A Curious Case of Yellow Fever

by Albert Tanjaya and Arianne Go

“ Yellow fever is when the only prerequisite for me to become your potential partner is the color of my skin? That’s cheap. That’s offensive. You’re an asshole. Go away”

~ Anna Akana

 

“Konichiwa! Hello Kitty!”

“All my ex-girlfriends are Asian.”

“Unlike white women, [Asian] women remember what it’s like to be a woman”

“I am obsessed with having sex with Chinese women while they tell me things that make me feel empowered”

“Don’t you know Asian girls prefer white guys?”

“Do you want to see my samurai sword collection”

 

If the guy you are seeing exhibits any of these symptoms, you’d better call a doctor. He might be showing symptoms of yellow fever. Sadly, he can’t be cured of it easily, but you can definitely not get sick by just dropping him.

 

So what exactly is yellow fever and how did it cultivate? It all started when the United States started to establish a military presence in Asia during World War II. Under the guise of the “Recreation and Amusement Association”, the Japanese Occupation authorities created this organization for the benefit of Allied troops occupying Japan so that the soldiers would not rape or sexual assault citizens and instead have leisurely pleasure with prostitutes. This practice continued throughout history as seen in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Also, No, it’s not an actual disease or sickness. It is the fetization of Asian women by non-Asian males. Notice how I said only “Asian women” and not just Asian in general. That's because the term is actually a double-edged sword. In the case of Asian men, there is really no such thing as “yellow fever” affecting them. In fact, in a 2014 study done by the dating site, OKCupid, statistics show that Asian men are actually favored less than any other racial group; however, Asian women are favored best than any other racial group. It’s indeed a curious case.

 

“I only date Asian girls”

 

This statement may sound harmless, intended to be some weird form of flattery. As if I was supposed to be happy to be desired in this way. As if, after a childhood of teasing and even bullying for my different skin color or my small eyes or my small stature, that I was finally “accepted” because of my race and that I should be flattered for being hand-selected out of the vast dating pool.

 

“I’m just into you because you’re Asian.”

 

Yellow fever for the Asian female evokes several different types of images. There’s the Japanese geisha, the China doll, the dragon lady… it’s basically a big shopping list. Generally, it just means that we are supposed to be depicted as young and beautiful and petite, but at the same time, we’re supposed to be obedient and submissive and serve someone else’s sexual needs before our own. These images paints an entirely generalized and most of the time, false, notion that all Asian women exist for someone else’s gaze.

And unfortunately, the yellow “fever” can get more deadly in the East.

The mail-order bride industry draws many of its brides from either Russia or Southeast Asia, mainly from countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan, South Korea, China, etc. Customers, mainly from wealthy, first-world countries order their bride from a catalog and just like the dirt cheap stuff you order from Asia online, the bride is “shipped out” to the destination country, faced with the already arduous struggles of immigration along with yellow fever.

On top of this commercialization of human trafficking by taking advantage of the yellow fever that these first-world countries have, NBC almost made a show about it (Mail Order Family, which eventually was dropped in 2016). As if the struggles of an immigrant woman, stuck in a foreign country, could be captured properly in a 22 minute episode, once a week comedic sitcom. As if the entire commercialization of human trafficking on the basis of yellow fever was something that the audience could laugh about.

Yellow fever can paint an Asian woman into a specific ideal that will, most likely, not be true and it applies to Asian American women as well as women who face the struggles of the mail-order bride industry. Personally, I’m not flattered to be lusted after from the sole fact that I am Asian woman. And frankly, has anyone ever told you that you’re a racist if you think you’re doing me a favor of being a potential love interest by having an Asian fetish?

Sorry, but you’re going to have to do better than that if you want me to swipe right on you.

