Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Between her question and answer session with college students, a lecture for the community of Swarthmore, and her sold-out comedic performance at LPAC, Margaret Cho sat down with the Daily Gazette to talk about being Asian in America.
Daily Gazette: I was reading your blog, and you talked a little bit about Gwen Stefani and her Harajaku Girls. You said you had mixed feelings towards them because, on the one hand, the depictions of Asians is very problematic, but on the other hand, perhaps something is better than nothing. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Margaret Cho: I actually feel like I was a little hard on them. I think they are cool, they are these cool dancers, it’s just that I’m incredibly sensitive about how I’m portrayed. But I realized that if I criticize them, I’m criticizing Asians who are working. I don’t want to put that idea forward, I don’t want to be so hard-assed that I can’t enjoy what they are doing. I think there are so few images of Asian-Americans out there that you feel you have to be overly-critical of it. But maybe they are a good thing, I don’t agree with the idea in principle, but they may be a good thing.
DG: Do you find that in your predominantly white audiences, is there ever a tendency of ‘Am I allowed to laugh?’ in them?
MC: I don’t find that to be true because I think my act gives them permission to laugh at a lot of things and just be comfortable.
DG: You said once in an interview that the producers of your sitcome, All-American girl, told you that you “weren’t being Asian enough.” How did that feel?
MC: It was very weird to hear that, this idea that somehow there is an authenticity factor missing in our show. This idea of authenticity…means we are not privileged to have the freedom that white stories have, the liberty and the fantasy and the freedom they have to tell their stories. We are locked in this box, as if our truth is only valid if it resounds with certain preconceived notions. And it is racism.
DG: You discussed your struggles with eating disorders while you were growing up, and I was wondering if you feel there is anything particular to Asian communities or communities of color that promote eating disorders?
MC: No, I think eatings disorders are something all women, and even men, have to face. This constant searching for some kind of physical ideal that’s actually physically impossible. It distracts us from what we could be doing, which is changing the world. I think it’s really unfortunate, but I don’t know that it is culturally specific. I think these issues affect women on a large scale, and some men.
DG: How do you think that depictions of Asians in the media have changed since you were a girl?
MC: We are more well-rounded, more prevalent, and much more intelligent and realistic. There’s a lot more dignity there. The attitude towards us has changed. It has gotten better.