OPINION

The controversial Atlantic article “My Family’s Slave” by the late journalist Alex Tizon sparked a range of emotion and discussion. Tizon writes about Eudocia Tomas Pulido, a Filipina domestic worker his family enslaved for 56 years and how he felt about her contested role in the family, even after her death. Reactions ranged from sadness at Pulido’s life, to anger at the Tizon family and Alex Tizon himself. The article raised key questions about modern day slavery, poverty in the Philippines, the power of narratives, and more. Read on to gain perspective on these important questions.

How might slavery arise in a Filipino American family?

In the United States, the word “slave” brings to mind the institution of chattel slavery. Therefore the common understanding of slavery in America is that it only happens within a Black-white racial dynamic. However, slavery can also exist within the same ethnic community. In the case of “My Family’s Slave,” the slaveowners are a working-class, immigrant Filipino family and the slave is a Filipina domestic servant. It is worth explaining the different historical and cultural contexts that Filipino immigrants bring with them, so we can challenge these conditions and the enslavement that often arises from them.

Poverty, imperialism, and joblessness back in the Phillipines forced Pulido into enslavement, which continued in the United States when the Tizon family migrated here. Filipino youth and student organization Anakbayan USA released a statement explaining the structural economic and social conditions of the Philippines that shaped Pulido’s life. This includes feudalism, an agricultural system in which landlords exploit landless farmers and peasants. Imperialist economic influences, including that of the United States, exploits these farmers such that they are unable to provide for their own families. This creates poverty and joblessness resulting in the mass migration of Filipinos abroad. Everyday, around 6,000 Filipinos leave their country in search of work. These overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) often find themselves isolated, indebted, and even undocumented.

Pulido is one of these OFWs, whose enslavement is a consequence of poverty in the Philippines. She was born into a poor family and her choices for survival were to either marry a pig farmer twice her age or to become a servant (katulong) for another family. Marrying a pig farmer would have kept her in poverty as a part of the poor peasant class, while becoming a domestic servant as an already poor woman would have made her easily exploitable. In the U.S., the Tizons forbade her from leaving the house; she could not drive, use ATMs, or speak English; and for a good while, she was undocumented. Considering her circumstances, it is not surprising that Pulido “chose” to stay with the Tizons; she had no other viable options for escape.

Who was Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s life before she became “Lola”?

A common criticism of “My Family’s Slave” is that Alex Tizon focuses too much on his own guilt and struggle rather than centering Pulido’s perspective. Filipina journalist Lian Buan takes us into Pulido’s hometown of Tarlac to gather the perspectives of those who knew her in a different light, outside of the master-slave dynamic: her surviving family. These articles offer insight into Pulido’s life that Tizon, for whatever reason, did not cover himself.

In Tarlac, Pulido goes by another name: Aunt Cosiang, rather than the name “Lola” (grandmother in Tagalog) as the Tizon family knows her. According to her niece Ebia, although she did not wish to marry or have her own family, one thing she wished for was “to stay for good here [Tarlac], to sell what she cooks, because she cooks very well, especially pastries.” Over the years, Pulido had sent back cooking and baking tools in hopes of opening a bakery to sell puto, or steamed rice cakes. In Tizon’s telling of Pulido’s thoughts about moving back to the Philippines, he could only write that she could not go back permanently because she was ashamed about not sending back money or because America was all she knew. This disparity reveals how relying on Tizon’s narrative conceals essential parts of Pulido as a person. “My Family’s Slave” missed many opportunities to let Pulido tell her story from her own perspective. In Buan’s evaluation of the piece, Tizon devoted much of it to describe the good things he had done for Pulido instead of what she must have thought about her circumstances. As someone who was silenced and abused for essentially her entire life, to not offer her a chance to break this lifetime of silence furthers the marginalization of her agency, and the agency of other exploited workers like her.

What can we do now?

Both Pulido and Alex Tizon have passed. We will never hear Pulido speak for herself nor Tizon’s responses to these discussions. That does not mean that the pursuit of justice for Pulido and those like her is over. We can prevent further injustice by joining the efforts of organizations such as GABRIELA USA and Anakbayan-USA; by treating domestic workers with dignity; by uplifting the stories of survivors; and by learning how to deconstruct narratives such as those advanced in “My Family’s Slave” that unknowingly excuse slavery rather than demand justice.

