Have you ever thought about Misrepresent(Asian)?

Community Service Learning Project is organized by the Teen Resource Center at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center.
CSLP is a six month (March through August) internship program for youth between the ages of 15 to 19. The program aims to provide youth an opportunity to improve their life skills (public speaking, stress/time management, negotiation/communication skills) through service learning projects. The 2014 interns worked at CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, APEX for Youth, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, and the Museum of Chinese in American (MOCA). Recruitment for the next cycle of CSLP will begin in December 2014. Please contact Vicki Wong at viwong@cbwchc.org for more information.

On August 1, 2014, the eight interns in the Community Service Learning Program hosted a showcase for the Chinatown community on the topic of Misrepresent(Asian). For all of you who couldn’t make it– Elizabeth here has graciously agreed to share her experience  with you!


TRC: Tell me about your final project– what was the goal? Why this topic?

Elizabeth: We chose to address the misrepresentation of Asian Americans in U.S. media and the effect that this misrepresentation has on the self-esteem and mental health of Asian American teenagers.  The goals of our project were to address the minor and stereotypical roles that Asian American actors are confined to playing; the differences between how these actors look on screen and how typical Asian Americans on the streets look; and to remind everyone that they are beautiful, even though they may or may not look or act like what they see on the screen.

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TRC: Why roses? How did you come up with this icebreaker?

Elizabeth: I hand-made roses (and attached compliments to them) for all of the guests! For our icebreaker activity, we asked each person to find someone to give their rose-compliment to. We think compliments are nice to hear, even from a stranger (as long as it is not creepy), and the different color stems told people which group they were in.

 

TRC: You made a video too right? So ambitious! What was it like? What does the video cover?

Elizabeth: We take you behind the scenes on what it means to be a CSLP intern and everything that had to be done to make the final event possible.  We take you with us on the streets as we interview Asian American teenagers about what it means to be a minority group often misrepresented in the media. There are also a few humorous moments that truly reflected the hilarity that eventually ensued after sticking eight, often sleep-deprived and naturally silly high schoolers together in a room.  But the general thread throughout the video is the seriousness of this issue that is too often unaddressed in our society today.  

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 TRC: This was the first activity I did, the Selfie Revolution! wall. It was really fun giving people I kind of knew and complete strangers affirmations and compliments. What did you want people to get out of this activity?

Elizabeth: THE SELFIE REVOLUTION!!! This was the activity that Emily, Umma, and I ran. 

As the guests walked in, we handed them a ticket to get their polaroid taken, as they held a sign that said #misrepresentasian.  Each guest was asked to write a self-declared flaw on the back of their picture.  We then posted their pictures on the wall and asked other guests to write compliments on post-its and paste it under their pictures. 

The goal of this activity was to show guests that even though they might believe that a flaw of theirs is obvious to other people, the opposite is true.  Often what the person in the picture was self-conscious about was what they received the most compliments about!  We also wanted to show everyone that even though they might not look like the images presented in the media, they are beautiful regardless.

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TRC: And this one?

Elizabeth: This is the almighty Asian Americans in Media Stereotype Wall.  Although it could have been better named, this activity is incredibly important to our event because it addressed a few stereotypes that Asian Americans are usually type-casted into.  We asked guests to write in the Y/N column on whether these stereotypes applied to them, with a red post-it saying “no” and a yellow post-it saying “yes.”  We then asked them to write a short story about their experience and post it on the wall. 

We found that the vast majority of those present agreed that these stereotypes did not apply to them and the stories usually showed the negative impacts that these stereotypes had on their lives.  For example, one read that he felt ashamed for not being good at math like he was “supposed” to be and felt embarrassed to ask a teacher for help, which made his grades suffer. We hope that by addressing these stereotypes at the final event, more people feel comfortable falling outside of the stereotypes and aren’t afraid to be themselves.  We also want other people to realize that these stereotypes are not always true for us.

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TRC: This one was really hard. I really had to try and pretend that I was a movie director in a talent search and picked actors that I thought would be easier to “sell.” I had to make choices based on really superficial characteristics. Did you see any trends in who the participants chose to cast?

Elizabeth: We found that most people chose the person with more Westernized features. It made us question how much people internalize standards of beauty presented to us in the media everywhere we look.  Because there is such an under-representation of Asian Americans and other minority groups in the media, the typically Western features that most Caucasians possess have become what is beautiful in our eyes.  If you look in the media, Asian Americans who are successful, such as Lucy Liu, typically possesses more Westernized features.

Additionally, in the picture on the right, Nina Davuluri, who was crowned Miss America 2014, was compared to another beautiful woman, but this other woman was white. Ms. Davaluri is clearly beautiful, as her title would suggest, but she is also South Asian, which our participants decided proved to be a disadvantage for her in the film industry. 

Minorities are often misrepresented and under-represented, and our team would like to promote the practice of casting actors without a preference for certain groups of people or aesthetics, which would benefit all.  We want to be inclusive of other minorities as well, not just Asian Americans.

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TRC: That’s enlightening! And you got so much from doing just one small activity. How was the event as a whole? Were you all scared to stand up in front of such a large crowd and share all the amazing work you had done?

Elizabeth: Before this night, we went through pretty intensive public speaking trainings and many, many rehearsals.  We couldn’t help but feel incredibly nervous as many of us were afraid of public speaking.  However, keeping in mind what Liz Young had taught us about nervous energy being mistaken for excitement, we were able to remember our lines and deliver them with certainty and conviction.  Everything from the video to the slideshow, activities, and Q&A went really well, and we would like to thank everyone who attended and everyone who couldn’t but kept us in their thoughts!

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TRC: You did a wonderful job! Truly truly wonderful! And I’m glad you also seemed to have fun during the whole process and then put so much energy into this great event. Any reflections about your experience with the event, the project, or the CSLP 2014 team?

Elizabeth: Working with this team for the past six months has left an unforgettable mark on me, and I’m sure that it has left a mark on the others as well.  Over the past six months, the other interns have become like my brothers and sisters, and Kevin and Emily, our lovely supervisors on the right of this picture have become like our older, guiding siblings as well.  We work so well as a team, and we know how to step back and let others take over when they are more knowledgeable about something, and to come closer and work together when we are struggling.  We have all committed a lot of hours to this project, but we could not be more proud of how it turned out. 

Although our final event has passed, it doesn’t mean that we are done with our project.  We now extend the baton to you! Have you ever noticed the misrepresentation of Asians and other minorities in the media? We urge you to reflect on these experiences, and tell all your friends and family about this issue.  People don’t talk about the misrepresentation of Asian Americans or other minorities in the media often.  Typically, these stereotypes are turned into jokes or sources of amusement.  However, the message that we want to leave you with is to remember that not everyone fits under these limited stereotypes. 

We may each identify as Asian American, but we are all different people.  We want the media to open up the roles that Asian Americans are usually confined to playing on screen.  Make sure that you know, and let others know, that even though you may not possess Westernized features or look like what you see on screen, you are still beautiful in your own way, and you don’t need the media to confirm that!  

TRC: Any other ways you’d recommend people get involved?

Elizabeth: Like and join our Facebook Page! It’s called “misrepresentasian.”

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