Tag Archives: stereotypes

Challenging Stereotypes of Asian American Identity

Last Friday, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, an activist for Asian Pacific American (APA) issues based in Michigan, shared her multimedia outlets that can help cultivate Asian-American identity.

The main force behind Wang’s point of view is to develop a bicultural identity between Asian and American cultures. She said that by switching between the two identities, “you can adapt and be flexible—you can be part of both cultures and not have to have any type of identity crisis like people did a generation or two ago.”

Kim Peterson, a senior international business major who identifies as Asian-American, said much of Wang’s points are applicable to her courses. “Using perspectives is a main part of running a business where you have so many types of people,” she said.

Through literature, Wang said that Asian-Americans can see themselves in the stories and identify similarities between their lives and those of the characters in the plot. In addition, literature can bring to light issues the reader may be unaware of.

Wang admits that in order to connect with stories that don’t center on an Asian character, she likes to recast the plot and plug herself into the narrative. “When I read a story like Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, I would flip it around in my mind and imagine that I could be the hero.”

To breakdown stereotypes in the media, Wang’s method is to read between the lines. She said that if you see something on TV that you don’t like, have an argument with the issue at hand. By deconstructing the stereotype, you can redefine what constitutes as “normal.”

Wang referred to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother parenting memoir. In her book, Chua recounts her traditional Chinese parenting style, in which her children were forced to practice piano and mathematics for hours on end. This was something her parents had done to her as a child. Chua’s methods have stirred up controversy across the country, some agreeing it is effective while others argue Chua does not show enough affection towards her two daughters.

Wang, a writer for multiple ethnic blogs, criticized the book and said Chua does not really know about real Asian-American identity since the author lives a privileged lifestyle that many working-class families could not afford. Chua attended Harvard for her Bachelor’s and Doctorate degrees and is currently a Yale Law Professor.
The most powerful instrument for promoting cultural identity according to Wang are people and community. Our ability to write and read English can go a long way according to Wang. Forming multicultural communities consisting of people from various ethnic backgrounds is vital so that people can step outside of their comfort zone.

APASC President Natsumi Inoue who was raised in San Francisco said, “Even though there are different ethnicity groups[at USF] they end up sticking with their own.”

Documetary Breaks Down Middle Eastern Stereotypes

On Nov. 17, Jean Marie Offenbacher presented her film Tea on the Axis of Evil, a portrayal of Syrian society. The film intended to bridge a growing disconnect between Americans and Middle Easterners in a post-9/11 climate of increased tensions between the two regions.

Offenbacher spent several months traveling throughout Syria with her camera to interview people. She hoped to break the stereotype of terrorist-inspired images portrayed by US media under the Bush administration.

Following the film, a panel of three USF professors, along with Offenbacher, answered questions and critiques.

Professor of Feminist Islamic Ethics, Dr. Aysha Hidayatullah, said it is challenging to produce a film about another culture without reinforcing preexisting frameworks. In this case, those frameworks are based on Orientalism – the Western attempt to construct the “truth” about the Middle East.

Dr. Hidayatullah said, “a film such as this illustrates that people’s preconceived notions of Syria as being ‘exotic’, ‘ancient’ and ‘barbaric’ are misled.” If people understand the film to show that Syrians are “just like us,” they fail to challenge the overall framework that leads to the stereotyping of “good” vs. “evil.”

Professor Annick Wibben, who teaches politics and international studies, said “Our pre-existing frameworks limit our options for responding to an event.”
With a strong focus on social responsibility, Wibeen added that  “so many of us [at USF] focus on helping others.” However, she said people must keep in mind the ethical dilemmas associated with changing the world.

Politics Professor Stephen Zunes, who is also the program director for Middle Eastern Studies, said Offenbacher captured the essence of Syrian society, which he remembers fondly from his many travels.  He questioned the filmmaker’s decision not to include political content. In his view, political and historical context is crucial to challenging the stereotypes that both Professor Wibben and Professor Hidayatullah addressed.
Responding to the panel discussion, Offenbacher concluded, “We have an obligation as Americans to see the parts of the world we are affecting.” She hopes the film can foster a connection, if not greater understanding between U.S. and Syrian citizens.
The film is available in the International Studies office.

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