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(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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“When American troops began to leave the Philippines at the end of World War II, hundreds of surplus jeeps were sold or given to local Filipinos. Locals stripped down the jeeps to accommodate several passengers, added metal roofs for shade, and decorated the vehicles with vibrant colors and bright chrome hood ornaments. The jeepney rapidly emerged as a popular and creative way to reestablish inexpensive public transportation, which had been virtually destroyed during World War II.”

I’m often mad at “my people” for a variety of reasons, but occasionally I’m reminded that we Asian-Americans have a lot of things to be proud of. The jeepney is, I think, such a great symbol of Asian community and ingenuity in the face of destruction and colonial bullying. And while it is a Filipino form of transportation, I am reminded that its larger cousin, the Chinatown or “dragon” bus, has similarly revolutionized public transportation here in the States. When I was in NYC two weeks ago, I found buses leading to Chinatowns EVERYWHERE. Philadelphia, Richmond, Baltimore, Atlanta, Nashville, Detroit (!), Chicago ($70!!)–this thing is way larger than the Fung Wah everyone talks about. And it’s not just the East side–there’s buses running from SF to LA to Reno and back. Even within NYC, a similar dragon bus system is now challenging the Metro by offering faster and more convenient service from Manhattan to Queens at a competitive price.

The dragon buses rose out of the need for community so strongly built into Asian cultures. Once one Chinatown was cheaply connected to another, people could more easily visit their families and get the goods they needed. Essentially the same thing happened in Montgomery during the bus boycotts, but the dragon buses realized that they could do a better job than what the government was providing and are here for the long haul. It’s an example commonly passed over when people are thinking about community action (even if it’s private companies running it, it did come out of a community need), and unjustly so–if the systems we can build for activists can have the longevity, dependability, and success of the dragon buses, this country will be in good shape indeed.

And while I’m being proud of Asian-Americans, here’s a good (!!!) Asian-American rap group I found.