A story I helped write was published in the Daily Trojan this past Sunday, and I just wanted to record some thoughts on it.
Part of a long-form series about demographics at USC, “Asian Student Community Evaluates Diversity at USC” explores issues of diversity, stereotypes and intra-community identity among the Asian student community. I was fortunate to be able to work with
Yasmeen Serhan on this story.
I am a Chinese American 20-year-old who grew up in Monterey Park, which has the largest concentration of Chinese Americans of any municipality in the United States, so I could empathize with what a majority of what the interviewees told me and Yasmeen for this story. Much of what they voiced were issues that I’d already known and intrinsically felt. For example, Shirley Chu’s comment about not feeling accepted in both the international community and the domestic American community resounded for me as an Asian-American student.
“Shirley Chu, an undeclared freshman born and raised in Seattle, said the disparity within the Asians in the greater campus communities can often leave students feeling out of place.
‘Being an Asian-American means you’re not really accepted by the international students because you grew up here,’ Chu said. ‘But you’re also not completely recognized by the domestic students either because you’re Asian, so they tend to assume you’re international.’”
Another dominant point was that non-Asian populations often think of the Asian community as one, homogenous population when that is certainly not the case.
But in my interview with Mary Ho, I realized that even I, as an Asian person, homogenize the Asian community to a certain degree. Ho cited that Pacific Islanders make up less than 2 percent of USC’s student population. As she uttered that figure, I remember feeling a little surprised. Not surprised at the low percentage but surprised like someone who hasn’t heard a friend’s name in a long time. It wasn’t a genuine surprise as in “Pacific Islanders aren’t considered Asian” because it’s in her organization’s name and historically Asians and PIs have been lumped together. But hearing “Pacific Islanders” to me was the same as hearing “Romanian” or any other ethnicity — it sounds foreign and far away.
It makes me wonder why we even have an Asian services center on campus. Why think of Asians as a monolithic bloc? If we’re so different from each other then perhaps we should be separate and stop using “Asian” as the primary term of reference. I’m not proposing a resource center for each ethnicity within the Asian bloc but perhaps we could break down “Asians” into smaller subgroups: East Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, etc.
If we’d had more time or space, I’d wish that we could expand on that in the Daily Trojan article.
11/19/2013 update: The following is an excerpt of what I wrote in response Kaya’s comment on this article. I think it more accurately reflects my thoughts on the nature of socio-/geopolitical/cultural groupings:
“… We should remember one can’t join just one group and expect everything to be dandy. And perhaps in any analysis of cultural blocs (like pan-Asianism), we shouldn’t ask “Why doesn’t this bloc suffice X cultural requirement or cover X cultural group?” Just as we’re all humans, each uniquely formed by their own experiences, we should join different groups and create our own unique hodgepodge of social/cultural/identity affiliations.”