taught to fear and mistrust the criminal justice system, thus further limiting their options. A lack of public care facilities and women's shelters sensitive to the needs of Asian women acts as a deterrence from seeking help for Asian American victims of domestic violence (Easteal, 1996). Stereotypes foster not only social separation but justify and perpetuate violence against members of the oppressed groups as well.
Asian femininity is constructed to be mysterious and hyper-sexual by the dominant White culture. The pornography industry cashes in on this social attitude and responds to the high demands for pornographic material depicting Asian women. Especially prominent are materials centering on bondage. In the extreme form of objectification a woman is reduced to merely a sexual object, thus justifying rape and sexual assault. In reading and writing about incidences of hate crimes against Asian Americans, it then become a shared communal experience lived vicariously through the re-telling of the story:
In 1985, an eight year old Chinese girl...was found raped and lynched in...North Carolina- two months after Penthouse featured pictures of Asian women in various poses of bondage and torture, including hanging bound from trees. [Although the correlation between the pornographic depictions and the sexual violence was not established], her rape and killing were not investigated as a possible hate crime (Zia 541-544).
The interconnections of gender and race continues today to manifest itself in ways to exotify and objectify Asian women.
My close friend of ten years is an aspiring actor struggling to make it in the film industry. In her career so far as a novice actor, she has had to combat constantly the mainstream notions of Asian femininity. With much humor yet with a hint of resentment, she recounted over the telephone a particular photo shoot in which the make-up artists insisted on giving her the "exotic Asian look." This was accomplished by applying excessively bright eye shadow powder and accentuating her eye lines to emphasize a slant. In an industry that thrives on projecting images of perfection, I imagine the profound impacts on her self-esteem and efficacy in being treated as the ethnic "other." Images of perfection denigrate women as a whole, but for Asian women the ideal is far more unattainable.
The roots of the stereotypical notions of Asian femininity can be traced to the images constructed during World War II. In presenting a model of ideological racism expressed through mainstream media, Espiritu (1997) argues that Asian femininity was constructed as a response to the emerging feminist movement in the 60's. Asian women were portrayed in media as the epitome of ideal femininity. Having been ultra-sexualized, de-vocalized, and centralized to please and satisfy, these one-dimensional caricatures were both physically and sexually subservient to White men. Culturally and symbolically, these images serve to uphold the virility of White males, and cast off a categorizational depiction of the ideal femininity. Intentional parings of White males with Asian females are routinely seen on television, symbolically conveying a cultural contestation in which White males impose their domination through the "undertaking" of ethnic females. As the war time propaganda against Asians intensified, there emerged damaging stereotypes and controlling images of Asians as a whole.
The World War II propaganda breathed life into the racial stereotype of the yellow peril. This strategy effectively cast Asians as the abominable "other," thereby justifying racial discrimination and White domination. The construction of "other" served a socio-political purpose in legitimizing the interests of the dominant culture, as evidenced in the erratic shifts of stigmatization. A trend of shifting racial stereotypes and controlling images in accordance with the perceived "enemy" throughout American history functioned as a categorization of "other" on a national level. While Japanese Americans were under attack from the World War II propaganda, the previously stigmatized Chinese Americans came to be regarded in a brand new light. Characterizations such as "hard-working peasants" were attributed to Chinese Americans, casting a dichotomous good and evil caricatures of Chinese and Japanese Americans, respectively. An integral part of war-time propaganda, and construction of ethnic "other" in general, includes the social construction of Asian American manhood.
I grew up being taught about the values of respect, reservedness, and resilience. Asian masculinity is subtle, conveyed through artistic expressions. The aggressive, tough notions of masculinity are regarded as unrefined and an indicator of poor education and lower class. When I came to the United States, my practice of concession in the classroom was seen as a sign of timidity. My proper respect for elders and teachers was seen as an eagerness to please. My non-aggressive response and silent endurance of harassments was seen as a sign of weakness. The traditional Asian notions of masculinity instilled in me were perceived unfavorably in the American context.
Ethnic minority manhood has always been constructed as deviant relative to the White male norm. Stereotypes, like the brutish sexuality of African Americans, systematically worked to White males' advantage in constituting White normalcy. The construction of Asian manhood served the same purpose. However, Asian masculinity is broadcasted through a dualism of images depicting hyper-masculinity through Kung Fu movies, and asexuality through passive portrayals. Depictions of androgyny in Asian male set them off as neither men nor women. Asian men are never portrayed as masculine by the White notions of masculinity, but instead are portrayed as effeminate or homosexual. The only acceptable form of masculinity for Asian men is achieved through Kung Fu movies, which in itself separates Asian men as the exotic, outlandish "other." Espirtu (1997) observed that the majority of Asian male characters on television consist of minor background characters with excessively domestic attributes such as laundry cleaners, waiters, house keepers, shop owners, and other roles traditionally considered to be feminine. The emerging popularity of Kung Fu movies gave rise to a slew of American adaptations in which White Kung Fu fighters save the day by stopping villainous Asian invaders in their mad crusade of overtaking the world. So once again the power hierarchy is restored and Asian masculinity is vilified and put in its place.
"YOU DAMN CHINK! THAT'S WHAT YOU GET!"- that was the last thing the 19-year-old Korean American heard before suffering a skull fracture from the attack, which put him in the hospital (Clementson, 2000). Asian Americans experience a multitude of overt discrimination ranging from derogatory references in public, to more violent acts such as the above mentioned experienced by John Lee, a student from State University of New York. Virtually all Asian Americans I know have experienced discrimination and racism of one sort or another in their lifetime as an "American."
