Realizing that I am a Person of Color
I read Connie Zhou’s post on “The Asian-American Awakening: That Moment You Realize You’re Not White,” and I would like to affirm all the points she brought up in her post. I agree with many of the points, especially how it discusses the complexities of Asian-American identity. I on the other hand, had very different experiences as a first generation Cambodian-American from Long Beach, California. I can see the parallels between our experiences, but I can also see how they converge and diverge.
I would like to highlight how my story is on the opposite side of the spectrum. I am from a low-income community that did not have many white people. I grew up with Xichan@s/Latin@s, Black People, Pacific Islanders, and Southeast-Asians. I grew up believing all whites were affluent and were the people to be, but I can tell you that has changed 1000% now. I recognize that I should embrace my cultural heritage as a Cambodian whose parents are refugees of a genocide and now understand that not all whites are wealthy. Even so, there were honestly no white people in my community, but occasionally we would have some white people visit with attempts to have us join a Church. So I personally did not face the struggle of “whiteness” where I hit a moment of “I am not white.” I always knew I was not white and never would be white because of my skin color. I was challenged by internal racism of colorism, where my darker skin color shades were looked down upon and lighter Asians were favored. I was placed in a position where I was “othered” in many ways and faced the complex issue of “Am I a Person of Color?”
I knew in my heart that I was never white and will never be white, and was trying to figure out where I would fit in this discourse of race. Connie brought up an important point, race conversations are usually bounded by the black and white binary. It never extends to elaborate more on other ethnic groups and the racism they have faced. You don’t learn about the Chinese Exclusion Acts, Khmer Rouge Regime, Vietnam War, Secret War in Laos, and many more narratives of people of colors in K-12 education. If we were lucky, we would get what I call — “THE AWESOME ONE-LINER,” where our hixtory books may talk about communities of colors in one line. This is why the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) was so important, it fought for a Third World College at UC Berkeley where it would teach the hixtories of communities of color. In the end, students and organizers all alike were able to fight for the Ethnic Studies Department we have on UC Berkeley’s campus.
With all these movements, I ask where are the Asian-American activists? You hardly hear about them, but during the Civil Rights Movements, we did mobilize and advocate for our voices. We were NOT the docile Asians, waiting for domination by submitting to submissions of people’s desires. So this crap about Asian people not doing anything is a bunch of rotten bananas. We had a voice and we amplified it. We used the identity of “Yellow People” and when we mobilized we used our “Yellow Power.” An image below depicts Asian-Americans standing in solidarity with other folks of color, specifically in support of the Black Panther Movement.
“Yellow Power to Yellow People” In front of court house – Oakland , California – l969
Huey P. Newton’s Trial
The Model Minority Myth originates and peaked during the Civil Rights Movement. The Model Minority Myth is complex, yet if I were to say it in short, it was an idea that one group (Asians) were the ethnic minority to be because of their success. Other minority groups should follow the lead of Asians as they were the ones to achieve high success and were not “oppressed.” The Model Minority Myth was used strategically to silence the voices of Asian-Americans and to place us against other people of color. Claire Jean Kim’s analysis of Racial Triangulation discusses the implications of the Model Minority Myth and how it places a ceiling on Asian-Americans to achieve “superiority” because we are othered through civil ostracism and relative valorization. As you can see in the chart below, it gives you a better visual of how Asian-Americans were placed against people of color, but also never able to achieve whiteness.
Claire Jean Kim – Racial Triangulation
I can go into more depth into other Asian-American activists, like Yuri Kochiyami or Richard Aoki, but the long story short of my post is that once I learned the hixtory of Asian-Americans and their battle for social justice, I realized that I am a person of color. It hurts me when people say, “Asian people don’t face discrimination.” This is of course false as highlighted in Connie’s blog and as well as mine. However, I was exposed to this idea that I cannot stand in solidarity with communities of color, because “Asians inherently embodied whiteness.” This made me dislike my Asian-American identity, because I was not white, but not a person of color. Now I am able to realize how all this is all structural and institutionalized racism, a method used to dismember the Asian-American identity. Asian-American face exotification because of classification as the orient, white people carry remnants of colonial racism when they say they “only date Asians.” This is deeply rooted in exotification of Asians and people’s taste for “Yellow Fever.” We face glass/bamboo ceilings that prevent us from gaining higher status and hella other shit. I admire Connie’s strength in sharing her story of realizing that is she was not white, because it shines light to the idea of how we are perceived to be white, but never will be. I understand that I am not white, but now understand that I AM A PERSON OF COLOR and I shall own this very identity. It was a piece of me that was hidden behind the idea that I should be and can be white, but I am not. I am who I identify as and I am a person of color.
If you want to check out Ms. Zhou’s original post it is here: www.connie-zhou/asian-american-awakening