The title of this post is probably misleading. More accurate would be to say “The Most Visible Asian Man” or “The Most Famous Asian Man”. [“The Greatest Asian Man” has a better ring to it, I think.]
Put another way, Bruce Lee would probably be considered by some to be the greatest Asian guy of all time. Many, (including myself) would disagree. But there’s little doubt that he’s one of, if not the most, famous or visible Asian male figures embedded into the American consciousness.
For the collective Asian male, this sort of notoriety is both a blessing and a curse. VERY generally speaking, we Asian guys aren’t very creative when it comes to careers. The large majority of us end up as lawyers, financiers, bankers, doctors, dentists…there’s nothing wrong with this. But you don’t see many of us embraced by the media or the general public. We don’t have charismatic politicians, A-list celebrities, or dominant athletes who become widely accepted figures. So when one of us makes it to the top, we all like to celebrate his achievement and claim him as our own. Manny Pacqiao isn’t Filipino, he’s Asian. Super bowl MVP Hines Ward isn’t half-black, he’s half-Korean. Tiger Woods is black again.
While we celebrate every crack of the bamboo ceiling, it comes at a price. For instance, take note of the following exchange (variations of which have happened to me several times in the past):
I’d be walking down the street, minding my own business when…
Stranger: Hey Bruce Lee.
Me: Excuse me?
Stranger: Hey Bruce Lee…WWWAAAHHHHYAAA
Me: Listen here country bumpkin. My name’s not Bruce Lee. I don’t even know you, so why don’t you mind your own goddamn business.
Stranger: What? I can’t understand what you’re saying.
Me: My man…I was born, raised, and educated in this country. That’s 3 for 3. You’re 2 out of 3 AT BEST. So why don’t you go bother someone else with your ignorance?
Stranger: hiya! Chingchong chang chungh chang
A piece of advice for anyone who might encounter a similar situation in the future. As much as you might want to…PLEASE don’t sidekick him. That’s just perpetuating a miserable stereotype, and you’re making things worse for the rest of us.
Recently though, I’ve noticed something interesting. I’ve been getting fewer Bruce Lee’s and I’ve been getting way more Jackie Chan’s. It’s like the proverbial passing of the torch. Jackie Chan has apparently replaced Bruce Lee as the greatest Asian man. Or at least, the most visible.
Ignorance knows no bounds, people. When a racist hack sees something he doesn’t understand, his mind works overtime to fit it into his puny conception of the world. Reductionism is the American way.
Ignorance cannot be reasoned with. It cannot be bullied. It cannot be disproven.
So really, I’m faced with three options.
One is to sidekick the shit out of anyone who refers to me Jackie Chan. Like I mentioned before though, this is hugely counter-productive.
Two is to do what I’ve been doing which is to talk some sense into the person, EDUCATE. YO, I’m not Jackie Chan. No, I don’t know karate. Yes, I do know English. No, I will not do your laundry or your math homework.
After a while, though, option 2 just feels like battering my head against a stone wall again and again. You realize that you can’t educate the world, because the world is just too fucking dumb.
Which is why option 3, as infeasible as it is, might just prove to be the most logical.
Option 3 is for me to become the greatest Asian man.
Exactly how I’m going to do this, I’m not sure. But if it’s one thing Jackie showed me, it can be done.
I doubt that I’m going to be a world class athlete or a movie star. Perhaps I can be the President. I’ll tell you how I’m NOT going to do it, though. I’m not going to be a wood-chopping, snap kicking kung-fu warrior. I’ll tell you that right now.
I guess what I really want, no matter what I end up doing, is for my name to be to Asians what Kumar is to Indians.
That way, when I’m walking down the street, minding my own business and some ig’nant xenophobe approaches me:
Ig’nant xenophobe: Hey there, Chris Paek.
Me: That’s right bitch…say my name.
OH MAN. That would be SO much easier.