guest post: why stereotypes need to be SHATTERED

Guest Post by Keith Chow

When Secret Identities came out, the guys -- Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Jerry Ma -- and I traveled to college campuses all over the country to do our "Build a Hero" workshop. Essentially, we would lead the audience in an exercise to create a wholly original character while an artist, usually Jerry, would draw that character in real time.

Before we got to the drawing and creating part, we'd ask the audience to come up with some of their favorite Asian American superheroes. Needless to say, there weren't very many responses. Aside from the usual crickets, Sunfire might have gotten a shout out and maybe Quick Kick, too.

In the three years since Secret Identities was first published, though. You could make the argument that there are more examples of Asian Americans performing pop cultural heroics beyond the comic book pages. On television, shows like Nikita and Hawaii Five-0 showed Asian Americans could kick ass without actually throwing any kicks. On the radio, acts like Far East Movement, Bruno Mars, and PSY proved Asians could dominate the pop charts, and for two glorious weeks on the hardwood, Jeremy Lin was the king of the NBA. And honestly, if I were asked to name an Asian American superhero now, it wouldn't be a stretch to cite Maggie Q or Linsanity on that list.

Still, the number of easily identifiable "heroes" of Asian descent in the culture is limited. If we had asked folks to name an Asian stereotype instead, chances are we'd get more responses. Here are a few off the top of my head: silent martial artist, nerdy overachiever, perpetual foreigner, sexy dragon lady, villainous mastermind, brutish Yakuza, sacrificial lotus blossom, overbearing tiger mother (thanks, Amy Chua!)... The list goes on and on. And while you still have to seek out realistic depictions of Asian characters in the media, you're never too far away from an offensive Asian caricature either. For every Chin-Ho Kelly on Five-0, there's a Han on 2 Broke Girls. Lucy Liu on Elementary has to contend with Lucy Liu in The Man with the Iron Fists. You get the picture. Despite all of the gains in media representation Asian Americans might have made, those stereotypes still haunt us. Just ask Jeremy Lin.

That idea was the impetus behind Shattered. For the first book, Secret Identities, we set out to create a universe where the heroes looked like us, a safe place where our stories could be told and shared, fertile soil where dozens of new Asian American characters could grow and flourish. When it came time to do a second volume, we decided to go in a different direction. The original idea was to create a book of Awesome Asian Bad Guys™ as a mirror to the first book. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we could tackle other stereotypes that were just as sinister as the Asian super villain. So we gathered artists, writers, filmmakers, poets, cartoonists, and novelists to upend, satirize, subvert, and, well, shatter those stereotypes I mentioned earlier: the stoic BRUTE, the prodigious BRAIN, the exotic TEMPTRESS, the inscrutable ALIEN, and the devious MANIPULATOR.

These are some of the same stereotypes that Jeff addresses in the exhibition he curated that is currently on display at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City. Called "Marvels and Monsters," the exhibit collects hundreds of images of Asians as depicted in comic books from over four decades. Combined with what we were able to accomplish in Shattered, the exhibit and the book shows you where we've been and what we can become. And that is an experience we're planning on taking on the road in the spring of 2013. In addition to a portable, scaled down version of the "M&M" displays, the SIUniverse team will be hitting the road with a live multimedia presentation, interactive workshops, guided discussions and other programming features. If your school or institution is interested in bringing the SIUniverse team to your campus, just fill out this form and one of us will be in touch!

The book, which has been in stores for a few weeks now, and the MoCA exhibit which will be up until February, are just as relevant now as they were when we started this process a few years back. Coming off a presidential election in which China was frequently brought up to play the bogeyman -- Mitt Romney even promised to label the country a currency manipulator on DAY ONE if he was elected! -- and the premiere of the "Red Dawn" remake that elicited some rather interesting responses from filmgoers (and by "interesting," I mean "racist"), it's fair to say Americans still aren't ready to look beyond the laziest of Asian stereotypes. And for every high that is Linsanity or "Gangnam Style," there are depressing lows as well.

The point of Shattered and the work that we do every day is to break out of these narrow boxes that the rest of the world seems determined to keep us in.

Keith Chow is an editor of the graphic novel collections SHATTERED and SECRET IDENTITIES. He is also the Education and Outreach Director for SIUniverse Media. Find the SIUniverse team on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

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