The following is an auto-generated transcript of the Brazn Azn podcast Episode 4. It also includes affiliate links that do not affect the price you pay, but allows me to recoup some of our costs. Please excuse any mistakes or misspellings as we do not have the time nor bandwidth to edit.

Show notes

In Episode 4: RepresentAsian, co-hosts Stella and Virginia delve into the multifaceted concept of representation, discussing its complexities, the nuanced layers of identity, and the often oversimplified solutions to systemic issues. They explore personal and cultural narratives around being Asian American, touching on aspects of motherhood, invisibility, and the desire for more complex depictions of Asian characters in media. The episode critically examines the progression from mere visibility to meaningful representation, highlighting insightful examples from pop culture and literature.

  • Introduction
  • The Complicated Nature of Representation
  • Personal Anecdotes and Cultural Commentary
  • Navigating the Levels of Representation
  • The Challenge of Authentic Representation
  • Discussion on Babel and the Importance of Complex Characters
  • Exploring Asian Characters in Media
  • Conclusion and Reflections on Representation

Listen to Brazn Azn Ep 04


[00:00:00] Stella: Hello, Brazn N8n. This is the Brazn Azn Podcast, and I’m your co host, Stella.

[00:00:05] Virginia: And I’m your other co host, Virginia Duan. I am the entertainment editor for Mochi Magazine, which is the longest running Asian American women’s magazine online. And I’m also an author of my debut novel, Illusive, that is out in ebook and paperback on Amazon.

[00:00:26] Stella: So today we’re going to talk about representation and the complicated feelings that we both have around it.

[00:00:32] Virginia: It’s hilarious that every single topic we talk about, we have complicated feelings over. But before we do that, here’s a quick recap of what our podcast is about. Here at Brazn Azn, we explore the concept of being Brazen Asians while discussing our own personal experiences and challenges.

[00:00:48] Stella: We’ll delve into issues of identity, social justice, and the complexities of Asian American experiences, all with our trademark vigor and vim.

[00:00:57] Virginia: And sometimes we add verve, too. Yes,

[00:00:59] Stella: yes,

[00:00:59] Virginia: everybody groan. We know the words are synonymous, and quite frankly, we don’t care. Here at Brazen Asian, we love rhyming and alliteration. I’m so sorry. We all love

[00:01:10] Stella: words. We also love words that start with the letter V, right?

[00:01:14] Virginia: Yes. Yes. Yes, we do.

[00:01:19] Stella: So Virginia, I know you’ve mentioned in a couple of episodes now about feeling invisible or unseen, and I would love to hear you talk some more about this.

[00:01:28] Virginia: Okay, so I don’t actually know whether it is more of me , being Asian and being invisible because I’m Asian or feeling invisible because I’m a mother.

And a lot of times mothers are invisible, our labor is invisible, again, I’m going to, I’m going to source alias the show as this, but suburban moms are considered harmless, right? Like you have a baby, what are you going to do? You have a baby. or it’s probably also a combination of Asian moms too, right?

And especially middle aged Asian moms. I just feel like we’re very one note, one way to be, and even how moms are depicted in media, it’s usually white moms, white suburban moms, or maybe really rich white moms. And then for a much lesser extent, There are some representations of black mothers, but usually they’re in a stereotype of a certain kind of black mother.

So I don’t think black motherhood is portrayed in all its complexity and glory and the same for Latinx motherhood. And then, of course, I don’t think we see any Middle Eastern representation. So if there’s one group that has even less representation than Asians, I would say Probably Middle Eastern folks.

[00:02:44] Stella: Right. Yeah, Pacific Islander, Indigenous Americans. Like there’s so many people whose stories don’t get told at all, right?

[00:02:53] Virginia: Mm hmm. I don’t think I actually answered your question, but There’s an over representation of a certain type of Asian, an Asian mom, right? So yes, I’m glad to see that we exist somewhere, but not all representation is equal, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.

[00:03:11] Stella: And there are multiple levels of representation, right?

Like, the very first level, the entry level, is being present, period. Having someone who shares like your background and having them explicitly mentioned at all. To me this is background characters, extras, anyone that’s explicitly named as existing with that identity.

[00:03:33] Virginia: But even that level is, Is so hard, apparently, for Hollywood. Cause look at Friends, friends literally is in New York City.

[00:03:43] Stella: New York

[00:03:43] Virginia: City. New

[00:03:43] Stella: York City.

[00:03:45] Virginia: Not even the extras were not white. No brown

[00:03:49] Stella: people. Right? And it’s, it’s also like, as you know, as Asian Americans, there are some ethnicities that get mentioned really often.

And then there are some that just literally get nothing at all.

