Splendid!

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There are various ways in which Asian-Americans fight the stereotype that people of Asian descent cannot speak English well. One way in which this stereotype is invalidated is through the use of literature to exemplify the linguistic abilities of many Asian-American writers.

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s Third and Final Continent, the protagonist is originally a Benghali citizen who moves from Calcutta to London to Massachusetts. The nameless narrator writes in perfect English, presumably because of his time spent in England; however, no information is disclosed pertaining to his education. Throughout the entirety of the novel, the idea that the narrator speaks Bengali is only mentioned once at the very end to describe the desire to carry on the language to his son. Regardless of how he learned English, the narrator defies the idea that Asian-Americans speak broken English.

The narrator is a soft-spoken gentleman who uses simple yet eloquent diction to describe his adjustment to American living. He describes the chaos of the city as “car horns, shrill and prolonged, blar[ing] one after another.” Yet when he is taken off-guard, he politely asks, “I beg your pardon?” He is quiet and demure by nature, so when his temporary landlord, Mrs. Croft “commanded, ‘say splendid,’” he did not want to raise his voice. This negates the stereotype that Asian-Americans are loud and obnoxious. But the most important part of the phrase “splendid” is its effect on Mrs. Croft’s and the narrator’s relationship. Mrs. Croft acts as the first person to welcome the narrator to America, and the narrator is one of the first to show Mrs. Croft a certain amount of respect (based on the very little evidence provided in the book). This demonstrates a positive intermingling of cultures as well as a lack of initial physical judgment. Mrs. Croft comes to appreciate the narrator and vice versa, but their thoughts on each other’s racial or ethnic background is ever mentioned. If anything, Mrs. Croft seems very accepting of other cultures, for when she first meets the narrator’s wife, she declares, “She is a perfect lady!” even though she is wearing the traditional Indian a sari, bracelets on her wrist, and red dye on her feet that is not very commonplace in Massachusetts. She never seems surprised that the narrator speaks English, and never mocks him based on his nationality. Perhaps Mrs. Croft represents Americans as a whole that do not stereotype Asian-Americans based on their physical attributes. In addition, the nameless narrator represents any Asian American immigrant.

The narrator contradicts the stereotype that Asian-Americans cannot speak grammatically proper English. Although he is originally from Calcutta, his mastery of the English language allows him to comfortably adjust to a new life in America. Although he’s an Asian-American that could have been ostracized and alienated, the narrator successfully eliminates the idea that Asian-Americans are rude immigrants that cannot speak grammatically proper English. And that is definitely splendid.

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I speak English and I’m bad at math.

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In American society, it’s common to make fun of cultures that society views as “different” or “weird.” But what if these cultures fought back? What if they said, “hey, we understand that you’re making fun of our accent, but now we’re going to make fun of your ignorance.” What a brilliant idea.

This idea is displayed by the site http://www.blacklava.net, where various types of apparel confront many Asian-American stereotypes head on and leave them on display for the public to see. A couple notable shirts state “Good Asian Driver,” “I am not a tourist,” and my personal favorite, “I will not love you long time.” These various types of apparel bring up the idea that all Asians are judged immediately by their looks as smart, non-English speaking tourists. The idea behind these is very clever; instead of waiting for someone to say, “wow, you speak really good English,” they beat people to the punch by saying, “Yes, I’m Asian, but don’t be surprised when I speak better English than you.” These shirts are the backlash against the stereotypes and judgments passed on Asian-Americans everywhere. They bring up the ignorance of the general population and strive to educate people about the truth behind the stereotypes; we’re not all good at math, we are quite good drivers, and sorry, I actually don’t know karate.

I hope that this apparel is only a starting point to educate Americans and people everywhere about negative stereotypes about every race and culture. Perhaps in the globalized village of the 21st century, people will actually learn about the cultures that are constantly mixing in with their own and not judge others based on outdated, offensive stereotypes. Please learn that not all Asians are Jackie Chan, just like not all Irish are always drunk and not all British people have bad teeth. And please, stop judging a book by its cover; it’s the least you could do for someone who could help you ace your SAT’s.

Engrish and Tattoos.

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Due to the increase of technology, the world today has become more globalized and interlinked. This is most prominent with the idea of language; people may speak English, German, Swahili, or Chinese regardless of their location on the planet. But more important than one’s ability to speak the language is the societal stress placed on bilingualism. In many Asian cultures, most predominantly Japanese, there is an extreme importance on bilingualism and the use of English in everyday life. A perfect example is the website http://www.engrish.com, where the purpose is to display the misuse of the English language in Asian countries for the humor of American viewers.

