Media, Stereotypes, and “Authenticity”

Interview quotes that touch on authenticity and representation of Asians in American media, appearing in interview order.

You just kind of grow into yourself. You grow into what your morals and values are. And I feel like, especially my first year at [Seattle University], I wanted to be more in tune with me being Catholic [. . .]. And I felt with me doing that for myself, it has enhanced my way of being Filipino, like, in all of the authentic ways I can be. And it really did help that there was such a strong organization like [United Filipino Club] on campus [. . .]. I felt welcomed. And I didn’t really feel afraid to show that I was different. And I had something to be proud of.

Jaymielee, SU, Class of 2023

I did feel pressured to go into STEM, but I ended up liking it a lot. But I also felt pressured to play an instrument, like piano, but I never got the hang of it. I just didn’t really enjoy it at all. Or the pressure to do some kind of sport [. . .]. I also felt pressure to, you know, be straight. Because it feels like Asian American families don’t like to talk about that kind of thing. In general, [I’ve experienced] lots of pressure when I was growing up, but I’m learning to overcome that and make the kind of future that I want.

Hunter, UW, Class of 2023

I think I fit the [Filipino] stereotype too well. But I know the hair, like, that was a big thing for me. Asians have straight to wavy hair naturally, or the majority seem to. And seeing an Asian American or seeing an Asian with curly hair was really fascinating. So that was something I tried. [. . .] But I felt like, with me trying that different look, it made me feel authentic, because I wasn’t really trying to fit a stereotype. I was just being myself, and like what I like, [look] how I wanted to look. And just showing that to everyone.

Joseph, SU, Class of 2023

How I find authentication of myself being Asian is finding information, [. . .] being culturally aware of all the different cultures in Asia. Because if you listen to the American media, they’re always talking about, well, “There’s this Asian company, that Asian company, this Asian person”—but there’s a lot of different cultures in Asia, like, East Asia is different than West Asia, which is different than, you know . . . Filipinos are different from Japanese are different from Chinese are different from Taiwanese. So being lumped together like that in the media, I don’t really like it. So being able to educate myself on the different cultures—that’s how I do it.

Matthew, SU, Class of 2023

For me, when I was younger, being authentically Filipino was eating the food all the time, especially in middle school—having the Filipino jacket and having the ukulele, having those stereotypical Filipino things in your household. But as I got older and met people who are Filipino, but aren’t very Filipino culturally, [I’m] unlearning that idea that you have to know the culture in order to be that ethnicity, because some people don’t have the privilege of being a part of their culture. And that’s not something necessarily that they can control. So, I feel like, being authentically Filipino or authentically Asian is just having it in your blood; there shouldn’t be a cultural standard for being that kind of, you know—for having that identity. [. . .] Sure, there are perks to knowing the culture and stuff, but that shouldn’t make you better than another person. [. . .]

And Asia is so diverse, you know? [. . .] You can’t pinpoint what an “Asian” is because there’s so many different cultures and lifestyles.

Britanna, SU, Class of 2023

I identify as being Southeast Asian. A lot of my life I used to say, “Asian American,” but now I say, “Southeast Asian American.” I think it kind of resonates a lot more because “Asian American” is so broad. And then when you talk about “Asian American” it’s very, like, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, which is fine. But I know I don’t identify with those identities, so I usually go with “Southeast Asian.”

Peter, SU, Class of 2020

It does make a difference to see these Asian American families on TV, but especially with situations like To All the Boys because it was also a mixed family situation. I don’t remember all the scenes but [there was one where] the dad didn’t know a lot about the culture and the daughters had to teach him, or something like that. I can see that as a reflection in my family, like, my dad knows nothing about Filipino culture. And so sometimes when I come home and talk with my mom and ask questions about [Filipino culture], he’ll be like, “Whoa,” or he’ll just be super confused. [. . .] Just seeing that [my family interactions] and seeing how that’s becoming more of a norm on TV does make a difference. Especially because growing up, that definitely wasn’t as out there as it is now—like, it’s only now becoming an actual normal situation. Definitely would have been nice to have that earlier on, though.

Nicole, SU, Class of 2022

It always seems like “Asian” has to be something that sets a person apart, not always something that can just be, like, present in a space, which I think is kind of irritating that that’s how it has been in the media. But seeing things like To All the Boys or The Half of It where [the characters have all these characteristics and traits] and they also happen to be Asian, you know? I feel like that makes the characters more relatable. Instead of them being, like, the butt of the joke, or them being Asian being the butt of the joke, or [being “Asian”] being all that they are.

Kayla, SU, Class of 2022

[Being Filipina] means a lot of joy, is what that is. In every aspect of my identity. For me, being Filipina, because that is such a huge part of who I am, it’s just kind of weird. Because being Filipina or just being any type of Southeast Asian, and honestly all sorts of different ethnicities, sometimes people can’t see that. I don’t know what people mean by, like, “You don’t seem Filipino.”

But if I understand them correctly, what I’m hearing is that, no, you’re right, [I don’t look like the stereotypical Filipino]. So, I think even just from when I was a child, I never really felt quite like other Filipinos. The way that I speak—you know, my mom was paranoid that I wouldn’t be able to speak English, so she taught me English very, very well. And now I get mixed up between my two dialects [Filipino languages] at home. It’s hard when I’m trying to say something in Ilocano, I say in Tagalog, and I’m like, “Oh, no.”

