Speaking of strange hyphenizations . . .

Speaking of strange hyphenizations . . . July 30, 2016

Yeah, this is more of an annoyance than anything, but I observed the other day that “Asian-American” had become, in media stylebooks, a racial descriptor rather than an identification of an ethnicity (which it couldn’t be, in so far as there is no one single “Asian” ethnicity).

(To be clear:  the official Census racial label is just “Asian”, which means, “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.”  Note that the Middle East doesn’t qualify:  Iranians and Iraqis are officially white.)

Now there’s a little CNN slideshow that proves my point.

It purports to be a listing of Asian-American actors, as a companion to a piece objecting to their underrepresentation in the American film industry.  But here’s there list (details from Wikipedia entries):

  • John Cho – born in Korea, move to the U.S. as a child
  • Lucy Liu – American born to Chinese-immigrant parents
  • Ki Hong Lee – born in Korea, move to the U.S. as a child
  • Michelle Yeoh – Malaysian-born, of ethnic Chinese ancestry, and (apparently; Wikipedia’s unclear) still living in Asia and primarily working in Asian films
  • Harry Shum Jr. – Costa Rican-born to Chinese parents, moved to the U.S. as a child
  • Ming-Na Wen – Macau-born, moved to the U.S. as a child
  • Steve Yeun – Korean-born, raised in the U.S.
  • Ziyi Zhang – a Chinese actress with some American filmography
  • Kal Penn – American-born to Indian-immigrant parents
  • Constance Wu – American-born to Taiwanese-immigrant parents
  • Randall Park – American-born to Korean-immigrant parents
  • Vincent Rodriguez – American-born
  • George Takei – yeah, the George Takei
  • Brandon Lee – son of Bruce Lee and likely the only reason he made it on this list, as he only starred in a few low-budget films before his death.

Now, the first thing that’s noteworthy is that virtually all of these actors are immigrants or children of immigrants, which is to be expected for a group that, in general, has grown fairly quickly and recently due to immigration that, really, only got underway post-1965.  And it’s also to be expected that disproportionately-few children-of-immigrants would set their sights on Hollywood.  And, what’s more, the entire story of “oriental” (to use the non-PC word) representation in Hollywood is complicated by the very significant film industries in such countries as India, Korea, the Philippines, and China, all of which make it likely that prominent “oriental” actors will to a certain degree come from these alternate film industries, and have name recognition there, rather than be “homegrown” talent.  (Side note:  the Chinese pilot portrayed in Independence Day: Resurgence was, in fact, a Chinese actress with the stage name of Angelababy.)

But look again at CNN’s list:  two of these people don’t belong:  according to Wikipedia, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang are not “Asian-Americans” at all, but instead a Malaysian and a Chinese actress, respectively, who have acted in Hollywood as well as local films.

Which is the pitfall of using the label as a racial identifier.

"Nope. I was thinking about missionary work, even in the USA, where most Christian Blacks ..."

Is the cruelty the point? Cardinal ..."
"I attended a meeting last night for Girl Scout leaders in my area. There were ..."

RIP, volunteerism
"I was a treasurer for a not-for-profit and got “dethroned” in a similar way. However, ..."

RIP, volunteerism
"I have found that unless people were consistently voluntold to help out when they're young, ..."

RIP, volunteerism

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad