The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Asian-Americans are put into an odd position in the political spectrum where some people perceive Asian-Americans as “too privileged” to be considered POC –– this not only disregards what it means to be a person of color, but also serves to emphasize the social concept of how often trauma is the key definitive factor of characterizing minorities (there is also something to be said about that concept). This type of thinking has made it difficult for the Asian-American community to be accepted by other minority groups, and despite being seen as “not traumatized enough” to be fully accepted as POC, Asian-Americans are not accepted by the white community either.
This kind of reasoning could be attributed, in part, to how many people believe that Asian-Americans have never experienced explicit, legal, or physical discrimination in US history due to the lack of Asian-American history covered in schools or in any readily available media.
“Asian-American,” in some ways, is a vague and lax label to refer to an extremely diverse group of ethnicities –– Asian countries have complex and interrelated histories with each other, and not all histories are friendly. Current and past political tensions between Asian countries have seeped into social tensions between people, and the hostilities between groups paired with cultural differences have made “Asian-American” a term that lumps people with historical trauma together. War, colonization, and other sites of trauma have made it difficult for all people harboring those histories to feel comfortable under that identification label. This is why so many Asian-Americans have elected to identify themselves as (their ethnicity)-American, like Korean-American, as opposed to simply Asian-American.
However, the term has been unifying in other contexts, as they had to band together to support each other when the legal system failed them. They had no rights and there was often no justice for Asian laborers even when their houses were robbed, burned down, or they were even killed.
When immigrants first arrived as laborers in the 1800s, they were taken advantage of because they were seen as cheap and easy to manipulate. There were numerous policies that took advantage of them, such as the Foreign Miner’s Tax of 1850. Many Euro-American laborers perceived Asian laborers as a threat, and tensions only grew with multiple forms of violence. Asian immigrants persisted and endured harsh and discriminatory conditions –– they were given land that had already been mined and searched for gold, and if they did find anything valuable in their plot of land they were kicked off. Asian-Americans showed resilience and patience with their rocky beginning, enduring multiple forms of harassment; however, when the Panic of 1873 occurred, the robberies of Asian laborers snowballed into physical violence and killings of Asian-American immigrants.
Violence against Asian-Americans only grew worse after the economic recession, and the explosion of legal discrimination and physical harassment continued for over a century. Every single Asian ethnic group faced some form of trauma that cannot be covered in its entirety –– Chinese men were murdered in their sleep, homes burned down; Filipino men were shot and chased from their taxi dance halls; families were separated and individuals were denied naturalization and citizenships. Asian immigrants had only each other, and there were some stories of interethnic communities, such as Mexican-Indian households because Indian women were not allowed to enter the US.
The stories of Asian-Americans are extremely diverse and rich in experience, contrary to the belief that Asian-Americans simply arrived in the United States and immediately became the “model minority.” Regarding the idea that all Asians were treated well through their education, this is untrue. In fact, this could be referring to how the US only allowed (and highly encouraged) the educated, such as professors and students of STEM fields to enter during the Cold War. Despite all the labor of Asian-Americans in building the country through major contributions to railroad construction, agricultural labor, mining, and other fields, Asian-American history is non-existent in the school curriculum. As an Asian-American, it was shocking to learn of the history that has been neglected so easily in the curriculums I have taken in the past.