Violence is an universal assertion of power and control. All forms of violence can be understood in the context of power inequalities and issues of control. Social construction of ethnic "other" delineates a model of social functioning based on hierarchies and unequal distribution of power. Dominant culture has always employed smoke screens such as diagnostic labels or political propaganda as forms of social control in addition to legitimizing discrimination. While many of the prejudiced ideologies and racist images from times of war have withered; the seed of fear and hatred have been left unscathed, giving birth to an reincarnated chaparral of unseen institutional racism. The dominant society's fear now is not of questionable political allegiance as was during times of war, but rather the economic motives of the perceived technologically advanced Asian immigrants.
As an immigrant, I faced pressures both from the dominant culture to conform and the pressures to preserve my own culture. I struggled with the contrary notions of masculinity endorsed by the dominant White culture and the notions I was brought up to honor; that is the conflict facing young Asian Americans in our society. The hierarchical structure of high school creates a dynamic of power imbalance, in which the disempowered seek to identify with their oppressor. As stressful as the demands for social conformity for native-born students, the additional cultural-identity conflict for immigrants creates the potential for extreme social deviance. Stripped of self-confidence and sense of belonging, many Asian immigrants participates in gangs for affiliation and group identity. In my personal experience with several high school friends, the violence they exhibited came as a direct response to the alienation and overt racism they experienced as the "other." On the other side of the extreme is a total inhibition of one's social interactions and eventual break-down resulting from social isolation. I can identify with the latter. Desperate for mainstream acceptance, but at the same time vigilant to cultural preservation; I resorted to living a double life. By keeping family and social life separate, I felt a false sense of fulfilling my responsibilities. However, the opposing values and beliefs of the two worlds must invariably collide together and compete in a identity tug-of-war. My family ties deteriorated in my attempts to distance myself from my Asian identity. The put-down's from the popular crowd created in me a vicious cycle of self-loathing. All I had wanted was acceptance, a misguided notion of the embodiment of American moral values.
The attempts by young Asian Americans to gain acceptance is evident in their immersion into hip hop culture. Such immersion is perceived by many Asian Americans as a rite of passage into mainstream America. It is not hard to see what Asian American males are desperately seeking; the masculinity which was robbed from them. Acting out in violent and sometimes delinquent ways is a defense mechanism against feminization through cultural stereotypes. Asian males wish to identify with the hyper-masculine construction of African American manhood through the adoption of hip hop culture. Many of these liberation-seeking Asian youths carry around slogans such as "Asian power" and "Asian pride" as a form of self-empowerment and reminder of a culture that is greater than the parts of the whole. The phenomenon of the Asian gangs and their prevalence does not imply an underlying propensity for crime, as some may argue, but rather the logical response for a proud people robbed of their personal and collective identity.
We were friends for almost ten years, up until we lost touch in college. He was an Asian American who was active in Asian gangs. He shared with me once, when we were sitting around in his dorm room; the anger he cultivated from years of experience as an ethnic "other." With raw emotions and unfiltered fervor he recounted the times he was picked on by the popular crowd in high school. In response to the feminization of Asian manhood by dominant culture, he began to work out religiously to achieve physical prowess. Furthermore, he sought group affiliation and an Asian identity through gangs. With a look of unyielding determination he recounted the pride he had in himself when he, along with his gang partners, sought physical retribution toward those who had abused him years before. Violence to him was a means to an end to reclaim his usurped "Asian Pride."
The struggles and accomplishments of the African American community has been a great force in shaping the advancements of Asian Americans into mainstream society. During the 60's, the civil rights movement opened the door for many marginalized groups to voice their rights. African Americans, at the forefront of the movement, rightfully gained a gradual acceptance into mainstream America. Popular media currently reflects a much greater inclusion of African Americans, relative to the onset of the movement. Wahl (1999) observes that the popularity and influence of hip hop culture provides a form of ideological broadcasting for African Americans, giving the disenfranchised a voice. Their hard battles and countless sacrifices have shifted public opinion, making discrimination against African Americans socially inappropriate. Asian Americans, on the other hand, are still viewed as "permanent houseguests" of America. The lack of representation and outright misrepresentation of Asian Americans in popular media fuels existing stereotypes and perpetuates social separation.
What the African American community has gradually attained that Asian Americans lack is one unified voice. So much cognitive and organizational effort is put into solving internal conflicts we lack the energy expenditure to focus on a collective goal. Many of the conflicts within the Asian American community arise out of intergenerational disputes and cultural clashes as a result of social construction of "other." The westernization and exploitation of second generation Asian Americans contribute to the break down of traditional values. Intrafamilial conflict is among the most devastating to the Asian American social structure. An understanding of the values placed on relationships is imperative in analyzing the impact of western exploitation. "Guanxi" is a Chinese term connoting an interpersonal sense of connectedness that acts as cohesive bond which ties members of the community in a collective embrace. Western exploitations and the imposed ethnocentric values by the dominant culture wreaks havoc on the intricate relational dispositions of Asian Americans. Among the damages of imposed eurocentrism is the loss of dignity for Asian Americans. Under the White man's shadow, it is not easy to proclaim "Asian pride."

