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This entry was not prompted by this 8asian.com article.
I’m Belle, former (current?) co-Event Adviser of AAA, throwing random entries onto BlAAAG, currently at University of Hong Kong (following in the footsteps of our former Event Adviser, Annie). I may be making snarky remarks as an Asian American expat in Hong Kong, but first, this entire time has been really confusing, and I’m having the identity crisis that never really hit me during puberty.
On face value (prima facie!), Hong Kong seems to have two groups of people: expats and locals. Expats may be seen as ranging from non-Chinese people who were born in Hong Kong to migrant domestic workers and i-bankers to international students at university for the semester. Locals are generally seen (not defined) as Chinese people in Hong Kong; I make this “not defined” caveat because now knowing more about Hong Kong, it is very clear that HK identity is as muddled as the American identity. How do those non-Chinese who grew up in Hong Kong see their own identities? Are Mainlanders who migrate/immigrate to HK Hongkongers? If not, can they claim the identity? How long must they live in HK before becoming Hongkongers? Are Mainlanders whose parents’ permanent residency in HK grants them HK permanent residency make them Hongkongers? What I am having the hardest time grasping is where do I fit into all of this: What about HK-Chinese-Americans/British/Canadians/etc.?
I’m technically an expat. I’ve been an American all my life. I’ve never been to China or Hong Kong before studying here (it is my first time out of the U.S. and it slightly disappoints me that I can’t use my “never been there, can’t go back” line anymore). My English is far superior to my Cantonese, and my written Chinese and Pǔtōnghuà skills are basically non-existent. Honestly, with the minimal language training I’ve had, the only reason why I’m surviving in Hong Kong is the English language the Brits left behind. But no matter how American I may be (whatever “American” means), hardly anyone will believe I’m not an HKer at first glance. Sure, the second I open my mouth and my terribly accented (I’ve been told) Cantonese comes out, the cashier may know I’m a foreigner, but without that badge, they don’t believe my expat-ness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud of my terrible Cantonese - I wish I spoke the language flawlessly, but my Cantonese has turned into a symbol of my foreigner identity here.
I feel that I am walking in the gray space between the expat world and local world. Let me explain. I believe that on an individual level, someone like me, Asian on the outside and (Asian-)American on the inside, would have no problem traveling in the expat world and local world: I can enjoy Soho (expat capital) as much as Shatin or Wan Chai. But what gray space I am speaking of is how society views me, how other people view me and accept me into their world. It seems like I will never be able to fully assimilate into the expat world, as I have an Asian face, but I would never be accepted into the local culture either because I have a foreign concept of the world with a language deficiency to boot. The constant microaggressions come from both sides: the looks that ask: why is this Chinese girl pretending she fits in with us or pretending she’s an expat, how come she can’t speak Chinese even though she is Chinese, how come she can speak Cantonese even though she’s American, why does she choose to speak English? With these preconceived notions, it seems that I can’t exactly fit into one or the other groups. If I am not welcome in either group, I am not sure where I am supposed to fit in.
I’m not sure what conclusions I wanted to draw from this reflection. After all, my exploration or aimlessly wandering in this gray space is nothing compared to the everyday and institutional discrimination non-Chinese people face, especially the discrimination endured by Filipina, Thai, Indonesian domestic workers. I do not know if other East Asian Americans are facing the same microaggressions or have the same thoughts. I guess what I’m wondering is where am I supposed to fit in? Must I prove to everyone in that group (if it’s not the gray area) every time of why I identify with them? But why should I have to? How do I avoid the hostility (from both sides)? Or maybe, do I have the best of both worlds: the mobility to move around, the privilege of acting as an in between, etc.?
P.S. Fun Facts
Fun Fact 1: In the 1800s, free-state California used Hong Kong as an example of why Chinese immigration should be limited. During that time, Hong Kong Chinese still employed muitsais (young girls bought by wealthy families to first, serve the family, and then usually, becoming a concubine to a son of the family). California implored that if the British could not stop Chinese people from owning slaves, how will California limit slavery when the Chinese immigrate with their muitsais?
Fun Fact 2: Some American universities (but not Columbia) warn their students not to participate in or observe Hong Kong protests, due to possible future ramifications. Never mind the fact Hong Kong Basic Law (mini-constitution) grants the right to protest Hong Kong affairs, and most protests in Hong Kong are state-sanctioned (all protests must have a permit from the government in order to proceed).
Fun Fact 3: Hong Kong, along with Mainland, participated in an Anti-American boycott in the 1905 to protest the unfair treatment of a Chinese immigrant in Massachusetts. After immigration officials raided a home of many immigrants, they arrested a man who was living in the U.S. legally without allowing him to show them his proper paperwork. He was later deported due to this incident. The man’s suicide in front of the American consulate in Shanghai sparked the protest.
