DisOrienting Encounters: Performing Asian Stereotypes
This post was originally my reaction to Manila Luzon’s perpetuation of Asian (maybe American?) stereotypes. It was supposed to be a massive tirade about why her performance on RuPaul’s Drag Race was so controversial. Instead I’ll highlight how her performance was offensive.
Two weeks ago, the queens on the race were given the task to be news anchors and reporters while dressed in their professional drag attire. Manila Luzon, the roving reporter, was interviewing Kristin Cavelleri. From the moment she opened her mouth, I was offended. As the show continued, the discussion of Manila’s offensive satire aim to garner a good laugh and her subsequent win that week, left me with questions of my own:
Is it alright to make fun of race when a member of the same race takes a stab?
Is satire the same thing as racism?
Was her performance supposed to be funny? If it was supposed to be funny, could we just have called this performance “Oriental” rather than “Asian.”
Let’s contextualize Manila Luzon’s performance with an magazine spread from Detail Magazine in 2004 fantastically titled “Gay or Asian?” Take a look at the descriptions.
“Dior Sunglasses: Subs a headband and amplifies inscrutable affect”
“Evisu Jeans: $400. A bonsai ass requires delicate tending”
“Dolce and Gabanna Suede Jacket: Keeps the last samurai warm and button tight on the battlefield”
“Lady Boy Fingers: Soft and long, perfect for waxing off and waxing on, plucking the koto and gripping the kendo stick”
So what can we get from Manila Luzon’s performance with this particular article? The Perpetual Foreigner Stereotype.
For Asian Americans – those who were born and raised in America or have spent a good portion of their life in America, such as myself – there is the stereotype that they MUST have been born somewhere else but NOT in America. Asian stereotypes – thick accented, fresh-off-the-boat, deeply traditional and un-assimilated – maintain the separation.
Manila Luzon was born and raised in the Midwest. The Asian guy on the magazine could be Asian American. But how can you tell the difference? It’s hard. You can’t really. There is no physical demarcation to determine if this person is Korean, Chinese, Japanese. This is not to say all people of a certain race look the same, but can we really tell the difference between the the two? But the reflexive thinking, where could this person have been from, lends itself the fact that the stereotype of perpetual foreigner is hard to shake off.
And this is precisely why many Asian American, especially queer Asian Americans, took a massive disliking to Manila’s performance. For many the perpetual foreigner is a constant reality. It’s offensive because I can be American as apple pie, Miley Cyrus and country music. But I will always be asked: “Where am you from?”
At the end of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Manila Luzon won the challenge. Round of applause for Manila performance, your funny take on Asians reinforced negative stereotypes and dulled the fact that the people influencing the gay and straight community are ignorant racists. It may not have been your intention to do so Manila, as you said “I grew up in the Midwest… so I don’t know.” It’s not about your intention but rather that you had so much power to just simply be Manila Luzon, not a horrid stereotype. You are incredibly resilient and so beautiful and from one Filipino to another, I was rooting for you. Many Asian American looked up to you. But what got over you?
Don’t let the finger pointing come back to us, saying that we misunderstood; that we are overreacting; that we don’t have a sense of humor.
Can someone explain to me the humor in it?
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