The Asian American and Pacific Islander community is in the spotlight now more than ever: Activists are taking to the streets demanding expansion of hate-crimes laws after devastating attacks; filmmaker Chloé Zhao recently became the first woman of color to win an Oscar for directing; and Kamala Harris, who is of African American and South Asian descent, made history as the first female vice president. The protests are changing the nation – just as the accomplishments are uplifting it.
To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the USA TODAY Network asked activists, artists and newsmakers how they're embracing their heritage to help lift all of America out of hate and keep the promise of the American dream. In pulling together this project, one of us, a Vietnam War refugee as a child and now USA TODAY's opinion operations editor, took inspiration from "Let America Be America Again" by poet Langston Hughes.
He voiced not only African American dreamers of equality but also disenfranchised whites, Native Americans, immigrants, farmers and pioneers. The other producer, USA TODAY's opinion projects editor, has long identified with Hughes' dissection of the African American fight to be seen. It's reflected in her own Black experience. May might be the month we celebrate AAPI history, but the responsibility to perfect this union belongs to all Americans – and for both of us, Hughes' words perfectly declare this ongoing mission of the United States of America:
O, let America be America again –
The land that never has been yet –
And yet must be ...
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain ...
And make America again!
My oath as first AAPI associate attorney general of America
One of my earliest memories as a 4-year-old was sitting at a McDonald’s with my family when a group of skinheads began shouting ethnic slurs at us. One shouted, “Go back to your country!”
Today, in America, members of the AAPI community are subject to increased harassment and even violence, fueled by hateful rhetoric. This hate has no place in America. No one should feel unsafe because of who they are.
That incident in McDonald’s could have dimmed my family’s dreams, but my parents showed me every day that the promise of America was bright. Even as strangers in a new country, they saw America as a beacon to the world, a nation that promised equal justice for all, which strove to live up to its ideals and welcomed them as immigrants. Their love of this country inspired them to also teach me that we have an obligation to do the necessary work to perfect this union.
And, years later, I swore an oath to do just that. Weeks ago, I was sworn in to the Justice Department as associate attorney general, the first daughter of immigrants and first AAPI confirmed to the position. And while I may still remember the slurs directed at my family as a child, I will always remember greater still the promise of America and the ongoing pursuit of equal justice that guides the DOJ work and mission.
Vanita Gupta is the associate attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Not repeating history
As an Asian American studies scholar and now as the director of the Asian American Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have felt more demand and more responsibility for education about this shared heritage in the past year than ever before.
I’ve spoken about my research on the history of anti-Asian violence, the model minority and the Japanese American incarceration so much that it rolls off the tongue. The academic side is easier for me; the emotional care is harder.
I don’t think I ever took a moment after the Atlanta shootings to pause and reflect; I was too busy putting together a community vigil, talking to students and colleagues, speaking to the media, and answering emails on everything from family problems to advice on workplace trainings.
I try to help the diverse Asian American community feel seen and supported, and at the same time, I need to educate everyone across campus, even those who resist learning about racial prejudice.
When I came to live and teach in the South, I didn’t realize how much hunger there would be for this knowledge. But I connected very deeply with the history and literature of the Asian American movement at a young age, and I want my students to feel the self-confidence that comes with a better understanding of the fraught history of race in this country. They give me hope that maybe we’re not doomed to repeat it.
Heidi Kim, associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the UNC Chapel Hill, is the director of the UNC Asian American Center; she is also past chair of the board of North Carolina Asian Americans Together. Her most recent book is "Illegal Immigrants/Model Minorities: The Cold War of Chinese American Narrative." Follow her on Twitter: @heidikkim
'See Us Unite'
Each of our families, from India and the Philippines respectively, came to the United States because it held the promise of diversity and opportunity for all.
Our families’ immigration stories are common, but that promise has become increasingly rare for AAPI families like ours. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are under attack right now and many times not seen as a part of America, even though we make up 7% of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, our research finds that our community receives less than .5% of charitable funding.
