Being a second-generation Chinese American isn't that tough. We don't get harassed by police on flimsy pretexts, we don't get called terrorists and Chinese men don't accidentally knock things over with their penises. Sure, we once weren't allowed to own land or become U.S. citizens, but that was way back in the ancient past (1940).
In the distant, barbaric past.
Hell, sometimes people even apologize to us for putting us in camps during World War II. That was actually the Japanese, but I guess it's the thought that counts.
That doesn't leave a lot of room for self-deprecating racial humor (the most important aspect of racial identity), but there are a few minor annoyances about being Chinese American that nobody seems to talk about. Not the boring stuff about being caught between two worlds or being pushed to succeed or supposedly having our parts stolen by white people in the Last Airbender movie.
I don't know, I'm pretty sure I've seen white kids that looked like that at my high school.
None of that. This is the stuff that is annoying real actual Chinese Americans every day.
This matters to me because it's my job (or one of my jobs) to make fun of people, and to protect myself, it has to be from my own people. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of publicly known stereotypes to work with. We supposedly can't drive and are good at math, some of us don't speak English very well and maybe something about kung fu. You can maybe make a communist joke if your family comes from mainland China ("In Communist China, Google searches you!"), but if your roots are in Taiwan, you're stuck.
I've been assured that this is hilarious if you're from Taiwan.
Nobody knows anything about Taiwan. You can joke about all the weird organs you're expected to eat as part of Taiwanese cuisine and you will just get blank stares. ("...and there was the Taiwanese guy, eating all the chicken uteruses! Come on. Anybody? Chicken uterus. Taiwanese people eat them.") Someone from the back will yell at you to do some kung fu and then it will all go downhill from there.
Even if you're not doing comedy formally, this really puts a damper on joking around with your friends. You're just sitting there, ribbing each other good-naturedly on your various stereotypes and then someone tries to rib you back and they're all, "Well... why don't you go... get some straight A's or something." Then the whole evening is ruined and everyone has to go home.
Part of this is due to a larger problem...
A lot of Americans can't tell the difference between different Asian races visually, but that's understandable, since we all look nearly identical. We all have similar skin, hair and eye coloring as well as similar facial structure, so it's hard to see the difference. I myself have trouble telling the difference between white folks, like English and Irish, or like Hitler and a cat.
I think the cat is on the left but don't quote me on this.
Everyone who has even the slightest connection to a foreign culture knows that you milk it for cool names. For your kids, your dog, your video game character, your Harry Potter slashfiction, whatever. Then you just wait for the moment where someone asks about it and you can say, "Oh yeah, that means `soul' in Japanese."
Just for kicks, here's an ancient Chinese saying you should try to convince a friend to get as a tattoo. Tell them it's about crisis and opportunity or some shit.
"Half chicken, 3 dollars, whole chicken, 5 dollars."
Unfortunately, while Japanese names look pretty cool written in English (Akira, Kamiko, Yakuza, Chicken Katsu Bento), Chinese names sound pretty lame (Yun-Fat, Chee Hwa, Haier, Egg Foo Young). My own Chinese name is Porchin, which using the modern pinyin system, still comes out to an unglamorous Buoqing. You want to name yourself "great king"? Have fun being "da wang." Sometimes immigrants get lucky when their last names transliterate into something cool, like, "Fang," but more often than not, they will end up like our family friends, the Poons.
The pinyin system really doesn't help the coolness factor by introducing all those Q's and X's. (Pro tip: They're pretty much just "ch" and "sh" respectively.) Instead of sounding exotic and mysterious, I sound like a really desperate Scrabble cheater.
In Chinese Scrabble, you would kill for a hand like this.
I know a lot of other cultures feel our pain, like the Welsh ("Let's name our little girl `white flowers'." "OK, that's... Blodwen."), but if you randomly spin the culture wheel, odds are you'll hit some language that has cooler transliterated English names than Chinese.