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So for anyone unaware, this past Saturday (11/10) Mayor Choi came to Columbia to speak about politics, campaigning, and what it means to be Asian American in a very non-Asian American arena. As he talked I was confounded by Mayor Choi’s ease in speaking about Asian Americans and Asian American issues. He spoke about Asian Americans supporting political representatives who advocate for Asian American issues, yet also informing us that many Asian-origin peoples vote in ethnic blocks (if they vote at all). So then, what are these Asian American issues that unite us? It seems problematic that Asian Americans are supposed to share common bonds yet when voting we fall into ethnic categories. This tension especially highlighted in the political arena has led me for the past several days to re-think the term Asian American and what it means.

After endless thinking and conversations with my roommate I have arrived at a tentative conclusion: the term Asian American is inherently destructive and must be re-thought, re-labeled to reflect something more unified. I feel that the term is too broad. I cannot see the connections between Indian, Pakistani, Korean, Vietnamese peoples --- I believe others can’t also. Further proof is this inner group label of South Asian, or South East Asian. Why if there is unity do these sub-labels persist? I feel as if these sub-labels point out to the inherent weakness of the Asian American label. Part of this weakness stems from Asian American not encompassing a single culture, which it cannot even attempt to do because the term reflects too many different ethnic groups. This emphasis on culture comes from my need to find this common thread that is strong enough to connect such differences. This thread doesn’t have to be culture, but religion doesn’t work, appearance doesn’t work, even political outlook doesn’t work. Mayor Choi mentioned how different ethnic groups support opposing political parties. Moreover, while Mayor Choi mentioned that political power comes when groups have a solid economic foundation I would argue that only certain ethnic groups have such a foundation. So what does that mean for our unity under this umbrella term of Asian American?

I ask people to comment, to advise, and share their own knowledge on this issue of Asian American identity. I want someone to tell me that I am wrong (that the term Asian American is not destructive) because I want that safety of knowing I am connected to a greater community.


  1. David said...

    Over the hundreds of years that APAs have been contributing to American society, I think a greater community and identity has been established - only this sense of self is much more subtle and implicit than we realize.

    ... But awareness of issues like this is one of the most primary goals of AAA, so you're right on point!  

  2. katie said...

    not to be confrontational, could you elabortate on what this subtle sense of self is/how it manifests itself?  

  3. David said...

    I mean that APA identity is complicated so much by what generation you are and how you interpret that sense of identification with your fellow Asian American, which can be pretty challenging at times...  

  4. DC said...

    I've often wondered myself what it is exactly that unites the APA community and gives validity to the pan-Asian American movement. The only answer I've been able to come up with (which is probably not what you want to hear) is this: it is not shared culture, but rather a shared sense of victimization and parallel histories of oppression in the U.S. that unites the otherwise disparate Asian American ethnic groups into a single umbrella entity.

    Many would argue that the murder of Vincent Chin heralded the birth of the APA movement. Prior to that event, the Japanese and Chinese American communities had little in common. But after the murder, both groups realized that they had a stake in joining forces because the racist infrastructure of America would not distinguish between Japanese and Chinese. Other Asian ethnic groups followed. It is precisely the fact that racists cannot recognize the diversity of APA's that has fueled the unification of our community and aligned the interests of Asian American groups that otherwise would have nothing in common in the fight against social injustice.

    So in short, it is mainly ongoing racism that continues to sustain our sense of community. Like you, I really hope that I am proven wrong--I would really like to believe that APA's are united over something a little more positive and self-affirming. But so far, I haven't been able to figure out what that might be.  


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