Maya Stevenson

Maya Stevenson

Writing

What comes to mind when you hear the word identity?

I guess I think of being like, half black and half Japanese.

What values do you think you embrace most from those two cultures? How has your identity influenced your values?

I guess culturally, my mom always taught me about tradition and honor and that those are very important values for our family. Like, respecting your elders- I know those all sound very stereotypical, but those are definitely things that my mom really stressed growing up. And I think that gave me a really good sense of respect for authority and discipline. And then My dad is like, the complete opposite. I mean, he respects people but at the same time, he says, “You’ve gotta say what’s on your mind.” He’s very very vocal, and his whole thing was always just being true to yourself. Be who you are, be unapologetic, and embrace whatever that means to you. So those two, my Dad being very outspoken, and my mom being very reserved, I think I’m a little bit more like my mom. I’m a lot more reserved. But I’d like to think that I have both of those cultural influences and values at my core. I try to be who I am and bring that to everything that I do. But I’m also a little bit more soft-spoken about it, I guess.

Those two different backgrounds- how do you think they influence each other? Are there areas of overlap or conflict? They are pretty different.

What’s a good way to say it… I grew up with very a Japanese-heavy household, culturally. Then I grew up in a predominantly White community. At the same time, though, everybody perceives me as being black. So I feel like that influenced a lot of the ways that I acted. Value wise, though, I would say that whatever is at my core is at my core and I took that wherever I went.

How did your environment contribute to your identity? The way I think about it, in the home is where you learn values, and outside is where you kind of put them to the test. See whether or not you really abide by those values, agree with them or disagree with them. Did growing up in an environment that was different from your household influence that?

Well my dad very much stressed those values, and my mom was very supportive of them too, that you should love you who are- especially our diversity. I was very different. But I think I struggled with that a lot- going to school as someone that was different; if there was any question about Martin Luther King, everyone just wanted me to answer it. I think that also being a woman as well, it’s very difficult to be in an environment where you don’t look like anyone. Also, just not looking fully like my mom. Growing up I never really saw that. My dad was the one who did my hair. I think it was just a bit of…I think I’m in the midst of finding out who I am. Very much always trying to be something to fit in, wasn’t really focused on figuring out who I was… I guess in that sense, it was different at home versus at school because at home I was around people who I felt looked more like me or celebrated the cultures that I came from so I was able to be like, I had a voice, versus at school, I very much felt like if I said anything I was representing all black people. So in that sense, those values just kind of being myself. I felt like I couldn’t be.

How would you describe your connection to Georgetown’s AAPI community?

Well, I know people that are in it, but I don’t have too many Asian friends at Georgetown… and I’m just having this realization sitting here with you right now. Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think a lot of my friends are mixed or brown. I think it’s about making a conscious effort to meet different kinds of people, or get involved in certain things. When I got here I was lucky to meet my friends, but I didn’t involve myself in anything that was specifically cultural at all.

 

Interview by Michael Mullaney

Jim Kim

Jim Kim

Writing

“Doesn’t everyone deserve a chance at a good life?”

Jim Kim grew up in Iowa and describes his childhood experience as deeply American. He is the current president of the World Bank and a physician-anthropologist who co-founded Partners In Health (PIH), an organization dedicated to community-focused health care programs in Haiti. He served as director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) HIV/AIDS department and then former Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. In 2009, Kim became president of Dartmouth College, becoming the first Asian American to assume the top job at an Ivy League institution.

In honor of Georgetown’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we were proud to welcome Dr. Kim as the keynote speaker of Georgetown’s inaugural Asian Diversity Dialogue, which was held on Saturday, October 28th.

Hawaii

Hawaii

Expos, Writing
Ian Murakami

When one thinks of Hawaii, gorgeous beaches, sandy shorelines, or balmy and beautiful weather come to mind. Beyond its physical allure, Hawaii’s distinct multiracial culture, rooted in an Asian plurality, adds just as much to its uniqueness and beauty.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 38% of Hawaii’s population identifies as Asian, versus 22% identifying as non-Hispanic white (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/HI). Many Asians in Hawaii have century-long lineages, tracing back to Hawaii’s sugar plantations. While on the “mainland” (what Hawaii residents call the 48 contiguous states), many Asian Americans are the first in their families to be born in the US, many Asians in Hawaii are third or even fourth generation Asian Americans. In a state where even McDonald’s serves rice, “Asian” is less of a lifestyle and more of an influence. In contrast to the rest of the country, where Asian-Americans often struggle with cultural dualities, Hawaii combines “Asian” and “American” into a singular identity, seamlessly and absolutely. A clear Asian American culture arises, where an Asian identity tempers with the unique multiracial “American” culture that surrounds daily life.

Typical Asian stereotypes, like the “tiger parent” or the prevalence of Asian customs in the home, are often anecdotal, recounted as exceptions rather than the rule. My family, like many others, only speak English. Rather than “overbearing” or “nosy,” my parents were particularly supportive of me during the college application process, encouraging me to apply to wherever I wanted to be. Asian food ranges from authentic to uniquely “local:” a Spam musubi straight out of a 7-Eleven comes to mind. At home, Asian-American is less “Asian” and more “American.”

