My racial identity influences my daily experience--from the mynute and more nuanced events to the more epic and milestone moments in life. Aside from the racial slurs and exoticization of my otherness, being Korean American and identifying with my political identity as an Asian American Pacific Islander has been an integral facet of my personal growing and self-discovery. I have seen the way trauma gets passed down from being first generation immigrant and first generation to survivors of war and refugees. Growing up, I'd listen to my dad sing old love songs to his homeland as my mom sat in dark rooms depressed in isolation. My parents worked until their callouses bled as my callouses held new lead pencils and pens from Morning Glory. I listened to 90s rnb and rap throughout middle school, had a short punk rock moment, and wore converse and SB Nike's up until now. I looked at my parents and myself; looked at America and myself; looked at my Korean friends and myself; looked at my Salvadorian boyfriend and myself--and asked myself, "Who am I?"
In 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity." Du Bois specifically compares the black experience with the tension that follows from other's perception and labels challenging your personhood and liberation. He further elaborates the black experience by stating that, "One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Dubois creates a theoretical framework of racial identity as a non-white American, where people of color can find a point of connection through this shared experience of two-ness. Though our racial experience is diverse and varies, he sets the stage for a common language around the plurality in the American identity and its ongoing development.
Before I adapt this perspective into the Asian American Pacific Islander experience, there is a huge conversation that needs to be had about the history of AAPI. First, there seems to be a more quintessential conversation about black and latino experiences in America, though the cultivation of the shared experience is much more robust than first glance, the solidarity shared amongst these racial groups are important to celebrate. On the other hand, the Asian American Pacific Islander identity is embodies a more fragmented narrative. What challenges the community from having a deep shared root of experience is the wide diversity of us in country origin and immigration history. America's economic development and home country's peace state directly influenced the push and pull factors of immigrants. For AAPI, America meant different things. The nation could either mean job opportunity, education, or a refuge. These factors predict the projection of quality of life that immigrants will experience once arrived. If you want to get to know the experience of someone who is AAPI, dig deeper into what brought their family to the states and what country are they from? Clearly, our nation should be beyond the point of asking every Asian: Are you Chinese?
So when White Americans look at Asians, they are confused. Either they imagine working class nail salon lady, international student, or even a model minority suburban square. The archetypes are growing, like any other race, but the unknown label still exists. White America's inability to label the diversity of AAPI has its pros and cons. On one hand, AAPI reap the privileges from being "othered." We are able to move through different spaces as a foreigner, not really accepted, but still admitted into different spheres of influence. Perhaps because we are not really a threat to patriotism and nationalism because we clearly don't belong here. Yet this can backfire, where our voice becomes unheard in making legislative decisions and cultural impact. Invisibility corners us to becoming ignored. The lack of attention the AAPI collective receives from the nation is problematic because our needs will not be heard--and there are many.
The great strides our community has experienced should not be ignored. From Yuri Kochiyama and the People's Movement in the Philippines, the heart of AAPI is organizing and love. Decolonization and Liberation. Mainstream culture maybe asking, where are the Asians in the midst of these political shifts and artistic renaissance. I would have to say that we are making moves in the states and internationally back at our homes. The problem is the lack of exposure to the diversity of AAPI community and prioritizing an intention to create space for the community to have platform and precedence.
As the community continues to harness in points of intersection, I have so much love for us. The shared sense of acceptance of being "Asian" has been a lesson of the beauty of diversity. I walk into Daiso, a Japanese 99 cent store, and can feel at home. My older brother is from Samoa, and he's not really my brother, but he's my brother. I love Pho as if I love kimchee chigae. I can cry for refugee stories of South East Asians as I cry for my dad's broken childhood.
It's okay that we are in a space of finding ourselves. In building community, there will be ebbs and flows of coming together and distinguishing a part. The dual consciousness is the utlimate shared experience where we can find a meeting ground. America possess a history of outcasting people of color and minimizing us to labor costs and fulling quotas on diversity needs. Yet, for those who had to live in two-ness, we come together to take collective breaths, re-imagining an America that includes us as the central axle of its functioning.