As an Asian American/Pacific Islander, can you talk about your identity, your heritage?
Primarily, I identify as multiracial. My mother was born in Korea, but she isn’t really connected with her Korean identity because she was adopted. She also doesn’t believe that she’s ethnically Korean, which would also make sense why she was put up for adoption because at the time (and still in a lot of places in Asia) they really value ethnic purity. Especially in Korea and Japan. She was never really connected to her Korean identity. She was adopted by a white family and she grew up in Iowa, so she didn’t really have the immigrant experience growing up, either. Because she grew up in Iowa during the Vietnam War, she certainly dealt with a lot of people saying horrible things to her, assuming she was Vietnamese, like, “Oh, you should go back to Vietnam.” It was really similar to how people blamed Muslim Americans or people who are perceived to be Muslim Americans today for the turmoil and the conflicts that are going on in other parts of the world. Because she was Asian, because she looked like someone who was from a part of the world where there was a conflict going on, people kind of projected their anger and their emotional anxiety on her and blamed her for being Vietnamese, causing the Vietnam war, and subsequently the deaths of American soldiers. That has more to do with my mom’s identity than mine. *laughs*
What are some ways that Asian Americans can understand the importance of intersectionality and solidarity in the years to come?
I think honestly just befriending people outside of what you consider your own identity or social network. I grew up in a small town where almost everyone was white and Christian. I was so excited to go to Georgetown to be friends with people from different parts of the world and different ethnicities and different backgrounds. You can notice everyone comes to Georgetown and they kind of self-segregate based on ethnicity or religion, and then people complain, “Oh, Georgetown is so segregated,” but I rarely see people reach out to members of other groups or ethnicities. For example, most of my friends are Muslim or South Asian, and I’m new to those things, but honestly, I’ve never found more beneficial friendships. People fear that people outside their ethnicity, their religion, their sexual orientation, are going to judge them for whatever reasons, but honestly, I have never experienced anything but tolerance and acceptance from my friends from different groups. I think people just always assume the worst.
It’s interesting too that a lot of times at Georgetown, people will tell me “Oh, you’re the first gay person I’ve ever been friends with,” or, “You’re the first openly gay person I’ve ever had a conversation with,” which is shocking because I think everyone kind of assumes that people at Georgetown have had these different experiences and have had these different types of relationships across different identities, these different intersectional relationships, but really, I think they haven’t. You just need to reach out to people from other groups. It’s really important.
What can Asian American Pacific Islanders do as a community to combat growing trends of discrimination, marginalization, and racial attacks?
If Asian Americans keep trying to put up barriers, and if we keep voting for people like Trump in an attempt to either differentiate ourselves or in an attempt to better our situations in the short term, or if certain Asian American groups are attempting to distance themselves because Muslim Americans now are being vilified… honestly, do you think that’s going to stop the discriminatory people in power from coming for you eventually? Few groups stood up for Japanese Americans in World War II. Chinese Americans were very quick to say “Oh, we’re not Japanese. We hate them too.” We all saw how that ended, so if we’re not careful, that type of thing could very very easily happen again. We need to reach out to people who are at risk like we are, Asian Americans and immigrants, and stand in solidarity with all of them.