Asian Americans in the South

By Kim Hoang, ECAASU National Board Advocacy Coordinator

I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, but my family moved to North Carolina when I was two years old. By the time I graduated from high school, I was ready to leave the state and move to New England or California, where I thought I would escape the racism of the South.

The South is seen as the center and primary perpetrator of historical systemic racism in the form of slavery and Jim Crow. Although racism is undoubtedly steeped in the history of all regions of the United States, it seems, according to the dominant American narrative, that only the South has retained remnants of this “antiquated” racism. It has been made into an “other,” a region unlike the rest of the U.S. because of its backwardness in an inability to move on from past racial trauma.

When looking at the histories of the West and Northeast, one can find a rich history of Asian Americans while it’s assumed that no such history has existed where I live.  Although the study of this population is still a relatively new field, we should be paying attention. Éduoard Glissant, a Martinican writer and cultural theorist, explained that history as we know it is not linear or even captures the whole picture. Rather, it is filled with gaps and erasures:

“History (with a capital H) ends where the histories of those peoples once reputed to be without history come together.”

History with a capital “H” has been shaped by dominant groups whose best interest is to write it as they see fit. The prevalent assumption today is that the South is only black and white, but AAPI migration to this region has been growing rapidly. If we continue to accept the way we see the South and reject this region as a whole, we will also fail to see the vibrancy of AAPI communities who reside there. This is why the push for Asian American studies is important everywhere; right now these efforts are especially needed in the South.  

I learned to embrace the South as part of my identity once I learned that while it is a site of struggle, it’s also a site of resistance and resilience. While folks outside of the South have boycotted North Carolina, I’ve seen amazing organizing work, including and led by Asian Americans, take place across the state in defiance to unjust policies. 

For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I invite you to learn more about emerging AAPI history in the South. One book I recommend is Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South, edited by Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai. Not only does this collection of essays address the complexities of gender, immigration, racialization, and religion within AAPI communities, but it also examines how the communities themselves have ultimately shaped the South.