[00:04:03] Virginia: Yeah, there’s a reason why Asian is synonymous with East Asian and that East Asian people. is usually Chinese. Maybe for a while when anime was like, I guess, is it weeaboo? You know, when anime was making its, thing. So briefly, maybe Japanese was cool in the late 80s, 90s.

And then now, of course, Korean is really cool. But for the most part, people still find Asians synonymous with Chinese,

[00:04:31] Stella: yeah, there’s a sense of double marginalization, right? Because even in Asian American representation, so many Asian Americans are just not a part of. the picture at all. And so like, yeah, like that entry level I think is actually really important.

But then there’s this next level where we’re the sidekick or the prop, like the token characters and our cultural identity is just there to add flavor. The D. E. I. higher. And we’re always the love interest or the parent who dies, right? We’re never a real character.

[00:05:09] Virginia: Yeah, and I mean, that’s nice, but like, it’s like their Asian ness is cosplay, if that makes sense?

Yeah, yeah,

[00:05:16] Stella: yeah. It’s just cosplay, right?

[00:05:18] Virginia: Yeah, like they’re literally not, they could be anything. They’re literally just window dressing, they happen to be Asian, but everything about them is white. Or white coated, right? Like, and that’s how I feel. A lot of fanfiction is, in terms of real person fanfiction for K pop groups, I, within like three paragraphs, I always know that the writer’s white.

And it’s usually, I’m, I’m pretty much always on the nose. And it’s because It’s like they’ve never met a Korean person.

They probably haven’t.

[00:05:51] Stella: They probably haven’t. I was going to say, it feels a lot like yellow face in the strangest kind of way.

[00:05:58] Virginia: It’s like what white people think Asian people are like, but it’s not really.

You can just tell how they talk to their family, how do they talk to their parents, how they talk, how they everything. That’s how I feel that second level of representation is. It’s just, they, they’re really wide. You just put a yellow face on them.

[00:06:22] Stella: Right, and I know there’s Asian Americans who feel like they’re not Asian enough, and they’re kind of secretly afraid, like, what if I’m really a white person on the inside that just looks Asian on the outside? And the reality is, the kinds of characters we’re talking about do not reflect those people at all.

Yes. Like, those are two separate entities, right?

[00:06:44] Virginia: Mm hmm.

[00:06:45] Stella: But I think then there’s this third level representation, which I like to call positive representation. Basically what we get when we are talking about good representation, where we get to be a main character, but only in the sense that we exist to be a bridge to mainstream audiences.

It’s like to make our narrative like bite size or relatable and palatable. And I think that’s where a lot of creators end up when they are trying to write a character that doesn’t have their background or identity. It’s at least, like, good representation. You’re a positive person.

[00:07:24] Virginia: The orange chicken of people.

I mean, orange chicken is delicious, but it’s not really Chinese food.

[00:07:30] Stella: It’s Chinese American.

[00:07:32] Virginia: Sure.

[00:07:32] Stella: Right?

[00:07:35] Virginia: Listen, I love me some Panda Express orange chicken, but you’re never going to see — no, it’s not Chinese food.

[00:07:43] Stella: But it is, it was created by Chinese Americans.

[00:07:48] Virginia: Yes, that’s true. For white people. Like chop suey.

Okay. We’ll call it the chop suey of food.

[00:07:57] Stella: And it’s delicious. A lot of people know what it is. There isn’t something inherently wrong with this positive kind of representation. But, but my favorite is the final level, the big boss, which is what I like to call complex representation, where we’re, we’re fully human. We have wants and desires and flaws, and we can be villains or main characters that are fleshed out and realized.

And I think this is where, when you’re really comfortable with your identity, when you write characters like this, it really shows.

[00:08:32] Virginia: And this is where I think authors and creators think that they’re doing. Like, they’re like, well, we’re just writing people. Why does it matter about race?

Like, why does it matter if I change their race? And this is the part where they fail, if that makes sense, because yes, you are writing a fully. Fleshed out person, sort of but you have cut off a whole part of them because being Asian or being queer or being disabled that Influences how they view the world and how they interact in the world and that’s why it’s so important To have what is it like it’s called like what own stories or or is that own

[00:09:12] Stella: own voices

[00:09:13] Virginia: is that is that specifically for disabled people or is that

[00:09:17] Stella: no no no own voices is for any and all backgrounds identities and I want to say it was started by authors of color What is it?

The Ode Voices. Well, that makes sense. But it’s also problematic in a sense where, like for queer stories, you’re constantly forcing people to out themselves as queer or trans or non binary and talking about who has the right to tell these stories. And that’s hard too, like nothing about us without us is something you hear in the in the autism community when they talk about works that feature an autistic character or, you know, disabled characters.

