Gall Of ‘Saigon’

A letter from hapa activist Kip Fulbeck, printed in the Los Angeles Times on January 29, 1995.

by KIP FULBECK via Los Angeles Times

Regarding “It’s the Whopper of a Chopper,” by Jan Breslauer (Jan. 15):

“Miss Saigon” and its ensuing publicity show us that publicly acceptable racism and ethnic fetishes of Asian Americans still prevail in the national consciousness:

  • No thank you to the “classic love story of our time” being about a white soldier and his Asian prostitute. I’ve seen enough stereotyping of white male saviors and submissive Asian sex vixens to brainwash a nation.
  • No thank you to the two white men who were so moved by a picture of a mother bidding farewell to her Amerasian child that they were compelled to tell their story. Most of the Hapa (Amerasian) children you write about were left in Vietnam by white men. We can tell our own stories. Thousands of Asian American writers, actors and performers do so daily, but apparently it takes white male perspectives to be profitable.
  • No thank you to the argument that this musical opens doors for Asian American actors. I’ve seen enough Asian barmaids, soldiers, prostitutes and pimps on television to last a lifetime. Hollywood movies consistently pair exotic Asian women with white men while Asian men are reduced to cooks, ninjas and idiots.
  • No thank you to the Asian American activists who protest only why an Asian American is not cast in the role of the Eurasian engineer. If the character is Eurasian, both white or Asian castings are equally incorrect. Amerasians are pulled to either side for our support when needed, then discounted as not being really Asian or really white.

When will we see accurate portrayals of Asian Americans–full and mixed blood? When will we see realistic roles become available, so talented actors like B. D. Wong won’t be forced to play stereotypical roles in embarrassments like “All American Girl”? When will America recognize Asian Americans as more than gangsters, kung fu masters, Oriental massage artists and comic relief?

If you see “Miss Saigon,” don’t get too lost in the fantasy. Some of us are real.

Santa Barbara

Fulbeck, a video and performance artist, is assistant professor of art studio and Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara.