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I jumped into reality TV to raise the profile of Asian Americans

By Kristina Wong, Special to CNN
updated 9:37 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Margaret Cho, center, starred in the short-lived sitcom <a href='' target='_blank'>"All-American Girl"</a> in 1994, the first network program featuring a Korean American family. Critics -- and Cho -- <a href='' target='_blank'>panned the program</a>. But recently, there have been more prime time shows that feature Asian American leads. Margaret Cho, center, starred in the short-lived sitcom "All-American Girl" in 1994, the first network program featuring a Korean American family. Critics -- and Cho -- panned the program. But recently, there have been more prime time shows that feature Asian American leads.
Asian Americans in media
Asian Americans in media
Asian-Americans in media
Asian Americans in media
Asian Americans in media
Asian Americans in media
Asian-Americans in media
  • Author is a performance artist who turned to reality television to share her story
  • Author: My approach to art highlights issues that aren't covered regularly
  • Mainstream TV shouldn't be the only gauge of Asian American experience, author says

Editor's note: Kristina Wong is a performance artist, writer and cultural commentator. This piece is part of an Asian American Heritage Month series that explores evolving Asian-American identity.

(CNN) -- I'm Kristina Wong, and I'm what many Americans would refer to as "one of those idiots on reality TV."

Recently, I was featured on a new documentary series that focuses on the lives of Asian Americans: "I'm Asian American and... ."

I thought the show would be a rare platform to show an Asian American story that had not been told: my life as a performance artist and hip-hop mogul.

As an artist, the issues I explore have been deemed too "scary," "niche" and "unprofitable" for mainstream media.

Kristina Wong
Kristina Wong

Among these issues: The high rates of depression and suicide in the Asian American community, white privilege, racial stereotypes, poverty tourism, gender and sexism.

What drew me to becoming a performance artist was the chance to create my message on my terms.

I don't wait for someone to write me a role. I certainly don't wait for someone to cast me in a role.

And I'm not holding my breath waiting for a bad-ass wisecracking Chinese American lady character like me to show up on "Game of Thrones."

Leading Asian American women exist on television, but I can count them on one hand.

When you see other Asian women my age on scripted television, they are usually side characters handing over scalpels, playing someone's badly accented mother or are scantily clad.

If I'm taking on issues barely addressed among Asian Americans, why would I expect mainstream media to pick up on them, too?

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Some back story: I grew up in San Francisco. I'm Chinese American, got great grades all through high school and went to UCLA. But I bucked stable career paths in medicine, law and engineering to pursue the most unstable of careers: performance art.

My performances don't fit the standard fare of what most people might expect of an Asian American woman.

I don't tell reductive jokes about my American-born mother's nonexistent Chinese accent. I don't do martial arts (though I so own several zumba DVDs). I don't tell stories peppered with exotic details of Chinese culture that deliver Confuciusesque wisdom.

My work has already killed any possibility of a future in politics: Stand-up comedy dressed as a giant vagina, crashing the Miss Chinatown Pageant dressed as a fake Miss Chinatown and marrying myself (twice!) in public ceremonies.

Last year, I recorded a hit rap album in northern Uganda with local rappers. I've also toured five original one-woman theater shows around the world.

I'd like to think my approach is bawdy, funny and fearless. I've been told I'm the living antithesis of a stereotypical submissive and quiet Asian woman.

So I decided to tackle that taboo on my episode of "I'm Asian American and ..." by collecting reparations from "yellow fever guys" -- slang for white men who only date Asian women.

My dates, all real, described how they prefer dating Asian women because we are "hairless," "gentle" and "love to cook and clean": basically every objectifying stereotype of a submissive Asian woman.

Kristina Wong on a date in \
Kristina Wong on a date in "I'm Asian American and...".

During our dates, I coerce these men to clean my house, pay my exorbitant dinner tabs, and watch me perform a very painfully long performance art piece complete with multiple screaming birthing scenes.

It's not about gold digging, it's about finding small moments of justice for a lifetime of being objectified and fetishized as an Asian woman.

No, I don't expect to win an award for showing these white men that an Asian woman can be as crude and wisecracking as people of any other race.

And I don't expect people to jump up and declare that I've ended racial oppression with a reality television appearance.

But my 15 minutes of fame (23 to be exact) felt like a rare moment to provide some cathartic humor for those wanting to see an Asian American woman who would go to the outrageous depths that characters on scripted television show would not.

I look forward to a day when I see a sitcom telling the stories of every different Asian ethnicity, LGBT, women, mixed race Asian Americans and the Asian Americans like me whose families have been here for generations.

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From the trailer, it seems like ABC's new sitcom "Fresh Off the Boat" will be a funny subversive take on the Chinese American family experience. It's the first scripted sitcom in 20 years to feature an Asian American family on network television.

The last, Margaret Cho's "All-American Girl," was panned by critics. The show's failure didn't stop Margaret from making comedy. If anything, it strengthened her, and she told the story of that show's failure in subsequent media and appearances.

But I hope that viewers don't expect one sitcom to tell every Asian American's story, any more than a sitcom with a white family does not tell the story of every white person in this country. "Asian American" includes a diverse range people of Asian descent, each with a unique history and culture.

Opinion: The surprising racial bias against Asians

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kristina Wong.

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