APIA Heritage Month: Reflecting on Racism, Media, and Sexuality

May is National Asian/Pacific Islander American (APIA) Heritage Month. In recognition of the month, members of Asian American Student Union (AASU) have contributed articles to spotlight important issues within the APIA community.  AASU members Gao Lu Moua, Xao Yang, and Tshiabdua Yang reflect on workshops discussing racism, stereotypes, media, and sexuality. 

Workshop participants in a large group sharing stories of their experiences with racialized incidents.

How to Deal With Racism Workshop: I attended AASU’s “How to Deal With Racism Workshop” that was facilitated by three of their very own members. I found the workshop to be serious, but at the same time engaging and fun. After some icebreakers, we were divided into groups and given scenarios of different experiences of racism and racial discrimination. My group’s scenario was racism in the workplace amongst coworkers; our story derived from something that had actually occurred between an Asian American girl in our group and her coworkers who, throughout the day, made comments to her about a paper crane (which was placed near the store’s cash register by a random customer). They automatically assumed she made it because she was Asian.  We discussed how others who don’t deliberately make these comments may not see how this can really be offensive. Following each scenario, we also talked about ways that people could respond to these situations that unfortunately happen often in our daily lives.

I’m very grateful for events such as this Racism Workshop put on by AASU. Often times on campus, I feel as if I have to prove something to the majority or assimilate to fit in with them, but when I go to events such as this one, it reminds me that there are people who understand where I am coming from, who know the every-day struggle, who have a sense of what I feel, and who show me there is nothing wrong with being Asian American. –Gao Lu Moua

Asian Americans in the Media: In February, AASU held a discussion on Asian Americans in the Media, with a special focus on celebrities and how they reinforce or break stereotypes and how they address culturally sensitive topics.  We talked about the portrayal of Asian Americans in mainstream media through Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and the hyper-sexualization of Asian American women through Lucy Liu’s character in Charlie’s Angels. We also discussed how the significance of the Far East Movement and the emergence of Jeremy Lin are changing the public dialogue of Asian American media representation. Important questions were raised about the dynamics of Asian American identity as seen in media culture, such as who has the ‘right’ to make fun of Asian Americans, and when is it okay (if it is ever okay) and when is it not okay? What are the underlying assumptions at play that can infuriate Asian Americans and what is considered culturally acceptable?   It is a rare opportunity for Asian American students to be able to come together and have discussions surrounding cultural identity. When these events do occur, they bring about unique perspectives and a much needed dialogue.  –Xao Yang

Participants were later able to break up into small groups to continue sharing stories about how their Asian American identity has impacted their view of sex and sexuality.

Asian American Sexuality Workshop: As participants flowed into the MSC lounge for the AASU’s Asian American Sexuality Workshop in March, the mood of each individual ranged from very comfortable to the opposite pole of completely uncomfortable. After a few introductions by AASU and the Campus Women’s Center (CWC), the workshop began by creating a safe space for all the participants.

Then, the workshop launched with a large group discussion about physical and sex-related stereotypes for Asian American men or women. A few terms instantly mentioned for men included, “small penis,” “short,” “undesirable,” and “feminine.” Terms used for women included, “tight,” “sexy,” “submissive” and “exotic.” There was a clear polarization of sexual identity and stereotypes between Asian American men and womenWith just the first activity focusing on what stereotypes come to mind within the realm of sex, emotions were already running high amongst the different individuals. Another activity included a gender-caucused open dialogue engaging in topics ranging beyond sexual stereotypes to parental guidance and family relationships within the context of sex.

One person described his relationship with his parents. While his parents never explicitly discussed sex or helped directly guide him along his journey to adulthood, he was still able to pick up their “guidelines” about sex by observing their interactions with each other and with him. He pointed that even though some parents of Asian heritage may not be direct with their messages; they do and can still teach you about their perspectives through other means to reach your consciousness.

When discussing the “exotification” of Asian women, some shared dating stories from potentially getting involved in an interracial relationship.  One individual voiced frustration that stemmed from various personal interactions with individuals who would often first mention previous relationships with someone else of Asian-descent. After experiencing this more than once, she started questioning, “Is he only interested in me because my Asian heritage and cultural background?” The question echoed amongst others in the room as each and many women considered their own experiences of being hyper-sexualized and exotified.  Discussing sex or race is often general idea within classrooms, but this workshop allowed me to immerse myself in a more specific context.  –Tshiabdua Yang

The Asian American Student Union (AASU) promotes issues within the Asian American community through educational and social programs and events. AASU  members have opportunities to discuss and understand identities, cultivate leadership skills, and develop a sense of community. Read more stories recapping APIA Heritage Month here. 

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