Old traditions and Western influence come together in a cultural clash that breaks down family relations. The soap operas I watched growing up reflected the parental anxieties and fears of Western influence on their children. These shows incessantly portray traditional Asian parents to be in conflict with their Westernized children within the context of abuse and neglect. To offset the separation between the two cultural entities, the parents are dressed in traditional Asian clothing, while the adult children are seen wearing Western suits and dresses. While the Asian youth of my generation was advocating modernism: the extent to which a non-Western culture embraces and incorporates Western values and beliefs; the older generation was projecting its fears of an abandonment of traditional culture. After moving to the United States, my mother would continually remind me of the dangers of becoming too "American." During family gatherings my elder relatives would sit around to denounce relatives who did not impose the Asian tradition on their children and allowing them to become too "Americanized." Along with the Westernization or "Americanization" comes a plethora of intra-familial conflicts and break-down of traditional family structure.
The enculturation of American lifestyles reshapes the traditional family structure, where the values placed on group identity and the proper respect reserved for elders were replaced by values for the self and notions of egocentrism. The imposed English language places the Asian parents in a position of dependence on their children, polluting the existing authoritarian relationship between parents and children typical of Asian cultures. Lost is the communal respect and honor once associated with one's seniority, and a new fear arises of abandonment and rejection by one's own children.
In this essay I have attempted to provide a coalescence of social construction of ethnic "other" relevant to the various social levels of functioning. The conceptualization of "other" can be expressed through personal interactions on an individual level and racial idioms employed by dominant culture, leading to potential for overt racism and social ostracism. Ethnic stereotypes proliferated through prejudice and ignorance of cultural relevancy may result in socially imposed attributes to an ethnic collective. Cultural broadcasting through mainstream media concomitantly produces a trite portraiture of ethnic minorities according to White eclecticism, denying diversities within ethnic cultures. Supposed "universal" cultural dimensions in research and literature derived out of a White perspective fosters ethnocentrism on a national level, contributing to a selective filter on the theoretical lens of social functioning. With the construction of "other," there must come inevitably the social separation, identity discrimination, and potential for irrational fear, hatred, and violence. This essay has been a montage of my personal experiences as an ethnic "other," as well as collateral experiences lived vicariously through many forms of ideological broadcasting. These experiences were ontological to my emergence as a participant in the oppositional resistance to the dominance of White perspective. As social participants, we may begin to break down the barriers and promote our fundamental rights to be different in order to de-construct social "other." The integration of one unified voice is of utmost importance, while at the same time being vigilant to the unique issues posed by the various cultural contexts. Only then can we live up to the ideological covenant between a moral society and its people to uphold diversity and celebrate individual uniqueness.

 

 


 




Exhibits :: Maps :: Search
Developer :: Submissions :: About

For further information: kawsmicke@yahoo.com
Copyright © 2001 San Jose State University
and Asian Gateways. All Rights Reserved