Back in May for Asian Pacific Americans (APA) Heritage Month, I had the opportunity to attend a live viewing in Washington, DC of Fresh Off the Boat, one of the few TV shows that shows a Asian American family. The star of the show, Hudson Yang, was there with his dad, Jeff Yang, who is one of my favorite writers on Asian America and a Founder of A Magazine. Jeff said in the post-show Q and A that we in the Asian American community have waited over 20 years for a show about an Asian American family, since the last one was All American Girl back in 1994. He talked about how improbable it was for Fresh Off the Boat to get made.
While I love and support Fresh Off the Boat, we don’t have to wait any longer for a TV producer or writer to recognize the Asian American community and hope that a show or movie is made about our stories. We live in an age where we can create our own content through posting videos on YouTube, starting a blog, and publicizing it through social media. If you want to see an increase in Asian American visibility, challenge or humanize stereotypes, and project an image of our real selves, then I think that the collective voices of 10,000 APAs creating their own content online and telling authentic stories can do as much good as a TV show. While a TV show like Fresh Off the Boat can reach 4 to 6 million Americans with each viewing, 10,000 APAs creating an video or blog that reaches 2,000 people each can also reach people in the millions.
Now, I’m all for supporting shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken, and we need more of those shows, but there are three issues that I have with just a TV show representing APAs.
First, it can be cancelled no matter how good it is. I was overjoyed in finally seeing John Cho star as a romantic lead in short lived sitcom, Selfie, but unfortunately, the ratings were not there, and the show was cancelled after one season. If we want change, we can’t have the representation of APAs depend on ratings or profit.
Second, when these shows are made, the stories, jokes, and characters go through such viewer testing that the final product may not reflect something authentic. Let’s face it- most shows follow a very formulaic narrative. In creating your own images, you have the freedom to tell a more authentic story.
Third, even as it is shown that movies with diverse casts perform well in the box office, Hollywood still insists in some cases to not pick Asian Americans for Asian American roles, as we’ve seen recently with Scarlett Johansen being picked to portray a Japanese character in Ghost in the Shell. APAs can be randomly excluded because someone may subjectively think that the movie wouldn’t do well without ‘star power.’
This is why I decided to start Bao Meets Bagel, a blog that is part memoir, and part dating and relationship advice column. In Bao Meets Bagel, I give advice and walk people through each stage of my dating and relationship life, from the first conversation to the baby registry. I want to show something authentic and visible to the public that is rarely seen in Hollywood and media – an Asian American guy in a happy, romantic relationship with a wonderful, beautiful woman. I want to normalize that idea and make it more common so that in the future, my son Liam will grow up having it a bit easier with dating and finding love. In writing about my own experiences and giving advice, I want to help everyone but also challenge the old stereotypes and image of Asian American men being silent, unattractive nerds, and show that we can be as confident, creative, fun, and romantic and attract that amazing girl as any guy.
I challenge you, whether you are Asian American or of another background and have something that you want to change, to take a stand and create your own content. If your life and personality is not what the media and movies are showing, and you have something interesting or an expertise to share with the world, create your own content boldly through a blog, podcast, video, or website, and publicize it through social media, paid advertising, word of mouth, and through your network of friends, family, and organizations. And then encourage others to create their own content as well. And of course support shows like Fresh Off the Boat, which is just beginning to open the door for more APAs on screen. But in the end, know that you have the power to bring about change in your own corner of the world – regardless of whether mainstream media or Hollywood decides to do shows with APAs – and that your voice and image when joined with many will change the culture that we’re in for future generations.
Written by John Chu
John Chu is the Author and Founder of Bao Meets Bagel, a blog that is part memoir, and part dating and relationship advice column. John is a Digital Media Manager in the Federal government, and became one of the youngest senior level managers at age 31. John is a former professional dancer and dance teacher, and new dad to son, Liam. He dated for 10 years and went through the highs and lows of dating before meeting his lovely wife, Alena. He enjoys sharing advice on finding a healthy, fun relationship and writing to empower the Asian American community.