Considering the immense controversy that UCLA student Alexandra Wallace’s diatribe about Asian people has elicited, I think it is necessary and appropriate to address the role and the current standing of the Asian American community at Stanford.
The term “Asian American” was coined in the late 60s, during the Civil Rights Movement, as an alternative to the racial slur “Oriental.” The Asian American community arose as a product of the movement on the basis of social and political representation in American society.
Due to similar physical appearances, society classifies all Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipinos, etc. as “Asians” and projects their stereotypes on us as a whole. The Asian American community was founded because society looks at us a certain way, that is all.
The Asian American community’s biggest problem at Stanford and in America is general apathy. For one, unlike ethnic communities such as the Latino community, the Asian American community doesn’t have a common cultural or historical heritage at its core. The Latino community has cultural commonality in language, religion and immigration history, while the Asian American community is rooted only in social and political justice.
The role of the Asian American community is to bring together the Asians on campus and to be a resource for us to explore our Asian American identity. In the bigger picture, it should also present our beliefs to the greater community and empower us to combat the big issues such as the “exotification” of Asian women or the perception of Asians as the model minority. Since the community was founded in social and political justice, the top priorities should be to educate society about the issues and foster an environment that addresses these issues. If education and justice are not the focus, there is nothing that actually binds our community together, making it essentially a glorified social club where people look the same. I am not saying that Asians should not be friends with other Asians, but if an organization promotes Asian American community building, but does not have the same focus on the identity of the community, the development of the community is stunted due to the ignorance of its members.
The Asian American Student Association (AASA) represents a wide array of culture and arts groups, which in turn represent individual ethnicities. I think that these groups are great: they provide a tangible contribution to the Asian American community.
Conversely, I have a problem with the Asian American “Big Sib” program and the Asian American fraternity and sororities. These groups are not only the most socially visible groups on campus, but their focus is technically just being Asian American.
Last quarter, I attended the Asian Pacific Islander Leaders Retreat where leaders from the groups sponsored by AASA attended to discuss issues that affect the Asian American community. There seemed to be a general lack of insight in issues regarding identity and community significance, even though the Big Sib and the Greek leaders were in attendance. I see them repping their Asian American organizations with flat billed hats and letterman’s jackets, but yet they have little idea of what being Asian American is about and why it is important, which really disappoints me. Many students do not know what it means to be Asian American. They know what it means to be Japanese American, Filipino American and Korean American, but not Asian American
To me, being Asian American is being comfortable in my own skin. It is appreciating my Japanese American culture and also valuing other Asian cultures. It is empathizing and caring about the struggles and celebrating the successes of other Asian Americans. It also has to do with our battle with stereotypes and false perception. I take pride in being Asian American, and it is important to me that people understand that.
This is the attitude that the Asian American community at Stanford should exude. The community needs to educate itself and educate the campus, and I think that it starts with the Greeks and the Big Sibs.
Why do I care? I don’t want to be judged based on the color of my skin, and if the UCLA student offended you, then this is your fight, too.
Blair Matsuura, ‘11