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. Continue reading “The Other Asian”
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.
The night before my youngest child – whom we call Little Brother – leaves on a four-day eighth-grade field trip to Washington D.C., I double-check his suitcase against the school’s packing list to make sure he has everything he needs. He has packed too many shirts and pants, and not enough socks and underwear. He forgot deodorant, a critical item for eighth-grade boys. The long-sleeved green school t-shirts that the students will wear at all times during the trip are in the dryer. The batteries for his camera and phone are charging in the kitchen. I tuck a box of musubi into his day pack as a snack for the bus. I remind him to brush his teeth every day and to text me every night.
Then I tell him what to do in case of a mass shooting.
Stay calm. Barricade the door. Duck behind furniture. Keep moving. Get out. Just get out.
Little Brother is thirteen years old.
And then, so that he does not worry, I lie to my son.
I tell him that since the president will be out of the country the week of his trip, Washington will probably be quieter while he is there.
I do not know if that is actually true. But, I do know that even if he were here, at home, he would not be any safer. Any of us could be caught in a mass shooting or a random act of violence anytime, anywhere.
In the grainy black-and-white image – a blurred photocopy of a photocopy of the original photograph – a spritely Japanese American woman stands poised in defiance. She faces an unseen crowd, her head adorned with a headscarf and her eyebrows knitted with passion behind a pair of pointed cat-eye spectacles. The image catches her mid-speech, one hand holding a bullhorn microphone to her mouth.
This image of Asian American revolutionary Yuri Kochiyama was my first introduction to our peoples’ history of radical organizing and social justice activism. I remember the emotions it evoked in me: I was awed by the sight of a strong, unyielding Asian American woman and thought leader; I was proud of this historic evidence of Asian Americans radicalism; and, I was angered that this history had been not been made known to me sooner.
Contrary to the trappings of the Model Minority Myth – a stereotype of meek, apolitical Asian Americana rooted in anti-blackness – revolution is woven into our DNA. Our ancestors were not quiet in the face of racism: our history is replete with examples of Asian Americans fighting back against white supremacy and systemic injustice. We were not silent witnesses to American racism; we were active participants in a multi-racial movement against white supremacy.
Often, that Asian American revolutionary spirit took the form of the written word.