Self-esteem, Identity, and Pop Culture

My husband and I just got back from the movies and, of course, we saw trailers for several summer blockbusters. Being teens of the ’80s, we’ve been excited about the upcoming Karate Kid remake. But seeing the trailer got me to thinking about something–most, if not all, of the Asian boys in this movie are going to be “mean.” Another trailer portrayed Asians in New York’s Chinatown as gang members.

In American cinema and TV, it seems that largely Asian men are portrayed as either geeks or gangbangers. And I know the problem isn’t specific to Asians; most people of color are portrayed as stereotypes by Hollywood. (Interesting that now, while people of color are increasingly included on the big and small screens, “diversity” in movies and television serves mostly to perpetuate negative ideas about them.)

So my question is where can my son look to find men like him portrayed in a positive light? I know it’s best if a kid’s role model is someone in their real lives, and I understand I’m charged with creating an environment in which our son has such role models. But there’s little doubt that most of us look to Hollywood or sports venues for people to admire as well. I wonder what my son will begin to think about Asian men, including himself, if he looks to American television and movies for any part of his identity.

This thought started forming the other night after my husband and I sat down to watch Disney’s Summer Magic (a 1963 movie starting Hayley Mills and Burl Ives). For years, I’ve longed to share the live-action Disney movies I grew up watching with our children. Yet, now I’m hesitant because there are rarely people of color in these movies.

I know there’s nothing wrong with sharing these movies with my son. Yet, I realize that these movies cannot be our family’s sole source of entertainment, like they were when I was growing up. As parents of child of color, we must find films and television where our son can see men who look like he does portrayed in a positive light as well.

After watching many Korean dramas, we know that we can share some of them with our son when he’s a little older. And I’m thankful to have that option. But it’s sad to me that there aren’t many American offerings that will help our son build a positive racial identity.

For those of you who are further along in the transracial parenting journey, what do you do about movies and television? I would love to hear opinions and ideas.

2 Responses to “Self-esteem, Identity, and Pop Culture”

  1. May 31, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    I think this was something I struggled with a lot, growing up. And I’ve written a few things about it in my own blog. But it’s very hard, as the only Asian person in one’s family, to then look at public “role models” for positive reinforcement about my background. I only started watching Korean dramas in the past five years, or so, and they’ve changed me, significantly. I wish I’d had exposure to them as a child. But as discouraging as it may sound, Hollywood isn’t really good on an Asian adoptee’s ego. Even now (at 26) I have to remind myself that it’s all a load of bull, but as a child I remember it being quite difficult to separate what was crap and what actually made for a good example for me.

    Unfortunately Hollywood is based on stereotypes. Many things are. And we adoptees have to fight an uphill battle against them, because many things about us DON’T match those stereotypes, and it can be really hard to look at them and think ‘why am I not like that?’. It’s just another way that we’re somewhat isolated in our journeys to simply find out who we are and where we fit in the world.

    • 2 Mom2One
      June 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks for your comment, YoonSeon. That’s what I suspected because Hollywood is so stereotypical about it’s portrayal of people. But of course, in America it’s hard to get away from Hollywood. Nice to know that Korean dramas might help our son. My husband and I really enjoy them so exposing our son to Korean dramas shouldn’t be too hard.

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My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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