I had a fanboy moment a couple of weeks ago. “Steven Universe” is one of my favorite TV shows. Yeah, it is a children’s cartoon, but it also has a good storyline and complex character development in addition to its wholesome themes of friendship. What got me excited, however, wasn’t a crazy twist or suspenseful cliffhanger. It was a simple side plot with a cultural reference.
The side plot was of one of the supporting characters, Lars, showing the other characters — protagonist Steven and other supporting character Sadie — how to make a dish for a potluck when asked what food represents him. He picked a cake. But it wasn’t an ordinary cake. It was an ube cake. Ube is a Filipino word for purple yam and an ingredient of many popular Filipino desserts. Steven and Sadie help Lars make the ube cake, rejoice with happiness because of cake’s delicious flavor and continue on with the main plot of intergalactic conflict.
The reference may have been small, but it was so powerful to me because of one thing: representation. The Asian Pacific American community has faced many conflicts with proper media representation from visibility to cultural appropriation. I was thrilled to think of how many children this scene would reach, especially Filipinx-American ones. It helps fight against stigmas of cultural practices as “weird” and shows Filipinx-American children that there are people of the same heritage out there — even in the creative arts. For me, media representation for the APA community is important because it reinforces how we feel about ourselves but also how others perceive us. While visibility remains an important issue, it is also crucial that representations are not toxic stereotypical caricatures, and I thank “Steven Universe” for celebrating my heritage (not to mention having a diverse cast including voice actors Deedee Magno Hall, Shelby Rabara and Jennifer Paz who have Filipino roots).
As May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, it is a reminder to celebrate different Asian Pacific heritages and to keep pushing outside the month of May. In addition to being a time to be self critical, it is also a time to learn and to listen to others’ lived experiences. Here at Michigan in Color, we offer the stories of some APA individuals. We recognize the many unique stories that are not yet shared, so we encourage students of color to speak their truth anytime, anywhere.
Various APA pieces from MiC (but we encourage all students of color to share their stories with MiC AND outside of MiC):
And many more you can read here.