I recently finished The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and one quote reminded me of something former presidential candidate Andrew Yang mentioned in his Washington Post opinion piece last April that faced backlash from the Asian-American community. In her book, Tan says, “I think about our two faces. I think about my intentions. Which one is American? Which one is Chinese? Which one is better? If you show one, you must always sacrifice the other.” In the opinion piece, Andrew Yang said, “We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”
I don’t agree with either statement. Especially Andrew Yang’s statement, since he made this statement during a very difficult time for Asian-Americans, as sinophobia had increased drastically because of COVID-19 last spring. If anything, it was at the utmost importance that Asian-Americans focused on their “Asian-ness” and how it wasn’t bad to be Asian, despite what other people were saying. Asian-Americans shouldn’t have to prove themselves and their American-ness to anyone. Just because people only focus on their inaccurate perception of the “Asian” side, this doesn’t mean that Asian-Americans should have to hide or be ashamed of their heritage just to emphasize how “American” they are.
Many Asian-Americans already deal with major identity struggles, as they can feel “trapped” between cultures. The quote from The Joy Luck Club illustrates this feeling of choosing, the pressure of having to pick one culture over the other. However, I believe that Asian-Americans shouldn’t have to choose. It’s possible to find a balance between these two sides. No one should have to leave behind a culture because both of them make up a person’s whole identity, and losing one creates an emptiness that can be avoided.
America is a melting pot, which means that being American means that you accept the other aspects of your identity as well, so frankly, as an AAPI individual, you can’t be “American” without the “Asian.” And that’s why we are not just “Asian” or “American,” but “Asian-American.”