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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.

Part of it is that people are unclear about the term. As we broached in our last general meeting, "What the !%$@ is an Asian American?", the mere identity "Asian American" can span from descendants of peoples as far 'east' as the Middle East and as far 'west' as Hawaii. This is part of why Asian Americans in general have not really mobilized in recent years: there are so many groups defined under the umbrella term. Asian Americans are much more diverse, making the political term less effective than terms like "Black," which has a stronger historical context and shared experience in America.

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 know I, for one, was only brought into Asian American issues because of a hate crime my family was connected to. I want to share with y'all a piece of an email I sent to a (great!) Asian American and Ethnic Studies professor, Gary Okihiro, who's helped a lot as I conceptualize Asian American issues (I was fortunate enough to take his class before I sent him this: take an Asian American Studies class, y'all!):
So when I was six, my mother told me that a relative of mine was really famous somewhere and that he had died. I had no idea who this man was, and casting off my mother as sensationalist, I proceeded to eat my dinner. Later, when I was twelve or thirteen, I was watching a PBS documentary about the Chinese in America, and a moment came on when the doc. started mentioning a pan-Asian movement that begun in the eighties, and I felt empowered. The screen kept plastering a picture of a man who had been killed and where this movement started. My mother came into the room, proceeded to point at the screen, and told me, "Yeah, you're related to him." I found out that man was Vincent Chin. Lily Chin was my maternal grandmother's sister, making Vincent Chin my mother's adopted cousin. [...]  I've been struck by how little my family speaks about him; I think the whole family has just tried to put that past behind us and move on, and I think there's some sadness that the case never really went anywhere. 
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.
As I leave Columbia this year, I can't help but think that many people are stuck in complacency. I feel like so little know what Asian American issues are out there.  People can hold up other causes, of course, but so little is mentioned about Asian American issues.

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.


  1. Web Design Kenya said...

    Only themselves can really understand their issues  


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