American Pop Culture Hides, Reveals Multiracial Asian-Americans
Voice of America
The discussion of race in the United States has always been complex and often difficult. Yet in an overwhelmingly large percentage of families, it is not difficult to find some evidence of a multiracial influence.
LeiLani Nishime is assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington and author of Undercover Asian. She examines how multiracial Asian Americans are often overlooked even when presented in highly visible popular media such as movies, television shows, magazine articles and artwork. Nishime contrasts the phenomenon with examples when audiences can view multiracial Asians as multiracial. She told VOA’s Jim Stevenson her fascinating study began with simple discussions in the classroom.
NISHIME: I had students in class who wanted to hear about mixed race and so I taught one class on it; they liked it so much I turned it into a two-week unit, and they liked that so much I turned it into a class, and after that I thought, “well, maybe there is enough there to write a book about.” I mostly draw from pop culture and from visual culture specifically, so advertising, television, film, that sort of thing. That’s partly just because of my own background and training, I was trained in literary studies and I did most of my dissertation work on film. I’m also interested in popular cultural icons because I feel like they have something to say about our culture more generally.
STEVENSON: Tiger Woods is definitely one of the most recognized athletes around the world, and of course, with some of the things that happened in Tiger’s career in the past few years made him even more well-known, I guess. Tiger is an interesting case: his father is African American, his mother is Thai.
NISHIME: There are times where he identifies as African-American, some as Asian-American – he had made up this term, “Cablinasian,” for a while, that he calls himself. I think though, for most of his career, he actually tries not to identify racially at all. His publicity can paint him as something new, something outside of our usual racial categories.
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