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by Jaime Cao

a story about growing up Asian American and the effect that media representation has on us.

SYMBOLIC ANNIHILATION ---the idea that if people who look like you are underrepresented or misrepresented in media, you must somehow be unimportant.

growing up as an Asian American in a country where you’re considered and feel like “minority” is a weird and undescribable experience.

the waitress who talks extermely slowly to no one but my family when we eat out, the woman who wants to scam us because she thinks we’re from China, the man who called “ching ling ling” to me on the streets,

it’s all proof as to what Asians are still viewed as to many in America.

my mom was born and raised in Hong Kong, coming to the United States in her teens.

my dad was born and raised in Vietnam, coming to the United States in his early twenties.

i am full Chinese, born and raised in the United States. but like a lot of ABCs (American Born Chinese), i don’t feel full Chinese.

nor do i feel full American either. the two cultures are so vastly different, enough that i don’t really feel a part of either.

i haven’t been to my parents’ home countries. i understand Cantonese because my parents speak it to me, but i reply in English. i was one of those kids that did Saturday Mandarin Chinese school for four years, but could barely speak a sentence to you now.

these alone have caused a lot of internal conflict. yet, the experience i had with media growing up was one of the toughest challenges i faced. a big question i have is ---


c u l t u r e .

- Brenda Song as London Tipton on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody

i s

- Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead

p o p

c u l t u r e

think back to a time that you saw a non-whitewashed Asian in mainstream media.

- Hana Mae Lee as Lilly on Pitch Perfect - Arden Cho as Kira Yukimura on Teen Wolf

- Jenna Ushkowitz as Tina on Glee

too commonly we see a single Asian role on screen, or a single Asian model on a runway cast that is used to fill a diversity checkbox. it’s too easy to point out one person as “the Asian one” to be considered not worrisome.

“ I think it’s really important to start embracing people... seeing them in roles that are not necessarily ‘That Asian Girl’ or ‘That Asian Boy’...

in movies you’re like ‘Oh, this Asian girl is dating this white guy’ -- I want that to be normal. “ - Chrissy Teigen

Asian Americans make up less than

4% of characters on TV.

how does that make an Asian kid feel? what does that make everyone around them think?

i’m sure the majority of us have been in class with someone who told us “you must be good at math, because you’re Asian.”

we expect a person of a certain race to have a certain personality and title --- setting an example for what society expects out of us because of our race.



- desexualized

- knowledgeable

- fragile

- savvy

- petite

- scholarly

- quiet

- submissive

we’re the tech nerds, IT consultants, assistants and doctors. but the most common theme of all --we’re one-dimensional

it shouldn’t be that Asians are seen with speaking roles such a tiny percentage of the time,

and it shouldn’t be that Asians are left out completely at award shows.

but it’s our reality.

and the more media we consume that exposes us to that reality, the more we believe that what we’re seeing is normal.

the high school i attend has a total of 200 students in a white majority populated suburb outside of Seattle - so more often than not, i’m the only Asian in the room. i know how isolating it is to walk into a space and see no one that looks like you.

math and science have always been my weakest subjects. i felt incompetent and wondered why i didn’t fit into the stereotype. it was hard feeling like i needed to compare to all my Asian friends who excelled in those areas. writing and english aren’t valued as much by society and people around me, because we were taught that Asians are the STEM nerds.

i’ve grown up in a traditional Chinese family of business owners and engineers. naturally, it was very expected of me to go into a traditional STEM field and go to the University of Washington. the jobs that we are portrayed of having in media certainly haven’t helped, but rather solidified that stereotype.

i like fashion, i like digital media, i want to study communications in college, which is not ideal whatsoever in Asian culture.

it’s either computer science or business, and there is no in between. so in that sense, having such opposite interests and career goals have always made me question myself.

“If you had a grouping of 20 models, there are a lot of people right now who still think that by putting one person of color within that mix, ‘Oh, great, I’ve checked off the diversity box! I’ve got my one Asian girl.“

- Michelle Lee

studies have shown that

fewer than

1% of lifestyle magazine covers feature Asian models

Asian models make up


of fashion advertisements and campaigns

you start to wonder:

DO I MATTER? AM I VALUED? the media we grow up with teaches us how the world works and the place we have in it.

not only does it start to have an effect on the kid in us growing up, but it sends the same message to nonAsians - that Asians are not the ideal standard.

but with that being said, let’s talk about some successes we’ve had in the past year:

- Claudia Li showcased an all Asian runway show with 35 models to highlight individuality within a range of Asian nationalities during NYFW 2018

- the release of Crazy Rich Asians broke records, began a movement, started conversations and proved that Asians can succeed in mainstream media playing characters with depth

- Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Emmy in 2018 and the first Asian woman to host a major award show in 2019

i believe that we are moving in a positive direction. but it’s nowhere near where we should be. i’m hopeful that we can progress towards the next generation feeling themselves represented in the media and feeling seen. let’s give everyone a seat at the table

it’s taken me nearly my whole life to take pride in being Chinese. and maybe that’s part of the problem --- we need to embrace our culture and share it with others.

our stories matter, and they are valid. i hope you will share yours.

Profile for Jaime Cao

YELLOW - Growing Up Asian American  

YELLOW is a digital magazine that connects my story as growing up Asian American to the effect that media representation has on how we view...

YELLOW - Growing Up Asian American  

YELLOW is a digital magazine that connects my story as growing up Asian American to the effect that media representation has on how we view...

Profile for jaimecao