On the entire flip side, Asian men are stereotyped as to be lackinging in masculinity and perceived as undesirable and too passive. There is definitely a double standard in this yellow fever. Steve Harvey made a joke about dating Asian men. He said “ ‘Excuse me, do you like Asian men?’ ‘No.’ ‘Thank you.’” Harvey said it with such an affirmative attitude that it almost seems like he believes we, Asian men are truly the lowest tier of datable men. It is such attitudes like these that make it hard for Asian men to enter the online dating world. We do have to try harder to impress women. Perhaps it is because that within our movies and TV shows, only white American guys are portrayed as the heroes and the muscular guys that the feminine character always falls for. Or perhaps it’s the lack of Asian male models in stores like Hollister, GAP, J. Crew, etc. Or perhaps it’s the lack of Asian male figures in children cartoons that doesn’t perpetuate the Asian stereotype. Or perhaps it is all of the above.

Sure there have been improvements, like AMC’s Glen from “The Walking Dead”, or Netflix’s Aziz from “Master of None”, or ABC’s Chin Ho kelly from Hawaii Five-0, but it seems that white American guys has become the standard for what it means to be attractive.

“I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love. That's what I see. That's the America I know!”

 

~ Barack Obama


 


 

This article is inspired by the students of Pitt who demonstrated a powerful peaceful counter protest to radical Christians advocating hate speech and threats to the LGBTQIA and women community of Pitt.

 


 

 

For many of us students when we watch mainstream media such as the news or tv shows or movies, we see the integrated acceptance and the progressiveness of the LGBTQIA community almost everywhere: Anderson Cooper from CNN, Ellen Degeneres from The Ellen Show, Colton Haynes from Teen Wolf , Neil Patrick Harrison from How I Met Your Mother, George Takei from Star Trek, Rosie O'Donnell, Raven-Symone from That’s so raven, Bessie Smith, one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, Wanda Sykes, Robin Roberts, Frank Ocean etc. We see and know many LGBTQIA celebrities, but can you name another famous Asian or Asian-American celebrity other than George Takei? While there is no doubt that there are many not commonly known gay Asians/Asian-Americans there seems to be a lack of solidarity among the LGBTQIA Asian community compared to our American and African American brothers and sisters from an asian centric point of view.   

 

For many gay Asians/Asian-Americans coming out to one’s parents might be the most difficult experience one might encounter. I can only speculate a few reasons why; Asian parents are usually very traditional in their values and tend to raise their children in the same manner, their children more likely than not has been raised religiously, and most likely your Asian parents may have lived in time when homosexuality was considered an illness or outlawed or even punishable by death or simply the fact that homosexuality has a strong negative connotation in their country of origin.

 

We as first generation of immigrants or first generation Asian-Americans and above have experienced a total culture clash. Growing up we may have been taught the same traditional standards our parents were taught, we may have been raised with the same religion as our parents, but we do not experience the same negative connotations to homosexuality in the Western world as compared to our parent’s country of origin.  The Western world has already accepted LGBTQIA rights, publicly support the LGBTQIA community in the various branches of government, and already have celebrity icons showing their support leading the fight for same-sex marriage. While in the Asian world, the majority of Asian governments disapprove or show disgust towards the notion of homosexuality and people caught committing homosexual acts are charged with a crime at best and killed at worse. There are such few icons gay Asians/Asian-Americans can look up to for support. We come back to the idea of representation and how powerful it can be mentally when we see the lack of approval for leading a gay lifestyle.

 

So yes, for the majority of gay Asians/Asian-Americans its very difficult to come out, because of the deep rooted traditional values like family and gender roles and religion that have been instilled in them by mom and dad. So they fear being rejected from the family, being shunned, finding that their parents are disgusted at them, finding that their parents are embarrassed by them, finding that they have failed their parent’s expectations, or even all of the above. You would think that the notion of family means unconditional love and don’t get me wrong, to some it is, but to others it may not be the case.

 

It is quite difficult to live knowing that the culture and environment your parents tried to raise up in differs from the culture and environment you actually live in. Eventually, change will come. The generation of Asians in the Western world will one day feel not so far apart with the generation of Asians in Asia. We are seeing a shift to a more progressiveness stance in the Asian world, such as Taiwan being the first Asian country to approve same-sex marriage, Vietnam having tolerated gay marriage, Nepal being the first Asian country to protect LGBTQIA rights in their constitution, and Israel being the most progressive Asian country on gay rights.    

