Lots of great stuff discussing the Asian American identity in the past couple of weeks has got me thinking. One of the major points of discussion in the APIA community is how invisible Asians of any ethnicity seem to be. Discussions on race nearly always are based around a two-color paradigm: black or white. Connie Zhou, on her site, did a great piece on questioning this existence. And it's almost creepy how much her experience, entitled "The Asian American Awakening: That Moment You Realize You're Not White" resonates with me (and quite a few others, judging by the shares it's gotten). Because that describes my "awakening" perfectly. Growing up in a white suburban town, it took me way too many years to realize that not only did I look different from others, I was different from them. It wasn't just my lack of cheekbones that made me not white, it was also the fact that I spoke another language at home, ate different food, and went to Chinese school every week. Okay, so I was different. Naturally, I wanted to learn more. And that's where the trouble started. I had nowhere to learn from. Straddling the divide between my parents, first-generation immigrants, and my peers (white as white can be), I thought that once I entered college, The Great Realm Of Diversity, that I would have this opportunity. Not quite. College was marginally more diverse, but conversations still revolved around white or black. In order to really explore the Asian American identity, one would have to go to designated APIA classes or organizations. Critical race theory in my sociology classes? Nope. APIA feminists in my women's studies classes? Nope.
And did I ever question it out loud? Ashamedly, nope. And why not? A second article I stumbled upon made me realize a contributing factor. AmasianV, recent biology PhD, in a guest blog post for Scientific American puts it perfectly. Many APIA young folk are taught from an early age to not make a fuss and draw attention to themselves. That to do so was selfish. And so, many of us have become "accomodasians."
I love and hate the word "accomodasian." I love it because it's a pun, and I love puns. I hate it because it's true--it embodies the stereotype of Asians as invisible, the ones who don't stir the pot, who don't speak up, and the women who are pegged as "docile and domestic dolls." We're told that "we don't have it so bad." That we shouldn't complain. And what happens? Conversations on race fly by and our communities' issues are given lip service at best.
Growing up, that was the message I was drilled with over and over again: don't speak out, don't bring up your issues. And not (just) from people in my community. From my white peers, who would look shocked if I said something out of turn. At the end of middle school, I decided to forget those stereotypes and external expectations and became the loudmouth I am today. As many of you may have learned, I have few qualms about making my opinion known. But even now, there are times where I have been told to bite my tongue so I wouldn't "upset" someone, more often than not, this someone would be a non person of color. Well, you know what? I'm already upset. At the model minority myth and yellow fever. Being Asian doesn't make us white. It doesn't make the racism we face any less.
I'm tired of not stirring the pot. I don't want to accommodate people at my own expense. Who's with me?