OPINION: Stop homogenizing the Asian American experience

A wall of TVs showing various representations of Asian people in movies and TV. Some screens show BTS performing, a scene from Raya and the Last Dragon, Nagini from Fantastic Beasts, Evelyn Wang from Everything Everywhere All At Once, and Meilin and Ming Lee from Turning Red. Other screens just show static.
(Sasha Matthews • The Student Life)

Today, I am coming to you from our predominantly white institution — and I’m exhausted. I’m tired of this country silencing, violating and isolating our community. I grieve for my sisters whose lives were taken away by racialized, gendered violence. I grieve and I want it to stop.

I am an Asian American. Specifically, a queer Asian-American woman.

Representations of Asian-American individuals, particularly women, have always been subject to contention within and outside the community. From “Crazy Rich Asians” to “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” we have witnessed the rise of Asian-American representation in Hollywood. International artists, such as BTS, dominate the music industry, garnering the attention of non-Asian listeners.

I come to you today with this question: Is this representation enough? I don’t think so.

You may look at me and assume you know my ethnicity. My reflection can attest to that. But deep within me, I am a tale across oceans. Displaced. I yearn to belong in places that do not seem to want me. Prominent, yet unseen.

I have seen it all: from the femme-fatale dragon lady to the white lotus blossom woman signifying purity to the sex worker who appeases the military man.

As I sat in my first Asian American Studies class at Scripps College and read Celine Shimizu’s “Hypersexuality of Race,” I became fascinated by sexual representations of Asian-American femme-identifying individuals. Shimizu, a film scholar and a professor, complicated my understanding of my own sexuality and consumption of pleasure in the media.

But it doesn’t pertain to just sex films. When I watched “Raya the Last Dragon,” I first thought, “Cool, we have a Southeast Asian character who looks like me.” Then, I backtracked.

Why the hell did they decide to homogenize and combine all of the Southeast Asian countries?

As a Southeast Asian, I cannot claim that my experiences are the same as every APIDA (Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American) individual. I use the term “APIDA” because Desi-identifying individuals have felt excluded in the AAPI movement.

“Desi,” meaning “of the homeland,” typically represents groups of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, while the term “AAPI,” stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander. APPI originated from a politicized identity during the 1960s. It was meant to unite and organize around the hate crimes experienced by the community. To understand the complexity of being Asian American, I believe we must explore what it means to feel connected to the terms “AAPI” or “APIDA.”

But I still struggle with the notion of a perfect representation. There is no one-size-fits-all APIDA representation — nor will there ever be a perfect one. This is something non-APIDA identifying individuals need to understand in order to stop homogenizing us.

Yes, current APIDA representation should be applauded, but we must push the boundaries and continue to explore other aspects of the identity. For instance, while I enjoy and relate to intergenerational narratives about the immigrant experience — especially mother and daughter relationships — I believe other identities need to be highlighted, too.

The dismantling of the model minority myth and harmful images should be tackled in a manner that understands the hybridity of Asian Americans. It should include queer, feminist, wellness and abolitionist imagery. We also need to strive for representations that feature APIDA actors as the main character.

I want to see it all: coming-of-age, romance, action, sci-fi and even the most mundane. Representation as a whole remains subjective, but it has the power to influence the ways in which we see ourselves internally and externally.

We all grew up in the generation of blonde Barbies and Disney princesses who didn’t look like us. I painfully yearned to fit into Western beauty standards — white, pale and light-eyed (and growing up in the Philippines, it didn’t help that they favored lighter skinned actresses, either).

I need representation that makes me feel beautiful and empowered — liberated, even. Representation that allows for a multifaceted array of experiences; one that does not essentialize a one-size-fits-all experience; one that shatters Eurocentric and heteronormative formations.

I write this, too, in light of anti-Asian hate crimes and tragedies within my community. Hate incidents and cultural representation are not unrelated concepts: APIDA cultural productions are a means of intervention as it relates to the subject formation of how society views us and how we view ourselves.

It’s time to write our own narratives — our lives are not disposable and do not have value only when we strive for whiteness.

We are more than the model minority myth. We will not be silenced or hidden.

Zeean Firmeza PO ’26 is from Miami, Florida. She enjoys playing video games and going on adventures and is also a boba connoisseur.

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