“This is just a fun app [that] lets you indulge you and your friends,” writes the developer of “Make Me Asian,” a new smartphone app on Google Play. Created by an account holder named KimberyDeiss, the app lets smartphone users alter their photos by adding so-called Asian features like a Fu Manchu mustache, a rice paddy hat and slanted eyes. According to the app’s description, users get to see what it’s like to be “Chinese, Japanese, Korean or any other Asians.”
But not everyone is laughing. Asian-American leaders across the country say the app perpetuates derogatory stereotypes that should have died out with Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Peter Chin, a Korean-American pastor in Washington, D.C., told IBTimes that he is less offended by the existence of the app itself than by the fact that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) “normalizes” it by hosting it on its Google Play website. “If it were a ‘Make Me Jewish’ app or a character in blackface, it would’ve been removed immediately,” he said in a phone interview. “But for some reason, people think, well, it’s Asians, so maybe that’s not that offensive.”
Chin said he has been unsuccessful in contacting Google to complain about the app -- or even in finding a direct email or phone number through which to do so. After a month of reporting the app through the normal channels, he posted a petition at Change.org, where he hopes the volume of signatories will force the search giant to take notice. As of Thursday, his online petition asking Google to remove the app has attracted almost 3,000 signatures.
Is it working? Chin said that’s anyone’s guess. “Google is so opaque,” he added. “Who knows if they’re even paying attention?”
KimberyDeiss has not listed any contact information on Google Play. A request for comment sent to an email address linked to the account went unanswered. The developer has milked the “Make Me” theme for all it's worth, meanwhile, with such apps as “Make Me Fat,” “Make Me Bald,” “Make Me Old” and “Make Me Irish.” An American-Indian-themed app, “Make Me Indian,” has also attracted criticism. The app descriptions are poorly worded and, in some cases, downright incoherent, suggesting that the developer is not a native English speaker.
Chin admits that the app may not have been created out of malice. Rather, he said, the developer may simply be unaware that such all-too-familiar stereotypes are offensive. “These stereotypes are still being used to humiliate Asians,” he said. “Just the other day I was driving down the road and someone gave me the chinky eyes, where they sort of pull their eyes back and make a face, so it’s not a dead trope.”
The pastor is not alone in his criticism. “Make Me Asian” has provoked scorn from the group 18 Million Rising -- named after the number of Asian-Americans living in the United States -- as well as from the popular blog Angry Asian Man.
As for the app itself, it’s not exactly a critical smash. According to Google Play’s analytics sidebar, it’s been downloaded between 50,000 to 100,000 times, but reviews have been overwhelmingly negative. “This app is crap,” posted one user. “If you want to be Asian, you should work towards making functioning apps.”
Chin said he just thinks the company, whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” should pay closer attention to that oft-repeated credo. “At some point in time we have to understand that these stereotypes are degrading,” he said. “It’s the same old thing with the Fu Manchu mustache. I want to see it die out.”