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Depiction of Asians Within Asian American Work

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“These are different times…we’re trying to break stereotypes, break what people have assumed for so long about a culture, about an individual, about the world…this is for discussion…a time for not assuming things.” (Genara Banzon, November 28, 1996). Immigration has created a diverse society today that often includes culturally rich environments that contain more than one culture. Artist Genara Banzon shared that quote during an interview, in which he expressed his thoughts about society needing to move forward, and leaving stereotypes behind. Stereotypes are an ongoing dilemma in the world because people are still believing the over generalizations that are being implied to all in a certain group, and classifying them the same. Asian Pacific Americans have fallen victim to the stereotypes, which reflects on the visual culture of the depiction of Asian Pacific Americans. Stereotypes, history and other issues such as immigration and biculturalism have raised the question of what are the audience perspective and visual cultural representations of Asian Americans, and the important impression that the ideas post 1965 era raised was how Asian Americans represented themselves in American culture.

Modern and contemporary Asian Pacific American artists have used the ideas and questions brought up post 1965, which include immigration and biculturalism, history, and the struggle of stereotypes, and put them on display. Displaying the various issues within their work, several Asian Pacific American artists have found a way to fight back the issues they are faced with, and show how they represent themselves in the American culture not by others. After World War II the United States of America gained the position of an international superpower. New global political responsibility brought new obligations and concerns around the world, so the United States of America had to get a new position on globalization. Post 1965 era brought a lot of change to the United States of America. It was a significant moment for Asian American history in particular because of The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The Act eliminated the restrictive system originally passed in 1924 in favor of a quota and in favor of a preference system. The Act resulted in unprecedented numbers of immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and some European countries entering the United States of America.

These new arrivals, particularly from Asia, changed the demographic, economic, and culture of many urban areas; since there was an increasing Asian American community. The United States of America was very attractive to the incoming immigrants because it was the land of what they believed “opportunity,” and “liberty.” With the increase of immigration to the United States of America because of the idea of the “American Dream” many people were staying, and having families. The children being born in the United States of America were beginning to have identity issues because they did not know what they can identify themselves with. This is where the creating the Asian Pacific American began. Many Asian Americans begin to question who is Asia, and who is an Asian American. In Robert Chang’s article, “Becoming Asian American,” he talks about the issue of who is and should be considered “American.”

The author, Robert Chang was born in Korea, and got naturalized an American, and he talks about his ongoing journey of becoming “America.” Chang says, “If I were to visit Korea, my poor facility with Korean language would sometimes place me as ‘American’ and not really ‘Korean” (Chang, 3). Chang talked about his conflict about not knowing if he was Korean or American. He also says, “Persons of Asian ancestry struggle to find out way in American society. Do we reach back to our (imaginary) homelands? Or do we reject them in our bid to become full American?” (Chang, 3). There is an issue with his identity, which many faced because they did not know where to position themselves because they were getting excluded somehow from both. There is also an issue with the term Asian American as he describes it, because it is creating conflicting identities. The term Asian American may erase other identities such as gender, class, and sexual orientation.

This issue of biculturalism is also faced with the American born Asians. In Margo Machida’s article, “Whose’ Asia? Whose ‘America?’: Visual Art and the Imaging of Asian America, Shifting Perceptions,” she talks about the issues of Asian versus Asian American. She says, “Asian communities in this nation are undergoing a metamorphosis, brought about both by the explosive growth of post-1965 immigration and accelerating economic and cultural interchange between Asia and the United States in rapidly globalizing world.” (Machida, 209). She talks about the communities changing because of the increase Asian immigration that has transformed the culture and economy. Margo Machida talks about the already positioned Asians in America by three different categories.

The first one she says “Asians are certainly framed within the narratives of “Asian American identity” that emerged from the struggles of American- born generations whose forebears migrated mostly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (Machida, 209). The second one she says that those who arrived after 1965 “Their life experiences and outlooks are commonly shaped by post- and neocolonialism, Cold War politics and warfare, and migration resulting from globalized economic development” (Machida, 209).

And finally the third one she says that “Asian and things Asian are perceived by dominant culture, whose discourses and representations are rooted in Western orientalisms and power relations as they have developed through the long histories of contact and civilizational competition between the West and those lands the West came to define as Asia in its geographic conventions” (Machida, 209). Machida says that these historical discourses have positioned Asians into minor categories, and it has been difficult to get out of those categories..

