This week, our students were asked to reflect on the question “Who is your Asian American hero?” and have done so quite admirably. Looking through the responses, I am struck by how many of our CIRCLE participants chose to write about family members; in some sense, the easiest answer to provide, the phenomenon also causes me to reflect on the factors that might account for this pattern.
In our sessions this week, we talked about push and pull factors with regard to immigration and I would suggest that the people selected as heroes are also the result of a combination of influences like availability and media. On one hand, we have the idea that, when presented with such a question as this one, we tend to respond with answers that are most readily available—in this case, images of family members and friends are most likely to appear. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with this, but we might also want to take a step back and consider another dimension: why is it that our families/friends are the most salient representations that come to mind? Part of the answer to that question, I would argue, stems from a general lack of other people that might be considered Asian American heroes (at least initially). Examining the other environments we inhabit, we might sense a relative scarcity in those worthy of the title “hero.” Sure, we have the occasional Asian celebrity, but I also wonder how the construction of these individuals’ images reinforces dominant stereotypes about who Asians are and, perhaps more importantly, who we should be.
And this, in turn, raises another question for me: just who is worthy of being called an Asian American hero? Do Asian American heroes have to be Asian? How do we determine who receives the title and who is not? Is this distinction based on achievement? On character? On community impact or influence? Can everyday people become heroes? What type of hero? Do all heroes have to have a costume? And, on the flip side, whose stories do we choose to exclude or devalue when we do not consider them heroes? How does the process of selecting community heroes set a bar that all future “heroes” must live up to? Is there a way to celebrate the achievements of individuals in our community without raising the expectation for accomplishment for others?