Assimilating into stereotypes: exchange students and 2nd-generation immigrants

Anonymous student post

When I read the articles about assimilation and learned about assimilation in the class, I was recalling my experience in high school in the U.S. as a one-year exchange student, and try to consider assimilation issues based on that. However, as I try to compare a situation of second-generation immigrants and my case, I began to think my experience was totally different from that of second-generation immigrants.

In the U.S., I was called an “Asian” instead of Japanese, and Asian usually refers to East Asia. It did not take long for me to notice or feel what kind of stereotypes American people have for Asians. In general, Asian students in the U.S. were considered as studious, serious, geeks, etc. To be straightforward, as far as I felt, they found Asian students “boring” in general. Due to such stereotypes, they did not really expect me to say jokes or be athletic. When I said some jokes (even not really funny ones) or played sports better than normal students in the U.S., they were surprised and impressed, and gave me compliments. I assumed that this happened because they had a low expectation for Asian students in terms of humor or sports. I found it lucky to have sort of negative racial stereotypes because I can get attention and positive impressions just with little efforts. This actually motivated me to make efforts to be funny or popular in school.

I was then wondering if negative stereotypes could work positively for a certain race or ethnic of second-generation immigrants with negative impressions, and motivate them to succeed socioeconomically in a host county. However, while I was discussing this with professor Moorehead, I realized that negative stereotypes would work differently for second-generation immigrants from people who stay in a host country for a short period of time, like me.

It was completely a new experience for me to see people’s reactions when I did not meet their expectation of Asians. Thus, I was able to enjoy it. On the contrary, for second-generation immigrants, they have been dealing with such stereotypes repeatedly for their entire life. If they repeatedly felt that others are having a low expectation for them, they would be more likely to feel offended than be motivated.

In addition, I consider that these negative racial stereotypes would affect their performance more negatively if they felt they were “American”. In my case, I was nationally Japanese and considered myself Japanese, so did not really feel being offended being labeled as Asian, even when it was linked to some negative stereotypes. For those second-generation immigrants who considered themselves American, it would probably be more difficult to accept such stereotypes and fight them because they feel they identified less as Asians. Therefore, in my assumption, second-generation immigrants with a strong American identity would face more difficulty to fight their negative racial stereotypes and overcome them.

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“People want to watch people who look like them”?

From the Japanese television program “Takeshi’s Castle”

by Robert Moorehead

I’m quoted in a French news article on the limited appeal of Japanese television programs in Western countries. The journalist, Mathias Cena, questions the answer Japanese producers gave him as to why many Japanese programs are popular in Asia, but not in the West.

The producers claimed that audiences want to watch people on TV who look like them. But is that true? Isn’t the appeal of some shows due to the fact that the characters are different from us? Don’t we watch the super-wealthy, the beautiful, the glamorous because we want to be like them, but currently aren’t? What about shows like Jerry Springer? In The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk ShowsLaura Grindstaff argues that part of the appeal of shows like Springer is that audiences feel that they’re better than the losers on the show.

Some Japanese shows are popular in part because the shows are Japanese. Shows like Iron Chef and Takeshi’s Castle fit the stereotype of Japan as a wacky, zany, crazy country—a stereotype routinely nurtured by Western press’s penchant for articles about Japan as inscrutable and bizarre.

It’s great to have a journalist seeking out a sociological perspective. Now if only someone writing in English could show sociology some love …

The Portrayal of Black People in Manga and Anime

by Allan Kastiro

UntitledI have been a big fan of Manga and Anime for as long as I can remember. I always admired how the Japanese style of drawing cartoon characters was different from that of popular western comics and animations. The characters in Manga and Anime have always stood out because they are unique. That is, many of them have exaggerated and flamboyant features and this always stood out for me and many other fans alike. Never did it ever occur to me that the way the Japanese creators illustrate their artistic work had significance on how race and ethnicity is viewed or construed in Japan.

As I began to read and watch more Manga and Anime, I began to notice how non-Japanese characters (people of color, specifically of African origin) were drawn and represented and many of them had very stereotypical characteristics. This can be seen in their dressing style, behavior, speech patterns and activities they are engaged in.  One such character is ChocoLove McDonell (pictured above) from the manga and Anime ‘Shaman King’. Where do I even start with this … His name is CHOCOLOVE!!! The character is an African American who has his hair in an afro, has exaggerated lips and wears an African wrap on the lower half of his body. Ohh and his animal spirit is a Jaguar! Many other non-Japanese characters are as controversial for example Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball and Jynx from pokemon who both appear to be in black face, Staff Officer Black and Killa from Dragon Ball, Bugnug or ‘dark eyes’ from Crying freeman et cetera. The characters mentioned are all African American with the exception of Bugnug  (which means Ant-Eater pokemonapparently) who is the leader of the Askari (Swahili word to mean soldier) which is an African revolutionary organization.  Bugnug is first introduced to Crying Freeman manga readers when she launches a surprise attack on Yō Hinomura who is the main character.  She is illustrated to look ‘exotic’. She is beautiful with long curly hair but is muscular and masculine in her behavior. It is  impossible to compare her to the other Japanese females in the same manga as they seem more fragile and feminine.

