Why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans

While we wait for the final results to come in for the 2010 Census, very likely over 15 million, I want to share a few thoughts of things I’ve sense over the past decade or so as an Asian American and as a part of L2 Foundation, a private family foundation that’s developing leadership & legacy for Asian Americans.

Over the years, I find myself growing to embrace this label and categorization more than I used to. I know there are all sorts of problems and issues about the label. I may address some of them in this blog series. The term “Asian American” itself seems to be a lightning rod and magnetic force — repelling some while attracting some. Some say that it doesn’t matter at all what ancestry we have, we’re all Americans, and that’s all that matters.

In the Christian subculture, some say that our identity is only spiritual, only grounded “in Christ,” which I agree is true and ultimate. Yet, when this theological conviction is held to the exclusion to the reality of who we are on earth and our innate social and genetic context, it sounds an awful like Gnosticism, the first heresy of church history, a belief that our body doesn’t matter and only the spiritual matters.

So this is an introductory foreword to kick off a blog series about why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans. First, a few disclaimers to minimize the knee-jerk reactions.

To say that we need this is not to say that every Asian American must be Asian American’ish. There is a whole spectrum of people in the Asian American mix. A growing percentage are bi-racial, with Asian and non-Asian ancestry. There are some that are politically very pro-Asian. There are some that are very assimilated into “mainstream America” and don’t have any interaction with an Asian American context. And that’s okay.

Being Asian American as an Asian American isn’t everything. To say that we need this is not to say that an Asian American is only Asian American. We are more than our ancestry, and in a multicultural society and global world, we do well to learn & grow in cross-cultural appreciation for the others.

Being Asian American doesn’t mean being only with Asian Americans. There’s a social dynamic connoted by phrases like “birds of a feather flock together.” Cliques stunt our personal development and limit our ultimate contribution to society and the world. Yet, to have no connection with Asian Americans, something is definitely lost there too.

Being Asian American doesn’t mean nothing. There seems to be a social pressure or default consciousness that to be American is to fit in with the majority. That’s where the institutional structures and power dynamics is to be found. To be a part of the system, you have to work within the system. To change the system would (most likely) take revolution. We’ve already had several of those in American history.

Being Asian American doesn’t mean representing all Asian Americans. To be Asian American doesn’t mean one has to be well-versed and represent all kinds of Asian Americans. It’d be a good first step to have some semblance of understanding of one’s roots. For me, that’s being Chinese American.

All to say that our American society need more Asian Americans to be Asian American. It is to say that at this state of the union, we have too few. We certainly don’t have too many. We’d do well to have a few more to stand up and represent. We’d do well to think through and have more robust conversations about what it means to be Asian Americans. We’d do well to allow the richness of our Asian American’ness to overflow and not hide it under a bushel.

In the next blog posts of this series, I’ll delve into a dozen or so reasons as to why we need more Asian Americans to speak up, with less anger, with more grace, with confidence, without apology. [Reasons #1, #2, #3, & the rest]

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18 Responses

  1. Tony says:

    DJ, thanks for posting this – really looking forward to the series. Having just going from a chinese church to a multi-ethnic one, I’m definitely still processing a lot of this stuff.

  2. Your’re right that being Asian American doesn’t mean representing all Asian Americans. They are a very proud but humble people from a very rich culture and it’s not easy to change.

  3. Jen says:

    Good post! I agree with everything that you’ve posted–except the part about being “less angry.” Anger is sometimes not often expressed by members of the Asian American community. Rather, it’s passive-aggressiveness, fear and self-loathing that is expressed. It would be nice if we could speak with grace and self-confidence, but I believe that expressing and letting out anger is the first step to accepting who we are, what we feel and what we’ve been supressing, as Asian Americans.

  4. djchuang says:

    @Tony, @Reginald: Thanks for adding your comments. There is much to be considered and developed in this whole milieu.

    @Jen, thanks for commenting and voicing the place for anger. My sense is that there’s been a good deal of ‘anger’ already expressed in various forms, a la Little Angry Asian Girl, Angry Asian Man, et al, and it’d be all the more valuable to add valuable expressions of advancing American and global society to the anger and advocacy already surfaced.

  5. Allen says:

    Well, my blood means something does it not? I also agree with those who say that our identities is only spiritual, only grounded “in Christ”, but there must be a reason for why I’m Chinese, specifically an ABC. I long for a meaning in who i am, all the while I feel like Elijah: that i’m all by myself in search of my ethnic identity while everyone else pursues something different.

    My comment can be shortened in a summary: “What does it mean to be Chinese?”