Oh Yeah, I'm Asian
- ---o=O=o--- -
"Don't worry about it. As long as you're alive, there's always more time to understand."
General, from All Our Asias by Sean Han Tani
- --o=o-- -
It took me until partway through college to accept that race has had a meaningful impact on my experience of the world. But aside from touching on it in a couple courses—learning about the "model minority myth", etc—I've never really felt able to deeply engage with what it means to be a 4th generation Japanese American who looks like... whatever I look like.
In high school, I remember saying things like, "I'm basically a white person," to my siblings. Which is not the sort of thing one says when one is untouched by racism, and yet--what was the form of that racism? Most of my life, I've been in majority white spaces with well-meaning white people who would never call me a slur or say something outright negative about my race. I grew up in the 90s, and there was a lot of pleasant tokenism in pop culture and a general vibe that racism was happily finished. I don't have the sort of memorable experiences which one might use as a footing from which to push into a deeper theoretical understanding.
Overwhelmingly when my race has been mentioned, it's been in the context of "positive" stereotypes:
- "You're good at math because you're Asian."
- "You're good at drawing because you're Asian."
- "Why don't you speak Japanese? It's so cool!!"
- "Asians are good at math. If that's racist, then I'm racist!"
- "I have a thing for Asian girls."
- "You look like a samurai!"
- "You look like a ninja!"
Or the simple recognition of Asian-ness as non-default, in a way that people find mildly amusing or like a dash of salt to a comment:
- "Getting Japanese male model vibes from this photo of you!"
- "You must be the first Asian Willy Wonka!"
- "There was this old Asian man on the bus who was soooo cute!"
Yeah, those things are technically offensive, but they're few and far between, and what does it matter if the material impact seems irrelevant? Complicating things further, these comments have overwhelmingly come from people of color who are more marginalized than myself in various ways. Perhaps people against whom the "Model Minority" concept as been wielded as a weapon.
I feel like anything I say will be a stretch, appropriative, awkward, superfluous. Because the little "Asian" pop activism I've seen often feels that way to me. Is that because of internalized racism, or because we all really need to get our shit together? (Both). Even the absurdly broad term "Asian" is silly to use uncritically.
- --o=o-- -
My parents formed the identity of our family around Christianity much more than race. We hovered around certain family stereotypes, but existed distinctly outside of them due to the intersections of these identities.
When I picture the prototypical religious homeschooler family, I picture extremely white people (like in the documentary Jesus Camp). While my parents had/have many religious views that align with conservatism, they nonetheless experience racial marginalization. My mom in particular has often been social justice-minded in a way that feels inextricable from this experience.
On the flip side: the classic East Asian "high expectations" family is similarly "so close and yet so far". My parents expected us to do well academically, but not specifically so that we could get any sort of high-powered jobs or achieve "worldly" status. The specifics were irrelevant; what mattered was our relationship to God. They wanted us to devote ourselves wholly to His calling, wherever that might lead.
While my parents did not teach me to be an apostate leftist trans girl, I do feel that, on some level, I've become an apostate leftist trans girl using the kind of care and integrity that they did model for me. Which is either very beautiful or very tragic, depending on whether I'm going to burn in hell.
- --o=o-- -
Since moving to Minneapolis, I've met a small community of LGBT+ Asian folks and Asians with radical politics for the first time in my life. It was actually kind of funny, I went to a meeting of a group called Rad Azns and it happened to be the meeting where they announced they were disbanding. Regardless, I have some sense of hope for the future in this regard but also a lot of uncertainty.
I find it interesting (but don't necessarily know what to make of it) that I'm one of very few transfeminine Asians I know of in any of my circles, and one of even fewer transfeminine Japanese Americans I know of, period (I just did an internet search and found out about Mia Yamamoto and Kim Coco Iwamoto). It's strange and yet... if I were to meet someone else with those shared identities, would it even mean anything in particular? Not inherently! But the inverse—being continually surrounded by the primacy of whiteness—must certainly have some impact.
I have an opportunity to learn more. In the meantime, I exist, and I put myself out there. That's something, and maybe it will mean something to someone.