Race Rebels are present throughout all aspects of history

This weekend, I worked with a team of dedicated students and faculty to put together the second annual Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival. We made history. We explored the Asian American identity. We broke stereotypes. We are continuing to embrace the Asian American identity through workshops and independent films about the Asian diaspora, and we are learning about the Asian American race rebels who first brought to light their own individual identities to shed the stereotypes of the Asian.

Prior to my semester in Asian American Race Rebels, I did not know much about whom race rebels were; in fact, I have always heard of the term, but I had not thought about how I would define a race rebel if someone asked. To me, a race rebel was someone who went about breaking stereotypes in a way that he/she is remembered negatively. That is not the case.

Throughout the semester in Asian American Race Rebels, I have learned about various Asian Americans who have stepped outside of “the norm” to challenge the Model Minority Myth and go against the stereotypes. I have learned that anyone can be a race rebel. From Fred Korematsu to Lea Salonga, I learned that Asian American Race Rebels fall within all aspects of history, not just a specific industry or time period.

Fred Korematsu, for example, exemplifies a race rebel for his ability to run away from being put away into a Japanese internment camp in California. Not only that, but he even received a minor surgical procedure to change the shape of his eyes in order to look “more European,” and he changed his name. With a new identity, Korematsu refused to be put away in an internment camp, which created some resentment among the Japanese community when he was eventually captured. He sued the United States government, on behalf of the Japanese community, challenging the constitutionality of the internment camps. His actions seemed “rebellious” to other Japanese Americans, and he certainly was not seen as a race rebel. His case against the United States allowed him to leave a mark on Asian American history in the United States, as the case eventually recognized the unconstitutionality of the internment camps for Japanese Americans.

Lea Salonga was another race rebel I was surprised to learn about because I did not see her as a race rebel. Her role and impact on theatre has allowed her to go against the Model Minority Myth. Usually, society does not think of Asian Americans as taking up occupations outside of being a lawyer or a doctor or a businessperson, however, Salonga broke that myth and redefined the existence of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry. Her role in theatre greatly shifted the dynamics of the arts in that she brought some representation for Asian Americans in the arts. Not only that, but her role as the voice of Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin” changed the way Asian Americans are represented in film. Her role in theatre was significant for the Asian American community because she really changed the meaning of theatre for Asian Americans.

My semester so far in Asian American Race Rebels has been exciting, as I have learned how to address the misconceptions presented within the Model Minority Myth. Although the concept of the Model Minority is not new to me, the idea of how to challenge and address it is new. Through our class, I have realized how much Asian Americans have been oppressed in history and how pioneers are redefining certain sectors of the Asian American identity. The class, coupled with my involvement in the Asian American Alliance and the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival, has allowed me to recognize the need to bring forth more Asian American representation in all sectors, including theatre, politics, and film.

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