bugnugDuring the battle with Yō Hinomura (Crying Freeman), Bugnug is completely naked and only carries a blade. When she is finally defeated by Yō Hinomura, the two become allies and she later on gets his assistance to defeat a coup d’état in her organization. It seems as though the creators of this manga and anime went all out to display Bugnug’s supposed ‘Africanness’ by naming the character Bugnug which they go on to translate as Ant-Eater, having her fight naked, which I believe represents a kind of primitiveness and then including a coup d’état in her storyline which occurs within her revolutionary organization. So this leaves me to question why some characters of African ancestry are represented in this manner in manga and anime.  Do all the people of African ancestry have these characteristics and why have these stereotypes been continuously perpetuated?

When trying to answer these questions, it is important to note that Japan has always been a homogeneous nation and this has created a kind of distance between them and other cultures from many parts of the world. Thus, a lot of what Japanese people know and perceive has been spread through western media which is dominated by America through entertainment, news, music et cetera.  In the article ‘What does “American” Mean in Postwar Japan?’ by Yoshimi Shunya (2008) he writes that,

From the late1950’s onward, “America” was distilled as a uniform image with even greater power than before to gain people’s hearts. ..Until the early 1950’s the word “America” was simply invoked as a model to be emulated… “America” also came to be associated with the “pop-culture” of Japanese youth. As “America” became less direct, more mediated, and increasingly confined to images, it conversely became more interiorized and its effect on people’s consciousness became deep. (Yoshimi Shunya, 2008)

slamdunkThis exposure has been both positive and negative in that it has opened up Japan to other cultures and has made the Japanese people more aware of the differences between their cultures, traditions and those of people from other parts of the world but has also promoted the adoption of negative stereotypes thus most of what the Japanese know are imagined racial distinctions that have been created and promoted by the western media.

As I come to the end of this blog post, I would like to point out that not all black people are represented stereotypically in some of the Manga and Anime works and some Japanese characters have even been made to have darker skin tones or even display several characteristics that one would categorize as being black. An example that comes to mind is  Takenori Akagi from Slam Dunk!

In conclusion, I believe that as Manga and Anime continue to spread and attain wider audiences, their popularity will help raise awareness on how race and ethnicity is viewed in different parts of the world and this will in turn create a better understanding of these different cultures and ethnicities.

Reference

Shunya Y. (2008). “What Does ‘American’ Mean in Postwar Japan?” Nanzan Review of American Studies 30:83-87

But we’re speaking Japanese!

This funny video tackles the issue of how we often struggle when someone’s race doesn’t seem to match our expectations of how the person should act. People who might look Japanese don’t necessarily speak the language, while people who might look like gaijin (ahem, like me) can be quite fluent.

This video really resonates with me, as I just came back from presenting at a conference in Daegu, Korea, on migration in Asia. The conference had speakers from several Korean universities, and representatives from Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. As the representative of Japan, I was the only non-native to represent a country—and the only non-Asian at the conference. And yet no one seemed surprised that the speaker from Japan was a white guy from the United States, who was talking about Peruvians in Japan. A sign of progress, perhaps.

“Gaijin” to Japanese: What Japanese Often Expect from Foreigners

by Satona Kato

comediansTerry Kawashima argues that people have a consciousness about race, and this consciousness depends on their background. We can see this by comparing various ways of thinking about shojo manga characters by Western people and Japanese people.

In Japan, many people put the people who are not Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, South East Asian) into one category called “gaijin”. Many Japanese people do not think about the country where the “gaijin” were born. Furthermore, they tend to stereotype that sort of people have specific skills. In Japan, some of the people who are unilaterally labeled as “gaijin” have experiences that they are wounded or feel alienated, especially the people who are multiracial or who were born and grown up in Japan.

As you know, in Japan, multiracial models on TV have been popular. Recently, multiracial comedians become popular as well. They do not act like fashion models. They make people laugh by talking the story about the incident happened around them only because they are multiracial. First, Japanese are surprised that they can speak fluent Japanese and cannot speak English or another foreign language. Japanese also laugh at the characteristics the multiracial comedians share with other Japanese.