There are two parts to this website, a store and a “brog.” Through the store you can buy shirts, hats, and mugs bearing common misuses of the English language often found in Asian countries. If this isn’t offensive enough, the brog features pictures with sidelong captions describing pictures of things found in Asian countries. More times than not, there’s no actual explanation for what the product is; just a funny caption mocking the misuse of the English language. Granted, many products sold on an international market should probably be double-checked for spelling or grammar errors, but is there really a need to point out every instance of misuse? It’s humorous because we as English speakers understand what these English translations are actually saying, but it’s almost disturbing how the misuse has been commodified for an American market. We should be flattered that many Asian countries stress the importance of English in their societies, not make fun of them for their accidental misuse of a vastly different language.

Contrastingly, this can also be linked to the idea of Chinese and Japanese characters that many Americans tattoo on their bodies; I’m pretty sure that you didn’t check with a native Mandarin speaker/writer before tattooing “love” onto your lower back, did you? Because just like how the Japanese have mistaken “clap” for “crap,” you may have mistaken “love” for “lard.” At least the English mistakes in Japan aren’t tattooed on people’s bodies.

Most importantly, people should find a way to correct these linguistic errors in order to create a more educated, intimate global economy. This would be much more effective in unifying the global village than ignorantly mocking other cultures, don’t you think? So let’s help each other out, because I don’t think anyone really wants crap on their hands or “lard” tattooed on their body.

Asian Gangsta?

When you hear the word “Asian,” what do you think of? Smart. Pale. Scrawny. And definitely not bad-ass. In the media, Asians aren’t often portrayed as “cool.” Take for example almost any movie that doesn’t involve Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, and you will see a person of Asian descent who is socially awkward and cannot speak English well. But some recent forms of media are changing that common stereotype.

In the movie “Ping Pong Playa” the lead character Christopher Wang is a wanna-be basketball star who ends up becoming a ping-pong playing hero. Although he portrays the stereotype that all Asians are good at ping-pong (and not necessarily so at other sports), he is an anomaly because he speaks fluent English. In fact, he almost speaks a type of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or ebonics, which many Linguists consider a separate variety of English. He uses double negatives and altered syntax in his everyday speech, which are characteristics of AAVE. He also uses American slang such as “dawg” and “wa’sup,” showing that he knows English so well, that he even properly utilizes slang in his everyday speech.

Even though AAVE and America slang are thought to be other forms of “broken” English, I argue that they are actually a greater evolutionary stage of the English language. One must understand the basic rules of English morphology and syntax to be able to alter the language into different yet understandable terminology. So even though Christopher doesn’t portray the usual stereotype of Chinese Pidgin English, Christopher speaks a more advanced form English, but one that isn’t associated with people of Asian descent. Having a protagonist that doesn’t display all of the stereotypical Asian characteristics is a stand against judgment and inequality. Yes, I understand that this movie is a comedy and isn’t meant to be taken so seriously, but isn’t it important that we take something away from this? For once, an Asian protagonist who isn’t jumping through fire is cool. He wins the championship title, gains the respect of his town, and gets the girl all with a type of swagger that we don’t normally see associated with an Asian-American. So although this movie is a comedy, I applaud Christopher Wang for disproving the common Asian stereotype, and being an awesome Asian gangsta that happens to be kick-ass at ping pong.

Wow, you speak perfect English!

I wish I could count the amount of times that this very phrase has been said to me. As a person of half Asian descent (a “hapa,” if you will), I’m always surprised when people assume that I don’t speak English. But this is just one of the many stereotypes that many Asian-Americans face every day.

In the video entitled “Things Asians Hate,” comedian Eliot Chang describes a long list of stereotypes that Asian Americans face daily, including “where are you really from?” or “how many car accidents have you been in?” Most importantly, he brings up common statements regarding language, such as, “wow, you speak really good English,” “You don’t even have an accent,” and, “You don’t speak Chinese? Isn’t it all the same?” This implies many things: Asian-Americans aren’t expected to speak English; if they can speak English, it will be broken English; and if they can’t speak their “native tongue,” there’s something wrong with them because all Asian languages are the same.

At the beginning of the video, Eliot opens with a screen saying “Please stop saying these things to Asians,” voicing the thoughts of Asians everywhere. The onslaught of stereotypes complements the ongoing insults that Asian-Americans face daily. Although it is humorous, the video also has a much more valiant purpose. It is a plea for equality, and a hope that one day Asian-Americans won’t have to face these insulting questions. It brings light to the comments that many Americans say without thinking, and the judgments that are passed against Asian-Americans without a second thought. The comedic genre of this video allows Chang to educate a broader audience, especially young adults. He uses satire to relate to others of Asian descent and critique those who judge them unreasonably. This viral video has gained a lot of popularity, and hopefully and increase in knowledge will accompany it. So yes, I do speak English, and no, Japanese is not my native language. It’s like asking a person of European descent, “Wait, you don’t speak Gaelic? I thought all European languages were the same! But I guess you speak really good English for an Irish person!”

 

Gozirra!