Tags: firstworldproblems, firstworldguilt
I've been reflecting on my time here at Columbia, thinking about the existence of Asian American ideas and activism on this campus, and the effectiveness of the Columbia University Asian American Alliance as a whole. Do we base effectiveness on awareness, education, community service, activism, how many people show up to our events, getting a large membership? It's always easy to say an organization doesn't do enough, but it's also so easy to say that an organization can only do so much with the resources it has. Many AAA members are doing wonderful things, including picketing at Saigon Grill against sweatshop labor and exploitation, creating Asian American sexuality workshops, and creating teach-ins on Asian American Studies.
But the fact is that people just don't know about Asian American issues.
One could say that Asian Americans have done plenty well here in the United States, that there aren't many negative stereotypes about Asians (good at math? yay!), that Asians have become a very much accepted race in the United States. There are plenty of health disparities, especially in Hepatitis B cases (who knew those were even a problem with this in the United States?) and cervical cancer rates. Asian American women 15-24 lead in the highest suicide rate among all ethnic groups, and APAs are more likely to commit suicide than the "average American." But who the hell knows about these issues? Yes, there are many students out there who know about the transcontinental railroad, Japanese (and Chinese, and anyone who looked Japanese) internment, but less know about the colonization of Asian lands through U.S. imperialism and the fetishization that has resulted, the enslavement of Asian peoples as coolies all over the world, etc. etc.
These issues seem so far removed from our contemporary reality as Asian Americans. Fact is, when many of us are seen as a 'model minority' it may seem like we don't have issues. That, to say the least, has been extremely frustrating to face, both at Columbia and in general.
I've always been sad but proud to say I'm related to a man who, as a martyr, started a pan-Asian American movement that hasn't been matched since the 1980s. But at the same time, I wish I didn't have to be related to a martyr in order to be interested in these issues. Indeed, the documentary Vincent Who? shows just how little our young generation knows about Vincent Chin-or, really, many general Asian American issues. These things still exist: just look at cases of Asian deliverymen being killed, the 2008 assaults on Columbia students, of whom five were Asian, and all the people who are discriminated against after 9/11 for looking un-American or terrorists. Don't get me started on the perpetual foreigner myth.
All of this information and experience I've gathered stirs anger in me. I know I'm not the only one who's had kids pull their eyes back at me or random streetwalkers say "ching chong cheeeee" to me on the streets. It is with this anger that I teach first-grade students how to navigate this biased and racist world. It fuels me. Does it fuel others? I hope so. There's too much in this world to be angry about, and we have to turn that into something. For now, we have to show people that these issues actually matter. I don't want to be preaching to the choir all my life, now.
Last weekend (February 18th to 20th), I attended the 2011 ECAASU at UMass-Amherst, and while I met some wonderful new friends, the underlying messages that I took away from those two days were conflicting. As many of you might have heard, ECAASU has been taking large sponsorships from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, CIA, and TSA. While, understandably, a conference as large as this needs this level of funding to function, the way in which the conference was ultimately carried out bothered me.
Grassroots organizations that were born out of oppression have been historically known to disregard military sponsorship in the name of ideology (citation needed but I do not have). And the history of ECAASU, as relayed by the poignant speech made by Professor Vijay Prashad, is embedded in minority empowerment and suck it to the big man attitude (citation also needed that I do not have). An organization such as this should not be accepting money from an oppressive institution such as that of the American military that ignite wars around the world. But, perhaps, as argued by many, it is time we allow military involvement, for inclusion of the brave men and women who fought so that we can have this discussion in the first place. Inclusion, as stated by the ECAASU national board, is what ECAASU strives to achieve.
Inclusion is a valid point, and I am far from wanting to exclude the participation of the Asian American brothers and sisters who serve in the military to protect the freedom and democracy that we take for granted. However, the argument here is not about the individual military personnels, but the ideological conflicts between the oppressive military and a grassroots campaign born because we were just so fed up with oppression.
I agree that the military establishes our place in our current global society. Without the military, we as Americans would not be enjoying the privileges that we so take for granted. I do not want to antagonize the brave men and women who risk their lives daily so that I can be blogging right now. I understand why such a large chunk (perhaps way too large of a chunk) of our national budget should go to the military. (Though, if I might add, the military really needs to stop throwing money away at dictators and political conflicts we have no right to partake in.) The military is as far from perfect as our society is from equality, but as things are today, I appreciate our leverage, I appreciate that we can have these conversations and discussions and accusations against our military.
However, there is a right time and right place for everything. A weekend that was suppose to be about Asian American empowerment, fight against oppression, and the progression of the AA movement, became a recruitement camp for the Navy and Coast Guard. A ceremony that was suppose to teach young Asian Americans about how they can become leaders in their own right, how they can help to mobilize the movement, became about how as a Coast Guard, you will have amazing stories to tell your grandchildren. Perhaps that was not the intended result the ECAASU planning board had wanted, but that does not change how that weekend played out.
