Introduction

How accurate is this report card in reflecting the reality of Asian America representation on television networks?

“…Asian Americans suffer from both misrepresentation and invisibility in the media”
– Park, Ji Hoon, “Representation of Asians in Hollywood Films”

Historically, Asian Americans have been cast and stereotyped as the “the pollutant, the coolie, the deviant, the yellow peril, the model minority, and the gook” in mainstream American media, from film to television to newspapers to magazines and more. In Kent Ono and Vincent Pham’s introduction in Asian Americans and the Media, the image portrayal of Asian Americans in mainstream media have historically been and continue to be limited as well as misrepresented (6). Misrepresentations are mostly due to the fact that the production of such images are embedded in Western media, whose role is to perpetuate white racial hegemony and power hierarchies in the United States (Park, 4). Those who have the power to run this dominant discourse in the media often are not people of colour and have little or no knowledge of actual Asian American experience. Thus, the portrayal of Asian Americans, more than often, is subjugated to stereotypes and hegemonic persistence to maintain white racial superiority and not how Asian Americans wish to depict themselves in public media.

Misrepresentations do not only affect Asian Americans but also non-Asians who are being misinformed through dominant discourse in corporate media. In the late 60s, the term, “Asian American” emerged as a political term of identification, which “challenges racism and seeks empowerment and democratic power relations,” a concern of Asian American students at this time in regards to their political position living in the U.S (Ono, Pham; 9). On one hand, Asian American can be a means of unification of race, gender, class, and sexual oppression and any other discrimination. On the other hand, it can serve as an ignorant American “cultural practice of racial lumping”, resulting in a lack of acknowledgment in western discourse of the internal ethnic and national distinctions asserted by different Asian subgroups (Park 5). The lack of distinction between Asian ethnicities can (mis)educate non-Asians, who then presume that all Asianss are “culturally and physically homogeneous with no internal variation” (ibid, 5).

Media contains an unprecedented amount of power, creating a space for audiences to take and receive what they see and use it to their benefit. Dominant media imitates and constructs the white hegemonic ideology based on the relationship of domination and subordination between the superiority—often the “privileged, white male”—and the inferior—often the “not-white” groups (Hall, 274-5). Within this historical and cultural framework, the dominance of white superiority in mainstream media has and continues to subjugate and stereotype Asians and Asian Americans (Park, 4).

Within the public sphere of media and communications emerges alternative media, which has traditionally stood apart from commercial media in providing space for marginalized voices to contest hegemonic meanings and represent themselves without mediation in the way they choose. Not only does alternative media tend to follow a non-profit model differentiating from the market model, it serves the community, enables a multi-participation platform, and raises awareness of issues outside the dominant mainstream norm. With alternative media, ethnic groups, such as Asian Americans, have the means to address what they wish to address. But with any sort of media, there are still the following general concerns to follow up on:

    1. How are Asian-American alternative media addressing, contributing, countering, and/or critiquing to the discourse of what it is to be “Asian” or “Asian American”? (Note: the discourse of what it is to be Asian will be explored in the Theory section.)
    2. What are they doing differently, whether it is content, style and form, organization structure, process (as examples) and how are they doing it differently?

Credit photo to Hyphen

Along with these set of questions, my main aim boils down to challenging how the approach to issues and representation of Asian Americans has or is changing during the 21st century. For this specific project, I choose to specifically look at a local-based, alternative magazine that started in 2002 called Hyphen Magazine. As a non-profit and volunteer-based magazine, Hyphen delves into a more complex representation of the diversity within Asian America.  By observing both of its platforms: digital and print, recurring themes and trends will be taken note of for reflection and analysis.

This project will also explore the following theories:

    1. Looking at Bailey, Cammeaert, and Carpentier’s proposal of alternative media as “an alternative means to mainstream media” as grounds to study Hyphen and the alternative media space for Asian Americans to assert themselves.
    2. Relating cultural studies scholar Lisa’s discourse on the flux of hegemony and counter-hegemony to Kent Ono and Vincent Pham’s interpretation of Stuart Hall’s theory on media construction
    3. Examining Lowe’s interpretation of Fanon’s theory of nationalism versus assimilation and applying it to the generational conflict that marks a major part of Asian American identity.

From there, I will examine my findings from investigating Hyphen closely and reach a synthesis through the results and by applying the theory as aforementioned. The goal is to not only attempt to answer some of the questions posed but also analyzing theory, Hyphen magazine, and alternative media for ethnic groups in a different light.

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