1. In a commercial, a Chinese-American laundry owner promotes an “ancient Chinese secret” and his wife reveals it’s Calgon water softener.* Laundering clothes was historically one of the few professions open to Chinese after they were allowed into America. As a child, this mystified me as I did not know this. My mother is a teacher, my father a civil engineer.
2. Asian nurse appears from time to time in episodes of M*A*S*H along with those playing Koreans. Her appearance in a “normal” fashion sustains me through elementary school.
3. Connie Chung anchors the nightly national news. She replaces the M*A*S*H nurse in my role- model dreams.
4. Filipino nannies are allowed into Canada on special work visas but can’t ever claim citizenship. They spend years raising other peoples’ children while their own kids are left to grow up without their mothers. Years later, in my twenties, I’d be mistaken for a Filipino nanny by my white neighbor’s eight-year-old kid.
5. Both the US and Canadian governments formally apologize in 1988 for the forcible internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians during WWII (a total of 121,000 people in North America)—each country gives about $20,000 to each survivor. These people lost their livelihoods, homes, funds. The compensation is hush money.
6. Tiananmen Square. I am a fledgling journalism student volunteering at my local community radio station when the sound of tanks and screams comes through the audio channels at 5 a.m. on a Saturday. My producer/announcer and I write the script and cut the tape with shaking hands. For the first time, I see Chinese people as brave.
7. Joy Luck Club – first major Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast (1993). Central character is named June and she’s a copywriter. I rejoice (she’s not a doctor/dentist, lawyer, accountant or laundromat owner).
8. Sandra Oh, a Canadian of Korean heritage, stars in her first feature movie in 1994 as a teen runaway poet living on the streets (biopic of a Chinese Canadian writer). She replaces Connie Chung at the top of my role-model dream list.
9. Margaret Cho becomes first Asian-American to get her own TV series, All-American Girl. It lasts one season, 1993-94. I realize “comedian” is a possible career option for Asian females but perhaps not well rewarded.
10. Japan acknowledges the existence of “comfort women” – forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers. Their fight for recognition and compensation continues to this day. I see in their faces, the weathered lifetimes of all the mothers and aunties that came before me.
11. Memoirs of a Geisha (written by a white man) is published in 1997. His main informant sues. He took her story and made money off it, and did not keep her identity private, as he had promised.
12. White men go to Asia for sex (headlines crop up periodically in the late 1990s and 2000s as flights become cheaper from North America and Europe). When I travel throughout Europe, I’m often asked if I work in a massage parlor. This is after I tell them I’m a journalist from Canada. Haven’t they heard of Connie Chung?
13. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon becomes a worldwide hit. I’m relieved it’s not another movie about concubines but now one must look pretty while doing martial arts.
14. Sandra Oh plays an adulterous wife in Sideways. Her “ethnicity” is NEVER discussed! I love it. No one asks, Where does she REALLY come from?
15. Manga becomes popular in the US and Europe. Sometimes, people say to me: “Those Japanese are so weird, aren’t they?”
16. Filipino nannies around the world speak of abusive working conditions. They’re good enough to raise white children but not to be treated respectfully for their labor.
17. China this, China that. Headlines speak of China becoming a global economic superpower. Products made in China are derided. My mother reminds me that some of the best tailors come from China, they know how to sew a garment well.
18. Sandra Oh plays an ambitious doctor on Grey’s Anatomy. The character leaves me cold but I am somewhat proud that her boyfriend on the show is Black.
19. K-pop goes global. This is awesome in many ways but in my view, true plaudits are for their filmmaking industry. (Bravo to Parasite for its groundbreaking Oscar win in 2019.)
20. North Korea. I find him scary as well.
21. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s debut novel, The Sympathizer, captures the Pulitzer Prize. He’s added to my role-model list.
22. Fresh Off the Boat lands as the second-ever American primetime TV series focused on Asians after Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl. I enjoy nostalgic memories of trying to fit in, but the main memory that arises is of a nine-year-old white boy on the playground looking at me in disgust: “I don’t play with chinks!”
23. Crazy Rich Asians is the second major Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast (2018). I can now be regarded as rich and ridiculous. I read at least two articles proclaiming this as an advancement of Asian depictions by the West.
24. Sandra Oh becomes the first actor with an Asian background nominated for a Primetime Emmy for best actress for her lead role in the BBC’s Killing Eve. She then becomes the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe in the category since 1981. (Yoko Shimada won in 1981 for her performance in the miniseries Shōgun.) What a difference—Oh’s character kicks ass. Shimada’s character was the love interest of the white explorer. Meh.
25. CORONA virus. All over the globe, there are increasing abuse and assaults on anyone of Asian background. I recall that boy on the playground. Is there NO field we are allowed to play on?
26. Massage Parlor Murders. There is not enough Calgon detergent booster in the world to wash away my rage and pain.
*The commercial was from 1972 but it was shown for a number of years after.
June Chua is a Canadian writer/editor, award-winning filmmaker and podcaster living in Berlin. Trained as a journalist, she worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a reporter, producer and writer in radio, TV and online for more than eighteen years. Her articles have also appeared in major news outlets and magazines in Canada and on Yahoo News. She also writes an arts column for rabble.ca, a news website focused on social justice issues. Besides crafting the occasional personal essay, she helps filmmakers with treatments and proposals and works on her podcast, The Empire of Dreams–about the movement of humans through time, space, cultures and borders (on Soundcloud). Last fall the Berlin literary online magazine poco.lit published her essay “Ode to the Dandelion” in English and German. (Photo by Petra Podgornik)
Alli Royce Soble is a native Atlantan, documentarian, fine art artist, and activist. Photography, particularly documentary work, is an avid passion of theirs. After twenty-five years behind a camera, capturing significant moments, they see the world through a multi-angled lens. This vision drives them to cover every aspect of a space, to push themself to capture a variety of perspectives that tell the whole story. As they wait for that perfect moment to take the shot, they find themself more deeply immersed than during any other experience. In the 1990s and 2000s they accumulated a wealth of documentary work. Those photographs, which primarily focus on the social and political aspects of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and Atlanta’s thriving arts scene, are permanently archived at the Stuart A. Rose Library of Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books of Emory University.