The Other Asian

This essay was originally posted to Desis for Progress.

By: Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed (@tazzystar)

I first learn I am Asian when in the 3rd grade, I’m handed a standardized test. The first page, under my name asks me to mark one of the following?—?“White, Black, Hispanic, Asian or Other.” I raise my hand and ask my teacher what to fill out. She asks me what I am, and that I don’t know. She marks me as “Other.”

I go home and ask my Mom what I am. She doesn’t understand what I’m asking, or why I’m asking, or why this would be asked of me. She emphasizes that we are Bangladeshis. ‘But that’s not an option,’ I scream, frustrated. ‘Well, Bangladesh is next to India. So I guess you can put down Indian.’ ‘But that’s not an option either,’ I tantrum through tears. I am upset that a question so easy to answer for my classmates is so difficult for me. Mom looks at the options to choose from — ‘Since Bangladesh is on the continent of Asia, so that makes you Asian. That is technically accurate.’ I simmer down, and reflect on this statement. I don’t look like the other Asians in my school. I am skeptical of this statement.

The next day at school, I go to the globe and look for Bangladesh. Sure enough, I find it on the continent of Asia. So I guess that makes me Asian. My classmates tell me that I don’t look Asian, when I tell them. I show them the globe, and they are skeptical, too.
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The Illusion of the Asian American Dream

Asian Americans are often lauded as a “model minority” that has achieved complete acceptance into American society. But silent and pervasive racism has shown that American identity was never meant to include people who look like me.

By Guest Contributor: Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Executive Director, NAPAWF

Throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), I have reflected on the stories I’ve heard about the deeply frustrating lack of visibility of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). While many Asian Americans are often referred to as “model minorities” whose stereotyped high achievements provide them a proxy to whiteness and American identity, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We continue to suffer from microaggressions, are still seen as perpetual foreigners, and have repeatedly been denied the ability to shine beyond the stereotypes of our communities — which were shaped by decades of American history and foreign policy. So on the last day of APAHM, I’m still thinking about why we are still striving to figure out where and how we fit into the fabric of this country. Because oftentimes, we have to fight just to be seen as American.

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Ending “Male Chauvinism” In the Movement: Lessons from the Long Sixties

By: Mark Tseng-Putterman (@tsengputterman)

As Asian Americans living in the years of Amy Chua, Ajit Pai, Peter Liang and Nikki Haley, it’s easy to romanticize the Movement: those revolutionary years when “brothers and sisters” from Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Manilatowns across the country came together to stand with Black Power and confront the racist war in Vietnam. Together, they made pilgrimage to Manzanar, sat in at Wounded Knee, and walked out at San Francisco State University. Somewhere along the way, they invented “Asian America” as we know it.

A crash course in the history of the Asian American Movement has become part of the initiation process for young newcomers to the Asian American left, and for good reason. And yet, the images that get circulated from that era—of Black, brown, and yellow brothers wearing leather jackets and berets, fists raised and packing heat—hint at a masculinist underpinning that’s worth unpacking.

Take, for instance, the iconic image of Richard Aoki with Berkeley’s Asian American Political Alliance at a 1968 rally to free Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. Aoki (who in 2012 was implicated as an alleged FBI informant) looks decidedly chic: clad in a black beret and sunglasses with a cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth, he raises one hand in a fist while the other balances the now-iconic sign: “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.” But reading this image and its circulation critically, we might ask: Is it Aoki’s revolutionary politics that resonates? Or is Aoki, as a Japanese American man embodying a militant kind of hypermasculinity, rendered iconic for easing modern anxieties about Asian male “emasculation”—that which Tamara Nopper calls “a homophobic and sexist preoccupation among many Asian Americans and our ‘allies’”?

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Reconnecting Heart and Head: Racism, Immigration Policy, WeChat, and Chinese Americans

By: OiYan Poon

Smirking when I asked if he had any questions before I turned on my recorder for our interview, Stan responded, “Yes. I can tell by your name and how you talk that you’re probably ‘Chinatown Chinese.’ Am I right?”

Stunned and curious, I asked, “What do you mean by ‘Chinatown Chinese’?”

Presumably trying to convey that he was superior to me, Stan proceeded. “You know what I mean… you probably have family who work in restaurants and sewing factories… low class immigrants. My generation of Chinese immigrants is different than yours. We’re highly-educated professionals. We don’t need handouts. Your generation of Chinese immigrants gave us a bad reputation in America, relying on government handouts.”

Feeling a rage rise in me, I pushed it away for the sake of my research. Taking a long sip of latte and a deep breath to calm myself, I responded nonchalantly “My mom was a garment factory worker, and most of my family have worked in restaurants… casinos, too. My grandparents lived in Boston Chinatown, so we do identify with Chinatown. Some of my family benefited from public assistance. And, I have a Ph.D. like you. Why are you asking these questions?”

Still smirking, Stan answered: “Just curious.” And with that, we began our interview with my audio recorder on for the remainder of our conversation.

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‘Soft Power’: A Powerfully Acted but Underwhelming Spectacle

By Guest Contributor: Edward Hong (@CinnabonMonster)

Ever since I wanted to be an actor in high school, I became immediately aware of Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang. To this day, Hwang is arguably the best known Asian-American playwright in the world. Hwang’s plays (most notably, F.O.B. and M. Butterfly) have pioneered the expression of the Asian American identity on stage for the world to see.

To say that Hwang was a playwright I looked up to as an Asian-American actor would be a huge understatement. This guy was everything to me.

Thus, it was a no-brainer that I would go watch his latest work, Soft Power, which premiered on May 3rd at the Ahmanson Theatre. Excitement, intrigue, and fascination all swirled into one, particularly since Soft Power was also a collaboration between Hwang and well-known composer, Jeanine Tesor (Fun Home).

So what’s Soft Power all about?

The following review contains several spoilers about the latest musical production Soft Power. Please read on with care.

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