To keep up with the ongoing reader response to “My Family’s Slave,” check The Atlantic’s Notes column.

My mom is Taiwanese and my dad is Chinese, but many people only see me as Chinese. This was more of an issue when I was growing up than it is now, but usually when I tell someone in the U.S. that I’m Taiwanese and Chinese, they reply with, “Oh, so you’re Chinese, right?”

As a child who did not know any better, I learned that it was simply easier for me to introduce myself as Chinese, and before long I identified as Chinese American.

It was not until I visited Taiwan at eighteen, met my extended Taiwanese family, and fell in love with the country and culture that I fully embraced my identity as Taiwanese.

In contrast, I do not have the same relationship with China or the Chinese side of my family. It was easy for me to “drop” my identity as Chinese and instead identify as a Taiwanese American.

In community college, one of my white professors was talking about the importance of recognizing multiple identities and asked for students with more than one race or ethnicity to share their identities. When I offered mine, she laughed at me in front of the class, asked me, “Aren’t they the same thing?,” before following up by telling me that she always thought I was Korean based on the way I look.

It’s really confusing, okay?

At 18, embracing my Taiwanese identity meant dropping my Chinese one. To me, China and Taiwan were different enough that I knew that one did not equal the other, but similar enough that I thought it would be redundant to mention both.

I held this “either/or approach” until a few years ago, when one of my best friends came back home for winter break and told me that she was, “done with halves.” She told me that she was going to start owning both her White and Chinese identities.

Being biracial/biethnic does not equate to simply being “half-this” and “half-that,” because that implies that you aren’t wholly anything.

Whenever my friend told anyone that she was Asian, people would often tell her something along the lines of, “But you’re only half-Asian,” as if her identity as an Asian is something that they knew more about than her.

Identities are not fickle things to be discredited and taken away if the “math” doesn’t add up. It is due to my friend that I really began to think critically about what it means to have multiple identities and identified as both Taiwanese and Chinese.

In embracing both of my identities, I found that I had a new problem.

At conflict with my Chinese identity is my identity as Taiwanese.

Although I am no more Taiwanese than I am Chinese, I sometimes find myself thinking and acting as if I were not Chinese at all.

When I was visiting Taiwan last summer, I found myself picking up on the anti-mainland Chinese sentiment that people I was spending time with shared.

I began to feel annoyed by “those” rude Chinese tourists, as if I were not Chinese myself, and as though I was somehow better than them.

At other times, I found myself strongly identifying as Chinese. When I re-watched “Mulan” last weekend, I felt pride in the fact that a Disney heroine was Chinese.

Similarly, a few years ago, I learned that the first anti-immigration and anti-miscegenation laws in the United States were aimed at the Chinese, I felt pain and anger for my ancestors.

For me, part of self-care and self-love is awareness and acceptance of who I am. I do not want to only choose to identify as Chinese when it is advantageous and disown it where it is disadvantageous.

The question has moved beyond what I identify as to how to manage my identities.

China and Taiwan have been in conflict since the 40’s, so how can I reconcile these two identities and love for them both? Just because these two countries are in conflict with each other does not mean that my identities need to be that way.

In a sea of Southeast Asians on campus, I am a minority. I am underrepresented. I am Laotian.

Oftentimes, people misidentify me as Vietnamese. While I do not find that to be an insult, it functions as a reminder that I am not able to relate or identify with a cultural group on campus.

Laos is located in Southeast Asia between Thailand and Vietnam. My parents, like most of the Lao population in the United States, sought refuge in America from the war over communism. I am a first-generation college student in my family and according to the Center of American Progress Asian American Pacific Islander data, one of the 13 percent of Laotians pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Within the Southeast Asian community, Laotian, Cambodian and Hmong individuals are less likely to be financially successful. According to The Washington Post, “the experience of refugee populations such as Hmong, Lao, Cambodian and Khmer groups continue to fall below standard markers of achievement.” The reasons for this ranges from lack of personal motivation and familial support to complete higher education to gang involvement and traditional values that apply patriarchal beliefs.

