OK, But What About Me?: a curatorial statement

Kylie Jenner was right: 2016 has been the year of realizing stuff. This year has truly been the first time that I started thinking critically about my role in the larger Asian American experience. Although it’s easy to think individualistically, this course has served as a reminder that the personal is, indeed, political. For so long, I thought I understood my plight as an Asian American woman. However, a greater exploration into the history of Asian Americans in the United States and the social phenomena we face has brought to my attention just how little I knew.

I had never considered that I might have been tokenized as the only person of color in my friend group, particularly in middle school when my attempts at humor were often heavily racialized to appease my white friends. I had never lingered too long on my romantic history that consists almost entirely of white men, particularly given that my current partner of over a year is also white. Yet even before school began, concerns about my complicity in white supremacy plagued my mind. It seemed that this another essential step I needed to take in my growing awareness of oppressive systems in the United States, and luckily this class gave me the opportunity and resources to answer many of the questions I had.

Throughout the course, I have been preoccupied with questions of how the media I consume relates to my own life: a poem, a social media campaign, a music video, and a performance that I had previously admired. My blog posts analyzed how these different forms of media operated and accomplished their goals, thereby allowing me to gain a better understanding of the intersections of my own lived experience as an second generation Asian American woman in an interracial relationship with a white man. By posing questions about how media acts as a betrayal or instead furthers the white patriarchal hegemonic structure, this has in turn served as a reflection back onto myself.

In the tradition of Dr. Douglas S. Ishii divulging too much about his personal life, my blog posts too were closely tied to my own experiences. “To JK Rowling, From Cho Chang” was a poem that I had always heavily identified with due to its themes regarding the stereotypes of Asian women and feeling used by white men. #StarringJohnCho was a movement that made me happy, but skeptical, when the posters popped up in my Twitter feed. My older sister introduced me to Awkwafina a couple years ago, and she continues to create hilarious and poignant music. The performance of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Katherine Zhou and Lilly Zhang spoke to my earlier childhood and my own mother’s parenting style. By choosing these to write about, I wasn’t only critiquing their messages and ideologies, but my own as well.

Often when raising awareness about issues facing oppressed groups, the next thought immediately is, “Well, what do I do about it?” And this is precisely the thought that crossed my mind in contemplating the many topics within Asian American sexualities. When looking to examples of defiance like Awkwafina in “Green Tea,” attempts to subvert oppression can end up playing back into the hands of the white patriarchy. As Leslie Bow articulates, true radical betrayal is much more difficult to execute beyond a mere rejection of the prevailing narrative. Yet by looking to counter-frames like the hypersexuality of Asian women in film that Celina Parrenas Shimizu dissects, the conclusion I have come to is that perhaps subversion isn’t entirely about radical betrayal.

Discarding governmentality is a continuous process we must consciously embark on with each step we take. The hegemonic structure has socialized us to perpetuate the same systems of power; we cannot expect to be able to counter that ideology immediately and without any opposition. As The Bridge Called My Back illustrates, even using our words can have an impact and even if we doubt ourselves, we must persevere through that uncertainty and recognize that feeling comes from a system we cannot continue to support. The process is not a comfortable one, and it shouldn’t be.

This course has given me the tools and the vocabulary to critique the media I view and interact with it, rather than just passively observing. As I attempt to understand how I can further discourse within the communities I am a part of, the blog posts have allowed me to refine my own perspective and engage in discussions about issues regarding Asian American sexualities through both the academic and personal. It’s not just about pointing out everything that is problematic in every book, movie, poem, hashtag – but rather, it is a matter of carefully deconstructing the good and the bad, understanding the system it functions within, and applying what is learned in my own work. As I continue to evolve as a scholar and an activist, I hope I continue to “realize stuff” using the skills and knowledge I have gained.

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