Asian Perspectives

‘Earthling’

The modern Asian Australian female experience is a pendulum that swings between the extremes of invisibility and hyper-exotification. 

I have become relatively accustomed to questions like “What are you? You don’t really look Asian… are you actually fully Asian? Why is your hair curly?”

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of these questions is that they often come from fellow Asian women. The textbook Asian appearance tends to fit this particular description: Fair, with yellow-toned skin, monolids, and straight, jet black hair. This image has been engrained so deeply and intensely in the way that we think, that we are now oblivious to the multi-faceted aspects of our culture. In a society that traditionally underestimates our biological and social variation, it is crucial that we look for courage and validation within ourselves and the sisters of our own community in order to truly accept our diverse Asian Australian identities.

 

Gisselle Enriquez 

 

Growing Up By Going Back (A Continuation of “Identified as Un-Asian”)

I hated Dim Sum growing up. I wanted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Ziploc baggies filled with random processed snacks. I hated the taste of Chinese herbal medicine. I wanted my ailments to be fixed with some magical western pill from the nearest CVS pharmacy. I hated using chopsticks and eating “family-style”. I wanted to use a fork and knife and I wanted a whole plate of steak and potatoes to myself.

But just this semester, I made the conscious decision to give the Chinese culture I formerly shamed, another chance.

When I was a child, my parents had to physically drag my stubborn butt to the table to eat the Asian food they’d prepared for dinner. It’s not whether or not I found Asian cuisine to be delicious to me; I just didn’t connect with it.  By this, I mean that I had never really encompassed a convincing “Asian aesthetic”. I would think to myself: “If I don’t look entirely Asian on the outside, why should I be subjected to have any Asian on the inside?” – quite literally.

Recently, I’ve begun adventuring to family style restaurants- and I’m loving every moment of it. I remember the particular instance where my shift in perception was recognized by my parents.

The spinning glass at the center of the table was covered with dishes such as Hainan Chicken, Pecking Duck, and Preserved Duck Egg Porridge. But beyond the flavorful dishes, it was communal and a great conversation starter with my family. “Why the change in heart?” they asked. I explained most of my hesitation growing up came from the fear of having to converse with them in broken Cantonese, which was rather humiliating considering I was raised in a predominantly Chinese community. However, I now regret avoiding this style of dining; it meant missing out on so many potentially meaningful conversations with them. Typically, my family eats dinner while the TV distracts us from having meaningful conversations, but I wanted to make an effort to communicate with my parents about news, life updates, and their past experiences in China. The food we shared together with no technological distractions provided us with an opportunity to be an interactive family, and I feel such a deep shame for having voluntarily missed out that in the past.

Another integral part of Chinese culture is to seek out Eastern traditional medicine. When I was younger, my parents strongly preferred that I take Eastern medicine before seeking Western medical attention. What drove me away from this Eastern medicine was that it was nearly always bitter, a stark difference from fruit punch flavored cough syrup. My mother’s hours of preparing the bitter herbs were usually wasted down the drain.

However, wanting to understand more about my parents’ insistence on this form of remedy, I decided to look into research about how it can be beneficial to one’s health. It is believed that the human body functions by a cycle of earth, water, wood, metal, and fire. There is a delicate balance of these five elements, and certain herbs are infused to treat the respective imbalances in our bodies. If there are inflamed symptoms, the body is seen as ‘heated,’ and if there is a lack of essence in certain parts of the body, the body is seen as ‘cooled’. Without going too in-depth about my particular health diagnosis, my doctor explained that I have more ‘heated’ symptoms than those that are ‘cooled’. With the consent of my doctor, I have been taking herbal medication in lieu of my typical prescription. Not only do I feel better overall, but I also noticed that the herbs did a substantial job in remedying multiple symptoms in a more wholesome manner rather than targeting merely one.* Now, I can finally understand why Chinese traditional medicine has survived for nearly 3,000 years, and why it is still heavily sought after when in times of malady.

Growing up in the notoriously Asian 626 area of Southern California, I felt the effect of its bubble-like community. It was claustrophobic, and because I never truly identified as “Asian”, I wanted to diverge. I shamed Asian mannerisms and activities because I never felt like I truly belonged. This state of mind for so long pushed me away from the fundamentals of my Asian culture. But as a young woman who has had the opportunity to travel and attend a college with such a diverse pool of individuals, I’ve learned that difference can be a beautiful thing. I want to appreciate my ethnicity on a more comprehensive level; something I refused to do for most of my life.

Taking a step back from the bubble I grew up in and returning to my roots was an unexplainably profound experience for me, and only inspires me to want to further undo the disconnection I have with my Chinese heritage.

