Archives for posts with tag: asian american studies

(The following post is an assignment for my class, Imagining Asian Americans, but that doesn’t make it any less real talk.)

I used to be one of you. Yeah, two years ago I would have skipped out of this post like you’re tempted to right now just after reading the title.

What happened?

Early on, I was taught without words that if I didn’t think I was a minority maybe they won’t treat me like one. That I was better than those minorities. So like a camel sticking its head into the sand, I disavowed that I was different and loudly questioned why we spent so much time studying race at schools. I argued against affirmative action because I thought we should be postracial and colorblind. Whenever minority issues came up, the knee-jerk reaction was to shrug it off, to prove that I wasn’t like those militant-for-no-reason minorities.

In this way I isolated myself from the other minorities. And then I left the Asian-Americans behind, too. I traded in my model minority mandates for new-to-me white rebellion (as much as I could, anyway) because sex, drugs, and rock and roll were way more appealing than the only agenda pop culture ever laid out for me. I avoided other Asians like the plague, worried that people would think I was one of those Asians. I fought to be included in that edge case of “cool” Asians as if my lives depended on it–my throat hoarse from proving that I can be just as loud as anyone else, my purity score plundered by (occasionally reckless) experimentation. Fighting the expectations with increasing intensity, I broke free of the gravitational pulls of the communities I grew up with–to find myself eating moon cakes alone.

It wasn’t really until I went to Jamaica that I started questioning all of this. First, I learned that despite answering “China” for the last 12 years when asked where I came from, I actually identified more as an American at a third point because it explained much more about who I was. Second, I learned that I was pretty happy with my perch outside of the racial binary in Jamaica, which made me realize that I was on a similar perch here. Finally, despite the racialized (racist?) catcalls (“Pssssst Ms. Chin” and “Chinese Japanese!”) that hurricaned on me, I found myself happier about being Asian than I had been in a long time. Why? Because despite the frequent politically-incorrect statement from black Jamaicans, Asians in Jamaica didn’t seem as constrained as Asian-Americans in terms of expectations and stereotypes. They were accepted as just as Jamaican as everyone else. All of a sudden, I felt freed from having to constantly distancing myself from The Stereotype (because it didn’t exist on the island!), an activity that occupied far more of my time and energy than I realized. And then I started wondering why things were so different in America.

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(Liveblogging…or trying to)

A committee within the Asian American Association of Harvard is attempting to set up an Asian-American studies track at the college, and this lecture is the first of a lecture series on Asian-American culture presented by Prof. Eric Tang (who teaches this really interesting-looking class called “Afro-Asian Encounters in the New World.”

Professor Tang: Visiting Professor from the University of Illinois
(General topic: the importance of Asian-American studies)
(All of this is paraphrased. Possibly poorly. First try at liveblogging! Italics are my own thoughts)

There is basically a fight for Asian-American studies here. Asian-American studies have been established at many other schools through protracted struggles, sometimes 5 or 6 years or even 20 years in the making. What usually happens is a group of students gets active, but they’re upperclassmen so as they graduate, their gains are lost. So whatever negotiations you undergo in the coming months, those of you who are underclassmen are really the bearers of the struggle.

What I would like to do tonight is talk about the history of Asian-American studies, and then I want to talk a little bit about what Asian-American studies is and what it is not.

Where does it come from? It comes from a certain moment in the political history of the United States: the ’60s. What was going on? The Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, hippies! A moment of turmoil and profound change where, inspired by the African-American civil rights movement, Asian-American baby-boomers (now in their 40s) developed a pan-ethnic racial consciousness. No longer did they just see themselves as Chinese/Chinese living in the US, etc., but they saw themselves as a pan-ethnic coalition. They used to take offense at being lumped together, but now use the lumping as a source of pride. Like Blacks, young Asian-Americans wanted to talk about their racial marginality and problems, so it drew Asian-Americans closer to other people of color. It was a race-pride identity that affirmed being Asian. Therefore, the Asian-American concept is a racial justice concept.

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