We launched The Asian American Foundation to solve for this longstanding lack of investment and help AAPIs access the opportunity to advance and thrive in the way that all Americans deserve. As a convener, incubator and funder, it is TAAF’s aim to fill critical gaps of support.
But this is also about creating cultural change. We are bringing together leaders and influencers to drive awareness of our diverse cultures and accelerate impact to our communities. To do this, we launched the “See Us Unite” campaign, which celebrates our contributions to America’s story and helps build a coalition of solidarity for lasting change.
Opinion: 'There is no greater moment in time' for Asian Americans to unite
Staff video, USA TODAY
The campaign includes social and outdoor media and a broadcast special, “See Us Unite” hosted by Ken Jeong on May 21 at 8:00 PM ET / 8:00 PM PT on MTV.
Sonal Shah is president of The Asian American Foundation. Sheila Lirio Marcelo is a member of the board of The Asian American Foundation and executive producer of See Us Unite Campaign. Follow their organization on Twitter: @taaforg
Building Pacific Islander presence
Pacific Islanders remain underrepresented in higher education, professional fields and in the media today. South Pacific Islander Organization (SPIO) is a 100% volunteer-led nonprofit organization dedicated to building Pacific Islander presence in higher education and professional fields. As a globally dispersed community, we provide free resources beyond country lines.
At SPIO, we harness the power of our beautiful tapestry of cultures and a love for our islands to encourage and support academic and career dreams. We tell the stories of how we belong in academic and professional spaces by publishing spotlight articles on inspiring Pacific Islanders across educational and professional fields. We work with extraordinary Pacific Islanders willing to offer guidance by providing Pacific Islanders free undergraduate application help through virtual office hours. We offer $5,000 scholarships to driven Pacific Islander scholars living anywhere in the world who show exemplary community leadership, academic and extracurricular excellence. And we foster a virtual community through our SPIO Higher Education Network. We envision a thriving, inclusive Pacific Islander community rooted in cultural heritage.
Do you share our vision? We welcome volunteers and donors to join us in increasing Pacific Islander access to college and career opportunities. To get involved, visit our website at www.southpacificislander.org.
MichaeLynn Kanichy, board president of the South Pacific Islander Organization, is a Pohnpeian and Makah Stanford graduate and social justice advocate based in Neah Bay, Wash. She is studying for her Masters of Public Health at the University of North Dakota. Follow her on Twitter: @southpac_island
Fighting for basic dignity
I was taught by my Vietnamese American refugee parents early in life to not rock the boat to succeed. Success, as a result, meant running away from my heritage so I could blend in.
But after being spit on last year and being told to “go back to where I come from,” I realized hiding was impossible. I needed to speak up for myself and others like me – to fight for basic dignity.
Today, fully embracing my heritage has inspired action. I leverage my career experiences in politics to push for protections and resources for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. I advise first-time political candidates.
At a time where acts of hate and violence against our communities are blatant, when we’re scapegoated for COVID-19, I encourage others – including my parents – to share their stories of discrimination and fight for representation at the highest levels of our government. There’s now a political awakening within the community: record activism and a booming voice in our public discourse.
After facing enemies on front lines in Afghanistan, Vietnamese American faces hate at home
Staff video, USA TODAY
Our communities no longer just accept what they’re given. They’re fighting. Our heritage is that strength – not weakness – that pushes national change. As a Vietnamese American, I’m proud to play my part.
