Looking back on my childhood, the earliest representation of an Asian character for me was the “Yellow Power Ranger”, Trini from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The “Power Rangers”were a group of five teenagers who transformed into armored super heroes to fight against evil, usually on a weekly basis; each of these teenagers was assigned to be a different “color” as a “power ranger”, and usually had an accompanying animal or weapon associated with them to help them fight whatever evil monster was threatening their world that week. Because I was so young, Trini’s role did not register as a a stereotyped representation of Asians and Asian Americans. In fact many of my friends and I attributed Trini being the yellow power ranger to her gender, rather than her race. However, looking back on the character, I do realize that Trini’s character was only a narrow view of what it meant to be Asian, Asian American, or even an Asian American woman.
The most obvious way Trini was stereotyped was through the pairing of the color she was assigned as a “Power Ranger” and her race. The fact that she was the “yellow Power Ranger” was a clear and overt reference to her skin color . Asians and Asian Americans have been historically referred to as “yellow” in order to differentiate them from the dominant white race. The categorization of Asian Americans as “yellow” becomes a main negative difference which separates them from the overwhelming representation of the white race in media. For Trini, the color yellow is what marks her different from the other power rangers, whose assigned “colors” are not necessarily attributed to their race. The only other exception is “Zack” who, like Trini, is assigned a color (black) and shows characteristics that are attributed to his race. Not only was Zack’s assigned color a direct reference to his race, but his characterization as more aggressive.
From what I recall from Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, there was never a reference to the Trini’s specific ethnicity. In many ways, this marginalizes the character as it implies that all Asian ethnicities are interchangeable; as if Asians and Asian Americans can be clumped into a set uniform entity. The lack of any references to Trini’s nationality is also an example of implicit yellow face. The actress who plays Trini, Thuy Tran, is a Vietnamese-American woman who plays a generic Asian character. This becomes an example of implicit yellow face because Trini is essentially acting as the “token” Asian-American character in the show; a character who is meant to represent Asian Americans as a whole.
Trini’s representation also strengthens existing stereotypes that many have used to characterize Asians/Asian Americans before and after World War II. Compared to the other power rangers, Trini is shown to be more soft-spoken and less “in-your-face”, which is a reference to the idea that Asian Americans are the quiet “model minority”. In the show, Trini is oftentimes represented as someone who is very technologically literate and intelligent, which are components of the “model minority” stereotype. Couple with her gender, Trini also exhibits many characteristics of the “Lotus Blossom” stereotyped that has shadowed many female Asian roles. Trini’s soft nature in the show mirrors some characteristics that have been shown by other stereotyped female Asian roles in media that existed decades before Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. While not as explicit or extreme as the portrayal of “Katsumi” in Sayonara, Trini is nonetheless a stereotyped Asian-American female role.
I think that it is also interesting to compare Trini to the other female power ranger, Kimberly. While both characters are female and fall under the dominant patriarchal hegemony that exists in the show, Kimberly is shown to hold more importance over Trini, because Kimberly belongs to the dominant racial hegemony. Compared to Kimberly, Trini was a more underdeveloped character. Whereas Kimberly enjoyed a meaty love story with another power ranger that spanned the entire series, Trini was generally assigned to fight scenes or more forgettable plot lines. Likewise, when compared to Zack,the other “racial” character in the show, Trini is still less developed. While Trini and Zack both fall under the rest of the power rangers in terms of racial hegemony, Zack enjoyed more prominence in the show because of the dominant sexual hegemony, which portrayed Trini as the weaker and less significant sex.
Mighty Morphing Power Rangers was a show that was making clear strides to diversify media by adding an Asian American. Despite this, roles like “Trini” and “Zack” portrayed similar stereotyped representations of Asian Americans and African Americans. In addition, through these roles the tv shows also established and strengthened the existing power structures of racial and sexual hegemonies. Trini, specifically gets the shortest end of the stick, she is the stereotyped racial “other” who holds the least power and recognition under the dominant racial and sexual media hegemony.