What should journalists and the Asian diasporic blogosphere write about in 2012? Here are three ways in which I’d like to see public discourse on Asians in the West change in this new year:

1. Refocus on the 99%

2011 was the year of the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring. It was also the year of the Tiger Mother and hype about discrimination against Asian Americans at the most selective universities in the United States. While much of the public discourse around the world has refocused on the vast majority of the population (the 99%, in Occupy-speak), discourse on Asian Americans and Asians in the West in general remains stubbornly stuck to conceptions of Asians as the successful model minority. We have to remember, though, that not all Asians in the West experience this type of success, and that by focusing on the top end of the ladder we are excluding working class and otherwise less privileged groups from the narrative.

What I would like to see in 2012 is a shift away from the 1%-focused discourse of the past towards a more inclusive narrative that is cognizant of the socioeconomic diversity of Asians in the West. Amy Chua’s prototypical Tiger Mother is well-educated and well-off; claiming that her extreme measures are the Chinese way of child-rearing is misleading and offensive to mothers who either cannot afford to use her methods or are morally opposed to her way of thinking. Hype about Asian admissions to top-tier American universities (similar to the debate in late 2010 on Maclean’s article about Canadian universities being “too Asian”) obscures the fact that many Asian groups in the US, particularly Southeast Asians, have very low educational attainment.

This year, OiYan Poon’s post for Hyphen Magazine about the college admissions debate and the Asian American 1% and the Boston Globe’s profile of George and Johnny Huynh were steps in the right direction. With more articles like these, we can include the rest of the Asian diasporic community in the conversation and flesh out the argument against the myopic and monolithic model minority myth.

2. More consideration of intersectional identities

Socioeconomic class is not the only other consideration on which we need to focus in 2012. Issues like gender, sexual orientation, religion, language ability, citizenship, and location intersect and interact with “Asianness” in different ways, and these intersections are rich for exploration. One is not gay or Asian, undocumented or Asian, a woman or Asian; one can be all of the above. Highlighting these intersections will help build allies in these broader communities, and hopefully help us avoid faux pas such as the sexist responses to Alexandra Wallace’s infamous “Asians in the library” video.

In 2011, my dear friend Miyuki’s web site Asian, Gay and Proud has done some great work highlighting sexual orientation and gender issues in the Asian community, and there have been some wonderful writing and videos about Asian women in Western society and media. Let’s see this type of discourse and advocacy continue and expand to include other intersections.

3. More cross-national comparisons and diasporic linkages

I started this blog because I felt that the blogs, news sources, and academic articles I was reading on Asian communities in the West were too narrowly focused within the boundaries of the nation-state. Few comparisons were being made, and little dialogue was happening. Having just finished a minor in Latin American Studies, I was hyperaware of how flows of information were largely one-way out of the US; I noticed that Australians, Canadians, and others were picking up on Asian American news and cultural production, but Asian Americans were not necessarily reciprocating. I wanted to fill that gap by making a space on the internet to put different Asian diasporic groups in the West in dialogue with one another.

Considering that most of the links above have been to sources in the US, I’m not sure how well I have done that so far. (Then again, I am one person with one point of view and only a limited amount of time per day to browse the Internet!) One thing I plan to do in 2012 is create more transnational bridges. I will continue to read as widely across the Asian diasporic blogosphere as I can, with the hope of putting different writers, artists, and community organizations in contact. It seems that I’ve had at least a little bit of success: after my post on queer stories from Asia and the diaspora, Miyuki interviewed Leow Yangfa, creator of the Singaporean site I Will Survive, for her “Out and Successful” series!

I hope that the rest of the Asian diasporic blogosphere (especially the Asian American blogosphere) will develop a more global outlook in 2012. Now that information and people move so quickly across borders, there’s no reason to keep on looking inward.

Photo credits: Tiger Mom Says and Asian Americans in Media.

