By Joanna Chin | Staff Writer

In our three-part series “The Preferably Unheard,” we aimed to make space for several of our AAPI siblings to share their thoughts and experiences. Part one of this series focused on engaging the silences around anti-Asian racism, and part two examined what it looks like to stand in solidarity with their communities. In this final part, our interviewees map out their relationships to the cultures and communities they identify with and celebrate the rich histories woven into them. 

Historical Spotlight 

What is a history related to the ethnic/cultural communities you identify with that you wish there was more awareness around?

Irene (25, Filipino-American):

The Philippines is still a fairly “young” independent nation, only having gained independence in 1946 after over three centuries of colonial rule — they were first colonized by Spain, then the United States. I believe that the impact of colonization on the Philippines is still very visible. The prevalence of Christianity, use of the English language, and the (unfortunate) presence of colonial mentality among many individuals in the Filipino and Filipino-American communities are just a few of the many salient examples.

Eva (42, Chinese-American):

There are tensions and painful histories that exist between Asian ethnicities and a lot to unpack even within AAPI communities. Even in my own cultural identity, I recognize I embody the complicated relationship between China and Taiwan, that my heritage was shaped by war and continues to be shaped by existing tension.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

James (27, Chinese-American & Taiwanese-American):

I’ll go for something perhaps a bit more obscure, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. This World War II regiment was primarily composed of Asian (Japanese) Americans, who chose to fight for their country in the European theater despite many of their family members being locked away in internment camps by the U.S. government. They ended up being one of the most decorated regiments in the entire war, nicknamed the “Purple Heart Battalion” due to the incredibly high number of injuries and casualties they sustained fighting the Nazis and saving fellow Americans.

Nas (25, American-Bangladeshi):

I wish there was more awareness around the impact of the Bangladeshi diaspora on children today, children who celebrate the culture because of their parents or family but do not actually live in Bangladesh or have the day-to-day community here in the U.S. that might exist there. 

I remember watching Home Alone as a child and hoping that I could one day have that experience where I had all of these family members under one roof. I can count on my hands the number of times I have seen my grandmas who live abroad. I see most of my cousins, aunts, and uncles every four to five years which, until I got older, I did not realize was not normal, but still luckier than a lot of other Bangladeshi people. 

I do have some extended family in the U.S., but there is a whole group of people that I never really get to see. I often wonder how different life would be if the family in my life wasn’t fragmented across the globe, and we all lived in the same state or city.

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

Claiming Roots and Branching Out

How do you identify yourself within AAPI communities, and what has been a source of pride in connection with that identity(ies)?

Bobby (34, Chinese-American):

I identify as Chinese-American. My mother is from Thailand but is of Chinese descent, and my father is from Hong Kong. Pride is a great question and something I guess many Asian Americans who have spent so much time trying to assimilate into American culture might struggle with. I take pride when I see other Asian Americans achieve or make an impact on our world.

Irene (25, Filipino-American):

Within AAPI communities, I identify as a Filipino-American. A source of pride in connection with this identity is the importance of family in our culture. This value resonates with me because it serves as a reminder that I have a community to turn to, especially if I encounter any challenges. 

And for me, family doesn’t necessarily mean just blood relatives either. I have very few relatives here in the United States, so my close friends (as well as my parents’ friends!) are my second family who have helped me navigate through the ups and downs of life. 

When people take the time to share their stories with us, our responsibility is to hold them with the sacred weight they deserve and allow them to shape and expand our worldview and understanding of others.

Joanna Chin

Sharon (32, South Korean):

I am the daughter of South Korean immigrants who came to the United States in the mid-1970s. I am a second generation American, born in the state of Georgia. 

Growing up, my father was a chaplain in the U.S. Army, so I felt more pride in my Americanness and distanced myself from my Korean heritage. I preferred American food, American music and entertainment, and I resisted learning how to speak the Korean language properly. I remember during the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, I insisted on cheering for the American team, while my parents supported the Korean athletes.  

In more recent years, I have been learning to love and identify more with the Korean part of me. South Korea faced decades of oppression under the rule of Japan in the early 1900s and is still technically at war with North Korea. (No peace treaty was signed after the Korean War ended in 1953.) I am proud that in spite of this history, South Korea has emerged on the global scene with its many accomplishments, ranging from K-pop to Korean dramas to the most recent Oscar Best Picture win for the movie Parasite, not to mention the universally growing appreciation for kimchi and Korean barbecue. 

