What I find amazing is how people can look at Asians and truly believe that we all look alike. It’s as if we Americans become instantly stupid at the sight of Asians. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a Japanese restaurant somewhere and overhear someone speaking to a Korean waitperson in Japanese. Just because an Asian is working at a Japanese restaurant doesn’t automatically make them Japanese! Rather than ask politely before showing your ignorance, you just figure it would be super cool to say something in Japanese to someone that doesn’t even look Japanese. In the same way, some look at my last name (Ingland) and assume that I must be only half Asian since my last name is not Asian. Funny, as when I was younger people used to figure I must be only half Asian because I was 5′ 10″ and taller than the stereotypical Asian at the time. My, how things have changed! I’m actually kind of short or average in height compared to other Asians now.
If you’ve watched the movie Mr Baseball with Tom Selleck, you’ll know that there is a scene where he is at the dinner table in a Japanese home and eating noodles. Everyone at the table makes loud, slurping noises as they eat. Selleck’s character is told that it is polite and shows that you are enjoying the meal if you make lots of noise. Everyone at the table is holding the noodle bowl in their hands and slurping away. However, don’t try this in a Korean home. In Korea it is customary to eat quietly. Additionally, it is considered impolite to lift a bowl off the table to eat from it, let alone slurp noodles or drink soup out of it. Even things like how Asians eat rice is different. In Japan and China rice is eaten with chopsticks and the bowl is lifted up to the mouth. In Korea, rice is eaten with a spoon and the bowl is never lifted from the table.
With differences in facial features and customs, why then is it okay to cast John Cho as Mr Sulu in the new Star Trek movie? To me, it is no different than casting Mickey Rooney as a Japanese man in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I guess there were no Japanese actors that could act in the role of Sulu or draw fans like Cho could. Either way, I am one that thinks that neutralizing our ethnicities and just being Asian-American really takes away from our uniqueness and heritage. Being Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese or Fillipino makes a difference. We are not all the same! Our languages are different, our appearance/features are different, and in many cases our cultural perspectives are different.
Have you seen the movie Gran Torino? Rather than pick from a very limited pool of SAG Asians like John Cho, the producers cast the movie with local talent. Not only did that add to the realism of the movie, but everyone that was supposed to be Hmong was Hmong in the film. I would have lost all respect for the film had a demure little Japanese girl been cast as Sue. In reality, since most Americans can’t distinguish between someone that is Hmong or Japanese, it really shouldn’t matter, right?
Unfortunately, I believe that this stereotypical homogenization of Asian-Americans is what clouds the judgment of the church in America. It’s believed that if a church adds a Chinese pastor to the leadership team that they will be an effective draw for Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese people as well. I mean come on, we all look alike anyways.
We as Asian-Americans should not settle for Francis Chan or Dave Gibbons as our featured pastors. We should push for more diversity within ministry and help raise up other Asians into ministry. Why should my voice be Dave Gibbons just because he is Asian? Why aren’t there more Japanese voices in the ministry. Why aren’t there more Vietnamese voices in ministry?
It’s bad enough that Americans in general think that we Asians all look alike, but when we buy into that and let them know it’s okay to confuse John Cho as being Japanese or that it’s okay to be ignorant and assume that a Korean waitperson is Japanese because they bring you a platter of sushi, then we really do ourselves and our culture a disservice. How can we ever be respected for our perspective in the church when we let the world think just attracting Asians is all that matters. Stop giving in for the sake of just getting any Asian representation! Stop letting people think they compliment us when they ask me what nationality I am and when I respond by saying Japanese, they then tell me how they used to have a Vietnamese neighbor and that he was such a nice man as if that gives us an immediate bond somehow. We need more voices in Asian-American ministry that will help educate others and bring about more understanding of the current situation. We need to take a stand against those that want to categorize us as one nice, compartmentalized segment known as homogenized Asian-Americans.