Walt in the World?!

My cousin, who otherwise loves the Disney Channel, recently made a comment about how Disney hates Asians. She commented on how many of the Asian actresses or cartoon characters on this network tend to be portrayed as either b*tchy or ditzy. Well, other than Mulan, that is.

And even though my cousin might disagree, I do think Lilo (from “Lilo & Stitch”) can technically be considered an Asian. Because … and follow along with me here … The Philippine Islands are located in the Pacific ocean. Therefore, Filipinos are considered Pacific Islanders and are lumped into the “Asian/Pacific Islander” category (as “dictated” by the US Census Bureau). And seeing as if the Hawaiian Islands are in the Pacific …

Yeah, so that’s my logic in explaining Lilo’s Asian-ness …

But my cousin’s comment reminded me of something that was pointed out to me by one of Hubby’s cousins last summer on our trip to Disneyworld. While at Mickey’s Toontown Fair, we stumbled upon one of the biggest mass-marketing stores inside the Magic Kingdom. Inside this store were rows and rows of toys from various movies. One entire section was dedicated to the Disney Princesses.

What Hubby’s cousin pointed out to us was this:


Rather inconspicuous, don’t you think? I mean really … Snow White, Belle, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in one package. Princess Jasmine, Ariel, Mulan and Pocahontes in a separate package.

The “Classic Princesses” (although, I question if Belle, created in 1991, is considered a “classic”) in one set, at eye level on the shelves. And the rather “unique” Princesses (an Arabian Princess, a Redheaded Mermaid, a “China Doll” and an American Indian Princess) in another set, located at waist level on the shelf below.

To me, it’s one of those things that make you go “Hmmmm ….”

Anyhoo, going back to my cousin’s initial comment … the reason I’m writing about this topic is because I’ve often felt the same thing about the way that American mass media portrays Asians. And specifically Asian-American females. It seems as if we’re perceived as being one or the other.

Yeah ... Lilo is a "Pacific Islander"

Yeah … Lilo is a “Pacific Islander”

Bitchy or subservient.

Intelligent or ditzy.

Foreign-born or Adopted.

As an American-born and bred Filipina (and even for those that may have been born “abroad” but spent there formative years growing up in the US), this is a rather annoying (and not to mention incorrect) observation that has not often been voiced aloud.

I can’t tell you how many people have asked when my Hubby (who is also Filipino) and I moved to the US. And did we marry each other before moving here? Or did we marry after one of us became a US citizen? (The answer is NO for both questions, btw … we met in high school here and subsequently married here six years after we started dating.)

And while I’m on the same subject, I can’t tell you how many of my Asian girlfriends who married “non-Asians” have been told by others that they thought they were “mail order brides.” Just because they married outside of their culture.

Or how about when I was working at the beside as a Registered Nurse in a hospital setting? I found myself taking care of many American Vets who served in either WWII or the Korean/Vietnam wars. And many times, I was told that they could “never understand” me because my Chinese / Vietnamese / Korean / Japanese accent was “too strong.” Even though I speak perfectly clear English with my hometown Midwestern accent.

I could go on and on. Like my first job at a local fast food establishment; where my boss thought that Asians were “too smart for their own good” and should not be allowed to work the cash registers. Or even this incident, mentioned in one of my much earlier blog post. But then it would seem as if I’m merely “complaining.”

The truth is, I hope that others would see that not all Asian women fit into any one stereotype. That we are all unique, just like every other woman out there. That like every Disney Princess out there, we want to be recognized for the unique strengths we can offer to this world … regardless of how we physically see our “outer” reflections in the mirror.

And so, to bring it all back to Disney … here’s a song from one of my favorite movies of all time; one that sometimes hits closer to home than I’d like it to.

8 Replies to “Walt in the World?!”

  1. I’m sorry. I work with an African, a Sikh and a Philipino, and we were talking about this today. Canada is much more multicultural – one of the things that astounds our American visitors is the number of ethnicities you see out and about in Edmonton, but we are not without our problems. Problems that as a white person, I’m never aware of.

  2. I remember in 1991 when Beauty and the Beast came out, how everyone was so thrilled for a brunette princess, because LOOK! It’s not blonde or strawberry blonde (a la disney’s version of cinderella and sleeping beauty), nor is it the porcelain ravenhaired snow white– it’s just your average brunette– aren’t they so progressive??? I mean, she wears YELLOW, for pete’s sake! And she’s got an attitude! Aren’t we open minded! Go, Disney!

    Oh, so stupid.

    I mean, I guess I’m glad that there are other ethnicities represented in their cartoon heroines (though the only african-decent royalty they allow is in the form of a frickin’ lion, but whatever), but I know what you say about there being such strong cultural stereotypes prevalent not just in Disney’s realm, but in the wider world as well. And stereotypes are generally just so wrong, so unacceptable, and they make me so mad, but I often don’t know what to do about them besides refusing to perpetrate them myself, and doing everything I can to not be one myself (like being a feminist who prefers being a homemaker, or being a GIRL who is SMART, because we know how hard it is for some dudes to accept that one…).

    Anyhow, just wanted to say that while I can’t directly relate to the struggle of being an asian-american woman, I can relate to the frustration of seeing stereotypes played out and wanting so badly for things to be different.

  3. Yes, people often ask Hub “where he’s from,” and you can see that they’re itching to find out if he MOVED here or was born here. They actually want to know his nationality. It’s a strange strange thing.

    Although yesterday, a random Polish lady asked, “What nationality you is? ‘Merican?” When I said yes, she said, “You look Polish,” very gruffly.

  4. Oh the Disney Princess shit. They don’t do a good job with any ethnicity. Or feminism. Don’t get me started!

    And it was TOTALLY hard to understated you with that thick accent of yours!!! Must be a Detroit thing…

  5. totally related to this post, emily –both about disney perpetuating stereotypes and how asian females are perceived. when people ask how my husband (a non-asian) and i met and we say we met ‘in the peace corps’ — i can’t tell you how many people assume that we were in thailand or the philippines or some other asian country and that I was the ‘home country national’ he married. In fact, we were both volunteers in Africa.

  6. (((Hugs))) Emily. Like Mrs. Spit, I live in an extremely multicultural city & my office is quite diverse. But I know people who still get the “where are you from?” questions, even though they & sometimes their parents & even grandparents were born & raised here.

    But the “mail order bride” line is a new one on me!! Yikes!!

  7. As an immigration attorney I am continually amazed at how ethnocentric this country can be.
    Disney sucks–the images they protray of women drive me insane. Though, I imagine I’ll end up taking Cate there soon enough. (And enjoying the trip myslef. : )

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