Jamie Chung talks about experiencing racism: 'I can never hide my Asianness'

Kerry Justich
·4-min read

Jamie Chung is dismantling the "model minority" myth that has inflicted the Asian American Pacific Island (AAPI) communities for far too long, sharing that it's only further excluded Asian Americans from sharing their stories and providing authentic representation when it comes to their experiences.

"I think we're conditioned culturally by our parents and upbringing not to get in trouble, not to be outspoken, to be easy going," the actress said in an interview for Byrdie. "Like this whole model minority bullshit, you know?"

The 38-year-old who first landed on the small screen as a cast member of Real World: San Diego has transitioned into a Hollywood actress with a number of notable supporting roles in television and film. Still, she got candid about how her identity has actually hindered her, not only in the industry but in her day-to-day life.

"I've been told multiple times to 'go back to your country,' ...Or when a white person is screaming, like, gibberish to you and making fun of your language," she recalled, going on to explain that the racist sentiments are something she's fearful of even when attempting to go out with some friends. "I was really insecure about that, because I knew my friends and I were going to be targeted," she said. "I always had that fear—it's a bunch of Asian girls and people are just going to holler or make fun or tell us to 'go back to China.' And it's happened multiple times."

It's these occurrences, she says, that have "everything to do with" the way that she's taken a rather passive stance when it comes to her career. She even notes that she"never thought of putting myself first" until a recent moment when she was filming an episode of HBO's horror-drama series Lovecraft Country and was encouraged to think critically of how she could best portray the character Ji-Ah to serve her own narrative, rather than serving that of the main character's. "It's such a simple thing to do, but it just required confidence…something I think I lacked in my entire career."

Now, more than ever, she knows just how important that really is, as anti-Asian violence and sentiments are on the rise. "It really triggered a lot of dark, deep personal feelings and we're trying to figure out why it touched us in this way; why we feel so helpless and why we feel targeted. It's been a slow burning...like unraveling," Chung said of the mass shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people — six of whom were Asian women. "I ask myself, how do I use this energy in a productive way?" she said. "And it's honestly shifting that energy — like, let's really think about why I'm feeling how I'm feeling and like, let's f***ing use that. How can I use this to tell a story, or help amplify other voices, you know? You just have to turn it. It's like jiu-jitsu — you take that shit, and then you flip it."

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She even said that while Asian American actresses like herself did the "best they f***ing could" in terms of representation in the media, the system of white supremacy at play made further progress difficult. "Maybe instead of blaming these people, blame the system," she said. "That's what put us there."

Chung also noted that the model minority myth is an integral part of the system, saying that it's "put in place to further divide us, instead of coming together. We have to remember we are powerful in numbers"

Still, she sees a moment for change and the path for doing so. "It just takes recognizing our value," she said. "Because we were always here. Recognize the value of our storytelling and our personal stories, instead of letting them be told through the lens of a cisgender white person."

"I can never hide my Asianness," she continued. "But nor would I want to. I've been married for five years and I won't even change my last name! I’ll never do it. I love my husband [actor Bryan Greenberg], but it’s just my identity. I’m never gonna change it."

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