What does it mean to be Asian American?
It means that you’re bi-cultural: both Asian and American, yet neither at the same time. In Asia, you’re American; in America, you’re Asian. You are also bi-cultural in the sense that you walk a fine line between being a person of color and being a token white.
It means that you’re a perpetual foreigner: it doesn’t matter that you were born here, or that English was your first language, or that your family has been in America for the past six generations—people see you and assume you’re a foreigner.
It means that you must be the same as the Asian next you and that you share the exact same identity and exact same problems: it doesn’t matter if as a Southeast Asian, you are an underprivileged minority because all Asians are model minorities.
It means that because of the model minority myth, other people of color don’t always see you as a minority, and at times you question whether or not you’re a person of color because you’ve internalized the racism and social constructs. You forget the context of in America and you forget the long history and future promises of discrimination. You forget the history of how and why model minority was created, that the white patriarchy used the Asian American identity as a counter to the civil rights movement of your black sisters and brothers in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s to justify the economic oppression of your Black sisters and brothers.
It means that in terms of compositional criteria for diversity, your identity is yanked around to serve the benefits of others. If we need to seem more diverse, we’ll count you as a minority. If we’re trying to obtain recognition for how we support our underprivileged minorities, we won’t count you because we haven’t given you any support and we don’t want to tarnish our reputation. Asian Americans are left out of the conversation of diversity and minority issues unless it serves others to include us. Ultimately, the issues of Asian Americans are not addressed because it is never about what you need and what is fair to you; it is about how your identity best serves others.
It means that people assume you’re silent and then block your voice when you try to speak. Asian Americans, they never protest or anything, so why should we listen when they talk to us about the inequalities they face?
Being Asian American has nothing to do with geographic lines or skin color or eye shape or any physical markers. Being Asian American has everything to do with the social structures that have been imposed upon us and the sociocultural expectations that are used to discriminate against us and marginalize us starting from the day we are born. Marginalization doesn’t happen by accident.
Edit: For a slightly different version, go here. I do want to acknowledge the two major weaknesses of this piece. I don’t celebrate the Asian American identity and I am only one person. I can not and do not speak for an entire group; my experiences do not represent the experiences of all Asian Americans.
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