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When I called up Sueyoshi to chat about the "cultural castration" of Asian American men, historically cast as impotent nerds, lacking virility and sex appeal (or played derisively by white men, a la Mickey Rooney in ), her insight quickly reminded me that explanations for How Things Came to Be are far more complex than the kneejerk responses and belief systems they manufacture over time.Because that's what these gender- and ethnicity-based stereotypes are—prefab constructs that we erect, brick by brick, bound together with a mortar of fear and discrimination."Discussions of race are almost always inflected with meaning of gender and sexuality," Sueyoshi said."Frequently, when we talk about sex, it's about moral anxieties about race as well as gender, and it's all built in." . history when Asian American men are actually seen as sexually super scary and predatory." She continued: …in the 1860s, Chinese men were seen as dirty and immoral and potentially people who would seduce white women in opium dens and impregnate them.As a white, heterosexual female, my experience is very different from that of Asian American males.
Desexualizing and hypersexualizing people based on race is flatly wrong and serves to reinforce outsider status and devalue social roles and contributions.Not coincidentally, this also happened as the Japanese economy began to flex its muscles.That observation does, however, provide a crucial dimension to grasping the cultural roots of stereotyping, and also makes us wonder how things evolved from fearing the hypersexual to actor and artist David Muru writing in the "Asian men, however—at least since Sessue Hayakawa, who made a Hollywood career in the 1920s of representing the Asian man as sexual threat —have been consigned to one of two categories: the egghead/wimp, or—in what may be analogous to the lotus blossom-dragon lady dichotomy—the kung fu master/ninja/samurai.He is sometimes dangerous, sometimes friendly, but almost always characterized by a desexualized Zen asceticism." I asked Sueyoshi when and why that shift occurred, and it seems it began in earnest in the 1980s, as Bruce Lee's popularity began to wane.So when I decided to write about the Western stereotype of the emasculated Asian American male, I understood going into the topic that this would be an exercise in imparting while learning—and that I needed an expert guide.