photo of Mike Babchik and 'Man Banter' crew at NY Comic Con. Credit: Bethany Maddock
Dear Mr. Mike Babchik of Man Banter,
You thought you were having fun last month at New York Comic Con when you and your film crew gained access to the convention using your job credentials at SiriusXM Radio. You thought this would be a great opportunity to provide footage for your YouTube show (now defunct, thankfully). You thought it would make great television to pull me aside, to put your mic in my face, to drive your camera's light in my eyes and to ask if you could buy me.
You thought it was just a joke when you said you wanted to buy an umbrella with an Asian girl -- because I was holding a parasol.
You thought you were being clever by mistaking me for a geisha girl, like the many submissive, diminutive women you've seen on TV or on the Internet or in movies.
You thought that because I was small and female and Asian, it gave you the right to ridicule my existence.
Well, this letter isn't for your sake, Mr. Babchik, but for the sake of my childhood, where everyone only told me one story about being a Vietnamese woman, a woman like me. The nasal screech of “Me love you long time!” set to a rap beat. Miss Saigon's little Kim forever pining after her American solider to save her. Robert Olen Butler won a Pulitzer for writing stories about war refugees, but also wrote a book where a Vietnamese – American boy thought his absent mother must be “whoring herself up and down the East Coast.” In the movies, Chris Farley got attacked by the “Saigon whore that bit his nose off” but I was the only one who didn't laugh.
This is what it means to be Vietnamese and to be female in the United States. This is also what it means to be an Asian woman in the eyes of many: sexed up and downtrodden and pitiful and there for someone else's amusement.
This letter isn't for your sake, Mr. Babchik, but for the sake of my mother and my aunts and my grandmothers and my cousins. My family comes from a country you probably have never seen outside of Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. My family is from the city of Saigon.
My grandmothers moved to Saigon when they were young mothers and helped save their families from marching death. They never shot themselves like Kim did in order to give their children a better life.
My mother was born in Saigon. She never walked the streets in front of American soldiers, asking for sucky-sucky for a fifty.
My father's sisters lived in Saigon. They went to the United States and got PhDs because my grandfather wanted to give them the best education possible (you probably thought Vietnamese women are all rice farmers when we aren't being whores).
One of my aunties was one of the last people to leave Saigon. She jumped aboard the final departing helicopter, clinging to the landing skids until they could pull her inside.
This is what it means to be a Vietnamese woman to me: to be brave and strong and intelligent and able to fight to maintain her dignity.
This letter isn't for your sake, Mr. Babchik, but for the sake of so many women who look like me and suffer from actions that take away our humanity in your eyes. You aren't there when I avoid the girls at conventions who play at geisha in mini kimono robes and paste caked on their pale faces. You aren't there when my younger sister wonders if she is loved for who she is and not for what she represents. You aren't there when I am comforting my friend as she sobs about the man who made her suck his cock though she didn't want to.
I accepted an apology representatives from Man Banter made in your name, Mr. Babchik: a remorseful cry from bullies who knew they have been caught. But your colleagues' panicked emails will not make me accept the idea that you could buy me as a cheap joke, because so many of my fellow Asian sisters live their lives with the fear that they are nothing but things to be sold and used and discarded.
This notion cycles itself over and over again in today's culture, like loops of film spinning on a reel, like a rap song on repeat. These stories get repeated until they snowball into an illusion of truth that crushes living hearts and bodies and spirits beneath their weight.
I am writing this letter to tell this to you, Mr. Babchik, and everyone who thinks like you: I will not be bought by your remorse or your shame-filled Internet silence or your own fleeced sense of self-preservation after you said those words to me.
Not because the costs are too high.
But because I was never for sale.
You can read Diana's full account of convention harassment at New York Comic Con on her tumblr here. 18MillionRising.org is currently hosting a petition to have Mike Babchik's employer, SiriusXM Radio, be held accountable for his harassment of Diana and other women.
Diana M. Pho is a scholar, activist, blogger, and performer, who is also known as Ay-leen the Peacemaker in the international steampunk community. She is the founding editor of the award-winning multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana and also blogs for Tor.com.
photo by Rachael Shane