Asian Americans have long been denied roles in society because of their appearance. Their obvious difference in the way they look, compared to the "Caucasian ideal", deny them many opportunities in our culture. This is clearly supported by two plays called Yankee Dawg you Die, written by Philip Kan Gotanda and The Year of the Dragon, written by Frank Chin. In each of these plays we are introduced into this realm of discrimination and this cultures struggle with stereotypes.
Throughout both performances we are the spectators, involved in the process of categorizing and racial stereotyping. In both plays there is a clear showing of racial stereotypes and ethnic bias, and even though written by two different authors, both show the significance and relevance in today's society. In Yankee Dawg You Die, we are introduced to two actors. Bradley who is new to the Hollywood experience of ethnic casting, and Vincent a seasoned veteran who has undergone the riggers of being a Chinese-American in show business. This play clearly demonstrates stereotyping of this ethnic group. Throughout the play the actors are conflicted with the issues of taking roles that are demeaning to their culture, and ethnicity, or being out of work.
However these are the only roles that the actors are given. Their obvious difference in appearance hinders them, by classifying them as only being able to play Asian parts. From the dialogue written by Gotanda it is evident that these two actors are quite talented. Their improvisation with each other, in addition to their ability to play off of each other's lines is a sure sign of their talent.
This just reinforces the point that even though they have a great ability for acting, they are still not cast as anything other than the stereotype. "Such a demonstration of skill reinforces that Vincent and Bradley fail to get major roles because of systematic racism in the industry not because of their inability to play difficult parts" (Lee, 1997, pg. 99) In the dialogue of the play we are shown that Vincent has had a variety of roles, and he is an experienced actor. However even though he has experience he is still given roles classified as stereotypes. In the play Vincent says "I was so cocky after my first Oscar nomination. No more of those lousy Chinaman's parts for me anymore." (Gotanda 1991, pg 45) However in the immediate line following, his agent tells him not to get his hopes up.
"Its different for you" he states. These lines truly show the ethnic discrimination Asian Americans go through daily. There difference in appearance hinders the ability to progress in a Caucasian oriented world. With this said it leaves the characters with very limited options, either play the stereotypical roles or to "perform with integrity within the alternative Asian American community" (Lee, 1997 pg 105) However the second choice doesn't leave much room for work, especially in a "Hollywood Society" that is notorious for stereotypes of all racial groups.
Chinese American struggles are clearly demonstrated in this play, and it shows the stereotypes Caucasian Americans have towards this group. Next is the Year of the Dragon. In this play the audience can't help but to be thrust on stage, and feel as though they are a part of the Caucasian Voyeurism that occurs. It is obvious from the start that stereotypes are placed upon Chinese Americans, and that they are forced to play these roles in order to survive. In the play the character of Fred is a tour guide in Chinatown, who plays to his audiences' perceived notions of Chinese Americans. His actions consist of over exaggerated speech and a promise of authenticity by offering the spectators a chance to "eat where he eats." Obviously he is horribly upset that he has to play to them, and while leaving the stage we can hear the actor cursing.
As his stereotype becomes more exaggerated we can see the spectacle that begins to form. The tour group seems to accept this as the normal way of life, and actually enjoy the "character" more, rather than who Fred really is. This belief that Chinatown is what Chinese Americans are truly like, is the point that Chin is trying to make clear. Josephine Lee, assistant professor of English at the University of Minnesota, says "the strategy of Chin's play is to address such presumptions directly, ridiculing the spectator who looks for the reality of Chinatown in stereotypes." (Lee 1997, pg. 46) In addition, the younger characters in the play have a sense of disdain for there own culture. Society has made them ashamed of who and what they are.
One of the most revealing points in the play is when Fred's sister Mattie says "all of a sudden I feel like just another yellow girl on the arm of a Caucasian." This line clearly demonstrates the idea that "white America" has made her ashamed of who she really is. She then continues to say how she wants to go back to Boston, where she will not be considered Asian. Also Fred becomes increasingly angry at what he has to become in front of groups, that he starts to actually hate his own ways of his family. He states that all he wants to do is become a writer, and yet is stuck giving tours to unappreciative stereotyping Americans. However one might argue that racial equality today is an issue that everyone faces, even Caucasians. Also that the need for attention to those issues are lessening due to the rise in diversity in our culture.
Some believe that there is no more of a stereotype for Asians as there is for the average white male. Caucasians could argue that with societies ever growing population, they too are becoming a minority. According to the U. S.
census bureau, "The population of the United States is becoming increasingly diverse. In recent years, Hispanics and minority racial groups 1 -non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, and American Indians-have each grown faster than the population as a whole. In 1970 these groups together represented only 16 percent of the population. By 1998 this share had increased to 27 percent.
Assuming current trends continue, the Bureau of the Census projects that these groups will account for almost half of the U. S. population by 2050." (Us census, 1999) In the Play as well there is a reference to this feeling of equal discrimination when Ross says, "Hawks hates me. Dove, Republicans, Communists, Democrats, Southern Whites. Freedom riders.
Blacks. Chicano's, Indians, hard-hats. Ecologists. The police... ! I'm Mr. White Male Supremacist.
Middle Middle class American liberal Four Years of College Pig. So I'm used to the Hostility" (Chin, 1981, pg. 129) This point however does not really have any basis. Even though demographics are changing, Caucasians are still the preferred race on issues such as casting in roles, and other everyday life occurrences. In addition, they are still the majority, and will be for quite some time.
Caucasian Americans haven't truly been oppressed by any different racial group throughout history either. Therefore lack of knowledge comes from the lack of experience of being oppressed. In conclusion, there has been a clearly evident correlation between racial stereotyping and the way society views Asian Americans. In both of the plays discussed, we are given an inside view to what it is like to be classified day in and day out. Whether it is the casting of Asian Americans in stereotypical roles for movies or theater, or as simple as a Chinese tour guide performing for white tourists, the stereotypes are plainly visible. It is strange to think that even today there can be this type of equality and racial injustice.
In movies, Asians, typically, never play leading roles unless it involves martial arts, and racial jokes continue to be spread, strengthening the stereotype. The main significance I found about reading these two plays would be that they are still relevant to today. If I would have had no previous knowledge of when they were written I could have easily thought that they were written today. This goes to show that it is true, there is still racial discrimination prevalent in today's society, and Chinese Americans are categorized based on their appearance. Hopefully with the rise in diversity around the nation, these stereotypes will one-day be forgotten.
Bibliography Lee, Josephine 1997 "Performing Asian America. Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage" Philadelphia, Temple University Press. web.