AAPI Heritage Month: I Write from the “We” that is Erased by Assimilation

 

Film Screening: Hafu: the mixed race experience in Japan. Source: hafufilm.com/en

Growing up fourth generation, developing an identity as an Asian American has felt like something of a choice, or a process. Perhaps it was inevitable but it feels like a reaction. I think that for some folks in immigrant communities who are first or second generation, ethnic identity can involve a strong cultural experience. Not a monolithic or a static one, to be sure, but perhaps a more cohesive one. My identity is of being an American, but a racialized American. Which is also a cultural experience, just an American one.  I’m mixed, with a Japanese American father and a European American mother. My grandfather’s family were Buddhist missionaries who migrated to Hawai’i and helped found a temple there. I grew up in suburban Illinois without much of a community that looked like me or came from similar history.  Coming from a family that was more or less assimilated, sometimes I think I grew to identify as a Japanese or Asian American based on the negative aspects of being a racialized person, rather than the positive aspects of identity, culture, or community. My choice to identify as such was and is a reaction to the self doubt, in/visibility, and microaggression that people of non-European descent experience in America.  Ultimately I see this as a blessing because of the community and history I am still discovering, but also because it provided me with the earliest seeds of doubt about a racial system that I could not name but was keenly aware of.

I write from the “we” that is erased by assimilation.

I am decided by the fact
That our people came here to work in the sugar cane fields
That we came here to minister to those who worked in those fields
That we came here to get rich quick
That we died trying;
That we succeeded and forgot our mother tongues,
That we burned photographs and letters,
That our children would look at us as the enemy;
That we came here to live in segregated neighborhoods,
and that we did business in further segregated neighborhoods
That we came here to move to the suburbs
That each generation was foreign to the one that preceded it;
That our children would resent us for not teaching them who they were;
That we defined ourself against whiteness, while we craved whiteness,
while being used as a wedge against blackness,
That as we lost the our mother culture, we became something else entirely,
That we we were forced, coerced, encouraged, and then rewarded for assimilation;
That we came to sit in furious silence, or to laugh in self-hate,
when our American friends mocked our parents,
That we were still not American even after four generations,
That as mixed kids, we were Asian when you wanted to laugh,
but white when we challenged your racism, no matter where it was directed
That when we grew up, we died a little bit everytime we passed,
That when we grew up, we realized:
We would not be followed in the grocery store, but
our fathers would be followed home from the train station by boys calling them chink;
That our mixedness would be celebrated–
That they would offer our own bodies back to us as currency,
That this currency would only be of value when positioned against a backdrop of white power,
That the outsiders who celebrate our mixedness do so at the expense of our browner cousins;
That whiteness wants to extract the part of us that is not itself, both to taste it and to extinguish it;

Source: eclecticshaman.com

Source: eclecticshaman.com

That we are not the sum of our parts, that we are neither of our parts;
That those who want to consume us, and sometimes do-
Spit us out as not their own,
Swallowed us and owned us, unaware we are
Both/and neither
That the nature of life is dualistic, not binaristic–
That the roots of the family tree divide infinitely in half

 

 

 

 

 

 


10077_4340851356467_1874550948_nSusan Kikuchi works as a labor organizer and currently lives in Minneapolis. She is constantly having the same conversations over and over with herself, using new vocabulary each time.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

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