Being an Asian girl, I get to hear the silliest things from people.
“Hey, did you know being Asian is kind of trendy right now?” <— I felt like a Furby, which is no longer trendy, by the way.
“Hmm, you’re from Vietnam? I thought that was a war?” <— Sad truth, happened more than once.
“Do you speak Korean?”
“No. I’m Vietnamese”
“What’s the difference?”
“It’s two different countries. Even our rice is different.”
(That one isn’t fair though, the guy is an idiot.)
As recently as a few months ago, someone asked me if I consider myself Asian. Eh? I’ve been asked about my slanted eyes (which I don’t find them to be) or to “say something!” and my favorite, “Where are you from?”, “California.”, “Yeah, but what are you?”, “A girl.” Okay, so I know what they mean, but I can’t help myself. I’m always finding myself in these silly situations. I realized that it might have to do with the fact that Asian-Americans are not well represented in media. Sure on television, we’re in gangs, live in Chinatown, are victims of a sex-slave ring, know karate, or speak very little English, but it’s hard to find us in mainstream media. I’m aware of the few that are, John Cho, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, um… that other one, but I definitely feel that there is room for American media to represent us as individuals.
Case in point, the female character in my novel is Vietnamese-American. The protagonist is a white American male. My friend read the beginning and immediately asked if the characters were based on my husband and me. (He’s Jewish.) Well, no, the characters are not me at all. I started to justify it and say, “The point is that the character travels to a foreign land that makes him uncomfortable, and Vietnam is the easiest for me to write about.” I went on further explaining it and then I asked, “When you read books by white Americans, are you prompted to ask if they wrote white characters, because they are too?” I mean, that’s silly. As a reader, I’ve never thought much about the character’s culture unless it’s apart of the story line.
It also worried me that everyone would ask if my characters are Vietnamese because I am. I’m not sure why, I guess I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as an author. On the other hand, WE NEED REPRESENTATION! It should be totally normal to read about the lead character in an American novel as any ethnicity. Of course, it probably is too soon for that.
The Asian-American culture is still largely in the 1st and 2nd generation. It’s a worthy dynamic that should be explored. There are different expectations, different traditions, and ways of raising a family. And it is (and always has been) a very delicate balance. It should be written and read.
What do readers think? Is it weird for you to read about mixed culture couples, families? Are you not interested in reading books where the characters are shaped by the influences of their roots?
In the mean time, I’m just going to keep writing the same story, because it’s FUN!