Your Fetish, My Life

Vickie Chang responds to letters about Yellow Fever

Two weeks have passed since the publication of "Yellow Fever," my story about smarmy men who date only those of Asian descent because they think we'd fulfill some kind of sexual fantasy involving bound feet, tea service and geishas.

Not every guy who dates Asians is like that. And no, I was not denouncing interracial dating or making sweeping generalizations about men who date only women of certain ethnicities.

Just. The. Creeps. Their fetish is my life.

The thing is, anytime you talk race and gender, people freak out. In fact, all the angry responses came from men (surprise!) accusing me of sexism. On MensActivism.com (a "Men's Rights and Activism" website), "John" went further, comparing "Yellow Fever" to Mein Kampf(bringing the number of Nazi comparisons to three). "A childish outpouring of disgusting personal prejudices (a la Mein Kampf)," he declared, "rife with hypocrisy. Her 'Asian male stereotypes' were news to me, by the way. One of the heroes of my youth was Bruce Lee, who was definitely not 'virginal and emasculated.'"

Okay, but before Lee graced movie screens in the 1970s, ushering in kung-fu flicks, Asian men had been widely portrayed as subservient—there's that word again—coolies, cartoonish villains, childlike or feminine stereotypes. Think the moustache-twirling bad guy in Flash Gordon, Fu Manchu, or Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's. (I hold a special place in my heart for the calm and perspicacious Charlie Chan.) Sure, Lee's characters kicked all sorts of ass and held off global catastrophe, but did he ever get the girl? Jet Li was the protagonist of 2000's Romeo Must Die,but what'd he get from Aaliyah? A hug.

"Oregon Dad" responded, "Asian women are good—but to maximize the experience you have to stay in Asia with them. If you bring them here, they start turning in to American women with no cultural context."

Imagine that: a woman with no context. Worse, imagine a woman without the kind of context provided by Oregon Dad. That's what "John B." did when he wrote that my piece was a "childish, hateful parade of lesbianese men-bashing tripe! [. . .] Vicki [sic] Chang's hypocrisy is almost amusing. [. . .] (What about the coalescing of Caucasian men, Vicki [sic]? Ring-ring—pot calling the kettle.) By the way, she never gets around to saying what that issue is. It definitely seems personal. Could it be that she doesn't attract as much attention from the local Porsche drivers as some other women do?"

But I had my supporters, mostly on Asian American activist blogs (including one of my favorites, AngryAsianMan.com) and the personal blogs of empathetic Asian American women. Among these latter, "Amy T." called "Yellow Fever" a "totally hilarious and sad (and hilariously sad) article.

"Oh, that familiar topic," Amy T. continued. "Such is my life. I try not think about it too much, and instead defy the submissive Asian woman stereotype by being obnoxious and outspoken. Still, I am finding it difficult to shake, and it makes my stomach churn when I think about how familiar those lines (i.e., 'You're such a cute little Asian girl') sound. It's just that the last thing I ever want to be is replaceable."

Gay Asian Americans seemed to like the essay, too. "Daniel" of Long Beach wrote, "I've read many comments from people on the Internet who say that this problem doesn't exist and to them I'd like to say a big FUCK YOU. Open your eyes and take a look around. It's everywhere—from movies like Last Samuraiwhere the white protagonist manages to be the only survivor in an army of centuries-old samurai, to restaurants like Geisha House where the white waitresses dress up in kimonos with face paint. We are not a costume, we are not a plaything, we are not porcelain dolls. We are people."

But Asian Americans did not universally like "Yellow Fever." My favorite appears on Occidentalism.org, where "Matt" provides an almost line-by-line analysis of the story. He begins by observing that I must be a Korean American because of my "stereotypical transplanted-to-America Korean girls' first name (Vicky—how many Korean girls have you met using that name in English?) and the family name Chang, which is a fairly standard Korean family name. She also talks about booking clubs, and the customers of those are usually Korean."

I'm Chinese American.

A message board on TheFighting44s.com ("the voice for intelligent, thoughtful discourse on the issues affecting Asian Americans today") accused me of having a weak ethnic identity, labeling me a "CCB." That sent me to UrbanDictionary.com, where I learned I'm a cracker-chasing bitch. On the same site, "TKGuy" wrote, "I come to the conclusion that Vickie is a white person trapped in an Asian body."

Among the Nazi comparisons and the accusations that I'd fabricated every bit of my story, one letter stood out—from Michael Bubb of Hoboken, New Jersey. Married to a Korean woman for almost a decade, Bubb says his "attraction is not for the weak, passive, geisha qualities but a real strength. I would defend none of the scenarios you describe in your piece—the groping men, the rice queens, nor the lovesick college boys; it's all pretty disgusting. On a personal level, I hope there is more to our marriage than a simple, post-colonial desire for a geisha. For me there is an element of escape from one's own background, as pale and anemic as it can be. And an escape from American ahistoricity. I am glad that our children have the indirect access to a 5,000-year-old culture and something other than the insanity that ours has seemingly sunk into over the last decade or so."

 
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