Hall: Big Little Man by Alex Tizon
Writer Aliya Hall analyzes how author Alex Tizon discusses his Asian roots and issues of masculinity.
“I was undesirable. Between puberty and marriage, there probably isn’t a characterization that cuts deeper. It goes into the marrow, finalizes the transaction.”
So writes Alex Tizon in the third chapter of his book, Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self. The book serves primarily as a memoir for Tizon, who recounts his story of growing up a Filipino immigrant in America; however, the book touches on more than just Tizon’s life. He uses it to investigate society’s take on Asian men and women, while discussing the shame he felt in connection to being Asian.
Tizon is a Pulitzer Prize-winner who has worked as both a Seattle Times and Los Angeles Times correspondent. Big Little Man won the 2015 Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction.
The first portion of the book follows Tizon as a young man coming into his own in the “Land of Giants”— his name for America. He describes his adolescent years as “trying on various uniforms of manhood.” He attempts to change his physical appearance to seem more mestizo, and therefore less Asian. Beyond struggling with issues of manhood, though, Tizon faced racial ignorance. He refers multiple times to people who ask, “What was he supposed to be?” or those who say, “It’s all the same thing,” when it comes to those of Asian descent.
Although Big Little Man is categorized as a memoir, it’s more of a societal investigation. The book criticizes Asian stereotypes perpetuated by society, and the effect they have, in this case, on Asian men. These issues are heavily addressed in chapter eight, wherein Tizon reflects upon the cliche that is the Asian penis and how, as he writes, its “color is its size.”
He brings in personal anecdotes from his relationships through college, writing on how shame and stereotypes played a role in his sex life. Tizon isn’t shy when it comes to sharing his personal life. He lays it out for everyone to see, with specific details of conversations and sexual encounters. However, Tizon finds a way to bring up these discussions about sex without taking away from the overall story arc; he takes on the debate without being too vulgar or immature.
These issues of manhood extend wider than just within his life, and Tizon also investigates the role that stereotypes have in American media. He evaluates multiple shows with prominent Asian characters and compares the view of traditional manhood by Western standards to the personalities of the Asian men in the shows. Although he admits to the strides that are being made, Tizon has been used to disappointment.
“I smile inwardly at the small advances, and I swear under my breath at the embarrassments,” he writes.
The book’s organization tends to address such issues on a broader scale before zooming in on his own personal experience. This formula adds more depth to the story, making Big Little Man more than a memoir. This is also seen with the undeniable taste of journalism in the book, although it may not be considered traditional journalism. Tizon spends the last portion of his book telling young Asian men’s stories through interviews. He used these conversations to balance out his opinion when it came to interracial couples in the Philippines, where the men’s ages in a given relationship doubled that of the women’s, or when Asian women discussed reverse racism with being overtly sexualized. While the book throws light mainly on his story, Tizon never really takes off his journalism cap.
But Tizon’s piece does take steps away from the main story line to address other problems facing the Asian race. And the jump between personal testament to historical accounts is abrupt. Although the history adds an important backdrop to the story, its placement after the most intimate chapter in the book makes for a cumbersome read.
Big Little Man is a book that needed to be written, and has received many comments from readers saying that Tizon has told their story. The book is an accurate account of the stereotypes attached to Asian men, but does not leave the reader burdened after setting it down.
Tizon looks to the future and shows the strides of improvement that society has made, and succeeds in opening eyes up to the stereotypes surrounding race.