Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Authentically Asian American?

Happy May Day! It's awfully embarrassing to realize that it's been A FULL MONTH since I last wrote a post (sigh). Do I have any readers out there anymore??? I have found that multi-tasking is something that I'm unable to do anymore post-chemo. And my energy level isn't what it was pre-cancer diagnosis. Sometimes I think these are excuses I make for myself. And then I think, my body went through a lot of trauma, so why not just cut myself slack?

Anyway, that's the rationale/excuse/reason for my not writing more--I've been tired and been trying to keep my head above water with the other commitments I have going on in my life. And I'm sure all of you can understand that because I'm sure you are also trying to keep your head above water.

I'm actually at Williams College right now--I just gave a talk about what it means to be "authentically" Asian American -- and don't worry, it was not a workshop meant to give students a list of all the things they should be doing to be considered an authentic Asian American. Instead, it was a workshop meant to provoke and dismantle the idea of "authenticity" -- or at the very least to trouble the notion of authenticity.

At one point I had two lists on the chalkboard--one with traits and characteristics of "authentic" Asian Americans and one with traits and characteristics of "inauthentic" Asian Americans. And as I demonstrated at the end of the exercise, we can all fit into both categories. I use chopsticks (check authenticity box) but I am not fluent in an Asian language (check inauthenticity box) and I'm married to a white man (this was a little contentious--some students thought this was something that made you authentic and some students thought it signaled inauthenticity--all the more reason to understand the troubling nature of creating such lists).

We also talked about the difficulty of coalition building among Asian Americans and the lack of a discernible Asian American culture--what, exactly, brings Asian Americans together? We do share the common language of English, but unlike the majority of Latinos in the U.S., we don't share a secondary language/culture (although we should remember that Latinos are not a monolithic, "hispanic" origin group and while many do come from Spanish-language backgrounds, different Spanish speaking countries have different words/slang/expressions--and we shouldn't forget about Brazil or indigenous Latin Americans).

So what exactly brings Asian Americans together as common cause?

Jeremy Lin.

Yep, Jeremy Lin's name came up as someone that various Asian Americans, regardless of ethnic nationality/culture could all get behind. One Korean American student admitted that his father, who is not known to root for Chinese people or celebrate Chinese accomplishments nor is a big basketball fan, began watching Knicks games and rooting for Jeremy Lin. This was echoed by all the students at this workshop.

Which brings me to this very astute and moving piece by a former student of mine, Matthew Salesses:

"DIFFERENT RACISMS: On Jeremy Lin and How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans"

About 2 months ago, Matt got in touch with me over email and was kind enough to send me the link to the piece he wrote about Jeremy Lin and what Lin means for Matt and other Asian Americans, especially other Asian American men.

As you'll see by Matt's piece, he's an incredible writer and you should definitely check out his website and his writing (click here).

Matt explains, in very personal terms, what it means for him to be Asian American--for him to grapple with that term and to figure out whether he wants to embrace that racial marker--as he writes in his piece,

"I was taking the AA course to find out what I was."

I know that feeling. I remember vividly my first Asian American studies course and that moment of discovery--the moment of feeling like finally I was being reflected in the syllabus. It's a very empowering feeling--and disorienting when you are Asian American because you realize that the rest of your courses and the rest of society doesn't really want to deal with you as an Asian American in the way you want to be dealt with--with full acknowledgement of the way Asian Americans have been racialized and are marginalized into a model minority monolith that remains invisible in plain sight.

I'm humbled by students like the ones I met at Williams and former students like Matt--quite frankly, they're the reason I teach.


Dianne said...

Glad to see you posting again, but take good care of yourself. Your body knows what it needs.

I read Matt's post out on the Rumpus site a couple of months ago and posted my own lengthy comment. He is a fabulous writer, and his post inspired many comments. It was obvious readers were moved to thought, emotion, and also to share their many experiences. I'm not surprised he was a student of yours. It's a small world!

Keep up the good fight!



AmericanStudier said...

Good stuff, and I'm still reading! Will read Matt's post too.

Keep the faith, take care of yourself, and I look forward to more (at any point!),


skim666 said...

Hi I'm here & reading! And yes, cut yourself some slack! :)