APAHM Tributes: Day 2

I think being considered Asian American is a little bit of a misnomer, not because I think the term is inadequate, but of how quickly someone’s history is dismissed once you hear or see that term. It’s as if once you add the “American” addendum to the “Asian” label, people think they know you.

It’s what a lot of the Chinese and Japanese American activists from my research on Asian American activism in the 1970’s struggled with. It’s what I’m still struggling with.

I’m going to be clear about this. Being Asian American doesย not mean we only consider our Americanness and Asianness in isolation. I believe that our identity as Asian Americans has to be intricately tied to our history as a diasporic people. We are and have always been in movement, sometimes by choice, but often times through force.

For today’s highlighting of AAPI figures, I’m thinking a lot about how our histories of immigration & displacement, and the interconnected legacies of imperialism shape our identity and our future as a force for progressive social change.

A lot of what I know about my identity as an Asian American is informed by those in the Asian diaspora who actually aren’t “American”. I believe we learn a lot about ourselves when we think about just how broad our community can be.

Arundhati Roy has been my favorite author since high school.ย The God of Small Things entirely changed my ways of thinking. I had never felt so strongly connected to a novel before. When Ammu tells Rahel that the things you say can make people love you less, it felt like my lungs collapsed. I remember saying horrible things to my mother as a snarky teen, and Roy just knew how to tear into my heart, but in the best way possible. And this was a work of fiction.

Her non-fiction writing, I didn’t discover until later. Her biting criticism of British imperialism, of Hindu nationalism, of forces that tear apart families and countries speaks to me in ways that I never knew was possible. The way that I think about myself as a colonial figure, as simultaneously oppressed by white supremacy but also as an oppressor who benefits from Western imperialism and U.S. nationalism makes me uncomfortable and extremely angry.

I think, as Roy’s novels and articles have taught me, this kind of uncomfortability is the beginning of a deep interrogation of how we fit in the world. While #APAHM is a celebration of our accomplishments and the triumphs of our ever-widening community, it must also be a call to reflect on our harrowing past, and how we can work to move forward together.

What authors, thinkers, and artists in the Asian Pacific Islander diaspora have pushed you to think beyond the limits of a fixed nation-state based identity? Share with me your thoughts!

Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

It’s May 1st. Your social media accounts are probably brimming with posts about Asian Americans for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (#APAHM) and/or #MayDay (for labor rights).

Well, time to add a post from me into the mix.

I always talk about how when I was younger, I clung to figures like Mulan and Lucy Liu because they were the only Asian womxn I knew of. But really, my mom was my first Asian American hero. And work had always been a part of my momma’s life. Growing up, she worked two jobs, was always tired, but made it seem easy. She always reminded us that even though she worked tirelessly, her own mother worked that much more. When I think about how my grandmother must have been exploited in sweatshops and fish factories, I think…this isn’t the past. This is still happening all the time to other #AAPIs and immigrants. This isn’t the “better life” that we assume will be waiting for us.

What I’m arguing now for #APAHM, is that labor rights and celebrating the accomplishments of #AAPI folks shouldn’t be done in isolation. AAPIs have been a source of exploited labor for generations. Let’s not forget our past (eg: Chinese railroad workers) or pretend like our communities aren’t currently fighting exploitative employers in restaurants and nail salons.

The lack of representation of AAPI people in the media, in the academy, in spaces throughout the US is troubling. The exploitation of our work, whether it’s minimum wage (or lower) labor or hitting the bamboo ceiling in corporate and academic environments, isn’t going away anytime soon.

How do we feel hopeful without ignoring the constant struggles we endure?

In these times, I turn to the many amazing #AAPI folks doing incredibly important, enriching things for our community and beyond.

This month, I’m going to highlight #AsianAmericans and those in the diaspora who do some really cool things that I think y’all should know about (some related to labor rights, but some also not).

FIRST UP:

– Artist, Natalie Bui has illustrated a great post documenting the history of Vietnamese manicurists and their struggles: https://www.instagram.com/p/BucsCDihrVG/

– Ai-jen Poo’s work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance has given support and resources to domestic workers all over the country–many of whom are of Pacific Islander and South Asian descent: https://www.domesticworkers.org/

MOREOVER, Ai-jen has collaborated with incredible womxn like Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood & Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter to start the Supermajority, a national membership group for womxn across the country to mobilize, run for public office, and hold public officials accountable: https://supermajority.com/about-us/

Have people to tell me about that are part of the #AAPI or Asian diasporic community? Drop me a comment!