I hope it’s better for Asian children growing up in America today, but when I was a kid, prominent Asians in the pop culture milieu were so rare that I would immediately gravitate to any Asian face I saw in the media. The existence of Indiana Jones’ Asian kid sidekick in Temple of Doom or Pat Morita’s Arnold on Happy Days was a major thing. It was so important to latch onto these images that sometimes I assumed certain people were Asian only to learn later that they weren’t Asian at all and it was just my own projection (like the time I thought Megan Fox was in love with me because my neighbor’s dog told me during a dream and…oh, never mind). So here are five people I thought were Asian, only to later have my perceptions crushed by the harsh bright white light of reality (sorry, that doesn’t make sense to me either but it sure sounds nice, don’t it?):

Portrayed by Leonard Nimoy on the TV and film series Star Trek

I grew up watching the original Star Trek series and while George Takei’s Sulu was obviously Asian and that was cool, I assumed Nimoy’s Spock was too. I know I’m not the only one who thought his physical features, including the Vulcan bowl haircut and arched brows that made his eyes look more…uh…slanted, had a distinct Asian…uh…slant to them. And throw in Spock’s dedication to logic and his emotionless demeanor and how could he not be an Asian guy? So when I later read an interview with Nimoy where he talked about performing Fiddler On The Roof as a young actor and making his Jewish parents happy, my reaction was, “What the Spock?!”

Portrayed by Andy Kaufman on the TV sitcom Taxi

I loved Taxi reruns as a kid because the characters were so colorful. But little did I know that a character like Christopher Lloyd’s Jim was only “colorful” because he was a ‘60s druggie dropout. I was equally naïve about Kaufman’s Latka, the “funny foreigner” mechanic who serviced the cabs. The producers of the show never really revealed where Latka was from; smartly allowing the gifted and very weird Kaufman to take his character in any direction he wanted. But I just assumed he was Asian. Kaufman’s accent sounded vaguely “Oriental” and the fact that he literally played Latka as wide-eyed as possible….well, he had to be from Asia, right? So when the show later introduced the very non-Asian Carol Kane as Latka’s wife Simka, my young mind was confused—wait, are there natural blond women in Asia?

Psychologist/founder of analytical psychology

The first thing that threw me off was the pronunciation of his last name. It’s spelled with a “J” but it’s pronounced “Yung?” Really? A deep-thinking and mystical (psyches, collective unconsciousnesses and all that shit) psychologist named “Yung?” Had to be a brotha, right? Then, a teacher showed me the good doctor’s photo:

And then I thought to myself…Damn, Carl Jung is the evil Nazi dentist who tortures Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man:

In other words, he’s a European white dude! Wow! Who says you ain’t learn no real shit in American public schools?

Arch-enemy of Flash Gordon

OK, you have to admit I’m not too far off the mark here. Emperor Ming may have been from the planet Mongo, but he was clearly inspired by that inscrutable Oriental rascal Fu Manchu:

And like his spiritual brother Fu, Ming is intent on destroying the white race, in this case represented by probably the whitest guy in the universe a.k.a. Flash Gordon:

Max Von Sydow kicked serious ass as Ming in the 1980 version of Flash Gordon (still the best of them all) and if he wasn’t awesome enough already, the movie also gave us the greatest film soundtrack to ever exist courtesy of Queen:

Portrayed Kwai Chang Caine on the TV series Kung Fu

Most of our readers probably already know the story of how Bruce Lee was supposed to play the role of the Chinese martial artist wandering the American Old West until the powers-that-be decided they needed to cast someone who wasn’t so…Chinese. Enter David Carradine. Yes, it was total yellow face casting, but it was also a very smart choice. Carradine definitely has that mystical Oriental vibe going for him and the show’s publicity machine even hinted that Carradine might have some Asian blood in him and that he was an accomplished martial artist. Only problem is…none of that turned out to be true. Still he made a whole career of playing off his Caine image doing everything from commercials to movies in full-on Kung Fu mode but I can’t blame a brotha a half brotha a white man for wantin’ to gets paid!


Do I Really Need To Explain Who She Is?

I don’t care what anyone says. Just look carefully at her facial features, she’s totally Asian. Oh, and she’s in love with me. The neighbor’s dog just confirmed it. He said he read it on the internets so it must be true. Woof!


  1. I, for one, refuse to believe Brooke Burke is non-Asian.

    Can we please trade Rob Schneider’s punk ass for her?


  2. you should probably include Steve Perry as many Koreans still think he’s part Korean….

  3. megan fox isn’t asian but i know what you mean. my first thought upon seeing her was that she must have been part asian. apparently she does have some native american blood in her, hence her borderline “exotic” features. and don’t worry philip, i hear she likes korean men especially if they can dance and sing and play ninja assassins.

  4. Great article! I’m glad D.Carradine died in a hotel room from auto erotic asphyxiation, what a deserving way to go out especially after stealing Bruce Lee’s role. The jews should’ve paid royalties to Bruce’s family for Kung Fu as it was his idea. Megan fox had surgery to make her eyes more chinky, can you believe that? Otherwise she’d look like Scarlet Johansen. She must’ve picked up that white men were after asian girls and didn’t wanna be left out of the pick.LOL

  5. Nimoy may not be genetically East Asian, but his character Spock has tons of Asian things about him. The emphasis on logic, discipline, self control, the bowl haircut, the Asian eyebrows and eyes. The entire Vulcan culture is almost like a hybrid of multiple East Asian cultures.

    Similarly, I always thought that Yoda and the Jedi’s from Star Wars were very East Asian. Same thing with the elf people from Lord of the Rings.

  6. My list of people who I thought were Asian included LeAnn Rimes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Captain Picard and Colonel Sanders.

