“ASIAN-AMERICAN”

it’s months old but I’m new to medium — a short piece about the idea of “Asian-Americans.”

The fact of how I see myself in the context of this election is central to my experience of it so I’ll start with these two things: A) I’m Korean, and B) while I am absolutely dismayed by the results of the election, the country I woke up in on November 10th is the same one I went to bed in on November 7th. As a minority, I have never felt equal treatment–I see my existence as one lived largely in reaction against a capitulation between Asian people and what America has decided we are, and there are an infinite number of frictions that arise between that set of terms and the terms by which I choose to engage with the world as an individual. The very term “Asian-American” is a marginalization–Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Indonesians, Indians, etc.–none of these people share a common ancestry, place, language or history. Only in the context of a supposed “Asian America” are we lumped together at all, indeed almost arbitrarily, for the convenience of white government. I share essentially nothing in common with a Vietnamese man outside the the fact that white people treat us both a certain way. So to ask me to share in an expression of Asian-American life with him is to ask a white man and a dog to form a mammal-American identity on the strength of the fact that a fish might characterize each of them as not fish. If we share a common thread at all it is tenuous at best, based almost entirely on the expectations of other people, and it’s the impotence of this thread that makes it uniquely difficult for Asian Americans as individuals assert themselves in the face of a much stronger and widely-held thread of stereotype and bias. Asian-America cannot assert itself because it is not an ethnic or cultural demographic–it’s more like a support group, an identity based entirely on something that was done to us, not on who any of us are. It’s based on how we are expected to exist within an incredibly narrow definition of ourselves that was imposed upon us. Our will or right to self-identify or express ourselves was never part of the equation.

-Jason Lee 2016