I Can be Me, So Can You

“Yan can cook, so can you!” This phrase is something I succinctly remember as a kid in the 1990s, watching Chef Martin Yan quip around as he showed how to neatly fold pork dumplings and roast the crunchiest crispy ducks. Back then if I wanted to watch Asian TV, Los Angeles’s Channel 18 (KSCI) was the place to turn to, where cooking demonstrations and often-unsubbed K- and J-dramas played, often leaving my siblings and me guessing and grasping for the plot.

We didn’t have cable back then and so flipping through the channels provided an activity during those lazy summer days off school. As a ‘90s kid, there was a general lack of representation on mainstream Western TV save for sidekick spots like Dion Bosco playing a struggling Hispanic-Chinese teen on “City Guys” and the shining exception of Thuy Trang as Trini, the Yellow Ranger on “Power Rangers.” (I know there’s many other characters I haven’t listed, but I also know that as a kid, there wasn’t a whole lot I was allowed to see.) 

Not realizing it until now, this lack of exposure likely shaped me into self-consciously thinking I would end up as a sidekick of a main character, a token Asian within my high school posse. It may have even perpetuated a subconscious notion that Asian culture was something viewed as non-mainstream, that it was my destiny to be braised and boiled into the great American melting pot, eventually losing all sense of “exotic” ethnic flavors. Being exposed to what was or wasn’t on TV was probably one of the many things that made me want to be what I thought was “American,” whether it meant bringing Lunchables instead of bistek and rice to school, or the ability to go to sleepovers, which I flat-out was forbidden to do. For whatever reason, the idea of being “American” resonated with being cool, being what I saw on TV, being anything other than what I had to live with as a Filipino kid. 

Once the early 2000s came into play I started to notice more Asian representation in mainstream shows in the form of characters I could increasingly relate and commiserate with, from Keiko Agena as Lane on “Gilmore Girls” to the cartoon “Jackie Chan Adventures,” where ALL the characters were Asian! There was a burgeoning awareness that there was more to entertainment than seeing the same Caucasian characters on TV; it also led to the realization we didn’t have to be relegated to hosting cooking shows or dancing on variety specials, nor did being Asian-American mean being blanketed under the umbrella of being only Chinese or Japanese. Rather, it meant that there was a place for more, to see characters I could relate to interact with their main counterparts on mainstream media. And to make it even more significant, these characters didn’t need to be immigrants: they were Asian AND American, many of them were facing the same daily foibles as I did, including navigating life with immigrant parents, building the bridge between the country of one’s citizenship and one’s heritage, and trying to figure out ways to become more comfortable in one’s own skin when looking different from those around them.

This in turn translated into a greater sense of self-confidence for myself: it became more ok to not be embarrassed of sharing my own cultural traditions, including inviting friends to raucous family parties or sharing what it meant to be called Ate. More than endless hours of entertainment, seeing this representation on television helped me embrace an environment where I could begin to merge my Asian and American worlds together. 

These days, I see more of “my kind” than ever, whether Vincent Rodriguez III plays a love interest on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” or on Netflix, Claudia Kishi hosts another shoeless meeting of “The Babysitters’ Club” in her expansive bedroom. Seeing these characters has made it easier to show more of myself to others, to include heritage as part of a proud and strong definition of who I have been before, now, and will continue to be in the future. Though there are still times when I still find myself having to explain what I’m eating or why certain rituals need to take place, it’s become less of an embarrassing chore than it used to be. 

Although I have no aspirations to be on TV or entertainment, I can’t help but think how this exposure has benefitted those with a desire to become entertainers. I can’t help but wonder how many aspiring actors and actresses have someone they can turn to and show to their parents that “He/she made it, so can I.” 

Watching others carve out an on-screen identity that’s not just that of a child of an immigrant–but rather Asian-American in and of itself–has only helped build self-confidence within my own circles. Seeing others trailblaze those paths only gives me the courage and confidence to take my own steps, to think about how I will leave my own positive footprint for those who will come after me. Though it may be seen by some as “just TV,” seeing this representation has become more than something to enjoy after an arduous day of work: rather, it’s become more of a calling, a duty, even an encouragement to do and be more of myself for others as well.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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