‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ Movie: Blasian Love Hits Big Screen

The movie adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s best-selling YA novel “The Sun Is Also a Star” opened last weekend in theaters across North America, with many noting its romantic leads – the Jamaican girl Natasha (played by Yara Shahidi of “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish”) and the Korean American boy Daniel (played by Charles Melton of “Riverdale”).

While I’ve yet to see the film (though read the book), it has drawn mixed reviews, putting it at a little over 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, I believe “The Sun Is Also a Star” merits a look for a number of good reasons.

Yes, we’ve got to start with the “R-word” here – representation. This modern day Romeo and Juliet tale pairs up a black girl and an Asian boy. It’s rare enough to see either black women or Asian men cast as romantic leads, let alone both together. Here’s what Charles Melton had to say about his turn as Daniel Bae in a conversation with AsAm News:

Speaking of handsome, it hasn’t been lost on Melton he’s getting the rare opportunity to play the male lead in a romance.

“To see not only that, but to see a character that embodies a full masculinity, it’s very endearing. It’s very aspirational. It’s a love story,” he told me. “The way Daniel is its like it’s great that he’s Asian. People will be able to connect to that . He’s also like the modern  man- to be open, to be a hopeless romantic. It’s an honor.”

The story also takes representation a step further with characters that eschew the usual stereotypes. Natasha is a rational young woman who aspires to become a scientist, while Daniel is creative and secretly yearns to be a poet.

Meanwhile, “The Sun Is Also a Star” puts a human face on immigration — a timely theme in this era — with Natasha. As an undocumented immigrant who came to the US as a child and must face the prospect of deportation within 24 hours, she symbolizes immigrant kids like the DREAMers as well as the ways in which the US immigration system can suddenly threaten young hopes and futures.

Do you plan to see “The Sun Is Also a Star“? Or have you seen it already? What do you think about the movie?

‘The Chinese Exclusion Act’ on PBS Reminds Me Asian Stereotypes Haven’t Changed Much

The other night, I had the chance to stream The Chinese Exclusion Act, a nearly two-hour film documenting the events that led to America’s one and only piece of legislation targeting a specific nationality and race, as well as the aftermath and eventual repeal. The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law in May 1882 and didn’t end until December 1943.

Much of the film centers on the mid- to late-1800s, and yet it feels timely because many of the stereotypes originating from that era still persist to this day, continuing to shape US media portrayals of Asians as well as how many Americans still view the rise of Asian countries such as China.

Here are 4 stereotypes from the 1800s that have still survived – sometimes in slightly different forms – to this day, as mentioned in The Chinese Exclusion Act.

#1: The stereotype of Asian men as “inferior”

A few years ago, I wrote Debunking the “Model Asian” Myth: Five Ways Asian-Americans Still Face Discrimination for Hippo Reads, which includes the following paragraph:

Justin Chan spoke for generations of Asian men when he wrote, “Are Asian Men Undateable?” in Policy Mic. Years of pernicious stereotypes have branded Asian men as emasculated, weak, asexual, and even too small in a certain department—essentially, editing them out of the most eligible bachelor pool. Not surprisingly, Freakonomics calculated that an Asian man would need to earn $247,000 more than a white man to be equally appealing to a white woman. That’s like requiring every Asian guy to own a Bentley before asking out the white girl next door.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that, back in the late 1800s, when Yellow Peril took hold, white Americans cast Chinese men as being inferior to white men, as experts point out in part 1 of The Chinese Exclusion Act (emphasis added):

John Kuo Wei Tchen, Historian: So what happens is that class and racialization converge – get confused. And the “Coolie question,” and the Chinese question, really become the big question nationally of labor and class.  Can the American man compete with this degraded Asian male form of labor?  They don’t eat as much; their nerves are farther away from the surface of the skin, so they don’t feel as much; they eat rats.  You know, all this  gets played out even more and more around not just class lines and racialization, but also around gender.  The Chinese male is inferior – is not the same as white manhood, right.  So you have that famous cover – “Meat versus Rice.” American manhood vs. Asiatic coolie-ism,?   And, of course, the Asian male is inferior – but tenacious, because there are a lot of them.  So they’re dangerous because they’re so many of them, right.  Not because they really rival the actually superior white male.

