NOTE: This is a slightly revised (added "Courtship of Eddie's Father") re-post of a very early column I wrote back in 1998, bemoaning the lack of Asian faces on TV shows.
Like a zillion other people across the country, I tuned in to the final episode of "Seinfeld," and I gotta say, I was only mildly impressed. Oh, I liked the...
I don't know about you, but seeing the darling kid Kylie on her series of TV commercials for Windows 7 makes me smile. Big smile. To me, she's one example of a tectonic shift in American pop culture, which is shaking up mainstream media with more and more Asian Americans.
Note that I said Asian Americans, not Asians. The great thing about Kylie and the new faces of Asian American Pacific Islanders on the small screen is that they have my face, and my voice -- which is to say, they don't have accents and clearly aren't foreigners.
I should add here that I have nothing against recent immigrants and first-generation Asian Americans. They are the rich soil in which our identity is deeply rooted, and whether you're Japanese American, Korean American, Chinese American, Vietnamese American, Cambodian, Indian, Thai, Laotian, Hmong, whatever, we owe the immigrants who endured hardships to leave their country to start new lives in the U.S. a salute of thanks for making it possible for us to be who we are today. We're the sum total of our ethnic cultural values and the freedom and experience of growing up in America.
Anyway, my point: My fellow AAPI bloggers have been pointing out how many Asian Americans are showing up in TV shows in roles where they don't have to act as foreigners, but are allowed to be Americans of Asian heritage. And those heritages don't even have to be part of the plot.
Sure, there are still roles that cast Asian Americans as foreigners.
"Lost" features Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim as Jin-Soo and Sun Hwa Kwon, Koreans who began the show cast as the most foreign of the castaways. Masi Oka's Hiro Nakamura character in "Heroes" is Japanese and he has an accent, but he's still a leading character, and so is Korean American actor James Kyson Lee (whose phonetic pronunciation of Japanese still amazes me) and his character, Ando Masahashi. So their Asian culture is very much part of their narrative.
But look at the list of Asian American actors you can dial in to see this season, whose roles could have been filled by someone of any ethnicity:
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