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"My Mom didn't have a lot of education growing up."

Without my Mom, I probably wouldn't have gotten a Ph.D. Seriously. And if I didn't have a terminal degree, I probably wouldn't be able to teach at a major university. I think she's very proud that I'm a professor.

My Mom didn't have a lot of education growing up. She was born in Japan, but when the Korean War ended, she came back to Korea with her family. Life was really hard for her. Even though her ethnicity was Korean, she had been born in and had grown up in Japan, and so her Korean wasn't very good. She also didn't get a lot of schooling in South Korea. So I think she's very happy that we were able to get what she wasn't able to have. For Asians, education is so critical. I don't even think she knows what a Ph.D. is, but she was like ‘yeah, get the best one or something like that.

––––Chul Chang, Chinese, 55

Lynchburg, VA

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"During this time, a huge crisis of confidence occurred when I came up for tenure."

As a graduate student in ‘71, there were maybe 50 Asian Americans on campus. If you walked across campus and you passed another Asian and didn't say hello, it became a big deal around campus, like why didn’t so-and-so wave? You can't imagine that today.

We went through a huge struggle in the 1980s over admission quotas on Asians. We wanted to support affirmative action, but at the same time, we did not want discrimination against Asian Americans. It was a long struggle that might have been the struggle that really got me in trouble, but ultimately, it changed the complexion of this very campus.

When I graduated, I started teaching Asian American studies as special “diversity” courses and for many years they were the only Asian American classes. It was a battle to establish an ethnic studies concentration. We had to organize ourselves. Students were key players who provided a great deal of energy to the movement.

During this time, a huge crisis of confidence occurred when I came up for tenure and the Department voted unanimously in favor but the university committee on tenure denied me. It was scary... but Asian American representation had become a national issue and Asian American students and scholars from all over the country were protesting a lack of diversity within academia. Eventually, Brown’s president, Gregorian, took my case and the board finally reversed their decision.

––––Robert Lee, Chinese,

Providence, RI

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“It’s a strange, and admittedly terrifying feeling that the words are all so familiar, but feel so foreign when they come out of my mouth.”

I’m scared of gaining an American accent when I speak Japanese. To somebody who doesn’t speak Japanese, it’s harder to pick up. There’s certain mouth shapes, certain cadences, certain tongue placements that sound like the difference between a native speaker and a foreigner. I used Japanese my whole childhood, being sent to Japanese weekend school begrudgingly every Saturday from kindergarten through high school. But like many bilingual children, I’ve fallen into the habit of responding to my mother’s Japanese with English. It’s a strange, and admittedly terrifying feeling that the words are all so familiar, but feel so foreign when they come out of my mouth.

As someone who looks outwardly more black than Asian, I often feel the need to prove my “Asianness” in Asian settings. I can’t help but feel like losing my “proof” of being Japanese is losing a piece of myself.

––––Elliot, Black-Japanese, 20

New Jersey

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"So I slip out the door. Unnoticed, unmissed."

Why had I thought it wouldn’t matter, the fact that I had grown up in the near-absence of other Asian Americans? In my small town I was used to my otherness, but tonight, in college, at this Asian American student gathering—this is a new kind of otherness, and it is worse. Everyone here seems to share something I don’t. A certain ease, a certain kind of experience. I don’t feel Asian enough. Korean enough. I am all wrong in the one place I thought I would be right. So I slip out the door. Unnoticed, unmissed. September is cool against my skin as I walk back to my dorm through the dark, alone. When I step into the circles of light cast by the streetlamps, I see my discomfort, my confusion, nakedly exposed for a brief moment. Then I pass again into the shadows.

––––Naomi, Korean, 21

South Georgia

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"Uniting in shared laughter or communal experience creates self-acceptance"

We live in the meme age where pages like Subtle Asian Traits, Subtle Curry Traits and others are uniting Asians around the world. Most days, I have at least some interaction with one of these pages from being tagged in a joke or screenshotting something to send in a group chat with Asian friends. But this was not always the case. Living in a predominantly white area, I didn’t grow up with any Asian friends. I think back to times where I would see a meme about immigrant parents or about a certain Indian food we were forced to eat as kids and instead of tagging or screenshotting, I was alone in that enjoyment. With our current political climate, there are many more serious experiences of loneliness that Asians face, but I share this because uniting in shared laughter or communal experience creates self-acceptance. I wish I had reached this point earlier.

––––Anonymous, Indian, 20

Philadelphia, PA

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“I’m in love with defying stereotypes to the point that I worry I lose myself.”

I’m in love with defying stereotypes to the point that I worry I lose myself.
I refuse to date East Asian men or white men for fear of becoming a trope. The tired image of the East Asian woman who only dates within her race or, arguably worse, the East Asian woman who falls for white supremacy.
This extends to platonic relationships, too. Fall semester, I’m invited to join a study group for a college math class, and, when I join the Zoom, every student on the call is East Asian. We compare answers for half an hour. After that first call, I never joined again.
I’m not sure if I’m more embarrassed to be seen in a group of solely East Asian people or if I’m more embarrassed by the shame I feel when surrounded by my own heritage.

