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Asian Stereotypes

The stereotyping of people, specifically Japanese Americans, or the Japanese, I think, has played a powerful role in shaping who we are, and what we have become. And what we will be.

When Asians first started coming to the United States, they had discrimination from the outset. Immigrants coming from Asia could not become naturalized. So they were, by law, made foreigners in this country. And the Alien Land Law was passed, which denied land acquisition for, the term was, “Aliens ineligible for citizenship,” which meant Asians. But the word Asians wasn't used.

These laws, and these attitudes, were based on stereotypes that they had of Asians. And those stereotypes were reinforced by the stage plays at that time, by the newspaper cartoons at that time. And as society and the media grew, it became a part of the movies and part of songs stereotyping Asians. Stage plays that stereotyped Asians. And so when internment came down, it was those stereotypes that contributed to the hysteria of getting rid of the Japs from the west coast. During the war time, Chinese played the roles of Japanese. Those stereotypes. Asians rented out our faces to contribute to the maintenance of that stereotype. These stereotypes were created by whites that had no understanding of who we were as people. It was their vision of us, colored by the politics of that time. We contributed our faces to that.

But now things are changing. We have filmmakers now, who are Asian American. Writers. Producers. Directors, who are Asian Americans. As well as actors, who are Asian Americans. We are now telling our story from our perspective, in our voices, with our faces. And the faces are rooted in their genuine experiences. So we've made tremendous progress. We have television series now that depict Asian families. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm looking forward to Fresh Off the Boat. I have a couple of friends on that series. So we're making great progress. We need to now develop what I think are Asian American bankable stars, so that feature films now can be told from our perspective, in our voices.


discrimination interpersonal relations media stereotypes

Date: February 3, 2015

Location: California, US

Interviewer: John Esaki, Janice Tanaka

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

George Hosato Takei was born in Los Angeles in 1937 to an Issei father, Takekuma Norman Takei, and Nisei mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura. He was only five years old when his family was rounded up along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans and sent to concentration camps by the U.S. government following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

He earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater at the University of California, Los Angeles and embarked on a career in theater, television, and film. In 1966 he was cast as U.S. Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu on the groundbreaking TV series Star Trek.

In addition to his acting career, Takei has been highly active in public and community service, including serving on the board of the Southern California Rapid Transit District and has been an active and generous member of the Japanese American National Museum Board of Trustees since its inception. 

Since coming out as gay in 2005, Takei has become an effective advocate for LGBT rights, speaking widely about his own experiences, holding public figures accountable for homophobic comments, and serving as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. Takei has enjoyed a renewed wave of popularity in recent years thanks to the infectious humor and warmth of his Facebook page, which has over eight million followers. 

Updated May 2015

Alfredo Kato
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Alfredo Kato

Post-war experiences in Lima (Spanish)

(b. 1937) Professional journalist

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Alfredo Kato
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Alfredo Kato

Stereotypes about Japanese: past and present (Spanish)

(b. 1937) Professional journalist

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George Katsumi Yuzawa
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George Katsumi Yuzawa

Reaction to a 1942 speech by Mike Masaoka, Japanese American Citizen League's National Secretary

(1915 - 2011) Nisei florist who resettled in New York City after WW II. Active in Japanese American civil rights movement

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George Katsumi Yuzawa
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George Katsumi Yuzawa

First impression of New York City during war time

(1915 - 2011) Nisei florist who resettled in New York City after WW II. Active in Japanese American civil rights movement

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George Katsumi Yuzawa
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George Katsumi Yuzawa

Neighbors' sympathy after Pearl Harbor

(1915 - 2011) Nisei florist who resettled in New York City after WW II. Active in Japanese American civil rights movement

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Masako Iino
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Masako Iino

Interest in Japanese migration studies (Japanese)

Tsuda College President, researcher of Nikkei history

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PJ Hirabayashi
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PJ Hirabayashi

Experiencing discrimination as a child

Co-founder and creative director of San Jose Taiko

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Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
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Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

The only Japanese family in Ocean Park

(b. 1934) Writer

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Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
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Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Trick in developing the film

(b. 1934) Writer

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Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
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Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Racism doesn't end

(b. 1934) Writer

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Mónica Kogiso
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Mónica Kogiso

Identity crisis (Spanish)

(b. 1969) Former president of Centro Nikkei Argentino.

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Fujima Kansuma
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Fujima Kansuma

Dancing in Japan as an American, in the US as Japanese

(1918-2023) Nisei Japanese kabuki dancer

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Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig
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Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig

Lack of political power led to camps

(1924-2018) Researcher, Activist

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Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig
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Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig

Feeling imprisoned at camp

(1924-2018) Researcher, Activist

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Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig
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Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig

World War II hysteria against Japanese in New York City

(1924-2018) Researcher, Activist

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