However, even the definition of “American” in Hawaii differs from how it is often defined on the other side of the Pacific. In a state where no one race constitutes an absolute majority, and with almost 1 in 4 Hawaii residents identifying as biracial (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/HI), race is not nearly as impactful or controversial of an issue as it is on the East Coast. I clearly remember classmates in elementary school bragging about how many races they were. Looking at the faces constituting my diverse high school class at graduation, a similar sentiment comes to mind. My neighbors varied from Chinese to Japanese, Filipino to Hawaiian; my friendships from black to Pakistani, Muslim to Christian and agnostic. Identifying as part of one group and part of another has little significance: rather than valuing separate parts of a person, we valued them as a whole.

Hawaii’s culture raises valuable questions for the Asian American community at Georgetown and beyond. What does it mean to be “Asian,” “American,” or both? How do these dualities coexist in mainland America and influence perception of Asian Americans? In a world taut with racial tension, how does Hawaii maintain its unique culture, and what can we learn from this model about our own lives and relationships? I, and the rest of the Asian American community, continue to ponder these questions as we navigate our place in the world around us.

Kaylee Stanzione

Kaylee Stanzione

Interview

Tell us a little bit about your background and your family.

I’m adopted, so I’m from China and I came here when I was about 1 years old. My sister is 2 years older than me and she’s from Korea and she’s also adopted. My parents are from New York and they’re Italian but born in New York. I have a super close relationship with my parents, especially my mom. We call each other every day and I tell her everything that’s going on in my life so it’s really great. She told me when I first started at Georgetown, like, “Oh Kaylee I believe in miracles.” And I was like okay, because we’re not really religious people. But she said she believes in miracles because of all the babies she could have gotten assigned to she got me and I kind of feel the same- of all the couples looking to adopt I got them, and I just feel very lucky.

 

What was the atmosphere of your hometown/neighborhood like? How is your community back home different from the community you found here?

Totally, totally different. It’s weird to be the minority here because in my high school (in NYC) it was about 60-65% Asian and like, 20% white. But here it’s like 60-65% white so it’s completely flipped, you know, and it’s just very different. Back home all my friends were Chinese and I always had Asian friends growing up. I feel like I’m a little bit more comfortable with Asian people and I think that’s just because of my temperament, that’s just what I’m used to. These are the people who I’ve hung out with like all my life.

 

Do you ever feel like you have to balance two identities?

Being adopted is something I’ve always taken pride in. On one hand I love being part of an Italian family, I love Italian food and culture, I love being the one who’s tagged in pasta memes by my friends. On the other hand I also really love Chinese culture. My friend group has always been predominantly Chinese, I’ve been studying the language for 5 years now, and I feel like I click really well with Chinese people. I wouldn’t really say I’ve had to balance the two, because that could kind of sound like the two clash, but rather I’ve always embraced both and accepted that together they’re what I identify as. Sometimes I do feel a little in between, in that my family isn’t super traditional Italian, so it’s not like I can speak Italian (besides my two-day streak of duolingo), or really know a ton about its traditions and such, and I’m also not super Chinese, I don’t know a lot of Chinese culture and I can’t always relate to my Chinese friends about certain things. But I still love both cultures, and I’m still trying to understand both, but I’m pretty happy with what I have so far.

 

How has your experience shaped your identity in the AAPI community?

I usually didn’t face any racism before for being Asian. Like, sometimes my friends would talk about experiencing racism but I never did, especially because my parents are white and I forget sometimes, like, I don’t look like these people. But coming here without them, I do feel a little more like, oh yeah, I am Chinese. The other day I was sitting in Leos and there was a guy sitting near me and he was white. And a lady came to ask this random survey question and she looked at me and then she looked at the guy and she asked the white guy instead. And I was just like- I mean it probably doesn’t really mean anything but I just kind of felt a little like, wait why didn’t she ask me? Does she think I don’t speak English or something? A lot of my friends have told me about how people tell them, “Oh my god you’re Chinese, your English is so good!” and are surprised. And they’re just like, “I’m actually born here and I’m fluent in English, my English is better than my Chinese.” So yea, I don’t have a major experience that shaped me being Chinese but just coming here has made me remember I’m Chinese, I’m not white.

Loung Ung

Loung Ung

Spotlights, Writing

“On previous trips the pirates have stolen valuables, killed people, raped and abducted girls… the women work frantically to ugly themselves up by smearing black charcoal paste on their faces and bodies. With ashen faces, some of the younger, prettier girls reach into the bags we have vomited into and scoop out handfuls of it to smear on their hair and clothes.”

In this excerpt from First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Loung Ung recounts one of many trials she faced in her journey to America. Not even ten years old when she encountered these pirates en route to Thailand, a common detour for  Cambodians pursuing refugee status in the United States, Loung had spent the majority of her short life fleeing violence under the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime. Since the Communist takeover on April 17 th , 1975, Loung had watched the merciless and systematic murder of nearly a fourth of Cambodia’s people. Loung’s memoir has been translated into nine languages and recently converted into a movie. She has worked to shed light on the Cambodian Genocide, too often overshadowed and forgotten in world history. Even deep into the 21 st century, slow legal processes and outright neglect have allowed criminals like Pol Pot and Ieng Thirith, top leaders of the Khmer Rouge, to die in custody without ever facing justice for their inhumanity.

Loung Ung’s sequel, Lucky Child, outlines the struggles she faced as a child immigrant who fled the war-torn jungles of Southeast Asia to the snowy hills of Vermont. Since coming to the US, she has graduated college, been reunited with her family abroad, and inspired millions to engage in activism. She now resides in the Ohio with her husband and has spent her life doing a variety of altruistic work that includes working at a Maine shelter for abused women, with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and doing landmine research with the Peace Action Education Fund.