Reconciliation, Representation, and Remembrance
Updated: Nov 28, 2021
I consume media at lightning-fast speed. When I’m intrigued, I devour trilogies, television seasons, albums—everything. And like every other consumer, I absorb not only the plotline but the stories of the characters, the locations, and the histories. This also means I notice the absence of narratives in the mainstream media.
Characters too often serve solely to further the expectations and restrictive stereotypes that translate into reality’s pain and grief. Representation is not always comfort. While revisiting my personal experiences with two of the many Asian American stereotypes found within American media, I’ll also be highlighting refreshing Asian American characters that I rooted for, connected with, and kept me hopeful.
I’ve always been a supporter of power found outside of the bold, reckless paradigm. However, when Asian American characters are reduced to background punching bags used to exemplify an antagonist’s wickedness or the benevolence of our hero, it grows stale. Though a person’s outlook isn’t solely determined by the media they consume, it’s difficult to convince yourself that you’re capable when all you ever see in the media mirror is being rescued. I’m not searching for an invincible figurehead who is immune to all harassment and challenges, but instead someone who fails and falls but eventually, recovers in their own way. I’m searching for humanity whenever I play, watch, or read.
However, not all Asian American characters are solely victims. Some are bold seekers of change, like Faith Connors from the Mirror’s Edge video game franchise. In a totalitarian, dystopian city, players utilize quick-thinking, parkour, and persistence to exchange valued information. Rebellious and a wanted fugitive, Faith Connors’s illegal activities are reminiscent of another mixed ethnicity anti-hero: Nova Artino, from the Renegades trilogy. The books follow Nova, a villain seeking revenge against the city’s superheroes by disguising herself as one of their own ranks. During the plot, she struggles with romance, morality, and secrecy. Both are clever and determined to make a difference, no matter the costs, and shatter the submissive stereotypes by becoming their own heroes.
Alternatively, Ben Hargreeves is an example of quiet strength as opposed to the others’ daring rebellion. Sympathetic, brave, and selfless, the sixth sibling in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy adaptation contrasts from his White counterpart in the comics. Ben, while invisible to most of the cast, proves his worth by clinging to his ambitions and protecting those he loves despite all challenges.
The nerdy, background student who always knows the answer, always aces each exam, and always states the most logical, intellectual approach. In more action genres, this could be the hacker with a dozen screens and an earpiece or the wise sage who advises the protagonists on which path they should take.
Now enter a football-loving, chaotic DJ from Jacksonville, Florida. Jason Mendoza decimates Asian American stereotypes in The Good Place and breathes new life into Asian American representation by being a full-loving, impulsive addition to the primary cast. Aside from confidently granting questionable (but occasionally valuable) insights, Jason’s role in the narrative diverts from the traditional assignment given to Asian American characters.
On the other hand, intellectual Asian American characters exist while still straying from the stereotypes. From the massively popular show, Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Christina Yang’s ambition, work ethic, and arrogance has made Yang a fan favorite during her run on the show. Yang is both technically brilliant yet she exhibits raw humanity as she stumbles and grows throughout the series. Rather than being portrayed solely as a perfect, mechanical surgeon, Yang balances talent with honest relatability.
We tell stories to feel less alone. Humans reach out and connect through sharing our perspectives, our histories, our imagination. However, slanted and skewed stories do nothing but distribute misery. By actively including silenced voices in our stories, storytellers not only reshape their own tale but our shared story—whether it be one of hatred or love, fear or acceptance, misery or beauty. The process of achieving proper, accurate representation is slow, but it’s worth every second.