Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture

By Robert G. Lee | Go to book overview

6
The Model Minority as Gook

In Year of the Dragon, Michael Cimino's 1982 film about organized crime in New York's Chinatown, an elderly Chinese woman and her teenage granddaughter have an audience with Joey Tai, a prominent businessman and ruthless mobster. The grandmother asks Tai for money to send the young woman to Columbia University. Tai gives her the tuition money and, in good Chinese avuncular fashion, admonishes the young woman to work hard and listen to her grandmother. We next see this teenage honor student, now dressed in a tight silver lamé miniskirt, shooting up a restaurant with an Uzi. After a wild, running gunfight, the White hero of the story, Stanley White, a decorated Vietnam veteran who is now captain of the Chinatown precinct, shoots the girl down in the streets of Chinatown.

The contradictory figure of this young woman, simultaneously an honor-roll student and a "gangsta," replays the popular Vietnam War trope of the female Viet Cong fighter emerging from a crowd of friendly villagers to kill or try to kill the American savior. She is symbolic of the deeply contradictory and contested representation of the Asian American as permanent resident alien: both model minority, productive and acquiescent, and yellow peril, the Viet Cong, invisible and destructive.


The Crisis: The Long Year of 1974

The year 1974 encompassed Watergate, the OPEC oil crisis, and the fall of Saigon. On August 9, 1974, millions of American television viewers watched as their president, the dis

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Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface - Where Are You From? ix
  • Introduction - Yellowface 1
  • 1 - The "Heathen Chinee" on God's Free Soil 15
  • 2 - The Coolie and the Making of the White Working Class 51
  • 3 - The Third Sex 83
  • 4 - Inner Dikes and Barred Zones 106
  • 5 - The Cold War Origins of the Model Minority Myth 145
  • 6 - The Model Minority as Gook 180
  • 7 - After La 204
  • 8 - Disobedient Citizenship: Deconstructing the Oriental 223
  • Notes 233
  • Index 257
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