Monday, March 18, 2013

How Mindy Kaling and Sriracha Make Me Feel Like I Belong

Act #77:  Try some siracha.

There's this photo of Swedish mannequins that have hit the social media circuits.  Two non-emaciated, "curvy", differently figured female mannequins that have captured the attention of women worldwide because 1.) for the first time we actually can imagine our average-builds in those clothes; and 2.) they affirm that women don't all look exactly alike.  But my point today is not to talk about  how various industries distort and ultimately impact female body image, but rather to point out that many of us are screaming at the top of our lungs:  We want to see ourselves in the products you are trying to sell us!  Especially if we are women of color.  As a dark-skin southeast Asian gal, I've had my share of awkward moments like the make-over gone wry when the sweetest, littlest, elderly Mary Kay consultant (bless her heart) "decorated" my face with Caucasian-toned (yes, there is a difference) powders, blushes, and eye shadows.  It was quite a challenge to get those tones to show up on my skin, so her solution?  Cake some more on!  By the time I was done, I looked like a Cirque De Soleil performer ready for my first big show.

When I was just about to graduate from college I was ecstatic that a new sitcom had hit the airwaves featuring an Asian female lead.  Without an accent.  Who wasn't foreign, a seductress, or submissive.  All American Girl, debuted for just 6 months and I'm pretty sure I was the only person in the nation who was captivated by the lead, Margaret Cho, and her culture clash with her traditional Korean mother.  Why, you ask?  Because I could totally relate!  Growing up in Chicago in the 70's I remember watching Three's Company and Happy Days - and while I greatly enjoyed these shows, it was more like creepily peering into someone else's living room.  I could never picture myself as Suzanne Somers (although I did sometimes picture myself dating Chachi).  All American Girl spoke directly to me.  They were my stories, my inside jokes, practically my family sitting there in the living room.  So when the show got cancelled, I was devastated.  It has recently been brought to my attention that one of my favorite stars of the Office, Mindy Kaling has launched a new series called the Mindy Project and I am eager and excited to play some catch up to watch this show, whose premise is built upon a south Asian gynecologist and her professional and personal life.  The Mindy Project is the first televised series ever with a South Asian lead.  I can't tell you how much I loved Kaling on the Office.  Ditzy, superficial Kelly, who unlike most Asian characters, her Asianess wasn't the sole reason she was cast for the role.

Not to compare Mindy Kaling to a spicy, chili-based condiment that most Asians can't live without, but if you haven't heard of Sriracha sauce, well, you're probably not Asian.  Sriracha is to us, what ketchup is to Caucasian Americans, but with a kick, a flair, a blend of spice so tantalizing that we want to smother it on anything from seafood, to spring rolls, to pan-fried noodles.  It is also magical on pizza.  During my childhood I was appalled when my mom would sneak little bottles of this into the Ponderosa, and now I'm just about ready to carry my own bottle around in my purse.  Most recently, I heard that the term Sriracha was added into the Oxford dictionary, which means that the sauce of my ancestors has made it to mainstream America.

I have great hopes that my son will grow up seeing faces that look more familiar on television, and where hot sauce bottles are just as common of fixtures at the dinner table as ketchup bottles.  Finally after almost 20 years since the cancellation of All American Girl, I'm ecstatic to see two reminders of my rich cultural background woven into the fabric of regular, ordinary life - two things no one should have to live without:  Mindy Kaling and Sriracha. 


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