The Rebel Minority is Chinese-Canadian writer Diamond Yao's monthly column. This essay was inspired by writers Binyavanga Wainaina’s and Aruni Kashyap’s pieces, ‘How to Write About Africa’ and ‘How to Write About India’s North East: 13 Tips for You if You’re From Somewhere Else in India,’ respectively.
With the recent breakthroughs of the Asian diaspora into Western media ecosystems and the outbreak COVID-19, Asian people are in the West’s spotlight more than ever before. Today, this previously “silent minority” is coming out of the shadows and asserting itself as a visible entity on the world stage. That is why more and more people now need guidance on how to write about the Asian diaspora. Because suddenly, as the world enters the chaos of the Burning 20s and calls for more diversity, writers will now find themselves scrambling to produce op-eds, essays, reports, stories, novels, poems and articles about this exotic minority. So as a writer from the Asian diaspora, it is my duty to my community to generously provide some tips to help you navigate such unfamiliar writing territory.
Always refer to the Asian people in your text as immigrants, even if they are basically just like White people, but better – more educated, more rule-abiding, more rich, more envious of suburban mansions – except when it comes to parenting, where they are tyrannical loveless Tiger Mothers. If they have been established in the West for seven generations, perhaps much longer than even your own family, they are still immigrants. And not just any kind of immigrant. They are either a doctor, or on their way to become one, even if they are an illiterate refugee who did not graduate elementary school. Make sure your doctor immigrants are Chinese or Japanese (or Korean if they’re good dancers or Indian if you are feeling fancy, no other options possible), and make them go through a detailed hardscrabble journey of settling into the Western world. That may or may not be relevant to the rest of your text, but it will inspire awe and respect in your readers and can take up a huge word count – great if you are getting paid by the word! Include things like dingy Chinatown apartments, 50 hours work days in Chinese restaurants, exhaustion, entire families living on 5$ a month. Don’t forget to throw into the mix a grad school diploma, some rice and a doctor at some point. Make it a lawyer or an accountant if your character is edgy and rebellious! Don’t get bogged down with the specifics. The Asian diaspora is big: millions of people from forty-seven countries spread all over the globe who are all too busy working hard, getting straight A’s, and earning summa cum laude Ivy League diplomas to learn any English good enough to read your text. The diaspora is full of different cultures, foods, religions and many other things, but your reader probably won’t care, so keep your descriptions evocative and philosophical.
For instance, when your characters speak to each other, make them yell (because no Asian ever speaks in Asian, they can only yell in Asian), stuff like “If you don’t get 100% on this test, the blue oceans and ancient mountains and the shifting sands will bury you under a mountain of dishonour made from the wrath of your ancestors!”. At that moment, they will grab chopsticks and whack their child’s fingers as the six year old sobs, “I’m sorry I only got 99%! I promise I will review my university math textbook until 4 AM tonight while I am shackled to my desk! Please stop!”. Make sure to craft this moment for maximum shock effect, to instill in your readers’ delicate Western child-rearing sensibilities an awe made of envy and disgust over these prodigy abused children who are kicking the Western world’s collective butts. Describe how impressed and amazed you are at these poor immigrant children who started from nothing, and who must suffer so much to do so well in their adopted countries – because, unlike all those other racists, you have a liberal worldview that admires the tremendous potential there is in them to submissively make your country proud with their superior IQ and superior work ethic.
After years of experiences like these, make your now-teenaged Asian character have a psychotic identity crisis where they idolize the ways of the West. Never mention well-adjusted Asian teenagers who just kind of hang and listen to Spotify playlists with their friends, because those just don’t exist as they are simply beaten out of existence by their tiger parents. Unless they make a groundbreaking scientific discovery at the age of 15 or perform at Carnegie Hall, at this stage they are all shy, straight-A future doctors destroyed by massive identity crises. There is no such thing as a confident young Asian who is proud and comfortable in their own skin.
Make their parents intervene at random points in their children’s lives with generous portions of things no other humans eat. Do not mention vegetable stir fry, beef or soup: dog meat, bat ears, live jellyfish, beef stomach, goat blood stew accompanied by a side of rice or noodles are the Asian cuisines of choice. Make sure you describe such delicacies in intricate details because you have tremendous respect for Asian gastronomy. Gooey, filled with colourful liquids, spicy, squishy, with some insects sprinkled in. When the teenager will inevitably develop a liking for far superior (and far more normal!) meals of fries, chicken fingers and hamburgers, make their parents call them a disgrace to the family name and whack them with chopsticks.
At this point, there are only two possible outcomes for your Asian teenager. Either they become a bestselling concert pianist Harvard-educated doctor neuroscientist who will make more money than you, or they become a failure who dates a White person – or God forbid, a Black person -- that their entire family disowns like a bad dream. There are no other options. This is why, if in the course of your writing research you encounter any Asians who are none of these things, you should always ask them, as a matter of research rigour, whether or not their parents beat them for that and whether or not they suffer from crippling lifelong psychological damage as a result. Because, unlike their evil backwards families, you, progressive liberal that you are, care about their mental health.
Taboo topics to never mention in your text: Asian artists (unless they are classical pianists/violinists or K-Pop idols), Asian activists (unless they heroically survive an attack by the Taliban to win a Nobel Peace Prize), Asian political figures (unless they are Andrew Yang), working class Asians (unless they are South Asian refugees, in which case, 1) they are not Asian 2) they look like those dangerous terrorists you saw the other day on TV but are actually just a wonderful family who works so hard!), sexuality (unless it is about how much an Asian woman loves White men).
Lastly, if you get any criticism of your text from Asians from the diaspora, just shrug at those weirdos who simply do not understand what an homage you are paying to the joys, the sorrows and the resilience of their model community. After all, you did devote an entire text just for them, so they should be extremely grateful for the honour, right?