I struggled to write this piece, to define my experience as one that is not other, but is still distinct. While writing, I felt unsure if I was internalizing my own pain, self-censoring, bearing the burden that Asians, as the silent model minority have always had to carry. Desperately desiring freedom from the binds of a Confucian ethic, I instinctively want to fight, be frustrated, yell, do anything to not feel invisible, but I recognize that to do this would be just as self-denying.
I am writing from a belief that difference does not equate dissent. I am writing to express my individual story the best I can, knowing that there will always be parts of experiences that will remain unknown to others. I ask you to attempt to grasp mine as I try to understand yours.
Throughout the Amherst Uprising movement, I have felt lost, alone, and unsettled. Upstairs were the purposeful strides of the movement’s leaders, each having a place and playing an essential role. Downstairs were the smiles, conversations, and support of people of color and allies. I saw the markings of a community forming around me. It was beautiful and heartwarming, but I am not a part of it. I find there to be no place for yellow in a world of white supremacy and black and brown bodies.
In the outside world, in the eyes of whites, I am used as a model minority. My feelings of outside-ness are to be expected – a price to pay for my not being from here and a more than fair one when taking into account the benefits of my “favorable position.” Thus, my feelings of being outside and sense of marginalization are readily internalized and forgotten not just by those around me, but myself. In the world of Frost, the world of Amherst Uprising, I am again the silent, assenting token Asian. How am I supposed to feel when it all comes down to black and brown bodies? How am I supposed to feel when I don’t hear my story validated, when I don’t feel empowered in the same way that everyone else does? Have I not suffered enough? Am I not tired enough? I am there to provide a visual representation of the solidarity of all minorities – the injustice we all share and the space we are all fighting for. But I don’t feel more than a symbol used to show universality. I don’t feel more than peripheral, simultaneously thrown aside and lumped together.
However, it is totally unfair and wholly inaccurate to say that I am outright excluded from this fight and completely used by other minorities. I am drawn to Amherst Uprising not just out of compassion for groups different from my own, but out of an intuitive sense that my experience is also connected. But at the same time, I am kept from seamlessly falling into the movement. I sense that my struggle is somehow distinct, but I have trouble articulating why. I am left feeling in-between and paralyzed. I waver in and out of Frost. I waver in and out of the movement. I do not know where to be.
I want so badly to define what’s wrong and explain the feeling of community that I’m missing. I want so badly to share why I feel so stuck – why I can’t just support, but I can’t tear myself away. But the problem is, I don’t know how to tell this story outside of my struggle in voicing it. I don’t know how to manipulate language that isn’t mine to understand the experience I want to share. Because I cannot articulate it well enough, I cannot participate fully. I can’t just draft up my list of demands or enumerate the ways in which I want my role to be different. So I remain here on the periphery, trying desperately to feel a part of a space that is intended to, but does not fully encompass me. And yet I stay here – perpetuating the illusion of solidarity and my own oppression. I am more than a label to be added to a list.
Even when I make my voice heard, it is misheard. Yesterday, I rose to express my concern over a lack of representation and I was perceived as angry and overly emotional. I was not seen as a person who was also hurting, also oppressed, and also desperate to make her voice heard. I was not someone who had an automatic right to the space, but someone who had to fight for her place in it. Was it because of the model minority myth – that I did not adjust myself to the space and instead, stood up to claim it as my own?
Or was it because it was a moment without context? Was it because of the uncertainty that many have about what exactly is Asian oppression? Well, here is the context: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (the only act in US history that prohibited the immigration of a certain kind of people), Japanese internment camps during World War II, Vincent Chin (a Chinese man in 1982 whose ethnicity was misinterpreted when he was killed by white auto workers who blamed the Japanese for the loss of their jobs), the labors and lives of Asian migrant workers who bound this country together through the Transcontinental Railroad…
But that ignorance is fair. While I can point to all of these historical legacies and draw from them the systemic oppression of Asian people, I struggle to connect them to my personal life. Where can I fit into this history of oppression if my parents emigrated from China not as migrant laborers, but as graduate students? What does it mean if my parents were not shuttled off to ethnic enclaves or urban slums, but to engineering schools and upper-income suburban neighborhoods? How can I justify my feeling marginalized if my parents are not just shining examples of the model minority myth, but in fact, proof that for some of us, it is not a myth? How can I define my experience as marginalized if oppression from the past is not so immediate and the worst microaggression from my present is being wrongly accused for being good at math?
I feel like I’m blindly reaching to touch the truth of my experience, but I am lost in a fog, not knowing which way to turn. My sense of isolation is so unaligned with recognizable evidence that I cannot comprehend why I feel the way I do. I don’t have an Asian equivalent to black and brown bodies lost. The content of microaggressions I face, although annoying, is not harmful enough to threaten my idea of a safe space. But I have yet to find a space that I can belong to and can share with others. I want to comprehend myself, but I am constrained by this cultural inclination that works in the direction of assimilation, self-denial, and self-hatred. I feel trapped by the things I should be and because of that, I don’t know what my problem is.
My experience of marginalization is characterized by silence. Historically and here, there is the silence of Asian stories in the face of a dominant group. Whether that group is black, brown, or white, we continue to assimilate and accommodate. During Amherst Uprising, I found myself comparing my story and doubting my right to feel oppressed, lost, in between, without skin, vulnerable, and waging a war. I found myself denying my story and muting my voice in order to amplify others’.
Furthermore, there is a silence among us. When I look at the experience of other minority groups, I see a series of vertical relationships. I see upperclassmen women being mothers to underclassman girls, telling them that they are beautiful, that they do matter. These mothers play a fundamental role in fending off feelings of superfluity. They validate the existence of the marginalized in a hostile world that constantly makes one question it. Through Amherst Uprising, an Asian community was fostered, but this community is built on horizontal relationships. We are confused. We can affirm each other’s confusion, but we cannot validate each other’s existences. How can one be a mother if they have never been mothered? So there is no mother-daughter bond. There are brother-sister ones and while we don’t feel so alone, we still don’t have a place.
Most fundamentally, there is a silence within ourselves. The Asian kids are motherless. How can I know a story that has never been activated by or mirrored in another? Where is my Iris, my Mercedes, my Christine? Where are my women of color? Where is my mother, but hidden behind a generational gap exacerbated by her Chinese upbringing and my American one, unable to point me in any direction other than assimilation? So then, how can I be more than a confused kid mulling about constantly questioning my own existence? How can I not feel disconnected from this world? How can I reconcile the feeling that I was never born, but here I am?
Asian American oppression cannot be articulated because the very inability to articulate, the muffling of voice, and the silencing of story that has occurred through history, among family, and within ourselves defines our oppression. My marginalization cannot be spoken, but that does not mean it is not there. Rather, my oppression goes unspoken and that is why it is there.