All this is to say, I think, even from when I was young, there was always a semblance of me that’s like, “This just does not feel quite right. Like I’m missing something. I’m just not getting it.” [. . .] There was always some kind of dissonance, and as far as I can remember, [times] where I’m like, I just didn’t think I’m Filipino enough. [But that’s changing.]

Lorraine, UW, 2020

My surface-level response [to an “authentic Filipino”] would be somebody who speaks the language, somebody who knows how to cook the food, somebody who has lived in the Philippines for a good portion of their life and follows the customs and things like that. I almost see it as qualifications, like, “You know the language—check. You lived in the Philippines—check. You know how to cook the food—check.”

But my response to that and especially thinking about, you know, when I go to the Philippines, is this sense of insecurity or this gap that I feel. Like, “Oh, they are real Filipinos, I’m not.”

But I guess my second answer, thinking about it more, [being Filipino] really has to go with the core values of Filipino culture. And a lot of it surrounds the family and the community and just, like, being with other people. [. . .] This core value of wanting to serve others I feel is what it means to be an authentic Filipino. It doesn’t have anything to do with if you can speak the language or if you know how to do these things—it has a lot to do with your heart. And just this desire and willingness to sacrifice—on a healthy level—for the betterment of others.

Theresa A., UW, 2020

Because of how much work I’ve done with the homeless community, that shows how much work I’ve done regarding health and wellness that isn’t necessarily science, it’s more like emotion and empathy. So, I’ve kind of restructured that [healthcare], and it’s slowly changing from, like, “Anton’s going to be a doctor,” to, “Now Anton’s this.” Some people are weird about that, like, “Oh, you’re doing social work?” Or “Oh, you want to go into public health? That’s not a doctor. That’s not good.”

But I really don’t care. I’m doing something that makes me happy. And I’m fulfilling my purpose, rather than fulfilling, like, my parents’ or my race’s or my generation’s purpose. I think that’s important.

Anton, WWU, 2020

Growing up Asian American, a lot of your culture and a lot of things that you practice or what makes you feel Asian is usually done within the home or with family. So, coming up to [college] and [being] separated from that—this environment that I was in and just whatever cultural habits that made me feel Asian American were [away] now. [. . .] And so, coming here was like coming to face the fact that, if I wanted to feel comfortable being Asian, I needed to figure out how I could comfortably be a part of that, experience that culture.

And so, I was like, “Okay, well, I have to make a plan,” then, “How am I going to prove [being Asian] to myself?”

At first, I was thinking about it like, “I’m still Asian, even though I’m in a very white place right now.” And so, I got obsessive, like, learning how to cook because it was just the easiest way for me to prove to people or prove to myself that I am Asian. And then [. . .] in freshman year, it felt like a chore at first.

I had to consistently prove to myself that I was still Asian American and that just because I wasn’t in, like, that environment, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I still had those experiences; and maybe I don’t get to experience them as often now and it feels frustrating. I guess I had to learn that identity isn’t always just action and I always felt like I had to consistently prove to people, whatever ethnicity I felt was important at the time for people to know. And so, I was coming to terms with the fact that it’s not always a show.

Your identity really is for yourself, and I just needed to learn that there were ways I could interact with it and didn’t feel like I was forcing myself to prove it.

Theresa C., WWU, 2021

When my therapist says, “Oh, you’re Filipino. Cool. What are you studying?” and if I told them, “I’m an English major,” they’re like, “So do your parents think you’re a disappointment?” And I’m like, “No,” but, like, there’s so much to unpack with the fact that you’ve seen it enough and then you’re perpetuating this stereotype too.

Andre, WWU, Class of 2022

I always knew I was Filipino, but what did it mean to be a Filipino in America, you know? That question, I struggled with for most of my life because, in American history, they portray Asians as a model minority or Asian women as quiet and meek, so I’m like, do I have to be the stereotype to fit in America?

So, I had an existential crisis from a very young age. What does it mean to be Filipino American, but also be who I want to be at the same time?

My parents are immigrants, so when I was at home I was very in touch with my culture, but I could tell that because of me and my brother, they tried to make things Americanized for us so we could fit in better. So, I had a very confusing childhood, because I’m like, “What does it mean to be Filipino American?”

“What does it mean to be Asian American?” when they [“Americans”] don’t look like me, and people from the Philippines are like, “Oh, you’re too dark.” So, does that mean you have to get whiter to be “Asian American” or “Filipino American”?

It wasn’t until social media that I started doing my own research. I found a lot of things on the internet because, you know, I’m kind of tired of reading, and I learned more Filipino history thanks to Dr. Mike’s class [at WWU] as well but also my APUSH [AP US history] teacher. He’s half Filipino, and he felt it was very important for his class to know about the Philippine-American War and the colonization of the Philippines. [. . .] And he went over stuff, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, that we didn’t have to cover for the exam. But he said, “It’s very important for all of you guys to know about the struggle that Asian Americans had [. . .] but also in finding themselves.”

So, I don’t think there was a time. [. . .] I’ve always realized I’m Filipino because, you know, I just felt like I grew up in the culture of the house and everything but also, yes, I did feel seclusion, like, what does it mean to be that in schools?

Jannell, WWU, 2023
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