It happened during a panel that I was moderating on OWS. A student raised her hand and spoke directly to the panel about the question of diversity and representation. “This is a problem I see here too, on this panel,” she concluded. I swept my eyes over the panel I had handpicked. One of the professors was Palestinian-American, although she could pass for white. I had personally picked her because I thought that she had some interesting things to say about the use of the word “Occupy.” Then it occurred to me. Am I, as an Asian woman and self-identified Person of Color, not a representation?
I had had snippets of this information coming my way. From the academic writings by prominent African-American scholars positing Asian-Americans as “white proximate,” to the struggle for recognition of Asian-American studies, it began to work its way into my mind that Asians in America were not seen as “of color,” or if they were, they were a “model minority” and proximate to whiteness. It wasn’t until the panel that I, lumped in with the other panelists of white and “invisible” minority status, that it clicked for me.
This is a marked difference from when I lived in Canada, where Asians are the biggest minority population and are clearly the “other.” In Canada, people assumed I didn’t speak English, or that I was a newly arrived immigrant, despite Canada having generations of Chinese and Japanese families since the 1800s.
It has become troubling to me that Asian Americans are seen as almost white. It obscures many of the realities that Asian Americans have in the US . Yes, it’s true that Asian Americans have had success in America. But they are also amongst the poorest in the nation. It is not fair to project the successes of a few onto a whole population who may, as a whole, be lacking.