They had had many troubles and unique experiences which happened just because they are “hafu.” If we listen to their stories, we can know how hafu people are treated by Japanese. For example, Anthony, he is one of the ‘hafu comedians’. He is American and Japanese. People laugh at the fact that his hometown is Tokyo and his father managed a Sushi shop. He has knowledge about sushi because his home is sushi shop, but when he goes to a sushi shop, the master of sushi shop offered him ‘California roll’ and he was surprised. He has had other interesting experiences. He is bad at English, and when he was an elementary school student, he decided to go to English conversation school. On his first day of English conversation school, when he entered the classroom, other students misinterpreted him as an English teacher and they said “Hello, how are you?” to him.

I want to tell you about one more ‘half comedian’, Ueno Yukio. He was laughed at because of his obvious Japanese name. He is Brazilian and Japanese. When he plays soccer, the opposing team judged Yukio was a good soccer player by his appearance and many defenseman surrounded him. The opportunities to watch TV programs in which many ‘half comedians’ gather and talk about the things often happen around them are increasing. According to them, following things often happen: 

  • are judged to be foreign people
  • are often stopped by the police 
  • are asked by Japanese to sing foreign songs 
  • are laughed at by Japanese when they sing Japanese songs
  • are often expected to have high athletic ability
  • have difficulty getting a part time job
  • are invited to BBQ parties or Halloween parties
  • are called ‘Bob’ or ‘Michel’ 
  • are treated as tourists everywhere

Of course their nationality is Japanese and most of their hometown is Japan. Why they are laughed? Why do Japanese people stereotype their abilities? When Japanese look at people who look like “gaijin’’, Japanese often expect some specific skills because they have some assumptions. They think that people who have white, black, or other foreign appearance have foreign names and can speak foreign languages, and cannot speak Japanese at all.

It is true that hafu people are not a majority in Japan and many Japanese have little familiarity with thinking about race. That’s why people have expectations about the skills hafu people have. If hafu do not have these skills, Japanese laugh at them and hafu are unilaterally discouraged. 

Can Japanese Women Serve the Nation by Serving Tea? The Jietai, J-Jobs, and Justice

Image

by Robert Moorehead

Japan’s Self-Defense Force is joining the nation’s efforts to offer more employment opportunities for women, through this recruitment campaign. Women can get a “j-na shigoto,” or a j-job. What’s a j-job? Actually there are 3 j’s, so you know it’s good: Jietai (self-defense force), joyful, and job. “Won’t you try?” says one of the uniformed women, photographed lounging about.

If Prime Minister Abe’s efforts to recruit more women into the workforce are to be successful, employers like the Jietai might want to rethink how they treat women. Are they workers, or are they eye-candy? Can they help defend the nation, or can they answer the phones? Serve the nation or serve tea?

As Laura D’Andrea Tyson noted recently in a blog post for the New York Times, Japanese women’s employment rate is 25 points lower than men’s, and when women are working, they are paid on average 28% less for equivalent jobs. Japanese tax laws also penalize two-income families, and Japanese women face a greater “mommy tax” than women in any other OECD country.

Plus, not only is childcare rarely available, but the burden of childcare remains clearly gendered in Japan. Policy debates of how to enable more women to work discuss how women, and only women, can better work the “second shift,” balancing work and family. Such proposals ignore men completely, even though my male Japanese students often tell me they too would like to be able to have a career and raise a family.

What’s behind the move to get more women into the workforce? Japan’s aging society needs more workers. As Tyson notes:

These initiatives are not motivated by softhearted political correctness but by hard-headed economic logic. Japan needs to expand its work force, which is shrinking rapidly as a result of a sagging birth rate and an aging population. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Japan’s working-age population will fall by almost 40 percent by 2050. The share of citizens older than 65 is expected to jump from 24 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2050, when the ratio of the working population to the elderly population will be 1 to 1.

“Japan is growing older faster than anywhere else in the world,” the I.M.F. reports. Unless the nation can shore up its work force, it faces a long-term drag on economic growth at a time of soaring obligations for old-age entitlements.

My university classrooms are filled with intelligent, highly trained women who are looking for career opportunities that take advantage of their skills. They do not want to be asked to serve tea, or be expected to quit when they get married or have children.

They want real jobs, not j-jobs.

Are You Kidding Me? Toshiba’s New Stereotype Maker

by Robert Moorehead

UPDATE: Toshiba has removed the video from both YouTube and from its own website. The video is still available at Kotaku.com, and has been uploaded to YouTube by user “xbatusai”: We’ll see if Toshiba releases a public statement in response to this issue.

Toshiba promotes its SuiPanDa bread maker by dressing up a Japanese woman in a blond wig and fake nose … because eating bread changes your appearance and makes you speak Japanese with a fake foreign accent. Rice is Japanese, she says, but bread is Western. You can add rice when making your bread … to make hafu bread?

Maybe they should have Becky or Shelly advertising the bread maker … use rice to make hafu bread—hafu Japanese, hafu Western. As much as that would essentialize and reify racial categories, it would still be better than having a Japanese person dress up in gaijin-face and speak accented Japanese.

