October 6th, 2009

crouching tiger

Our Stories

[For the Fourth Asian Women Blog Carnival]

You might have heard that Fox has this new show called Glee. I tried watching Glee a few times and couldn't take it, but I think I'm in the minority about that. It happens.

One of the people on my flist made a post about how much she loves the character of Rachel, the "star" of the glee club, who is white and pretty and has a lovely voice. The post says:

Rachel is my favorite and I want her to get everything that she wants. Why do I like Rachel so much? I feel like she's a character that vry well could be unsympathetic, but instead she comes off as vulnerable. I like how she is completely, wholly and uncompromisingly herself in high school even though it gets her nothing but flack. And slurpees in the face. SHE'S VERY TALENTED. GOLD STAR.

There's nothing wrong with this post. Nothing particularly fail-y or offensive.

But, I wanted to say. It's all well and good that you have someone to identify with, but what about me? Who do I have?

There's this other character on Glee named Tina Cohen-Chang. I only got through two episodes of the show (okay, one-and-a-half), but all I learned in those one-and-a-half episodes is that she (a) probably resembles me the closest out of the main cast, (b) she is a backup singer in the glee club, (c) she dresses like a goth, (d) she stutters, and (e) she is not good at anything. She doesn't get slurpees in the face, and it might be that she's uncompromisingly herself considering her wardrobe choices, but we can't see if she comes across as vulnerable or unsympathetic or anything else for that matter. She doesn't get to be talented. She doesn't get a story.

To Hollywood, we have no stories. Nothing beyond what they can take from us and remake into their own image. To them, we are useless, extraneous, ignorable; we all look alike. To them, we do not have our own complicated, strange, beautiful, imperfect lives. To them, we do not get to be the heroes of our own worlds.

But we are. In our own lives, we are the heroes. We make stir fries and dumplings together, and we commiserate over the way our parents guilt us into things, and we watch The Omega Glory to laugh at the racism, and we make fun of our own bad pronunciation of Chinese, and we can hold each other up, hold each other together. And sometimes, our stories will sneak in at the edges.

I think one of the reasons why I love Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon so much is because I saw it in theaters with my father, and I felt closer to myself than I ever had before. The Chinese-ness that always marked me as different was uncomplicated, normalized. The first time I saw a commercial for The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, I felt amazed that she had her own show. I remember reading The Joy Luck Club and thinking that maybe it didn't really entirely reflect my experience, but I could see myself in the corners, peeking out, in ways I never had before. I think we need more stories like that. Stories that let us be superheroes and supermarket clerks and cops and soldiers and computer nerds and businessmen and reporters and starving artists and pilots and stoned college students and everything in between, because we are all of those things and more. I think we need to keep telling each other our stories, keep submitting entries to Remyth, keep talking to anyone who will listen.

Sometimes, I think about the stories that Tina Cohen-Chang must have that the show may never tell us. Does she go to synagogue with her mother on Fridays and burn incense with her father in the mornings? Did she have a Bat Mitzvah when she turned thirteen? When was the first time she realized no one thought her mom was her mom? Does she sing in the shower? Did she once, in middle school, put on a ridiculous, exaggerated Chinese accent to make the other kids laugh with her instead of at her, only to feel guilty about it days later? Did she decide to become a pagan when she was fourteen? Does she tell everyone she loves the Clash and the Ramones and the Sex Pistols but secretly hides a Jonas Brothers CD underneath her mattress? Does she stand in front of the mirror and practice saying the words she would have liked to use earlier when she was facing down a teacher, another student, her parents? Does she wake up each morning thinking she can't be the lead because she doesn't look right, doesn't act right, doesn't have the right voice?*

I think that last thing might be too depressing for me, so I prefer to believe that her life outside of the glee club is as full and rich as mine is all the time. I prefer to believe that she eats matzo during Passover and likes watching bad Scifi movies and hates cleaning her room, even when her dad guilts her into it. I prefer to believe she's failing math, because she sleeps through class, but she can smoke anyone in the school when it comes writing. I prefer to believe that maybe she thinks The Joy Luck Club is a little overwrought, but when she read it for the first time, she felt a little thrill at being able to understand the bits and pieces of Chinese sprinkled throughout the story.

I prefer to believe that like me, like us, she's complicated and strange and beautiful on the inside in a new age-y sort of way. And maybe the show will give her time to shine and maybe it won't. It doesn't matter really. Maybe someday Hollywood will acknowledge us and our stories, but until then, we have each other, and we have our own truths, our own joys and our own sorrows.

Fuck them if they're not willing to listen.

* Wikipedia and my flist tell me she does get a solo eventually. Cool!