Asian Joy

Happy Year of the Water Tiger and Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year (LNY) is a very important day for many Asian communities. Since it past, but we’re still in a celebratory mood from LNY I thought it would be a good time to think about Asian joy.

Why Asian Joy

The words Asian and joy are not often seen together. I did a quick online search to read up on the topic, and the first few results was a cargo ship named Asian Joy and many restaurants with names including Asian and joy. Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram gave me more results – hooray to everyone who is finding and naming #AsianJoy.

As I started to think about what Asian joy means to me and others, it occurred to me that to think about joy, we also have to understand the opposites of joy –marginalization, invisibility, assimilation, historical traumas, otherness, etc. Much of the Asian American experiences have roots and feelings in these areas. These are not unique to just Asians – these are universal emotions, and many POCs across race groups have experienced these feelings as well. For many of us, our Asian joys emerge from these feelings of otherness — we find and hold joy in fighting to hold on to our Asian-identities.

Pile of shoes — Asian house

What is Asian Joy

I asked my diverse Asian American friends to share their joys. Our ancestors’ migrations and diaspora stories are vast, but we have common threads that bind the pan-Asian American experience. Our Asian experiences are different and complex. But many of us have shared Asian joy experiences:

  • Walking into the house and seeing shoes neatly lined up by the door, or in some cases a giant jumble of slippers, shoes, and footwear.
  • Family and friend dinners and meals with foods from our cultures or adaptations and mixing of food.
  • Multi-generational gatherings or living. Watching grandparents and great-grandparents sharing cultural and language knowledge. Including documenting and keeping stories shared.
  • Recognizing each other as Asians.
  • Hearing home languages, dialects, and slang used.
  • Representation in arts, media, etc. Representation in movements including the disability rights movement.
  • Perfectly cooked rice, boba drinks, hot pot dinners, and hole in the wall restaurants with amazing food. (+1 joy point for supporting Asian businesses.)
  • Getting good grades. This is feeding into the stereotypes, but there is a lot of historical baggage to unpack around needing to prove worthiness in America, to provide for family, and coping with and dealing with racism.

The complexities of Asian joy are deeper than those bullets above. Such as representation in the arts and media is joyful, because Asians have been absent or tokenized in media for so long. One friend shared how she got teary watching Diana Huey, an Asian, play Ariel in the Little Mermaid at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Seeing an Asian in a role that has traditionally only been played by white people gave many Asians a sense of belonging and breaking an artificial barrier placed by white normative society. Another friend said she cried listening to the Second Wave podcast by host Than Tan exploring the Vietnamese immigrant experience. Hearing stories she could intimately relate to and knowing it was her story was important. As my friend said “When you’ve been ignored or invisible for so long it becomes second nature, so when something disrupts that and you become visible, it feels seismic inside. It’s like you didn’t even know you were hungry for that experience.”

Other friends talked about finding joy in sharing values including Confucian value of honoring and respecting elders, humility, and honoring community needs over self-interest. These are deeply ingrained in many Asian cultures.

Many of us find joy in finding each other and having pan-Asian diaspora experiences. To others we may be labeled as Asian, but within the Asian community, we see each other’s ethnic and cultural differences as joyous ways of sharing. I joked with a friend about having to untangle the different mahjong rules because different cultures play with different variations – Filipino rules, Chinese rules, and the mixed host rules. Same for rice dishes – so many different variations of rice dishes that link our common Asian identities but are unique to cultures, regions, and ethnicities. And many of us find joy when we spot the perfect fusions of our shared identities – the umami of being together that lingers in joy.

As I mentioned earlier some of these joys are found despite and in-spite of being seen as ‘othered’ or invisible. Among my Asian women cohort, we know and we joke about being mistaken for the “wrong Asian.” People see average height, dark haired, Asians and we become interchangeable which erases our individual achievements and contributions. There are times we find humor in this – it makes for easy April fools jokes where we trade nametags or name tents at meetings or in COVID life changing your Zoom name.

Joy All Around

I want to keep writing and sharing the joys we find. There are so many more, I haven’t touched on. I’ll end with a few of my Asian joys. Joy in making my great-aunt’s andagi recipe (Okinawan donuts), I feel like I’m reclaiming a small bit of my Okinawan history and heritage that faded because of assimilation, time, and place. Reading and sharing books by Asian authors with my kids – books they enjoy and can relate to as multigenerational Asian Americans. Walking into an Asian grocery store and knowing the whole store is about the Asian food experience and not being relegated to an aisle or packaged foods. I get excited knowing at H Mart I can easily find purple sweet potatoes. My ears perk up and my brain lights up when I hear people speaking pidgin English and saying “Where you from?” the Hawaii ex-pat code on the mainland.

These are some of the small joys I share with my Asian community. Claiming them is part of my Asianness and my Asian joy.  

A special thank you to my Asian friends who trusted me with their stories and joys for this post.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice based relations.