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December 26, 2012

Asians in Romance

Due to traveling over the holidays, here's an attempt at a scheduled post with some thoughts on a topic close to my heart.

The depiction of Asians in mainstream media and, more specifically, the romantic aspects of such media, has always been something of which I was keenly aware.  Perhaps it's because I grew up in the diverse city of San Francisco or perhaps it's because (surprise!) I'm Asian myself.

Yup, I'm Asian, and I write about boys who like boys. Talk about breaking stereotypes, eh?

Image from
Anyway, this subject came to my attention again recently in an unexpected way.  I happened to have "Prince Ali" stuck in my head (yes, the song from Aladdin), which led me to think about the Disney princesses.  And, being the romance novel reader that I am, of course that led me to think of the romantic attachments of said princesses.

Now, call me crazy, but is it just me or did Mulan get shortchanged in the prince department?

It's been a while since I've seen that movie, to be honest, but I seem to remember lots of focus on the movie's action, very very very little, if any, focus on the romance.  In fact, I just had to IMDB search to confirm that the guy's name is Shang.  While the name might not be all that important as an indicator (e.g., I know Little Mermaid/Ariel's dude was Prince Eric, but I don't remember if Sleeping Beauty/Aurora's prince ever had a name), I still think there was a distinct lack of romance in Mulan compared to the other Disney animated films. They don't even kiss, for Pete's sake! I think he might've shown up at the end or something, but it was definitely not romantic enough to get my HEA buzz going.

The first time I looked deeper into the non-romanticizing of Asian characters actually occurred in college, when I wrote a paper on the depiction of Asians in the Jet Li/Aaliyah action movie Romeo Must Die.  Now that I think about it, I'm probably the only person who can say that they made that movie the subject of a serious academic paper. BUT I got an A, so my use of it was totally legitimized. :D  Anyway, don't read the rest of this paragraph if you've never seen it and you don't want some gentle spoilers.  ***ARRR, SPOILERS BE HERE!*** So the title of this movie seems to suggest a "Romeo & Juliet" type doomed relationship between the young leads, and, indeed, the movie's plot is loosely based on Shakespeare's play.  In the movie, two rival Mafia-like families - one Asian and one African American - are competing for waterfront property for a business deal.  Children within each family - an Asian guy and an African American woman - are caught up in the fight.  However, instead of a love story, they have...a friendship.  Instead of sharing kisses, they ice cream cone.  To which I respond: Where's the romance??? ***ARRR, SPOILERS BE DONE!*** So, yeah, you could say I was a little disappointed.

Finally, in romance novels, I very rarely have seen an Asian, and when I have, they're usually women.  Maybe there's some m/m out there, but as far as I'm aware, I've only read one thus far. (That was Z.A. Maxfield's Drawn Together.)  If anyone has any recommendations for good romances with Asian characters, please drop me a line!

The thing is, I don't think of myself as some kind of crusader for the rights of Asians to be depicted as totally hottt and sexay men and women.  Not all Asians are hottt and sexay. Yours truly not included, of course. *tosses hair saucily*  Totally j/k there, in case you couldn't tell. :)  But really, I'm not saying every single face on a romance cover or movie poster should look like mine. It's just that I find it really odd and unrealistic when there just...aren't any of them out there. And really, I don't even think that's a product of my growing up in San Francisco, a city heavily populated with Asians.

The other thing that I wanted to mention on the subject is that not all Asians eat with chopsticks, are really good at math, love wearing the color red, or have long, shiny, and straight silky hair. No, really, we aren't all like that.  It's possible to be Asian in America and, as an Asian American, have grown up (1) eating Twinkies and Honey Nut Cheerios with milk (no, we're not all lactose intolerant), (2) taking AP English and not AP Calculus, (3) going to the New Kids on the Block concert (woop woop!) with your dad, and (4) regularly seeing spaghetti with meatballs or chicken a la king on your dinner table. Really, a lot of us Asian Americans aren't that much different from everyone else, which is why it's so bizarre to me that there are pretty much no Asians having their romances told between the covers of the thousands and thousands of romances that are being published every year.

That's about all I have to say on the subject for now.  Yes, I'm still working on my WIP, and, yes, one of the guys is half-Asian. But it doesn't really manifest itself outside of his looks, and he's not much different from any other romance hero dude between the pages (or...sheets? *gasp*).  That's the point.

Out here in the real world, we Asians are gettin' some lovin', too, and the books available now should reflect that fact.

Asian for life (literally!),


  1. Hey, I'm an Asian writer and I've done a lot of m/m! In fact, my cowriter and I did a novel called Hawaiian Gothic which is a 100% APIA romance.

    I'm writing an m/f BDSM erotic romance now. With a Chinese-American dude, set in LA.

    Romance and erotica as a whole is incredibly racist and segregated, and writers of color have to deal with that, and face issues white writers never have to. I think m/m is definitely an easier field for more diverse racial representation, but even there, let's face it, the white guys sell it.

    I know a lot of writers I stay the hell away from because they represent Asians in very one-dimensional ways. If it has "Geisha" in the title, I'm gone, for example. I don't like weeaboos so I stayed away from "Drawn Together" since one of the dudes sounded like a weeaboo. I can recommend Lynn Lorenz's No Good Deed for a good, non-stereotypical Asian character in m/m.

    I've got some recommended romances with POC, many with Asians, here:

    Thumbs up on your post!

    1. Thanks, Violetta!

      And oh, that is so so cool! I'm really excited to find other Asian writers. I found out recently that Rhys Ford is Asian, too. Is it just me or do we often write under the cloak of pen names? Hrmmmm...

      Thank you so much for the rec. I was surprised at how few Asian characters I was coming across in my day-to-day reading. It's tough because if I were to read about them, I also think I'd be wary and especially critical of how those characters would be depicted. Stereotyped Asian characters are just as bad as not including those Asian characters in the first place, in my opinion.

      I'll check out your site for those additional recs, too. :) Nice to connect with you on teh internetz!