––––Ingrid, Chinese, 20

San Francisco, CA

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"I started writing to try to make sense of things I didn’t understand."

I started writing to try to make sense of things I didn’t understand. I grew up Korean in a white family, and in a largely white community, and writing — at first keeping a diary and later, writing short stories and poems — was a way of observing and expressing a range of emotional and intellectual responses to that difference.

In teaching, I try to help students to name and make explicit those ideas, values, and assumptions that have historically been considered and presented as neutral or default, to interrogate them, bring them to light. Deepening our capacities to identify how social, cultural, and political conditions have shaped our experiences and our aesthetics can help us understand that racism and all systems of oppression are made and upheld, not innate. This is a critical stance, as it challenges the status quo, but writing is an act of intervention, and language wields power.

––––Mary-Kim Arnold, Korean,

Providence, RI

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“My mother had to find work in less than a month of coming to America in order to keep our family from becoming homeless.”

My father was in re-education camp for ten years for fighting alongside the Americans during the Vietnam War and for trying to flee the country by boat. To keep him alive, my mother quit college to sell cigarettes and used clothes in the street of Saigon to buy my father medicine and dried fish to eat. My mother had to find work in less than a month of coming to America in order to keep our family from becoming homeless. Working in the nail shop was the best fit because she was not required to know English and she knew family friends who owned Nail Shop in Riverside and Corona. She liked working in the nail shop because the tips helped her pay for food and she could learn English from talking to her customers. But over time, she developed asthma from breathing in the fumes from the nail shop. Her only dreams are for two her sons to graduate from college and to visit her seven siblings living in Vietnam.

––––Minh, Vietnamese,

Riverside, CA

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"My Japanese is not a family heirloom, it’s a crummy arts and crafts project I assembled out of mediocre materials."

I’m unbearably jealous of bilingual speakers of Japanese. It feels like I’m missing out on an inside joke. “You had to be there.” But I can’t have been, there’s nothing I can do to change that. I will never be a native speaker, and I will probably never be a fluent speaker. My Japanese is not a family heirloom, it’s a crummy arts and crafts project I assembled out of mediocre materials—iPad apps, tutor lessons, vocabulary Quizlets, an abandoned Duolingo account, forgotten school teaching. As it is now, it will fall apart before I can give it to my children, let alone share it with my grandparents.

––––Miya, Japanese, Irish, German, 22

Providence, RI

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"That won't stop me from becoming a speech-language pathologist."

My future career as a speech-language pathologist is dominated by white females. About 80% of SLPs are white females, only 20% consists of various minorities. From that 20%, Asians make up about 2-3%. This may not seem like a big deal to others, but it shows that there is clearly a lack of diversity in this field. And why? Asian parents struggle to accept the idea that their child could possibly have a speech issue (or any issue like mental illnesses), and therefore it is never addressed. This results in their children never receiving exposure to that field of work. Most of my classes have white women sitting in classroom seats with a few POCs sprinkled around. It feels uncomfortable, but that won't stop me from becoming an SLP because when I enter the field, licensed and all, that's one more Asian in the field of speech pathology.

––––Anonymous, Filipino, Chinese, 20

New York City, NY

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"I used to hate that and would envy my friends whose looks enable them to be viewed as a person, a whole person."

I have a clearly Asian face, impossible to pass as any other race or anything close to racially ambiguous. People on the street would guess that I'm Korean, Japanese or Chinese, switching between catchphrases in different languages to test my origin. I used to hate that and would envy my friends whose looks enable them to be viewed as a person, a whole person, without any tags, violently pinned on the skin, on the body, at first glance. I tried to disguise myself with hair, makeup and outfits but whatever I dress myself in never worked.
Through years of self-destructive transformations to make myself fit in, I finally gave up. I let my hair grow out by itself. I let my skin attain its natural shine. When I looked into the mirror, I finally was able to see myself. Not through anyone's gazes, but purely, a reflection of my own dark pupils. In the mirror, I look awfully like myself before adolescence, before joining the racial dynamics in US, before all the brokenness and shattering. It was that moment that I realized I've always loved the way I looked. With or without anything. Past, present and future.

––––Anonymous, Asian, 20

Providence, RI

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"I have feared to tell my non-Asian friends that I eat raw eggs."

I grew up eating raw eggs with rice for breakfast. It was the fastest meal I could eat while preparing to leave the house for school; that is, it is less time consuming than taking a slice of bread and putting it into the toaster and waiting for it to be ready to be served. Coming to the US, I realized no one eats raw eggs, especially because there may be microorganisms that could be pathogenic. I have feared that my non-Asian friends would judge me for what I have been eating all my life.

––––Youkie, Japanese, 20

From Toyko, studying in the US

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