When I was twelve I dreamed of being a storyteller. I devoured words about queens and detectives. I lined the unused pages of my black and white school journals with bad comics and over-dramatic back stories. When I was twelve I created a character that I couldn’t find among the thousands of books that lined the library walls.
For some reason, I remembered that today.
She was a princess from a faraway land – but she didn’t know it. Trapped in suburban America, she one day stumbles upon secret documents that reveal her true identity and she realizes that the color of her hair and the shape of her eyes that always seemed out of place did not come from the mother she and her sister shared. Smuggled from her home on a fictional Pacific Island, her captivity was part of a plot to overthrow the the family that had led this tiny kingdom since the light of the sun hit the Earth. What happens next, I never got around to writing.
It was Princess Diaries meets colonization. It was about a girl who had always felt different and alone and was finally able to make sense of it all. It was about a disconnect from the past. It was about an Asian American.
Without even realizing it, at the age of twelve, I knew I couldn’t count on the media to represent my race, so I sought to do it myself.
This past weekend, I came across an article about Asian American identity that has become quite viral (The Asian American Awakening.) The author’s experiences virtually mirror mine. There comes a time in many Asian American youths’ lives when they realize, “I am not white” and then they seek to reconcile this feeling. In the hours past midnight I labored over the comments, becoming enraged at how some fellow Asian Americans could not see how American society has hurt our race because of subtle discrimination and “model minority” myths. Why don’t they understand!
The problem is in development. The Asian American experience is unique. It’s an identity crisis. We go through stages: ethnic awareness, white identification, awakening to social and political consciousness, redirection, and incorporation. Maybe those people haven’t awakened to these social and political issues yet. I believe it is my job and the job of others who have awakened to raise awareness of these problems and disparities.
All too often we are forgotten about in discourse about race. It is not well known that we walked alongside our Black brothers and sisters during the fight for civil rights. The media can glorify race in every case where a black boy’s life is taken away by a white man but when will they do the same for every Asian American that suffers the same fate? It’s not like it never happens. We are not problem-less. We are not perfect. We are not a model minority.
So even today I’m not sure if I can find a book or movie that features an Asian American lead character that I can identify with. But we are getting there. One by one we can make strides, but only if we’re in it together in solidarity. I only hope that we don’t need another Vincent Chin to make it happen.
PLUG: On a related note, I’m backing this amazing Asian American music project on Kickstarter called Strength in NUMBERS so please check it out! I’ve never really been into rap/hip-hop but this project got me to change my mind. I want this project to happen so bad and there’s 10 days left as of now to make it work so go go go!