Growing up, I rarely contemplated how my parents’ experiences as a minority in a white-dominated world affected me as a second-generation American. Advice, like how cautious I should be when painting my culture to White people or how I should always forgive and forget (a motto my father instilled in me), are ideas passed down from my parents’ immigrant experience. Such viewpoints help in voiding racial tensions rather than addressing them, and some are even prejudiced in nature. Once I was old and wise enough, I had several discussions with my parents, mostly with my mother, about some of her unjust opinions, but I often resorted to silence, because who am I to demean the conclusions she was forced to internalize as an immigrant living in America? As part of the generation fortunate enough to have an American education yet still struggling to prove the worth of our millennial opinions, I felt lost in calling out my mother’s prejudice because my credibility seemed nonexistent. Considering the recent political events, I talked to my mother about her views on politics involving minorities. Using her perspective along with Chou’s strategies to combat racism, I explore how first-generation Asian-American parenting affects involvement in American politics and how political change addressing minority problems can come about through agency and discussion within the family.
This past election marked the first time my parents voted in America. When asked about her experience, my mother said she “didn’t have much information”. If it weren’t for the campaigners that came to the house and my insistent push to register to vote, she probably would not have even voted. To me, it is astonishing that she even bothered to stand in a line at 7AM at all. One of the many stereotypes perpetuated by the media of Asian-Americans is that they’re apolitical—that they “just don’t care” about American politics. However, what ignorance fails to acknowledge are the forces behind the lack of desire for civic duty. As Kimberly Ta informs in her article, Asian-Americans come from countries where “political engagement was synonymous with treason” (Ta). Moreover, Asian-Americans are rarely discussed in politics, and “many don’t see ourselves represented by political candidates” (Ta). My mother agreed and recognized the need for more political activism in the Asian-American community. When I asked her why our community is seen as apolitical, she told me, “For those who came like us, struggling to get a job and getting settled is hard enough. That leaves no time for politics.” That makes sense—how can immigrants, who spend so much of their lives struggling and assimilating in a racialized White world, prioritize politics into their daily lives, especially when American politics appears to be an exclusive arena for White men?
My mother does believe that Asian-Americans should be more involved in American politics and further noted that she believes those most capable of bringing political change are people like me and my sister— second-generation Asian Americans. However, this belief that my sister and I could bring political change is contradictory to traditional Indian cultural norms. In my culture, politics is gendered; it is strictly for men, and this was evident when I was forbidden near the tables where the uncles were having a heated discussion during events or when my voice was immediately shut down when I tried to talk with the grandpas. In my culture, my mother, a wife whose job helps pay rent, must hide her opinions and blindly support my father. Ta, who is Vietnamese-American, similarly describes an experience with a family member claiming women “are unfit to lead this nation” (Ta). With this toxic patriarchy within our own, it’s no wonder why the first reaction for second-generation Asian-American young women, like Ta and myself, is to shy away from politics. I will always have to encounter opposition from vertical transmission of culture, namely from community elders, men and the hegemonic discourse in media (Lowe). So, in a way, it’s radical that my mother believes that my sister and I can be politically involved, but then again, does her opinion even matter? Or do the men in our community need to think the same first prior to any hope for change?
Furthermore, my mother’s views on minorities clearly shows that trauma stemming from white racial frames and colonialism forces immigrants to take on narrow-minded global views, hindering coalition possibilities. In Chapter 6, Chou mentions how white-controlled media stereotypes, such as portraying Black people as lower class, affect Asian-American families. Having internalized these terrible stereotypes, my mother explained her disdain towards African-American people, saying that Blacks are lazy and not hard-working. She believes that “maybe out of 100%, 20% are hardworking”, and the rest attempt to get government assistance. Similarly, Chou’s respondents noticed how their family’s inherited racial hierarchies affected their own personal lives, like romance and interracial relationships. In addition, my mother expressed narrow-minded views on other identities, like LGBTQ individuals, claiming that “India doesn’t have any of those things”. Attributing gays as deviations from one’s home culture, my immigrant mother associates Whiteness with gayness, a concept Chou also discusses. Lastly, minority coalitions are challenging because of prejudice that exists within different ethnicities occupied under the heterogeneous, umbrella term Asian-American. For instance, my mother is critical of Chinese-Americans, perhaps because different Asian-American ethnicities are forced to compete with one another, which powers prejudiced views. It is also important to note that many of the countries Asian-Americans come from have uneasy foreign relations with each other. Thus, nationalism for one’s home country might fuel negative views of other Asian-Americans. Overall, I noticed the importance of understanding the origins of my mother’s views, noticing the influence of white racial frames, and uniting the Asian-American community.
Recognizing a fearful transition to a new presidency, my mother shared her worry and sympathy for Muslims, refugees and illegals, but what irks me more is how she can recognize the alarming nature of the imminent presidency but fail to recognize the inherent prejudice she has against the same minorities. What’s scary is how much she feels she is right in retaining such views, which is exactly the type of thinking that stunts the movement for minority coalitions and activism. What’s even scarier is how easily I could have (and probably have at some point) internalized such prejudiced views. In her narrative, Ta noticed that “social change cannot happen outside the system without also happening within”, which is something I better understand from my conversations with my mom (Ta). Without speaking out within my own family, how can I work towards a more inclusive America? I must be involved in both. Chou’s last chapter identifies four strategies to combat racism. However, from my familial discussions and Ta’s article, I realized that in troublesome situations, I usually turn to silence and I forgive and forget. But silence isn’t the answer, and although it might be easiest for me to not expend the energy to convince people of existent racism or simply provide forgiveness, having meaningful conversations might be more effective. At least for me, I must try. It will take unfathomable energy to call my family members out on their wrongs, but change never does come easily. And although it’s cliché to culminate with a quote, I’ll do so anyway because as Albert Einstein once said, “the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” So, when I strive to use my agency and make small steps within my own, larger leaps are made possible.
Chou, Rosalind S. 2012. Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Rowman & Littlefield.
Lowe, L. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, vol. 1 no. 1, 1991, pp. 24-44. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/dsp.1991.0014.
Ta, Kimberly. “Overcoming Asian-American Apoliticism.” Huffington Post. 4 Nov. 2016. Web.