I want to conclude by thanking our men and women in uniform for their dedication and sacrifice. They are our heroes, no matter how we look at it. As the older sister of a teenager brother who wanted to join the Marines because he believed it was a great way of paying for college, I want to save the discussion of the relationship between the military and American minorities for a later time. For now, I am glad we are now having serious discussions about corporate/military sponsorships.
Thank you all for stopping by! Wishing you all a great new RABBIT year!
[23:12] Michael Dea: omg....seriously
[23:12] Michael Dea: you would have been in harvard
[23:12] Michael Dea: or yale
[23:13] Ai-Lin : but seriously, her article perpetuates a societal stereotype
[23:14] Ai-Lin : dude; all them white ppl gonna think we're all smart
[23:14] Ai-Lin : and it makes it harder for me to get into med school
[23:14] Ai-Lin : cause they expect me to play violin like that woman's daughter
[23:14] Michael Dea: that is true lol
Hey all! This is former co-editor David back from the dead.
This week, I started the Microaggressions tumblr with former Blaaager Vivian. We originally wanted to collect the little incidents and anecdotes in our lives that make our Asian American and intersected experiences marginalized. Then we had the idea to put it up on tumblr and collect submissions.
An email and a Twitter account later, this was born. We've had shoutouts on Jezebel and Racialicious. And now, our very own Asian American Alliance blog.
Please send it to your friends and loved ones! Submit posts you have encountered yourself!
ICE Office: (202) 282-8495, if voicemail box full, call live line (202) 732-3000Script: “Hi, I’m calling to leave a message of support for Shing Ma “Steve” Li A#076-143-010 who is scheduled to be deported on Monday. Steve is pursuing a degree in nursing and he is an asset to our community. I ask that John Morton please step in and defer his deportation, thank you.”
As Asian Americans and students at Berkeley, however, we do not aim to advocate for Li because he is a disempowered individual. Our outrage is predicated by the fact that Li is a student just like us and could have been anyone in our communities. According to a report by the University of California Office of the President, Asian/Pacific Islander students constitute 40-44% of undocumented students in the UC system. For obvious reasons, undocumented students of any race typically do not put their illegal statuses up for exhibition. Though we may not know who among our friends and classmates are next, we do know that unjust institutional factors constantly threaten members of our community whose struggles are most invisible.
It is imperative to recognize that Li’s case is not a historical juggernaut for our community. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred the immigration of Chinese nationals to the U.S., emerging as the first conspicuously racist exclusive immigration law in this nation’s history. The California Alien Land Act of 1913 prohibited Asians already in the country (referred to as “aliens ineligible for citizenship”) from owning property. Given that the first anti-immigrant laws targeted Asian Americans over a century ago and that we are about to deport an Asian American for a crime he didn’t even realize he committed, it is blatantly incorrect to say that we have learned from our past and that our history of facing discrimination is over. It is for this reason that we denounce the detention of Steve Li and urge elected officials to stand up against it, for our communities, and for our future.
[APAC] Asian Pacific American Coalition
[hb] hardboiled asian/pacific american newsmagazine
[PASS] Pilipino Academic Student Services
[REACH!] Asian/Pacific Islander Recruitment/Retention Center
[SASC] Southeast Asian Student Coalition
Columbia University Asian American Alliance
Clearly, IGC shouldn’t get money or be allowed to distribute money for members of sororities who are Barnard students and do not pay the appropriate fees.
If this means that sororities stop allowing Barnard students, so be it.
If this means Barnard starts charging students more for the fund, so be it.
As a male CC student, I would only be okay with my money funding Barnard girls if I had received my quota of drunk Barnard-sorority sister sex. But I haven’t. So see above.
Sad, Sad, Sad Asian
Without passing judgment on the first comment, sarcasm or not, why must every guy who cannot get a girl be Asian? It was unprovoked, there was no conversation about race on the whole page, it's simply a comment that came out of nowhere.
September has failed to pass the Dream Act in Congress. The Dream Act is legislation that would have enabled children who were brought to the United States by their illegal parents to gain a path to citizenship if they entered college or the military after high school. Many of these children have grown up accustomed to calling the U.S their home. It just doesn't make any sense to deport 'Americans' out to a country foreign to them, losing valuable contributing citizens of our society. As an immigrant myself, I am disappointed at the turn out of this long awaited legislation.
Why is there such a bitter anti-immigrant sentiment amongst our legislative sectors? Have we forgotten that even the Forefathers that carved the backbones of the American Constitution were descendants of immigrants? Have we forgotten that outside of the rightful Native Americans that are wrongfully quarantined in reservations we are all descendants of immigrants? Immigrants work backbreaking hours day in and day out, tending to crop fields, cleaning your toilets, working in unruly conditions for meager wages, at jobs Americans find dirty and degrading. How are they taking YOUR jobs.
Has America gone insane?