It’s nothing about us without us. So please don’t have us in these stories or write stories about our identities without having us actually be consultants or the writers or the actors. Right.

[00:10:08] Virginia: That makes sense. I have a book out called Illusive and it’s set in the K pop industry and it talks about people living in Korea.

And I am not Korean. I have never been to Korea. I’m going to be going to Korea, but I’ve never been there. And just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I understand what it is to be Korean, especially since I’m Taiwanese and Taiwanese American at that. Right. So. I had a sensitivity reader. I had a cultural edit of someone who is both Korean and has lived in Korea I, made effort. And then in other stories, even for fan fiction, if I have black women as main characters , I double check, like, Hey, is this interaction yellow savory?

I don’t mean salty, I mean like white savory, but with Asians instead of white people, so, I’ve been given good feedback, like, Hey, yeah, maybe you should approach it this way instead of that. So I, I do think it’s important

[00:11:02] Stella: I was actually meaning to ask what kind of feedback Did you get from your cultural editor as far as like it being set in Korea?

[00:11:11] Virginia: What was the feedback some of the feedback was like? Hey, this situation could never happen And I was very bummed. In the story, originally I had male friends stay over at a female friend’s house and they would rotate, kind of babysitting her and she’s like, no, that would never happen unless if they were dating. Never. Yeah. Not ever.

[00:11:32] Stella: It’s culturally unacceptable.

It’s not like a concept that, that people have there in the same way that we do in the U. S. Especially like if you go to college, you have a bunch of friends, staying over at each other’s houses, crashing on someone’s couch is totally normal, regardless of gender, like, that’s normal. That’s just how things end up.

But in places like Korea, like no, that’s not a thing that would happen even with younger people

[00:11:54] Virginia: So I checked and I was like, okay Well, there’s this one scene where they kind of drink too much and then he falls asleep and then wakes up Is that okay? She’s like, yeah, that’s fine.

But There’s no way it would be an arrangement for someone to come over and sleep over if you’re not dating And I was like, fascinating. And then there was, there’s other minor details like Someone’s mad about something and gets up and throws a wad of cash. And she’s like, no one has cash.

If you owe someone, it would be like KakaoPay or something. And I was like, what?

[00:12:27] Stella: Yeah. And people don’t carry wallets in Korea. Cause it’s, you just do everything on your phone.

[00:12:33] Virginia: That’s wild. And then also I feel like that shows my age too, because apparently young people these days.

The Gen Zs, they just Venmo each other. Someone throws out a card and then everyone Venmo’s each other. And I’m like, what? How do people not have money?

[00:12:53] Stella: That’s not how you do it. That’s how, that’s how me and my friends all do it. Everyone just Venmo’s each other.

[00:13:02] Virginia: That’s so messy when the restaurant could just split your fucking check.

That’s so much more math.

[00:13:09] Stella: I mean, true, true, but people, you know, especially if you’ve ordered a bunch of different things, people think it’s just easier to Venmo each other. One time I was out at dinner and we were splitting the check and somebody busted out their checkbook and the whole table kind of went still like, what are you doing?

[00:13:31] Virginia: So, so apparently I needed a young people check too because the, the people in this It’s my book, Our Millennials, and I am on the very tail end of Gen X. I’m, I think I’m like the last or second to last year of Gen X. But anyway, we’re, we’re,

[00:13:48] Stella: we’ve lost the plot yet again. Well, okay. So all this to say. You really put in the effort to make sure that your work would not only be, , accurate, but fully realized characters, right?

And so I wanted to ask, what other works have you seen or read recently that kind of also have these fully realized Asian American or Asian characters?

[00:14:16] Virginia: That is not a memoir, you mean?

[00:14:19] Stella: Oh, yeah. I mean, okay. Fiction. Fiction, right.

[00:14:22] Virginia: Okay. I was gonna say Babel.

[00:14:25] Stella: Oh my god, let’s talk about it. I still haven’t read it. So many people have recommended it to me.

[00:14:29] Virginia: Oh,

well, if you haven’t read it, then I don’t want to spoil things for you.

[00:14:33] Stella: One of my friends saw me and he was like, you need to read this book. They were very insistent. They were like, you need to read this book.

You in particular. And I was like, shit, okay, yeah, Babel.

[00:14:46] Virginia: Babel by R. F. Kuang, everyone. It is, it is everything that Harry Potter tried to be, but was not, but better so much, so much, so much better. Babel at its root is about empire and how empire forces the people they conquer to play a particular role.