There are plenty of APIDA student clubs and organizations at UCLA—Vietnamese Student Union, Association of Chinese Americans, Hanoolim (Korean Cultural Awareness group) and even the Association of Hmong Students and United Khmer Students of UCLA—but not one exclusively established for the Laotian community.

Imagine my shock, coming from San Diego—a culturally diverse city with a large Lao population—to UCLA. Approximately 31.2% of undergraduate students identify within the  APIDA community as of Fall 2016, but this campus still lacks a Lao student organization. Which brings me to the question—where is our representation?   

College seemed like a place for me to bridge the gap between my identity and heritage because as a teenager, I neglected to fully embrace my culture.

Participating in every religious ceremony and regularly attending temple allowed me to possess an adequate understanding of both Buddhism and Lao customs. However, I long to be more immersed and enlightened.

I regret not appreciating my culture throughout high school and did not realize how much of an impact my lack of traditional involvement and understanding had on me until the college application period of my life. Months of self-reflection for personal statements led me to realize that my perception of my own identity was unstable due to a deficiency in Asian American representation in the media and culture that I was exposed to.

A few months at UCLA did not solve my internal conflicts, but directed me towards valuable resources. For instance, I involved myself with  an APIDA Newsmagazine called Pacific Ties that allows me to be part of the news media presence that I wish I had growing up. In addition, my involvement in Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention (SEA CLEAR) connected me with two amazing Lao graduate students at UCLA, one of which includes my current mentor. Although I am still in the process of getting to know both of these individuals, I already feel supported, understood and a lot less alone.

However, I cannot help but imagine how wonderful it would be to have more cultural clubs and organizations centered around the minority groups of the minority groups. It is crucial to establish more clubs that emulate SEA CLEAR’s mission to “increase graduation and retention rates” and “nurture students to embrace their identity by exploring Southeast Asian history, culture, and politics.” Adopting these crucial principles will provide a safe space for students who identify as minorities of a minority group, as well as provide outreach opportunities to their ethnic communities to encourage Southeast Asian high school students to pursue higher education at UCLA.

With this representation, we can disillusion the Asian stereotypes that continues to overlook the struggles of the minorities within the community. Creating more cultural clubs and organizations on UCLA’s campus would grant the ethnic groups a chance to both genuinely represent themselves and to strengthen their community.

We’re all tired of whitewashing.

We’ve seen it before, and we’re seeing it today. From John Wayne’s portrayal of Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror” (1956) to Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko in “Ghost in the Shell” (2017), we are not strangers to the common practice of Asian and Asian American roles being handed to white actors/actresses.

Despite the minimal Asian American representation in Hollywood and in movies in general, Asian Americans receive an even shorter end of the stick in another medium: video games.

In 2016, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), an annual conference showcasing the latest and upcoming video games, revealed billion-dollar hits, such as “Battlefield 1” and “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition,” but many lacked the presence of Asian Americans.

Even highly anticipated games, like “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Death Stranding,” predominantly cast white actors and actresses as the lead and supporting roles.

This does not mean we should immediately boycott game companies. We should recognize some of their efforts, including the award-winning games “Mirror’s Edge” and “Sleeping Dogs.”

“Mirror’s Edge” is a first-person parkour game starring Faith Connors (Jules de Jongh), a half-Japanese, half-British female. The game was published by Electronic Arts, one of the more prominent publishers in the industry.

“Sleeping Dogs,” which was published by Square Enix, another prominent company in the video game industry, starred Wei Shen (Will Yun Lee). The game was praised for its near-accurate depictions of Hong Kong, Cantonese voice acting, and dynamic portrayal of Wei Shen, according to reviews by Imagine Games Network and GamesRadar.

What about the “Final Fantasy” series? And “Street Fighter?” Those have many Asian and Asian American characters.

