- Asian American Media Activism: Fighting for Cultural Citizenship by Lori Kido Lopez
Lori Kido Lopez's study of Asian American media activism is a timely, well-researched, intelligent, and lucid book. Lopez's key argument is that "cultural citizenship is connected to media representation" (4) and that Asian American (Americans of Asian descent, as defined by the US census) activists view their fight as a collective endeavour rather than at the level of the individual (5). Though the study is based on an ethnography of activism organizations in Los Angeles, it encompasses a number of websites, and includes actors in the 1960s, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition's negotiations with television networks, marketing, advertising, and communication groups who fight to recognize Asian Americans as consumers, and popular Asian Americans on YouTube and on Twitter.
Acknowledging the works of Darrell Hamamoto, Robert Lee, Kent Ono and Vincent Pham, Gina Marchetti, and Celine Parreñas, who have studied the exclusion of Asian Americans in television, films, and popular culture, Lopez notes, "it becomes clear that media invisibility and mistreatment impacts Asian American communities in profound ways. The limited number of representations serves to fix a particular image within the public imagination and restrict possibilities—both aesthetically within the world of imagery and within society, where racism has clearly material consequences" (7). Her caution against the real-world consequences of misrepresentation of a minority group is even more relevant today with a president whose policy decisions are based largely on stereotypes and distortions.
Lopez points out that on TV, changes have begun with Fresh Off the Boat and [End Page 343] Mindy Kaling's The Mindy Project. In film, she cites the work of Kal Penn and John Cho in Harold and Kumar and its sequels, as well as overseas movies such as Slumdog Millionaire and The Life of Pi. Her study goes beyond television and film, also paying attention to advertising and online media, as images produced by advertising "swirl around us throughout our daily lives, invading our personal space more insistently than any other media" (9). Instead of simply critiquing advertisers, Lopez views Asian American advertising as an "important site where negotiations between consumers and image producers take place, and in which notions of cultural citizenship are produced and engaged" (9). Similarly, YouTube has offered a space in which Asian American stories are shared and media activists are making interventions.
Lopez argues that "in order for individuals to feel like their cultural practices are accepted and that people like them are included within the nation, they must see themselves and their specific communities represented within the media. When they are absent, sidelined, or mistreated, there is a real impact on the ability of communities to feel recognized and validated" (13). Media representation is one important aspect that contributes to a feeling of belonging to a country, but there are a number of other factors, such as acceptance of one's religion or food practices, recognition of one's history, freedom to dress the way they want, that also influence one's sense of belonging. Understandably, Lopez's discussion focuses mainly on media, but a more in-depth study could link some of these various factors to media.
The history of Asian American activism, beginning with advocacy for representation in the theatre in the 1970s, shows how difficult it was, and indeed, even now in Hollywood, to fight "yellowface" practices. Lopez describes such work as a "piecemeal endeavor at best" (47), as organizations formed in reaction to a specific image or incident. The attempt to hold broadcast media accountable for minority representations took a setback in the early 1980s as the Federal Communications Commission "removed nearly all its content regulations" and "let the market prevail" (81), which meant little incentive to create and promote minority content. It is not surprising, then, that as late as 1999, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition was calling attention to the fact that "no regular roles had been given to people of color in the entire new lineup of...