And they’re only acceptable in how they can be used. In aid of empire. And then empire is confused when the colonized no longer want to be tools for the empire, they’re like, how come we can’t go back and give this gift to our people, because then we can’t make money. Babel is such a scathing indictment of the British empire.

like scathing and it’s fantastic. And when you read the criticism about, about Babel, you’re like, it’s, it’s actually, it’s the same criticism you read about RF Kuang’s yellow face. The people who are being criticized don’t understand it. They’re like, why do they talk about race so much?

Why is she so full of herself? And you’re just like, well.

[00:16:02] Stella: I mean, didn’t she get her master’s degrees in England?

[00:16:06] Virginia: She did. She got them at Oxford. And and maybe her PhD, oh, PhD maybe at Yale. Maybe she did.

[00:16:13] Stella: Yeah. I think. I can’t believe that she’s been writing these books as a young college student and then graduate student.

[00:16:22] Virginia: Yeah.

Yeah. I’ve interviewed her twice for Mochi Magazine and she’s. Amazing. So anyway, Babel, fantastically fleshed out Asian characters and other people of color. And it’s so, it’s so subversive. It’s incredibly subversive. I can’t even you need to read it. It’s so good. It’s like a bajillion pages long, but it is so good. It’s so good. And then if you love language, if you love words, if you love etymology, if you love in particular Chinese words, which I do and then if you love like pseudo academia. Like there’s footnotes and it’s like,

[00:17:07] Stella: it’s, that was actually one of the selling points my friend was giving me. They were like explaining the magic system. They were like, I need you to understand how much you will love this.

So, you know what’s interesting is I often hesitate when I’m writing Asian American characters because I struggle so much to define what it is that lets me know a character is fully fleshed out when it comes to like a racial identity. Because I’ve, I’ve, I’ve written about this before. And I’ve struggled a lot with trying to figure out what is it that lets you know that somebody got it right.

[00:17:46] Virginia: Okay. So now we’re going to move into things that we have both seen.

So I really, really like how The Brothers Sun and Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, both coincidentally with Michelle Yeoh they do a good job of it to be fair on TV or in a movie, you, you visually see that they are Asian, right? You cannot get, you cannot get past the face. Right. So there is that already signaling it, but it’s just embodied, they’re regular people, but their Asian ness affects them, affects how they interact with the world.


[00:18:22] Stella: Right, right, and I think it’s pretty clear in both scripts that they’re written by people who love and empathize with those characters, especially in Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Yes. There’s so much love for Evelyn’s character and it’s really reflected in the kind of love that you would feel for your mom, right?

Complicated, complicated love. Well, I mean, not like your mother personally, but just like, it feels like the Kevins really had this sense of like empathy and, oh, the Daniels. Oh, those shit, the Daniels. That’s right.

[00:19:04] Virginia: So who did you identify with in everywhere, everything everywhere all at once?

Was it Joy or was it?

[00:19:10] Stella: Joy. Joy. A hundred percent joy. As a queer, as a queer Asian American has a really complex relationship with her mom is a hundred percent joy.

[00:19:20] Virginia: Okay. So the reason why I had paused initially when you asked is because I just assumed everyone identifies with Evelyn. And that’s why I love this movie.

But when you asked it, I realized that that is not the case. I was like, wait, what do you mean? What? Evelyn doesn’t have a relationship with her mom. Like, I was so confused.

[00:19:41] Stella: But, I mean, as a mom, I really saw a lot of where Evelyn was coming from, but it made me think more of my own mother, right?

[00:19:51] Virginia: So I think this is where, even though I’m only a little bit older than you, where the difference in generations come from. Cause the reason why, well, first of all, everything, everywhere, all at once is so fantastic because it literally is about everything, everywhere, all at once.

Right. You could view it from the lens of. queerness, you could view it in a lens of neurodivergency, you could view it from a lens of Asian American, you can view it in terms of mother daughter, mother relationships, you know, familial relationships or you could just look at it just purely from like a physics point of view, right?

Multiple timelines, multiple universes that the multiverse, everything like that. But what I loved the most is that an Asian American mother was the main character. That’s what I loved most, because when I first saw the trailer, I almost cried. I didn’t want to hope.

I didn’t want to have huge expectations because I was like, what? I’m going to be so let down. I’m going to be so sad. I would be devastated if it’s just a mediocre movie or just, it was just half assed everything

[00:21:10] Stella: everywhere, right? Yeah. Yeah. We didn’t want to get our hopes up too high.

[00:21:14] Virginia: First of all, an Asian sci fi complex story that really wasn’t about immigration or like identity. I mean, it was about identity and immigration, but it wasn’t and it’s the mom, she, Evelyn, she lives, she’s the main character. She’s not somebody’s plot point. She is a person in her own right.

