In light of the women’s conference held on campus, the chapel speaker asked us to think about how difficult it is to understand a story if we don’t see ourselves represented in that story. She wanted to reassure us that we, whoever we are, belong in the human narrative. We are needed “in the room where it happens.” We belong “in the room where it happens.” Ultimately, we belong in God’s narrative. She proceeded to list marginalized groups that often “don’t belong” in order to convey that these groups do indeed belong in our society.
People of Latin-X descent.
I waited for the list to continue. It did not. Instead, it ended with “et cetera.”
As an Asian American, I was grouped into that “et cetera.” For the millionth time I felt that harsh blow of how difficult it is to understand a story when I don’t see myself represented in that story.
Without saying anything, she told me I didn’t belong in the narrative. Or, at the very least, only part of me did: the woman part. Not, however, the Asian part. And I hope to goodness I get to be all in the narrative, not just a part of me. As long as these other parts of me are disrespected or not taken seriously or rejected, I can’t be in the room at all.
I realize that was most likely not her intention. I understand that she could not possibly have listed every single people group in a short span of time. She did, after all, say “et cetera.”
And maybe I shouldn’t be reacting so strongly to something that has affected me every day of my American-born Asian life. Maybe I should be “used to it.” Maybe I should “know how to deal with it.” But I’m not. And I don’t.
When we say the word “discrimination” in the States, our typical first reaction is to think about the Black/White dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. The country’s history is very much unfortunately filled with outright racism and segregation toward people of African descent, and it’s important that we continue working to restore what European Americans crudely and cruelly tore down by enslaving fellow humans. However, it’s equally important that other minorities experiencing discrimination are not overlooked in the process. Which, I feel, is what has happened to Asians in America.
Partly a result of our historical and/or cultural silence, it’s easy for us to get swept under the rug. In the energetic hubbub of conversations about other racial, religious, and social oppression (in the current environment: Blacks, Latin-X individuals, Native Americans, Muslims, and many gender and sexuality groups), Asian Americans are erased. Nobody thinks to bring them up when addressing “diversity,” whatever that means, unless it’s colleges or work places trying to meet a quota so they can add “Asian” to the “colored” or “non-White” percentage in their statistic release forms and promotional material.
I remember in my high school history textbooks immigration bans on the Chinese people, everything that went down in California after those bans were lifted, Japanese internment camps, and related events got maybe a couple paragraphs or a page of information at most. This annoyed me. I didn’t want to be told to take World or Asian history to learn more about Asian communities, as if they only belonged in Asia. I wanted to learn about the history of those people groups in the United States. But somehow it was always too sensitive or embarrassing or awkward.
We still have relatively limited conversations about it. We assume that if the Asian Americans aren’t speaking up about representation as loudly as the rest, it must not be an issue, they don’t deserve more recognition, or prejudice against Asians in America doesn’t need to be talked about. This simply isn’t true.
Personally, I feel silenced. I feel that if I dare to speak up about how I’m discriminated against in lectures about diversity (of all things), or about how I experience micro-racism every single day of my life, people will invalidate my opinion. It won’t matter as much because it’s “not as bad” as other oppressed people groups. Frankly, I am more often than not ashamed of the Asian part of me, just because of all the stigma around Asian Americans. I might feel empowered as a woman. I might wield around the fact that I’ve lived in the States my entire life and, surprise surprise, English was my first language. But as an Asian? I feel small.
I realize there are countless nuances to this situation. I cannot write about everything in one blog post, and most readers have probably stopped reading by now — I’m right there with you on skimming long blog posts. But this has got to get on the front burner of people’s awareness. We, myself included, cannot keep silencing or refusing to recognize some minorities in favor of others. It sounds cheesy, but we’re seriously in this together. In the end it’s not mainly a race thing. It’s a human thing. We categorize, we assume, we judge, we promote at the cost of putting down.
I’m just asking that, as a start, you see us and hear us. Asian Americans are far more than the stereotypes still circulated in the media, especially in TV shows and movies. Our experiences are just as valid, important, and complex as yours, and that’s worth something.
Asian Americans are here, too.