On Role Models and Yellow Rangers

Here’s an awesome cartoon I read yesterday.

So let’s talk Power Rangers.  My brother started watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers when he was two (not the perfect age for that…I blame his friends.  A day after he got sucked into the Power Rangers realm, I found myself watching at a distance.  Power Rangers were cool…especially that Asian chick who plays the Yellow Ranger.

Before I stared watching Power Rangers with my brother, almost all I ever saw on TV was white kid, white kid, white kid, white kid and, as accurately mentioned in the above cartoon, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  There were skinny kids, fat kids, tall kids, short kids, nerdy kids…and they were usually the ones who were more aggressive, so to speak.  The Asian kids I’ve seen on Barney were those who liked prancing about, and were afraid of spiders.  As naive as it may seem, I thought I was supposed to just sing and dance around…which is something I still do (not very) professionally.  The only exception to these crazy role models was Mulan, who I still look up to even today.  Nonetheless, that general perception changed dramatically after I saw Trini Kwan on TV.

Despite being seven years old, Trini Kwan (i.e. Yellow Ranger) was literally the first Asian girl I’ve ever seen in a mainstream children’s television show about a group of teenagers fighting bad guys; she was the first Asian girl I’ve ever seen being a total badass who was not a cartoon character.  In other words, it had never occurred to me that Asian girls who spoke in perfect English could be the live-action, modernised version of Mulan.

I never really tried to make myself seem like a hardcore Asian chick because that’s when I started primary school, which was a time when I was “proven to be an abysmal, disgraceful student” as described by pretty much all my teachers.  There was really no time to be awesome in the day, so I could only do that in my dreams: to aspire to be like the fictional role models who were just like me.  Asian, female, and…somewhat displaced.

I wrote this in one of my essays for Barnard College (which I happily got admitted recently): I have always admired Mulan.  Location:  Ancient China.  Patriarchal and borderline misogynistic, as women were only meant to bring honour by being betrothed.  It’s what I called “cultural expectations,” as who we are supposed to be are predicated on tradition or stereotypes.  That latter part applies to me, because I never got particularly good grades as a kid, I never wanted to be a doctor, and I can’t even speak Chinese as fluently as my face would suggest the case.  Come on, I want to study Philosophy in college (here’s why), and it technically isn’t a problem.  Unless you’re Asian.  Mulan, thank you for teaching me that I can still find happiness even if I reject social paradigms; rules were perhaps meant to be broken.

Whereas Trini Kwan…you were just awesome.  Word cannot express that.

I often found myself rather disappointed that the people I had aspired to be as a kid were the people I couldn’t formally meet.  “But you can see Mulan at Disneyland” — yes, but not the princess version.  Whatever happened to the Mulan in her soldier outfit with her hair tied up into a bun?  I wasn’t exactly keen on taking souvenir photos with that “other version” of Mulan.  Meanwhile, the girl who played Trini…passed away a few months before my brother was born.  It elicits that “abandonment issue” side of me because the women I found myself relating to were either never there, or are no longer around…

Now it’s ten years later, and I’m still looking up to Mulan and Yellow Ranger.  I can’t necessarily be like them, but they were the fiction that changed me.  It probably isn’t as existential as I make it sound, but…a part of them is always there in me.

They always got my back.

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