And this story is about her and she’s the hero. Asian moms , they usually die so that the hero can realize something about themselves and then be the hero and have an adventure where we’re like someone’s backstory, but she is the story. It’s her journey. And the fact that she’s middle aged.

That’s even fucking better

[00:22:00] Stella: and she’s in that sandwich generation, right? Where she’s like trying to cope with her own parent, but also parent her child. It’s, it’s a very relevant story to a lot of us, I think.

[00:22:11] Virginia: Yeah. Yeah. And so that’s what I mean about feeling invisible and then seeing her and just being like, oh, oh,

Like, oh,

you know, and so it’s that, in the same way, The Brothers Sun, I had meant to write about this for my , own site, but I never got to write about this for, I mean, I reviewed it for Mochi, but I didn’t write what I really wanted to write about, because it was super spoilery.

So, spoiler alert. We

[00:22:41] Stella: get to talk about it. We, now we get to talk about it. Spoiler alert.

[00:22:45] Virginia: Yeah. I think in the second to last episode or the last episode, Bruce is looking at his mom and goes, but mom, why do you want, you don’t want this. You don’t want to be. And so this whole time everyone sees mama son, orchestrate these backroom deal. She has her own network. She was sent away because , you find out , she’s the mastermind behind so many things. And then she goes, sees her own mother and her own mother’s like, just admit that you wanted the power. Don’t pretend that you’re so sad that you missed out on us. , I mean, yes, maybe you are sad too, but you wanted the power.

You chased after this because you wanted, that was your way to get power. And her son is just like, but mom, why are you doing this? I just want us to go back to normal. And she gets so mad at him. He’s like, that’s not you, mom. And he’s like, you don’t know me.

You don’t see me. You know, nothing about me. And I, I watched the screeners with my kids and I’m like sobbing or I want to sob. I don’t know if I was actually, and my kids are like, mommy, we know you, we know you, and I’m like, no, you, you don’t actually, I mean, maybe they know some of me.

[00:23:57] Stella: But in a real sense, they can’t.

[00:24:00] Virginia: They can’t. Yeah. And I feel like that, was the rallying cry of every middle aged Asian American mom.

[00:24:12] Stella: But I do wonder, would it be less painful to not be seen by our kids if we were seen clearly by the world at large? Because then we could just be a mom to our kids.

And who we see ourselves as to the rest of the world, right?

[00:24:32] Virginia: I mean, I think this begs the question of can you actually be ever truly seen?

[00:24:40] Stella: We did talk in between recording these episodes, we did talk about the gap between the way that we see ourselves and the way that other people see us and how that gap is so fascinating, right?

Yeah. Yeah,

[00:24:54] Virginia: so I I don’t know. I would just like there to be options for us to explore. And we, I only have these two examples.

[00:25:03] Stella: I know. And they’re both played by the same woman.

[00:25:06] Virginia: Right. Cause apparently she’s the only Asian actress of a certain age. I don’t know. I don’t know.

[00:25:12] Stella: Well, she’s fantastic and we love her.

So we’re not mad about her getting more roles, but we, but we would like to expand the deck somewhere, right? We want more options.

Yeah. Right.

[00:25:23] Virginia: That’s all we want. We just want more. And I don’t think it’s greedy.

[00:25:27] Stella: I mean, we went from zero visibility being completely invisible to this first level of like, now we’re being explicitly named or we’re moving from being tokens to,, positive representation.

[00:25:41] Virginia: It’s like when it rains and all of a sudden you see all these worms outside. And I’m not saying we’re worms.

But I’m saying it’s sprinkled a little bit and the worms are out because otherwise they would drown in the dirt. And everyone’s just like, I can’t believe there’s so many worms. And you’re like, really?

[00:26:06] Stella: They’ve been here the whole time.

[00:26:08] Virginia: And I’m not trying to say people of color are worms. I’m just saying.

This is a bad analogy, okay?

[00:26:18] Stella: It got away from you in the second half, huh?

[00:26:23] Virginia: But I’m just saying They were always we were always here It’s not a new thing Just because it’s sprinkled a little bit doesn’t mean like oh my god. We’re being taken over like it’s Yeah, yes Bad example.

I apologize.

[00:26:39] Stella: But I think it is true that Some people are pushing back against representation because they feel like it’s gone overboard and they’ll cry about identity politics and shit.

[00:26:51] Virginia: Oh, what is it they’re calling DEI now? Didn’t earn it?

[00:26:54] Stella: It’s so fucking annoying. And the really, really irritating part is that people of color know that DEI is not useful. It’s not gonna save us. It’s not gonna liberate us. It’s totally useless to us. And yet white institutions are like, this is how we’re gonna solve the problem.

And white people are now angry about the solution they made to try and fix a problem that they keep creating.

