When she started to attend college, Nanxi became part of a group that consisted of mostly Asians. “It wasn’t a conscious decision by any means. I just met someone who happened to come from the same county as me and he introduced me to his friends, who all happened to be Asian as well.” Looking back, Nanxi can only recall one white friend, who was one of her freshman year roommates. “When white people in my classes talked to me and tried to get to know me, I actually wondered ‘why are they talking to me?’” as she had come to believe that white people were genuinely uninterested in befriending her.
“When white people in my classes talked to me and tried to get to know me, I actually wondered ‘why are they talking to me?’”
Nanxi is displeased with efforts like Fresh Off the Boat, which has been praised as a landmark for Asian representation in network television, as she feels the show further perpetuates common stereotypes. While the show allows Asian Americans to laugh at ourselves, she believes it allows non-Asians to laugh at us, too. A memorable scene is one in which the main character, Eddie, brings Chinese food from home for lunch, to which his friends act repulsed and a white classmate yells, “Ying Ming’s eating worms!” While some Asians were able to relate and laugh at their similar childhood memories, this example became a trope about all Asian Americans. She prefers other productions like those of Asian American filmmaking group, Wong Fu Productions which produced its first feature film in 2015 called Everything Before Us.
Nanxi viewed the film when it was screened on her college campus. The film was undoubtedly created with many hurdles to overcome and despite positive reviews, it did not garner as much public success as other films of its caliber. In an interview with TubeFilter, co-director Philip Wang explains that Wong Fu Productions tried to create a film back in 2008 but they were told that “there wasn’t a market for Asian Americans to buy movies.” Wang also mentions in an interview with Hollywood Reporter, “It does kind of suck that just because we put Asian Americans in it, it automatically becomes this odd thing.”
Nanxi hypothesizes that non-Asians may simply be uninterested in watching films with predominantly Asian casts due to concern that they would not be able to relate, even if the film’s plot is independent of the Asian characters’ culture. Earlier this year, Black Panther was released as the first feature film with an all-Black cast and generated headlines such as “’Black Panther Proves, Yet Again, That Diversity Sells In Hollywood.” On the other hand, Nanxi believes that if Hollywood produced a superhero film with an all-Asian cast, it would unfortunately not incite an identical level of enthusiasm or generate equivalent box office numbers. As a result, Nanxi explains, “Your dollar is your vote. If enough people don’t watch it, people can’t and won’t produce more like it.”
“I wish we can be a community of people who can be more uplifting to one another.”
We discussed treatment of Asian females in the workplace where she has been “called by the wrong name so many times.” Nanxi believes that because many people often simplify her and her Asian coworkers by the way they look, competition to stand out has been noticeably greater than among other colleagues. “I wish we can be a community of people who can be more uplifting to one another,” says Nanxi. Reality is, although there are a number of Asian females within the entry level, this number appears to significantly decrease as one examines the corporate pipeline. Nanxi explains that in her personal experience, she hardly sees any females lead projects and even less Asian females to lead projects, if at all. Moreover, she was only able to count the number of females on the partner and executive levels at her company on one hand.
And maybe it is because Asians are not pursuing those positions? But not completely because we don’t want to. Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory indicates that Asian communities are more collectivist and individuals are expected to take care of relatives in exchange for their unquestioning loyalty. Indeed, many Asian females are expected to play the housewife and to put family first, forcing their careers to pause or to take a backseat. Nanxi admits, “I think self-fulfillment is are considered not as important in Asian cultures as in Western cultures.” Instead, giving back to parents and taking care of families are prioritized.
For all the reasons aforementioned and more, Nanxi notes the importance to seek role models. Unfortunately, if you Google Asian female role models, one of the first results is an article called “Where is my Asian American role model?” For Nanxi, she looks up to one of her own friends who she describes as “someone who said ‘fuck you’ to common expectations and is able to speak to whoever she wants about anything.” When Nanxi is feeling uncertain about herself, she tries to emulate her friend and encourages other Asian Americans to surround themselves with people who will push them out of their comfort zones, too.