I hope it’s better for Asian children growing up in America today, but when I was a kid, prominent Asians in the pop culture milieu were so rare that I would immediately gravitate to any Asian face I saw in the media. The existence of Indiana Jones’ Asian kid sidekick in Temple of Doom or Pat Morita’s Arnold on Happy Days was a major thing. It was so important to latch onto these images that sometimes I assumed certain people were Asian only to learn later that they weren’t Asian at all and it was just my own projection (like the time I thought Megan Fox was in love with me because my neighbor’s dog told me during a dream and…oh, never mind). So here are five people I thought were Asian, only to later have my perceptions crushed by the harsh bright white light of reality (sorry, that doesn’t make sense to me either but it sure sounds nice, don’t it?):
1) MR. SPOCK
Portrayed by Leonard Nimoy on the TV and film series Star Trek
I grew up watching the original Star Trek series and while George Takei’s Sulu was obviously Asian and that was cool, I assumed Nimoy’s Spock was too. I know I’m not the only one who thought his physical features, including the Vulcan bowl haircut and arched brows that made his eyes look more…uh…slanted, had a distinct Asian…uh…slant to them. And throw in Spock’s dedication to logic and his emotionless demeanor and how could he not be an Asian guy? So when I later read an interview with Nimoy where he talked about performing Fiddler On The Roof as a young actor and making his Jewish parents happy, my reaction was, “What the Spock?!”
Portrayed by Andy Kaufman on the TV sitcom Taxi
I loved Taxi reruns as a kid because the characters were so colorful. But little did I know that a character like Christopher Lloyd’s Jim was only “colorful” because he was a ‘60s druggie dropout. I was equally naïve about Kaufman’s Latka, the “funny foreigner” mechanic who serviced the cabs. The producers of the show never really revealed where Latka was from; smartly allowing the gifted and very weird Kaufman to take his character in any direction he wanted. But I just assumed he was Asian. Kaufman’s accent sounded vaguely “Oriental” and the fact that he literally played Latka as wide-eyed as possible….well, he had to be from Asia, right? So when the show later introduced the very non-Asian Carol Kane as Latka’s wife Simka, my young mind was confused—wait, are there natural blond women in Asia?
The first thing that threw me off was the pronunciation of his last name. It’s spelled with a “J” but it’s pronounced “Yung?” Really? A deep-thinking and mystical (psyches, collective unconsciousnesses and all that shit) psychologist named “Yung?” Had to be a brotha, right? Then, a teacher showed me the good doctor’s photo:
And then I thought to myself…Damn, Carl Jung is the evil Nazi dentist who tortures Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man:
4) MING THE MERCILESS
Arch-enemy of Flash Gordon
Max Von Sydow kicked serious ass as Ming in the 1980 version of Flash Gordon (still the best of them all) and if he wasn’t awesome enough already, the movie also gave us the greatest film soundtrack to ever exist courtesy of Queen:
5) DAVID CARRADINE
Portrayed Kwai Chang Caine on the TV series Kung Fu
Most of our readers probably already know the story of how Bruce Lee was supposed to play the role of the Chinese martial artist wandering the American Old West until the powers-that-be decided they needed to cast someone who wasn’t so…Chinese. Enter David Carradine. Yes, it was total yellow face casting, but it was also a very smart choice. Carradine definitely has that mystical Oriental vibe going for him and the show’s publicity machine even hinted that Carradine might have some Asian blood in him and that he was an accomplished martial artist. Only problem is…none of that turned out to be true. Still he made a whole career of playing off his Caine image doing everything from commercials to movies in full-on Kung Fu mode but I can’t blame a brotha a half brotha a white man for wantin’ to gets paid!
SPECIAL BONUS PERSON:
6) MEGAN FOX
Do I Really Need To Explain Who She Is?
I don’t care what anyone says. Just look carefully at her facial features, she’s totally Asian. Oh, and she’s in love with me. The neighbor’s dog just confirmed it. He said he read it on the internets so it must be true. Woof!