My first experience with racism was when I was seven while playing with a white friend. A group of white boys started screaming, "Jap, Jap," while pulling the corner of their eyes back. I felt confused, since I wasn't Japanese. I wanted to be invisible.
This taunting occurred throughout my life along with the ching chong mimicking of the Chinese language. But the abuse wasn't limited to the playground. One of the most humiliating images I ever saw was a buck-toothed Mickey Rooney wearing coke bottle glasses and screaming nonsensical mock Chinese in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It turned my stomach. I didn't realize the effect of this mocking until I first saw myself on a video. I zeroed in on my eyes, "They seem so small," I thought. Then I felt shame.
So, when I heard there was going to be a new sitcom entitled "Fresh off the Boat," about a Chinese-American family who move to Florida to open a steakhouse, I was ambivalent. I want to see more faces like me on TV, and am also afraid to see faces like me on TV. Better to be invisible than to be caricatured. The over-the-top Mickey Rooney nonsense may be out of bounds now, but not the new stereotype of math geniuses and sneaky perpetual foreigners who drive badly.
The series is said to be based on a memoir by a Chinese-American author, so even though one TV series can never describe well the experience of any ethnic group, I'm advising fellow Asian-Americans, who are expressing negativity and trepidation, to reserve judgment.
Non-Asian friends exclaim, "It's better than before, at least they're using real Asian actors." I'm not sure I agree. William Hung, the infamous "American Idol" contestant who badly butchered Ricky Martin's "She Bangs," didn't exactly broaden the image of Asians. And I'm not sure whites would be so sanguine if TV images of them were limited to Homer Simpson and "Duck Dynasty."