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Here's How MTV Stars Like Jamie Chung and SuChin Pak Shaped My Asian American Childhood

For Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, one writer discusses how Asian American women on MTV helped her embrace her own Korean-American identity.

In the '90s, trying to find an Asian person on TV was like playing “Where’s Waldo.” Seriously. Growing up, I was only exposed to stereotypical portrayals of Asian women in mainstream media like dragon ladies, submissive geishas, or the token ethnic news anchor. ...Except when I changed the channel to MTV.

That's where I could finally see women who looked like me.

Joann Park

So, in the spirit of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I wanted to throw some praise towards a handful of Asian American MTV-stars who changed the face of television, and inspired me to love my heritage in the process.

Jamie Chung

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Seeing Jamie Chung on "The Real World: San Diego" was the first time I ever saw an Asian person on reality TV. As a second generation Korean American with super traditional parents, I instantly identified with Jamie. In one interview, she recalls her strict father saying “Do not have sex with American boys on TV!” Her mom seemed to be the chiller parent, even paying a visit to the "Real World" house to show her support!

I was in middle school when Jamie’s season aired, and back then I was afraid that my Korean-ness would make me stand out in a bad way. What if my friends or their mothers make fun of my Mom’s accent? What if they think I’m too different or foreign? Seeing Jamie confidently share her Korean heritage with the rest of the cast helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. There was absolutely no reason to hide a part of myself to fit in.

Fast forward 11 years,and this Korean beauty has successfully transitioned into an established Hollywood actress, starring in films like "Big Hero 6" and "Sucker Punch." I'm sending nothing but love and good vibes your way, Jamie--Thanks for always keepin' it real!

Hiroka Hiro McRae

Hiro left Japan to challenge herself, determined to establish a career as a successful dancer and choreographer in the U.S. In Los Angeles, she assembled the dance crew, We Are Heroes, who ended up making it to Season 4 of "America’s Best Dance Crew." On the show, the judges fell in love with Hiro’s unique animation-style choreography, and We Are Heroes popped, locked, and tutted to become the first all-female dance group to take the crown. You can catch all of their jaw-dropping performances here.

Tila Tequila

MTV

When I saw the promo for "A Shot at Love," I didn’t think the groundbreaking part was that it was the first bisexual dating show -- I was more shocked the star was Asian! I was an avid fan of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" growing up, but the franchise was often criticized for its lack of diversity.

"A Shot at Love" broke the traditional dating show mold by featuring a bisexual Vietnamese American host, and openly showcasing interracial and same-sex romance on television. Say what you will about Tila Tequila now, but there is no doubt she left her mark in reality television history.

SuChin Pak

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SuChin Pak is regarded as one of the trailblazers for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry, and for a young Asian American woman like me who is working in media, SuChin is my Oprah. Pak joined MTV News in 2001 as the first Asian American correspondent on the network. During her time here, she interviewed countless celebrities, narrated "Cribs," and hosted some of MTV's biggest shows, including "TRL."

Realizing the lack of media that spoke to her experience, SuChin was inspired to create "My Life (Translated)," a show about bi-cultural teens in America and the issues they face.

From her blog:

"There was never a book, a magazine, a movie, a television show that spoke to my experience as a bicultural teen. I could find a million articles on finding the perfect prom dress or getting the guy of your dreams, but how about 'Ten Sure Fire Steps to Being the Perfect Korean Daughter and Not Be a Freak at Your High School.'"

(That would have been really helpful for me too, SuChin...).

SuChin was like the older sister I never had. In one episode of "My Life (Translated)", SuChin talked about how she felt pressured to have plastic surgery on her eyes, both by her Korean parents and the media. I totally related to her insecurities, as I faced the exact same pressures from my own parents. South Korea is often called the "plastic surgery capital of the world," and double eyelid surgery (Asian Blepharoplasty) is one of most common procedures. Since it was so common (many of my own family members had surgery), my family didn’t think it was a big deal to bring it up from time to time. I know it wasn’t their intention, but their passing comments hugely impacted my self-esteem.

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My issues were so different from kids my age, and I always felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about them. My Korean parents didn’t understand my American friends, and my American friends didn’t understand my Korean parents. "My Life (Translated)" made bi-cultural teens like me feel less alone. SuChin’s work truly helped me embrace both sides of my Korean American identity, and for that she will always be my inspiration.

AND HER BABY IS PERFECT:

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Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments, and to learn more about why representation in media is important, check out Look Different.