Yes, they do, but many of these characters are heavily stereotyped. “Street Fighter” characters are only known for their martial arts. They are bland, flat characters. “Final Fantasy” characters are not necessarily stereotyped, but they are portrayed as more white. They possess pale complexions, sharp jaw lines, and natural non-black hair.

final fantasy
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
street fighter
Photo courtesy of Flickr.

So, what does this mean for us and big video game companies?

Well, video game companies should start casting more Asian Americans in lead roles. Bethesda Softworks, the company responsible for publishing “Fallout 4” and “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” is already taking the lead by starring the character Morgan Wu in the highly anticipated “Prey” (2017). Other companies like Electronic Arts and Bungie should follow suit.

As for us, we should continue lobbying for representation as usual. We need to fight for accurate representation and dynamic portrayal of Asian and Asian American characters not only in films but also in video games. We are a diverse community, and, at the least, we should be seen as such.

On June 3, Daily Bruin writer Kelly Yeo published an article titled, “Asian American activism on campus: an in-depth investigation,” in The Quad, a part of the Daily Bruin. What at first seemed like an exciting investigative report from a publication that rarely reports about our communities was actually a problematic personal narrative that failed to live up to its self reported “in-depth investigation” status.

There were many points we found inaccurate in Yeo’s report, such as the omission of South Asians from the term “AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander)” and her speculation that “long nights spent studying time-intensive science courses could be contributing to a lack of time or motivation in regards to political participation.” We won’t address all of them at this time, but here are 5 points we find most important to discuss immediately.

1. Yeo wrote this article with the intention of showing AAPIs as apolitical.

Yeo approached us through email in April to interview Pacific Ties staff members about AAPI activism, but managing staff made the decision not to provide her an opportunity to distort Pacific Ties’s mission. The managing team was aware of the hostile manner in which she conducted her interviews with sources from the Asian Pacific Coalition (APC) and Association of Chinese Americans (ACA). She asked loaded questions with the assumption that AAPI students were complacent within their organizations.

Yeo looked for information and quotes that confirmed her existing beliefs about AAPI student activism, instead of reporting from the ground up and challenging the assumptions she made about the community.

We suspect that Yeo drafted most of her article with “quotes to come,” which is a news reporting term referring to any quotes that a journalist hopes to get from a future interview.

We are also disappointed in the Daily Bruin editors responsible for considering the piece an “in-depth” report. Her claim that AAPIs at UCLA are apolitical is unfounded. Pacific Ties, the oldest AAPI* student-run newsmagazine in the nation, focuses on hyperlocal news coverage and analysis for the diverse AAPI communities on campus. We assign writers to cover as many campus events possible that include an intersectional perspective about AAPIs. Most of the events we cover are put on for and by politically conscious students. Recent Pacific Ties coverage include “Yellow Fever,” mixed identity, sexual assault awareness and media representation.

We ask that reporters do their research when they pursue a story. Do not erase the AAPI voice on campus and its hxstory. AAPIs have historically organized and continue to fight for social justice, ranging from labor issues to immigration. Back in February, Pacific Ties wrote an editorial about the Peter Liang conviction, condemning the officer’s actions in taking Akai Gurley’s life as an example of police brutality. Yeo and others who think that AAPIs are apolitical should look deeper to find these counternarratives.

We don’t claim to be experts on the countless number of cultures that make up the AAPI community, but we are willing to listen to them to capture their stories — as should Yeo.

Our duty as journalists requires us to gain knowledge in the particular community conditions that each community faces within the AAPI umbrella. Our publication aims to build rapport with the AAPI community on campus so we can provide accurate coverage of AAPI students’ lived experiences, especially when the mainstream media and the K-12 educational system have already brushed off and forgotten them. Pacific Ties aims to increase community engagement, provide resources, and construct a collective consciousness of what it means to be AAPI. Yeo should have made an genuine effort to engage with the AAPI community before attempting to write about the AAPI community with such confident assumptions.

