Asian-Americans, crazy rich or otherwise, just want to be accepted

Jason Hung hopes for a world in which people are accepted as they are, and Asians don’t have to be typecast as nerds or kung-fu fighters. A film like Crazy Rich Asians brings Asian-Americans a little closer to that

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 2:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 12:36pm

It is not how long I have been here, but how much I am accepted before I can call the place home. Living in a white-dominated country as an Asian can be a challenge, irrespective of duration. Racist incidents big and small can occur frequently, unpredictably. A passer-by might put up their middle finger at you; a stranger in a grocery store might blurt out racial slurs and jokes against you; people behind you might mock you by mimicking you speaking an Asian language with your Asian friends.

Sometimes, I question my existence, as much as I worry about my next days. I have, at times, wished I could become white. I hope to walk down the street in a “foreign” country as I do in an Asian country.

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I hope to feel secure and comfortable in any public space, or at least not encounter assaults that are racially motivated. I have even hoped to camouflage my racial identity, perhaps as easily as dyeing my hair and speaking only English in public even around my Asian friends.

Unless people accept that I look different on the outside, they will never bother to understand that I am similar to them inside.

Having said that, I am not trying to be cynical, or seeking sympathy. I understand I am merely one of many Asians – including Kelly Marie Tran, one of the lead actresses in Star Wars: The Last Jedi – experiencing multiple forms of racial discrimination in English-speaking countries.

In a recent article published in The New York Times, Tran wrote of facing racist online abuse and living with cultural assumptions: “I am not the first person to have grown up this way. This is what it is to grow up as a person of colour in a white-dominated world … This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind.”

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While racial profiling, discrimination and outright harassment remain real concerns in society, I am looking ahead. I hope to live in a world where Asians aren’t automatically deemed nerdy and antisocial, and can be seen as people actually capable of banter; where Asians are not limited to stereotypical, inconsequential roles in movies, but can play leading roles in Hollywood films – Crazy Rich Asians, for example, rather than another dubbed Jackie Chan picture.

I hope Crazy Rich Asians, and perhaps its sequel, China Rich Girlfriend , can help deepen people’s understanding of Asian communities, because Asianness is a rich composite of voices, cultures and languages.

In North America, Crazy Rich Asians opened with US$25.2 million in ticket sales. It became the first romantic comedy, since 2015’s Trainwreck, to crack US$20 million in its opening weekend.

However, about 40 per cent of tickets were bought by Asian-Americans.

Although the number of non-Asian ticket buyers did creep up over the weekend, it still translates as many more non-Asian-Americans not taking the chance to support an all-Asian cast in a Hollywood movie. There is a long way to go before Asians win full acceptance in a white-dominated country, but at least we are on the way.

Although I have at times wished I was white, I do not by any means deny my Asian identity, especially as I get older.

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All I hope is that my Asian identity can be accepted as much as white identity is respected; that my Asian identity can be understood as a signifier of uniqueness as much as each white person is seen as independent; and that I can one day feel as comfortable as a white person when I am overtly identified by my race.

In a white-dominated world, I may look distinctive, but in many ways I am like everyone else.

Jason Hung is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and an affiliate student in research at King’s College London. He is also a guest columnist at Penn Political Review.