angry reader of the week: mike le

Attention! It is time to meet another Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is UCLA grad student Mike Le, staff member of Racebending.com.

Who are you?
Mike Le, Asian American, UCLA grad student, reluctant yuppie, staff member of Racebending.com - home of the boycott movement for The Last Airbender film.

What are you?
Fall of Saigon meets Filipino diaspora on the coast of California.

American-born, I was a popular and cocky high schooler, a stressed and depressed undergrad, a happy and bewildered "young professional." My girl Dariane keeps me sane.

Where are you?
Los Angeles, CA. Just a few blocks from the lovely, sunny UCLA campus.

Where are you from?
San Diego! Everyone in my family kind of sprawled from San Diego to San Francisco: thirty-odd uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, and nieces. Family gatherings are monthly hodgepodges of Jim Beam, karaoke machines, small children wrassling up and down living room floors while the older kids yell suggestions from the couches.

What do you do?
I train to do a one-armed pull-up, have an injury, and inevitably start over. I also spend a lot of time trying to perfect umami burgers and butterscotch batter cookies.

I work on raising awareness for whitewashing in Hollywood and advocate for better representation of Asian Americans and other minorities.

In my free time, I do research and development at a biomedical firm.

What are you all about?
My favorite thing in the world is spending time with close family and friends.

I love trying to reach understandings with different people. It's not always easy, especially when talking about issues of race and representation.

I was taught to turn the other cheek and prove my worth through my actions: through achievement, we would prove our critics wrong. But I've learned that though that was the way of my parents – and I will always owe them for the successes they earned in a country that is not always kind to Asian Americans – it is not my way. I will prove by achievement, but I will not be silent.

What makes you angry?
I knew someone who worked on the original Avatar: The Last Airbender. She introduced it to me and I was hooked. Finally, an American show that featured Asians – and we weren't solving computer problems or writing math books, we were saving the world.

And it was a great show. When I heard about the film, I was so excited. This was a slam dunk, for everyone involved. The studios could save money by hiring no-name actors, they know all the most successful film adaptations are the most faithful, and the television show proved there was a loyal and passionate audience for a show about Asian Americans.

Of course, it didn't turn out that way. What had been an amazing opportunity for everyone, Paramount included, has turned into a public relations disaster. Airbender, instead of being the easy studio win with the passionate following, would become part of the Hollywood legacy of yellowface and whitewashing. That's a legacy that runs in a straight line from minstrel shows to Fu Manchu to Breakfast at Tiffany's. What could have been a triumph for everyone, a celebration of the complex and beautiful landscape of 21st century American culture, instead became another casualty of production mindsets that hearken back to the days of Charlie Chan.

For much of my young life, I grew up torn. I was so proud of my parents and my family, of my unique heritage. My parents found their way here from across oceans, my father through war. I want to do right by their struggle, the struggle of the latest generation of immigrants, in a nation that sometimes forgets it is born of immigrants. America forgets: that baseball was once a game played with sticks and stones by struggling English-born children, that hot dogs were a carnival meal thrown together for convenience by a German man trying to make his way in a strange new land, that General Tso's chicken was born in New York and fortune cookies birthed in San Francisco.

But I wanted to be white in so many ways, wanted to be accepted, wanted race to not exist. I felt shame for my slanted eyes, so unlike the pictures on the silver screen – except for Asian villains, who almost never suffer from the whitewashing of their heroic counterparts.

It makes me angry. But what makes me passionate is the hope that my children won't grow up with the burden of a nation that turns a blind eye to issues of race – and fails to realize that those issues affect all of us, regardless of ethnicity.

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