Jeff Le is a political partner at the Truman National Security Project. He served as deputy Cabinet secretary to California Gov. Jerry Brown from 2015 to 2019, oversaw emerging technology policies and led statewide government response to post-disaster economic recovery. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffreyDLe
Pain spoken as anger
You picked the wrong Asian woman to mess with
because my tongue is split – It is forked and steel-tipped
I am a founding member of the Asian American female spoken word poetry group, Yellow Rage. As my poetry partner, Catzie Vilayphonh, and I performed around the country over the past 20 years, we sometimes met AAPIs who told us that when they first saw our performance on HBO’s "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam" back in 2001, they cried. They explained that the feelings and thoughts that came over them as they watched us perform were “Finally. FINALLY, someone is saying what I’ve always wanted to say.”
i wasn’t talking to you, so don’t ask me what i’m saying in my native tongue
you want to know so badly, go learn it yourself
In our early years of touring, Catzie and I were confused why AAPI people would tell us that our piece made them cry. “It’s not that kind of poem!” We would say or think or just exclaim to each other. We were so fixated on our own expression of anger that had prompted us to write the piece, we didn’t recognize that other people’s anger was manifesting as pain. That beneath our own “Yellow Rage” – the rage that we were expressing – was a deeper representation of our collective pain as AAPI people.
I see right through you –
you “expert” on me with your fake Asian tattoo
you “expert” on me with your taebo and kungfu
Now that Catzie and I have some distance from when we first wrote that poem – and we’ve gotten older – we understand this pain more. There is so much that non-Asians don’t understand about our pain. There are so many Americans who think they know us – know ABOUT us – when they know NOTHING at all. And for these reasons, Catzie and I have been humbled and overwhelmed by the recent responses and rediscovery of our performance on "Def Poetry Jam."
so you wanna learn how to say “i love you” and “hello”
why you need to know? – cuz you think i’m some asian ho?
This spoken word poet has been speaking up for Asian Americans for decades
Staff video, USA TODAY
Sadly, two decades later, our poem still has relevance. In a collaboration with Studio Revolt, an independent media lab and production company founded by performance artist Anida Yoeu Ali and filmmaker Masahiro Sugano, Yellow Rage and Studio Revolt will be releasing a short film version of our poem by the end of May for AAPI Heritage Month.
Featuring members of Philadelphia’s AAPI community from young girls to elders, this re-envisioning of our signature poem will be an unapologetic declaration of our pride as Asian American Pacific Islanders and a reclaiming of our humanity in the face of the hateful forces in U.S. society that seek to tear us down.
Michelle Myers is an award-winning poet, community activist and educator. As a biracial Korean American founding member of the spoken word poetry group Yellow Rage, her solo work has been published in Apiary Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Title Magazine and Brevity.
Accusations of disloyalty to America
It is outrageous that in 21st century America, any of our fellow citizens and residents have to live in fear and endure attacks because they look like their ancestors didn’t come here on the Mayflower.
Despite having worked at the highest levels of the federal government and having dedicated myself to a life of public service, even I am not immune to these malicious attacks, false narratives and accusations of disloyalty to America.
Like so many others, my family came to America for the opportunity of a better future. My father scored No. 1 in the national examinations in Taiwan and was given the chance to study abroad. Without money or documentation for a seven-month pregnant wife and two young daughters, my father came to America alone. It took him three years before he was able to bring us to America.
The initial years were difficult; we didn’t speak English and lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York. But my parents were confident that America was the land of opportunities. This is the dream of millions of Americans.
While we are now more accomplished and integrated than before, the AAPI community is often not seen as influential. Our community possesses a collective buying power of $1 trillion, but American media, products and campaigns do not recognize us nearly enough. Within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, there is a growing awareness of the need to be more visible and vocal. Hopefully, this Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month will increase appreciation for how America’s diversity and freedoms are, and have always been, its greatest strengths.
Elaine L. Chao (@ElaineChao), secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration and secretary of Transportation in the Trump administration, was the first Asian American woman to be named to a president's Cabinet and the longest serving Cabinet member since World War II.
A gently burning fire
In 1955, my mother radically changed the trajectory of my life when she brought me to the United States. With a quiet determination, she sacrificed and persevered to build a life for my brothers and me in this country. Everything I have achieved is a testament to her fortitude. With her heart of fire, she showed me how to stand up for myself, persevere and not back down from a fight.
