As an Asian-American, I thought I only straddled two cultures, my feet in two worlds. But it’s more than that. My biggest challenge wasn’t trying to figure which culture I belong to; it’s finding where I stand as a straight, Christian, young Asian woman in the fight for social change in America and around the world. To understand oppression and work towards social change, I have to first understand myself, the social world constructed around me, and how I sustain oppression.
I am a person of color, but I don’t see myself as one. I acknowledge that I have an advantage as an Asian in America. I am honorary white, the “model minority,” a myth that I accepted at a young age and continue to sustain it, despite my attempt to stray from the typical college majors and jobs my fellow brothers and sisters take on. At the same time, I can hang out with the black and Hispanic community, and no one will question it. Yet, I stay quiet about the struggles of others because I don’t want to rock the boat. By staying quiet, I allow injustice to occur. I reap the benefits of my race without the struggle to attain those privileges. American society has put Asians on a higher platform than other minorities. “See? They’re people of color too, but they’re succeeding. They’re graduating college, making money, and moving their way up the corporate ladder. Why can’t you?”
Tell me how. How is that possible when the school to prison pipeline exists? How is that possible when being stabbed has more credential than going to college? How is that possible when people are being pushed out of their homes for generations because it’s ‘prime real estate’? How is that possible when getting a college degree means being thousands of dollars in debt? How is that possible when your gender means you earn less? How is that possible when your value is determined by the color of your skin, the gender you identify as, the neighborhood you grew up in, the policies put in place decades ago that oppressed your ancestors?
It is absolutely not fucking possible to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” when your feet are not even standing on the same ground. I may seemingly be standing on higher grounds than other people of color, but I’m not exempt from being oppressed. I’ve been fed the lie that I’m not oppressed because of Asian-Americans’ success in America. When I walk into a room, I will not be stereotyped as lazy; I’m seen as hard-working and intelligent. I’m not a threat to national security. I won’t be frisked on the subway. Instead, I will be commended for rising above poverty because of my hard work, not because there’s an underground economy in Chinatown that I have access to. And my brothers and sisters will believe these lies, that we got to where we are because of hard work, not because of the systems put in place to allow some to reach the top 1% while holding others back. We will begin to ask the same questions. “If we can do it, why can’t they?” We will be divided when in reality, we should be united.
Yes, I straddle two worlds, but they’re no longer cultural worlds. So where do I stand? I stand in love. I stand where society has placed me – not white, not a person of color. I choose to have difficult conversations and ask questions in love, not out of guilt, shame, fear, obligation, anger, pride, and wanting praise.