During my last year of university, I decided to explore beyond my close-knit group of friends and join some new clubs while I still had the opportunity. During Clubs Week, when all the clubs on campus set up booths in the common areas, one that caught my attention was the Asian Students’ Society. When I walked up to their table, the girl there told me non-Asians were welcome.
“I’m Asian,” I told her. She blinked at me.
I still joined, paid the dues, and went to one event, because I become stubborn when I’m made to feel that I don’t belong somewhere. Unsurprisingly, I was the only one at that event who looked like me, and not one person among the hundreds of attendees did anything but politely look past me.
The experience stayed with me, because it drove home a point that until then had been a vague constant in my peripheral awareness: In North America, when we say “Asian,” we mean East Asian. (I went to school at the University of Toronto, but although Canada’s relationship with race differs from ours in important ways, they have generally treated their Asian diaspora similarly to the US—unlike, for example, the U.K, where “Asian” has historically referred primarily to South Asians.) As a brown Asian American of Pakistani descent who often gets mistaken for Arab, I am used to not being included in this category that I clearly belong to.
This year, a record number of Asian Americans are running for public office at the local, state, and national level. Reappropriate has partnered with Run for Something — a non-profit launched in 2017 to support grassroots campaigns to elect progressive candidates — to profile these progressive Asian American candidates for higher office. Check back at Reappropriate throughout 2018 to learn more about these candidates and find out how you can get more involved in their campaigns.
What is your full name? Tram T. Nguyen
What office are you seeking? Massachusetts State Representative of the 18th Essex District
When is the election date? Nov. 6th, 2018
What is your party registration (if any)? Democrat
The consequences of this directive are alarming. The US Census — which is constitutionally-mandated to count all US residents regardless of citizenship status — will be forced to wade into the midst of the nativist hysteria that has gripped the country, and in so doing add a question that is sure to depress Census responses from communities boasting large foreign-born populations, such as Asian Americans.
I sometimes wish I could go back in time and be my own guardian angel. I would reach down into that dark place of the Model Minority Myth and pull the younger me out. I would tell myself, “Baby, you got this. The best thing you can do is to ignore these goras.”
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2017’s Get Out is uniquely about the Black experience in America. Everything from stand-your-ground, to backyard auctions, to the performances of white liberal guilt by Rose’s family and friends are authored from real life experience; this is no more true than with the construction of the Sunken Place, which serves as a metaphor for Black helplessness in the face of white supremacy.
As an Indian-American watching Get Out, I knew there was something about the Sunken Place that felt analogous to my own experiences growing up in America. I recalled a similar “expectation” to acquiesce to whiteness, and the tool used to keep people like me subservient: The Model Minority Myth. Like the Sunken Place, the Myth is about white control over Asian Americans. As with racism of any kind, it is about shifting goal posts and double standards.
Many of us are the second-generation children of immigrants who survived periods of instability such as the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Cultural Revolution. And yet, for some of us, the familial stories of that trauma are largely unknown – erased by violence or buried in silence by emotional and psychological trauma.
And so, even as our fingers trace the scars left upon our families, we feel an emotional distance from the periods of violence that reshaped the courses of our families’ history. We know the facts as one might read a description in a textbook. We ponder the blurred faces of people whose names we might (or might not) know memorialized in black-and-white snapshots by unseen photographers. We feel the aching silence of our parents and grandparents who speak volumes in what they do not — and what they cannot — say.
We wonder what we have gained by our not-knowing and our not-speaking; but also, what we may have lost.