[00:27:20] Virginia: I mean, DEI is like HR, right? It’s really there to cover your ass. That’s exactly it. It’s just right. It’s pants. They’re just pants, maybe underwear, you know, Spanx. I don’t know.

I’m bad with the eye.

[00:27:41] Stella: DEI, the Spanx of HR.

And there’s also concerns about like the glass cliff, right? Where you hire a woman, you hire a person of color, you hire somebody that is marginalized and ruin the company so we can blame it on the woman.

[00:28:00] Virginia: Yes. Isn’t that what Twitter did?

[00:28:03] Stella: Mm hmm. Twitter, what, Reddit? Reddit? Yahoo. Yahoo. Yahoo. Oh, yeah. That was something Yahoo did, yeah.

So I mean it’s not like we can’t see Elon driving Twitter off a cliff.

[00:28:18] Virginia: X. Driving X off the cliff.

[00:28:22] Stella: I mean, if I’m gonna misname something, it’s gonna be Twitter. I thought we were all snowflakes for caring about dead names.

They can’t have it both ways.

[00:28:36] Virginia: I mean, they could if they were bi. What are we talking about today?

[00:28:46] Stella: I don’t even know.

[00:28:48] Virginia: Our episode is on representation, but also that is a good point, right? Representation just being a token, what DEI kind of offers sometimes is just the bare minimum.

What we want is systemic change. What we want is to be seen as people. And then if we’re seen as people, then our needs will be taken seriously. Right. Like it’s, it’s like when they started adding paternity leave because men wanted, which they should, to bond with their children.

Why shouldn’t they? When an organization or a society takes all its people seriously and gets to see them as people, then there will. naturally be changes to the system so that everyone can be seen as a person.

So why did we have to fight so hard for maternity leave? It’s because women weren’t seen as people and birthing was seen as pooping, I guess. The work. Weak itself wasn’t built for women, right? It was built for men who had wives at home to take care of their children and They didn’t have to interact with their children at all Really, they didn’t have to do the caring for them and and it hurts men, ?

[00:29:58] Stella: Well, it It was built for white men who married white women who could hire women of color to do household labor, right? Like that’s also a really huge component to this work week. And also for paternity leave, a lot of this was gay dads were like, I don’t have a wife at home or a mother at home who is recuperating.

And so it’s like we, like, or when you adopt a child. For a long time, there were no, there, there wasn’t any paternity or maternity leave for adopting children. Yeah.

[00:30:36] Virginia: So, I mean, things that we take for granted now is because people who were marginalized and didn’t have the assumed people doing all this unseen labor saying, Hey, that’s not okay.

We’re people and we want, and we deserve. To have our needs taken care of, right? Like we’re whole people. So that’s, the last level, ? The complex depiction of identity, ? Of a person.

[00:31:06] Stella: And it’s, there’s still a limitations to telling narratives and stories, right? I often say, I don’t want to rely on other people’s empathy to keep marginalized people safe. And so it’s not narratives alone. Like we, there has to be policies. We have to have policies. that keep people safe.

But it is a lot easier to push a policy through when society at large accepts that this is a real need for a very real group of humans. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:31:37] Virginia: So I think you asked the question of when do you know you have signaled enough that this person, that a character you’ve made or created is Asian enough?

And as we have hopefully Made clear, there’s many ways to be Asian, so it’s not like, oh, the food you eat. I mean, it’s not only the food you eat. It’s not only if you speak the language or not, it’s not only how, whatever traditions or customs,

[00:32:04] Stella: it’s so funny that you mention food and language because whenever white authors are writing characters of color, particularly bilingual characters of color or bicultural characters of color, the only things that they seem to use are little words here and there to indicate like, oh, I’m bilingual.

And then they’ll toss in descriptions of food. And I’m like, this is just like curtains. It’s window dressing. But for them, that’s literally all they can do to approximate the experiences of a character of color. I see this a lot in particular with Latine characters written by white people.

[00:32:48] Virginia: Oh, tell us more.

[00:32:50] Stella: So, you are bilingual, yes? Yes. And I am not bilingual, but I, but I, I do speak a little Conglish here and there, right? You’re bilingual. We know. You’re receptively bilingual. You’re receptively bilingual. But we know what it sounds like to speak Conglish or Chinglish. And for me, having grown up in Southern California, there’s a lot of Spanglish that flies around.

Mm hmm. People who are not bilingual don’t understand how it works. And so they’re just like, I’m just going to put in some words here and there like it’s the best approximation that they can give and it’s not that nobody ever talks like that but rather that it’s really clear you’re trying to indicate to other monolingual people that this character is bilingual.

