Discussing Asian American struggles appears to be a tabooed subject–how can we take this matter seriously when the phrase itself sounds like a paradox? After all, according to recent studies, the median of Asian Americans’ household income rests at $66,000 annually while the general public’s rests at $49,800. Admittedly, as Asian Americans, we do pretty well. But the struggles to achieve the end goal are often overlooked. Just like how African Americans and Hispanic Americans are considered minority groups, Asian Americans are a minority group as well, making up 5.8% of the total U.S. population. Because of this statistic our success and our well-being cannot be dismissed as derivative of privilege.
In other words, our struggles are largely internalized because we’re not too vocal about it.
And that’s just it— we need to be expressive. This is a conversation that we should be having; vocalizing our challenges should not be misunderstood as complaining. As a group, we do not have a loud presence in the field of politics. There is very little number of Asian Americans holding public offices and Asian Americans have the lowest voter turnout rate. According to political analyst Michelle Diggles, one of the reasons why Asian American political participation is lacking because many are new to the political process. Studies from 2012 show that 74% of Asian Americans were born in foreign countries, as opposed to 16% of the general public. Currently, Asian Americans only account for 2.5% of Congress and only 3 in 10 eligible Asian American voters are likely to vote in mid-year elections.
The problem is that this is due to our Asian culture. Like so many of this generation’s Asian Americans, I was taught growing up to accept and appreciate what I have, to avoid conflict at all costs, and to not speak unless spoken to. For this reason we have become such a soft-spoken, and consequently, underrepresented demographic. Politicians do not keep in mind our stories and histories because they know we won’t make a scene about it nor will we be likely to vote in the next election. Our culture teaches us to survive, to fit-in, to coexist, but never to surpass, to stand-out, or to lead.
As the next generation of Asian Americans, we are at the intersection of our traditional Asian upbringing and our liberal American education. However, because we are a mixture of two cultures, we are creating something very special: a unique culture of our own. The best thing about our new culture is that it can be shaped and molded— it evolves with us. Thus, it starts with us.
Let’s begin discussing our Asian American story, one untold for far too long. Let’s talk about how little representation we have politically. Let’s talk about how little representation we have in film and media. Let’s talk about how we are not “smart” just because we’re Asian, because being Asian does not indicate that our people are born with a “smart” gene. Let’s talk about the longevity of Asian Americans. Let’s talk about what we want the world to look like and, more importantly, what we can do to change it.
Let’s talk about how tired we are of hearing bigoted and misinformed commentary–such as, “Do you speak Asian,”, “You’re so Asian,” and “You’re Asian, but you’re not Asian Asian,”– because what do those phrases even mean? Let’s reclaim the word Asian for ourselves and decide what we want it to mean. Let’s talk about how Asian American lives matter, too.
Misconceptions about Asian American culture will continue to exist if we further live up to the expectations of this stereotype. It is imperative to collaboratively redefine the connotation of the word “Asian,” regardless of our ethnicities. Let’s not forget that just because we as a general population have higher numbers of college graduates, it was not an easy journey. College was not handed to us on a silver platter; we have struggled through years of labels, racism, discrimination and alienation in addition to our hard work.
These challenges may not be as prominent and our oppression may not be as violent— we might not have even realized it ourselves— but they are nevertheless still present. We are victims of a long tradition of racism and it’s time that we become aware and take action. Because if we don’t start this conversation and fight for ourselves, who will?
Vanessa Hsia is a second-year French and International Studies double major and can be reached at email@example.com.