One of the things I enjoy doing most on Halloween—aside from getting free candy and jumping out at people as they walk through a door—is watching horror movies. Recently I’ve noticed a pattern of Asians being portrayed as terrifying creatures in many of these movies. If you watch any sci-fi, action, or horror movie, chances are there is at least one scary Asian person wrecking all kinds of havoc.
Admittedly, said Asian character usually ends up dead when the movie is over, but that’s beside the point. They are still terrifying nonetheless. It made me wonder, what about Asian Americans that scare people so much—aside from our driving? Just kidding (but seriously, if I didn’t say it, someone else would have).
We’re the fastest growing voting bloc in America.
The Huffington Post reported that “Asian-Americans are now the fastest-growing racial group in the South and thus an increasingly important voting bloc in the region.” Policy.Mic writes that the “Asian American electorate is expected to double by 2040.” This rapid growth ultimately means a larger impact and influence on American politics. Asian Americans have the potential to reshape the political landscape over the coming decades by continuing to exercise our voting rights, and all signs point in this direction.
Why it’s so scary: While the United States benefits from greater civic participation overall, those currently in power—our elected officials and politicians, mostly all White males—risk losing their mandate and positions unless they can learn how to authentically, and effectively, engage with the Asian American community (and other minorities). As it stands presently, not many do. Fear not though! Increasing political power for minorities doesn’t have to be a scary thing. We’re not forcefully taking it away from other people. Rather, it means we now have more opportunities to empower and lift up more people than ever before.
We speak many languages, including English.
Surprise! Didn’t see that coming did you? Bet you thought Asians only spoke Chinese, Vietnamese…or some form of “ching chong chang”. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but most Asian Americans speak English…followed by Spanish…and then probably French. What? Those were the only languages school ever taught us! Yes, many of us do speak our native Asian languages, but unless these languages and cultures are recognized, valued and preserved, we may end up losing some of the best parts of our history and heritage. In the quest to becoming more American, we shouldn’t have to become less Asian.
Why it’s so scary: Even though Asian-Americans have been living here for over a hundred years, there remains a wide spread perception that we are foreigners and don’t belong in the United States. These negative stereotypes create an environment that makes it easy to sling hate at Asians. Unfortunately, a few people (thankfully not too many) think English is the gold standard; other languages tarnish this image. But if America truly is a melting pot, then English is just another ingredient—along with gluten free cheese and organic strawberries.
We’re in your face more than ever before!
Asian Americans haven’t had a strong presence on mainstream television. Usually, Asian guys are portrayed as comic relief and Asian women are overly sexualized. When these images–though fictional by design–continue to portray Asian Americans through a single lens, it fuels the perception that we’re flat, one-dimensional creatures. But I’m encouraged and optimistic about some of the new, upcoming television shows that portray Asian Americans in a different light. Fresh Off the Boat is an American comedy based on the life of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, and Selfie is a romantic comedy featuring John Cho (hint: Asian dude from Harold and Kumar and the new Star Trek). And who can forget fan favorite Glen (whose real name I don’t know) from The Walking Dead. He’s given hope to all Asians that we too can survive a zombie apocalypse (or a B in math).
Why it’s scary: Change can be frightening. For folks not used to seeing Asians as funny, cool, or even real, this could figuratively blow their minds and literally alter their perceptions of Asian Americans—forever. Once it happens, it can’t be undone.
As you can see, Asian Americans truly are terrifying, but not because of our menacing squinty eyes, bone crushing kung-fu skills, and ear piercing tonal language. These negative perceptions have been used by other people to to define what Asians ought to be. The fear only serves to create distance and mistrust.
As the Asian American community continues to learn, grow and mature, we’re realizing that we no longer need to hide behind someone else’s mask. We’re no longer satisfied with letting other people tell our story or take away our voices and rights. We’re feeling more comfortable and confident in our own skin (doesn’t mean people can still wear our culture like a costume). So the next time you see a scary Asian person in a movie or on tv, just remember that the most frightening thing we can possibly do to you is vote on taxes, support immigration reform and menacingly add MSG to your pho when you’re not looking. A second is all it takes…