2. Yeo distorts quotes from people and misconstrues what AAPI campus groups do.

Yeo’s use of personal opinion as an overarching framework is flawed, particularly in her intentional misrepresentation of UCLA’s Asian Pacific Coalition (APC). The article states that “APC, founded in 1971, was initially created in order to address underrepresentation of East Asians on campus, according to APC directors [Priscilla] Hoang and [Jeffrey] Hsu.” This statement is not true, nor has it ever been. APC, founded in 1975, formed to combat general AAPI issues as a whole, not only East Asian issues. It is a pan-Asian coalition, consisting of 24 student organizations that showcases UCLA’s AAPI diversity. APC is part of the Mother Organization (MO) Coalition, a partnership amongst nine student groups that emerged to address UCLA’s disparate minority admit and retention rates.

In APC’s interview, Hoang and Hsu acknowledged the formation of separate Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander MO’s (the Vietnamese Student Union, Pacific Islands’ Student Association, and Samahang Pilipinx, respectively) in recognition of the unique barriers these communities face, even though they fall under the AAPI umbrella.

Yeo misconstrues this remark, perhaps understanding the remainder of APC as exclusively East Asian after hearing about the three distinctive organizations. This deduction effectively dismisses all other groups in the coalition, erasing South Asians, people of mixed heritage, and non-AAPIs working on AAPI issues from the conversation.

She claims, “The reality is that many of UCLA’s AAPI cultural organizations today simply have lost touch with their politicized roots. From dance teams to organizing and acting in cultural nights, these groups have shifted their focus from having their voices heard on sociopolitical issues to becoming a means for AAPI students to socialize around a shared culture.”

She makes no mention of all the other activism these identity-based student groups do. Many student organizations have multiple pillars of focus. An example is Vietnamese Student Union (VSU). In addition to culture nights and dance teams (which also are used for activism), VSU established Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention (SEA CLEAR) to provide services for the Southeast Asians community: mentorship pairs, workshops focusing on mental health and wellness, empowering internships, and much more. Similarly, Samahang Pilipinx (SP) has programs called Samahang Pilipinx Education and Retention (SPEAR) and Samahang Pilipinx Advancing Community Empowerment (SPACE) to increase Pilipinx graduation/retention and matriculation rates. SP also organizes community building activities such as annual marches advocating for “Justice for Pilipinx American Veterans,” and “Grassroots Wednesdays,” showing the various forms of activism that exists within their community.

3. Yeo has a skewed understanding of activism.

Social justice is not uniform across time and space, nor should it be. Everything can be political. Public marches and self-care is political. Inaction and adherence to the status quo is political. Social justice work fights for liberation from oppression and systems of inequality. It is also a continually changing process one should learn and grow from.

Yeo clearly does not understand this concept, evident in her juxtaposition of AAPI activism with other communities of color.

She claims that AAPI’s “take the path of least resistance” and that it “may be the best we can hope for” in contrast to “direct action.” Her conclusion is highly problematic because it privileges direct action over other forms of activism, suggesting that there is a “right” way to be political. This disregards the millions of people who work to combat oppression conditions that persist in everyday life.

AAPIs are politically involved across the spectrum, from “direct action” to “soft activism,” which does not have to be in competition with one another. The idea of direct action as more valuable than more subtle forms of resistance is both ableist and classist — not everyone has the ability to protest at a rally, or the privilege of delaying personal responsibilities to do so. In an interview with Pacific Ties, former director of APC and current Campus Retention Chairperson Jazz Kiang explained, “A purposeful decision or moment can be activism. A person who decides to become a peer counselor at the retention center is an activist because they’re doing something to benefit the community. For someone who is working two jobs so they can afford their tuition, that’s being an activist because they see their importance of being at an institution of higher learning. Being here is already a political statement.”

In addition, it is harmful to pit communities of color against each other. All people of color face discrimination that our non-POC counterparts do not face, with discrimination that is specific to certain communities of color. This is not to say that multiracial coalitions are always in harmony, but there must be solidarity between communities in order combat these issues.

And so what if an AAPI student group has a dance team and a culture show? Preserving, sharing, and finding solidarity through culture is political too.

Pacific Ties believes in documenting AAPI student organizations’ culture nights so the next generation of AAPI student activists know that we care about our communities. Yeo acknowledges that AAPI student-led culture nights are “a form of political action,” but she denies them as a form of legitimate activism.