My mom’s life of courage and persistence showed me how a fire need not be a roaring inferno to be powerful. It can just as easily be embers – carefully nurtured and gently burning – passed from one generation to the next. Just as my mom passed her heart of fire to me, I too hope to pass on mine to others.
At different moments in my life, I’ve internalized the diminished expectations the dominant culture has for Asian women. It’s a common experience for too many of us. But after four years of constant assaults on the body politic and the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and hate, Asian Americans are finding, expressing and stepping into our own power. We simply refuse to be silent. These days, I take heart in the many Asian faces I see on TV, in politics and in the streets fighting for our future. And in seeing them, I know that though I might have been the first Asian American woman to reach the United States Senate, many more will follow.
Getting out the vote
Soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration, I learned something that felt like a kick to my gut. Asian American and Pacific Islanders had one of the lowest voter turnouts among racial groups in the USA. This fact haunted me for months. Why wasn’t I aware that my own community wasn’t going to the polls? And if more of us had turned out in 2016, what would have been the outcome of the presidential election?
With Georgia’s AAPI population soaring and our state’s historically ruby red electorate gradually turning purple, I threw myself into mobilizing AAPI Democratic voters. During Jon Ossoff’s 2017 congressional campaign, I came to understand the barriers that kept AAPI voters home. Some felt ignored by elected officials. Others had language barriers that made navigating elections difficult. Still others felt as if their votes didn’t matter. But from Ossoff’s congressional race, to Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial race, to the 2020 presidential election and 2021 Senate runoff election, I witnessed, firsthand, an astounding increase in AAPI voter participation.
I watched our community come out of the shadows, seize electoral power and elect several AAPIs to the Georgia legislature, including Sens. Sheikh Rahman and Dr. Michelle Au, as well as Reps. Sam Park, Marvin Lim and Bee Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who recently announced her Democratic candidacy for secretary of state. A win would make Nguyen the first AAPI elected to statewide office in Georgia.
This past year has been a huge one for AAPI Democratic voters, who have helped oust a vicious, white supremacist administration. And though we have a lot more work to do, we will continue to make our voices heard by getting out the vote and building coalitions with others to shape our nation into one that is more compassionate, humane and just.
Anjali Enjeti (@AnjaliEnjeti) is the co-founder of the Georgia chapter of They See Blue, an organization for South Asian Democrats, and served on the 2020 Georgia Biden-Harris Leadership Council. She’s the author of "Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change," and the debut novel "The Parted Earth."
Guam gave me empathy
“Where are you from?”
I get that a lot, and I welcome the question. I’m from Guam and proud of being native Chamorro. Because Guam is a melting pot of people, I’ve always had friends from diverse backgrounds. Kindness and respect are intrinsic to my culture.
With the increase in hateful and unjust acts targeting friends’ communities nationwide, advocating for social justice is a priority for me. I try to help affected communities however I can – by giving donations or using my voice.
I’ve found additional ways to channel my efforts. At 2U, Inc., the education technology company where I work, I belong to the Asian Pacific Islander Network. In addition to cultural celebrations and informational workshops, APIN has provided virtual “safe spaces,” or open forums, for members whose communities have been targeted by violence.
I show up at events sponsored by APIN and other employee networks, even if just to turn on my camera to let people know that I see them and I hear them. I’ve also joined two task forces in my department that focus on diversity and inclusion.
I lean on my Chamorro heritage to practice the warmth, hospitality and generosity of my culture to support loved ones, friends and colleagues. Growing up in Guam gave me empathy – something everyone could use. Ask me where I’m from, and I will tell you my American Pacific Islander story.
Lorena Blas is a content marketing writer. She previously worked as an editor for the Life section at USA TODAY.
Readying me for TV
My first day of high school in New York I was talking to this girl. We were becoming fast friends. And when she heard I was Filipina, she had a hard time reconciling the Filipina she was expecting to meet with the person in front of her – someone who was into theater and obsessed with Stephen Sondheim, Chekhov and old movies just like her. She expected the girl to be accented, small and not have curly hair, maybe? She looked at me and said: "Wait there's another girl from the Philippines starting school here!"
