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QUESTION: A good friend of mine is Taiwanese American. He identifies as ethnically Taiwanese, but not as Asian American, because he doesn't feel any commonality with other Asian groups. I think his perspective is fairly common among "brain drain" immigrants who have achieved a certain level of socioeconomic success and don't think racism affects them. Should everyone who is of Asian descent identify as Asian American?
QUANG: My short answer is that we all take personal journeys to sort out identity. It's a very complex issue. I certainly don't believe in forcing people to do anything. But when you look at the boxes you can check on any number of forms, it's fairly evident the limited number of practical options that one has. No one has to say that there is a relationship between, say, a Taiwanese American and a South Asian American. But in some political social terms, this country today distributes wealth and power based on these categories. To deny it, to contribute to some greater general sense of amnesia, is a problem. How you see yourself is not the only thing. How others see you and how you relate to society in general and what you do with all that are all part of what it means to be a good citizen.
This question highlights how narrowly people understand labels to be. You can say an Asian American is a person of Asian descent living in the United States. That's a fairly easy category to belong to. I think the only dispute would be one of geography. It's disheartening to see it this way, because then who will be contributing to Asian American life? How are resources going to be shared in a fair way? It's a certain luxury when we can say none of that relates to me.
HELEN: If Iım only concerned with my particular ethnic group and I don't care about anybody else, it's a very limited and shortsighted vision that ultimately doesn't even benefit the individual much. I hope people will see the value and importance of identifying more broadly with other people and coming together as a way of celebrating our histories and reaching other groups that may not look like ourselves. It's an important part of civic engagement. Identity is one piece of a larger question: How do we take where we are today and use that in a way to better not just ourselves but society as a whole? That's the question I hope people ask themselves when they look in the mirror and ask, who am I, what am I, what is my identity? What am I in the context of this society, this world?
SHERYL: It's like that saying, "the unexamined life is not worth living." Although you can't instruct people on how to self identify, it is important that people understand how their personal issues are interrelated to larger issues as a whole. I think that's very important. But how to go about that is a difficult question.
QUANG: I also think there's something ahistorical here. You know, we have what we have today because of a strong identification with this idea called Asian American. We have anti-discriminatory laws and things that this person probably benefits from. To not see it in that context, it seems that this person must be really disengaged in a way.
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