"Asian": A Costume I Never Asked For
The political was so damn personal for me this Halloween weekend. On Thursday night, I was a Lichtenstein work, with a thought bubble that read, "Not white enough to be in a Lichtenstein." Friday night's costume was devoid of politics - I was Jigsaw from the movie Saw. And on Saturday night, I thought I would dress as a spin-off of your classic "school-girl" costume, adding blood on my face and becoming a killer/killed school girl.
...Yikes. I don't know why I thought it would be a good idea to dress up as a school-girl, because when you're an Asian girl, dressing like that means automatically becoming a stereotype. It means reinforcing the notion of "Asian girl" that people have already been conditioned to think. It means the accentuation of looks from men with "yellow fever," because you're not just a school-girl, you're an Asian school-girl. I don't know whether the "Asian school girl" archetype comes from Anime, or from the idea that All-Asians-Are-Studious, all I know is that I unintentionally became it -- even with the fake blood on my face.
When I emerged from my room in my Halloween getup, I was immediately told that I could be "that girl from Kill Bill." Never having seen Kill Bill, this comment didn't really mean much to me, until I ventured onto Google.
On that Halloween evening, my Asian identity became a part of my costume, my race merely something to be performed. If I were white, I could've dressed as a killer school-girl and been seen as just that - a killer school-girl. But because of my race, dressing as a killer school-girl meant playing a (stereotypical) role as seen in the movies. This is a phenomenon that white folks never have to worry about, because their whiteness is "normal" while my Asianness is made "other." Upon discussing this feeling of "other" with my friend Harim, he told me that "white people have the privilege to be flexible in dressing up (usually in a really offensive manner) as whoever or whatever... they want without their whiteness being attached to it."
The idea of my "Asian costume" has been described in a piece called "Performance," by Josephine Lee, that I read (and coincidentally have to write a midterm paper on) in my Asian-American Literature class. It is the concept of a "racial uniform," that my features are marked "Asian" and classify me. And this notion goes far beyond Halloween costumes, and into broader ideas of assimilation and belonging into America. No matter how "successfully [I execute] a nuanced [performance] of American language and behavior... [my] physical differences [prevent] me from being seen as fully American." My racialized phenotype will mark me "perpetually 'Asian' and therefore foreign."