Which is really different from a person who is bilingual writing characters naturally like dialogue naturally to indicate to other bilingual people that they’re just being themselves.

[00:33:50] Virginia: I will say it is actually very difficult to depict bilingualness in prose written because if they spoke it, if you wrote it in the other language, first of all, your book software might not actually support it.

Second of all no one who doesn’t read that language can read it, and third of all, There are no subtitles.

I mean, there’s footnotes. There’s yes, but people don’t like footnotes. Right. I love footnotes, but people see it as like, okay, so I’m gonna use my book as an example. Again, I’m so sorry.

My book uses some Korean terms and some Mandarin terms or even some Taiwanese terms and I sprinkle it in my earliest versions had footnotes so that people would know what it meant. So Mochi Magazine’s policy about terms in Asian languages is to not explain.

We try to explain it in the text. Because clarity is also important, but in general, we don’t put it in italics. we do not explain because no one explains Latin. No one explained, yeah. French, even German terms. The policy is like, we’re not assuming foreignness.

Mm hmm. And if you don’t know, Google is right there. So I went back and forth over it. I was like, well, if I try to explain what hyung means in the prose, it’s really clunky. Because it’s kind of a complicated idea, right? Like, it is what a younger male would call a close older male.

and it means older brother, but you don’t necessarily have to be related. Right? How are you going to convey that in prose and not have it sound stupid?

[00:35:47] Stella: Right. Because that’s like a culturally understood concept.

[00:35:51] Virginia: Yeah. , the cultural editor was like, well, you could just eliminate them entirely.

And I was like, no, but. No. But they’re set in Korea. And she’s like, well, you know, K dramas eliminate that. They just say the name. I was like, but it’s, but if you’re

[00:36:14] Stella: Actually, I really hate that about subtitles in Korean. I really don’t like it.

[00:36:20] Virginia: I hate it. And because I feel like you lose an, an incredibly huge part of Korean culture And how Korean people relate to each other, right?

[00:36:31] Stella: Because it’s all relational. You miss a huge layer of meaning.

[00:36:36] Virginia: Yeah. And I, there’s no way for me to indicate formality, right? Because English is pretty much only really one type of formality, right? Unless if you go like super, Old English, no one would understand it. Right. Like, and so I try to indicate that also in the prose, like, Oh, he switched to formal language , but it’s difficult multiply because one, it’s so exhausting to like, have to explain it all the time.

And two, I actually don’t speak Korean, so I don’t really actually know when it is formal or not, you know, it’s very confusing. So then I was like, Oh, I should have a glossary that I thought, okay, problem solved, have a glossary. But then I was like, should I put it in the front or in the back?

[00:37:21] Stella: It’s a glossary. So to me, that lives in the back of books. Cause that’s where you traditionally find it.

[00:37:28] Virginia: Correct. It is back matter and it is also listed in the table of contents. But then I have had readers go, Hey, I was Googling. I was going to ask you what it meant, but like. You know, Google exists. I’m not an asshole.

And then I didn’t realize that the glossary is at the end. So maybe you should move. Right. The glossary to the front. Cause originally I had the glossary in the front, but then I was like, oh, I get functionally why it’s there because I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels that have glossaries in the front.

Like, oh, these are all the houses or reference material so people can orient themselves.

[00:37:59] Stella: Or a cast of characters pronunciation guide. Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

[00:38:03] Virginia: A lot of fantasy novels do that a lot I kind of use fantasy as a guide because they often have original terms that no one understands.

[00:38:11] Stella: That’s exactly what I was going to say is that, but the thing is with fantasy fiction and fantasy writers, sometimes they just drop you in the middle of it and they expect that as you spend more time in the world, it’ll become second nature.

[00:38:23] Virginia: Yes. So that’s also kind of what I wanted to do.

But then my worry, so it’s always the battle between clarity and fuck you, just deal with it. Like just fucking deal with it and sort of like. Have the reader experience some of the disorientation maybe the female main character goes through as she experiences soul, , for the first time. And then my other concern was that if people see a glossary of foreign words at the front, they’re going to feel like, Oh, it’s not for me.

It’s too hard. Like it ups the barrier of entry. what was it that the Parasite director said? That one inch subtitle? The one inch, the hurdle of one inch subtitles. Yeah. That we can get over it. Yeah.

Yeah. So it’s a, you know, it’s a three page glossary. Good God. Oh no. You know, not Asian words.

So yeah, so I don’t remember why I got started on this, but, oh, bilingualness, bilingualness. But it is, it was really difficult to figure out how to.

[00:39:26] Stella: But in your book, you are writing in English about characters who are speaking in Korean to one another. Yes. Which is not the same as trying to indicate that a character is bilingual.

