By Young Lee Hertig
The term “the bamboo ceiling” coined by Jane Hyun describes the virtual absence of Asian Americans in top corporate CEO positions despite significant numbers of Asian American students at Harvard (18%) and Stanford (24%). On October 14, 2014, an article called “Cracking the Bamboo Ceiling” posted in The Atlantic stated that Asian Americans account for just 1.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 1.9% of corporate officers overall. 63% of Asian men feel stalled in their careers, a higher rate than any other groups reported. The bamboo ceiling can describe Asian Americans in mainstream culture and media as well. Interestingly, Asian Americans recently filled viewing parties for the new ABC series, Fresh Off the Boat. This “FOB Fever” is an indicator of a hunger in Asian Americans to see our particular stories as told by Asian American actors and actresses. I can think of several significant implications of the airing of a show like Fresh Off the Boat:
- The Power of Resonance: How many times do Asian Americans see their own stories depicted in the mainstream media? Besides the contents, the presentation and representation resonate with Asian Americans unlike ways in the past when white actors/actresses played Asian roles. In addition, when the whiteness and maleness of God is presented as normative, usually people of color and even women don’t raise questions. Questioning the institutionalized norms often means further social distance from the center for the minority. Therefore, the dissonance with the presentation of God is often submerged.
- The Power of Identification: One of the reasons why so many minorities have identity confusion stems from the absence of our stories and faces in the mainstream. Our look and our manners are far from the mainstream media’s constant bombardment of what the heros/heroines look like. Asian Americans, no matter how many generations have lived on this shore, have been treated as “forever-guests” because we look different from the white hosts.
- The Power of Belonging: Living a life as an outsider or stranger causes one to feel insecure and vulnerable. The internalized “isms” of all sorts echoes self-denigration and self-doubt.
With these daily experiences, ABC’s mini-series FOB presents and represents Asian Americans’ stories with self-belittling and satirical humor. Hopefully, the series tracks enough attention because they are also part of America’s stories. One caveat in cracking the bamboo ceiling, however, is that one has to be ready to be ostracized by both one’s own ethnic group and the mainstream. For this reason, I find the comic and satirical approach of FOB to be refreshingly engaging.
Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig is executive director and a founding member of ISAAC (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) and AAWOL (Asian American Women On Leadership). She teaches in the Global Studies and Sociology Department at Azusa Pacific University and is an ordained Presbyterian clergy as well as a commissioner of the Presbyterian Church USA to the National Council of Churches Faith and Order.