Many Asians have had versions of this from even the most well-meaning of people. The “you speak English so well,” or, alternatively, the “I mean, you’re like basically a white girl,” that even at 16, my friend's words didn’t surprise me. "That’s me,” I said. She blushed and I laughed and then we were both laughing.
Was it a micro aggression? Sure. Was it a completely innocent adolescent mistake? Totally. Did she become one of my closest friends? Yup.
I got to expand her view of what a Filipina is just by proximity – by her getting to know me, all of me, and not forming a basis of understanding solely from inaccurate media stereotypes.
I now write TV, and challenging those stereotypes and representing our community in a more complete way is a huge part of my daily agenda. In many ways, that moment in high school readied me for the task of this (and puzzle therein). For the bosses who’ve repeatedly asked, “What are you, again?” For a business that sometimes feels like it cares about “diversity” when it’s trendy but often leaves us wanting. For a director of equity and inclusion at a place I once worked, starting a phone call with me saying, “As a woman of color I just want to explain to you ...” Because for so many, Asians weren’t part of this conversation until concerningly recently. All of this born out of a similar thing to my 11th grade meet cute but slightly trickier. With this, though, comes the opportunity and privilege to write about our community and reach people who maybe didn’t become best friends with a Filipina girl in high school, and this is never lost on me for a moment, either.
Rochelle Zimmerman is a writer, actor and producer based in Los Angeles, where she is a writer on ABC's "Station 19."
Writing our America
I write novels, essays and lyrics, all of which are a refraction of my lived experiences in this country. Since 1975, when my family came here as Vietnamese refugees, my America has included North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Connecticut, California and New York.
Of these divergent locales, I’ve claimed the South as my regional identity because it was at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I began my love relationship with English and where I began to understand that, no matter my languages, I would remain an outsider here. Among the flutter of dogwoods and cardinal wings, I learned what Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have long been told: This land is not our land. I’m headstrong, so this early lesson in preclusion made me want to write myself, my family and my community’s stories deep into the soil, claim it – and call it ours.
I’m not the only AAPI woman writer with Southern roots. In the days after the March mass shooting of eight Georgians, six of whom were women of Asian descent, I gathered our works here. Because we were in mourning and no one should do that alone. Because we knew the terrain better than most. Because our stories cannot bring back the dead, but our stories can bring together the living.
Monique Truong, vice president of the Authors Guild, is a Vietnamese American novelist, essayist, librettist and intellectual property attorney based in Brooklyn, New York. Her most recent novel is "The Sweetest Fruits." Follow her on Twitter: @Monique_Truong
Teaching equitable history
May is AAPI Heritage Month, when we recognize the contributions and achievements that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to our nation. While we take this opportunity to celebrate our rich history, we must also come together to acknowledge and reckon with our nation’s long history of anti-Asian racism, violence and exclusion that is also a part of the AAPI experience. AAPI Americans have long been the victims of racialized violence and discrimination. Our heritage is part of who we are. It shapes our experiences and perspectives. We, and that troubled history, are both woven into the American fabric.
In Illinois, we are working to pass the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act. If signed into law, Illinois would become the first state to require all K-12 public schools to teach a unit of Asian American history, which is too often overlooked in classrooms. TEAACH ensures that Asian American stories and experiences are uplifted at a time when anti-Asian racism, discrimination and xenophobia are shamefully common.
A lack of representation in curriculum, positions of power and media leads to miseducation. Empathy comes from understanding. We cannot do better unless we know better, and the best weapon against ignorance is education.
Finding our voices
Cecilia Chan’s voice trembled as she spoke to the crowd of more than 800 people at the Stop Asian Hate rally in Tenafly, New Jersey. It was the weekend after the mass shootings in Atlanta that would claim the lives of eight people — six of them Asian women. The Tenafly rally would be the first of more than a dozen in North Jersey in the ensuing months, sparking a rallying cry in this enclave of Asian Americans.
