Elder J has written a provocative post taking a look at the cost of assimilation. As one commenter put it: “The Deadly Vipers are off the shelves; Ninja Assassin is a box office hit! Folks of Asian America, this is precisely where we live: damned if we do, damned if don’t.”
Ninja Assassin isn’t a movie that makes my must-see list, but it sells. What it sells I’m not exactly sure. I can appreciate the cinematic genre, but let’s face it. Kung Fu movies in America play out differently in the culture than they do in, say, Asia Why? Because I live in America, and it gets old having boys or “men” come up to me with a karate-chop greeting.
I’m all for more Asian/Asian Americans represented in the entertainment world, but I’m also not so comfortable with what the average person takes away from a movie like that. Is it really “just” entertainment? We lament that there are so few Asian/Asian American faces on the silver screen that when they do appear we (sort of) feel obligated to show support and use box office totals to communicate power and influence. We have to at minimum buy into the system or at least understand how to manipulate it in order to influence it, right?
Elder J defines a sell-out as “one who bargains away his own identity or people in exchange for acceptance and benefits afforded by those in power.” He goes on to challenge us to consider this: “Asian Americans cannot continue to sell out their cultural inheritance and then expect others to honor it.”
I’ve been sitting on this for awhile now. The difficulty is that as Asian Americans we are still understanding and trying to identify our cultural inheritance. Our ancestors who immigrated to the States had a much clearer understanding of their Asian roots and cultures, and so much of that continues to get lost in translation. When I share mandoo (Korean potstickers) at a church potluck or send it with my kids for lunch my intent is to share my culture but how then do I keep that from becoming at some level tokenism or perpetuating a stereotype? How Asian do I have to be to be AA or how American do I have to be to be AA – and all of that in the balance of being genuinely AA and not selling out. It feels a bit silly to even use food as an example, but on a very basic level I think I’m still figuring what it means to be Asian American.