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Why Can't Yan Speak?


By Kenneth W. Lin

I am writing in response to Tehshik P. Yoon's article, "Long Duck Dong's Damage" (December 14, 1993). The author argued that the Harvard Foundation and Asian American Association have failed to empower Asian Americans through political activism and the establishment of an "agenda." Decrying the proliferance of positive stereotypes about the "Model Minority," he cited as an example of Harvard's supposed insensitivity to Asian needs the choice of Martin Yan as a speaker for Asian Cultural Month.

A doctor might have been a more appropriate choice, I suppose, but according to the author, that would reinforce the stereotype of Asians as "math/science types." Perhaps the Foundation should have picked a businessperson--but then that would reinforce the stereotype of the Japanese manufacturers who "steal American jobs." The best alternative, then, would have been a politician, who not only breaks free from stereotypes, but also posseses the ability to advance the Asian "agenda," whatever that might be. Not only is this reasoning ridiculous, it reeks of political correctness.

The Harvard Foundation's decision to invite Martin Yan to speak had nothing to do with role models. Yan's attraction is rooted in his reputation as an entertainer who can teach the fine art of cooking and make his audience laugh at the same time. Forcing him to become a model for the entire Asian American population would be as ludicrous as telling Bill Cosby represent all African Americans, or David Letterman to represent all Caucasians.

While the author stressed the need for a "collective political identity" for all Asian Americans in order to confront "the last vestiges of discrimination" left over from past civil rights movements, he was unable to offer any idea of what this agenda should be about. This kind of groping in the dark for reasons to "change," in my opinion, will do far more to fragment the Asian American community than to unite it.

Instead, perhaps we might begin by distinguishing a "good" accent from a "bad" one. I didn't realize there was a difference.

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