Un-Containing Asian/Americanness: Being Sites of Struggle Here, There, and Elsewhere
This is part two in a collection of five imperfectly scribbled parts. For contextual grounding, please visit the landing page.
Let’s start here: the recognition that our bodies, relationships, and stories are not — can never be — apolitical, decontextualized spaces.
We are sites of struggle: the meanings and identities of our lives are endlessly constructed, contested, negotiated, and reinvented in historical, sociopolitical, and cultural collisions. When we come together we are constellations of power dynamics rattling against each other. The question is whether our power indulges white supremacy or moves us towards liberation.
There’s a danger to seeing ourselves as neutral in a country where white supremacy has masqueraded itself as an innocent meritocracy for the American Dream. And especially dangerous for us when Asian/Americans are the physical embodiments of this gruesome, unrealized dream.
The question we forget to ask is whose dream is it?
After the Atlanta shooting, race-scholar and Professor Anthony C. Ocampo tweeted:
In this quintessentially Americanized expression of anti-Asian violence, whose dream is it when meritocracy becomes another routine form of racial violence embedded in white supremacist legacies and slick policies?
I don’t think we, as Asian/Americans, know how to answer this question yet.
In defying the American Dream, I refuse the catch of the Model Minority Myth (MMM). I refuse it as the story of Asian/Americans in this country. And more so, I refuse the way we’ve all — Asian/Americans and others — subscribed to the MMM in seemingly reductive ways, as if abdicating or relinquishing our rights to fashion and tell our own stories. If we know that the MMM is a dangerous and divisive narrative crafted for and about us by white supremacy, why do we keep repeating it as if trying to convince ourselves of this lie?
I want to know when we will finally stop doing the work of the oppressors for them, and when we will stop doing this to ourselves.
The more gracious understanding is that perhaps, perhaps — we’ve been trying to absolve ourselves through this myth by externalizing blame, but what precisely are we accusing ourselves of when there is so much to account for? And who, but us, can forgive us?
If it’s still unclear, let this be clear: anti-Asian violence and racism is rooted in brutal colonization, western military imperialism, and state-sanctioned genocide, all of which is birthed in the crucible of white supremacy and anti-Blackness.
My family’s origin story begins with us being made into refugees on a scale of dislocation that physically and perpetually ripped apart our homeland, families, and bodies. The United States made us into refugees when it was losing Vietnam, a French colony inherited through western imperialist might. Laos became collateral and we became the unrecognized human masses of collateral damage.
Let me put it this way: Laos, this smidge of a landlocked country, is the most bombed country per capita in the entire history of this earth. The United States carpet bombed my “inconsequential” homeland in a magnitude such that unexploded ordnances (UXOs), considered the most dangerous category of military munitions, are still detonating and tearing off limbs and flesh fifty years later. It’s like the war never ended over there.
And here, the UXOs continue exploding like fury inside of me, detonating each time I hear us, Asian/Americans, try to make sense of these violent sites of struggle through the analysis of the MMM. Unpacking this myth is a tired American ritual that I refuse.
Instead, I want us to memorialize how our people were and continue to be collateral damage in this American dream of white supremacist theater, here and “abroad.” I want us to eulogize how families lose limbs and lives when simply running and playing, gardening and harvesting, dancing and dying on lands they call home and “here.” I want us to excavate how these brutal American dreams got buried so deep inside these not-here soils, how they still detonate in every infinite direction.
That’s my origin story of becoming American. Everything before the bombings sit as inconsequential dust collected in a “multicultural” jar to be opened once every May. Add on top of this hyper/invisible violence is the ease and utility of labeling our origin stories and anti-Asian racism as xenophobia. Slapping xenophobia to our faces and bodies, and only Asian faces and bodies, demarcates us as “not of this place,” a phobia that is so habitually American.
And while the shadow of being perpetual foreigners and oriental others is part of our mythos here, these shadows are not our entirety. We remain here, there, and elsewhere, meaning: our origin stories are not our creation stories; these shadows are not us. Philosophy Professor Kristie Dotson writes on Black feminist epistemology:
Though my originating stories on this land begin with enslavement, my creation stories do not. My memory will remain longer than my lifespan.
While I do not inhabit the origin stories of chattel slavery and indigenous genocide on these lands, I claim for all of us that our origin stories in the United States are not — will never be — our creation stories. We are all sites of struggle here, there, elsewhere. We cannot forget or look away from this.
In un-containing Asian/Americanness, the murders in Atlanta by a white male terrorist is inevitably an outcome, an inheritance, a birthright from the shameful origin stories of this white supremacist colonial empire.
Rather than whitewash our historical and sociopolitical realities into a singular myth, how do we situate ourselves as sites of struggle in defiance of our origin stories here while remaining rooted in our creation stories elsewhere? This is our ever remaining struggle.
Most of my adolescent, young adult, and adult life has been assembled in response to white supremacy with futile attempts at dismantling this insidious origin story. Things feel increasingly inseparable and inescapable, which is to ask: Who am I without my oppression? What am I without my trauma?
I often despair knowing that we will carry the unwilling shadows of white supremacy beyond our lifetimes. But the tradition of radical hope also tells me that these shadows do not define us, that we are who we are without our oppression and trauma. One day, these shadows will disappear under our collective brilliance and fade into a nothingness, a past that we can look back on and say:
Remember that? We’re free now — here, there, elsewhere.
This collection of writings is a work in progress — open to your critiques, thoughts, feelings, wonderings, tensions, and tenderness. This collection, however, is not open to hateful comments or remarks that do not have the intention or invitation of trying to understand, connect, or “work out” conflict and differences.
Always and with immense gratitude,