During the fall months, some of our favorite television shows start airing new episodes. Additionally, new programs make their way onto the air. There’s so much variety in our entertainment, but one thing is apparent — there are more Asian Americans on TV these days.
Of course there are people like Sandra Oh from the long running “Grey’s Anatomy” and Carrie Ann Inaba from “Dancing With the Stars,” but there are also up-and-comers like Ken Jeong from “Community” and Jenna Ushkowitz from “Glee.”
Last week, the remake of “Hawaii 5-0” premiered, and of the four main cast members, two are Asian Americans — Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. They both speak fluent English with American accents.
Compare this to how it was during the early 20th century. In this week’s story about Charlie Chan on page 4, writer Ted Anthony explains that from the Great Depression to post-war America, Chan was played only by white men.
During that time, the good roles — roles that required a certain emotional depth — were exclusively reserved for whites, even if the character was ethnically Asian. White actors would put on ‘yellowface,’ — put on makeup or make their eyes appear squinted to approximate Asian characteristics.
At that time, Asian Americans were pushed into small caricature parts that often required them to have buck teeth and speak in an exaggerated accent for comic relief.
So it’s a sign of how far American society has come in how Asians are viewed. Asians are more integrated into popular culture now. Of course, Asians actors aren’t as prevalent as white actors, but we’re making steps in the right direction.
Today, Asians are actually the leading men and women, not just the sidekicks. Today, Asians sound like Americans and are not seen as the foreigners, exchange students, or kung fu masters.
Asians like Joe Wong, from our front page story, are breaking out of the model minority stereotype. Wong is a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States to become a scientist. But soon after, he realized that his true passion in life was comedy. He pursued it and has experienced a lot of success.
We want to point out one notable thing Wong said, which is that though he tells stories about being an immigrant in his shows, he mainly views his comedy as a reflection of American society.
He describes himself as an “all-American immigrant,” which is important because rather than saying something like, “Come see my show for something different and foreign,” he’s saying, “Come see my show because I’m just like you.”
We can support people like Wong easily by going out and seeing their work. We have local theater groups that are purposefully Asian, like the Pork Filled Players or the Sex in Seattle production company. They are always looking for more people at their shows.
Similarly, we can also encourage young people to dabble in the dramatic arts. Not every person will become a star, but there is more of future in the arts than we realize. Many Asians have careers as screenwriters, producers, and composers. Also, having dramatic arts as a hobby can increase self-confidence and help with public speaking, which will help young people later in life, in any career. ♦