I blog for a wonderful site called Unusual Historicals, which is dedicated to articles about the lesser known settings and time periods in historical romance. Basically everything but Regency/Victorian England it seems. 🙂
Since I was asked to join, I’ve been writing posts about Asian topics as well as the ancient world. I like to look at things with a cross-cultural perspective such as the article on warrior culture or the one about the printing press. One of the first ideas that drew me to history (my worst subject in high school) was the idea of drawing parallels between the histories of different cultures. It’s why the Silk Road remains such a muse for me.
At one point, I wondered if I was boxing myself in too much. Would people look at my contributions and think, oh there’s another Asian article? Was I becoming cliched and repetitive? Did I sound like I was on a soapbox? Then I received a response from a fellow author who told me she went to research ancient Chinese drinking games, and was so pleased that she found my Unusual Historicals post on drinking games around the globe. I realized this is probably why UH asked me to join. Readers are looking for a range of perspectives and topics from many different cultures.
This month’s topic is Real Life Heroes. To my shame, I had to Google “Real Life Asian Heroes”. I could not name more than ten/fifteen people I thought would be considered Asian heroes. I could think of many significant historical figures, many of from ancient history, but whether they’d be “real life” heroes was uncertain.
Who was the first Asian astronaut? (I had NO idea he was Vietnamese!) Who was the first Chinese doctor? Who are the inspirational athletes, actors, businessmen of the Asian world? Who were the revolutionary thinkers?
I remember when I graduated as valedictorian of my high school class. Vietnamese families I didn’t know came up to afterward and asked to take their picture with me. Me? I was astonished, but now I realized why. They were starved for role models. They wanted to see that an Asian girl could accomplish things. Someone who was like them. Connie Chung was a very visible and public role model, but who else did we see? Kind of funny, but other Asian female newscasters were also making it to major networks. You could achieve, but only in this little box.
My searches also brought up the very recent and very raw wound of the whitewashing of the heroes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We don’t get to see Asian heroes kicking ass. I remember reading a hilarious editorial in my university paper lamenting this same fact. He wrote about the lack of Asian superheroes to look up to. He looked longingly at Spiderman with his slanted his eyes and his name, Peter Parker, which was so close to a Korean name, Peter Park, and would imagine that this was his Asian superhero.
I wish I could find that article. I laughed so hard, but I only did because the void was so very real. The icons that Asian American children grew up with didn’t look like them. The Samurai just doesn’t cut it.
I was afraid of being a broken record, touting all things Asian. But then I realized, maybe it’s a message that bears repeating. My guest blog on Unusual Historicals covers a few of the accomplishments of the current Dalai Lama, as well as some of the history of the line of Dalai Lamas. I chose him because he continues to inspire me and provoke me to think about the world.
In my research, I found several resources that have taken it upon themselves to bring awareness to real life Asian heroes, beyond the ones that are covered in popular Western media.
Time Asia: Asian Heroes – Excellent feature by Time magazine of the most admirable men and women I’d never heard of
The Asian Heroes Project – This blog challenged me to name who my Asian/American hero was. Would I, like most Asian Americans, name Bruce Lee? — Guilty as charged. The blog states: “We hope people will read this blog, be introduced to titans of the world, be inspired to go out and innovate, and lastly, to discover the great potential of being someone else’s hero.”
Angry Asian Man – In his own words: “This is just a subject that has always interested me — pointing out racism and noting any and all appearances of Asians in mass media and popular culture (the good and the bad).”