#2: The stereotype of Asian women as “sexualized”

A major stereotype that still persists is this idea of Asian women as sexualized and subservient (see Kristina Wong’s post earlier this year titled I Give Up On Trying To Explain Why The Fetishization Of Asian Women Is Bad).

And again, we see echoes of that stereotype in the late 1800s in America, prompting the 1875 passage of the Page Act, which forbade the immigration to America of those coming to work under contracts and as prostitutes. The latter prohibition was aimed squarely at Chinese women, as The Chinese Exclusion Act explains (emphasis added):

Scott Wong, Historian: There developed this sexist, racist, misogynist attitude among Americans, that Chinese women were naturally prone to become prostitutes.  And, therefore, Chinese women, who wanted to come to the U.S., had to prove that they were never prostitutes; that they weren’t prostitutes then; nor would they ever become prostitutes.  Now, of course, one can’t prove what will not happen or happen in the future.  So many women chose not to even go through that humiliation. So we had that first act that’s passed, that is very racial and gender-specific.

#3: The stereotype of Chinese “stealing jobs/opportunities from Americans”

When major elections roll around in America these days, there’s one thing you can count on – those politicians claiming China is “stealing” jobs and opportunities. And as Chinese students still comprise the largest group of foreigners studying abroad at US institutions of higher education, you’re sure to hear complaints from Americans, alleging Chinese are also “taking away” slots at colleges and universities that belong to American students.

Sadly, this narrative has hardly budged from the late 1800s, when white workers concocted this stereotype that Chinese were also plundering their economic opportunities back then, as The Chinese Exclusion Act noted in years following the California Gold Rush (emphasis added):

Narrator: As surface gold in the river beds became scarcer – hydraulic mining run by companies increasingly displaced the lone prospector panning for gold.

Ling-chi Wang, Scholar: A lot of white independent prospectors went bankrupt and became unemployed. But instead of turning their anger against the gold-mining company and the water company for exploiting them, they turned against the Chinese.  They say: “Ah, the Chinese were here.  They take away our jobs.” And so that is really the beginning of white working-class agitation for Chinese Exclusion.

#4: The stereotype of Asians — including Chinese — as “perpetual foreigners”

Back in 2016, Christopher Hoffman penned the post Perpetual Foreigners: A Reflection on Asian Americans in the American Media, commenting on a racist segment aired on Fox News titled “Watters’ World: Chinatown Edition”, and noted the following:

The larger problem is the segment clearly challenges the American identity of Asian American citizens in Manhattan’s China Town. Frank H. Wu’s Race in America Beyond Black and White defines this idea of Asian Americans as the “perpetual foreigner.” By assuming Chinese Americans have a better relationship with the country of their ancestral heritage, Watters is placing Chinese Americans in a second-class citizen role, unable to fully adopt all the characteristics to become a full citizen of the United States of America. This idea of the “perpetual foreigner” is not limited to Chinese Americans, but a xenophobic image many Asian Americans from a variety of Asian backgrounds must face.

This xenophobia can be traced back to the late 1800s and the Chinese Exclusion Act itself, where people believed it was impossible for Chinese to ever be fully American, as The Chinese Exclusion Act explains:

Martin B. Gold, Attorney: It really did two things.  One is an exclusion from immigration, and the other thing was an exclusion from citizenship.  at the time there were approximately 105,000 Chinese in America.  Now, they were just two-tenths of one percent of the overall American population.   So what happens to the people who are already here – people legally in the United States?  And what that law said was, “These people cannot assimilate.  They are too different in terms of their culture – in terms of their appearance – in terms of their language – the clothes that they wear – and the food that they eat – and the gods that they worship.  They cannot assimilate into the American population.  And in that sense, they are different from European immigrants.  So we’re going to make, as a Congress, a judgment.  We’re going to say that because they are an unassimilable population, they cannot come to the United States, and those that are here cannot become American citizens.”

If you haven’t yet viewed The Chinese Exclusion Act, I highly recommend streaming it — and noting how the legacy of oppression still lingers to this day.

What do you think?

