Trying to find myself on TV and why I’ve never been a reader


Graphic by Grace Gosinanont

A study by USC Annenberg reveals some shocking statistics about Asian representation within cinema.

Grace Gosinanont, Arts and Features Editor, [email protected]

Growing up, I’ve always felt like I consumed media by the spoonful. From hoarding all of the “Magic Tree House” books I could find to sneaking an iPad under my pillow to watch YouTube past my bedtime, I have spent a lot of my lifetime digging through fantasy worlds and trying to be whisked away to every one of them. Recently, I swiped through an Instagram reel discussing books written by Southeast Asian authors or representing Southeast Asian characters and excitedly watching, I couldn’t help the stir of disappointment to not see any Thai representation in those books. Curious about how many fiction books did include Thai characters and authors, I made a quick trip to Google and according to Goodreads, only 26 fiction novels have been written by Thai Authors, with picks for character representation being spread out and far-fetched to say the least. A scroll through the small Goodreads list provided me with two discoveries. One, the cover design industry could be a good career path after college because it didn’t look like it required prior experience. And two, if it’s not about sex it’s hardly about Thailand. 

To someone who isn’t familiar with the country, it’s not a cause for concern. For them, Thailand is call girls and ‘one night in Bangkok’ shrimp, and a throwaway Childish Gambino lyric. For them, Thailand is never crisscrossing motorcycles to get to the next market. It’s not heat that trails sweat down their throat that only soda served in bags can cool down. It isn’t hearing geckos and crickets on an evening walk with their grandmother holding onto a hand you won’t see until the next summer break. For them, it isn’t a full life. 

Summer trips to Thailand were the only way I collected the slivers of culture and fresh perspective I wouldn’t get otherwise in the heavily westernized lifestyle I had as a child. My favorite Disney princess songs were from Mulan and one of the first talking points I picked up was how I could speak two languages. I boasted to my elementary classmates how instead of ham and cheese sandwiches I got kai palo on beds of steamed rice and duck noodle soup. It wasn’t until my high school years I realized how important those pieces of myself were. 

Now I’m older. I never finished “Magic Tree House” because it had too many words, I don’t watch my iPad from under my covers because I have glasses and it’ll hurt my eyes, and I still grasp at straws to find a hint of myself in every medium of media I consume. I’m not ashamed of the reputation my country has but I’m angry it’s been given that reputation in the first place. A reputation granted by word of mouth from overseas army men who had no desire to indulge in any of the other beautiful things Thailand could offer. 

This sprouted as an opportunity to rant but I’m starting to feel like this is also an open letter. One that’s being sent to anyone else who has watched TV or read books or watched plays and asked “Where am I?” Representation is finally being addressed but it’s nowhere near enough. The point of starting conversations like this is to remind the many industries and platforms that entertain us that there is always more work to be done. Maybe one day I’ll be able to watch my children light up when someone who looks like them comes on screen like I’ve always been waiting for.