Even though it embarrasses me to admit it now, I used to worship the Weezer song, “Across the Sea,” from their album Pinkerton, which I still love to this day even though when I listen to it now, it comes across like one big, whiny, humblebrag-gy, creepy men’s rights activist’s anthem. The song is basically about Rivers Cuomo having an Asian fetish, and eroticizing and fantasizing about this young Japanese schoolgirl who writes him fan letters from all the way “across the sea” and how he wants to meet her and date her even though it’s “wrong” for about a zillion reasons, among them being how he doesn’t really know anything about her except that she adores him, or how he objectifies and eroticizes her and idealizes her as the perfect dream girl with no other desires in life other than to please and adore him or how there is a major power imbalance between him, the adult rockstar, and her, the teenage fan girl, and yet when I listened to that song as a teen, it mostly just stirred up this massive yearning in me for some creepy, delusional, aging rockstar dude to fetishize me, to exoticize and idealize me. That, I thought, was my in. My only choices, I thought, were to be invisible and ugly or to be exoticized into worthiness.
For girls of color, internalizing the message that we are inherently inferior and ugly and freakish can happen explicitly and it can happen insidiously and it can happen just by repeated exclusion. It can happen when you are browsing online beauty tutorials only to realize none of these videos and their various tips and tricks work on your monolids or your eye shape or your skin color, and yes, you’ve seen and understand the disclaimer that there is no one-size-fits all when it comes to beauty, but still, why does the most commonly referred to “size” always seem to not fit the beauty of girls of color? It can happen when you think you’d like to hop on the cotton candy pastel dyed hair trend only to realize that this is not a trend that is easy to accomplish on dark Asian hair and that in order to have pastel pink hair you would literally have to bleach your hair three times and even then it would likely turn dark magenta in a week, and feeling forlorn you scroll through pictures of cute girls with My Little Pony hair online and realize almost all these girls are white. In middle school, it happened under the guise of science, when the smartest girl at my school came up to me and told me that she had scientific PROOF that Eastern European girls are more beautiful than everyone else. She was, of course, Eastern European. Some researchers had conducted a study where the study participants were shown photos of different faces from all around the world with all kinds of skin tones and features, and surprise, surprise, the faces that rated the highest were the ones that conformed to white standards of beauty. I wanted to say that I didn’t need a scientific study to tell me that we live in a world that has historically upheld and continues to uphold the racist belief that white people are better, smarter, more beautiful, more human, more worthy, more complex, more heroic, more inherently good than any other type of person!
Most recently it happened to me when I was in Shanghai visiting my family and decided to pop into an eyeglass store and for the first time in my life, almost every single pair of glasses I tried on fit my face correctly, sat high and comfortably on the bridge of my nose, unlike 99 percent of the glasses I’ve tried on in the States. So I’m not a freak, I thought, my nose isn’t too flat or too oily. I was just excluded. Again.
So when in high school, I read an interview with Rivers Cuomo, the leader singer and frontman of Weezer, where he explains (to Clare Kleinedler, the half-Japanese journalist interviewing him) his fascination with half-Japanese girls, I felt my heart leap a thousand acres:
Well, I suppose that halfway through writing the album, I started to realize or become aware of a pattern in my life that I seem to be having a lot of disastrous encounters with half Japanese girls. And then it developed into disastrous encounters with Asian girls of all sorts. Yeah, I suppose it’s fair to say that I’m fascinated by Asian girls [grimaces]. For some reason, they’re particularly beautiful to me. I don’t know why. And when I became aware of that and also the fact that it was the masculine part of myself that I was learning about in these songs, I remembered the story of Madame Butterfly and the story of the character Pinkerton in that opera. And I decided to use or refer to that story as a means of unifying the record. And so I kept that in mind as I wrote the second half of the record. Pinkerton is the ultimate character representing male id who goes to Japan as an American sailor and hooks up with this 15-year-old Japanese girl and gets her pregnant and then abandons her. He’s thoroughly despicable. [long pause] But I can’t deny that there’s some of that in me.
I read that and thought: There are people in this world who prize girls like me more than other girls? How do I get in on this?? In the very back recesses of my brain, I had a general sense that the reason why people like Rivers idealize and obsess over Asian girls had a lot to do with the long history and legacy of seeing Asian girls a certain way—submissive, delicate, and mysterious—that went hand-in-hand with seeing Asian men a certain way—weak, asexual, inscrutable—and all of it went hand-in-hand with seeing Asian people a certain way—subaltern, perpetually foreign, threatening, devious, strange—and instead of pursuing this history critically and thoughtfully, I waived it off. I didn’t want my bubble to burst. Surely, I thought, there had to be a side to racism that benefitted me. I felt my only chance to survive in a world where I was considered foreign no matter how long I lived in America, where I was considered strange no matter how normal I felt, was to play along. Even if I knew deep down that to try and find love on the basis of being someone’s fetish object was damaging, I could still try. Being the idea of someone I wasn’t was better than being no one at all, I thought.
So I prayed and prayed: PLEASE GOD LET SOME ATTRACTIVE WHITE BOY HAVE AN ASIAN FETISH AND PLEASE LET ME BE HIS TARGET!