Just to make sure that viewers know that this woman is gaijin, they also use katakana for her subtitles. (Katakana is used in writing foreign words in Japanese.) Oddly enough, despite the racialization of bread as non-Japanese, Japan is filled with specialty bread shops. It seems half the shops in Japan are either boulangeries or hair salons. So maybe bread isn’t all that foreign after all …

An equivalent commercial in the US would have a sad white woman eating a sandwich, but who longs for some rice for lunch. A white woman in yellowface (who speaks English with a fake Asian accent) would then tell her that making rice is too hard for Westerners. Think of Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s selling a rice cooker.

Heaven help us if Toshiba expands its devices to include other types of food, like fried chicken, tortillas, or anything else “foreign.”

Here’s the now-dead link to Toshiba’s original video:

Douglas Kim’s “I’m Asian American” Challenges Stereotypes

by Robert Moorehead

Let’s turn the lens from racial stereotypes Japan to those in the United States, to appreciate Douglas Kim’s music video “I’m Asian American.” Parodying Ben Fold’s “Rockin the Suburbs,” Kim takes on the stereotypes that all Asians look alike and don’t speak up, that they’re all on track to becoming doctors, pressured by Amy Chua’s Tiger Mothers, and ignored by Asian American women.

As Kim writes in the YouTube description of his video, “Our friendly neighborhood American Asian is just a regular guy trying to get through life in America without getting hated on by Asians and Americans, is that too much to ask?”

I’m thinking of showing this video in my upcoming class on Race and Mass Media, between the Slanted Screen and Better Luck Tomorrow. For my Japanese students, these American stereotypes of Asians are completely foreign. My students often struggle to imagine the experience of being in the minority and subject to such stereotypes. When I’ve shown clips of yellow-face characters like Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles, I expected students to get angry. Instead, they dismiss the images as simply inaccurate. Some even say they understood that others might stereotype the Japanese and other Asians, just like the Japanese and other Asians stereotype other people.

At first, I was struck by how seemingly blasé they were to the images, but gradually we realized that these images were but one of many images of Asian people that those living in Asia see everyday. They see Asian actors playing every role, from doctors and lawyers, to janitors, mechanics, and office workers. From this perspective, seeing one ridiculous caricature might not seem like such a big deal.

In the US, on the other hand, Asian characters in film and on television have been much fewer and farther between. So those few portrayals carry much greater weight—just there are few non-Japanese on television and in film in Japan, and many foreigners seethe when they see a gaijin playing the fool. Tarento (performers) such as Bobby Ologun and Rola make viewers laugh with their misspoken Japanese and silly expressions, and the ability to entertain others is a great thing—but not at the exclusion from other performing other types of roles.

Kim’s video highlights the stereotypes of Asian Americans, and then smashes them, like the cello he destroys at the end of the video. And just as his Tiger Mom shifts to rocking out with him, hopefully Kim’s viewers will come to see past the stereotypes.

Here are the lyrics:

Let me tell y’all what it’s like

Being Asian we all look alike
It’s a bitch if you don’t believe
Read about it in a magazine
Sham on

I’ve got Tiger momma on my brain
So intense that I can’t explain
All alone in my Asian pain
You know they’ll punish me if I complain

I’m Asian American
And my friends are all pre-med
I’m Asian American
Get a B and I’ll be dead
I’m Asian American
I take the grades and face the facts
Some advisor with computers puts me on some shitty track

I’m pissed off but I’m too polite
When Asian girls all want a guy who’s white
Mom and dad you made me so uptight
Can’t ever party on a Friday night

Don’t know how much I can take
Give me something I’m allowed to break

I’m Asian American
Doing what my parents said
I’m Asian American
And it made me talented
I’m Asian American
I write on facebook and face the facts
Typing wall posts on computers is the only way I mack

In a haze these days
I’m cursing my poor eyesight
And I can feel something’s not right
I can feel someone’s trapped me in a lame cliche
Sending dirty vibes my way
Cause I would not be their robot
And I would not be a white collar slave

It wasn’t my idea
Never was my idea
Just drove to the store for some ramen and jap chae

Y’all don’t know what it’s like
Being Asian we all look alike
It gets me real pissed off and makes me wanna say

“Oh hello! Being Asian American has had profound unique effects on one’s psychological disposition, and as such, they’re not always able to effectively communicate their feelings in a way that doesn’t seem contrived, irrationally angry, oh thank you, or insecure. Wait, what’s that…”

Stuck in someone else’s song
I’m Asian American
Where the pho do I belong
I play some ball and face the facts
Can’t just sit behind computers
Gotta take it to the rack these days

Yeah yeah
I’m Asian American

You better watch out because I’m gonna say