1. Do you feel that expectations for Asian Americans as the “model minority” hinder Asian Americans from pursuing careers in the media?
I certainly do, actually it’s quite funny because I started out at UF as a Biology major on the Pre-Med track, I did alright in Gen Chem but I just realized it was something I couldn’t see myself doing. My mom is a chemistry teacher, and a single mother, so basically her view has always been that I need to get a job that pays well—I think that’s something that most first generation Asian Americans can relate to.
Having to, in our minds, justify the struggle our parents went through as first-generation immigrants.
Since high school, I knew that writing was my biggest passion, but I was always afraid of pursuing it because I didn’t want to disappoint my mom.
Even now, she wants me to use my journalism degree to go to law school. I think an important thing to remember is that when you’re passionate about something, you’ll be wonderful at it, because you’ll put everything you have into excelling at it. Whether that be medicine, law or media.
I’m a ten times better journalist than I could ever have been at medicine, and that means I will be a far more successful journalist than doctor. So my mentality is that regardless of what I end up doing, as long as I do well and work hard, in the long run my mom will be happy.
2. How do you feel about the media only seeming to represent select Asian nationalities such as Chinese or Japanese? Do you feel as though this marginalizes people who identify with other Asian nationalities?
So coming from Pakistan, I see this frequently, I’m either grouped as Indian or as Arab, which are categories that I don’t really fit into. Since people aren’t exposed to other smaller places in the media, it’s like they start to think that they don’t even exist. In my writing, I focus on telling the stories of people of different minorities (including Vietnamese, Lebanese, etc., minorities people aren’t generally exposed to) and the discrimination they have faced, but more importantly how that discrimination has helped them grow to be the notable individuals they are today. The more you talk about different minority groups in the media, the more people will learn about them, simple as that.
3. To what degree do you think Asian and Asian American women are still objectified and fetishized in movies, TV, etc.?
Coming from a Muslim’s standpoint, I would have to say it is the quite the opposite of that. Whenever I see an empowered Muslim woman on TV, she always seems to be in full burqa. I have no problem with that, in fact I love that. But what people don’t understand is that there are Muslim women who don’t observe hijab. This almost reinforces a stereotype. I remember different instances where I have told people that I am Muslim and they say, “no way, you don’t wear a scarf on your head”. I think that it is important to give each part of the minority population a voice.
I am Pakistan-American, but I relate to many different aspects of various cultures. I am Shia-Muslim, but I obtained a second minor in Religion. I am straight, but I am a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. I come from the working class, but I realize that each economic sphere entails different tribulations.
Every person is going to have a different voice and different perspective, only showing a certain type of person from that group is going to start to generate a stereotype for that group.
4. How has the lack of Asian and Asian American characters in school literature while growing up in America affected your perception about your identity?
As for me, I just felt like there was a lack of literature about my specific culture. The best and most relatable books that I read, were The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I actually think those books helped me grow, Khaled Hoisseini is a remarkable author.
I was born in Pakistan but I grew up in the U.S., honestly all I know about my culture comes from my mother. I feel like novels such as these really give you a window into the trials and tribulations of what is actually going on in that part of the world.
However, the limited amount of books with that sort of perspective astounds me. There are how many books on vampires? But throughout my entire schooling I could only find a handful of books with that sort of insight, on all minority cultures, not just mine.
5. At this year’s Asian American Journalism Convention, a discussion was held about the lack of Asian American issues being covered in the news. Why do you think news outlets do not view Asian American issues as pressing or important as other issues?
I actually have a personal experience with this.
For a news organization I was working with, I wanted to write about a panel that was held here discussing Asian American voices post 9/11.
I pitched the idea, and my editor’s response was, “Hmmm, well i just don’t think this is applicable to the the general population of our audience.”
I don’t think that it’s any less important/substantial news, people in the Asian American communities do inspiring things every day. I know that from being at UF and seeing what people are doing in this small space. When news outlets do show Asian cultures, I personally feel like it’s in a negative or stereotypical way.
6. John Cho once said he purposely turns down acting roles because they are trying to make him fit an ‘Asian’ stereotypical character. When Asian Americans do secure roles and representation in media, is their portrayal accurate or does it perpetuate already believed stereotypes and generalizations?
Definitely. I mean I can’t remember the last time I saw a Muslim girl without a hijab or even an Indian-American or Pakistani-American who seemed to have grow up in the United States.
As a journalist, I can look at this from more of a news standpoint. One of the initial things that inspired me to go into journalism was the media backlash that most Muslims and even South Asians felt after September 11. Whenever any news organization saw the Middle East, you saw photos of terrorists, really extreme cases. While I still think that people should have taken the time to learn about Muslims and South Asians on their own, seeing something on in the news every day is going to start to influence people. We have to stand up and say “hey look this isn’t a fair representation of us”. Others might not change their judgements instantly, but it would definitely be a big step.