  1. I love your first point! I feel that people in a common socioeconomic class can relate to each other more than people in a common race.

    I would like to hear more about unconventional Asian families. People are always really surprised I don’t have a father in my life.

    Personally, it’s difficult for me to talk about my SES or my single mother, but I would love to learn about other people’s experiences.

    I realize I don’t read any non-American blogs. That must change.

    • I’d like to take a look at the data first, but I’d expect that “unconventional” Asian families are probably much more conventional than people think. You’re right that there’s not enough media or blog coverage about single-parent Asian households.

  2. Sung

    I think point #3 is particularly important, and it’s interesting to see what commonalities exist among diasporic communities all over the world. I also wonder if you can make diasporic linkages to the increasingly important roles many major Asian countries (China, India and S. Korea, to name a few) have been playing in the last 10-15 years as economic actors in this globalized world, and what this means for immigrants’ agency in their respective settlement communities. Finally, what about the role of the state in the long-term implications of these diaspora? I know in the S. Korean case, their gov’t has been working to increasingly commoditize not only typical manufacturing and agricultural exports, but also culture (like food and music a la k-pop) through localized investments in Korean ethnic communities in the US and other countries.

  3. Phi

    I love this! I’m also enjoying the comments this sparked :)

    I felt that the driving point of #1 is that consideration of Asian/API/Asian American/diasporic Asian issues needs be presented in a more accessible way. In some ways, this is complicated by aims #2 and #3, which can become encumbered by jargon and abstraction. I think a good goal would be continuing to negotiate and discuss how to actualize these very awesome ideas in a way that can be inclusive of folks who aren’t trained in the same language of intersectionality/diaspora.

    • Putting academic and non-academic work in dialogue is quite the challenge! You’re right, though, that the language we use can be exclusionary and abstract, and that we ought to work harder to make these ideas accessible to all.

  4. Good thoughts happening in the comments already! Have you read Hyphen magazine before? I was really impressed with the different levels of conversation and backgrounds that were happening/being highlighted.

    I recently went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site and Civil Rights Institute in Atlanta and Birmingham, respectively, and was blown away. But like many API have questioned in the past, I thought “look at all of this amazing work done by african americans. but what’s up with this black and white, nothing in between picture? where is our movement?” I know that there were Asians in the Black Panther movement and in many other exciting movements but why is it that we’re just not noticed and recognized?

    WE NEED TO MAKE MORE MEDIA and demand visibility. Being down south this winter break has led me to experience my Asian American identity in really interesting ways. I felt myself more hyper aware of my Asianness…example: my friends and I (all Asian) went to a karaoke night at a local gay bar in the Carolinas. I was a bit caught up with the fact that we were the only Asians there and that I, a Japanese woman was going to sing karaoke in front of all these white people. Of course I got over it and belted out “fallin'” by Alicia Keys anyways, but I couldn’t help but notice my discomfort. Also, people genuinely think I’m from China meaning no harm by the assumption (although that doesn’t make it right). They wonder why my English is so good… this was a reality check. Being in Swarthmore’s bubble and in the North in general has protected me from these kinds of assumptions. But as soon as I stopped being so self-conscious and more frank, I realized I could call people out on their stereotypes without being an asshole. :)

    What am I rambling on about? Now I have no idea…but anyways, Mr. Plaid Bag, I think this blog is going in an amazing direction! Keep it up!

    • - I love Hyphen, and finally committed to a 2-year subscription last week. :)

      – I agree that we need to move Asian American history out of specialized museums and dense academic articles and move it into the mainstream curriculum and public monuments.

      – Visiting the South made me more aware of my identity, too! I was in Wilmington, North Carolina for a conference last year and for the first time that I could remember, I was the only Asian person around. I was in a taxi and the driver started complaining me about “those damn n——” who were in the can before me. Not only was I extremely offended and uncomfortable, but it made me realize how Asians and others who don’t fit neatly in the black-white dichotomy are often used as a wedge.

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