Written by: Kaitie Dong, OneAmerica Youth Organizer
Last year at this time, we were still sinking into the uncertainty and new routine of the pandemic, and we were reckoning with the deaths of George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, and the nation’s response. This year, we are coming off of a year of anti-Asian hate and violent attacks on Asian people, inspired by the previous president, Donald Trump. The Atlanta massage parlor attacks in Atlanta, Georgia further highlighted the intersectional violence of racism and sexism.
Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month symbolizes to me an opportunity to both reflect on my community, identity, and position as a Chinese American cis-woman. I grew up struggling to accept my heritage: I did not speak Mandarin, it was tough for me to eat Asian cuisine because of food allergies, and I seldom saw representation of Asian American communities in social media, history, anywhere. Like many in the immigrant and refugee community, I straddled feeling not Chinese enough and not American enough. College is where I met the first Asian American women who became my role models and mentors. They both celebrated and interrogated their identity as Asian American women. They worked to understand their privileges, how they as individuals or their communities have experienced oppression today and throughout history, thought about their relationships with people across different races and generations, and their role in racial justice and in addressing anti-Blackness. They were unapologetically themselves and demonstrated to me that I could be unapologetically and fully myself as an Asian American woman, too.
Asian American and Asian American and Pacific Islanders are terms that are both wins from the movement and also fraught. Oftentimes, people immediately think of East Asian folks (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) when they hear the term Asian American, but this thinking erases the great diversity of experiences from communities that are “Asian” but not East Asian, because there are so many different histories of the variety of countries and communities within Asian. And in general, we should never assume someone’s experience based on their ethnicity – we are intersectional and complex beings. In Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties, author Karen Ishizuka also reminds us that the term Asian American was a moment of reclamation of Asian identity.
Asian American identity is often thought of as close to Whiteness, both in skin tone but also in privilege, but not white. The “model minority myth,” the idea that Asian Americans are the “smartest and most hard-working immigrants or marginalized community,” has pitted Asian Americans against black and brown communities, and has also placed immense pressure on Asian Americans to be excellent. There is a complicated history of both solidarity with black movements, as well as anti-blackness in Asian communities. It is our collective responsibility to use the privilege of our proximity to whiteness to uplift and stand in solidarity with black and brown communities. It is also our responsibility to advocate for ourselves. It is a dance that is only learned through trying and experience.
That being said, AAPI heritage month means we continue to work to center and value Black voices, stories, and lives. Our liberations are bound together – that the Asian American community, the Middle Eastern community, the East African community, the Latinx community (and all the communities within these large signifiers) cannot live authentically and freely until Black Lives Matter in our hearts, minds, and until this is also expressed through anti-racist structures and policies. We also see the great crises in COVID cases in India, state sponsored violence in Colombia, and the ethnic cleansing in Palestine, and we must understand that we as individuals and as a nation have a relationship with these people and places, and our liberation is bound to theirs.
When I started cross-racial organizing at OneAmerica in 2018, I also started a serious journey of reclaiming my identity as an Asian American cis-woman. And since the beginning of the pandemic and onslaught of anti-Asian rhetoric, I have really leaned into a pride of my heritage and Asian American community in King County. I have had mad dimsum and Vietnamese coffee cravings I try to satisfy on a daily basis. And I am grounded when I walk through the Chinatown-International District and spend time with my family. I love our food, mannerisms, and what I have learned from our history – one of many. I am hungry to learn about different histories and experiences, what it means to reclaim my heritage and identity, and how we can show up for one another across race, culture, and borders. I am also hungry to celebrate the beauty of our differences and similarities over food with community.
Resources & Favorite places to frequent!
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Wing Luke Museum
Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties by Karen L. Ishizuka
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Asian Counseling & Referral Services