Asian Americans: not just doctors and nerds


Artwork by Claudia Chang

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For too long, Asian American actors have been confined to the caricatures of  tiger parents and doctors with thick accents. Although we’ve departed slightly from using the characters’ culture as a recurring plot device or punchline, there is still much work to be done.

You may have seen Modern Family, Everybody Loves Raymond, or even Black-ish, but what about Fresh Off the Boat? The show’s pilot premiered on February 4, with the main cast featuring mostly Asian Americans. Although the sitcom thrives on humor from stereotypes, it effectively depicts the clash between cultures that occurs realistically.

The show gives the audience a view of what it means to be an actual Asian American. Moreover, it is the first show in twenty years to feature an Asian American family, following Margaret Cho’s All American Girl.

This waiting period hints at a scarcity of roles for Asian American actors, making it harder for those actors to find roles that escape stereotypical proportions.

Evidence of this scarcity is all over popular media. Take for instances the sitcom Glee: the characters Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang are constantly labelled and distinguished as Asians.

For such characters, a grade lower than an A is considered an “Asian F.” A regular kiss is an “Asian kiss” for them.

In 21 & Over, Jeff Chang has an overbearing and austere father who pushes him into a medical career. Jamie Chung, a Korean-American who speaks fluent English, in her role of Nima in Premium Rush speaks broken English. These roles all exemplify Hollywood’s innate bias in viewing and thinking of Asian Americans in a limited way: as dictatorial doctors or as nerds who live for their grades.

But Asian Americans are capable of far more versatile roles than the stereotypical ones. On ABC’s Selfie, John Cho effortlessly portrays a charismatic and well-accomplished marketer in a pharmaceutical company.

The focus of his presence on the show was centered on his work and personal life, not his ethnicity.

Maggie Q stars in Stalker, a police drama series, where she excels in her role as Lieutenant Beth Davis. Q portrayed her character’s range of emotions and actions clearly, from being fearless towards criminals to avoiding her own past.

The significance of these  roles is that they do not revolve around the characters’ looks or heritage, and they most certainly do not play to the stereotypes that normally denote Hollywood’s perverse use of Asian American actors.

Instead, Cho and Maggie were cast as normal human beings. This further shows that Asian Americans are capable of acting out any role and that they can present the stories of their characters brilliantly, rather than confining themselves to the misrepresentation of their culture.

Asian Americans can play the hero, the lover, the boss, and the rest of the archetypes.

The entertainment industry must realize that they can rely on Asian Americans to portray all sorts of characters, rather than the racist and stereotypical ones that society has created.