The Juxtapositions of Asians

Mural in Chinatown/International District, Seattle. Red background with black silhouette painting of people and hands holding chopstick bundles. Words: Chopsticks in a bundle are unbreakable. Photo credit Erin Okuno

I have no fresh analysis to offer regarding the tragic deaths of eight in Atlanta, most of them Koreans women. Asians, like our people of color relations, have always experienced racism. I have nothing new to add on what others who think deeply and share deeply have offered. My friend and colleague Diana wrote about this just two weeks ago, please re-visit her piece. Like Diana’s piece I’m not going to include a list of things to do to make yourself feel like you’re doing something about the current tragedy.

What I will offer is some of the juxtapositions of being Asian mean to me. Things I’ve learned and realized and continue to learn, and learn to care more deeply for my Asian and Pacific Islander community, and extended people of color relations.

We are serious, and we know humor — how else will we survive.

Our Asian community knows how to be loud and quiet at the same time.

We are forced to assimilate to survive, but fight the assimilation to survive.

Our histories guide us, but we lost much of it over generations of ‘becoming American.’

Many of us are generationally American, but will always be an outsider a foreigner – perpetual other to the white Eurocentric norm.

The term Asian is encompassing, yet we are distinct in multitudes of ethnic groups who are each unique and with our own stories.

Our food is delicious, and yet too stinky, smelly, or foreign for others.

We hold onto our traditions, but we adapt to survive – thus we now have teriyaki and orange chicken (both are American foods but often considered Japanese or Chinese foods).

We absorb racism, at times perpetuate anti-Black racism, and are the victims of anti-Asian racism — all to uphold white supremacy. As an Asian community we need to understand this so we can stop causing harm to others that we understand too well.

We are seen as seen as monetarily successful as a racial group, yet we know many who live in such extreme poverty.

We are counted as people of color, but also excluded when we’re seen as too successful.

Our Pacific Islander relations are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism. As an API community we need to do more to fight for Pacific Islander visibility.

We are blamed for COVID19 and the pandemic we did not cause nor control.

We expect justice, but we’re also told to wait our turn, to step back, to let processes happen. We won’t wait our turn, our turn is now, and this does not mean we displace other communities of color — we can do it in solidarity. (See #2 – we are seen as quiet but can be loud.)

Some of these juxtapositions we hold alongside our Black and Brown relations. Many of these stories are similar to other communities of color. There are times we’ve worked in solidarity which makes us a stronger community to fight white supremacy.

What I have learned from my Asian and Pacific Islander communities and our Black and Brown relations is we will continue to do what we need to do. We can’t stop to deal with one crisis while other crises caused by hatred and racism arise. Many of my colleagues continue their work to ensure elders and the most vulnerable are receiving COVID vaccines. We create and continue, despite not being equal – there is no other option. We are advocating for changes to ensure fair treatment and racial justice. We are surviving, grieving, adapting, but can we get to thriving?

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