GR friend and contributor Anne Ishii is the web editor of the freshly launched online forum They’re All So Beautiful. The forum is the interactive community spawned from filmmaker Debbie Lum’s documentary Seeking Asian Female – recently featured on This American Life, now available on DVD, and premiering on PBS’s Independent Lens during Asian American Heritage month, May 6.
The idea is to get people talking about the issues of race, gender and fetish all wrapped up around Asian/non-Asian intimate relations. Any regular reader of Giant Robot, or old school GR message board members knows what we’re talking about. It’s a debate that can go on for days, and isn’t that what the internet is perfect for? This time, things are a bit different though, perhaps more enlightened.
I asked Anne how she weighs in on the conversation.
GR: “They’re All So Beautiful” is a series of questions that tie in to Debbie Lum’s “Seeking Asian Female” documentary. I’m just going to ask you all the same ones. So, let’s start with “What’s Yellow Fever?”
AI: I’m far from a role model on the matter of using the phrase because I also use racial slurs sarcastically to the disgust of everyone, but “yellow fever” is a colloquial phrase denoting Orientalism, specifically in the East Asian realm. It does NOT refer to all white men who like Asian women. There are no monolithic groups of race in 21st century America. I’m sure the guy fucking a Sailor Moon pillow every night doesn’t want to be lumped in the same category as Rupert Murdoch just because they both intercourse with Asian characters who are twenty years their junior.
GR: What’s the BEST Yerrow pick up line you’ve ever heard?
AI: A black man once said to me, “you can be my egg roll, I’ll be your fried chicken.” PRICELESS. I think the saddest pickup line I’ve heard is “I know karate.” Used more than once by perfect strangers to start conversation with me. I mean that’s cool you know karate, but I’d save that gem for after we got to know each other. Because honestly? I’d rather get boned by fried chicken than someone who reads SHOGUN twice a year for inspiration and keeps a prop katana on top of his TV.
GR: How many times have you been someone’s “first Asian girl”, and how did you help that person through the experience?
AI: Hmmmm, it’s actually only been said to me once but it was probably more traumatizing for him to find out he was my tenth white guy that day. (Kidding of course. Hi Mom, Hi Dad…) I have, however, been told I was the latest Asian woman someone dated, by several dudes. That’s always creepy; that they thought telling me Asians were their type was flattering, forgetting the cardinal rule of dating: don’t talk about your exes.
I have inadvertently played into yellow fever in the past, however, by having a chip on my shoulder about being Japanese-Korean. I’d be at pains to characterize myself by ethno-cultural constructs to a fault, whereas these days if someone assumes I’m Chinese or Filipino I just shrug it off. No, in fact I’m flattered. (Filipinos know how to party. Hello fetishization!)
Anyway, once upon a time, I did care about being unique in my yellowness. Case in point: I took a white boyfriend with me to a Japanese grocery once and he joked, “where is the dog meat?” I was mortified and was like, “dude we’re at Marukai, not 99 Ranch Market.” [BTW sorry, 99 Ranch Market, for suggesting you sell dog meat...] More tellingly, I continued dating the philistine for another two years. I don’t categorically blacklist people who say dumb things about my heritage, but I do cringe in hindsight.