It took a pandemic and a mass killing to bring the Asian American movement to the forefront. Tens of thousands of Asian Americans and their supporters have mobilized at rallies throughout the nation.
It was clearly uncomfortable for Chan to speak publicly about her pain. We Asians put on a brave face and do not complain because that is our culture. Work hard, stay humble and keep your head down is the playbook for Asian immigrants assimilating to life in America. We're the "model minority," yet we are also perpetual foreigners in the eyes of many. As an immigrant journalist covering Aian issues, I've heard from speakers of all ages at rallies. Across New Jersey and the country, Asian Americans have reached out to me to share their own stories of racism. I’m proud to provide a platform.
The vicious crimes committed against Asian Americans as we are being scapegoated means we can no longer be silent. It has been a struggle due to our upbringing, but we are finding our own voices, speaking out when it is personally uncomfortable. It’s a watershed moment in history, marking the first civil rights movement for Asians in America.
Where are you really from?
I did not know how much I longed to be seen until I was not.
I spent much of my life wanting to be able to look at someone else in the room and know they knew what I was thinking or feeling from a space of shared lived experiences. I was often landing in spaces where I feel like an outsider with white folks coming to me to share their “Asian” stories. Some would ask me where I am from, and when I would answer "Boulder," they would be dissatisfied and would follow up with: No, where are you really from? What is also deeply ironic to me is that the question of where I am from is also at the center of my artmaking.
The fractals of my identity are in constant push and pull with each other – child of immigrants from Taiwan, a lineage embedded in fleeing, parents who achieved what folks might perceive as the “American dream,” landing in a completely white-dominated space, moving and searching for where I belong – and translated through my work as a choreographer and artmaker.
I make work for my niblings and the next generations of Asian Americans who I hope do not have to do mental gymnastics in order to belong and to celebrate who they are and where they come from.
Waeli Wang, a movement artist and filmmaker, is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Kansas.
Deleting the asterisk
As a poet and creative writing teacher, I’m celebrating AAPI Heritage Month by fully embracing a basic writing lesson: The specific is the key to the universal.
That is, describing the cantaloupe chunks your mother nested into your childhood lunch containers is more powerful than stating, “My mother was caring.”
Resisters argue: “But the reader’s mother might have shown care in different ways. ‘My mother was caring’ covers all the possible ways.”
It does, but a “caring mother” is an idea. The mother who does cantaloupe Tetris on school mornings is a person.
I’ve known this principle for decades, but it took a pandemic and its fallout to reveal that in my own poems, I had been putting mental asterisks on details that gesture toward Asian American identity. The asterisk said: You just used another from your allotment. Too many overtly Asian American poems, and the majority of readers won’t connect.
The last 15 months have brought immense tragedy. They have also brought people of every race out in support of Black and Asian lives — people who do connect. My celebration is a minute adjustment, such as a dancer or surgeon makes after years of practice. I have deleted the asterisk. The page is ripe with possibility.
Adrienne Su’s most recent books of poems are "Living Quarters" and "Peach State," which focuses on Chinese Americans in her native Atlanta. Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, she teaches at Dickinson College.
Representation brings responsibility
Growing up in Michigan, Ohio and Connecticut, I was one of only a handful of Asian kids at school and was ashamed of my heritage as the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong. There was even a time when I yearned to be white. This way kids wouldn’t make fun of my eyes and the foods my mom made me for lunch or roll their eyes when I proved to be quite bad at math.
When I started working, I began to understand the meaning of representation. As the first Asian American to hold a primary anchoring role in three stations in the Midwest and the South, it wasn’t just about showing up and being the token Asian face. With representation comes responsibility to use your voice to make change. Especially when Asians are grossly underrepresented in managerial and C-suite positions. It was a chance to educate others when microaggressions happened in the workplace. It was learning to speak up for the stories that matter to the AAPI community, however small that population might be where I worked.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, and I saw people who looked like me and my loved ones under attack, I felt an overwhelming need to use my platform as a reporter and anchor in San Francisco to give these victims a voice.