I am proud to come from a lineage of wartime survivors, pioneers willing to risk everything to come to a new land, and prayer warriors who woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to get on their knees and make their appeals to God. I am proud that because of the particularities of my culture, I can connect with others and learn about their cultures, and that after further inspection we find out how much we share in common. Through these reflections, I have developed an increased confidence in who I am and am proud to claim this Korean-American heritage as my own.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Li* (25, Chinese/Indonesian):

I identify as a Chinese woman. I don’t really call myself Asian or Asian American even though I stand up for what that political identity means. In terms of the identity question, I don’t know if I would use the word pride. But I definitely strongly hold on to my cultural identity…I think a lot of the core values that define my personality or even the way that I walk in the world came from those roots….I think it more strongly reflects in the way that I treat people and build relationships. 

My mom, she’s very Chinese…very open, very gentle, very kind, very hospitable. I think for a long time, I just wanted to copy everything that she does and be just like her. And, you know, Family First is a big rule within our family. I think even though we’re very far apart, family then extends not just to your birth families but also whatever you consider family.

*name changed at interviewee’s request

Nas (25, American-Bangladeshi):

I identify as American-Bangladeshi, and a specific source of pride in connection with this identity would have to be the emphasis that Bangladeshi culture has on the collective idea of family and community. 

Having been born and raised in the U.S., I often did not have the typical surrounding of family that my cousins abroad did, but when I visited them abroad, I was reminded of how important that value was. I remember big gatherings of aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends all gathering for a big dinner with plates of rice, curries, vegetables, and my aunt’s famous sandwiches, followed by a round of playing UNO under a mosquito net. 

No matter if anyone lived in a distant village or neighboring town, my relatives frequently and intentionally made time to spend with one another in a way that I was not used to. The family gathering, I learned, was characteristic of many households in Bangladesh and increasingly in the U.S. too. I celebrate that in a fast-moving world where time is limited and often scarce, Bangladeshi culture allows for family, friends, and community to be an important source of joy and support in the grand scheme of life.

Photo by Edgar Colomba on Pexels.com

Eva (42, Chinese-American):

I identify as Chinese-American. I was born in Taiwan to parents born and raised in Taiwan, and my grandparents are from mainland China. I am proud of the multiple cultural identities I hold, and I am proud to be part of an immigrant family. I am very proud of my parents who came to the United States with two young children and left comfort and familiarity in their homeland to seek opportunity in a foreign land. I am proud that my brother and I maintained speaking Mandarin at home with our parents but also gained fluency in English at school.

James (27, Chinese-American & Taiwanese-American): 

I identify as both Chinese-American and Taiwanese-American. My parents were both born in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. My dad’s family moved to New York in 1976 when he was 12 for my grandfather’s graduate studies. My mom came to New York for her own graduate studies in the late 80s.

The biggest sources of pride that come to mind for me include being a culture bridge. I love being a connection between my non-Asian friends & family with my East Asian heritage and between East Asian immigrants with western American culture. This certainly has its challenges and frustrations, but I genuinely enjoy it as well. Also all the stuff that my mom made growing up and all the yummy food when I go back to visit relatives in Taiwan! 

I’m also relatively fluent in Mandarin Chinese, though never quite as much as I would like to be! However, I’m proud to speak a language that connects me to a decent amount of my family and history. There is a lot of complexity loaded into something as seemingly simple as language. For example, my ancestors from the 1890s to 1940s spoke Japanese due to Japan occupying Taiwan, and my ancestors pre-1890s likely didn’t speak Mandarin but instead local non-Mandarin Chinese dialects. The younger generation of my relatives also have strong English skills, so we frequently use “Chinglish” to facilitate the best communication between us. 

Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

Those Who Prefer to Be Heard

Stories add clarity, nuance, and color to the monoliths we often make of communities we do not identify with ourselves ethnically, culturally, racially etc. They give us access to worlds we may not have experienced or been exposed to. When people take the time to share their stories with us, our responsibility is to hold them with the sacred weight they deserve and allow them to shape and expand our worldview and understanding of others. 

I invite you to celebrate the AAPI individuals who have shared their stories not only here but in other spaces. Celebrate the communities they locate themselves within, but don’t stop there

Actively challenge reductive and racist narratives that threaten to flatten the reality of their diverse experiences and result in discriminatory practices. Make space for a variety of voices in conversation with each other, speaking to the resilience and pride and beauty of their communities as well as the complex issues and generational pains. 

They are here, and they are speaking. They always have been.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s