Culture nights honor hxstory, depicting people’s lives and struggles through lenses of immigration and war. They also look at issues such as violence against women, the visibility and acceptance or lack thereof of LGBTQ+ individuals within specific cultures, the impact of religion and tradition on modern beliefs, etc. At this year’s Samahang Pilipino Culture Night, for example, a traditional dance about the creation myth immediately followed a scene in which the father, a character in the play, proclaims that “love is between a man and a woman.”

Culture nights examine these issues and offer a solution through healing. They are a safe space. Each story that is staged at a culture night has a resolution, promotes acceptance of different identities, and ends with a hopeful look toward the future.

The prominent message that we should accept ourselves and our cultural identity is political and a form of activism. When we accept our identities, we choose to confront oppressive power structures from both outside and within our own communities.

Combating systemic racism doesn’t have to come in the form of an obvious message or protest at culture nights because the celebration and validation of our cultures reminds us that the stereotypes about our cultures and communities are not true.

These cultural nights remind us that we deserve to be seen and heard. They remind us that the dominant narrative isn’t the only one that exists, and that we don’t have to fit ourselves in to feel accepted.

Culture nights are a form of nonviolent activism in which we invite people to learn about our customs — our food, music, and dances — as well as our experiences. But at the same time, we are also educating ourselves about what it means to be part of an AAPI community and how we can best represent our cultures in the years to come.

Students who join these cultural organizations do so to further understand their identity. Whether they join in hopes to learn more about their identity, hxstory, and culture, it is a space that gives them a chance to connect with other students who wish do the same.

This in itself is an act of resistance. Students reclaim their own identity by learning from one another’s shared experiences and stories collectively. As the feminist phrase states, “the personal is political,” meaning that reflecting on one’s own experiences and understanding how it intersects with the broader structures of oppression is a form of raising consciousness. This collectively-enabled consciousness enables theses communities and organizations to work and find solutions and heal from these issues.

4. Yeo erases the work of student activists.

Yeo argues that affirmative action was the only factor in raising AAPI enrollment rates and disregards the role of groups like APC. She says,

“As they readily admit, APC’s efforts had little to do with the demographic shift. The changing demographics of California, the increase in admissions standards, and ultimately, the abolishment of affirmative action through California Proposition 209 helped create the admissions environment that has lead to Asian and Pacific Islanders being the largest demographic category on campus at 33.5 percent, compared to nationally hovering around 5 percent and 13.5 percent in California, if Pacific Islanders are excluded.”

First, the data Yeo presents about AAPI student admissions post-Proposition 209 need to be disaggregated. Unlike what Yeo suggested, AAPI underrepresentation in higher education is still an issue, especially in Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities. But it is not noticeable when AAPI students are counted as a monolithic racial category. We need to consider how specific AAPI communities face inequities in education.

Second, APC has played an important role in the demographic shift. While APC does not dispute the importance of affirmative action, and has historically supported affirmative action throughout the years, campus-level activism should not be undermined. The MOs have achieved incredible success in carving out spaces for students neglected by the university, namely through programmatic efforts and the Community Programs Office (CPO)’s successful access and retention programs. The access and retention programs provide targeted outreach and retention services to disadvantaged communities at UCLA and beyond. They continue to maintain their legacy of minority student achievement, especially after the passage of California’s Prop 209. The prohibition on affirmative action makes these programs even more important for minority access to higher education by providing students with crucial resources to challenge institutional obstacles.

APC continually affirms its accomplishments in setting up the foundations of AAPI student success. Collaborative efforts amongst the MO’s have resulted in the creation of the Student Activities Center and Community Programs Office, the restructuring of the John Wooden Center, and most recently, the passage of the Social Justice Referendum that will fund culturally competent resources targeting marginalized students. APC’s efforts in institutionalizing student-led and student-initiated programs is critical to the increase in minority student enrollment from underserved communities. This is telltale from the wildly successful YIELD events at UCLA.

APC’s role as organizers for student resources is critical to rises in AAPI enrollment, and its successes should be properly noted. Although the organization’s original concerns regarding AAPI enrollment has evolved and changed over time, this does not, nor should it negate the decades of AAPI activism aiding UCLA in its efforts for social justice.

