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.