Things I’ve Learned from My Chinese Husband: Asia Is Not That United

(Photo by U.S. Army via Flickr.com)
(Photo by U.S. Army via Flickr.com)

Years ago, a fellow blogger with a Chinese husband wrote to me, “I follow some blogs by Western women married to Japanese men. You’d probably like them too.” It was the kind of friendly recommendation that you often get from other bloggers – except it came with a warning. “But shhh, don’t tell our husbands!”

Why did a suggestion to read someone’s blog suddenly get slapped with a cautionary note, as if all blogs written by Western women with Japanese husbands might be hazardous to our health? Simple. Like most Chinese men, her husband didn’t care for Japan – and neither did mine:

“Japan? I never want to visit Japan,”[John] hissed. “I’m anti-Japanese.” He launched into a brief history of Japanese aggression in China, from the first territorial swipes at China during the Sino-Japanese War, to the Second Sino-Japanese War, with Holocaust-like atrocities that Japan had yet to acknowledge publicly.

Yes, my marriage to a Chinese man has taught me a valuable lesson — that Asia is not the great, united, happy family (as some Americans might believe). That “Asians” don’t necessarily like being lumped together.

I didn’t realize the extent to our cultural amnesia about the true state of affairs in Asia until I met and married a man from China. A self-proclaimed “military fan” whose interest went deeper than tanks, submarines and aircraft carriers. A husband who schooled me in the many disagreements, wars and massacres between China and its Asian neighbors.

I’ve learned that Japan has yet to fully acknowledge the “Asian holocaust” it perpetrated against China and others, from the gruesome horrors of Unit 731 to the “comfort women” forced into prostitution. I’ve learned of the skirmish between Vietnam and China that led to a short war. I’ve learned about the border disputes between China and India, serious enough to lead my Lonely Planet guidebooks to print “The external boundaries of India on this map have not been authenticated and may not be correct” on their maps. And now I’ve learned everything there is to know about the emerging military alliance between Japan and the Philippines, especially how it affects China.

In America, we speak of “Asian” cuisine like it’s all the same – as if you could substitute one country for another – never realizing the countries here wouldn’t agree. That the Thai restaurant down the street from my father’s home serving Chinese delicacies alongside a sushi menu would look totally blasphemous to people in China, who still haven’t forgotten what Japan did to them.

I’m reminded of what Alex Tizon wrote about in his memoir Big Little Man:

As a journalist in my twenties and thirties, I wrote extensively about these [Asian] communities. No surprise, I found each group exuberantly complex and instinct, and perceiving themselves as separate from — and often antipathetic to — other Asian ethnicities. The parents and grandparents clove to their countrymen, the Vietnamese with other Vietnamese, Koreans with Koreans, Cambodians with Cambodians.

It was the children and grandchildren, the ones growing up in America, who would find — or be coerced into — common ground. Years of checking “Asian” on countless forms, of being subjected to the same epithets and compliments, of living in the same neighborhoods and housing projects, and sharing similar challenges and aspirations — the most important to become Americanized — all of these would compel young Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Filipinos to accept their belonging to the category known as Asians.

Perhaps the most unifying force was the perception that everyday Americans saw them as the same, and what made them the same was their “racial uniform,” to use a term coined by sociologist Robert Park. The uniform was thought to consist of a certain eye and nose shape, hair and skin color, and body type, usually shorter and skinnier — identifiers of the Yellow or Mongoloid or Oriental and finally now the Asian race.

…We Asians were now in the same boat. Our uniform did not lie. Like Lisa said on the Grand Concourse: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino — same thing!

Yep, this is what happened in America – we just clustered everything from Asia together, and assumed that it was one great unified map. Never realizing that it was one great lie.

Asia isn’t that great, united land where countries always peacefully coexist. But that doesn’t mean friendships don’t happen to cross unlikely borders. After all, even if he still dislikes Japan’s government, my husband has actually changed his feelings towards the country as a whole. He has Japanese friends. Still, there is one thing though:

“So, does this mean I can buy you a Toshiba someday?” I prodded him, with a grin.

“Not really. I still have standards, you know,” he smiled.

Hmmm. Best not to tell his new Japanese friends.