 

    

 

Right to Dream

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they have no idea what it is like

to lose home at the risk of

never finding home again

have your entire life

split between two lands and

becomes the bridge between two countries

- Rupi Kaur


 

That is one of my favorite poems from the collection known as Milk and Honey by the poet Rupi Kaur. It is one of my favorite poems because it speaks to me as an immigrant but also to the immigration situation happening in America and up to you to interpret as you read on. On September 5th, President Donald Trump announced the end of  the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a program that many Americans are unfamiliar with and unfortunately,its recipients.  

 

For many DACA recipients, they came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday, they are currently enrolled in school or have already graduated high school with a certificate of completion, they had no lawful status as of June 15, 2012 (the day the program was initialized), they have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety. These are the few requirements needed to apply to be a DACA recipient. For many recipients, they do not know of their status until applying for college where they are not eligible for Federal aid amongst other federal benefits such as Social Security and Food Stamps, but they do have to pay income tax. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, DACA recipients contribute $1.2 billion annually in federal, state, and local taxes.

These same recipients are apart of a generation of immigrants that grew up and was raised alongside US citizens. You may not have known that your classmate, or co-worker, your best friend, your relatives or mentor is a DACA recipient. For many of these people, America is the only home they have really ever known because they spent the majority of their life here. They are American in all but the paperwork. One of my friends from high school, a DACA recipient, did not know of his status until he applied for college.

 

“ I was brought over at the age of 8. I can speak Korean just barely, but I have no knowledge of the written language. When I think back, the only memories I have of my childhood is not from Korea, but of America. I remember taking the pledge of allegiance every day in my elementary and middle school, and still remember the words to this day. I truly believe I am a genuine Korean-American. Even my parents would complain how I was being too “American” and losing my sense of culture from my homeland. But this is my home.

The news of my status came as shock and frustration to me. I was unable to go to my dream colleges and universities, not because I got rejected, but because there was no way I could afford it. For the first time in 18 years, I felt unequal to the rest of the people around me. I was angry at my life and my parents. I felt cheated. But I knew that anger doesn’t bring anyone justice. Everyone has obstacles and barriers to overcome, and being able to overcome them makes you a stronger and wiser person. I was very fortunate to receive merit scholarships from Stony Brook University and Temple University. I was given a chance, proving once again that America is truly the land of equality and freedom. I worked hard not because I wanted to, but because I had to”

~ Albert S.

Another friend of mine, also a DACA recipient, writes

 

“ Most of us we're brought to America by our family. We didn't make the decision to come to America. But now we were raised in America, and this is our home now. I was brought to America from Indonesia when I was 7. I accepted America as my home.. this is where I was raised... this is where I see my future at. How can someone that came here at such a young age be put to blame that they came here knowingly that it's illegal. Some of us came here when we we're one years old! Our parents brought us here so we can have a better future. Because we are dreamers. DACA holders are now in risk of getting deported. Imagine yourself being raised in America, all your friends are in America. You have a job here, you bought a house here, You created a family here, You planned your future in America and now you have to go back to your hometown. Where you have no friends, no family members, nothing”                     ~ Melissa O.   

 

Many of the children that are in DACA had no control of the actions of their parents. We do not know the circumstances why each family moved from their home, but we do know that whatever the reason, they had motive to pick up whatever they could carry and leave their homes, friends, and family. David Bier from the Cato Institute calculated that the luckiest DACA recipients would be protected through 2020, but the least lucky would be prone to deportation in March of 2018. The demographics of DACA recipients show that while the majority of children came from Latin America, in 2016, S. Korea, China, India, and the Philippines were apart of the top 10 countries of DACA- eligible populations.

 

One of the reasons I put that poem at the top is because of its first three lines:

they have no idea what it is like

to lose home at the risk of

never finding home again

 

DACA recipients now live in a cloud of uncertainty. Congress has been tasked with only six months to pass an immigration bill that includes DACA. Many now look towards the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) which was proposed in 2001 to allow the legalization of undocumented children, but even that has not passed the Senate in over 15 years, but we are always hopeful.