Overdue for An Asian American reckoning

Despite 2020 being popularly characterized as a year of racial reckoning, Cathy Park Hong’s book “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” received little fanfare outside of Asian America. Hong’s book, alongside the attention it received from non-Asian America, reveals galling ignorance and emphasizes that America still has a long way to go before approaching a true racial reckoning. Hong captures what it means to be Asian American in haltingly unapologetic form.

Reflecting on my own experiences, I never thought there would be a day that someone would encapsulate my entire personhood into one word: “Asian.” Whether this blanket label was meant to be a conversation starter or just straight-up ignorance, it was hard to navigate through my feelings upon being classified by my cultural background at such a broad level for the first time. I remember thinking to myself, “You’ve never been called Asian before. Not even your Asian friends have called you Asian. There’s zero chill to this.”

Hong’s book speaks on the ostracization, self-hatred and unheard rage of many Asian Americans. Hong argues Asian artists have to craft stories racially traumatic enough to get publicity. Artists also face the expectation that their identity must be part of their work. Though Hong’s commentary treads familiar ground for those familiar with Asian American issues, I felt that she injected new depth into the conversation about Asian Americans in the United States.

When Asian Americans are lumped together, the individual’s deep, rich and complex cultural backgrounds are disregarded. Don’t conform to the American stereotypes of who you are, as hard as that can be. You may always hear them, but hearing is not the same as listening. People undermine the things they do not understand because the things they do not understand scare them. While it is not your job to educate them, you do have the freedom to choose how you navigate those spaces.

So what else should you read? The books below resonated with me — and I hope they make you feel, in some way, seen as well.

“We Are Not Free” by Traci Chee
The novel follows a group of 14 second-generation Japanese American teens in 1942 whose lives are upended after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Forced to leave their homes in San Francisco and live in incarceration camps, each teen experiences a range of challenges, from dislocation to discrimination.

“Know My Name” by Chanel Miller
For years, we knew Chanel Miller as Emily Doe, the anonymous woman who was sexually assaulted on Stanford’s campus in 2015. In her memoir, Miller drops her shield of anonymity not only to reclaim her identity but to introduce the world to who she is as an artist and writer.

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The gripping novel is about a nameless Communist agent straddling two worlds. He’s the son of a Vietnamese mother and a French father who came to Los Angeles after the fall of Saigon in 1975. It’s there that the narrator, a thoroughly conflicted man, spies on his fellow Vietnamese refugees.