Photo caption shows enduring power of stereotypes

By Linda Nguyen and Monna Wong

On Tuesday, October 16, the Asian Student Alliance participated in the Department of Multicultural Life’s In the Kitchen With, where members were able to bond over cooking and eating laksa (a noodle soup) and scallion pancakes.

The following Friday, The Mac Weekly published a photograph picturing ASA members at this event. Prominently foregrounded in the photo is GaoNue Xiong, carrying a pot of noodles. However, the caption reads: “GaoNue Xiong ’08 serves a bowl of rice Tuesday during the Asian Student Alliance’s ‘In the Kitchen’ [sic] event at the Cultural House” (emphasis added). There are several things wrong with this. First, Ms. Xiong was not serving anything to anyone. Second, it can be easily discerned from a cursory glance at this picture that it is not a bowl, but a pot, that she is holding. Third, the contents of this pot did not contain rice, but noodles. Lastly, the event is called In the Kitchen With. It was irresponsible and bad journalism for The Mac Weekly to decide for itself what was happening in the picture, without contacting ASA to confirm this, even though there were numerous ways in which The Mac Weekly could have done so. We are sorely disappointed with the newspaper’s inattentiveness to detail, but this issue also raises several concerns for us; the language itself is problematic, as are the assumptions implicated in its usage. Considering the history of the (mis)representation of Asian women and culture, this characterization of Ms. Xiong as “serving” a dish isn’t far from the imagery of subservient “geisha girls” that continues to permeate the media. It is also indicative of a history of stereotyping in which there is a presumed ability to reduce any culture to something as simple as a bowl of rice.

The Asian Student Alliance is indignant about the false representation in this photograph’s caption, as published by a longstanding Macalester institution and disseminated to the campus at large. As an organization that actively works to promote awareness of Asian culture and to address the concerns of Asian-identified students at Macalester, we are prompted to rectify this situation. We feel that these inaccuracies produce a discourse that Asian culture and, in effect, the Asian students on campus who are implicated by this, is insignificant. That they can be represented in any way without consequence. We demand that a formal apology be issued alongside a complete and accurate correction and retraction.

Linda Nguyen ’10 can be reached at [email protected], Monna Wong ’10 can be reached at [email protected] They are American Studies Majors and the co-chairs of the Asian Student Alliance.