When I was thinking about my earliest memories of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in the media, and I honestly had a hard time remembering any. Most of what I remembered were characters or people who were not American, but were in fact Asian.
Though, a character I remembered from a show I used to watch years ago was Omi, the main character from the cartoon show called, “Xiaolin Showdown.” Omi was not meant to be Asian American, but he was definitely meant to be Asian.
There were other a few stereotypical qualities that Omi possessed that I did not realize until now. One, Omi’s skin color was bright yellow. Also, he had an Asian accent and would often mix up slang phrases (ex. Instead of saying, “Spill your guts,” he would say something like, “Spill your internal organs”). Another quality is his eyes were drawn slightly slanted. And on top of all that, he knew Martial Arts (though the show was Martial Arts based).
It’s funny how back then I was totally unaware to the stereotypes that were out there. As I look back at this character today, now that I am more knowledgable about Asian representations, I am able to realize that Omi was a character of yellow face with his ability of Martial Arts, bright yellow skin, accent, and slanted eyes.
This cartoon show was a Martial Arts based show, so I am not surprised they went with an Asian main character. To be honest, I would have been confused if they didn’t make the main character Asian. Though I think giving the character bright yellow skin and an accent was a bit on the stereotypical side.
Thinking about the representations of Asians/Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders from back then, I don’t think it has changed much now. There are still stereotypical Asian characters in TV and film that I see all the time. Though there is one character that I find to be an exception to this.
In Disney PIXAR’s movie “Up,” one of the main characters is Russell, and Asian American boy scout who accompanies an elderly man’s journey to South America. Russell was simply just an Asian American boy who was a boy scout. He did not contain any stereotypical qualities (besides his slanted eyes) that would single him out as the “Asian kid” from Up. Realistically, PIXAR could have animated Russell to be any ethnicity. I like that PIXAR decided to make an important character in a movie a minority and at the same time not be so stereotypical about it.
Asians/Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are being stereotyped just as much today as they were back then, but there are still exceptions like Russell from “Up.” Though characters like Omi are always popping up in the media, keeping the stereotypical Asian alive in our society.