Why "Joy Luck" Brings me Misery

By Julia Oh

China doll. Meek, submissive, mysterious and sultry. White man's geisha. She shrieks at the sight of a mouse. She takes insults as a reminder to improve upon her flawed self. She is the survivor of abuse by Asian men from her past, just as she watched her mother abused by the hands of her father. She endures. She sits quietly alone, waiting for her white knight to come untie her from generations of misery. Who is she?

The answer is simple. She is a creation. She is a fantasy Asian woman crafted by the minds of white men.

Be Real

I am a real Asian woman. I don't see myself fitting the synthetic mold by any stretch of the imagination. Fortunately, I am able to separate myself from this Asian female persona, as I am aware that she is a third-party creation, an amalgamation of laughable stereotypes. My life, while filled with many goals and driven by a multitude of ambitions, has undeniably been shaped by my constant battle with fighting racism and stereotypes. As my life experiences have taught me, many people mistake the myths about Asian women for reality. I realize, however, that those who hold misconceptions about Asians cannot be placed entirely at fault. Asian Americans currently comprise only 4% of the total US population. Therefore, those who have little to no daily contact with Asian Americans have only the media and second-hand accounts to rely on for their images and perceptions of Asian Americans.

The disturbing element in all of this is the flagrant inaccuracies attached to the media-constructed image of the Asian American woman. And the consequence that I suffer due to this is that I am viewed as an aberration from the supposed "norm". I am an aberration because I speak my mind. I am an aberration because I assert my preferences. I am an aberration because I choose to date Asian males exclusively.

In thinking of ways in which to combat stereotypes, I came upon the following conclusion: If people who have little to no contact with Asians continue to rely on the media as their source of information, then the media image should at least be a more accurate reflection of reality. It is with this determination that I came upon a certain idea.

Campaign Against Joy Luck Club
My campaign, or better put, my goal is simple: to either replace or supplement Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club from the reading lists of high schools and universities across the nation with works written by other Asian American authors who more accurately portray Asian Americans. JLC is currently used by institutions of learning across the nation, and is referenced as a novel that is "representative of the AA experience". Its recognition is so mainstream, in fact, that it comes along with study guides by Cliffs Notes. Furthermore, JLC holds the record for the highest gross sales for a novel written by an Asian American author, and even hit the silver screens in 1993, directed by Hollywood big shot Oliver Stone. Through Amy Tan and JLC, the images of self-loathing Asian women and abusive Asian men have reached the minds of thousands across the nation.

In my campaign to replace JLC from school curriculums, I have enlisted the support of Asian American groups of every feasible nature. I am not looking to wipe out all works written by Asian American authors. Nor am I looking to censor Amy Tan. If academic institutions would even supplement their reading lists with other more representative works by Asian American authors in addition to JLC, I feel that many misconceptions that non-Asians hold about Asians could be clarified.

My angst with JLC is that it plays upon all of the Asian stereotypes that were described in my opening paragraph. Asian women are depicted as lonely miserable characters whose ultimate salvation comes when united in marriage with a white male. Furthermore, the author mercilessly smears all of the Asian male characters, confining them to the role of the wife-abuser, or the nit-picking egomaniac. That a novel inclusive of such detrimental stereotypes is touted as the representative of the AA experience, that it is highly acclaimed by critics, and that the concerns regarding its portrayal of Asian Americans comes only from other Asian Americans is as puzzling to me as racism itself. When Amy Tan (who is, in real life, married to a white man) herself asserts that she would never date an Asian man because she would not date her father or her brother, how can anyone not question the impetus behind the fiction she creates? If a prominent white figure claimed that she would never date a white man because he would remind her of her brother, or even if a prominent black figure claimed that she would never date a black man because she would never date her father, the public would certainly question the mental well-being of the individual. But in Amy Tan's case, neither the personal comment nor the dynamics between Asian men and women in JLC are questioned. Could this be because the public believes that she represents the collective voice of Asian America? In such a "PC" country, certainly no one would dare object to the morale of an entire ethnic group.

Who Are These Guys?
In my countless correspondences with Asian Americans of every background, the overwhelming consensus is that the story is NOT representative of the Asian American experience. I must confess that there were parts to JLC that I could relate to, such as the generational and cultural gap the protagonist felt with her immigrant parents. But alongside these anecdotes came, what I felt, were flagrant generalizations. I especially never felt that abusiveness and arrogance were traits exclusive to Asian men.

So long as JLC and Amy Tan are the only widely recognized products of Asian American literature, the strife for equality of Asian Americans will continue to be stifled. The kung-fu evil master and the white male's sexual servant stereotypes will continue their reign as the foremost images attached to Asian Americans. And if the only contact that many non-Asians have with Asian Americans is through television or literature, we must, by all means, do our best to provide a clearer, more comprehensive and affirmative picture.