Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"The Asian Mystique"

During my semester abroad in Japan a friend of mine loaned me the book, “The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient” by Sheridan Prasso. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to finish it, much of our discussion in class last Thursday reminded me of this book and I encourage any of you interested to read it. Prasso examines Asian culture and evaluates cross cultural interactions between the East and West, as well as the stereotypes held by the West of the East that are based on expectations of a culture rather than reality.

At one of our last meetings, as we began to explore the background of Asian American women, we discussed the connections between reality and stereotypes. Where does a stereotype originate and do stereotypes hold any truth? As you may recall we did discuss how some stereotypes do hold truth because of events that have happened in the past. But as time goes on and each generation changes it seems to be more and more difficult to break free of these stereotypes.

What reminded me of Prasso’s book was our discussion on sexuality and Asian Women. At one point while reading Prasso’s book it is discussed that there are women, who I believe were of Filipino decent, who are advertised on the street as being able to pop ping pong balls out of their vaginal areas in order to make money in the red light district. As we have discussed, one of the many stereotypes of Asian and Asian American women is a mysterious sexuality and interest in sex. Prasso claims that it is because of these realities and situations that some women in Asian countries have to stoop to the stereotypes that the West has of them.

Similarly, in Dogeaters, Hagedorn explores the theme of sexuality through the characters of Lolita Luna and Joey. The shower boys and various affairs that Joey and Lolita go through in search for a better life, an American life, represent the struggle that many Filipinos went through at this time. With nothing else, it was sexuality that they used this to survive. After reading the examples that Hagedorn presents it occurred to me that many stereotypes that America holds of Asian American Women are in part because of the realties of the history of their ancestors.

In addition, I also find it interesting that Hagedorn chooses to highlight the stereotypes of Americans in the Filipino culture as well. Americans in the novel are portrayed through the images of Hollywood that people in other countries were able to see. Aside from the glamorous aspect of Hollywood it is also because of many of these images that Caucasian Americans have the stereotypes of being fat, or rude and ignorant by other countries. Yet you don’t see as many Caucasian Americans concerned about this image.

Why is it that it is so much harder for Asian American women to break free of the stereotypes that were created in the past? Is it because Asian American women are often still portrayed in movies and the media under the same stereotypes that so many of them try to escape? Or is it just the simple fact that because there are so many more Caucasian Americans they don’t have to take these stereotypes as seriously of themselves or as offensive as some Asian Americans might of stereotypes of themselves?

It is difficult for me to formulate a set opinion on these questions because there are so many possibilities. Whether it be within the media, Hollywood or neither I have found that there are an overwhelming number of Asian Americans who allow themselves to fall into the stereotypes as excuses and jokes. I’m still unsure about my full opinion on the questions that I have raised but overall the questions that Hagedorn has caused me to raise from her themes intrigue me.

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