asian, twitter

On Asian-Americans and why we are #NotYourAsianSidekick

Confession: I know it’s a popular film but I don’t love Love Actually. The reasons are multifold, some of them pretty well outlined here, but a few days ago, while hanging photos in the family room, the film started playing on the TV left on in the background. No, I groaned as Keira Knightley graced the screen. I don’t like her! This ofcourse led to the natural question, of: Why? Did she steal your lunch money as a kid? Cut you off on the expressway? To which I sputtered. Well, because, she was sidekick to Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham, who was *awesome* and yet? Who was the breakout success? 

In all seriousness, I don’t dislike Keira. It’s not her fault that the mainstream media fell in love with her, and sure Nagra is a working actress and even got a prominent role on ER [. . . as a doctor] but my problem is less with Keira’s success and more with why Nagra didn’t have success to the same degree. Success can be subjective and there are always individual factors that can’t be duplicated to another person but I can’t help but wonder, would anyone have considered Nagra for Pride and Prejudice? Pirates of the Caribbean? And why exactly is that?

The next day, on twitter, I noticed an odd hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick on the sidebar. Curious, I clicked over, and the first tweet I saw was this:

Maybe it’s not a big deal. I mean we’re just talking about acting, and an actress and how her race may have affected her career. .. and oh, wait. Well that is kind of important. That is a conversation we should be having. And through clicking over to this hashtag I saw this is a problem that bothered more than just myself.

And though I had opened my laptop to do some fiction writing, I couldn’t look away from the ever refreshing newsfeed. And I began participating, relating to others on their experiences as an Asian-American and sharing my own thoughts and perspectives.

Like the suggestion almost ever desi girl has received:

And I shared some frustrations, like “our” fixation on the skin thing. And in doing so I learned the desire to appear white is not limited to just South Asians:

And the way I smile politely but inwardly groan when told that my name or my eyes are exotic. I realize it’s a compliment but Aisha is about as exotic in most of the world as Jennifer and Katie are to the North American world.

And how I’ve been asked more than once to help a co-worker translate Arabic, or Farsi, or any other language of people who might in any way be more olive-skinned than those residing in the Western Hemisphere.

And how while yes, it makes sense that spell check doesn’t recognize my name, it still can get tiring.

And the frustration when these struggles as an Asian-American are then passed down potentially to our children, like correcting and correcting again, mispronunciations, and politely declining the request to nickname them. I grew up so accustomed to mispronunciations I began to introduce myself in that manner. It just got too tiring to correct. I don’t do this as anymore, and hope my children never will. I gave them their names for a reason, pronunciation and all.

And while there were a lot of haters, and I got my share, it was overwhelmingly people saying yes. Yes. Me too. Yes, I am a proud and happy and adjusted member of this world, but sometimes, these pebbles both large and small, grate. And somehow, in 140 characters the words added up to something large and special. It added up to our voices being heard. It added up to us hearing each other.

And while there were trolls, as Grace Hwang Lynch [who also wrote an insightful piece on BlogHer about this topic] pointed out the results were more positive than otherwise:


Because at the end of the day, we were talking, really talking. Not as South Asians, East Asians, or or any other subdivided categories, but as a cohesive group with an issue in common.

A few weeks ago, the South Asian blogsophere had a huge and important conversation sparked by a post about the desi marriage crisis over at Love Insh’allah. It triggered a great deal of debate, arguments, but most importantly conversations about the state of marriage in our desi community. The issue created such a strong response because its a sore subject, an open wound, the state of marriage in our culture. In some ways #NotYourAsianSidekick did the same thing. It touched on a wound that all Asians share, not just South, or East, or West, or North Asians felt, but all Asians shared and it united us, and it helped us to have conversations. We need solutions to these issues, but we can only get there if we talk about what hurts

Reading these tweets and participating in the conversation gives me hope. It’s inspiring to see “us” tell our story and share “our” experiences. In leading our own dialogue we can have a better chance of owning how to fix it and therefore defining our own future and changing the status quo. There are many legitimate concerns I have with social media but I am truly thankful that at the end of the day through social media and having that space to talk, we can have conversations like these. And maybe one day we will find more leading roles, and maybe one day we will be more than just the Asian sidekick.

3 thoughts on “On Asian-Americans and why we are #NotYourAsianSidekick”

  1. This is why I love Twitter… I love how something as simple as a hashtag can connect people and get them talking, and I love that others, even if they can't personally identify with the topic, can learn something from it.


  2. Check out the new hit show The Black List. It's great and one of it's main characters is Parminder Nagra. She plays one of the people working for the CIA. I love her.


  3. Thanks Tracy! I admit I never understood twitter but now I see how powerful it can be!

    Marie, I saw that she is on that show! Glad to hear it's good will check it out, thanks! 🙂


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