 

*This is from a purely subjective standpoint. Medications (Eastern or Western) should be seriously considered with a primary care doctor before any measures of replacing or integrating alternative forms of medication.

 

Tiffany Leung 

 

Identified as Un-Asian

Tiffany Leung

 

Growing up, I only knew what I was not and what I do not have.

I do NOT have straight, full hair.

I am NOT skinny.

I am NOT good at math or science whatsoever.

I am NOT quiet, reserved, and polite.

I do NOT have rich Asian parents.

My parents were NOT strict on me.

How could they be?

I only saw my father for two hours during the day.

My mother sewed clothes 24/7 for below legal pay.

My brother was making his way in the world away from home.

Strictness requires attention and quality time.

 

So when growing up in a community that is predominantly Asian, and sharing no attributes with the people around me…I was lost.

 

I still feel lost.

I do not feel entirely connected to people of my culture.

I am Asian. But that is just my ethnicity.

It is not my identity.

 

So I rebel against Asian stereotypes.

I don’t have straight hair, but I have beautiful eyes.

I can’t be skinny, but God Bless my buxom boobs.

I can’t be good at math or science, so history can be my academic focus.

I am not modest, but I am vivacious, opinionated, and untamed.

I don’t have rich parents, but I am grateful for my loving parents.

I don’t have strict parents, but I am grateful for having a roof over my head.

 

I need to get it out of my head that being Asian means aligning with Asian stereotypes.

Not only is it disrespectful to Asians, but it is also limiting.

I am not able to do this just yet.

I am not able to let go of the fact that I grew up so differently from all the pretty little Asian girls.

 

I wanted to be them.

I wanted to fit a size 00 at Hollister. Better yet, I wanted to afford Hollister.

I wanted to be petite and playful and polite.

I wanted my parents to be around when I came home from school.

I wanted everything they had.

I wanted to be Asian.

 

But I only got the scraps of this bitterly constructed identity.

Marginalized Asians: Scapegoat at the Hands of White Privilege

tiffany1

A close friend of mine recently pointed out that Asians tend to be the observers of America. Her statement scintillated a previously dormant thought in my mind: Why do Asians tend to be marginalized? Why are we the given the stereotype of being “observers” rather than people of action or ones with voices to be heard? Is it due to inadequate media exposure of the Asian culture, or do we choose to adhere to the label of modesty? With such widespread problems ranging from the Paris shooting, to the American presidential debates, to the refugee phenomenon of Syria, the Asian American community does not seem to take precedence in news coverage.

That is, until the story of Peter Liang surfaced. It was then that I realized that we’re not only marginalized, but also made scapegoats by the laws of white American privilege.

In 2014, Peter Liang (NYPD) wielded his gun and opened fire, shooting unarmed Akai Gurley (black American). Before Liang and his partner called for medical assistance, Gurley passed away. Liang has since been convicted for second-degree manslaughter for the death of Gurley. Since this event, Asian American communities have banded together to shed light on quite a few issues erupting from Liang’s case, as well as issues regarding the Asian community’s place in America.

Peter Liang should and is paying for his actions against Gurley, but why is it that he is paying for consequences that a plethora of white police officers have escaped for so long? I recall the atrocities committed by Eric Casebolt, who used brute force and even pulled out his gun to shut down a party in McKinney, Texas. Video footage surfaced showing the police officer violently dragging and throwing a black teenage female across the lawn. Casebolt resigned and an investigation has taken place; however, the message is clear: Casebolt is protected by his whiteness from any real form of punishment. In fact, he was later hired by Arizona Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, to be the head of his SWAT unit. To elevate my point, half-white George Zimmerman was acquitted of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, and white police officer Darren Wilson escaped indictment on the account of Michael Brown’s death. Peter Liang has committed a crime, but so have numerous other white police officers. Yet, they are not subjected to a fitting degree of punishment. Why? Because they are white.

White privilege entitles a sense of superiority, and perpetuates systematic oppression. This said, I am not suggesting that Asian Americans should be entitled to the same privileges. Peter Liang’s case hits home to Asian communities because contrary to popular belief, we DO care about the issues arising in Black versus White America and how we fit within the framework of it. However, we are often silenced or marginalized. Our voices get lost in the binary of the white and black of America, and it is not okay. Peter Liang’s case is not necessarily unique in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and this is far from me saying All Lives Matter (because that is just another example of white privilege at works). I am saying All Voices Matter, but it is only the white ones that are being heard. The criminal justice system is clearly in need of some serious modification, but I will even go as far as saying that in all 19 years since my immigration to America, it has become progressively evident that this country is broken in several ways. Peter Liang, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland are just examples of the many who are continually oppressed under the weight of white privilege and who serve as an indictment to America’s broken ways.

Tiffany Leung