|At Anchored we have a group of Viet girls whom Steve likes to refer to collectively as "Fitnam."|
I'm not going to pretend that I know the whole history of Asians and weightlifting, but what I can tell you is that it's at such odds with what the rest of pop culture/American mainstream media would show you about us.
Asian men are often portrayed in such emasculated ways. (Unless they're "kung fu fighting," right?) They're always geeks, sidekicks, comic relief - so rarely the hero who gets proper respect and the love of the audience. (There are plenty of cartoonish Asian villains.) Or the love of anyone, really - Steven Yeun's Glenn from The Walking Dead is one of the few examples I can think of of an Asian man on a major show being portrayed as a love interest, especially to a non-Asian woman. (Again, I'm referring to mainstream American media. Of course Asian media is different.)
And Asian women have the double-whammy of being, well, Asian and women. (See also: intersectionality.) Women are already hyper-sexualized and held to rigid standards of beauty. Women are already told not to lift too heavy, or we'll "get too big" or "look like a man." Asian women are also exoticized and fetishized. We're either docile, delicate flowers, or we're dragon-lady seductresses. Or mysterious/borderline-MPDGs token love interests. (I'm looking at you, Wes Anderson.) We're rarely athletes in movies, and definitely never weightlifters.
What Asian people are, and what we're so rarely allowed to be in the media are... total, utterly human beings. We too can be heroes (men AND women). We too can be strong. We too can make mistakes and behave in problematic ways, but we too can inspire and uplift.
THIS is what I see every time I go to the gym - I see the Asian heroes that I never got to see in TV and movies and books while I was growing up. I see strong, sexy, fierce, hardworking, fun-loving men and women who squat, clean, deadlift, jerk, walk on their hands, and run sprints. I see men and women with bulging muscles of varying degree, crushing a heavy weight or flying through the air for a muscle-up. I see spouses, parents, pet-owners, professionals, students, book nerds, and foodies, who are also athletes with each their own strengths and weaknesses, who show up day after day to hoist some barbells and have some good laughs while getting stronger, faster, and more agile.
We're not here to be your goofy sidekick. We're not here to "love you long time." (We're not your wedge either.) We have complexities and complications and triumphs and conflicts, and we are heroes (and villains) too. We have stories that so rarely get told.
American media is changing. These changes have been slow, and we still have a long way to go, but things are changing. And in the meantime, I can take comfort in knowing that I've got a great network of amazing Asian athletes at my gym and in the general powerlifting community whom I can look up to.
*I'm not ignoring how other races are treated by the media - I'm just focusing on one particular group right now, that I identify with. There are problems all around, and there are people who are in a better position than I am to speak about racial stereotypes for groups that I don't personally identify with, and I'm not going to attempt to speak for those groups here. But know that I'm aware, okay?