Being an Asian girl that lives in NYC, the Asian face, I confess, is not something I ponder about deeply. Shame on you, you might say. But here’s how I see it: Why think about something that’s a given? It’s just something that I accept as fact, as part of the landscape, as real as subways and cart hot dogs and yellow cabs. It’s the de facto that comes with living in an ethnically diverse city. Are we the minority? Perhaps, but what does that word mean anymore? I recently had a conversation with a fellow who bristled at this question. Does it mean statistics? Does it mean that we are marginal? That we don’t have a say, that we aren’t movers or shakers, that we wield no influence? Yes and no. Thinking back on this instance, I think my momentary struggle to define the word came from a deep sense of dissatisfaction with it’s traditional meaning. I was trying to redefine the word I’ve heard almost all my life in reference to what I was and ultimately resisted. For me, all the old meanings no longer applied. I wanted a new kind of language to define who I was. Do I have an agenda? Perhaps. And it’s admittedly this: to de-exotic-cize (if that’s a word). To make familiar and no longer foreign. Do I understand that the Asian image is used because it feels novel? Absolutely. Is it a trend? I hope not. I don’t care how we get there, let’s just get there. Let’s use the stereotype for the opportunity to break it. But talking about it only gets you so far. The Asian face in the real world are business owners and entrepreneurs, they are dreamers and workers and entertainers and teachers—they are real people that make things happen in the world. But media, that wonderous place that projects all one’s ideas about beauty and fantasy and want and consumption- well, that place has been slow coming in realizing the need for an ethnically diverse image. And let’s not underestimate it’s power: it can, quite effectively, influence the attention of the public, shape our ideas about what we find “beautiful” and worthy of our attention.
But the times are changing—thanks to technology and the global neighborhood we live in, our neighbors can be as near or as far to us as we’d like them to be. There’s no excuse anymore – wherever you are, wherever you live, your “backyard” has become virtual. In a sense, your “neighborhood” has now become global. The world has gotten smaller, faster and more accessible. And with this new globalized view of communication, the face that greets us as we watch a cell phone commercial, or a glossy editorial spread or reports to us about the newest band or trend or style has also changed. It could be an American-Vietnamese designer who has taught herself to make lovely ethereal clothes, it could be an L.A. Japanese blogger whose messy rock and roll style captures thousands of readers everyday, or the Korean model that, for the first time in Ford Model History, won the International competition for the face of 2008. All of these could be firsts, they could be seen as small advancements in creating ripples in an otherwise predominately westernized pond. That being said, this piece is just a slice of what you might see happening in the world of media. It’s the slice that I see, a world that I participate in—and it just happens to be in the realm of fashion. So, before you start emailing me about how I’ve left out news anchors, sports figures, actors, writers, musicians, Asian American activists and community leaders, I just want to say this: tiny slice.
In the following weeks you will see 4 Asian faces that actively engage in the world of media and fashion and that have made things happen. Familiarize yourself with them. They are definitely the ones to watch.