This week I set out to find an example of Asian American representation in the media that offered a full depiction of the character and highlighted issues of intersectionality, meaning the intersection of things like race, sexual orientation, class and gender that gives an individual unique viewpoints and experiences. This was surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) really difficult. In my head I ran through every contemporary television show that I could think of, conducted numerous web searches for examples of Asian American intersectionality and ran into wall after wall. I could not think of or find a single media depiction that offered a full view of an Asian American character. I then realized that I was ignoring my favorite branch of media, BOOKS.
I’m kind of a bookworm, and throughout middle and high school I read quite a few books by Amy Tan, a California-born author and daughter of Chinese immigrants. What interested me so much about her writings were the unique viewpoints that she offered that I had not necessarily come across in the other books I typically read. Arguably her most well known book (it became a film in 1993), The Joy Luck Club, is a fantastic example of looking at individuals using intersectional analysis. Throughout this book she tells the stories of four Chinese American daughters: Jing-mei, Rose, Waverly and Lena and their immigrant mothers: Suyuan, An-mei, Lindo and Ying-ying and how their backgrounds and personal experiences made them all into the women they became.
I will not go into every character’s story in this blog post because that would take quite a bit of time but instead I will focus in particular on Jing-mei or “June” Woo and her mother Suyuan, as they sort of take on the main character roles throughout the book. Suyuan, as I mentioned, is a Chinese woman who immigrated to the United States after she lost her entire family due to the Japanese invasion of China. Suyuan often personifies the stereotype of the “Tiger Mother” as she pushes her daughter to excel at academics and extracurricular activities, but the author does not simply stop at this stereotypical representation. Instead, Tan shows the life experiences that created this personality, i.e. being born and married into prosperity only to lose it all through the death and destruction of war, but to pick up the pieces and start a new life with a fierce determination to succeed as an immigrant and create a better life for her daughter. Jing-mei also is not shown as a one-dimensional character. Tan shows the unique experiences that come from being a Chinese American daughter of immigrants and having to make decisions between her Chinese heritage and American ideals. One example of this is her constant rebellion against her mother’s piano prodigy wishes because of her American born independent attitude.
Amy Tan has done a great job of explaining the intricacies of the Asian American experience that come from the intersection of background, race, gender, class and sexual orientation through The Joy Luck Club and her other works. She offers a complete depiction of Asians and Asian Americans that is often missing from other media sources.