Monday, March 14, 2016

What Would It Mean To Have A 'Hapa' Bachelorette?

On a recent episode of The Bachelor, the ABC dating reality show that ends its 20th season Monday night, contestant Caila Quinn brings Ben Higgins home to meet her interracial family.

"Have you ever met Filipinos before?" Quinn's mother asks, leading Higgins into a dining room where the table is filled with traditional Filipino food.

"I don't know," he replies. "No. I don't think so."

As they sit around the adobo and pancit, Quinn's father talks to Higgins, white man to white man. What comes with dating Quinn, the father says, "is a very special Philippine community." Quinn grimaces.

"I had no idea what I was getting into when I married Caila's mother," the father says. But being married to a Filipina, he assures Higgins, has been "the most fun" and "magical."

This scene can be read as an attempt by The Bachelor franchise to dispel criticisms (and the memory of a 2012 lawsuit) concerning its whitewashed casts. It shows how these attempts can be clunky at best, offensive and creepy at worst.

Quinn's run also demonstrates how, as this rose-strewn, fantasy-fueled romance machine tries to include more people of color, diversification looks like biracial Asian-American — often known as "hapa" — women.

Among the 19 women who have won the "final rose" since The Bachelor premiered in 2002, two — Tessa Horst and Catherine Giudici — have been biracial Asian-white. All other winners, aside from Mary Delgado in 2004 who was Cuban-American, appear to have been white. As these handy graphics by writer and video artist Karen X. Cheng show, in the previous seven years, the only women of color who lasted into the final few weeks were of mixed-race Asian-white background. (...)

To understand why only a narrow group of women of color — biracial Asian-white women — survive in this world is to delve into romantic tropes, the stuff The Bachelor is made of.

"As objects of beauty, these women are benefiting from two helpful stereotypes about female desirability," said Ann Morning, associate professor of sociology at New York University. One is whiteness as the persisting standard of beauty. The other is Asian women as sexualized, exotic and submissive.

Taken alone, the first stereotype can be detrimental. "Today, being white is often perceived as a kind of boring, colorless identity," Morning said. But that stereotype about whiteness can work to balance negative stereotypes about Asian women.

Lily Anne Welty Tamai, curator of history at the Japanese American National Museum (and a friend of mine), explained where these stereotypes about Asian women come from. The trope of Puccini's 1904 Madama Butterfly paved the way for American incarnations of a tragic love story between an American soldier and Asian woman in the mid-20th century, when American soldiers brought home war stories — and sometimes brides — from Asia, where women were often part of the conquest. Popular narratives included the 1957 film Sayonara and the 1989 musical Miss Saigon. ("I guess they just never got around to making the Korea version," Tamai said.)

These stories cemented in the American consciousness the idea of the Asian woman as the foreign sex toy: the geisha, the china doll, the "me love you long time" sex worker.

by Akemi Johnson, NPR |  Read more:
Image: Kelsey McNeal/ABC via Getty Images