Turns out, sharing my own stories of struggling with my identity on social media and on TV gave others a way to relate. Many felt like outsiders, too, even living in the Bay Area where 1 out of 3 people are Asian American. As I made my own heritage story known, others began feeling empowered to tell their stories. They’re now holding rallies and speaking out, and the world is taking notice! This has encouraged me to keep telling stories even on those days when it feels like the hate and racism will never end. Now my heritage is worn like a badge of pride. One I’m grateful to share with the world.
Dion Lim is an anchor/reporter for ABC7/KGO-TV in San Francisco and the author of "Make Your Moment: The Savvy Woman's Communication Playbook For Getting The Success You Want" (McGraw-Hill).
Refusing to play trauma Olympics
Born and raised in the South, I suppose my “heritage” is that I have had to prove myself over and over again. Politely.
Yet, my family believed that we belonged here, that we don’t have to remain silent to bigotry, despite messages from white Americans telling us to go home, even after we correct their English. Lately, civility has all but disappeared in public discourse. Between the pandemic and the previous president’s hateful rhetoric unlocking the door to white nationalism, it is open season against people of color, including AAPIs. But I refuse to play trauma Olympics, where the dominant culture pits one minority group against another.
America’s beginnings are bloody and racist, and until all Americans acknowledge the suffering of Indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Black Americans, until we learn about the mistreatment of immigrants and women, we cannot have a dialogue about the future. So in the wake of verbal and physical attacks, police brutality and gun violence, it is essential that we stand with groups like Black Lives Matter; that we call on lawmakers to bring hate crimes to justice; that we behave with compassion and immediately answer the pleas of countries like India.
My heritage as a hyphenated American is to amplify the voices of the vulnerable and to bring attention to those who bravely speak of America’s shortcomings.
Devi S. Laskar is a novelist, poet, photographer and former newspaper reporter. Her debut novel, "The Atlas of Reds and Blues," won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and The Crook’s Corner Book Prize. A native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Laskar now lives in California. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @devislaskar
Middle-age woman who won't be erased
My heritage of origin is that of the child of Korean immigrants who as an adult was raised by the Wu-Tang Clan to become the first Asian woman in hip-hop. So, what is my story?
I am a 56-year-old Asian single mother of two pounding my chest, stomping my feet, and roaring to the world in no uncertain terms that I am "The Baddest Bitch in the Room." I am demanding to be seen, which I see as political because middle-age women are so neatly and fastidiously erased by the dominant culture in this country.
Asian women, in particular, are viewed through the lens of the Model Minority Myth, which paints us as submissive, obedient, polite and definitely not one to upset the apple cart.
By telling my story, I bring forth my heritage to give voice to and uplift my community and family. Telling our stories is a critical exercise for all marginalized voices. In so doing, I believe we refuse invisibility, demand to be seen, engender empathy and with empathy, humanization.
First Asian woman in hip-hop Sophia Chang is out to 'obliterate the model minority myth'
Staff video, USA TODAY
By asserting our humanity and our presence through our stories and our actions, it is more difficult to dehumanize us and carry out atrocities against us.
I am here to tell you that I live to upset your expectations, destroy the Model Minority Myth, and to make you take my people seriously. You might not like what you see, but you will see me.
Sophia Chang is a screenwriter, author of the memoir "The Baddest Bitch in the Room," public speaker and founder of Unlock Her Potential, a program that provides mentorship for women of color. Chang was the subject of an episode of the Hulu series "Defining Moments." She managed Ol' Dirty Bastard (RIP), RZA, GZA, Q-Tip, A Tribe Called Quest, D'Angelo and Raphael Saadiq.
Contributors to this project: Eve Chen, Jona Caberto, Jenny Lau, Krys Fluker, Jennifer Sangalang