Apathy isn’t in our Blood

The past few months have been a rude awakening for many of us, myself included. Yesterday’s inauguration felt like a slap on an existing bruise that’s lingered since November. But at the same time, the past few months have been incredibly inspirational. Representatives like Warren and Sanders fighting the good, tough fight over in DC. We’ve seen efforts to control the fake news epidemic on social media. We’ve seen powerful movements ranging from #NotMyPresident to the Women’s March. Now, more than ever, is the time to stand up and raise our voices.

Especially Asian Americans. The in-betweens. For too long, we’ve remained comfortable watching the injustices around us, and not doing much about them. Why on earth do we need to engage? We aren’t criminalized and brutalized by the police. We aren’t constantly threatened with deportation. We aren’t painted as the “bad guys” in mainstream news channels. We’re the “model minority,” after all.

And that’s exactly the problem. To play the role that’s been assigned to us — that mythical fucking role — for the sake of comfort, all the while forgetting (or ignoring) large arcs of our pan-ethnic history. Like the fact that the commonplace “Asian American” narrative excludes those who aren’t in or above the upper-middle income bracket, as well as those who aren’t of Eastern Asian descent. Or that many of our own Asian American political victories were directly derived from the Civil Rights Movement. Or that as “comfortable” as we might feel right now, we live in a country where Vincent Chin was murdered, where 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans were detained, and where our current president is ardently supported by white supremacists.

So what do we do? We start by remembering these parts of our history, etching them into our collective memory. We start by having conversations with our peers, our parents, and our authorities. We talk with fellow Asian Americans, and we talk to those who aren’t Asian Americans. We get off that damn fence we’ve been sitting on and start engaging.

Apathy isn’t in our blood. Many of us have relatives who fought oppressive governments in their home countries and ended up moving to America so their children could grow up with unlimited opportunities. Both sides of my family were heavily persecuted by the Chinese government for decades. We were too educated, too bourgeoisie, too outspoken, and not Chinese enough (my great-grandmother is Japanese). Because of that, several of my relatives were sent to countryside labor camps. Growing up, my parents definitely internalized a lot of that suffering, which is why they protested the corrupt Communist government on their college campuses and ended up seeking new lives in America. My family’s story is not unique — many Asians from various countries experienced similar struggles.

As Asian Americans, we need to rekindle that fire that many of our family members had. My parents have been in America for over twenty-three years, and their recollections of protesting are tainted by the memories of their fallen peers during traumatizing events like the Tiananmen Square Massacre. It’s not surprising that they want to do everything possible to shelter their children from political engagement. But at the bottom of their hearts, I think they understand why we need to stand up and advocate for those who aren’t as privileged as we are — now, more than ever.