Yeo’s denial of APC’s role in AAPI enrollment is only the tip of the iceberg. Yeo actively ignores many AAPI groups in both her research and analyses. She neglects organizations like Pacific Islands’ Student Association (PISA), Mixed Student Union (MSU), Indus, and many others. Despite her definition of the term “Asian American” and confessed pitfalls in South Asian inclusiveness at the beginning of her investigation, Yeo does not challenge her shortfalls, and skirts the issue. Yet, she seeks to answer the question, “why are AAPI’s so apolitical?” with no real intention of pursuing a comprehensive review.

5. Yeo’s article is part of the problem, not the solution.

Yeo’s article perpetuates the idea of AAPI apathy by downplaying and erasing the work of AAPI student groups.

Yeo’s irresponsible and biased “investigation” does not properly represent the state of AAPI activism at UCLA and the rich history of AAPI activism as a whole. Her lazy reporting results in a limited understanding of the very issues she wants to explore, and does not accurately represent the many narratives that exist. Broad, overarching statements that erase the complexity of student activism fail to adequately serve as a framework for her argument.

Yeo cannot gain a thorough acumen of AAPI activism from a handful of interviews, nor should she conflate UCLA’s AAPI activism with AAPI activism as a whole. Misinterpretation of politically loaded issues that accompany conversations of AAPI apathy is a crucial weakness that renders her research useless.

Although it is important for Yeo to reflect on her personal experiences at UCLA, she cannot conflate them as factual claims and use them as a foundation for research. Yeo’s gross generalizations rob her readers of a comprehensive understanding of AAPI activism.

Congratulations, Kelly. You played yourself.

Note: The Asian Pacific Coalition contributed to the editorial.

If you are an AAPI student group and would like to use Pacific Ties as a space to publish a response to Yeo’s article, please email [email protected].

*Although Pacific Ties uses the term APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) to describe our communities, we decided to refer to our communities as AAPI to be consistent with Yeo’s article. Both terms refer to the same communities.

In January 2015, Variety reported that Scarlett Johansson had agreed to star in the Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese media franchise that originated as a manga in 1989 by creator Masamune Shirow. Following the attachment of Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, a campaign launched to petition her casting, calling DreamWorks to stop whitewashing Asian characters.

Whitewashing in film is when white actors are cast in non-white roles. By no means is this casting practice new. Arthur Dong’s documentary Hollywood Chinese: The Chinese in American Feature Films (2007) revisits several instances in the past in which non-Asian actors have played Asian characters, such as Christopher Lee in the role of Fu Manchu. While these historical examples are more reflective of gross caricature and overt yellow face, modern whitewashing seems to work by downplaying or even erasing the specific ethnic or racial identities and backgrounds of characters “under the assumption that white characters have the widest appeal” (Huffington Post).

On April 14, 2016, Paramount’s release of a still from Ghost in the Shell revived criticisms of Hollywood whitewashing when it cast Scarlett Johansson as the lead for the Japanese franchise, Major Motoko Kusanagi. Further, on April 15, 2016, Esquire published an online article claiming that the film’s producers attempted to make non-Asian actors, even possibly Johansson, look more Asian through visual effects.

Although the whitewashing of Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell is just another example of the misrepresentation that Hollywood studios believe is risk-averse and helps insure box office profit, the possible visual altering of the white actors to look more Asian is insensitive and insulting.

To the producers of this hot mess:

Instead of recognizing that whitewashing is problematic in erasing the intersections of the character’s identity, and instead of recognizing that whitewashing is discriminatory in excluding Asian and Asian American actors that are underrepresented in Hollywood from the role, you go ahead and try to make people that aren’t ethnically Asian look Asian? With technology? For a media franchise that’s set in a futuristic Japan? I can’t. You’re already replacing our people that aren’t even our people because they’re probably played by white people. And then, you’re using special effects to pretend that they’re our people? Rude.

First the racist Asian jokes at the Oscars and now this? Hollywood, get it together.

Sincerely,

em-oar-eeee

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