Combating the monolith: Part one
Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage Month celebrations have begun, and while I am actively taking part in celebrating A/PIA history, I have also taken time to reflect on my engagement with the A/PIA community on campus.
A/PIAs are often subject to narratives that paint us as a monolith — a homogeneous group of people from an arbitrarily drawn region of the world. These narratives constrain what we and those outside of our circles perceive as A/PIA, and they are — as I have increasingly come to realize — violently perpetuated not only by the forces of white supremacy but by our own communities.
The notion that all A/PIAs come from similar classes and cultural backgrounds paints all A/PIAs as holding equal privilege, entirely ignoring the ethnic hierarchies that exist not only in Asia, but in our Asian/Pacific Islander communities in the diaspora. The forces of exclusion and elitism these dynamics create, however, go largely unacknowledged.
This is despite the fact acceptance in self-proclaimed A/PIA spaces on campus often necessitates assimilation into an upper-class, mono-racial/ethnic and East-Asian consciousness.
I have often felt the need to qualify my presence in these spaces with explanations regarding my bi-ethnicity or assertions that I am, in fact, just as entitled to the label of "A/PIA" as everyone else in the room.
It has been a lifetime of these qualifications that leads me to this; it is so crucial that we are able to confront the fact the monolith is not only an idea that is arbitrarily imposed on us, but also a rhetoric that defines who is recognized as a valid member of this community. I feel this every time I walk into an A/PIA space where there is no one of my skin color, my openly bi-ethnic identity or my cultural background. I feel it every time we preach “unity” but fail to vocalize the ways in which intra-Asian/Pacific Islander imperialism has created tension between us. I feel it every time the notion of a unified, invincible A/PIA identity masks the realities of exclusion in our community.
Thus, “A/PIA Heritage Month: Combating the Monolith” begins today. This spotlight series will highlight A/PIAs who may not necessarily fall into the notion of what an A/PIA is or should be. Though this series will not paint a comprehensive picture of all A/PIA narratives, I hope that this month we can begin scratching the surface of a community that harbors an immense diversity in culture and experience.
My reflection is not indicative of the thoughts, feelings or convictions of those who will come after me. They are simply my own. In this vein, the stories you will hear over the course of this month are not ones that should be viewed as representative of their respective identities. Rather, they are individual narratives that have developed and emerged from experiences just as vivid, intimate and whole as yours.
With that, I wish you all a happy A/PIA Heritage Month! Let us engage in the celebration of the rich cultures and identities that make up our community, and let us strive toward an ideal of unity that recognizes and celebrates our difference.