Where (Again and Again) Alexandra Wallace Got it Wrong
Another off-topic post (perhaps I’m doing too many personal ones these days), but I felt the need to write. And so, here’s how Alexandra Wallace got it wrong, point by point (without nitpicking grammar).
- 0:20 Wallace mentions the “hordes of Asian people.” This is the first of a number of times that she paints Asians and Asian-Americans as threatening foreigners. “Hordes” is a word charged with negative meaning and connotation – one thinks of conquerors from the east – a menace so large that they might as well be a swarm of locusts – faceless and without humanity.
- 0:24 Asians are being “accepted into our school.” Whose school are you talking about, exactly, Miss Wallace? The Americans’ school? The white people’s school? Or the white Americans’ school? You’re certainly not talking about the students’ school, because the Asians are as much a part of that population as you are.
- 0:34 Wallace tells the Asian students to “use American manners.” America, of course, is often described as a salad bowl (much better than the old standard “melting pot”); there really is not common set of “American manners” because this country is so varied. And I think this is a good place to address another point. Wallace keeps talking about Asians – but can it be that no one in this “horde” is actually an Asian American? Some of these rude cell phone talkers must have citizenship in this country; others were probably born here; many might not even have an accent while speaking. I know I certainly don’t, but if I was at UCLA, I may have been counted in Wallace’s hordes.
- 0:53 Here, Wallace talks about the students “bringing” their extended family over from Asia. Of course, it’s likely the other way around (a parent becomes a first generation American by immigrating; he or she brings immediate family and/or has children who are born in the U.S.). More than that, she again depicts Asians and Asian-Americans as foreigners and strangers, when they could possibly (likely?) be citizens. My mother, father-in-law, and mother-in-law were all born and raised in Korea. They are all also U.S. citizens. They are every bit as American as Alexandra Wallace. And, oh yeah, they’ve lived here far longer than she’s even been alive.
- 0:56 There’s definitely a cultural schism here, but Wallace is probably too Eurocentric to see it. The parenting styles are different; isn’t that expected?
- 1:08 Asians are often stereotypically depicted as store owners or workers of other jobs that require long hours and lots of commitment. There’s a lot of truth in this stereotype, as many work arduous jobs to help their families “make it.” Some Asian and Asian-American children grow up doing few chores, and some do many; but regardless, perhaps most see how hard their parents worked. Chores or not, their parents demonstrated by example. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that practically every ethnically Asian college student has stories of parental sacrifice that they hold very dear. Through sacrifice, hard work, and example, Asian parents are modeling characteristics that will prepare their children for life. It’s a lot more difficult to learn to work hard than it is to learn how to do the dishes.
- 1:34You’d have to be a pretty bad studier to lose your train of thought and not be able to recapture it, particularly when it comes to a liberal arts subject. Trust me, I was a history major. Also, there aren’t too many epiphanies to be had in political science, and one shouldn’t have to think too hard to recapture those few.
- 1:45 All of these students are at least bilingual. That’s something to be commended. I’m also surprised that “ching chong” remains the phrase of choice for generic Asian language…of course, that’s part of a caricature of Asians and Asian Americans that again depicts them, as Ronald Takaki might put it, as “strangers from a distant land.”
- 2:00 I don’t think it’s very “apple pie American” to degrade an entire group of people via homemade video. But I could be wrong.
- 2:15 This has nothing to do with being Asian, and everything to do with being human and being Japanese. Regardless of one’s country of origin, a student would certainly be frantically calling their homeland if it was affected by a tragedy of this magnitude. Wallace might be able to relate some if she thought about 9/11. I was attending college when the planes crashed, and students from my class – of all difference races – were making frantic calls to loved ones. I remember one breaking down and totally losing control. Calling to check on your family is not a sign of being Asian; it’s a sign of being human.
- 2:24 Knowing about a situation and really caring for and empathizing with those suffering are two different things. Wallace certainly is lacking in the latter, and maybe in the former as well.
- 2:32 Reemphasizing the point above, Wallace seems to indicate that either a person who discovers a loved one died will be more concerned about being embarrassed from “freaking out” in front of a quiet crowd or that one who did so would be monumentally interrupting their studies. Either way, she has not concern for those affected by the events in Japan.
I’m glad – I’m really glad this video was made and became such a sensation. Because of it, Americas will be more aware that racist and ignorant attitudes regarding Asians and Asian Americans still exist (maybe within themselves). Maybe people will realize the depth of sacrifice that many Asian parents make for their children; the racism and sometimes violence many have endured (ex. Chinese Exclusion Act; Vincent Chin); the weight of being labeled a model minority; and the distance many feel from mainstream American culture.
I don’t think Alexandra Wallace is some vile person. And she had every right to say what she did (I hope UCLA doesn’t punish her). But I do hope that words like her’s becomes more and more a relic of the past as we grow to understand that different doesn’t necessarily mean “un-American” or “worse.” And as we grow more understanding, we’ll hopefully become more compassionate. Maybe then, a cell phone in a library connecting to a ravaged nation will be more about empathy to us than about us losing our epiphany.