Addressing the stereotype
To standardize, pigeonhole, typecast, or even categorize is, in essence, to stereotype. However, in the context of 20th century American society, the vernacular and semantic definition of “stereotyping” alludes primarily to the conflict of misunderstanding and misperceiving general conceptions about race and ethnicity. To detail even further, the contemporary and technical definition of “stereotyping” can be interpreted as such: the act of labeling a character trait about a racial, ethnic, gender or sexually oriented group without the reassurance that an error or discrepancy may occur. What a stereotype is, what it alludes to, and how it is socially defined by society is all part of the invariably changing conceptions of the American identity. The identity of peoples dwelling in America has long been misperceived as the residence of primordial white universitality, which, for Asian Americans, has consequently originated a racist myth that is still viable in American popular culture.
The most dominant and reoccurring stereotype in the history of Asian Pacific Americans is the correlation between “sojourners” and “settlers.” When European immigrants traveled across the Atlantic, they became “settlers” and later naturalized American citizens. When Asian immigrants voyaged across the Pacific, they were refused naturalization rights and confronted several federal laws banning the immigration of Chinese, Filipino and Japanese natives; thus, they became stereotypically identified as “sojourners.” The congruous struggle for Asian Americans, even to this day, has been to omit, destroy, and deconstruct the stereotypical identity of Asian Americans as foreigners, aliens and strangers who don’t belong. This stereotype was reinforced and embedded by the exploitation and racist representation of Asian Americans in the mass media…for example: the exotic dragon lady, the outlandish and diabolical Fu-Man Chu, the desexed Charlie Chan who quotes pseudo-Confucian anecdotes. These images are all part of the “Mystical East” motif in which all things originating from Asia become exoticized, extrinsic, and foreign. It is for this reason, that Asian Americans continue in their attempts to validate their identity as Americans rather than foreigners, as “settlers” rather than “sojourners.”
The stereotype of Asian Americans and other ethnic minorities in the Untied States has been the topic of mainstream debate since the late 1950’s. When combatting the stereotypes of Asian Americans, one must reconceptualize the definition of the American identity. The American identity and its direct correlation to diversity is often overlooked, because one forgets that America’s culture and history does not root from a single source. By realizing that the United States has always been a multiracial and multiethnic society, one can begin to conceptualize the richness of America’s past and the legacies that it tells, not only about Asian Americans but also about other ethniticites. Once this basic idea is understood, citizens will forge a new “All-American” identity.