    Anyway, I think a lot of scifi stories have alien races which are based on Asian cultures, and Star Trek is no exception. There was an episode where the Enterprise encountered the Romulans for the first time. The Romulans and Vulcans are cousin races, so they sort of used the episode as a lesson on not judging people based on skin color, eye shape or in this case, ear shape.

    Gene Roddenberry served in WWII, so who knows if he based the Vulcans on the Chinese and the Romulans on the Japanese or vice versa.

  7. Re: Spock… well, maybe not racially speaking, but geologically speaking Jews are West Asian…

    And am I the only one that thought Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years was half Asian?!

  8. And let’s not forget Mongkut, aka Russian actor Yul Brynner, everyone’s favorite King of Siam from The King and I.

  9. I probably shouldn’t admit to this level of nerdism, but my understanding is that the Romulans were created as an analogue of the Chinese during the Cold War-era original Star Trek. It was more about geo-politics than race, however. The Klingons were stand-ins for Soviets and the United Federation of Planets represented the USA.

    Staying on the nerd note for a moment, I met George Takei (Mr. Sulu) once and gushed about the fact that when I was a kid there were only two cool Asians on TV: Nick on Barney Miller and Mr. Sulu. Mr. Takei couldn’t have been more kind or humble about the impact he had on me and (I assume) whole generation of Asian American kids.

    Top of my “list” is Jessia Alba. I was certain she was a fellow happa.

  10. This really confused me. This makes me sad.

  11. When I was a kid and “Short Circuit” was out, I thought Fisher Stevens was of Asian descent. Also, Peter Sellers because when I was 7; the film I first saw with him was “Murder by Death” (a mystery parody) where he played a Chinese guy (spoof of Charlie Chan) who adopted a Japanese son. I was really wrong.

  12. You forgot Stan Lee.

  13. Hung out with Carradine, and he wasn’t quasi-Asian, he was from space. Outer.

  14. How about Summer Glau from Firefly and Serenity? Totally Asian looking.

    And some people who look Asian might have a strain running in them. Kate Beckinsale is an eighth Burmese. Megan Fox has some Native American blood apparently.

  15. @Tom
    Yoda is most definitely Asian. He just several hundred years old is all (in reality, Lucas did rip the name from a Japanese screenwriter, too).

    I also agree with your elf theory. You know how you can rationalize the myth of “dragons” (Chinese or otherwise) coming from people back in the day discovering dinosaur bones and coming up with theories about the creatures? Same thing goes for elves and Euro-centric writers (like Tolkien): back in the day (before the ease of rapid transportation), some Asians wandered around in Europe and were spotted by some people who told their friends who told their friends, and WA LA! A race of beings that looked younger than they actually were, tended to be on the slender side, and were really smart and mystical.

    Also, just to throw into the conversation: I thought Ray Park was Asian. Come on, man–martial artist, last name Park? How excited I was when I heard that we might finally get some on-screen representation in the Star Wars universe…but alas…

  16. Eric, I thought Winnie Cooper was part Asian too. Danica McKellar, the actress who plays her, might as well be Asian since she wrote the book “Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail.”

  17. Winnie Cooper isn’t Asian?!?

    Kill my childhood. NOW.


  18. Sam Cassell!

  19. OMG the last comment is killing me (“Sam Cassell”) because I’ve maintained for years that Sam is my grandmother’s doppelganger.

  20. @Jimmy

    I too thought Ray Park was asian. Instead, he was a Darth. disappointing indeed

  21. How about Catherine Zeta-Jones. Her eyes & nose!

  22. I thought Spike Lee was Asian. In fact, I thought anyone with the last name Lee was Asian. How ’bout that Robert E. Lee, Asian Confederate extraordinaire? =P

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  24. I met David Carradine once while we were both waiting for our cars at a valet. I am Chinese. He struck up a conversation and said, “I played a Chinese person once.” For reals.

  25. About Catherine Zeta-Jones and Megan Fox, the resemblance is before of after surgery? I am really confused about this.. 😉

  26. OMG I totally always thought Leonard Nimoy was Asian until a few years ago! Interesting I’m not the only one.

  27. really…have you ever even seen an Asian before in real life…i can totally understand how as a child you can get images and descriptions of people stuck in your head that are exaggerated and incorrect, but as a grown ass man you think, most of all from the pic that you posted that Megan Fox even remotely, other then when your ignorant and pretend everyone with black hair is Asian…I find it odd, because you have really good grammar, which i didn’t expect, but you come off as a red neck that has never left their little town/existence…Seriously though, MEGAN FOX…WTF…and Flash Gorden was the most horrible movie in history, three years after Star Wars, it was down right awful and terrible looking…and Queen’s soundtrack for the movie “Highlander”, at least in my opinion is much better, and not just because it doesn’t have corniest FX in the history of movies, pants so short you can see ball sacks, and the most horrible actors in history, ok maybe they both have horrible actors…yeah

  28. Leonard Nimoy played a few Asian characters in his time. I can instantly think of Mission:Impossible, season 4 ep 6.

    Jews are Semitic peoples (i.e. ultimately Caucasian), but there was also a lot of Slavic mixing with Jews who lived in those areas. I’m quite certain Nimoy, although Jewish, is of Russian ancestry, so you weren’t that far off. My best friend is Russian, and he looks like he rode in with Genghis Khan.

  29. Leonard Nimoy is of Ukrainian descent, so it would not be surprising at all if he has some asian ethnicity in him. As a matter of fact, just looking at him, you can actually see eurasian features. Many and some would even say most ethnic Ukrainians have asian blood due to the many centuries of turkic rule in that region.

  30. My wife and I enjoy Kung Fu reruns but I see almost nothing Asian in him. He looks whiter than I am.