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May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month – a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A rather broad term, Asian-Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island). See the latest statistics about this Asian American demographic published by the Census Bureau.
In juxtaposition with the sections on this popular website called Huffington Post. What do you notice?
I am going to make some bold statements here, that you will probably think are crazy. But hear me out.
First, imagine something with me. What would it have been like to be part of the Civil Rights Movement in America? To see the Washington Monument towering above, and hear the chants of the hundreds of thousands of citizens and leaders — African American or not, Christian or not — gathering together?
What would it have been like to be on the outside, to look on with interest, wondering whether to participate or not?
And what is it like, for those looking back on it now, wishing they had done more than just observe? For those who could have been part of something bigger than themselves?
Hey, wait a minute. Come back. Yup, when I pose the threat of the subject line, white America seems to have decided to leave it. Is being an angry Asian person the answer? In my opinion, no. However, will being the traditional, gentle, quiet Asian person be the answer? Obviously, not.
If we want to have a voice in how America looks at us, we need to stop putting the burden on everyone else and start putting it on us. We can’t sit back and wait for our savior to come from our peers and represent us if we have the opportunity to collectively do this now.
We can’t call Francis Chan or Dave Gibbons to be a spokesperson for Asian-Americans if they aren’t called to do so. What are we waiting for? What are we afraid of? Unfortunately, we have developed a certain complacency in the world we live in. Even though we quietly voice our opinions to our peers, we rarely voice our opinion to the rest of the world. However, when we do, we tend to be angry about it.
We must be the change we wish to see in the world. Do we try hard to understand what it’s like to be a Caucasian person, with all the rights afforded to them by American culture, and realize that their struggles and inner demons are no different than ours? We each misunderstand each other. We each live in a world of have and have not. We both strive for understanding of our contexts and we both have years of history that will be hard to change. However, if we as Asian-Americans reach out and share our culture in a way that commands respect, we may be met with respect. When we make it about us and them, it doesn’t really cause change, because the arguments have been the same for decades.
This process will most-likely be a long and slow one. There will be offenses and disrespect along the way. It will go both ways. We as Asian-Americans can be too sensitive at times, yet Caucasian-Americans can be way too insensitive at times. The reverse can be true as well.
I’m hoping we can stop being angry and start by finding a starting point. Continuing from where we left off doesn’t seem to be working. We should strive for common ground first, acknowledge some of our past issues, and find a way to move forward. Instead of waiting for the have’s to invite us to the party, why not start small within a group of our peers and build some momentum? After seeing all that has come to a head unbelievably quickly and surprisingly vocal in response to the Deadly Viper/Zondervan insensitive marketing fiasco, this could be a great chance to begin a fresh dialog where we invite Mike Foster & Jud Wilhite to the table, rather than watching them initiate and run with the ball. If we’re ready to talk, it seems like there may be some people (now) willing to listen.
So I’ve recently been thinking through what it means to be Asian American, angry, and Christian. People have said or implied to me that they don’t really feel like I’m entitled to being angry because as an Asian American, I’m a beneficiary of what America has to offer and as a Christian, I should forgive and be joyful anyway.
Quite a conundrum. And I’ve been taking this to heart. I don’t want to make my ethnic identity or culture an idol, rather I feel that my recent questions about ethnicity and the distinctiveness that comes along with it to be simply a matter of good stewardship – after all, what good is salt if it has lost its saltiness? James Choung pointed out to me that people wouldn’t bat an eye if I said that I was trying to ask what it means to be a good Christian. Nor would they feel as though I’d stepped out on a limb if I said I wanted to ask what it is to be a good Christian man. But when I add the dimension of ethnicity, what does it mean for me to be a good Asian American Christian man? that’s when it seems to draw looks and comments of bewilderment.
What is it about ethnicity that seems to throw a wrinkle in this process of discipleship? And what is it that draws the annoyance of people?
A book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but recently recommended again by Eugene Cho (what’s with all the name dropping today? gyah~tacky) in a recent online conversation is “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. In it, there are a few paragraphs that really clarified something that I had sensed…
Another dimension of the “model minority” stereotype is the notion that Asian Pacific Americans are quiet and content with the status quo. Mitsuye Yamada challenges that stereotype in her classic essay, “Invisibility Is an Unnatural Disaster: Reflections of an Asian American Woman.” She recounts her experience teaching the Asian segment of an ethnic American literature course, discovering that her White students were offended by the angry tone of the Asian American writers. Yamada was puzzled by this response, since her students had not been offended by the Black, Chicano, or Native American writings. When she pressed them for an explanation, they said they understood the anger of Blacks and Chicanos and empathized with the frustrations and sorrows of the American Indians. But the anger of the Asian Americans took the by surprise. Said one student, “It made me angry. Their anger made me angry, because I didn’t even know the Asian Americans felt oppressed. I didn’t expect their anger.”
Many white Americans don’t want to deal with these questions and, through much of their lives, have not had to deal with them. In contrast, my memoir explores how, up until my late twenties, I mainly attempted to avoid dealing with my sansei identity, and tended to think of myself as a middle-class white person. The result of such an identification, as my memoir makes clear, was self-hatred and self-abuse, a long string of depression, promiscuity, and failed relationships. If I had not become self-conscious about my identity, I might have destroyed myself. What appears to certain white readers as either negligible or a flaw in the book is actually its very lifeline.
But anger is not synonymous with hate. I don’t hate the dominant majority. I think I hate the fact that I sold my ethnic heritage so quickly. Unlike my Black brothers and sisters who perhaps had their freedom and identity taken from them, I’m disappointed that I gave mine away. I sold my inheritance for a bowl of soup. I’m angry that no one told me that who I am is valuable, where I came from is beautiful and proud, and that I have something to offer even before my grades come back or resume is read or my paycheck stub is necessary. And if it’s true that God created race and wants to bring the glory of the nations into heaven, I want to know that race matters and that I’m fighting a good and worthy fight so that my child will have a sense of who they are to go along with the content of their character and the color of their skin. Because you cannot have a healthy sense of character when you hate the color of your own skin. And just because we are beginning to take steps to define ourselves rather than be defined by the majority doesn’t mean that we are less Christian or less American, in fact it may lead to more of both.