I spent four months in South East Asia; two and a half were spent working in Vietnam, but I also got to go to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Although it has been the longest time I’ve been away from the UK, it would be impossible and presumptuous for me to generalise the arts in the whole of South East Asia, or even just one country. Instead, this will be a reflection on the things I experienced whilst travelling.
(Writer’s note: I specifically wrote this article focusing on East and South-East Asian portrayals. Despite being in the same continent, I do think that South Asian and Western Asian representations in media differ vastly from those of East and South-East Asians.)
There’s no doubt: East and South-East Asians in mainstream media can’t exist without being reduced into racist caricatures. Asians, including me, cannot exist beyond the characterisation of our slant eyes, buckteeth, and thick accent. We are good at maths, martial arts, and being meek. We are not artists, but tech geniuses. We cannot be main characters, only sidekicks. Only comic reliefs, either sexless nerds or docile sex fetishes, and ladyboys. Because if we do, we turn white.