The events that transpired this past weekend have disgusted and disappointed all of us. As a student, I was horrified at the attack on other students of such diverse heritages at the place we call home. As an Asian American, I was jolted at such a direct assault on the international student. And as a Spider, I was saddened by our seeming lack of progress in the face of racism and xenophobia.
In recent days, I have been encouraged by the upswell of support from administration, faculty and staff in the face of these events, but I would like to ask the university for just one small thing as we move forward: Don’t forget about us.
I am an Asian American, a unique hodgepodge of East and West that does not fit the mold of America’s black-and-white struggle. As a result, we are often left out of the dialogue, for even we are too foreign for the melting pot of America. But the events this week have shown that is it time for us to stand up and become a part of the conversation.
Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I was surrounded by contradictions about who I am supposed to be. Memphis-style ribs for lunch, Bà Nội’s phở for dinner. Learning about Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the struggle for civil rights in class, pulled-back slanted eyes and accented taunts from my classmates. My Southern mannerisms, my appearance. Asian Americans exist in social purgatory where we are too “Western” for the former but too “ethnic” for the latter.
Because of this, we are faced with a greater kind of accepted racism in society. How many times have I been asked whether my family is part of the Viet Cong – the very thing that my parents fled in order to live in a safer society? After I tell you that I’m Vietnamese, why do I care that you’ve traveled to Japan or the Philippines? And why is Memphis not a good enough answer when you ask me where I’m from?
Being Asian American is having the best that Asian and American cultures have to offer while being accepted in neither. We are more complex than the simple classification of “Asians.” We are Asian Americans. We are fully Asian and we are fully American, not one or the other. We are Chinese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans and more. We are more than the kid in your math class. We are more than the Chinese New Year dinner in the dining hall. We are more than 49 countries crammed into one week.
Because of this, we are ready to fight for justice, equality and an end to discrimination. Not just for ourselves, but for people of all races, religions and sexual orientations. But we must be heard if we are to be more fully accepted by this university and by society at large. Perhaps this lack of progress is partially of our own doing because of our Asian heritage of “keep your head down, stay out of trouble and do your work.”
But the time has come for our cultural reckoning. It is time that we become a part of the conversation. We are ready to take our seat at the table and to walk hand-in-hand with you down this road of progress. I simply ask that you not forget about us.
Contact contributor Nathan Dinh at firstname.lastname@example.org.