Whenever I see a half-Asian person in a movie, I get so excited that I almost want to high five the actor or actress. Maybe I’m biased in my fondness for “mixed” Asian celebrities, but can you blame me? It’s not every day I actually see someone on TV who vaguely looks like me.
The good news is that these days multiracial Asians are gaining a larger presence in the public eye. Some of my favorite partially-Asian stars include the ridiculously beautiful singer-songwriter Marié Digby, Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, Nikita‘s Maggie Q, The Daily Show‘s Olivia Munn and The Today Show‘s Ann Curry.
The bad news? We mutts still have a long way to go. Let’s face it: many Americans would probably have trouble naming just one biracial Asian celebrity. The fact that so few Asian characters in American films and TV shows are portrayed as being multiracial definitely isn’t helping. If the token Asian character on a show is never anything but 100% Asian, how will people realize that so much diversity exists within the community?
Sometimes, racially ambiguous actors are forced to pretend to be something they’re not. Did you know that Vanessa Hudgens, who portrayed High School Musical‘s Latina protagonist Gabriella Montez, isn’t actually Latina? She’s Chinese, Filipino, Irish, Native American and Spanish.
Characters portrayed by mixed Asian actors are often either Asian or white– not both. Take Ryan Potter of Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas, who is half Japanese and half white. While I was initially thrilled to learn that a fellow hapa, or half Asian, had the lead role on a major TV show, this excitement turned into frustration when I discovered that Potter plays a Japanese-American teenager whose heritage is never really explained beyond the premise that his family comes from a long line of ninjas. In my opinion Potter is clearly multiracial, but the mixed-blood elephant in the room is never really acknowledged on the show.
Not all Asians look like Lucy Liu’s brother or Sandra Oh’s sister; multiracial Asians can have dirty blonde hair and almond-shaped eyes, or freckles and jet black hair. These hybrids do exist, and even though the multiracial population is rapidly growing, most people continue to see race in terms of black and white instead of appreciating the various grays that exist in between.
For now, I’ll keep cheering on Apolo Ohno and obsessing over Marié Digby’s talent as I hope that some day, hapa representation becomes more mainstream. Maybe one day society won’t have to seen us as either white people who look a little bit Asian or Asian people who look white. Or in Vanessa’s case, “some other race” or none of the above.