Memoirs of an Ass-Kicker

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai Feb 7, 2006

One day, you will be… geisha.

I’m so over this recycled wet dream of subservient Asian women waiting for white male liberators, whether they be G.I.’s, “samurais” or American authors.

Believe me, fools, we don’t need you to save us or to write our stories. Every river has its source, and what we see manifest today flows from the past. From Lucy Liu’s bondage-laced back-walking to the percentage of Asian Pacific Islander American women dating or marrying outside of the race, our histories lead us back to who we presently are.

Sure, some people may “just really like dark hair and dark eyes” or “can’t find anyone else they’re attracted to.” But I think there is a feedback loop between Western fetishization of Asian-American women and our own internalized racism, that “white is right,” a perception stemming from our home countries where U.S. dollars and decisions continue to dominate.

As much as Kama Sutra references may drive us nuts here, the truly insidious nature of “Asian Fetish Syndrome” can be found among our sistas in Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, China and beyond where Western men take advantage of global poverty to get off.

No wonder the women in the movies are always sex machines. No wonder they never speak. No wonder they cater to every desire. No wonder they are always so grateful. I don’t know. It must be an Asian thing.

This lazy masturbatory thinking pushes the dehumanization of Asian and Asian-American women forward because it’s convenient. It’s more convenient than owning up to how history impacts us today. It’s more convenient than recognizing how the haves exploit the have nots. It’s more convenient than asking Asian and Asian-American women what they think, experience and feel. “Well, hell,” Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha author) must have thought, “might as well write their story for them.”

I haven’t read the book. I haven’t seen the movie. I don’t plan to. I would rather spend my time experiencing real Asian-American women like Grace Lee Boggs, who fought for labor rights in Detroit, Yuri Kochiyama who cradled Malcolm X in her arms as he died, Jessica Hagedorn, who was one of Ntozake Shange’s original “For Colored Girls…,” and Jhumpa Lahiri who told the truth about the life of immigrants in The Interpreter of Maladies. Yes, my sistas, what do we all have to say about that?

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai is a Chinese Taiwanese American spoken word artist based in Brooklyn and Chicago.