[UPDATED] Present Moment, Future Movement

The last chapter of Rosalind Chou’s Asian American Sexual Politics was assigned at the most apt time, not just within the course but for activating Asian Americans today. We have to keep talking about the president-elect and the political state to denormalize neoliberalism. The resonance of Chou’s final analysis highlights how we can preserve and create memory. As a privileged immigrant Korean-American woman and college student, I must learn from various civil rights efforts, communicate with older Asian generations about collective ethnic and racial memories to progress with historical understanding, and continue thinking critically about my individual position relative to dominant hegemony to form a “new self-valuation” (Chou 181) and participate in making intersectional progress to advance 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 and align with them. 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 treating it only as history; this means strategically essentializing with Black Lives Matter, with undocumented immigrants, with Native Americans and NoDAPL, with LGBTQ rights, with Muslim people threatened for their appearance and religion, with women accessing abortion rights and Flint citizens. I’m working to actively consume media about and created by people in marginalized communities, support businesses empowering disenfranchised people, use the Internet to find news mainstream outlets don’t publish, speak out when people make microaggressions or ignorant statements, not just about Asians. Taking private and public allyship is obviously uncomfortable. But such actions clarify Asian American identity independent of striving for whiteness, equalizes Asian and darker non-white bodies, denounces heteronormativity.

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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 their stories of war, immigration, and self-made success countless times. Even when language isn’t a barrier, you probably don’t tell them enough stories. 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 that millions of people’s identities are threatened in our country of residency). When I tell her I participated in a NoDAPL protest, she says she’s afraid I’ll get too involved with activism and “throw away my life” as she saw colleagues in medical school do. When I explain how my interactions with my race and gender have made post-election interactions with “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.

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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.

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 stick to it.

I’ve grown to understand the inward-thinking tendencies of older generations, 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 yet more important. As someone who’s taken Asian American studies classes I am not blind, so cannot turn back and ignore glaring injustice. I naturally – not nobly – have a responsibility to act for more than myself. 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, how their children fight.

Asian American Sexual Politics is a sneaky manifesto, a self-care manual, 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.

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