The predicament of biculturalism is well described by Vishakha N. Desai from his article, “Whither Home: Asia/America Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art.” He says “Fundamentally, they no longer have the choice of belonging to one place, one culture, or one country. Their sense of ‘home’ is no longer equated with an unqualified sense of belonging” (Desai, 367). Desai says that because of these issues many question their existence, their belonging, and have ongoing issues of identity. Asian Pacific Artist have been faced with issues of immigration, biculturalism, their history and stereotypes that they depict in their art work.

There has been a great amount of immigration from various Asian countries into the United States of America that lead to new urban areas that built the Asian communities. With this new immigration came a new assimilation struggle to a new culture for those Asians coming into the United States of America. Various Asian groups found ways to continue their traditions and culture, but the mixture of traditional with a new culture became a struggle seen for American born Asians. Various stereotypes have followed these Asian Americans and Asians. Stereotypes like the model minority or women as the dragon lady have created a cultural struggle. With self-reliance, cultural traits, and family cohesions the model minority became to exist. The model minority was considered the example minority for others to follow.

They were considered to be smart and hard working. In an issue by Time Magazine they showed the “model minority” in the front cover by depicting “this Asian-American Whiz Kids” on the front picture. There are kids posing with books and school supplies smiling, and this shows the stereotype, of the “model minority” and smart Asian. You can also see this stereotype on modern day television shows or movies, because Hollywood supports that stereotype very well. Asian American women have been portrayed in many sexual stereotypes for years in visual representations. One of the stereotypes includes the well-known image of the dragon lady. The “dragon lady” refers to an Asian woman who is perceived as seductive, attractive, but she is untrustworthy, and dangerous. Asian American women in films today have not been able to get themselves out of roles that strictly exploit them as sexual beings.

Asian American women are hyper-sexualized in their image. Asian women have been portrayed as the lotus blossom, geishas, prostitutes, etc. Because of Madame Butterfly (1932), and the Broadway play Miss Saigon (1989) formed the “Suzie Wong” stereotype of a submissive and erotic Asian woman. Other stereotypes that the Asian community has been faced with has left them fighting against them. The American Eurocentric teachings mixed with the mass media perspectives of different cultures also cause a battle with acceptance. Cultures are being attacked through the media, and cultural history is not being told. Socially stereotypes have become a source of knowledge to people. People are unknowingly lacking in education when they believe all of the stereotypes. This causes a personal attack to cultures, embarrassment, and ultimately a lack of culture acceptance.

Asian Pacific American artists are fighting against the status quo by depicting the struggle of their culture, and expressing the beauty of it through art. Immigration, biculturalism, stereotypes, and the historical events are depicted in most of the artist paintings or photography. The artists serve as role models to people, and they encouraged the people of their communities to contribute to the awareness. In Margo Machida’s article, “Whose’ Asia? Whose ‘America?’: Visual Art and the Imaging of Asian America, Shifting Perceptions,” she says “In this society, foreign-and American-born artists alike often find themselves grappling with the questions about how they identify themselves and how they are identified by others”(Machida, 208). Machida talks about the artist and how most artist usually question how they are identified by others. One of Machida’s biggest points was to explain the use visual art to articulate conceptions of Asian self and group identification in this nation.

Various artists use the concepts of visual arts to serve as inspiration for struggle, a way of reclaiming a cultural heritage, or even as a means of developing self-pride. Every individual is made up by their history and culture, and understanding it can create acceptance to oneself. Cultural Awareness is extremely significant because it allows one to learn more about their history, it also helps one find themselves, and helps one know how they are a part of the bigger picture that is their heritage. As generations pass there has been an increase in the lack of culture intelligence, and our job is to encourage culture, to promote uniqueness, to accept different, and to educate. The different forms of visual arts are so it can help in the acceptance of different cultures.

“For Asians in this nation, the arts play a dynamic role in framing and reframing diverse histories and experiences, as well as up to the minute concerns related to defining and articulating a sense of place in the contemporary world” (Machida, 207). We see this happening in contemporary art because contemporary artists are the ones that are still dealing with current struggle of identity. Artist

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