Exactly two weeks after a (not?) apocalyptic presidential election, here we are still talking about it because, or else, neoliberalism will win. The activating last chapter of Rosalind Chou’s Asian American Sexual Politics was assigned at the most apt time, not just within the course but for us right now. The resonance of Chou’s final analysis highlights how we can preserve and apply memory together. As default multiframers, Asian Americans must truly appreciate and learn from various civil rights efforts to center intersectionality in progress, understand and communicate with older Asian and Asian American generations with collective ethnic and racial memories, and think critically about their individual positions relative to dominant hegemony to create a “new self-valuation” (Chou 181) and uplift all marginalized people to true equality and dignity.
“This is not a moment, it’s the movement” is a popular line from Hamilton musical song “My Shot”
Before moving forward, we must examine how other marginalized groups have worked to combat structural hegemony. As interviewee Lin says, we take cues and benefit from the work of African American brothers and sisters or civil rights activists (Chou 183) and other Asian American activists. So we must also give back by recognizing the struggles of their current contemporaries in America instead of keeping history as history; this means strategically essentializing to align with Black Lives Matter, with undocumented immigrants, with Native Americans and NoDAPL, with LGBTQ rights, with abortion rights and Flint citizens. It will clarify Asian American identity independent of striving for whiteness, stop elevating Asian over darker bodies, denounce heteronormativity.
Chou says that “many Asian Americans, compared to their African American counterparts, is what seems like an absence of counter-narratives and resistance.” (Chou 175) Black Americans have largely opt to organize and embrace their identities as Black Americans since days of legal slavery, but Asian Americans, until recently, split between homeland preservation and white assimilation over diaspora building.
Asian Americans also often write off older relatives as simply unable to understand us, citing generational and cultural gaps. Ironically, we seem to think we understand them, because we’ve grown up hearing war stories, immigration stories, self-made stories, sometimes more than we’d like to. Even when language isn’t a barrier, you probably don’t tell them enough. Asian American ethnography operates through the theory of the flesh that says “the personal is political” (Cherrie Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color). My mother and I have had some of our most difficult conversations recently both because of a slight hitch in language fluency and a lack of collective memory – my parents did not grow up in the United States nor were they very political during their college years in South Korea. They also currently live in Korea. When I attempt to tell my mom my mental health is pretty terrible, she says I can’t hinder my primary duties as a student (to process my sense that my and millions of people’s identities are threatened in our country of residency). When I tell her I participated in a NoDAPL protest, she says only that I can’t forego doing well in school, that she’s afraid I’ll get too involved with the activism and “throw away my life.” When I explain how my interactions with my race and gender have made post-election interactions with privileged “liberal” white straight men taxing beyond capacity, she asks if all the other Korean kids at school are reacting like me. No, because so many of them disengage. You’re being too sensitive, my mother says.
I’m a bad object for my parents. As Bow and Eng overlap in asserting, active Asian Americans, especially women, are “betraying nation by recognizing race/violence/imperialism” (10/17). My drive opposes the docile student narrative they wish for me to follow. I remind myself that I’ve grown up with infinitely more privilege than my parents had as children, and that most of my privileges are enabled by their model minority-like, no, model student behavior. My mom and dad came from economically poor families, put their heads down and put themselves to med school and brought their two daughters to America, in search of an American dream that failed them. I’m disillusioned about the American dream, but my parents still dream for my sister and me. So I understand now Amy Chua’s philosophy behind raising her daughters as she grew up, even when socioeconomically she and her kids are growing up in very different circumstances. Though she is much more extreme than my parents, the ways they all grew up, whether policed by parents (Chua) or self-imposed (my parents), contributed to their ultimate economic success. It’s “what works,” so let’s stick to it.
THIS IS REAL: Rinna Rem, a Thai-Cambodian American woman living in Portland, OR has a self-explanatory crowdfunding campaign with status updates and studies about Asian American mental health.
But I am in a different country at a different time. My idea of success is different. To me, not being disruptive accomplices me in not progressing Asian American women, instead raising only my personal wealth. We are in the fourth wave of feminism (class notes 10/24), critical because some mistakenly see it as a post-feminism and post-racial era. It makes fighting hegemony more difficult but more important. As a privileged, getting educated college student I naturally – not nobly – have a responsibility to act for more than myself. As someone who’s taken Asian American studies classes I am not blind, so cannot turn back and ignore glaring injustice. I can always do more. You can do more. We need to turn the liberty-and-justice frame on its head: “Asian Americans are not simply victims of oppression; they must be agents in the fight for equality” (Chou 181). I will make it work too, by putting my head up and speaking up, so people know how my parents silently toiled. Our parents’ and our experiences represent unique examples of an uncollected Asians in America memory. Building one can start within a family, and bilateral learning isn’t limited to conversations with ignorant friends. While I’m frustrating I have to be a bridge, I want to do be an effective one. As Chou says, be more generous with the ones you love more.
Chou’s book uses extensive, concerted ethnographic evidence to realize the points she makes about Asian American counterframes. Her discussion hopes for Asian Americans to transcend the neoliberalism so seeped in our world. I’ve been struggling to have conversations about activating myself because she one strategy she promotes (like my mother does) is the head-down, keep your well being and “succeed” to elevate yourself to a position of power, then make a difference. What kind of difference? Symbolically by representing one who will perpetuate the model minority further? A financial difference by donating to Asian American orphan children? To developing countries and domestic native Americans whose livelihoods and existences are threatened by carbon-heavy activities of the America of which I am now a citizen?
I’m struggling to find a voice, I’m trying to preserve myself, I feel myself losing mostly white, male friends because of differences that arise out of difference sex and racial perspectives. She gives us these options and I appreciate the infinity she sees in people’s varying coping mechanisms, We have to make ourselves guinea pigs, because there are not enough recorded collective memories that are either talked about or spoken about. And it sucks, but someone has got to be the first (to be historied, at least). I am not Columbus, I know there are millions of brave Asian Americans who were never spotlighted. The railroad workers, the interned Japanese families, who built the country and bore its oppressive laws, who fathered and mothered people like Chou who record our history. The vast majority of Asian Americans who are not Silicon Valley C.E.O.s.
Asian American Sexual Politics is a sneaky manifesto, a sneaky affirmation, from someone you know knows exactly what she’s talking about. So Chou provided dedicated readers with a legitimate groundwork that ensure we too, understood the contexts and contemporaries in which their lives operate(d). And remember you have to take care of yourself first (178), so we don’t fall with the structures we’re dismantling.