Interview with Sheridan Prasso Author of the book "The Asian Mystique"
In a land perceived by the Western world as filled "Mystery and Sex, Fear and Desire"
Perception of The 'Orient' that has always meant lands far away,
full of opulence and sensuality, danger, depravity, and opportunity in Western eyes"
(Taken from Sheridan Prasso's "The Asian Mystique")
Acknowledging that Westerners project their hopes and fears onto whatever
Asian culture they examine, what does their attitude of the “Asian
Mystique” reveal about the strengths or weaknesses of the U.S.?
contexts of anti-Asian racism, exoticist consumer tastes, and
debate over women's social roles, many European Americans saw
certain Asian, Asian American, and white orientalist performers
as embodying authentic or mimetic racial difference. Often this
involved notions of a "yellow peril" made safely entertaining
or aestheticized visions of distant cherry blossoms, kimono, and
is Geraldine Farrar as "Madame Butterfly" - A "Photographic
Postcard" (Germany - Private Collection) seen in
the exhibition "Performing Images, Embodying
Race" that presents a critical view of dominant
U.S. images of real and imagined Asian performance, showing how
early 20th-century representations of China, Japan, and Asian
America supported pervasive beliefs about race, gender, and the
"oriental" body at Oberlin's Allen Memorial Museum..
For more info, click HERE
It's not a question of the U.S. as a nation, per se, but of what various individuals believe - and that is a result of the Hollywood and media images we see in America, and in Western culture in general. In my book I discuss feelings of emasculation that Western men sometimes find in a culture that they blame for not rewarding traditional aspects of masculinity. Sometimes they blame "feminism" for this, and so go in search of "re-masculation" in the bars and red light districts of particularly Thailand and the Philippines, and also in the search for a more "traditional" Asian wife according to the expectations set up by Hollywood movies and television shows.
What are the differences in attitude towards people of multiracial/Eurasian/Hapa background between Americans and Asians?
SHERIDAN PRASSO: My expertise is
on the Western cultural fallacies and misperceptions about Asia and Asian
people. But I can say that the cultural stereotypes perpetuated in Hollywood
and the media - such as "Dragon Ladies" and "Geisha Girls" which is the
subtitle of my book - do have an impact on expectations of behavior for
Asian Americans in the society in general.
Why does the American/Western media concentrate on AF/WM (Asian Female
/ White Male) multiethnic/multicultural relationships, as oppose to AM/WF
(Asian Male / White Female)?
The reason is because statistically the numbers are far higher. Caucasian men and women of Asian origin marry each other in greater numbers than any other two racial groups in America. If you peruse the marriage announcements of newspapers like The New York Times, you will find that the numbers, anecdotally, are quite high. On the contrary, it is rare to see a photo of a couple the other way around.
In this fast-approaching world of multiculturalism, do you feel that multi-ethnic children (Asian/Mixed Asian heritage - influential group that experienced 48% growth between 1990 and 2000) will help pave the way for greater understanding between the various ethnicities in the U.S.?
Yes, and not only that, but as the number of Asian Americans continue to increase as well, and their geographic diversity continues to expand beyond the major coastal cities, they will become more part of the fabric of mainstream America and thereby also increase cross-cultural understanding.
statistics, cited on the "Model Minority" website, show
that 50 percent of women of Asiann-origin living in the United States
married white men." (Asian Mystique/Page #135)
There are additional information and statistics of six separate
Asian Pacific American communities at the Reality
of Interracial Marriages" article. Click HERE
for more info.
In an increasingly globalized world, what we need is more understanding of the differences between Asian cultures, not more confusion of them, as continues today with such movies as Memoirs. Knowledge is power, and ignorance puts us at a disadvantage as China's role as a strategic power in the Pacific continues to grow.
Do you feel that the Western world maintains the "Asian Mystique" because it allowed Western man an "edge" in business by branding an image of Asian men as vacillating from being vulnerable and emasculated to sneaky and inscrutable while maintaining a position of power over Asian women by delegating them to sexual slaves (passive and sexually available geishas)?
There are lots of reasons why "Asian Mystique" perpetuates; sure, that may be one of them. I wouldn't call it a conscious conspiracy or anything, but surely there are subconscious factors that could be typified in that way.
Has the perceived perpetual "rescue mission" (that started at the turn of the 16th century) for Western men to save Asian women provide the rationale of having to maintain a permanent superiority that they couldn't achieve within the U.S.?
The "rescuer" aspect is definitely a factor of why "Asian Mystique" perpetuates. For some Western men, the need to be "needed" and to be a provider is a strong aspect of masculinity that is not always reaffirmed in Western culture.
Do Westerners really want to see Asia clearly, as oppose to being conquerors complex?
I think we like our fantasies, our misty-eye myths of exotic difference, the idea that the grass is always greener somewhere else.
What are your thoughts on why the "Us-vs.-Them" divide exists to
the greatest extent to Asia, while not prominent in Europe? Could
the Euro-centric background (though many Americans don't know
much about Europe), the skin color differences (though
many people in Europe are of a dark complexion) and/or could
the historical experience (though Germany and Italy did not
faced the extreme scrutiny that Japan has faced after WWII till
the present day) play a crucial factor?
We are predominantly a European-origin culture in America. We are
not as familiar with cultural differences in the Asian context,
because people of Asian origin are a minority in America. As the
numbers of Asian Americans continue to grow, that may start to change,
but for now, we are still a society dominated by Caucasian, European-origin
With power and sex always closely related, what factors do you think can override this to create a business environment that is unfettered by the bondage of sexual desire/male sexual fantasies?
I don't know the situation you cite, but I think that Americans and Westerners in general should strive for a fuller understanding of modern Asia, and should seek ways of seeing the realities more clearly than we have in the past.
What do you feel would "motivate" the white males in the American business world to give up their fantasies of exotic "Orientals" - especially since the media continues to portray these images in 2005 films such as Memoirs of a Geisha?
With more interaction comes more understanding. Again, I think more knowledge, more interaction and openness to fully understanding our past interactions with Asia. People can see the geisha movie, sure, but they should also seek a fuller understanding of what the problems with the movie are, and read books such as mine in order to get to that reality.
What do you feel is the key factor that allows you the ability to confront Western unwillingness to see the real Asia and an effective observer?
I have spent many years writing about Asia, and as someone who grew up in American culture watching the way that Asia has long been portrayed, I am someone who can clearly see where our images don't conform to the reality of Asia today.
Could you expand on your "crotch-forward, chest-out triumphalism
that has been as aspect of America's dealings for the last century?
I think that clearly says it all, and can be applied to U.S. foreign
policy in any number of contexts. As the most powerful nation on
earth, we have not been shy to exercise our power in very macho,