The following is a guest post from Sadia Arshad, a current student at Boston University and former campus ambassador to BU for ECAASU.
Whenever people asked, "Where are you from," or other similar questions pointing to "Where my parents are from," I always responded with: I'm brown or Indian for short. I rarely say I'm Pakistani-Guyanese since most people don't even know that Guyana exists, and I don't feel like explaining the history of my country to a random stranger. However, I would rarely respond with "Asian," because most people don't think that South Asia and its diaspora are a part of Asia. Even other Asians have told me that you're not "yellow Asian, but brown Asian, so you're really not Asian, but Indian," which, in turn, falsely assumes that all "brown Asians" are Indian instead of from the other countries in the South Asian sub-continent or the diaspora.
Unfortunately, this isn't a one-time incident that only affects me. I've heard similar statements from other South Asians, and it affects APIA unity as a whole. Looking at Asian interest groups on college campuses, I see mostly East or Southeast Asian students. Maybe a couple of South Asians might float around on a good day, but that's rare, and only common if the campus isn't as racially diverse. Even when collaborating for cultural events, I'd see the South Asian and Middle Eastern student groups work together, but never South Asian and East or Southeast Asian student groups do an event together. Even as I'm looking at more research and advocacy work in the APIA community, there's a striking divide between the amount of East Asians and South Asians who work together. For instance, at the ECAASU conference earlier this year, though the conference had an array of speakers, I felt as if most of the attendees were East Asian or Southeast Asian. The hosts of the event were also mostly non-South Asian Asians, and in some way, I expected it to be like that. I knew from looking at my campus that most events that are aimed for the Asian community drew in more East and Southeast Asian students than South Asian students.
The role of APIA identification caught my attention because I never met so many Asians until coming to college; most of my pre-college friends, who were Black or Latino, accepted that I was Asian and never made it a big deal of Asian vs Indian. I'm not really sure what caused the "split" between the racial classification of Asian. Maybe after 9/11, to emphasize more hate crimes against South Asians, the growing shift to change the identification of Asian emerged. Maybe the rise of K-pop and Japanese manga and Chinese labor contributed to people thinking of Asia as only those three countries. Maybe there's so much prejudice within the APIA community that we don't want to address it and continue to run around it.
I'm not sure how to approach this topic among other APIA students and when working with other student groups since It's so ingrained in society by now. I'm pretty sure I'll still face confrontation for trying to work with other APIA organizations and receive the same question, "You're not Asian. Why are you here?" I hope to respond with, "Because Pakistan IS IN ASIA and the Indian diaspora COMES FROM INDIA, WHICH IS IN ASIA."