To the Editor & the Observer staff,
I’m writing to you to bring to light potentially offensive material in the Friday, February 17, 2012 issue of the Observer. The title and opening paragraphs of the piece titled “PechaKucha, Not Pikachu” are worded in an unhelpful, possibly hurtful and offensive manner, particularly for the Asian and Asian American community. I only use the article as a springboard to the greater issues at hand, and, as such, I hope you use my letter as a springboard to further discussion and introspection.
Regarding the title, though “PechaKucha” as “Pikachu” at first glance can be an honest mistake, I don’t believe the comparison is helpful. Though Hunt aims to enforce the distinction between the two, failing to mention Pikachu in the article can produce the counter effect: to place a Japanese culture icon next to the phonetic spelling of a Japanese word undermines the Japanese culture – Pikachu is not an all-encompassing representation of the culture.
The portion of the sentence that reads “Chinese phrase worth knowing” can be misunderstood and unhelpful for Asian and Asian Americans. The sentence implies that no Chinese phrases found in fortune cookies are “worth knowing.” This subtly puts Chinese phrases up to the majority culture’s standard of worthiness. Because the majority culture – white America – finds no use of these Chinese phrases, they are not “worthy.” White American culture is often seen as the standard, while other-cultures become inferior in comparison.
Also, the mention of Chinese phrases followed by the expounding of a Japanese phrase, PechaKucha, does little to break down the stereotype that all Asian countries are the same or indistinguishable. Chinese and Japanese cultures are distinctly different, and though perhaps difficult to distinguish at first, this reason is insufficient to excuse the lack of effort to learn the differences.
My intent is not to make mountains out of molehills but rather to point out common stereotypic comments and ask, why? There are remarks said, in the article, in our day-to-day lives, that are not helpful in breaking down stereotypes or discrimination. I recognize as an Asian American, I also am not faultless. I apologize on behalf of the Asian and Asian American culture for being exclusive, for the insensitivity when we speak our native tongue around those who do not understand, for the times that we feel superior to those not like us, for not taking the time to understand the other cultures around us.
Now is the time to be talking about Asian American and, really, race issues – Linsanity, anyone? But let’s talk about the bigger picture – what does all this say about the culture we’re apart of? About how we think and talk about race? About us? Here’s a call for change: immediately and practically – to go outside of our comfort zone to other groups of people, organizations, and culture; it’s when we’re around those who are different from us when we learn the most.
Grace and peace,