The 21st century is known as the technological era, as characterized by various forms of mass media such as television and the internet. These forms of media allow for the globalization of information and ideas. One of the most popular ways to critique these specific cultural ideas and stereotypes is through comedy.

In the excerpt from “I’m the One I Want,” comedian Margaret Cho discusses assumption that all Asian Americans do not have English as their native language. She was once told by a man to say something on national television in her “native language,” therefore assuming that English was her second language based solely on the fact that she is an Asian American. She responds by saying in perfect English, “They are changing to an ABC affiliate.” This is problematic for two reasons. In addition to using her only for the purposes of global networking to reach a larger audience, the presumably Caucasian man assumes that English is not her native language based solely on the fact that she is of Asian descent.

Later on in the same video, she plays the part of the stereotypical Asian, using broken syntactic structure and an elevated voice to emulate an Asian person speaking to people of non-Asian descent. She states, “He look like Gozirra. Gozirra!” She uses this to portray the craziness that some people perceive when they see Asian-Americans. However, this whole section of her show is used as satire; Cho is able to imitate Asian-Americans and discuss these issues solely because she is Asian-American. She depicts the “crazy Asian lady” that many people may think when they first see her, and turns it upside down by making a joke out of it. She makes the group of Asians, who are normally seen as outcasts, the majority, and ostracizes the Caucasian American who is normally in the position of power.

Cho uses humor to critique both sides of society: the judgmental American and the stereotypical Asian immigrant. She calls out the judgmental American for assuming that all Asians are the same, and for assuming that all Asians have another Asian language as their native tongue. She also directly challenges the Asian immigrant to not be the loud, obnoxious idea with which they are so often associated. The combination of this commentary is bundled up into one comedic act. The use of comedy to portray these offensive stereotypes and critique societal norms allows comedians to educate a broader audience and raise awareness about these issues.

West Goes East?

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Many instances in literature depict Asian Americans in a negative light; however, many pieces negate the common stereotype that Asian Americans speak grammatically incorrect English. Although this isn’t the intention of many of these works, they depict the protagonist positively as a polite, educated man as opposed to the obnoxious foreigner that normally represents the Asian-American immigrant. In addition, the global exchange of ideas proves that although many works depict people migrating from East to West, the movement of Western ideas towards the East may have a great impact on the well-being of Asian-American immigrants.

In Younghill Kang’s East Goes West, the author and protagonist is a Korean man who was raised in the Hamkyong Province in Northern Korea and was educated in Confucian and Monastery schools. He went to college in Boston, Massachusetts and can write in Korean, Japanese, and English. His ability to fluently speak and write in three different languages is just the tip of the iceberg of his impressive repertoire. Everything about him disproves the stereotype that Asian-Americans are obnoxious, unintelligible foreigners. In the excerpt from pages 22-29 Kang describes his trip from Seoul, Korea to New York City. His syntactic structure, elevated diction, and literary allusions discredit the assumption that Asian-American immigrants are uneducated and speak broken English.

Kang uses a plethora of literary devices to emphasize both the beauty and the terror of a new city. His syntactic structure follows prescriptive English grammar rules of which many native English speakers are not even aware. He properly uses English syntactic structure, stating, “it was always of New York I dreamed- not Paris not London nor Berlin nor Munich nor Vienna nor age-buried Rome.” The format of his sentences is almost poetic, utilizing various forms of sentence structure combined with vivid imagery to portray his journey from Korea to New York. He describes the streets of New York, “human shadows flitting there had a stealthy and verminlike quality, a mysterious haunting corruption, suggesting the water’s edge, and the meeting of foreign plague with foreign plague.”  He then uses apostrophe to depict his woes, stating, “begin tomorrow, troubles.” These various literary devices demonstrate Kang’s thorough knowledge of historical European literature and English grammatical structure.

The most prominent literary device that Kang utilizes is his allusions to classical European literature. He alludes to the Bible, Greek mythology, ancient European and Asian philosophers, and classic European writers. He begins by comparing the New York skyscrapers to towers of Babel, stating that “not one tower of Babel but many, a city of Babel towers, casually, easily strewn end up against the skies.” He then characterizes the chaos of the city as “Herculean noise,” and describes his dreams as almost “Faustian.” The use of such a vast variety of European literature shows that many of these Western classics had a large influence on those of Asian descent for people living in the West and in the East.

Although it is not the goal of this book, Younghill Kang disproves the non-fluent, Asian-American stereotype through his use of proper grammatical structure, eloquent diction, and literary allusions. Because he is a new immigrant in the overwhelmingly large city of New York, one would expect him to be absolutely lost; instead, he is at ease describing the fascinating elements around it. He alludes to more European works than Asian works, proving that many of these Western ideas influenced him earlier and later on in life. So even though Kang was moving West, perhaps it was the Eastward movement of ideas and literature that allowed him to be so at ease in a foreign place.