Seeking a space to share and explore the Asian American voice, approximately 20 Asian-identifying students have created a new committee called I Am Asian American (IAmAsAm.) Focused on engaging with the intersection of identity and activism, IAmAsAm operates on a project-by-project basis, including an anecdotal poster campaign and a panel this past Claiming Williams Day.
The panel examined the complex nuances of the question: What does it mean to be politically active as an Asian American? The panelists’ approaches towards activism varied. For some, political activism meant being on the streets demonstrating visible and vocal resistance. For others, activism was found in countering misconceptions and problematic beliefs in the home. Some members discussed these issues on a personal level, focusing on human connection.
“[Claiming Williams] is a space to have uncomfortable conversations about very real, very honest experiences that a lot of people face,” committee member Anna Kim ’19 said.
Committee member Amber Lee ’21 found the discussion empowering. “I realized…that [activism] can start with the very quotidian, small, day-to-day acts of participating in things that you are passionate about, that you care about, that you identify with,” Lee said.
The array of experiences of Asian American students on campus was shown in the poster campaign, the result of anecdotal submissions via Google Form. The submissions generated probing and passionate discussions about Asian American identity on campus. Hopefully, such interactions will have positive ripple effects towards change beyond Claiming Williams Day. The importance of such dialogue was especially apparent when determining which stories should be made into posters. The committee, Kim said, did not want to cherry-pick the stories, but they also did not want to publish problematic content.
Questions surrounding the myth of the ‘model minority’ and how Asian-affiliated groups stand in alliance with other minority groups also surfaced during both the panel and committee meetings. Panelists addressed the myth in terms of how it hinders Asian Americans from being politically active. The committee hopes that the poster campaign will help dispel the myth by showing that there is no singular Asian American experience. Panelists and committee members alike acknowledged the complexities of such questions, where both oppression and privilege need to be unpacked.
“It acts as both a privilege for many and a barrier because it is a false stereotype,” Lee said. “The assumption that all Asian Americans – or even most Asian Americans – prosper in life, do great things and do all the same great things is just false.”
Phuong Vo ’18 said that it is because of this myth that Asian Americans should advocate for political reform rather than using the myth “as something Asian Americans hide behind and benefit from,” she said.
“It’s always the underprivileged that risk the most in being politically active – even more of a reason why Asian Americans need to be out on the streets supporting other people: because we do have a privilege,” Vo said.
The fight for Asian American identities to be acknowledged by the College has been an ongoing process on a more administrative and formalized level as well. There have been attempts to integrate an Asian American Studies department into the College curricula for years. That such a department has not been created speaks to the need for greater representation in academia.
The turnout for Thursday’s panel was overwhelming; students spilled out of the doorways. Committee members felt encouraged by this, noting a demand and potential for real activism.
IAmAsAm is part of the ongoing fight to raise awareness for groups that do not fit with a dominant demographic and to create a space for such groups on campus. Ultimately, IAmAsAm aims to stand in solidarity with all groups that experience underrepresentation and marginalization.