[00:39:38] Virginia: Well, it is because multiple characters, because at the start. She speaks English. She doesn’t know Korean. So you have to constantly, like, navigate who’s point of view, who understands, and then some of the people she talks to don’t understand English. So it’s really actually very difficult. And then when they become more and more,

[00:39:58] Stella: But again, they’re still speaking mostly in one language to one another, or somebody’s translating, which I think is different from trying to express this character is speaking Spanglish or Konglish.

And that’s that.

[00:40:14] Virginia: So you’re speaking specifically of that, that mix?

[00:40:16] Stella: Yeah, where, where it’s really frustrating when monolingual people are trying to indicate to monolingual readers that their character is bilingual. And it reads really false because bilingual writers and bilingual speakers make different choices in dialogue or in speaking than monolingual people think we do.

[00:40:41] Virginia: I see what you’re saying. Yeah. Well, we should just strike the last 20 minutes of me talking about myself. I know. No, no, no. Everyone, Virginia is a narcissist. It’s not new. We know it’s a problem.

[00:40:55] Stella: But, but I think you make a really good point in talking about how challenging it is because we have to figure out how much we need to cater to the audience.

And honestly, how much we’re going to coddle our readers. Mmhmm.

Which is frustrating because some readers are going to be like, that’s totally fine. I’m coming into this knowing it’s a new experience and I’m excited about it. Then there are writers or readers who are like, but I don’t want to. And it’s like, you don’t have to at all.

Nobody’s forcing you to, but as an author, you miss out on a significant portion of your audience if you’re not coddling some of your readers a little bit.

[00:41:36] Virginia: Yes, and I think that’s what makes me upset. Yeah, yeah. In terms of representation, ? And that’s why I feel like a lot of our shows that we see, or the columns that we read, or the things that we consume, As you’re saying, they coddle people who aren’t us.

Their, their audience is not me, but I would like to be the audience for once. And that’s why they’re invisible. Right.

[00:42:08] Stella: I understand that we only make up 6 percent of the U. S. population. And so I get that we’re not like a massive number of people, percentage wise.

Mm hmm.

But I also feel like it’s not bad or harmful for other people to experience life the way that we do or to get a lens or a view into it.

I think that’s the problem is that so often we’re required to make characters who are bridges or entryways into making us relatable. Instead of people who are not us. Just coming in and experiencing the mess of life that we have and saying, hey, I can still relate to this, even though it’s not about catering to what makes me comfortable, right?

[00:42:57] Virginia: And the thing is, what makes me upset the most is when audiences, complain like, oh, this wasn’t accessible enough to me. But they phrase it in a different way. There were subtitles or whatever, right? But you watched Game of Thrones.

You read The Hunger Games. You were into Harry Potter. It’s not, there are no dragons, fantasy is not real. Lord of the Rings. You were, you’re okay with, you know what I mean? Like, you’re clearly capable. of inserting and relating to people who are aliens, but you can’t, deal with people of color.

You can’t deal with queer people. It’s not It’s not catering enough to you. It’s not palatable enough to you. Bullshit. Bullshit.

[00:43:50] Stella: You know, absolutely. Or the obsession with like these arthouse foreign films. That are so boring. Right, it’s like you’re perfectly capable of understanding these stories that have been translated for you from Russian or French or German.

And yet Going a couple of countries further to the west is impossible, or further to the east.

[00:44:12] Virginia: Well, it depends on where you’re going, so yes, it could be west.

[00:44:14] Stella: But, you know, going like, a little, a little further east is too hard for you? Hmm. Feels a little racist.

I know, right? Shocking.

[00:44:26] Virginia: Not the R word.

So this might actually have to be two episodes. I don’t know if we’re done.

[00:44:32] Stella: I don’t know if we’re done either, but I know that we wanted to talk about how challenging it is because representation is so important, but it also won’t save us. It will not. It will not. And I think, and people hate hearing that.

[00:44:51] Virginia: Well, because it’s not. It’s an easy solution just to like show pictures of faces, it’s an easy solution just to smash everybody together. That’s just desegregate, but desegregation is useless without systemic change. So that will probably be a further episode

[00:45:07] Stella: yeah, this is going to have to be a two parter. We just have too much to say.

[00:45:12] Virginia: Too much good stuff. What is it, Arby’s? Whose tagline is too much good stuff?

Internet, Brazn N8n, tell us, tell us whose tagline that is. We could look it up, but this is our blatant ploy at engagement.

I don’t know where you’re going to reach us at, but, you know.

[00:45:32] Stella: And so with that, that was episode four of the Brazn Azn podcast. I am your co host, Stella. And I’m your co host, Virginia.

Bye! Bye!